Here’s my list of my favorite RPG books of 2017. Not all of these came out in 2017 though! These are books that have been at my bedside table or working desk most of the year.
How to Write Adventures that Don’t Suck
This is a great book of essays on adventure design from a lot of the greats, with short adventures to go along with each essay. Fantastic stuff! All GM’s should have this one.
This is an OGL redux of the Marvel Heroes RPG from TSR that had a LOT of expansions and material that my brother and I basically ignored after getting and playing the yellow box set a few times. We were CHAMPIONS kids and that meant pointbuild and brokenness and combat that took forever. Frankly I wish we had looked at TSR’s superhero game at the time a bit more OR they had the common sense to realize that kids wanted to make their own characters! Faserip has character creation (which I would dub semi random). Also, this shit is FREE.
We got to play FASERIP once this year (thanks to Lordlobo) and I intend to run it soon.
Veins of the Earth
This is great shit-reading. Probably one of the best shit-reading books to come out in long time. While the campaign itself is nothing compared to World of the Lost or Better than Any Man (it’s more of a gazetter), it has oodles of weirdness and unique ideas for your OSR, D&D5e or even 13th Age campaign. While not a fan of the author’s writing generally (“get to the fucking point man!” is the constant comment running through my head) this is worth suffering through the rough spots. After purchasing the lackluster Deep Carbon Observatory, I thought this guy needed an editor and he got one when publishing Veins: it really helped. Hopefully he can tighten up his tendency to overwrite and wordiness even further for the next thing he does because the bones of it this are fantastic. Art is great.
This is older but I just picked it up this year. It is likely an essential book in any GM’s library (like Dungeon Dozens!). Why? This has one of the best world building generators I’ve come across for both modern and fantasy stuff. Not only that, it has a unique adventure builder that, while set up to work in the Early Modern to modern settings, could be used in any Fantasy Universe as well. And this fucking guy really can write!
Vagina’s are Magic!
This is the new magic system for Lamentations of the Flame Princess! People have a lot of work to do getting all the spells in line with the new set up, and this also means the game is no longer backwards compatible with old D&D (sorta). What’s most important is the system brings it closer in line with DCC’s (and likely the new WFRP’s) magic systems which are superior to the vancian system in oD&D and 5e).
I typically hate D20 microlites. There are a shit load of them reaching for some perfect design goal of streamlined play that in my opinion has already been done by Moldvay and further improved by Lamentations of the Flame Princess. There’s only so much you can strip away before your game becomes boring as fuck or, worse, Dungeon World.
However, Into the Odd is where I’ve eaten some crow on this hatred as it’s one of the best designed RPG’s to come forth recently, and it’s squarely in the microlite sub-genre.
That said, character generation takes about 2 minutes, such a long time right? But with the online generator below, not only can you generate your character in seconds, but you can make all stat rolls right in the browser!
This is Alberta, about as good as you are going to get, and I don’t know what she’s scared of because she’s quite the badasche.
ALBERTA “SCARED” BICKLEY
Harpoon Gun (d8), Fire Oil, Mirror engine (arcana), Grappling Hook, Magnifying Glass
Basically the only thing I really care about is that Talisman will go out of print again. I will have to care for my stuff instead of abusing it as this level of support for Talisman we probably will NEVER SEE AGAIN. I just picked up the Harbinger Expansion to make sure I had everything (except Dragons) that was out for 4th Edition.
Other stuff that was good from FF: Chaos in the Old World, Dungeonquest (updated version, not the first FF version) and Chaos Marauders. Dracula was cool, but not my favorite game. Other stuff, like the 40K and Fantasy CCG’s, the 40K Talisman version and Blood Bowl manager were all totally forgettable.
RPG wise, this is going to fucking sting for people that liked the 40K RPG. Since it was closer to WFRP and had a TON of support from FF, I can see people weeping about this. It wasn’t anything I was interested in, but I can see this as a loss.
