Tag Archives: Role-playing game

Back to the Stacks

I’ve switched from my novel to doing a bit of work on the Stack based RPG this week. If I’ve not mentioned this before, this is a RPG that utilizes Warhammer style careers but stacked in a related series. The plan is to give bonuses to those players who go through a stack without jumping to a different one, but leave it viable for those who want to jump around to get a more diverse set of skills and abilities.

This week’s work has me fleshing out the system mechanics and working up various lists. Lists of talents and abilities, lists of spells, and a list of skills.
Skills have always been a sticking point when designing. Do I want to have a skill for all conceivable player actions? This leaves me with a long list, the majority of which will never see any apprecable play, let alone do more than give some characters a smattering of flavoring. It doesn’t advance the playability of the game or the character. On the other hand, I could aim for haivng a majority and let the GM and Players do some clean up if they find something I’ve missed? That gets rid of a certail level of customazation I know that some GMs and Players really enjoy having.

It also leaves them with an additional task when creating a character.

With either choice, I’m often stuck on this part of the game for weeks going back and forth.

So I’m trying to do it different with this game.

Last night, I had the idea that the careers have inherent, but litmited, skills and/or abilities (whatever you want to call them) which are directly related to what the career is named. That is if your character starts life as a Baker, then obviously, they’ve had some training and expreience baking goods. In making this a rule, both the player and the GM can safely make the assumption that if anything baking related suddenly becomes important to the story, then this character has the capacity to deal with it. How well they can deal is where dice come into play.

This cuts me free from having to stick in a dozen or more of the more function style of skills. At the same time, it also keeps the sorts of custmozation and character flavor options in there, should the Player or the GM want to go that route.

Which is good. I like that I can keep the skill list short-ish. It means that players are going to have a better chance at doing things, more often because their characters will have the skills to do so.

But then there are the meta-skills.

Perception, awareness, search, and their brethern. Where do they fit in?

Anymore, it’s something of a rite for players to expect, once a session to miss some detail or clue because of a botched test of one of those listed above. It is disheartening and frustrating when it becomes apparent that this was curcial in order to get through the rest of the session.

That player part of me wants to eliminate those failure points. Move to something like the Gumshoe system which gives the characters all of the clues and then uses their skills to put the links between them together. It’s a nice solution which keeps the players invovled in the story and less involved in statistics and dice.

“But,” the GM in me interrupts, “what if the situation calls for the players to be distracted at a crucial clue gathering moment? Or if the GM feels they need to work for a clue to the plot? What then?”

In those situations a skill check certainly feels more appropriate but this doesn’t get us past the underlying dilemma — the use of randomness to advance the plot, rather than using character action to do the same. I’m not saying that randomness isn’t a part of RPG patterns, but I have become suspcious when it’s used for plot.

More thinking is needed before I come to a decision.

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Alternative character creation

From the first time I was introduced to the career concept in Warhammer Fantasy I found myself attracted to the simplicity, flexibility, and the power to really customize a character to my liking. But I have experienced several other systems in the mean time, all of which do something different very well. So I started musing what one might make when combining several different character creation system. And thus, the Character Stack was born.

The idea of a stack is bit of a cross breeding of L5R’s ranks and of WFRP’s careers. Stacks have three or four careers in them. Each career emphasizes a different set of abilities and skills that are unique to that particular career as well as a set of stat increases that are unique to the stack. Each career gives you a number of options to move on. You can stay inside the stack or move to a different stack. In staying inside the stack, you get the next set of stat bonuses (after buying your way through the new career). Go to a new stack, get a different set of skills and stat bonuses based on the theme of that stack.

Stacks are themed. Thief, Knight, Apprentice (wizard or priest), Scholar, Noble, Peasant, Streets, etc. Careers inside the stack are all tied to the theme and share many of the skills and abilities across the careers present. For instance, the Thief stack could have careers like Cutpurse, House Breaker, Smuggler, and Rogue. It’s easy to see where the skills all apply to the different careers. Now for a different view, you have the Peasant stack.  In that one, I could put careers like Servant, Valet, and Messenger. Here the ties between the careers are not as obvious, but if you think about how one gains trust inside a household, then it should become more obvious.

Career exits would also have some thematic tie to the career. I could see House Breaker and Smuggler getting an exit of Fence (from say, the Underworld stack) while Cutpurse and Rogue could have Vagabond (from the Streets stack).

