#RPGaDAY2015, Day 6: Most Recent Game Played

Caught up to the current day on #RPGaDAY2015. Whew! So here’s the plan from here on out: in the morning,1 a “Last Year” article where I revisit the original writing prompts2 and seeing if my answers still hold true, one year later. In the afternoon, this year’s daily prompt. Speaking of:

Day 6 of #RPGaDAY2015: What was the most recent RPG you played?

Sorry, but I just had to change it from that horrible pink color. Click through if you want to grab the color-shifted fullsized image.
Sorry, but I just had to change it from that horrible pink color. Click through if you want to grab the color-shifted fullsized image.

Unfortunately, it’s Shadowrun, 5th Edition.

cat27000Why “unfortunately”? Well, you know how when a new RPG comes out, the first thing people ask are “Can I play Star Wars in it?” The second question they ask is “Can I play Shadowrun in it?” Why do they ask that? It’s because the setting of Shadowrun is amazing. But the game system is such a complicated mess. Just a few hours ago, I posted my answer to last year’s topic, “What’s the most Old School RPG you own?” and the answer was Shadowrun 5th. There’s a few things about it there, but to explain further:

Shadowrun, 5th Edition, is a continuation of the overly-cumbersome rulesets the game has always had. In order to do anything in the game, there’s a system of rolls in place, and it always seems like there’s two or three steps involved too many. As an example, let’s have a mage cast a spell at a punk-ass bitch. Let’s count.

1. We’re going to cast Lightning Bolt, a simple zap and knock ’em out spell. So step one officially is to select that spell, but we’ll give that to the player for free. “I’m casting Lightning Bolt!” she says. Okay, let’s choose the target. We’ll give that to player for free, too. Our first real step is to see if we can link to the target. That requires line of sight. Can we see him? Yes.

2. Choose the force of the spell. The mage says she’s casting at force 8, which is higher than her Magic ability. Cool.

3. Cast the spell: She rolls Magic + Spellcasting (9 dice total) and gets 3 hits.

4. The opponent resists: He rolls Reaction + Intuition (7 dice) and gets 2 hits.

5. Subtract resisting hits from casting hits, and we have 1 net hit. It’s greater than 0, so the spell hits.

6. Determine the damage value of the spell! Force + net hits = 9. Armor Piercing modifier is -8.

7. Punk ass resists with Body + Armor – AP from step 6! He rolls 3+9-8, four dice, getting 1 hit!

8. Actual damage! Step 6 – Step 7 is 9 – 1, or 8 points of physical damage!

9. Now, it’s an elemental spell (Lightning), so we go to page 170 for what I’m assuming is three more steps.

12. Resist drain! But first, we have to determine it. Drain target is force – 3 for the spell, so our drain value is 5. She got 3 hits in step 3, which is less than her Magic ability, so the drain damage type is Stun.

13. Roll to resist drain. Our mage is rolling Logic + Willpower (10 dice), against 5S damage. Three hits.

14. Determine drain damage. Step 12 minus Step 13 = 5 – 3, or 2 points of stun damage. We’re not sustaining the spell (can’t with the spell type), so we’re good to go. Done.

Holy crap. No wonder it’s taking four game sessions to find a girl that’s been kidnapped in the steam tunnels beneath a university campus. Guys, she’s in the steam tunnels. Just go, already!

There’s a few other things that bother me with the system, such as the time sink about planning the mission (which inevitably gets thrown out the window the first time something goes wrong), or how I feel like I can’t really hurt the protagonists in the system.3

thumbnail-technoirThe game system is still struggling to be the same game that it was in previous editions, yet it doesn’t seem to embrace anything new in RPG game design from the past decade. It’s pretty much the same game as it was in the 80’s, but with a similar, elaborate resolution system for all the game’s systems. No wonder there are several games out there that try to do Shadowrun better. There’s two different Apocalypse World systems out there.4 Cortex Plus’ Leverage RPG is a near-perfect solution.5 Will Hindmarch’s Always/Never/Now (and the upcoming Dark|Net setting for his upcoming Dark game). Mark Richardson’s Headspace. Jeremy Keller’s TechNoir. Joshua A. C. Newman’s Shock: Social Science Fiction. John Harper’s Ghost/Echo (and the Null Vector setting for his upcoming Blades in the Dark). Eric Provost’s Sombra Console. Stras Acimovic’s World of Cyberpunk. And that’s just all the strictly cyberpunk things I can think of.

Lots of people want to play Shadowrun, it seems. Just as long as it’s not Shadowrun.

  1. Probably around 11am, EDT. []
  2. These were originally published on my Google Plus account. []
  3. The only time I’ve really damaged the runners was when the shaman cast a super powerful spell and took damage from drain. Technically, none of the NPCs in the game injured him. []
  4. The Sprawl, which I backed on Kickstarter, and Sixth World, which I didn’t. []
  5. Especially with the flashbacks taking place of the two hours of planning that always go horribly wrong. []

#RPGaDAY, Last Year: Day 5 – Old School Game

This one really hasn’t changed since last year.