FF not having the WFRP licence anymore is FUCKING GREAT as the 3rd edition of the game was an experiment gone wrong. Yes, it had some very very good adventures (witches song and the new version of the enemy within are notable examples); yes, it begot Edge of Empire which is a fine game attached to a boring ass license, but WFRP still is one of my favorite RPG settings and 3rd edition with all it’s pieces and chits and crap was just too much to deal with. I’m fully aware that both 1st and 2nd edition’s rules are not great as well, but you can play it with the book, some paper and pencils and regular D&D dice…. GW: Give the WFRP license to DESIGN MECHANISM and be done with it.
I was off to the West for a long training and there’s been no time to really post so this is going to be a splatter of crap on the side of the bowl.
Steve and I went to the new Games Workshop (now WARHAMMER) store in Boulder to get some paints and saw a bunch of AOS crap but amidst it was the new Heroquest style Silver Tower game. Miniatures looked great, the card board pieces that came with it are up their with Rackham’s Hybrid and Nemesis (read: good) and while not as cool looking as those, it looks to be a more playable game. Though everything fantasy related from GW these days is really, really, really:
While out west, I didn’t get inside any headshops or smoke them tweeds as the saying goes. The thought was there, but it didn’t really count for much in the end. I saw a place called “Starbuds” and thought that was clever and likely going to be sued soon! I did walk through MANY clouds of THC both indoors and outdoors. For a little while at least, I could pretend we were (collectively, instead of just Western CO) living in the better times imagined during the mid/late 90’s rather than a billionaire dominated, post citizen united, Swift boat veteran style country.
Blood Bowl is coming out. There are pictures of people playtesting and some of the miniatures. This is the first thing I’ve been really pumped about from GW that wasn’t a video game since Warhammer 8th Edition. While AOS is garbage compared to the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle game and Warhammer proper, with the announcement of a new Epic, Blood Bowl and Necromunda, things may turn around for my interest in their stuff at least.
The BB miniatures look… awful chunky. I’m not sure I dig the look of the orks, but the humans, especially the human catchers, look great. The dwarves I’ve seen are very very blocky, and not the drunk, bearded short-fatties we’re used to. It’s not the olde worlde style, since they blew it up and all that. I’m VERY glad the humans aren’t Sigmarines. That helps a lot.
For weeks now, Warhammer Total War has been out and it’s gotten good reviews. …and I am going to wait to buy it, not because it isn’t great (it’s been the fastest selling TW game to date) or buggy (reports are that it’s a cleanish release by CA, which is a ..second?), but because I want to get a new video card first and play DOOM, then dish out the cash for Warhammer TW. Plans, plans– all go to ruins when I just start up Torchlight 2 again, or Fallout 4, or Darkest Dungeon.
I started playing LISA before I went off to training. Wow. Some broken people are responsible for that shit. While I haven’t gotten anywhere, I want you to share my pain. Highly recommended. Buy it.
Other stuff along the RPG front:
There are two new releases from Lamentations of the Flame Princess. One is by the guy who did Dwimmmmmermmmmmount and the other is by some English bloke set during the English Civil war. Remember that shit? I got them in the mail and plowed through Cursed Chateau, which reminds me a bit of Castle Amber (a good thing) and started on England Upturn’d. With World of the Lost, Towers Two and these new ones, I’m going to need to run some LotFP again soon.
SLUGS is coming on Free RPG day. Look at that purdy cover. It even has the GENCON booth for this year.
“The inspiration for LotFP is the basic belief that the life of an adventurer is a hellish thing that nobody sane would want – full of danger and violence with no real home, no real family, no certainty, ever. Think of the classic RPG adventure form: You’re going into some dark hole with a sinister history, fully expecting to encounter death traps and supernatural monsters and all sorts of things that want nothing more to kill you and probably eat you, and you’re doing it for some money. …
This weekend is TALISMAN Weekend with Keneda. We will drink, play Tobal 2 and play a massive couple of games of Talisman with (nearly) all the expansions. This will include the new board, which is quite a work of art and a full on deconstructionist version of the original 4E and 2E’s boards.