I can imagine if such a character system was implemented, I would want to employee an buy system with some minor tweaks. As already mentioned, the stat bonuses would only come from the stack and would apply _after_ having bought through the career’s skills and abilities. Off the top of my head, I think skills would cost 50xp and could be purchased indefinitely, but have an increased cost each time. So the first repurchase would cost 100xp, the next 150 xp, the third repurchase would then cost 200 xp, etc. which makes it self-limiting. Each additional purchase would provide a 5% increase bonus to the roll.

If a character has a given skill from a previous career, they don’t have to purchase it again to pass the career, but they can if the player wants to.

Abilities are one time buys costing 100 xp each. I imagine abilities coupled very tightly to the career and stack themes and are along the lines of feats and class abilities from 3.x ed d&d or paizo’s pathfinder.

I can also see where changing stacks would cost experience. Maybe 100xp since the character is changing its emphasis. Staying inside the same stack is free. There might be a provision to jump to an unrelated career for 200 xp considering that a character’s story might change completely during the course of play.

Stack bonuses — it all depends on the system underlying this character system, but this is where characters would receive their stat increases. Each time a career is completed, the character gets the stat increase (and possibly a new ability or power — thinking of wizards, druids and priests here). The point being staying inside a given stack would give a more focused stat increase the longer the character stays inside it. The converse is that jumping from stack to stack, while not getting the same size of stat increases gives them a more rounded/diverse set of increases to the character.

Sticking with the Thief example from before. First stat increases would be to dex/agility, intelligence, fellowship/charisma, and combat — the next would be another increase to dex/agility, combat, and an initial health increase. Here they might also get a bonus to hiding or a backstabbing ability. The third again increases dex/agility, fell/char, some dodge ability or bonus thereto (again depends on the underlying combat resolution system), some bonus to lying/quick talking.

Ran out of idea for the fourth career, but I think you get the idea.

Also to make sure I’ve said it, jumping from stack to stack, you only get the first bonus from the new stack.

But this is just the “Basic” stacks — There is more than enough room to also do “Advanced” stacks which give a greater set of stats and abilities while putting less emphasis on skills (which was the point of the Basic stacks).

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How Wizards can get this Geek back

Wizard of the Coast announced they wanted to hear from the gaming community while designing 5th Ed. Which is great, but seems to miss the point. As far as many are concerned, WotC’s slip-ups and bungling of 4th Ed is reason enough to never look again. While it is tempting to be that sort of grognard, I think the company and designers deserve to know what it would take to get me to come back around.

First, the things that WotC did wrong

The PDF debacle

The digital world is here and now. Pretending otherwise isn’t helping anyone. Taking away the ebooks and pdfs did absolutely nothing to deter or prevent people from having a digital copy. All it did was take away legit sales. All it did was alienate people. All it did was create a PR nightmare that continues to this day.

Bad communication and inconsistent messages

What was the plan with 4th and why did it get changed so frequently? What was supposed to be the core books and which were optional? What was the difference between Essentials and the Red Box? And how were those different from the core? And what was the bloody point to it all?

If something changes this needs to communicated. If something advertised is impacted, this needs to be communicated. If something gets cancelled, this needs to be communicated. And the reason needed to be communicated, too. Hiding behind press releases and allowing rumors to get started never helps maintain a brand, let alone the goodwill of the gaming community.

Lack of support

It’s great that they went back and converted many of their settings but what else was done with them? Nothing! Where was Dungeon with the latest installment of an ongoing campaign? Where was the weekly “encounter” example? Where was free intro adventure to said setting? Where was Dragon with the interesting twist on play or class?

And in conjunction with my previous point of communication, it seems to me like there should have been a greater effort to make players aware of some of these things (if they existed, which I’m not sure that they did).

Subpar products

How much errata did they release? How many times did they forget to include necessary mechanics in their books? Nothing is as frustrating as finding that the part you’ve just spent three days searching for never made it into the final product.

Cards, minis, tokens, decks. AKA: Extras

These are distractions even when they’re the central mechanic of play. Remember that all of this started with pencil and notebook paper. Add some standard dice and that is all you should ever need to play. Anything less and you have broken RPGs. Substitutions do not apply. Additions, maybe, but they have to be optional and cheap enough to buy for everybody.

