Monthly Archives: October 2020
Why Fantasy RPGS Do Better: A Theory
When I was first getting involved in RPGs in the 1980s, and then in the industry as a professional in the 1990s, people often noted that when discussing success and popularity of Fantasy VS Scifi, movies and TV always skewed much more towards scifi, and RPGs towards fantasy.
Not that there weren’t scifi RPGs and Fantasy tv shows and movies, but they were less common, less popular, and less successful.
And people wondered why.
Now, Fantasy has largely broken the TV/Movie barrier since 2000, and I attribute that to better budgets, effects, and acceptance of fantasy stories as interesting and varied. (And I believe some of that influence came from games… but that’s another essay.)
That still leaves the question of why scifi (and modern, and old west, and so on) ttRPGs simply are not as successful or popular as Fantasy ttRPGs.
It cannot just be momentum or nostalgia. The first scifi ttRPGs came hot on the heels of D&D, and by the time most people were exposed to them there were plenty of both. And ttRPGs have seen several resurgences since their first hitting the public eye, and every time fantasy ttRPGs come out on top.
(There are some AWESOME, world-influencing, trend-setting, society impacting scifi and modern ttRPG IPs. They are just less common than fantasy, and tier-to-tier less successful.)
This of course rasies the question of why. WHY are fantasy ttRPGs better accepted by the general gamer community than other genres of ttRPG?
So, this is my theory:
Players are more forgiving of fantasy.
Yeah, that’s pretty simple, but I have seen it over and over in more than 2 decades of professional game creation, and nearly four decades of play. This increased forgiveness comes in two primary forms.
First, people are comfortable blending a wider range of fantasy concepts together than they are blending modern or scifi concepts.
For example: If I want to play a Knight of the Round Table, you want to play a character inspired by Conan the Barbarian, Jan wants to play a character inspired by Lord Darcey, and Robin wants to play a character inspired by Arjuna, most groups can accept those characters can interact and still feel close enough to their inspirations to be satisfying.
However, if I want to play a character inspired by Captain Kirk, you want to play a character inspired by RoboCop, Jan wants to play a character inspired by Luke Skywalker, and Robin wants to play a character inspired by Char Aznable, chances are we can’t all play in the same game without the differences in our characters making our characters not seem close enough to their inspirations to be satisfying, or having to ignore smart choices in order to stay true to our sub-genres.
Similarly, if a game has special powers fueled by magic, more players accept that magic is not real, and doesn’t need to make a lot of sense and thus just accept the game rules, compared to the number of players who will shrug and ignore rules oddities in science fiction they don’t like.
A simple version of this is that in a game where a target can expect to be hit and damaged with a greatsword 8-12 times and survive (clearly very uncommon in the real world), many players can just accept it. If pistol rules are then introduced and someone can be hit and damaged with a 9mm handgun 8-12 times and survive, a large number of the players who were FINE with the greatsword rules now feel the pistol rules are so “unrealistic” they don’t want to play them.
So, additional scrutiny and less suspension of disbelief is leveled as non-fantasy settings, leading to groups (rather than individuals) gaining more satisfaction from fantasy ttRPG properties.
I have a Patreon. It supports the time I take to do all my blog posts. If you’d like to see more gaming theories, (or Pathfinder 1st edition thoughts, or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!
Gaming by Candlelight
Like most of the state of Oklahoma, I lost internet and power after a huge icestorm hammered the state at the beginning of this week. We had no connectivity for three days, and no power for two. (And many friends and family still don’t have power, and may not for days to come.)
Which is why I had no blog posts Mon, Tues, or Weds this week. I couldn’t even write them to post later. Normally when the power is out for days at a time I’d go cluster shoulder-to-shoulder with dozens of other people in an internet café or coffee house. But in time of pandemic? Absolutely not.
On our first night in the freezing dark, a friend who still had power came by to bring us batteries and food. And then… sit with us. In the darkness. And cold.
I mean, what else are four gamers going to do with no electricity and no place to go?
So, we played a four-hour 1-shot Pathfinder 1st edition game. By candlelight.