While the 4e board is good, it really needed the FF artistic touch, so here it is!
Xmas is the absolute worst time of the year to take a couple weeks off work, but fuck it, here it is. Today is my second day off.
I saw STAR WARS a couple of times so far and yep, it’s great. Worth the hype and I can’t wait for the next one. Pulp fantasy /sci fi and let’s hope it ushers in a WAVE of cheesy clones like it did in the 70’s and 80’s a la MESSAGE FROM SPACE and STARCRASH.
I broke down and backed this fucker after saying NO MORE kickstarters. While I’m not an anime freak and am certainly not all that into the whole schoolgirl ninja thing, after reading the rules and how this plays, it seems like a lighter, shorter TENRA BANSHO ZERO. From the description, it can be played in an evening on say a board game night as a one shot– and I’m all about the one shots. I can do the Ninja school girl thing for a one shot! As soon as I get the playtest/beta test packet, we’re playing this fucker.
Over this holiday, if I get any time to myself at all, I’m going to finish up my random equipment tables for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I finished a draft of the fighter table last week and worked a smidge on the cleric. Whether anyone else uses them, it will speed up play for us a lot ditching the shopping mess during char gen.
Tonight is my first go at Feng Shui 2. I haven’t run a game since 1997 so let’s see how it goes. They fixed a lot of the annoying stuff in FS2 and while I think the backstory and fluff have gotten weaker, the rules are a lot better.
The above pic is from a Polish RPG called Degenesis. It’s a horrifying post-apocalyptic world where earth is basically fucked forever. I’ve been really impressed with the art and there are two excellent trailer videos for it as well. Lookee here.
Due to accidentally thinking I was running 13th Age Thursday rather than next week, I tried to haphazardly set up a session on the fly, which didn’t really work since the players had no idea it was happening. Instead of throwing in the towel, I ran another session of Into the Odd, which is pretty much made for this sort of thing.
This session saw our heroic gentlemen, Cisero Collingham and Ancell Warner drunk in a tavern by the docks when they were interuptted by a stout woman named Mable Curmudgeon and strapping thug named Peter Selle (Fart Saddle in French) who required them to accompany them on a voyage to retrieve some of young Severin’s entertainers left in the underground. Unfortunately for Ancell, he was the only one in the tavern at the time, so he was taken aboard a flatboat and headed into the sewers again. The group saved some hungry kids dressed in lobster suits who were lost and starving. Since they were just in the sewere, they brought the kids back to the docks before continuing further. Later they found a woman in a worm mask who begged to be taken aboard, she was an old whore named Gusta Sidebottom who complained about her crotch quite a bit. Heading into a massive grotto, they found a barrel bumping against the boat that contained non other than Cicero Collingham and his mutt who had boasted about their adventure to the underground the day before and were stuffed into the barrel and thrown into the sewer for their eloquence.
What’s more, an old rotting monk was found clinging to the side of the boat and he was brought aboard babbling about the Smogfather and offering stinking ale. No sight of the giant frogs with glowing eyes in the grotto this time…
Knowing that the lost entertainers were in the bubbling cavern, and after the boat survived the drop, the group searched that area and found a body, badly boiled and dead for some time. As they investigated further into the caverns a pack of horrible blood men assaulted them with poisonous millipedes and then charged with cruel axes. Selle was hewn to the ground and Ancell took a horrible wound to the leg and both had to be dragged back to the boat while the punt men fired a cannon into the pack of howling savages. Unable to continue the search, and sure that the remains of the entertainers were in some foul thing’s belly, they retreated back to the surface and found themselves popping out of a manhole cover covered in filth and coagulate gore on a busy market street on a sunny afternoon in July.
Weeks later, the Elder Severin wanted to have a chat with them…
There was a WTF with everyone I mentioned it to that there was no TSR-style castle for D&D at Gencon, and yet there were many books around and certainly people were playing it. Needless to say, people are playing it outside of gencon a great deal. There’s going to be a point soon where people stop calling it 5E, and just call it D&D.
