RPG A day – here we go

So, here’s the plan. I’m going to answer all the RPG A Day questions for August. For those who don’t know RPG A Day exists to promote the roleplaying hobby. Every August 31 questions are posted with the idea of stimulating discussion around RPGs, and, at least judging by my social media feeds, it works.

This year, watching the answers of my friends scroll by I realised that my answer to many of the questions was, rather predictably, ‘Amazing Tales’. But that’s OK. I’ve decided to take a crack at the questions with a view to providing some insights into how I approach my gaming, and why Amazing Tales is the way it is. A kind of designers notes thing. Maybe it will work. Maybe it won’t. But it’ll be fun finding out.

#RPGaDay 2017

RPG A Day 1-5

1. What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?

Well Amazing Tales isn’t out yet, so I can’t choose that. For me gaming has always been more about the people than the system. I like systems that fade into the background and don’t get in the way of the story. I like worlds that are good to discover, but for me that’s always been more about the quality of the GM than the depth of the source material.

The game I’ve felt most intrigued by lately is Night’s Black Agents. I use it as the system for my own Delta Green game. But I’d love to play in a game where the GM had fleshed out some of the ideas in the book, and really got to grips with the system. I don’t use mechanics much when I GM, but I’d love to experience Night’s Black Agents being run by someone who really knew what they were doing.

2. What is an RPG you would like to see published?

Amazing Tales of course! And we’re getting so close. All the art is done and the layout is underway. I’d hoped to have a copy off to Drivethru to get a sample print copy back this week, but for various reasons things are going to take a little longer. Still, the end is in sight.

And I really, really want to know what people make of it. It’ll be the first thing I’ve published. The feedback from playtests has been good, but partly because the system is so simple most of the book is advice, background and illustrations. I want to know what people make of it. And most importantly, I want to know what their children make of it.

And if you like, there’s still a playtest version of Amazing Tales available for download on this site.

3. How do you find out about new RPGs?

Google + is brilliant for talking about RPGs. I assume it has other valuable purposes too, but for me it’s a great place to talk about games. I hang out on the RPG Chat group, and that gives me the feeling that if anything really interesting and new comes along I’ll hear about it.

For kids games the Google + groups Dungeon Dads and RPGs for Kids cover the ground. As does the Facebook  group RPGs for Kids

And of course my gaming group have their own sources and so word of mouth is important.

Oh, and Bundle of Holding. I’ve ended up acquiring lots of games I had no idea existed because they were part of a bundle along with *1* thing I wanted.

4. Which RPG have you played the most since August 2016

Amazing Tales, by a mile. I’ve got two kids, and a big part of the impetus for developing Amazing Tales was to have something I could play with them. They’re getting older now (six and eight), and at some point in the next year or two we might need to graduate to something else, but for now, it’s doing just fine.

In vacations we run campaigns, with a session a day themed around wherever we happen to be. Otherwise the games are ad-hoc ways to fill an hour in the weekend or the evening. Sometimes they’re ways to entertain visiting friends.

The fact that Amazing Tales requires somewhere between zero and three minutes preparation for a session is what makes this possible. With young kids you’ve gotta be able to run a game when they’re ready. If they’re in the mood for a game they’re not going to wait, and if they’re not in the mood it’s not going to work anyway, no matter how much prep you’ve done.

5. Which RPG Cover best Captures the Spirit of the Game?

This one. I *love* this cover. From the enthusiastic font for the title, to the mix of spaceships, castles, dragons and pirates. It might just be me, but I hope, I really hope that parents will show this cover to their kids and those kids will be desperate to know what’s going on. That’s the plan. If it communicates thrilling adventures where anything can happen then it’s done its job.

Amazing Tales Cover

 

 

 

RPG a Day, 6-10

6. You can game every day for a week, describe what you’d do

Every now and then I get to do this. In the summer holidays we go away, typically for a week or two, and fitted around our holiday activities we make up a story. That means the kids and I play Amazing Tales and Mum takes a break. Usually characters in Amazing Tales don’t last very long before the kids get bored with them, two or three sessions at most, but on our summer holidays we can stick with characters and a plot for a week or more at a stretch.

These are the only Amazing Tales games I do any real preparation for, and it’s not much. I’ve found it’s helpful to draw a map for the game. Once I’ve sketched out some landmarks I invite the kids to name them, and to suggest more. Over the course of the week we’ll make sure their characters visit them all.

And between sessions I think about what’s going to happen next. It’s easy to structure these games around a simple ‘collect the items’ approach. Four magical beasts, five magical feathers, six magical swords, that kind of thing. Each session sees the heroes recover another beast (or feather, or sword) and the finale features a huge showdown with the leading bad guy.