The GM kept is simple–humans only, core rulebook only, everyone gets a single +1 item of choices, and 50-point ability buy. (“50 points!!?” “Yeah, you-all are from a harsh place with few magic items and I am limiting options, so LOTS of ability points.”) The setting was similarly simple–a low-tech but sophisticated realm (“Nothing is made of metal, but your stone, bone and wood weapons are as good as metal.” “Your people’s main activity is gathering. It’s second is hunting. You are hunters.”) We began at 4th level.
It took us 30 minutes to make characters. On blank paper, by pencil, in candlelight. Being veteran players we did do SOME houserule customization. The GM said no one had armor, but we got a +2 armor bonus, with an additional +2 for each armor proficiency we got. I played a druid, who got to swap our prepared spells for healing rather than summoning spells (so I didn’t have to keep two books open to read by candlelight). We ended up with a greataxe barbarian, 2-weapon fighter, storm druid, and destined sorcerer.
It was a simple 3-encounter adventure. First, while hunting aurochs, we were attacked by a T-Rex. Then, we discovered our allies back at the hunting camp had been captured by serpent people. We had to track them down, which the GM handled as a 4e-style skill challenge. Then, we ambushed the serpent people and rescued our people.
We ended on a note that the serpent people where beginning to move out of the forbidden valley, and our people would need to find allies to oppose their expansionist assaults.
I played the druid (Tormuk Stormspeaker), and discovered I REALLY like the weather domain’s 1st level power — it does very little damage (and its nonlethal), but a foe hit takes -2 to attacks for 1 round (no save). That retains at least some utility well past the point of the damage being relevant. I had a really nice play experience, burning all but my last 2 buff spells in the first two encounters, and able to augment the barbarian and fighter before ambushing the serpent people, and becoming a wolverine to fight in hth.
I’m sure it helped that we were very specifically just passing time, and we knew if there were hiccups they were a result of it being a very casual, barely-planned session. And as a 1-shot, any weird issue could be shrugged off and never dealt with again. But we also had a LOT of fun… even if we had to point flashlights at the dice to see what we rolled.
I have a Patreon. It supports the time I take to do all my blog posts. If you’d like to see more gaming stories, (or Pathfinder 1st edition thoughts, or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!
PF 1 Essentials, Fighter Class Preview
I’ve done a lot of work on my idea for a revised “PF1 Essentials” rewrite of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, going over a number of feats (which are now compiled here, along with my thoughts on them and a growing index of other articles). I thought it was time to show what i think a PF1 Essentials class might look like, so I did a rough preview of the FPF1 Essentials Fighter.
Obviously this is just a starting point, and I’ll need to integrate a lot of things into it (like how Fighters get to have multiple Stance feat stances going at once, which is likely an advanced combat training option). But as a preview of where I am taking this, i thought people might enjoy it.
Essentials Fighter Class Preview
Hit Die: d10.
Starting Wealth: 250 gp. In addition, each character begins play with an outfit worth 10 gp or less.
Class Skill: The fighter’s class skills are Animal Handling (Dex or Cha), Appraise (Int), Athletics (Str), Intimidate (Cha), Knowledge (dungeoneering) (Int), Knowledge (engineering) (Int), Knowledge (nobility) (Int), Perception (Wis), Profession (Wis), Ride (Dex), Stealth (Dex), and Survival (Wis).
(Animal handling now includes Handle Animal and Ride. Athletics now combines Climbing and Swim. Profession now includes Craft and Profession.)
Skill Ranks Per Level: 6 + Int modifier.
Table 1: The Fighter
|Level||Base Attack Bonus||Fort Save||Ref Save||Will Save||Special|
|1st||+1||+2||+0||+2||Bonus feat, combat style|
|2nd||+2||+3||+0||+3||Bonus feat, combat training|
|9th||+9/+4||+6||+3||+6||Combat training, advanced combat training|
|20th||+20/+15/+10/+5||+12||+6||+12||Bonus feat, combat mastery|
Weapon and Armor Proficiency
A fighter is proficient with all simple and martial weapons and with light armor.
Obviously the class has had major upgrades in Will saves and skill points. I’ve been working with the basic d20 fighter nonstop since 1999, and I believe these pure power boosts are warranted, and will help make the fighter the go-to class for players who want to be strong-jawed swordsmen and dashing heroes.
Bonus feats are largely unchanged.