We’ve stayed away from the march of the splat books, the new character classes, new spells, all that stuff. It’s thrown some people for a loop. But what we’ve seen is a very strong response to the game overall. People seem happy with it. That’s always good.
Ended up being one big battle, but was a good time. Trying to do some sandboxing with 13th Age to see how it goes. I have an overall plot in mind if the icon rolls and players let me pull it off, if not, there are many other plots to be found in the 13th Age. Even though one of my players will read this, I won’t lie, this is all a precursor to EYES OF THE STONE THIEF which is a champion tier adventure.
Comments on Roll20. I’m not sold on the amount of prep I have to do, but that’s not the worst thing ever. I am a lazy fucking GM (I think Exalted sucked all the non-lazy GM out of me) and I just want to sit down and play after reading some modules on the bus. 13th Age, like LoTFP, let’s me do that as long as I don’t have to memorize everyone’s class powers. Yet with roll20, if I think there is going to be a set-piece battle, I have to build it out with maps and tokens and all that. Once the players are off the first few session rails, this may be more difficult to prep for before hand. I may go to narrative rather than miniature based combat which is the same as how I play face to face. Let’s see what happens.
After this session, one bit of tech I will ALWAYS use in D20 games forever anon is the Disadvantage/Advantage rule from D&D 5th Edition. It’s just a really easy way to give a bonus with out a +1 or +2. Crits happen more with Advantage, and Fumbles with Disadvantage and I think that’s great. What could be easier? I know it probably slowed the game down a bit when I gave it (mostly to the ranger who was stunting) but it was worth it. I bet this leaks into Lamentations play as well.
I’m not going to give away what happened, as I may elude to what is to come too much. There is a point where the story arc may near it’s end and then I’ll post a big thingy about it. Suffice to say that the Halfling Bard was gravely wounded and was worried he had died at 0 HP– conditioning from LotFP no doubt.
I was pondering my own desire for a Great Simplification in my RPG playing and GM’ing over the last few years and it lead down a path of wondering what year was the height of RPG complexity across the board? Now, sitting in 2015, the OSR is going strong, Numenera’s cypher system is still rolling forward (and the Strange) and has some very simple mechanics, 13th Age has stripped away the grid of 4th Edition and created an extremely playable D20, people are swinging off the nuts of the extremely simplified, deconstructionist spoof of D&D: Dungeon World. What’s more, Hasbro’s D&D v5 released last year, and while still fairly complex compared to the latter three versions, it has also undergone a great simplification compared especially to the two previous iterations. The pendulum has swung to the simple, but when was it at it’s apex of complexity that gave the current trend momentum?
The year I feel people were playing (and had an appetite for) the most complicated RPG’s in the history of the hobby is 2009. Since that year, I gut-feel (I ain’t going to track down sources) like the RPG community, as well as myself has been yearning for a simpler style of play, one that invokes more imagination and less about mechanics and OPTIONS. Yet, in the early 2000’s, I firmly believe that myself and many other people wanted nearly infinite complexity in our RPG games, and anything less was ‘just fucking shit we played as kids.’
Where did this desire for complexity come from in the first place? Why did we need so many character/monster/spell options and all this minutiae? People designed and produced these complex games hoping they would sell, and there was obviously a market for each being as complex as possible. But why?
I’d like to divide RPG players into two (overly) broad groups. First, the 70’s set– people that were born in the 70’s and played OD&D when it was actually published. These are the Holmes, Moldvay, Metzner kids. The second group (again this is broad) are the Lord of the Rings kids that played or started playing D&D 3.0 when the LoTR movies came out. The boost of those films to D&D and RPG’s as a whole was simply huge and there is an entire generation of people that jumped into the hobby, starting again with fantasy, during this time. What were these two groups both influenced by to make them want exceedingly complex games in 2009? How did D&D 3.0, designed by the same guy that did Everway and 13th Age, end up being so complicated and by extension– all these other complex games!
