#RPGaDay 2017 – What is a good #RPG to play for sessions of 2 hrs or less?

#RPGaDay August 8, 2017

Tough one here. I have seen many “lighter” RPGs and have heard/watched one-shots that can run as little as two hours but I actually own very few.

I am going to assume that the traditional “Session 0” character generation and the like is either done before hand or pregens are used.

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Courtesy Pinnacle Entertainment Group

Of the RPGs in my collection, FATE Accelerated(Evil Hat Games) is my go-to although I admit that I have found Savage Worlds (Pinnacle Entertainment Group) to also be useful for a quick pick-up game (I have the slightly older Explorer’s Edition).

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Courtesy FFG

Of course, any of the Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars RPG Beginner Games also work. I have all four (Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, Force and Destiny, and The Force Awakens) and I have to say that Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game is my favorite.

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Courtesy RPGGeek

Then again, I cannot pass on mentioning Classic Traveller or its latest incarnation, Cepheus Engine. There are many “sub-games” within this RPG that make great play sessions. Like character generation and the famous “you can die during chargen” game. Or gearheads designing ships. These days I even play solo using, what other than, SOLO!.

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#FourRPGs of Influence

Reading the #FourRPGs hashtag on Twitter is a great nostalgia trip, as well a thinking challenge. Here are the four RPGs that most influenced me.

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From tasteofsoundsfiles.wordpress.com

#1 – Classic Traveller (Published 1977 – discovered 1979)

Anybody remember the game store Fascination Corner in Arapahoe Mall in the Southeast suburbs of Denver? It was there I bought my first war-game, Panzer, by Yaquinto Games in 1979. Soon after that, I found a little black box with a very simple logo. The game was Traveller, and it was a role-playing game. Being a huge Star Wars fan, I just had to have the game. This was my gateway into RPGs. Although I had friends who played Dungeons & Dragons, I didn’t (fantasy didn’t catch my attention then, and to this day still doesn’t). I have never looked back since.

I actively played RPGs until the mid-late 1980’s. After college, my job and family didn’t really give me the time to play. Instead, I became a bit of a collector. I tried to keep up with Traveller (buying Marc Miller’s T4 and later the Mongoose Traveller versions). I tried other Somewhere in the mid-2000’s, I discovered DriveThruRPG, and started building an electronic collection of games that I had missed. Being a huge Traveller RPG fan, I stayed with GDW RPGs for the longest time. Sure, I dabbled in other systems (like the James Bond 007 RPG), but I really tried to stay away from Dungeons & Dragons. I had tried my hand at D20 Modern, invested heavily in the Star Wars: Saga Edition, and even looked at Savage Worlds, but none of then really captured my interest.

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From en.battlestarwiki.org

#2 – Battlestar Galactica (Published and discovered 2007)

Being a huge fan of the show, I just had to have Margret Weis’ Battlestar Galactica RPG. I was immediately sold on what is now known as the Cortex Classic System (which, in retrospect, is not so different from Savage Worlds). The Battlestar Galactica RPG was a major turning point for me because it was with this game that I truly embraced designs beyond the Classic Traveller system. The Plot Points system, i.e. a tangible game currency for the players to influence the story, was a major break from my previous gaming philosophy. I realized that I was too fixated on systems like Classic Traveller, with its many sub-games, which is very wargame-like and not actually a great storytelling engine. I continued to follow the Cortex system, and these days really enjoy the Firefly RPG using the Cortex Plus system.

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From en.wikipedia.org

#3 – Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (Published and discovered 2013)

While Battlestar Galactica started me on the path to narrative RPG play, I didn’t truly arrive until Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. I had got the core rule book and the Beginner’s Game and tried to play with my boys. But at first I just didn’t “get it.” What do all those funny dice really mean? One day I discovered the Order 66 podcast, and listened to their advice on Triumph and Despair. At that moment it all clicked. From then, I was sold on the the system and strongly believe that this game is the best marriage of theme and gameplay. That said, I have to say that the later volumes of this game system, Age of Rebellion and Force & Destiny don’t hold my interest as much as Edge of the Empire does.