Adventurer

7. What was your most impactful RPG session?

In late 2003 I moved to Amsterdam and pretty much stopped roleplaying. For whatever reason I couldn’t find any gaming groups, and no pointers to any online. Then, many years later I thought I’d try again. Thirty seconds of googling while waiting for my train to work unearthed both a regular RPG Meetup in Amsterdam and the ConDamned weekend convention which was happening that very weekend.

At short notice I freed up an afternoon and went along. And I ended up playing a game of Duty and Honour, which had been ported to a setting in the 41st millenium. As games go it wasn’t amazing, but it was a lot of fun. I realised just how much I’d missed gaming, and resolved not to stop again; and, I got a quick glimpse of how far the roleplaying world had come in the years that had passed.

We played a game with no dice, players who got to influence what the plot was, and combat was handled by conflict resolution rather than task resolution. All pretty standard these days but mind expanding for me at the time.

I subsequently went on to run a few short campaigns using the Duty and Honour system, and I’m delighted to hear there’s a new edition in the works. 

Other sessions that make the shortlist here are my introductions to Fiasco, Lady Blackbird and Montsegur. And of course I should mention the first ever session of Amazing Tales, played with my daughter when she was four and a half.

8. What is a good RPG to play for sessions of two hours or less?

Amazing Tales. Make up your own adventure in about the time it takes to watch a Saturday morning cartoon. That was one of the design goals, and it can be done, although my experience is that as players age the game takes a bit longer.

For my kids a session takes about an hour now.

9. What is a good RPG to play for about ten sessions?

I think I’m going to suggest Dungeon Crawl Classics here. Old school games are built around the notion of repeated sessions and character advancement, and ten sessions is enough time to get through two or three of Goodman Games’ excellent modules, and perhaps make it to the heady heights of, oh I don’t know, level 3?

Normally I’m a fan of people writing their own games, but the Goodman Games stuff is excellent, has a distinctive tone and really shows off the system. I also think that there’s something nostalgic about pitching your old school characters against the unforgiving nature of a pre-written module rather than the flexible narrative sentiments of a modern GM.

If old school isn’t quite your cup of tea something I haven’t done but would be interested in trying would be playing through Night Witches for a full campaign. Grey Ranks is something I’m intellectually interested in, but I suspect I’d be emotionally exhausted after the first few sessions.

10. Where do you go for RPG Reviews?

RPG.net , and not just because once, briefly, a long time ago, I used to write a column for them. Otherwise I don’t have a fixed source of reviews. If there’s a game I’m interested in I’ll find people who are talking about it on social media and follow the conversation from there.

 

RPG a Day 11-15

11. Which ‘dead’ RPG would you like to see reborn?

To my mind RPGs don’t die. If you can find a copy of a game you can play it. That’s one of the joys of the hobby. But I think what this is really about is community. Games do best when there are players around the world having new ideas and sharing them.

Stormbringer. That might be a good one to have more people thinking about. I’d quite like to see the revival of Top Secret work out well too. I don’t think I’ve ever played a straight forward espionage game.

12. Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

I hope it’s Amazing Tales. I really do. Our primary goal with the artwork has been to stimulate ideas. We’ve tried to include lots of little details that might spark ideas and discussions, and we’ve deliberately not thought too hard about exactly what’s going on in any given picture. Particularly with the full page illustrations we’ve focused on providing all the elements you need to tell a story without telling you what that story is.

Magical Fight

When I was thinking about the art for the game my biggest point of reference wasn’t another RPG, but Dixit, the artwork for which gets your mind going like nothing else.

13. Describe a game experience that changed how you play

I’m going to use this question to give a shoutout to Ralph, author of the Department V blog. During and just after my time at university I got to play in a number of games run by Ralph, which I’m pretty sure were universally excellent.

What I got from them, or at least, one of the things I got from them, was the notion of stripping back a game to the interesting ideas at its core, throwing away the rest and pushing the ideas to their limits.

As far as I can tell his blog and the excellent fictoplasm podcast are continuing to plough this particular furrow with great success.

14. Which RPG do you prefer for open ended campaign play?

At the moment I’m running a campaign based around the Nights Black Agents ruleset, and the Delta Green background. I’m pretty happy with how that’s going. Nights Black Agents gives you a lot of tools for managing a world and characters place in it, and it gives the players plenty of meaningful things to do with experience points beyond simply ‘getting even tougher’.

I like Feng Shui too, and I haven’t mentioned that in answer to any of the questions yet, so I’ll name it here. Feng Shui, because nothing makes a campaign open ended the way time travel and alternative realities do.

15. Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

Oh, this will be Feng Shui again. You see I love Feng Shui. I love that it’s so committed to the notion of action movies that it explains that the plot is supposed to advance through fights. I love that your characters start out incredibly tough and get tougher.

But I don’t love the thing that’s so common to RPGs. A fight starts, and just at the moment when in a film everything would happen *really fast*, the gameplay gets really slow. Feng Shui’s combat system is fast, as these things go, but it could be a lot faster.

So I fixed it. I don’t claim that this system is balanced,  or that it treats all characters equally, but I ran a short campaign with it, and it rattled along at a good pace.

 

 

RPG a Day 16-20

16. What RPG do you enjoy using as is?

I think small simple games get the most use ‘as is’, simply because there’s so little to change. I don’t think I’ve ever changed a thing when playing Fiasco for example. And in that spirit of small games, I’m going to name The Quiet Year. It takes a couple of hours, it gives a great story every time, and it’s very simple.

17. Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played?

Whatever it is, it’s probably a PDF sat somewhere on Google drive. But the book that’s been on my shelves longest without being played is Torchbearer. The basic idea of the game, a gritty and tough world, where a lack of resources is at least as much of a challenge as lurking monsters appealed.

But on reading it, it’s just too darn procedural. It feels like a boardless boardgame, and it’s got something which I detest in gaming. The players are asked to explicitly discuss decisions their characters make in terms of mechanics and processes. For me that kind of thing wrecks the experience of roleplaying.

I still like a lot of the ideas, I’m glad I read it, but unless I run across it at a convention or something I don’t think I’ll be playing it.

knight_female

18. Which RPG have you played most in your life?

Vampire. In my defence, it was the late 90’s and I was a student. We all did it.

19. Which RPG features the best writing?

So many RPGs feature short bits of fiction and flavour text that when I see the phrase ‘best writing’ that’s what springs to mind. But in all honesty I can’t remember any of those bits, so they can’t have been that good, and that’s not where the bulk of the words are anyway.

I think the real challenge to writing a roleplaying game is describing, in words, a process that is going to be acted out by people you’ve never met, to tell a story you’ve never thought of. Writing clear rules, in otherwords. And that’s hard. Especially if you want the text to remain engaging and interesting. Amazing Tales for instance has very few rules, the entire game fits onto a single page, and that was surprisingly hard to write.

So as an answer to this question, Fiasco. I don’t know if it’s the best. But it certainly meets the criteria.

20. What is the best source for out of print RPGs?

I have no idea. If I wanted one, and I suppose I might be interested in a copy of the original Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game, I’d start by looking on Ebay.

Well, it’s there.

 

 

 

RPG a Day 21-25

21. Which RPG does the most with the least words?

One fan of the playtest version of Amazing Tales suggested entering it for the 200 word RPG challenge, I imagine the answer to this question is somewhere in there.  Sadly the 2017 deadline had gone. Still, here is the Amazing Tales system reduced to 200 words, I might enter it in 2018.


Amazing Tales

Choose a genre.

Think of a hero.

Describe them with four skills, a name and a physical description.

Assign one skill a D6, one a D8, one a D10 and one a D12

The GM starts telling a story and at appropriate moments asks the player ‘what do you do’

If the answer suggests a risk of failure, select the most appropriate skill and roll the assigned dice. A 3+ always succeeds. There are no modifiers.

On a 1 or a 2 the roll failed. The GM should make the situation worse and ask the player ‘what do you do’.

Repeat until the story concludes.


That’s it. 107 words. Which might lead you to ask how did this game become a book of nearly 100 pages? To which the answer is, inspiration. I want this game to inspire people to play games with their kids. Hopefully people who’ve never roleplayed before. And I want kids to be inspired to create amazing worlds and have adventures in them. So Amazing Tales includes loads of advice on running the game, gaming with kids, handling tricky issues and the like. It also includes four complete backgrounds to inspire kids and provide examples for grownups.

AMONG THE STARS

22. Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

Take a look at the answer to question 21. Amazing Tales is, without a doubt, the easiest game I’ve ever GMd. That’s also because, while they come with a whole load of different challenges, children are way easier to GM for than adults.

23. Which RPG has the most jaw dropping layout?

Given some of the amazing things that go on in the world of print design it’s a shame that there aren’t more interestingly laid out roleplaying games. And while I like the look of Amazing Tales, and we’ve put a lot of thought into it, it’s not going to be radically disrupting people’s notions of what a rulebook should look like.

Sorry gaming industry, you’re leaving me cold on this one. If you’re looking for inspiration, start here.

24. Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more

Pretty much all of them. RPGs are amazing value for money. In general I enjoy a game about as much as I enjoy, say, going to the cinema, and it takes a similar length of time. So if I play a game ten times that’s what, 80 euros worth of entertainment?