Even Fantasy Flight had to relent and give players straight up books with the card info in them in order to keep selling their version of WFRP. The point being we of the RPG world don’t like being forced into buying extras to keep playing. If we wanted to do that, we’d be playing Magic (and some of us still are). Keep with making the books the sole point of information to play.

What they need to do

Convince me there’s a vision

A D&D that’s all things to all players already exists. It’s called GURPS. If I want to play that, I know how to find it. And while I am fan of Monte Cook’s work, I already have the most recent revision of his best. There needs to be something new, something different, something cool about this next version of D&D.

The thing is, no company gets customers automatically. The execs of many may think they do, going so far as to see these people as an inevitability. But that’s not how it works. You have to earn your customers and their loyalty. Nothing stands out more in this line of thought than Gabe Newel’s recent comments about Steam and his business.

He is spot on about how the media companies are killing themselves by worrying over control instead of delivering the goods to people for a price they want to pay.

The same has to happen to the culture of Hasbro and WotC. They have to let go of the control ideology and embrace an more open paradigm.

Which translates into support, support, support

They need to step up the support of digital world. That means pdfs, ebooks, and the web. Yes, people will send these to their friends. Yes, they will be on torrents. And guess what? This will happen anyways. If Hasbro/WotC wants any chance to stay relevant, they must ignore the inevitable and provide a product that people will pay for.

Also, web tools. The character generator should be out front and ready to be used by any passing browser. Don’t make the gateway to your system sit behind a paywall or a log-in. Let players make thousands of characters for the hell of it. One or two might get turned into a sale. And that’s what the goal should be.

Anything else (GM tools, maps, etc) can sit behind a log-in. Freemium at the very least with a dollar or two for 48/72 hours of unlock of extra tools. Make the tools good enough, you can start selling week/month/year subscriptions as the word spreads. These need to be available at launch. No later unless you want to hear how this is just like the 4th Ed tools that never existed.

Support also means more than settings. It means having campaigns in those settings. Sourcebooks and gazetteers are nice, but nothing beats being able to point a player to a single source of everything needed for their game night. Getting set up is a chore and one that 4th attempted to solve. But that was solving for the wrong variable. The right one is having the story ready to go.

Even better would be to match what Paizo has done with Pathfinder and have a continuing, living, open campaign to draw the players. Pick one of your many properties. Start writing and have fun with it.

Acknowledging the past

I have no idea about the actual costs, but with the rise of the retroclones, it is obvious that there are players craving something of the old-school. And since there’s this gigantic back catalog there is absolutely no sense in not tapping it. In keeping with my first point, this also means digitizing it. Make it available and make it cheap. Suck it up, figure out the maze of royalties, and give your customers what they so obviously want.

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Investing and RPGs — A philosophic journey

Something occurred to me after listening to my employer’s quarterly meeting. What triggered this thought was the way the CEO went on about the investors and what he believes they’re looking to get from companies.

The thought was this: The RPG market has two separate sets of investors. The first group are those who spend money to get get games printed. Let’s call this group the Publishers. In most cases, this group does the work of publishing in the hopes of getting some return for their money. It doesn’t have to be a whole lot, and smartly, this group will see potential in lots of games and will spread the risk of their investment throughout all of them and hope that a good return on any one of them will cover the losses on all the others.

The second group invest their time to take the RPG and make it fun for others. Let’s call them the Makers. We can’t use the common economic framework of risk and reward to understand this group. Their investment is to create adventures, to host events, and to promote it among their friends and family. This makes many of the Makers fickle and loyal. They can see any one aspect of an RPG as the thing which draws them to it. Remove this one thing and you will risk losing their investment in your system.

Without the Makers’ investment, your system sits on store shelves, languishing.

Without the Publishers’ investment, your system may never see print.

What are these investors goals?

Obviously, Publishers want to have a monetary return. Although they may have secondary goals that led them into that business, their primary is to make money. To do this, your RPG has to sell.

Which leads us to the Maker’s goals. To have fun. To make something interesting to play. To tell stories. To entertain and engage with friends or strangers through drama and dice. To do this, your RPG must have a certain level of accessibility.

Boiling it down we end up in a situation where access has to be balanced against profit. Is there a good way to maintain this in the digital landscape? Does one trump the other?

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Gaming Needs a Critical Langauge

In the most general sense, Gaming needs to have a Critical Language. Not just for board games, but some theory to encompass all of it. RPGs, Video Games, and everything in between. Gaming has become complex, intricate, and more and more reliant on psychology that simple analysis is no longer sufficient. Genre categorization has become less useful thanks to the blending and mutations that have happened in the last few years. Classic and iconic forms have become so deeply embedded into games as to become unrecognizable to most eyes.