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From evilhat.com

#4 –Atomic Robo (Published and discovered 2014)

After Edge of the Empire, I started looking for other narrative RPGs. Somehow, I happened across a copy of Atomic Robo. I picked up the game (mostly on a whim) but after reading it was so intrigued by the gaming possibilities. As fortune would have it, I also discovered a Bundle of Holding that had many FATE products. I discovered I had been missing out on a great game system. Now, in addition to Atomic Robo, I enjoy Diaspora (FATE 3.0) and Mindjammer (FATE Core). I have even played a few games using FATE Accelerated with the boys, much to their (and my) enjoyment.

Truth be told, these days I pay much more attention to the “game engine” than the actual game. I admit that my favorite “game engine” these days is FATE Core. That said, I still enjoy Traveller (and even the much-maligned Traveller 5) although the newest Mongoose Traveller Second Edition is not impressing me.

RPG Thursday – On the Fringe of Star Wars

The Fringe (Wookiepedia)

One can’t go anywhere on the Geeky InterWebs this week without seeing the news that JJ Abrams has signed on to direct Star Wars: Episode VII. I have little to add to that discussion beyond a hope that the new Star Wars films will be more like the Original Trilogy and less like the Prequels or Clone Wars.

Star Wars is a very tightly controlled commercial media empire. From movies to books to TV to toys, every item released to the public is carefully selected to meet certain standards – even going as far as making changes to canon (Han shot first!). It seems to me that empire has aimed its marketing squarely at pre-teen boys – like my youngest. For evidence I will direct you to the entire Clone Wars series and the toys and other paraphernalia associated with it. I admit I actively promote Star Wars in my house, for I too love the toys and models and games. I also think RPGs are a valuable form of gaming and I want my kids to play and enjoy them. One way to get them to play an RPG is to use a familiar universe, like Star Wars.

Courtesy RPG Geek

Which makes the new Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game (SW: EotE) from Fantasy Flight Games puzzling to me. FFG certainly has a challenge;  for success they need to show how their version is different – and better – than the West End Games (1987-1999) and Wizards of the Coast (2000-2010) versions. To do so, FFG appears to have tapped into a recent trend of the Star Wars commercial juggernaut – going bad. Other elements of the Star Wars media empire are trying to tap into this same vibe. Look at the upcoming video game Star Wars 1313 or Timothy Zahn’s newest Star Wars novel, Scoundrels. Both take place in “grim and gritty” places where the “morality is gray.”  This is what is known in Star Wars as the “fringe;” the shady underbelly of society in which smugglers, bounty hunters, pirates, black marketeers, thieves, and assorted criminals operate.

The new FFG Star Wars RPG aims to land squarely in the fringe. As FFG says on their own website description for the game:

Participate in grim and gritty adventures in places where morality is gray and nothing is certain. Ply your trade as a smuggler in the Outer Rim, collect bounties on the scum that live in the shadows of Coruscant, or try to establish a new colony on a planet beneath the Empire’s notice.

My recently purchased Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner’s Game illustrates this theme quite clearly. The four characters – a Bounty Hunter, Hired Gun, Smuggler and Colonist (what? – should be a Slave) – are fleeing gangster Teemo the Hutt who has an evil plan to take control of some illegal spice trade. The characters are morally challenged; a bounty hunter who is protecting her sister, the Wookie fighting for his people but was enslaved and forced to fight, a pilot who ran afoul of politically connected enemies, and a droid who just wants to be doctor. SW: EotE also takes place in the time period just after the Battle of Yavin from the original Star Wars (Episode IV – A  New Hope for you hopeless young ones) – just like Scoundrels. In this time, the Galactic Civil War is heating up and there are very few Force users.

Personally, I like the setting. It reminds me of my old Classic Traveller adventures where all our characters were not heroes and lived on the edge of the Imperium trying to eek out an existence by staying one step ahead of the starship repo man or law enforcement authorities. We were mercenaries, pirates, and bounty hunters. We took the dirty jobs. We started bar fights for the fun of it. We didn’t use psionics since Han Solo had it right when he said, “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” (Star Wars, 1977)

Which all taken together is exactly why I may not introduce my own kids to the FFG version of Star Wars roleplaying for a while. At least not the setting the game is using. As a parent bringing my kids into the world of RPGs, SW: EotE is not the setting I want them to play in. As much as I personally detest the Clone Wars, for kids it is a more straight-forward, good versus evil, Jedi versus Sith, world.