At first level, you’ll gain a combat style. This will set one fighter apart from another at the very beginning, and some combat trainings will require a set style. A combat style might give you proficiency with medium and heavy armor, all shields (including tower shields), and give you a solid armor training/armor mastery path for your combat mastery. Or it might give you bonuses to AC when wearing no more than light armor and give you a panache option combat training path. Or give you an order, oath, light and heavy armor, and a mounted combat/cavalier order combat training path.
It might even give you some combat magic, for a bgeing-at-first-level version of the eldritch knight.
Nearly everything else fighters get has been rolled into “Combat training.” This will be a system much like rogue talents, but focused on different fighting options. Combat training will have all the armor training and weapon training options, and a lot of the things that built off those in Player Companions and archetypes.
At 9th level you’ll gain access to advanced combat training, which will have higher-level-appropriate options, and likely a way to pick up a “second fighting style” if desired.
This system can roll a ton of archetypes and even some base and hybrid classes into a single, flexible class that takes less room than all those options combined, but can actually create more different custom PC builds, all on the same game-balanced chassis.
I have a Patreon. It supports the time I take to do all my blog posts. If you’d like to see more Pathfinder 1st edition options (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!
d20 Spotlight Tokens
d20 Spotlight Tokens are an optional rule for most d20-rule based (or “T20”) games. The tokens are designed to give players a concrete way to grab some spotlight time (real-world time where they are getting the most done, being the most impressive, and having the most attention paid to them). These are absolutely a power-up in terms of what a group of PCs can handle, and that’s both intentional and, in my opinion, a good thing. It’s not an increase in what characters can do all the time, but it is a way for a player to decide to have remarkable success when the going gets tough… or when the player just wants that to be the way the story goes.
These are a mechanical solution to spotlight time. A player can’t help but be the focus of attention when one is spent, even if they are shy or not big talkers.
Once you have played with d20 Spotlight Tokens for a few game sessions, it should be obvious how to adjust for them as a GM. It may be the players simply choose to take on more encounters in a row, taking overnight rests or breaks to recharge abilities less often, in which case no adjustment may be needed. Or it may be appropriate to treat the characters as being one or two levels higher, so they face more dangerous opponents that require them to expend some tokens to succeed.
Spotlight Token Rules
You get one token per session, plus one per 5 full character levels. If no other player takes the same spotlight token as you, you gain 1 extra token per session.
Select one of the following tokens. This should be done, together, as a group. If two players choose the same token, they can decide if they want to overlap, or one or both of them change their choice. Once this choice is settled, it cannot be changed until you gain a level or another player selects the same Spotlight Token you already have (in which case, again, you discuss it and one, both, or neither of you can change your choice).
You can spend a Spotlight Token immediately any time the relevant game event occurs, even if the action has already been resolved. For example, if you select the Attack Token, you can spend it after an attack misses, or after it hits but does less damage than you want. When you spend a spotlight token, you also get one additional full round of actions you get to take immediately. This additional round of actions does not benefit from the powers of the Spotlight Token–for example if using the Assault token attacks you make as part of your bonus round of action do not also automatically hit.
Currently, here are the token choices. They are designed to lean into common character focuses, and to have more than one options for each broad focus.
ARMOR – You take no damage until the end of your next turn.
ATTACK – Your attack (anything requiring an attack roll) hits and does 150% its max damage.
ASSAULT — Your attack (anything requiring an attack roll), and all attacks you make before the beginning of your next round, hit.
CRITICAL — Your attack, effect, or spell (anything requiring an attack roll) is a critical hit, if it has rules for being so (for example of a spell does not require an attack roll and has no rules for being a critical hit, it does not benefit from this token).
DEFENSE – An attack misses you, as do all other attacks from the same source until the beginning of your next turn.
EFFECT – One foe fails a saving throw against a spell or effect of yours. If there are degrees of failing a saving throw (such as an additional penalty if the save is failed by 5 or more), it takes the worst effect.
MANA — You activate one spell or ability you can use at least once per day without it counting against your normal uses per day.
OVERCOME — You get to take a single action that can be performed in one round or less, that you would be able to take if your character was not suffering any damage, penalties or effects, and without applying any penalties for current damage, penalties, or effects. Yes, even if you are dead.
RESIST — You succeed at a saving throw, and at all other saving throws from the exact same effect (such as all saves against a poison, or against one ongoing spell).
