#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.

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#TravellerRPG Boon & Bane (MgT 2nd Edition)

One of the major rules changes in the new Mongoose Traveller Second Edition (MgT2.0) Core Rulebook is called “Boon and Bane.” As the Core Rulebook states:

“…there will likely be situations that arise that will make things either easier or harder for the Travellers. This is where Boons and Banes come in.” (Core Rulebook, p. 59)

When a Boon is invoked, the player will roll 3d6 and keep the two best die. Bane calls for a roll of 3d6 keeping the low two dice. To see the impact on the chances of success/failure, I recommend you look at Traveller GM and 2nd Edition playtester Shawn Driscoll’s video which graphically lays it all out.

Back in September, I was already confused about the Boon/Bane mechanic. As I wrote then:

I’m sorry – I just don’t get how task difficulty and Boon/Bane work together. Nor do I see a clear difference between task difficulty and exterior factors. Don’t get me wrong; I like the intent of the Boon/Bane mechanic (the 3D6 High/Low 2D roll makes for interesting odds and results) but the RAW are unclear as to when, or even how, Boon/Bane is applied. I would like to think it’s a narrative (role-playing) tool for the players and referee. Regrettably, the rules are silent on that issue.

As the Beta playtest continued, the use of Boon/Bane was reduced and in many cases replaced by a simple die modifier (DM). In this final version, the usage is greatly reduced compared to the early Beta. However, the rule remains. Looking at the few places Boon/Bane is used, it is finally making a bit more sense to me – but only if I make the jump in understanding that MgT2.0 is a more “narrative RPG” than I previously thought.

The eureka moment for me finally came after I read Chapter Three: Combat, Leadership (p. 72). In combat, a Traveller can make a Leadership check. The Effect of the check (if positive) is the number of Boons the leader can give to any skill checks on the same side. Conversely, if the Effect is negative, the opposing side gets that many Banes available to influence skill checks. In the FATE system, this would be called an Aspect:

“Aspects are short phrases or sentences which describe something important about your character, object or situation. You can use an aspect to gain a mechanical or narrative advantage during play….Mindjammer uses several types of aspects: game aspects, character aspects, cultural aspects, situation aspects, consequences, flaws, and boosts.” (Mindjammer: The Roleplaying Game p. 67)

I think that Boon/Bane are trying to be the MgT2.0 version of FATE aspects. The first problem is that the MgT2.0 Core Rulebook is very weak on when a Boon/Bane is applied. The closest one gets is the sidebar in Chapter Two: Skills and Tasks on p. 61:

“In the vast majority of cases, a referee simply need set a Task Difficulty and then decide whether a Boon or Bane need be applied. Any necessary Dice Modifiers will be suggested by the rules.”

In FATE Accelerated (FAE), the simplified version of FATE which I often reference to understand the core mechanic, one can invoke an aspect to give themselves a bonus (Boon?) or make things harder for their opponents (Bane?). Players can also compel an aspect; use it against themselves or others making life more complicated (Bane?) (Fate Accelerated (FAE), p. 27-29). The major difference here is the use of Fate Points. While the FATE system uses Fate Points, a similar game mechanic can be found in Savage Worlds (Bennies), or Cortex Plus (Plot Points). The lack of a similar mechanic – the Fate Point/Bennies/Plot Point economy – in Traveller is the second problem with the Boon/Bane mechanic. Without a Fate Point or similar economy, too much power potentially ends up in the referees hand.

I am now more comfortable with the Boon/Bane mechanic in MgT2.0.It will be interesting to see how it works in play, but at least now i have a better understanding, and acceptance, of the intent and usage.

#Mindjammer #RPG Initial Thoughts

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Mindjammer: The Roleplaying Game -Transhuman Adventure in the Second Age of Space.
By Sarah Newton (Twitter @SarahJNewton). Powered by the FATE Core engine.

I was able to pick up Mindjammer in hardcover during the close out sale of a FLGS. I was interested because I had heard (somewhere) that Mindjammer was thought by some to be Traveller at Tech Level 16+. At the time I write this post there is a Kickstarter Campaign underway that includes Traveller Mindjammer as a stretch goal. Given my love of Traveller, I decided to look at this game closer.

The Core Rulebook is 497 pages long…most of it setting and the rules associated with it. Mechanically, Mindjammer is a solid game that shows the awesome potential of the FATE Core engine. Setting-wise, the book is (over)full of adventuring potential. Mindjammer does not try to pigeon-hole the players into a particular theme, style, genre, or trope. The  Mindjammer setting describes the New Commonality of Mankind using hyper-technology – especially the Mindscape and FTL travel – to reach out and contact long-lost colonies. I read reviews elsewhere that recommend using the book with a toolbox approach but I personally find that hard since the rules and setting are so closely intertwined that separating out one piece is difficult. I also feel that FATE Core, being a more narrativist approach to RPGs, is a bit of an advanced system for players and GMs to begin with. What this book seemingly lacks is a “putting it all together” example. I have heard some describe the first expansion, Hearts and Minds, to be just that.

As far as the Kickstarter is concerned, I may back it at the PDF MASTER level (~$30). This reward does not include the Hearts and Minds book but I can pick that up for $8.99 this weekend on DriveThruRPG. As much as I am a Traveller RPG fan, I am hesitant given the new Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition Rules (still in Beta?) which I am less-than-impressed with.

Has it been that long?

Need to get back into a rhythm for blogging. Not too many new wargames but many new family games and RPGs.

New purchases include Fantasy Flight Games Imperial Assault, Alderac’s Trains, and Letters to Santa. All need to be reviewed.

For RPGs still need to comment on Traveller 5, Firefly, Fate Core, Fate Accelerated, and Atomic Robo.

Have also been busy with models. Need to do more there too!