Part of my problem here is that I like the Core Mechanic and semi-narrative approach of SW: EotE better than other versions or hacks I have seen out there. I have the complete Saga Edition, but never liked the class approach to characters (not to mention having the game spread out over 14 books!). I have seen homebrew Savage Worlds or Cortex hacks…but all feel unfinished.

So in the end I am torn and will likely wait on the fence before investing further into SW: EotE until I see just how edgy this fringe really is.

RPG Thursday – My Top Seven RPG Internet Meme

James over at Grognardia started it, and I am late to get on the bandwagon.

My top 7 played RPGs in 2012 (and a good marker for the past several years):

1 – Classic Traveller (Admittedly not so much the RPG but the setting. I especially have played the games of Classic Traveller such as Striker, Book 5: High Guard, Adventure 5: Trillion Credit Squadron, Imperium, Fifth Frontier War, and Power Projection: Fleet; as well as using adventures such as Adventure 7: Broadsword as inspiration for Tomorrow’s War.)

2- Mongoose Traveller (including Hammer’s Slammers, Outpost Mars and Orbital)

3 – Battlestar Galactica

4 – Serenity

5 – Prime Directive

6 – Mouse Guard

7 – Others I played around with in 2012 were Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and the new Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner’s Game. Also messed around with Space: 1889 and A Song of Ice and Fire: Game of Thrones Edition.

RPG Thursday – Edge of the Empire Beginner Game

Edge of the Empire Beginner Game (courtesy Fantasy Flight Games)

Happened into one of the  local (sometimes) FLGS last Friday and found them setting out the brand new Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) Edge of the Empire Beginner Game (EotEBG). Being an Original Trilogy Star Wars fan, and seeing the price of only $29.99, it seemed like a good investment.

I didn’t invest in the FFG EotE beta when it was released earlier this year. At $30.00 it seemed excessive for a beta product. When I later found out that they gave you stickers to put on your dice to make them FFG Star Wars dice I felt my decision was justified. I also have no experience with other FFG RPGs.

Out of the Box

EotEBG comes in a standard 8.5x11x2 inch light cardstock box. The cover art includes the heroes shooting Imperial Stormtroopers from a speeder identical to what Luke Skywalker owned in the original Star Wars. The setting itself is in the Galactic Civil War period around the time of the Battle of Yavin.

Being that this is “An Introduction to Roleplaying for 3-5 Players” the contents are structured to be a teaching guide. The four-page “Read This First” introduction sheet has the obligatory “What is a Roleplaying Game?” and an example of play. The 32-page Adventure Book is clearly marked as “Read This Second.”  This programmed adventure guide both leads the players through the adventure but (more importantly) guides the GM as he teaches the players the game mechanics. Let me repeat that: the GM teaches the players the game. Each encounter introduces a new part of the rules:

  • Encounter 1 introduces the Core Mechanic
  • Encounter 2 introduces Combat
  • Encounter 3 is Opposed Checks in the form of social interactions
  • Encounter 4 expands Combat and Skill Checks
  • An Interlude at this point introduces the Destiny Pool
  • Encounter 5 introduces Minions (opposing NPCs) and dice pool building
  • Encounter 6 introduces Nemesis’ (more powerful opposing NPCs)
  • Encounter 7 introduces Starships and starship combat

The four player characters each have a multi-page folio with evocative cover art, a two-page spread with their starting character sheet, a second two-page spread with advancement options, a blank character sheet and an appropriate talent tree. The back page of the folio is a background story. To assist in the adventure included is a four-panel, two-sided fold-out map. The map can be used with the 35-count token sheet which has characters, creatures, and ships. To keep you adventuring after completing this module, an ad for a downloadable follow-on adventure is included.

The last book – the Rulebook – is also marked “Read This Book Last.” This 48-page book (plus back cover charts) has seven chapters which cover most of the essential rules less character generation or any rules for the Force outside of the Destiny Pool. Finally, the Beginner Game box includes 14 customized FFG Star Wars dice. Of note, these dice are NOT the same used in FFG’s Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game.