Gaming and Games deserve more. A deeper understanding of the whole. A way to communicate to both the player and designer where what part went right or wrong and how. In saying this, you confront the central problem of any such endeavor; Where does one begin?

Gaming is a complex social activity which stands directly next to story-telling and like it, is probably one of the most basic forms of human interaction. Through games friends and families bond. Through games societies and cultures are expressed and challenged. In board games we find depths of strategy and maps of imaginary worlds to explore. Through RPGs we find the ability to explore our own psychologies and the safety to see if there’s not something else we’d like to be. But mostly we do such things because they’re supposed to be fun. We want some entertainment and respite from our everyday lives.

In this, I think we hit upon the first question that has to be satisfied in any analysis of a game: Was it fun to play?

That’s only the beginning. There is so much more to explore.

Part of having a good critical framework is that it gives you different ways to look at the subject. This means having meaningful categories which help in clarifying and inform about said subject. With games and gaming there are a thousand ways to examine them.  There are games which which rely on cards, ones which rely on dice, some that do both, and many which use neither. Games can use no random elements, games can use only random elements. What is meaningful in all of those differences? Which ones are useful?

And that’s only for a small subset of gaming. Video games are a different sort of game. Those games don’t always necessitate the same sort of interactions and have an entirely different basis of control. Likewise, RPGs have their own conventions and genres which require a separate analysis. None of this gets us any closer to the goal, however.

This leaves me with the impression that whatever happens, creating a critical theory, language, and framework is going to take a good amount of time and no small amount of effort. It is not a small thing, this.

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Thoughts on symbolism and the novel Dune

I’ve been reading Joseph Campbell’s Primitive Mythology, The Masks of God off and on for the better part of four months now. And I’m only 70 pages or so into it. It’s a dense work. I find myself stopping every few pages, caught in thought of what was said. I started this book with the idea of seeing what ideas I could harvest from it and apply towards the design of RPGs. The reason being is that I saw many parallels between the sort of cultural anthropology Campbell does and the sorts of cultural exploration that RPGs promote.

In the first twenty pages it became abundantly clear that I was right. Despite the fact that Campbell couldn’t had said anything about RPGs (particularly since this work was first published in 1959, a good fifteen years before Dungeons and Dragons was published) the track he takes with his subject headed straight into the reasons why myths persist, what makes good myths, and why we keep using them to tell new stories. With all of that presented to me, it became impossibly easy to see that RPGs are the modern equivalent to sitting around campfires and telling stories to one another.

RPGs are to myth making as Digital Cameras are to the work of Mattew Brady. Both are fundamentally the same but are at opposite ends of their respective history and produces such different results that can only be derived from the advancement of knowledge and technology.

That should have been that. My thesis was given good backing. I could move on and do other research. But I kept reading. Slowly, as I explained before.

This book is like some sort of thought battery. Every time I’m feeling like I can’t get myself to move mentally, all I have to do is read a page or two and the world opens up in new ways.

Today’s reading left me thinking about the novel, Dune. I have always known that it is heavily steeped in the symbolism of religion. It is a practical how-to guide to manipulating your way to power using such symbolism. At least, that’s the thing I thought the reader was supposed to walk away with. But I think that was only a mid-level sort of reading and not the full depth insight I thought it might have been.

There are things about water and mother and the unapproachability of the all-maker-mother that I think I need to consider more. In particular, how Paul (a male) is able to usurp that position with his ascension and acceptance of the god-head and messiah of the Fremen people. Who are, unsurprisingly, caught up in an entire myth-cycle of mother/water symbols. This can be contrasted with the non-ascension of his sister and her possession and eventual destruction in the later books. Indeed, it almost seems to scream now that I think of it, that there is a parallel compare/contrast going on between how the two characters seem to handle the power of the mother myth.

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The Experience of PAX

Went to PAX with the wife last week. There’s more to talk about than when I first started writing this.