SKILL — You may choose for one skill check (regardless of how much time it represents), or all skill checks you make in a single round, to be treated as if you had rolled a 20 and the d20 roll.
I have a Patreon. It supports the time I take to do all my blog posts, but especially longer and more experimental ones like this. If you’d like to see more game-bending rule options (or more fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!
Short Fiction: “ALPHA FOXTROT UNIFORM”
I don’t post much short fiction, but it’s an area I’d like to be spending more time and effort on, if I could catch up on other projects. When I originally began my writing career in the 1990s, I wanted to split my time between game writing and fiction writing, but I kept getting offered guaranteed money for game writing, and all fiction was on spec, so…
This is inspired by the quick vigilante/heroes concepts I’ve dabbled with for months on social media with the #StreetLevelHeroes hashtag/
ALPHA FOXTROT UNIFORM
Mike-Mike tossed two smoke cannisters around the corner then dove away from the cover of the alley wall, using a powerful kick against its brick to send him flying swiftly and suddenly across the refuse-covered back street and toward a storm drain. Bursts of automatic gunfire sprayed out around him, but didn’t immediately get a bead on his movement. The smoke wasn’t thick enough for good visual cover yet, but he’d mostly thrown the cannisters to create a distraction. He ended his leap in a slide, staying as low to the ground as possible, and reaching out for the storm drain grill. He felt twin sharp pains in his left leg, but didn’t have time to check if he’d taken shrapnel, or if bullets had impacted on his ballistic cloth costume, or if he was seriously hit.
His fingers just barely grabbed the grill and he quickly pulled himself past the gap between grill and the street, down into the drain. It was a tight fit, but one he’d checked he could make months ago when he’d first begun operating in the old Satan’s Hollow district. He also knew that it was, on average, a three-meter drop from a storm drain entrance to the floor of the crumbling brick waterways. He tucked, trying to roll blindly onto the curved wall he couldn’t see.
He hit, hard, and more flopped than rolled. His right shoulder flared in pain, but he didn’t think it was broken. Cracked, maybe. It would demand attention soon.
If he was still alive.
The muffled sounds of gunfire up in the alley stopped almost immediately, which was bad. It meant his assailants had a good idea where he was, which wasn’t a shock but it would have been nice to catch a break on their acuity.
This hadn’t been a “catch a break” kind of day.
He popped his last smoke cannister, hoping it would cut visibility enough to make the gunmen cautious about following him into the drain system, then forced himself to his feet. The pain in his left leg returned with a vengeance, but the limb didn’t collapse under him. The drain was nearly empty—it hadn’t rained in this part of the state in more than a week – so at least he could move with fair speed down the tunnel. He hesitated for only a second before flicking on the light attached to his cap—right now it was more important that he move quickly and not bean himself on a cross-pipe than to maintain stealth.
He vacated the spot under the drain grill just as a burst of automatic fire sprayed down from the alleyway. The gunshots were deafening, but at least he didn’t catch a ricochet as he jogged away. His light revealed a cross-drain not more than five meters ahead of him, and he moved toward it as quickly as he could. Just as he reached it there was a clatter behind him, beneath the drain grill.
He threw himself sideways into the cross-drain, as a flash-bang filled the previous tunnel with blinding light and thunderous sound. The shockwave buffeted him, but didn’t make him senseless. He forced himself to his feet again, and ran down the cross-tunnel as fast as he could. He couldn’t be sure the assailants above were following any specific protocol, but most training made flash-bangs a step taken just before a breach.
They were coming to get him, and soon.
Thankfully, the layout of storm drains beneath the Satan’s Hollow district was as convoluted and irregular as the streets of the neighborhood above. He soon found a second intersection, then a third, each time dashing in a random direction to force his pursuers to spread themselves thinner and thinner to chase him down.
Unfortunately, it had looked like they had the numbers to DO that, even if it took some time. Their gear had included some upscale communications and screen devices as well, so he would guess they had nine backup giving them schematics, traffic camera views, and local internet chatter. No maps of the drain system were 100% accurate, but with their numbers, resources, and apparent competence, he couldn’t trust he’d be able to safely disengage without being followed.
Or mowed down.
