#RPGaDAY 2017, Day 22: Easy to Run RPGs

Day 22 of #RPGaDAY is all about ease of use at the table. “Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?”

Anything that’s really freeform and really light rules, I’d start with. But then my mind starts to wander a bit and I’m looking at Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars line again. It’s an incredibly simple system that manages to be crunchy and tactical, yet light and story-driven at the same time. Those crazy dice — the dice that take a few rolls to get used to with their crazy symbols — let you have something awesomely beneficial happen when you fail, bring about something disastrous when succeeding. They’re But Dice: Yes, but… they say. No, but… they tell you.

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Spine Treatments

When obtaining art assets for books in the roleplaying industry, I have noticed there is a lot of input into getting the interior artwork and cover artwork. With selling pdfs (and other electronic editions) through places like DriveThruRPG, you’ll find that those files have the front cover, the back cover, and the interior. They are usually in that order so you can view the pdf as a two-up document with a separate page for the front cover, preserving the page spreads in the printed work. What seems to be forgotten — or at least not considered fully — is the treatment for the spine of the book. I find this odd, because at a store, your book is more likely to be shelved spine-out.

I hadn’t really noticed this until I developed the cover for Magpie Games’ Urban Shadows. For that book’s cover, we only had the front artwork which was to be placed on a black background. The back artwork was a composite of four of the character types, combined specifically for that space. We used an interesting typeface for the logo (and some chapter headings) with a white fill at about 85% opacity, re-purposing it for the spine. I wanted to make it big, bleeding over the edge of the printed spine. As a happy accident, this wound up looking amazing on bookshelves.

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#RPGaDAY, Last Year: Day 9 – Favorite Dice

One year ago today, on #RPGaDAY, it’s Your Favorite Die or Dice Set.

Huh.

How am I going to get 500 words out of that?

Over on my desk, I have my dice bag. It sits flat when open and can hold slightly more dice than a Crown Royal bag. Inside are four different sets of polyhedrals: a dark blue die set that includes a d30 (which I accidentally used one D&D game session instead of a d20 and didn’t realize until I rolled a natural 24), a green set (that I use when the blue set misbehaves), the remnants of my smoke set (nearly clear, but slightly grey dice) I used during my earlier years that is in the dice bag to share their wisdom and train the other dice to roll well, and a smaller set of clear polys in a smaller bag that my wife got me for Father’s Day last year. Also in the bag are the d10 sets I used when I ran Blue Planet. Ten dark blue (like the primary polyhedral set), ten medium blue, and three lighter blue. When the players were in a lot of trouble – in over their heads – I would roll the dark blue d10s for the “deeper waters”. Easier tasks got lighter colored d10s. I don’t think anyone noticed at the table, but I thought it was cool.

All my fudge dice (and the three dice for Happy Birthday Robot – fudge/Fate dice are great for HBR) are in another bag, downstairs in the game room. There’s the garish-colored set of fudge dice in there, along with the Dresden Files fudge dice. No Fate dice in there.

14 - 1Next to the monitor I’m typing this on, I have a one liter glass stein with almost all of my other dice. And now that I’ve written this far, I realize that my favorite die is in that stein: It’s the Ghostbusters Ghost Die.

The only bad thing about this die is the Ghostbusters symbol – the 6 on the die – was printed on a blank face (I think all the pips for 1-5 were painted on, too). All that’s left to discern that it’s the Ghost Die are two reddish smudges on one side.1 You included this die as one of the dice in every roll you made.

What I liked about the Ghost Die is every six rolls of the dice, something interesting was bound to happen.

Let’s say your Ghostbuster wanted to eat a phone. Beat the difficulty number and no ghost? You eat the phone. Good job. You ate the phone. Miss the difficulty number and no ghost? You can’t eat the phone and look like an idiot. Ah. But if you beat the difficulty number and roll a ghost? You eat that telephone but forgot to unplug it from the wall – this was the 1980s – and it rings, giving you a nasty shock. Fail and roll a ghost? You’ve got some very expensive and embarrassing dental surgery in your future.

It was really neat and made every roll in Ghostbusters potentially hilarious.

My favorite die: the Ghost Die.

So, do you still like the Ghost Die a year later, Thomas?

You know, I do. It helps that it’s a silly thing from a silly game that makes things even more silly. But I think it has some competition from the boost and setback dice in Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars line.

The way the various FFG Star Wars games work is you assemble a dice pool with green d8s and yellow d12s, which have good symbols; and purple d8s and red d12s with bad symbols; and you roll them all at once, cancelling out good and bad symbols until you find the result. It takes a bit of practice deciphering the symbols on each die’s face, but it’s an interesting system.2 The boost and setback dice are blue and black six-siders that are awarded to the player making the roll for things in the fiction that help out.

They’re also a great tool for filling in the gaps when the GM doesn’t know the exact rule and wants to keep play going. You’re doing something cool? Grab a boost die! Shooting at an exhaust port without your targeting computer’s help? Go for a setback die!

Easy, peasy.

I was running an Edge of the Empire game at Gen Con two years back and we had a scene were a player was shooting at a bad guy that was all tangled up with one of the good guys. Although I had run this scenario before, we didn’t have this particular thing come up.3 Wanting to keep the action flowing, we just chucked a setback die at the problem and went on.

These dice are also great for rewarding coolness at the table. Jumping off the ledge, doing a somersault in midair, then shooting at the bounty hunter as you touch down? Instead of upping the difficulty (swapping a bad d8 to a bad d12), recall that you’re trying to emulate heroic action in the movies — give them a boost die for sticking to the spirit of the genre.

Man, they’re great little cubes.

My girl likes superheroes and I want to get her into a cool supers RPG; we’ve got a few possibilities here, but I was thinking of hacking something together that’s simple. Simple is the key. One of the first things I thought of grabbing were those boost and setback dice. That’s how neat those little dice are.
So yeah. Still love that Ghost Die. But FFG’s boost and setback dice are making their way up there.

Honorable Mention: Fraternitas, from John Wick, as featured in Thirty and a few other of his little games.

  1. West End Games had a few other games where symbols were printed on the faces of blank dice. My copy of Assault on Hoth has several dice with blue smears on two faces and black smudges on two others. []
  2. For instance, the 7 face on the green d8 shows two symbols: a success in the task and a minor thing that makes things better in the fiction. []
  3. And I didn’t own the EotE rulebook, so no time to look up the rules beforehand. There was an EotE rulebook provided at the table, but I had no idea were to look that up. []