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#RPGaDay: Day 18 (belated) : Favourite Game System

A decade ago my unequivocal answer would have been D&D (probably version 3.5 at the time).  I appreciated that 3.0 and 3.5 got me back into role playing after a 15+ year hiatus (1985-2000 or so).  But the more I played it, the more it frustrated me.  It took me a while to figure it out, but eventually I traced it to the core d20 mechanic itself.

I won't go into my full soapbox rant here, but the highly condensed version of it is that a flat d20 system is simply too random.  Yes, it has a nice average around 10.5, so the casual player thinks it's a perfectly reasonable and balanced mechanic.  It's only when you figure out that your highly twitchy monk with a maxed out 18 DEX and Improved Initiative will still lose the jump on a droopy zombie 15% of the time that the arbitrariness of the mechanic starts to emerge. (Yes that exact scenario happened to me and it was the moment when I began to question the game).

I think this imbalance is part of the reason that "mix-maxing" is so common - you feel an urge to do anything you can to your character to prevent those weird anomalous rolls from throwing you at a disadvantage.

So my quest for a suitable replacement began.  How do you find a system that doesn't dispel your suspension of disbelief every time a roll comes up funny?  Unfortunately the d20 mechanic is the backbone of the two largest platforms out there, D&D and Pathfinder.  I had earnestly hoped that the new "D&D Next" that was being developed would find a better mechanic - something with a more "realistic" Gaussian distribution (read: bell curve), but alas, they decided to just fiddle with other stuff and leave the d20 underpinnings unchanged.

I found several candidates that eschewed the flat d20 for something more "natural".  These included:
Novus[http://www.firehawkgames.com/novus-rpg], which was interesting but had very little fan base
Burning Wheel[http://www.burningwheel.org/] which is quite inventive, but has some quirks like making Dwarves all hopelessly consumed by Greed, and Elves immersed in Grief, etc.
Runequest 6th edition[http://www.thedesignmechanism.com/runequest.php] which came very close for me, but found it strange that most of the rule book seems to be considerations about how to build a gaming world, without actually giving you a game world to play in.
and finally, Dungeon Crawl Classics[http://www.goodman-games.com/dccrpg.html], which preserves some of the grittiness (in facts maybe even takes it to new levels) of the original D&D game.

But I knew I was on to something when I ran across #DungeonWorld. It used a rather simple 2d6 mechanic which, while not quite a bell curve, at least isn't flat like the d20 world.  But more interestingly, unlike many games it doesn't try to hardcode every outcome for every scenario.  A 10+ result is a success, but what that means is up to the GM and the players.  Similarly, a 6 or less is a failure, but it too is left wide open as to what actually happens then.  Even the 7-9 "partial success" means you accomplished what you intended but with a complication or unexpected consequence.

...Which makes this game awesome.  Now, rather than being an exercise in stacking the odds and then hoping you always roll high, now almost any dice roll involves some rich fiction being created regardless of a success or failure!  And it's not just the mechanic that is based on this either.  It's the ethos of the whole system.  Both the GM and the players are invited to tell the story of what happens and that leads to more vesting in the role playing itself.  The rules (and the rolls) are there to provide some uncertainty and some risk, but really, serve more to provide a framework for creating the story rather than arbitrating success or failure.

I just GMed my first session 2 days ago, after having played in 3 in 4 sessions, and everyone universally seemed to enjoy it.  The fact that you can play the whole thing with a $10 PDF (or a $25 book) makes it that much more accessible... I think I found my new favourite RPG.. :)

http://www.dungeon-world.com/
Dungeon World is a tabletop game of fantastic adventure. A game of magic, gods, demons, Good and Evil. Play and find out what happens.
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#RPGaDay #11: Weirdest RPG owned

[I'm skipping day 10 because I honestly can't name a tie-in novel or game fiction for any of the systems I've played]

What is DragonRaid and why have you never heard of it?  Surprisingly it's still in print, despite the fact that my copy you see below is close to 30 years old.  Here, I let the blurb from their website explain it:
"DragonRaid is a professionally produced Boxed Set that is a complete discipleship game/program that involves its players in a creative learning simulation of Biblical priciples. Complete with high quality printed manuals and materials, DragonRaid is perfect for breathing new life into your walk with Christ. God has used DragonRaid to bring many to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and to disciple young and old into courageous Christians!"