He didn’t even know what he’d done to warrant the sudden attack, and honestly if he hadn’t been who he was, able to do what he could do he’d be dead already. But he’d already played the one good trick he kept up his sleeve, and it hadn’t been enough. The attackers had kept coming, in numbers, out in the open, with no apparent concern about retaliation from law enforcement. He was out of his depth.
He needed his own back-up.
He slipped an old-fashioned flip-phone out of a pouch, and popped it open. It had no dialpad, and showed clear signs of modification. It automatially came on and dialed a long, complex tone, which was followed by a series of soft clicks. He rarely used it, and just hoped he wasn’t catching its creator at a bad time…
The woman’s voice was cool, calm, and firm. It was the sweetest sound Mike-Mike had ever heard.
“Mike-Mike, danger word ‘Bananagram.’ I stepped in it Ops. I’m in trouble.”
“Location?” Her voice remained just as calm.
“Storm drains, under Satan’s Hollow. I went in somewhere between Milton Street and the Piles. I’ve been moving roughly south.”
Mike-Mike took the time to actually look at his leg, crouching to shine his light directly on it. There was no blood, which was good. However when he gingerly touched it, pain shot through him like a hot poker. Which was bad. His shoulder was nearly as painful, and he could feel more bruises and stiffening muscles as the adrenaline leaked out of his system.
“Pretty badly battered. Nothing critical, but I am not in fighting trim.”
Mike-Mike looked at the timer on the inside of his right wrist. It automatically went off when he used his “Boom Blast,” counting down until his AB-human power could be used again. He’d expended it when he had first been jumped, and it was the only reason he’d survived the first moments of the attack.
“I got about forty-five minutes before I can pop off. I’m out of smoke. I still have my G19 and two spare clips, but I’d rather not get into a firefight.”
There was a brief pause. “I’ve got you situation. CyberChat in the area is all over it. Reports of four or more armored trucks, two dozen troops. I have video of two of them. No sign of police. Traffic cams are down. No sign of insignia or nametags. Just ranks, which match what Red Stone Consulting use, though they aren’t in standard Red Stone gear. Looks like they’re spreading out, likely trying to cut off your possible evac routes.”
Mike-Mike closed his eyes, and took three deep breaths. That was all about as bad as it could be.
“Options?” He tried to keep his own voice calm.
“I’m boosting the social media awareness now. Shutting down false stories where I can. Making sure footage gets out. Eventually either state enforcement is going to have to pay attention, or mainstream media will which might force federal intervention or a major hero group to drop whatever else they’re doing and head this way. But that’s going to take time I don’t think you have.”
Mike-Mike’s leg flared in pain again, and his visual briefly blurred. That was extra-bad.
“Agreed,” he said simply.
“I can ping potential allies. Get them to the most public spot you can reach, make sure it’s well-seen, and see if these fuckos are willing to go hot against some well-known masks with the eyes of the world on them.”
“I’ll take it.” Mike-Mike didn’t see any better options. “Who’s on deck?”
“Dvork and Chopper are already en route on their own initiative, Broken Heart is nearby and I expect to have her moving your way shortly. I’m pinging Clunker, but don’t know his location. And Boilerplate just reached out to me. She’s apparently also involved in this, and willing to help with an extraction.”
A wave of relief rolled through Mike-Mike. He’d take any help he could get, but Boilerplate brought both near-invulnerability and legal expertise into the mix. And she was well-liked and respected, making it less likely anyone would try to gaslight the public about her involvement.
“What’s my exit?”
“Can you make it to the Yamatown Market?”
Mike-Mike tried to focus on a mental map of Satan’s Hollow, and what he knew about the storm drains. They would all move roughly south or east, to dump into the river. Yamatown was right on the edge of southeastern Satan’s Hollow, divided from it by the 102nd street viaduct, which had connections to the drains. As long as he kept moving in approximately the same direction…
“Yes. It’ll take me maybe 20 minutes.”
Mike-Mike forced himself back to his feet, gritting his teeth at the pain. He had no idea which of the things he’d been looking into had brought this sudden hellstorm down on him.
But he was now a good deal more convinced he was going to live long enough to find out.
I have a Patreon. It supports the time I take to do all my blog posts, but especially longer and more experimental ones like this. If you’d like to see more fiction (or more game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!