I spent most of the first day walking the show floor. As cool as some of the games presented were I am not of the mind to stand in line for hours on end to get a hands on experience. Demos will be soon available for a less guided and more intimate examination of how things work. This is not to suggest that I didn’t find the opportunity to check out a few choice games. The highlight of which was Civ V. 2k made it easy, allowing one to sign up for a slot at some point in the day and show up at that time. Overall I found myself very happy at the prospect of this new game. I also caught a few minutes with Torchlight 2. More of the same game, but better. There’s not much more to ask for from that series. The story stays out of my way, the graphics are good without being too real or too cartoony. It has a very satisfactory way of playing for me. I am glad to see it continue to be a going concern.

Late in the afternoon I met back up with my wife and her friends to have dinner and retire for the day. My legs and back ached with the amount of walking done. I need to get in better shape.

The next day I went to a couple of panels at the urging of my wife. The first was writing for the videogame industry. It was entertaining and interesting. The five people doing the talking seemed to be as frustrated as I am with the way story is handled in games, and for much the same reason, but stemming from a different source. This is one of their creations. Of course they want to see it better handled. They would rather see players reactions be more natural thanks to the story rather than limit them to whatever text gets stuffed into a menu choice. They’ve put out a great effort to get that story written and then cut down enough to fit on the game disk(s) with everything else that must go on. I, on the other hand, simply want to play. I could care less about the story because I’ve become used to the fact that the story will simply be whatever the producer and director has willed it to be and not what the player crafts with their effort.

It is an interesting conundrum that that gaming industry currently finds itself in because of these forces. I will be watching to see how events turn out. Who knows, maybe one of these days I’ll have the chance to experience both sorts of frustration at the same time.

The second panel was supposed to be about the cross-pollination of ideas between MMOs and Pen and Paper RPGs. It tried to go in that direction but it quickly turned into a session on bashing MMOs. Which, as it turns out, is not a very deep discussion. Pen and Paper quickly won out as the preferred sort for many reasons with MMOs being given some props for their “always on” nature. There was some noise around the idea of the simplification MMOs give players by hiding away much of their mechanics but the crowd, and I must include myself in this group, did not seem to blink at the complexity that traditional RPGs offer their players.

Before and after I wandered around the halls again. I’m guessing that it is purely the nature of PAX but the lack of organization of events started to bother me at this point. There is very little planning one can do for getting into the panels or concerts save for showing up hours early and hoping that you got in the right line. I endeavored to drop by the open play areas but found my efforts to get involved stymied by the lack of structure. Showing up and playing can be fun when all by ones self, but you don’t go to a convention like PAX to play with yourself. There wasn’t a whiteboard or poster to organize games in either the videogame or boardgame areas. I assume, however wrongly or right, that one is supposed to arrive with a group of friends or somehow rely on the better nature[1] of their fellow gamer to include them. There were several Twitter feeds set up to facilitate forbearance of the lines but the chaotic nature of that beast strikes me as ill-suited to keeping abreast of the local patterns of play.

The same can be said when it comes to the concerts. Just having a line is not my idea of making sure that those who want to attend a given event are able to do so. Even with them giving out guaranteed spots to the first thousand or two in line, the lines remain as long and as stagnant and as unfair as ever. I never thought I’d long for a ticketing system as GenCon has, but here I am, wishing that there was something, anything better than standing in line for hours to get into events.

Despite this, I had a good time. Seattle is a beautiful place to visit and I would be happy to go again next year just for that. But I would be going to give PAX a second chance. I know that it can take some effort to understand how a convention works. After attending GenCon for the first time in 2007, I felt much the same frustration. Going again in 2009 helped me to work out exactly how to do it as well as shaping my expectations to better fit the actual happenings. And this year’s GenCon was the best ever. It may very well take me a second or third time going to PAX to get it figured out in the same way.

[1] I did not have a single rude experience the entire time I was at PAX. In fact, most of the time, I found myself easily conversing with fellow gamers. I had the same general feeling of people as I get when at GenCon. Easy going, friendly, happy to have so many others of the same hobby surrounding them. So it may very well be that it is as simple as walking up and asking to join and being able to do so. I did not stick around to find out.

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Design of Dubious Use Presents

Item Classifications

For some time now RPGs include various classifications for items and then link them to certain mechanical benefits or detriments in the rules. For example, the GURPS system not only had types of weapons and damage but also Tech Levels, describing the point in history where the game was taking place and what sort of items could be found there. Obstinately, this was to keep laser guns out of the medieval fantasy, but in my experience, it served only to confuse the players and cause trouble. You can see where Tech Levels get silly quickly with the addition of half levels and the +/- which modifies the meaning of a given TL in an attempt to make it more customized.