Yep, Christian D&D.  The reason I ever heard of it is that as a young teen I entered a pretty religious phase.  I struggled to reconcile my desire to continue playing D&D with the fact that I was now getting the message that D&D was off limits.  The book "Playing with Fire" talked about how D&D  and related games was a risky behavior and as an impressionable teen, I went along with it, and forswore D&D entirely and sadly sold off a lot of my stuff. (So many of my original TSR modules lost in that process. :P )

But the itch to play was still there, so that's when I ran across DragonRaid.  They tried to take the adventure aspect of D&D but camouflage it in the lingo of Christianity.  The characters are part of a group called the TwiceBorn. (yes, really.) The stats are like "Love", "Joy", "Peace", "Faithfulness", etc.  The armor is the reference right out of the Bible ("Belt of Truth", "Breastplate of Righteousness", "Shield of Faith" and so on).  Even the spells are just biblical verses with some numerical effects added onto them:
"Right On Wordrune"
Psalm 119:160
"All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal"
All who say the Right On Wordrune successfully will add 3 points to the LightRaider's Belt of Truth rating for one dragon encounter.  May be used only once per day.

Honestly, I never really got to play the game (many of the pieces in my set are still unpunched) mostly because it was hard enough finding people into role playing games - but Christian role playing games? That was a niche within a niche.  So the set got boxed up and has sat on my game shelf ever since.

So there ya go -- one heck of a weird RPG, no? (Perhaps RPG means "Religious Propaganda Game" in this case? ;) )
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#RPGaDay Day 7: Favourite Character

Behold the fearsome and capricious Flip-Flop!  This diminutive halfling, (a mere 30" tall), apparently of the Stoutish persuasion, was memorable for his persistent grin, floppy-brimmed hat, and unfortunately lisp.

You'll notice that the poor fella is only 1st level.  This is mostly due to the fact that I DMed far more than I played as a teen.  After lovingly creating this mischievous rascal he mostly languished after that.  I did have him reappear as a cameo NPC for a number of campaigns I DMed so I still got to "play" him some, but it was never quite the same.

I laugh now looking at his stats, ranging from a high of 19 to a "dump stat" that was still a 13.  Ridiculous for a 1st level character, but typical of the pre-teen powergaming mentality I had back then.  Man that feels like forever ago...
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#RPGaDay
Day 6: "Favourite RPG Never get to play"

Time for me to sneak by with another technicality.  My answer for this one is Talisman, 2nd edition.

What, Talislanta?

No.  Talisman.

Wait.  Isn't that a board game?

Well, yes and no.  Yes, it has a board.  No there's no rulebooks or DMs or anything you'd expect from an RPG.  But the way we used to play it had us literally role-playing each of our characters in the game.  Voices, mannerisms, and cheesy Monty Python quotes were all allowed and perhaps expected.  I mean when you reach a point where you realize you don't care who wins, you're just enjoying the game play, then it's sorta ceased to be a board game, which are generally competitive.

So it's a wonky answer I know.  But I have so many fond memories of that game and sure, there's a 4th edition now that supposedly fixes the egregious imbalances, but I miss playing that 2nd edition dearly...

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-tc74p6P6J3c/UO5ILlvqBZI/AAAAAAAAEvg/qUIVmgwrNWI/s1600/pic385054_md.jpg
(stock photo since I don't feel like digging my copy out and setting it up just for a photo op.. ;) )
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Brian Bloom originally shared:
 
So I'm apparently late to the game for the #rpgaday meme going around, but like any good campaign, I'm sure we can find a way to let me join the story already in progress.

I'll do some quicky catchup posts here then will try to keep up with the outline offered by +Autocratik...

Day 1:  First RPG Played.
The year was 1981 or so, and I was living in Bogota, Colombia, attending an English-speaking school called Colegio Nueva Granada.
I was in 6th grade I think, and my math teacher, Mr Hagar (if I am remembering the name correctly) happened to find out that I liked fantasy and scifi stories.  He mentioned that he had an interactive fantasy game called "Dungeons and Dragons" that if we wanted to, he'd run an adventure for us.