If you just want to get a game out there, then by all means, give it away. If you want your game to be big, you probably have to charge, because that’s what covers the cost of art, layout, promotion and the like.

My experience is that most gamers are happy to pay for things they value. Value your work, charge accordingly.

25. What is the best way to thank your GM?

If it’s me, Kroepoek.

More seriously, be enthusiastic about the game. Put time into your character. Engage with the ideas in the game and push things forward.

And do some GMing yourself. Every regular GM I know wishes their players would step up and run something a little more often.

 

 

 

 

RPG a Day 26-31

26. Which RPG provides the most useful resources?

I’m one of those gamers who likes everything in one book. I’m not a fan of DM screens, custom dice, campaign expansions and the like. So I’m not well placed to answer this question.

But, as I’ve got older, and had less time, I’ve come to appreciate the value of the pre-written scenario. So I’m going to suggest Goodman Games. There stuff is very genre specific, but it’s very very good at what it does.

And then there’s the fact that the most useful resource a game can have is a community. I’ve never played much D&D, but in recent months I’ve been poking around the D&D community and simply as a function of its size it produces some amazing content, way more than any publisher could ever hope to. So that’s my other answer, good ol’ D&D.

27. What are your essesntial tools for good gaming?

A good table and chairs.

28. What film/series is the biggest source of quotes in your group?

We’ve been playing a Star Wars campaign lately. I think you can work it out from there.

29. What has been the best run RPG kickstarter you’ve ever backed?

I don’t know. They basically either deliver on time or they don’t, right? So I’ll use this opportunity to give a shout out to my friends who ran the Lovecraftesque kickstarter. Which did indeed deliver on time, and has provided an excellent game.

30. What is an RPG Genre Mashup you would most like to see?

One of the nice things about gaming with kids is that they don’t really know about genres. They don’t have a notion that spaceships belong over there, with one set of conventions, while fairies go over there with another.

Amazing Tales provides four settings that kids will recognise from the stories and shows adults have provided for them, but my kids have been more than happy to mix and match stuff in their requests for games.

And really, which Genre would you choose for a giant robot T-rex with four arms?

Tyranosneak6

31. What do you anticipate most in gaming in 2018?

A lot more parents and kids playing games together. That’s the goal.

 

Development Update

How’s Amazing Tales going? Pretty well. We’ve got 23 out of 26 full page illustrations nailed down. The text is done. The layout is happening. Indeed below are a couple of screen grabs showing the layout which is being handled by Duncan at Sparkwood and 21.

There will be changes, but this gives a feel for what the book is going to look like. And the whole thing will weigh in between 90 and 100 pages.

Layout 2

And another

Layout 1

It’s about a year since I began serious work on this book, and it’s amazing to see it coming together.

The Amazing Tales Story

Today was one of the bi-weekly departmental meetings at work, and since I’m the head of the department, I get to set the agenda. And so, by way of inspiration I thought I’d share the story of how I’ve developed Amazing Tales, what I’ve learned and where it might go next.

This wasn’t just showboating, the team I run are all communciations / digital / engagement professionals, and working with design and development, audience testing and the like is relevant to our day to day work. At the start of the Amazing Tales project I’d set out to try some techniques related to audience centered design and it was time to share the learnings.

And it was a ton of fun. It was great to go back through my notes from interviewing parents about roleplaying with their kids, and to revisit my research findings. I talked about the whether or not to do a Kickstarter decision, and how Lightning Source is basically what makes this project possible.

And I got to go back to the concept sketches and being able to show the development of some of the images. I’ve learned a lot about giving feedback on this project, and about the need for ideas and concepts to percolate for a bit.

Best of all though was the enthusiastic reactions of the team, we finished the session with ten minutes of playing the game, because as gamers know, the best way to explain what a roleplaying game is, is to play one.

Progress report

I know, there haven’t been updates for a while. But Amazing Tales has been progressing quietly behind the scenes. How far along are we?

  • The text is finished, the game is written!
  • The text is being laid out for publication
  • Most of the illustrations are complete
  • We’ve just about finished the front and back covers

That, is a lot of progress. How much more is there to do? Well, a bit. Once layout and illustrations are finished then we’ve got to have Drivethru rpg deliver a sample copy, check it’s good, make any remaining changes and then we’ll have a book that’s ready for the world.

To give an idea of how things are looking these days – here’s a finished piece of artwork, showing a fairy from the Deep Dark Wood. The finished book will probably have around 25 full page pieces like this, all by the wonderful iris of www.irisistible.design/

male fairy web.jpg