Another good example can be found in D&D. Here you find weapons classified as either Exotic or Common, slashing/bashing/piercing, and by their damage die. In purpose, these are all present to give players a strategy to work by. Certain types of weapons do better or worse against certain types of foes. In practice, this causes parties to be concerned not with the story and its elements but often with the contents. How many times have you sat down to start a game session and are hit by a barrage of questions? “Are we going to be engaging undead?” “What sort?” “Skeletons or zombies?”

From such, or because of such classification, RPGs have rules which limit what characters can do based solely on them. Proficiencies, Skills, and Talents are layered with caveats giving players access to one or two of the categories but not all. But do these classifications do anything for the roleplaying experience? Do these rules enhance the drama and the player experience or end up restricting Players and their imaginations?

Here are two situations of high drama which Characters can find themselves in.

Situation 1: Your character has been kidnapped and put in a locked room. You’ve been able to escape your bonds. There’s nothing in the room but a chair, the rope the character was tied up with, and a table. Your character hears the kidnappers coming down the hallway talking about how the ransom hasn’t been paid and they’re going to murder them.

Situation 2: Your character is in the middle of a large battle, both sides have people dying all around you. Your weapon is broken and you’re suddenly faced with an opposing champion. Your only choice is to grab a spear-like instrument currently impaling a fallen comrade.

Both of these situations can apply to a whole party, not an individual. Both have the same problem when having rules reinforcing classification systems. Can the Character take up that spear or grab that chair and make good with their life? In both situations they should be able to because it makes sense dramatically. The system should be focusing on the drama of the situation and not the objects lying about the characters. These are not the plot macguffins you put in there. This is a Character in life and death. The drama of these situations does not lie in the materials but in how they are used.

When creating a system of classification for item you create a certain intent. If that intent is to limit or restrict then you have limited and restricted how your players imagine and react to the situations presented. Does that make for good roleplaying or not?

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Witch Hunter: The Invisible World

I played a new game this past weekend. Witch Hunter, The Invisible World is a swashbuckling sort of RPG based on some real world history but with several twists. It is the late seventeenth century and you are part of world-wide network of Witch Hunters who track and eliminate those corrupted by The Adversary. Magic exists and you spend some of your effort working to keep it hidden.  America is still largely unexplored. The Dark Heart of Africa is as mysterious as it is dangerous. The Spanish find themselves at odds against a surprisingly strong foe in the Aztecs and Cortez has been killed.

One of the things which influenced my decision to give the system a try is that the publisher, Paradigm Concepts, supports it through a living campaign. In my opinion, a living campaign is one of the best signs that a company takes their published RPGs seriously in a good way. It shows that the company is trying to engage itself with their fans. It shows that the publisher wants to do more than just publish; it is actively supporting its products. And it gives potential customers a quick taste of the game world to help make up their minds.

Character creation is complicated process but ultimately fulfilling. The other players and I were able to take our concepts and see them as characters without much compromise. I played a Franciscan Monk whose main abilities are to know a lot and provide buffs, um, I mean blessings. Brother Leon is part of the Lightbringers, a group of witch hunters who intend to make the world better through science. The rest of the group was made up a mercenary, a professional solider, and a poet who happens to be handy with a sword.

The adventure, an early entry in the living campaign, took our characters to New London, Connecticut where a recent fire has destroyed a family. However, in our dreams it seems the fire disguised the abduction of the two children. Our task was to investigate the fire and to find out if the children had died along with their parents or if something more sinister has happened. It played out in standard fashion, rather predictable but that is not necessarily bad. In fact it was positively a boon as it gave us a chance to get a handle on mechanics while not overburdening us with the minutia of plot.

The system is a World of Darkness clone, but more restrictive. There are 9 main attributes and a slew of skills. The Attributes are scored between 1 and 5. Skills are checked in WoD fashion: Designated Attribute is added to skill level and that many dice are thrown. Successes happen on a 7 and greater while 10s re-rolled for additional successes. The restrictions come in two areas. First, this is a point build system. All Attributes start at 2 and points are used to increase them. 3s are 10 pts., 4s are 30 pts., and 5s are 60 pts. You get 100 points to spend and these points can only be used for buying Attributes.