It sounded interesting for myself and a couple of my classmates, so we showed up in his classroom one Saturday and he passed around his copies of what they now refer to as the "Original Dungeons & Dragons" set of 3 paper booklets (see https://www.acaeum.com/ddindexes/setpages/original.html if you're unfamiliar with it).  He decided to run this as an arena-style competition with a prize going to the last player standing, so we made our characters and set up the classroom chairs in a big ring and began the adventure.  [Geez...  I just realized that my intro into role playing was essentially "The Hunger Games" albeit some 30 years earlier. ;) ]

Since each of us were in competition with each other he ran the game by passing notes to each of us and us returning a note each turn.  I think I was playing an elf (which was back when 'elf' was a class, not a race) and I was doing pretty well for myself, and we were down to like two remaining players, when the other player managed to get polymorphed into a dragon.  Well, that spelled certain doom for my fiddly little elf and I came in second place in the contest.  I think the grand prize was a lead figure from Mr Hagar's collection, which back in 1981 was a pretty exotic idea and rather coveted, especially given how little access we had to such things in Bogota.

So that was my first RPG - and inspired a fascination in me that lasts until this day although I have seen my goals and enjoyment of the game morph and mature over the decades.
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Shouldn't it be "..toed the line"?
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I think "you're doing it wrong" was often called in our community even when no "community standards" [and who the heck decides and defines those anyway?] were being violated.  I saw it happen first hand on a number of occasions.  I found it highly disappointing, particularly when it came from highly visible members who were likely looked upon as role models by newcomers to the community.
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+Jon Romano Ooo - cool! Editing! Updated, Jon - thanks for reading!
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#RPGaDay Day13: Most Memorable Character Death

Many years ago, in the era of AD&D in the mid 80s,  I was planning an adventure for some of my players.  I had gotten the rather insidious Grimtooth's Traps book and was flipping through it when one of my players, Herb, spotted me reading this one shown in the picture.

The gist of the trap is it looks like a normal pit trap, that the characters would of course carefully skirt around.  But in this case, the pit is actually an illusion, and the real trap is along the edges the characters will probably travel.

So Herb sees me reading this (I didn't try to hide it from it from him) and gets a smug look on his face, suspecting that I'm likely to throw this trap at them in our upcoming game.

Which I did.  Sorta.

So shortly after, during our next gaming session, the group is forging through the dungeon and comes upon a room with a very obvious spiked pit in the middle.  Herb lights up, excitedly: 'Guys! Wait!  This is a trap!  But I know how to get past it!"

So he turns to me:  "I am going to slowly walk straight forward, chanting 'I disbelieve' as I try to dispel the illusion".

Herb's character begins to move forward: "I disbelieve... I disbelieve... I disbelieve .. I disbeliiiieeeeEEEEVVVVVEEEE!" and falls to his death into a perfectly normal spiked pit.

He was right.  It was a trap.

And we all laughed for hours about that one... ;)
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#RPGaDay Day 9 (belated)

Favorite Die / Dice Set

As per the trend I've been setting, I'm going to hedge my answers for this one too. ;)  Here are the the favorite dice from my collection:

The pair on the left are probably older than many of you reading this.  They are the original percentile/d20 dice from my very first D&D set.  You know, the kind that were only single digits (0-9 twice) with underscores on half?  They are probably about 34 or 35 years old now.

The middle set were the ones that defined my years of playing in highschool.  The clear green d6s were used to roll up likely hundreds of sets of stats, of which maybe 1 in 20 actually made it into characters. (C'mon - I can't be the only person with notebook pages that have dozens of columns of 6 numbers ranging from 3-18, am I?)
The accompanying polyhedrals were the original TSR dice that you had to color in with a crayon (which I also still have)

The rightmost set is what I have used for the last 10 or 15 years, the Chessex "Water Speckled" dice set ( http://www.chessex.com/Dice/Speckled%20pages/25306.htm ) .  I've really liked Chessex dice and got a spare set as backup ("Sea Speckled").  Both colors of course fail me in every moment of dire need, but that has been proven to happen with pretty much every other dice I've owned too, so I settle for enjoying the zen of rolling the dice.
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#RPGaDay

Day 7 (belated): Most "intellectual" RPG owned.

Hmm.  Not sure what I have that qualifies for this.  For a while back in the 80s I was into Star Fleet Battles, which got horribly bogged down with number crunching and seemed unfun when I actually tried to play it.  But then, it's arguably not a "role playing game", even though it apparently later spawned one (called "Prime Directive") that I never played.