Today’s #RPGaDAY topic is most old school RPG owned. This is going to be difficult as I doubt there is an actual definition of what “old school” is. I’m going to say that it’s not the oldest RPG I own, because that would be either Ghostbusters or Twilight: 2000, both of which have some modern elements in them.

Twilight: 2000 aside: While I probably don’t have to go into how Ghostbusters was groundbreaking with dice pools, brownie points, or a crazy successful example of expanding a rather limited IP into something so much more than the original, but Twilight: 2000, a modern game? Surprisingly, yes! (Well, partly.) See, in T:2000, your character could buy contacts – people in the game world that your character knows. But the clever part was you could leave them blank and fill them out in play. You filled them out in play by telling the GM that a specific NPC in the game is someone that you know. Even if the NPC is the Baron of Warsaw, which would completely derail an adventure if GM slavishly stuck to his master plot.

Twilight: 2000 is the earliest game I can recall that allowed for the players to take some narrative control over the story that didn’t involve their character’s actions.

But back to the most old school RPG I own:

It’s got to be a game with a defined GM/player divide – the players are playing in the GM’s story and have no input on the setting or storylines apart from in-game character actions and reactions.

One of the game’s primary focus is combat resolution. Preferably, this is the main focus of the game. Combat resolution is done with an attempt to make the combat as “realistic” as possible, despite the setting. Tables with many, many combat modifiers helps. Characters should also have to keep track of how many arrows/bullets/laser blasts they have fired off.

Pile of DiceCharacter creation should last an entire game session; some players will have to finish making their characters before the next session, but probably won’t.

Encumbrance rules? Good.

If the game has magic, are there spells that directly target one attribute score, suggesting that magicians in the game world have realized that every living thing in the world is, in fact, a character in a game?

Does the background section of the main rule book (Of course we have supplements and additional sourcebooks!) have a timeline or is at least twenty pages long?1

Is there a meta-plot?

My most old school RPG is Shadowrun, 5th Edition.


  1. The best example of going way overboard on the background section is Blue Planet, 2nd Edition. There’s a long in-game fiction section about the setting, an equally-lengthy narrative about the history of the world of Poseidon and recent events back on Earth, plus an incredibly long timeline. []

#RPGaDAY2015, Day 4: Most Surprising Game

The #RPGaDAY writing prompt for day number four is Most Surprising Game.

There’s a few ways to take that, but I’m going with the game that really made me realize that something else was going on, something that was so eye-opening it changed how I run games from that moment on.

EDN6010That game is Eden Studio’s Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.

Before I get to the what in the game that really shook up how I approach games, I’d like to take an aside and mention how Buffy is the shining perfection of what licensed role-playing games aspire to be, because it is. The voice used in the book fits perfectly with the IP the game is based on, and I’m saying this as someone who worked on the Firefly RPG.1 The tone, the graphics, the ads in the back of the book for non-RPG yet Buffy-related things? It is the finest marriage of license to product I’ve seen in role-playing games.

But to what really got me about Buffy was how the system worked for the GM. In Buffy, the GM doesn’t need to roll dice at all.

Wait, wait. That’s not it.

Shadowrun_Fourth_Edition_000001Here: I was coming over to it from Shadowrun, which is a huge mess of a game system. Just look at the fourth edition character sheets from the FanPro edition. Here, here, see? The attributes: there’s eight over here, broken up into four physical and four mental, some special attributes that you might have three or four of, and some other things that they just shoved in there to have a nice little four by four grid. Creating an NPC is awful: do those first eight attributes, adjust for race, derive some other attributes which would change by how much cyberwear one has and if they’re magically awakened or technologically awakened, then derive some more stuff and then oh god the skill list. Oh god.

This is only page one of four that the players at the table are filling out.

So here I am, like a chump, creating NPCs with the same skills and attributes that the player characters have and I’m reading Buffy. And Buffy’s white hat protagonists have two dozen skills and a handful of stats and a few signature moves and all this detail, detail, detail that characters in role-playing games have.

And the NPCs only have three stats.

I’m looking at an abbreviated statblock, I think. No. That’s it. There’s a handful of stats, but there’s only three in Buffy that you use: Muscle, Combat, and Brains. That’s it? That’s it.

And that’s when I realized something. Something nobody ever told me.

I didn’t have to be playing the same game the players were.

Back to Shadowrun with the 13, 14, 15 attributes. Back to the list of skills and specializions. Back to the gear and race modifiers. The players can have that. All I need for the NPCs were Muscle, Move, Brains, and Cool. That Troll ganger? Muscle of 9 dice. Is he doing something he should know how to do? +3 dice more. They’re playing Shadowrun. Me? I’m playing Ghostbusters.


Buffy, the Vampire Slayer: one of the key games that changed my gaming.

  1. With all of the -ing words dropping the g’s, Firefly is almost perfect, but Buffy was there first and really nails it across the book and all supplements. []