11th) Which ‘dead game’ would you like to see reborn?
Until recently I would have responded to this with Torg but that’s just had a wildly successful Kickstarter and relaunch so I’m actually at a bit of a loss for this question.
[A while later]
Actually one of the games I’d like to see would be BESM, an anime orientated game that used the Tri-Stat DX system. I really enjoyed that but the 2nd edition book ended up tying itself in knots with contradictions and ability combos that broke the game. The 3rd edition, published just before the publisher went under, completely reversed the mechanics (roll under became roll over) and introduced its own set of issues. So a new, up to date version of that with detailed sections that spilt the various anime genres down and presented separate rules for each alongside a relatively lightweight set of mechanics with narrativist elements.
10th) Where do you go for RPG reviews?
Mostly I’ll search for them rather than have a single site that I go to. For the majority of games my interested tends have been stoked through twitter, podcasts or a forum and I’ll then go in search of actual reviews of it. The rise of kickstarter has made this harder though as a lot of the games I’ve bought recently weren’t out and therefore didn’t have reviews. In those cases I have to rely on the pitch for the game and what the company has released before. That in itself is a difficult combo and I’m actually finding myself shifting away from backing games at that stage; it doesn’t help that I have so many kickstarter games that I’ve read but never played.
9th) What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?
Most. I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that around 10 sessions is a good length for a tightly focused campaign and that I like that fixed length. It gives you long enough for a proper plot arc, to get to know the characters and to give each time a fair amount of narrative spotlight. For longer open ended campaigns I think the focus can be lost while shorter doesn’t allow for enough breadth, everything has to be laser tight on a single aspect. I think ideally I’d aim for 3-4 sessions per player with a preference of 3-5 players. So a range of 9-20 sessions although that is of course just a guideline.
For those sort of games it really helps to have characters that already have background hooks to latch onto and who are already connected to one another. Probably the best example of this that I’ve run was my Dresden Files campaign. Three players and around 12 sessions. Two of the characters started off working together while the first arc focused around the third character as their supernatural heritage manifested. The second arc then introduced the larger threat and the main macguffin (a newly born dragon) while the final arc required them to stop the summoning of an ancient forgotten evil. All of these were interconnected through the backgrounds of the characters and despite taking a while to get used to the system it remains one of the most satisfying campaigns I’ve ever run.
8th) What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2hrs or less?
If we’re talking individual sessions then I think some of the more indie one shot systems work really well for this. They quite often have an emphasis on short scenes framed around a single purpose and the ability to just run things on the fly, with or without a GM. I suspect a lot of people will mention Fiasco which is a fun game but I just wanted to touch on a few others.
The criminally unknown Hell 4 Leather by Joe Prince tells some amazing stories of revenge and retribution over a short time period. It’s moody, atmospheric and the scene designs are really tight. I’ve played it repeatedly, always had a blast and am convinced that it would work really well as a set up story for another game. Play the revenge story then switch to something else to chronicle the fallout / investigation (the supernatural aspect would pair really well with some urban fantasy).
Remember Tomorrow by Gregor Hutton. A small cyberpunk game that leans heavily on the Gibson stories, with a particular focus on characters getting out / completing their story. To do so they must be Ready, Willing and Able but each of those comes at a price. With how scenes are framed and resolved it is easy to build up a large cast of characters that are retained from session to session yet each of them may never come into contact with all the others before they are retired. A great lightweight narrative system that is true to the genre.
Dread by Epidiah Ravachol and Nathaniel Barmore. One of the most well known indie titles but also one that I’ve unfortunately only had a chance to read. Dread is the Jenga tower horror RPG. Want to do something challenging? Make a pull from the tower but knock it over and you’re marked for death. Maybe not immediately but there’s no escaping it. Everybody I know that has played it loved the suspense the tower adds to the game and that it emphasises characters playing to the tropes of the genre. Definitely one I need to try ASAP.
7th) What was your most impactful RPG session?
Once again another difficult question to answer as while I can think of numerous impactful games many of those came from looking back after a campaign and seeing how the story arcs had come together. I could mention my first campaign of Torg which saw my bitter ex-cop descend into darkness to become the very thing that had broken him in the first place. Or I could talk about the excellent Smallville campaign by Stephen of Step into RPGs where my ordinary, boring and completely un-powered sidekick character ended up having to step up because those who should have been saving the day were too distracted with their own messy relationships (seriously, Smallville is amazing and such an underrated system). Or I might discuss my introduction to Legend of the Five Rings where my samurai went from having everything he could have dreamed of to a tragic tale worthy of the pillow books of Rokugan.
But those are campaigns and the question was session. Which goes to a game where I was GM rather than players. A Demon Hunters adventure where the players decided to metaphorically turn left instead of right. We hadn’t even started the adventure but were in what was the transition period from the previous mission. One PC was recuperating, having recently been turned into a vampire. The rest decided they wanted to get flowers for her and being a rookie GM I made an offhand comment that that section of the Warehouse (an interdimensional essentially infinite storage space) had been declared off limits for some reason or another. I’d been trying to redirect them back to the job at hand (I’d yet to come across the idea of “Yes and…”), instead they ventured off into the unknown assuming the comment was a plot hook.
We’d not even started the adventure and they’d already managed to break it. I was flummoxed. I could handle players getting creative in solving puzzles or side stepping encounters but bypassing the entire adventure? That was new and from the look on my face they knew how much they’d thrown me.
So I did the only thing that was fair, I literally screwed up my notes, admitted how much they’d evaded my prep and called a 10 minute beer break. Looking back I can’t remember the details of what I’d planned but I can tell you that the adventure we ended up with was far more creative and entertaining. It eventually led to the Chapter imploding in on itself with the vampire PC giving in to her hunger for blood and turning not one but two of the other characters after having been attacked. We ended on an epic fade out with the Chapter fighting amongst themselves in a grand library while trying to rules lawyer their way out of a Demonic contract.
It was amazing and taught me a lot of vital lessons about GMing.
6th) You can game every day for a week. Describe what you’d do!
Probably try and play a range of one shots using systems I haven’t had a chance to play before. This is presuming that said week includes enough time to become familiar with a system which I’d struggle with during a normal week. The alternative would be a week of games with rotating GMs, again could be fun and lets each person showcase a system they love.
If it was a one week of playing every evening after work then I’d go the opposite approach, a mini-campaign with a single system I know. I think I could just about GM such a game as I lean towards on the fly / prep in my head games as opposed to binders full of notes.
5th) Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?
A surprisingly difficult question to answer, I actually had to go and look at a number of books to come up with an answer. Then I stumbled across a clear winner that somehow feels like a cheat, Tales from the Loop. It’s both for the simple reason that the game is set in a world that had been previously developed through the gorgeous artwork of Simon Stålenhag. The game builds upon the visual styles and previously published material throughout and because of this it would have been a failure if the cover hadn’t captured the spirit of the game.
On the other hand it feels like a cheat for the fact that in reality the question should be does the game capture the spirit of the art? The answer is still a yes but that wasn’t exactly the question posed. Despite liking the look of the system and enjoying reading the book I’ve yet to have a chance to play it and see how well it suits my style of gaming.
My second pick for this has to be the print on demand edition of Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors. The visual style of that cover really encapsulates the madcap comedy horror the game is going for, after all where else would you get a small group of heavily armed individuals being assaulted by demonic garden gnomes?