The other possibility is Bhaloidam, which while also probably more of a "board game" than a true RPG, is still a storytelling system that has the players control how the story is told using the board, but the story itself is whatever inspires the minds of the players.  It's almost like a meta-roleplaying game.  For that reason it's my best candidate for "intellectual" RPG...
https://s3.amazonaws.com/ksr/projects/48393/photo-main.jpg?1397765942

#starfleetbattles #Bhaloidam  
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#RPGaDay    Day 5: Most Old School RPG Owned.

I'm gonna side with Tunnels & Trolls on this one, started by Ken St Andre in 1975.  It was originally one of the most viable D&D contenders, sort of like what CP/M was to DOS - where one small break might have made the difference and we'd be talking about Tunnels &Trolls 5th edition instead.  (Which is a bit of a joke actually, because there already is a "5th Edition" of T&T, but it sadly hasn't gotten the fandom that TSR/WoTC has)

I think I was introduced to this by the same teacher mentioned in day 1, Mr Hagar, while in the 6th grade in Bogota.  One thing I liked about this system is had "Solo Adventures" that could be played without a GM, much like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" novel.  As I commented previously, I never had much of a circle of gaming friends at that age, especially living overseas, so being able to do my own exploring without needing others around gave this a special spot in my collection.

I don't think it gets any more old school than this, unless you go back even farther to some of the PBM (play by mail) adventure systems that existed in the pre-dawn of role-playing.  Anyway, the included photo is some of the adventures and supplements I have, mostly lucky finds on eBay. :)

Anyone want to dust these off and enjoy a retrogaming session?

#tunnelsandtrolls
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I would love to dust them Off and there is a very small fan base on Roll20.org. 
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I "drank the mead" of DW a while ago (sounds more appropriate than "drank the kool-aid") but had a bit of a Aha! moment just now. I decided to share this distinction with others in case they hadn't noticed also.

Before DW I used to play D&D (oldskool first edition, then 3.0E, then 3.5E) and was slowly becoming frustrated with the d20 mechanic.  It was too ... random for my liking.  The flat distribution of the d20 (5% chance for any result) thwarted my expectations of a simulationist system, which expected bell-curves and "likely" results.  But if you failed a roll, you failed a roll, and got what you had coming to you. There was no way for the narrative to smooth over a failure like that.

DW I liked after reading about because it felt "softer" and "squishier". The GM and the players both got a bit more permission to create fiction that was cinematic and interesting.  But my desire for "realistic" simulation still struggled with this new mechanic and I could see that others did too, like this excellent discussion initiated by +DanielPegoraro -  https://plus.google.com/+DanielPegoraro/posts/RsbfTDEbDbk

My "Aha" moment was the realization that in D&D the players declared their moves then rolled to see their success or failure of that move.  I thought DW was the same way.  I mean there are instructions in there not to name your moves (especially for the GM), but I thought that was just meant to keep the fiction more "real".  Like there was still an understanding that's what you were doing, just cloaked in different words: "I heft my sword high and bring it down to hack at the goblin, then slash across his chest! >wink< >wink<." and then I roll my Hack & Slash, right?

But +Tim Franzke and others in that thread exposed that there is a huge and fundamental difference in DW:
The players not only don't name their moves, they don't even get to decide if a move is invoked!
In the thread cited, the scenario of attacking a master swordsman is used.  Buried among the debates about how many different move rolls this should entail is the brilliant insight that sometimes it doesn't involve any!  Like had I used the same fiction as above: "I heft my sword high then bring it down to hack the master swordsman, then slash across his chest!", my GM can simply say "The master swordsman easily bats aside my attack".  No roll, no move[*], no simulation, no "is my dice roll high enough?".  I, as a player, really am just supposed to narrate a compelling fiction, and the mechanics only step in when needed to resolve things that have a chance of happening.  And sometimes there's no mechanics at all!  We don't need to invent house rules or challenging strings of moves just to decide the fiction for us.  We can actually just do it using more fiction with or without moves...

I am really liking this mead more and more... :)

[*]footnote: technically, there's a GM move, just not a player move.
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Yeah, it was pointed out in the Google Hangout above how not naming the move is strictly a GM thing - Having read the DW rulebook repeatedly with hopes of either playing or GMing it, I now realize I had conflated those two ideas, but the core notion is still there: In D&D players declare their actions.  In DW they don't -- they describe their fiction, which may trigger moves.

I am still discovering ways I'm trying to make the DW peg fit into the existing hole shaped by my past gaming experience and how I probably have several more lessons to realize in that process. :)  But keep pouring the mead, this sure is tasty stuff. :)
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