What I Liked

The cover art attracted me in the store because it invoked the Original Trilogy era and not the Prequels or Clone Wars (which I admit my kids love but I cannot stand).

The dice! Given that FFG sells the (not similar) Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Dice set for $7.95, the 14 dice here likely make up at least half the price of the box set.

Narrative Approach. I like the fact that instead of simple Success-Failure the dice also tell you Advantage, Threat, Triumph and Despair. What each of these means is up to the players or GM to describe; the rule provide guidelines and examples, not necessarily hard-and-fast conditions.

What I Didn’t Like

At first I was confused because as I pulled the contents from the face-up box the top face-up items were actually the last to be read. I can imagine how this happened; the assembly line had all the items laid out left-to-right and as they were assembled each item was stacked on top of the previous one resulting in the last item being on top of the pile. I had to reshuffle the items to get them into a seemingly proper order. Small concern to be sure but as a beginner’s game this confusion can be a bad first impression.

The “Read This First” was confusing with the scenario set-up on the back page. I feel this should have been first because it sets the stage for the example of play inside the folio.

I am not sure I agree with the “GM as teacher” method. Encouraging players to learn at least the Core Mechanic and the basics of Combat before play should make the play easier and more enjoyable rather than becoming bogged down into a procedural teaching of rules.

The player characters get their own folio with essential rule items around the edges. The GM needs a similar item (simple GM screen?) to assemble all the tables together too rather than being forced to page back-and-forth in the Adventure Book or Rulebook.

The dice! Specifically, there are not enough to construct even a basic dice pool for the player characters. For example, Oskara the Twi’lek Bounty Hunter is taking a shot at a Stormtrooper at   Medium Range. Her basic dice pool using her Blaster Carbine is Agility x2+ Proficiency x2. With her Agility of 4 she needs to upgrade her dice pool to Agility x2 + Proficiency x4. Yet there are only two Proficiency die included. Sure, FFG points out that you can go online and buy the FFG Star Wars dice app for $4.99 but shouldn’t a beginner box game be playable out of the box?

The dice! Specifically, interpreting it all. Just sorting through the dice roll results can be challenging. If we keep building on the previous example, we find Oskara starts with a dice pool of Agility x2 + Proficiency x4. At Medium Range it is an Average Task (2x Difficulty dice). If Oskara aims a single boost die is added. Let’s say the Stormtroopers are behind a wall – that’s one setback die for cover. So the (final?) dice pool is Agility x2 +Proficiency x4 +Difficulty x2 +Boost + Setback  for a total of 10 dice. This means the GM and players will have to interpret between 10 and 19 symbols of six different classes (Blank, Success, Advantage, Failure, Threat, and Triumph). Skill in reading all the results at a glance may come with time but it is not necessarily intuitive.

Parting Thoughts

I certainly feel my money was well spent; there is alot going on in this box. That said….

I disagree with FFG’s approach to teaching the game as it depends too much on the GM and simply brings the player characters along for the ride. That said, the approach is very suitable to teaching younger players (i.e. kids). However, the somewhat gritty setting is probably not what the younger set wants (nor a setting that Mom and Dad want them to play in either).

I personally like the emphasis on Narrative Play through the Advantage-Threat-Triumph-Despair dice results. However, this requires a different type of player; a player with more imagination. I am not sure younger players can utilize this mechanic to its full advantage. Indeed, the whole Beginner Game come across as having an identity crisis. On one hand, it seems aimed at a younger, more inexperienced RPG crowd with the GM as teacher approach and color commentary that is nice but extremely simple (almost comic book) in execution. On the other had, the setting is gritty and the focus on Narrative Play seemingly demands a more experienced RPG player.

I am looking forward to the Core Rulebook, but must admit some reluctance at jumping into the system fully. Although I am sure that Character Generation will be fine but I am worried about how the Force will be implemented. In the Beginner Game, the Force is used to define the Destiny Pool – what other games might call plot points – which are used to upgrade skills checks. The mechanic here is that the Destiny Pool has Light and Dark tokens which are flipped to opposite sides when used. The player characters can use Light tokens and the GM dark. A very simple approach. I can only hope the final version of the Force is more defined.