Magic the Gathering. MTG had a huge effect on all gaming everywhere from 1993 on. I would say MTG had as big an effect as the creation and propagation of Dungeons and Dragons itself. What MTG did for gamers and game designers is to create a desire and acceptance of a vast array of asymmetric powers. A MTG deck is essentially a collection of powers that players need to know, memorize and combo. Not only do they need to know their own deck, they need to know as much about all the other cards in the game that may be played against them as well. Roleplaying games hence started having massive amounts of variable powers– especially Exalted and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (who even had all the player skills on cards). MTG primed gamers minds for mass asymmetry and a desire for the same in their RPG’s.
Anime, and fighting games. Especially Ninja Scroll for starters and EVERYTHING else since and by extension ALL Japanese fighting games. I spent food money in college playing Virtua Fighter and Samurai Shodown 2 and the adoration of those games culminating in Guilty Gear and Virtua Fighter 4/5 created an appetite for a system where your character fighting opponents gave the players tons of options, tons of character styles and special powers, conditions, everything. I believe fully that Anime and Fighting games were extremely responsible for the rise in complexity over the course of the 90’s and 2000’s. People eschewed the muddy murderhobos crawling around in dungeons for scraps with just a few stats and a single damage rating– they wanted heroes that could SHIN SHORYUKEN!!! Combat, never a strong point or focus of old D&D (despite how we played as kids) became absolutely critical to RPG system design. Once you understood what was going on in the fighting engine of King of Fighters or Samurai Shodown, it was hard to look at your PNP RPG combats the same way. Reinforcing the trend from D&D 2nd edition– anime propagated that characters should be ‘heroes’ and not just some git with a sword and some rope stealing stuff from a tomb or abandoned dwelling.
Vampire and the D10 system. This is called the storyteller system but compared to story games these days (Hillfolk, Fate, et al.) this was really a ‘universal mechanic’ RPG more than anything. The really awesome thing about Vampire, which no one had done before well, were the variable player powers based on caste/clan. Suddenly players were able to take a fairly straight forward (and broken until the Trinity version of the game fixed it) difficulty/successes system and layer in THEIR characters variable powers, and see how the whole mess worked together. As much as I am not a fan of the vaguely gay (remember it was still only the early 90’s–it couldn’t be blatantly gay which would have been much better!) vampire soap opera stuff myself, I, like many other, viewed the system with some sort of awe, but just wanted it to be turned loose on a genre that wasn’t so…. goth and metaphor for being a closeted gay dude. (this ended up being Trinity/Aberrant and Exalted). Because the system was easy to add options to–they did– so much…
Warhammer 40k/Fantasy: Especially the 70’s gamers started spending MASS cash on 40K and Warhammer stuff in general in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The game was extremely pervasive in game stores, being the bread and butter of many stores along with MTG. Warhammer is all about army/unit asymmetry and tons of variable powers for everything, with customizable characters to the nth degree (we rip on “herohammer,” but that shit is fun both on and off the table as long as it’s balanced). Since D&D was derived from miniatures games, 40K has a similar root. Warhammer is the natural hardcore extension of Swords and Spells and Chaimail, both of which are awful in comparison.
Now, there have been many complicated RPG’s before 2009, especially in the realm of ‘universal’ systems such as GURPS and the HERO system (starting with Champions) as well as, arguably, TMNT (actually a really good game for it’s time!) and Rifts which really wasn’t that complicated except for all the character options and SDC/MDC bullshit (and mass addons). Phoenix Command, Twilight 2000, Rolemaster from back in the day were all COMICALLY complicated simulationist style RPG’s. These last three are games that, if you accidentally buy at a gaming flea market for a couple bucks, end up not on a shelf or drawer for later ‘research’ fodder or toilet reading, but get fired directly into the recycle bin. Yet, these games came out of an era where I think no one knew jack shit about how to design an RPG in general, the medium being all so new after all, so you have to give them a bit of a break unplayable as they were compared to (most) games of today.