Those used to starting with well-rounded characters are going to be frustrated with Witch Hunter. Starting skills are assigned by occupation and these are the only ones you get. It is designed around characters having one point in all of the starting skills except for a few, rare exceptions. For my monk I was able to allocate several points in language skills and a couple in his lore and philosophy skills but was only given one point to put into his combat and defenses. While this does fit with the character’s concept, it does restrict his role in the game to a few areas.

Not that it made much practical difference. The designers did their homework. Those areas that your character is good at have five or six dice to roll and most of the skill tests our characters went through needed only one success to pass. After the first couple of tests, we were very comfortable with the statistics and plunged into the task presented in the adventure.

Combat is different from the standard skill test. Weapons in this system have a complexity rating. This represents two things. First, the rating the number of dice removed from you pool when making an attack. If you had six dice to throw for the skill check, you could easily find yourself looking at having only 2 or 3, depending on what weapon you chose. That is easily overcome by selecting the appropriate talents at character creation or by having the weapon blessed before combat. Second, and this is the fun part, the complexity rating is the amount of automatic damage done by the weapon should you pierce the opponent’s defenses.

Defense is simpler. Armor gives a small amount of automatic damage soaking, but otherwise the character’s defense is based on a roll made at the beginning of each combat round. The number of successes rolled is the number of successes subtracted from your opponents attacking roll. However, this defense pool is reduced by all of your opponent’s attacks. If you find your character swarmed by a three or four of small baddies, as I did with my monk, there is a good chance that they’re going to be badly hurt since all of those opponents are taking away from the same defense pool. Once that is depleted then all your opponent needs is a single and if they’re wielding a weapon with a complexity of 4 then things become lethal quickly.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience. The setting has some nice twists in it making it more than a surrogated trip through history. For experienced players, the skills and combat should be quickly picked up but those less experienced are going to need some watching over.

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A question of value

To supply my Warhammer group with the materials needed to play the next version, over $150 is going to have to be spent. I have five people at minimum, but most of the time I have seven. According to FFG’s official reckoning I’m going to  need the core box set, the adventure’s set, and at least one extra set of dice. While they have said that you can play with as many people as you like with the core box set, this appears to be incredibly awkward to do, so I consider it necessary to get the expansion. This is a tremendous amount of money just to get basic functionality. Because of this, I have been thinking of the value of the new system when compared to the old and other RPGs.

First, the previous version of WFRP was $40 plus tax. It gave all of the careers, all of the races, a starting adventure to play through and a thin GM section. With it I could create everything needed for a campaign, no extras needed. All anyone coming to play need is some dice. This has been the traditional setup for RPGs and it delivers quite a bit of value for the money.

D&D 4th edition is the next natural choice to compare. The core set of books can run you as much as $105 + tax without any discounts. However, looking on Amazon, I can get each one for $23 for a total of about $70 before taxes. And I can check it out ahead of time by going to WotC’s website and getting a free pdf which introduces much of the core concepts and a free adventure to try it out with. In practical terms, a group of five to seven can easily play with just the initial outlay although an additional PHB may be needed. Overall, not bad bang for one’s buck if one is able to get the discounted versions online or even secondhand.

Pathfinder offers a nearly all-in-one tome for $50 that has everything but a monster manual. Much like WotC’s D&D not much more is needed to keep a group of players going after the initial purchase. Currently there’s no free taste but considering it’s built off of the freely available 3.5 SRD one doesn’t really need an official version to try out. Despite this, the amount of flavor put in there by Paizo makes the price well worth it.

GURPS has a two book set, Characters & Campaigns, comprising its core system. Both are listed at Amazon for a total of about $50 before taxes. Together the two have a page count of nearly 600 pages of yummy RPG goodness. Designed for the DIY crowd, the Campaign book goes to great lengths to help the GM get going. Players with a lot of imagination (and more than a little time on their hands) have a dizzying array of options to go with. There is absolutely nothing more needed to play. This is another system that offers a free pdf to give a taste before buying.

In looking at how much is packed into these two books, it is hard not to say that GURPS may represent the most bang for one’s buck. The only drawback is the the amount of time needed for world-building.

These are just the tip of the iceberg. The HERO 6th edition core set is $70 if both books are purchased together. Rifts is currently going for $30. This doesn’t even touch free systems such as FUDGE or FATE. Nor does it address the hundreds of small/independent RPGs, many of which are $30 or less.

So I am skeptical, very skeptical, that the next version of WFRP is going to have a comparable value for my money.