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Friday, 23 June 2017

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Why the Traditional GM/Player Roles Matter

In a recent RPGsite thread, the age-old debate was once again reignited about the question of why it would be a bad thing to take away certain powers from the GM (in this case, the GM's authority to roll dice).  Some of the typical arguments were presented; and here's my response to them.

a. You maintain the traditional role of the GM as "it's all about meeee!"

No, I maintain his traditional role as "The GM is the final authority of the RPG game; NOT the loudest most annoying player, NOT the "rules-as-written-and-interpreted-by-the-best-rules-lawyer, NOT the Asshole Game Designer who thinks his own personal genius makes him a better judge of what should happen at a gaming table 3000 miles away from him than the guy actually running the table; NOT a movement that thinks GMs are a Product of Rape-Culture Imperialist White Patriarchy".

b. You want 'your' monsters to be as important as the player characters!

The monsters ARE as important as the characters. If you understood how RPGs worked, you'd know that. Shit, the weather is as important as the player characters. Whether or not there's gunpowder available in the market is as important as the player characters.
The player characters are just the Players' vehicles to interact in a VIRTUAL WORLD. Since the entire fun of the game depends on the realistic emulation of that Virtual World in order to achieve IMMERSION, all of those things are equally important for Fun to be achieved.

If a player feels like world is flat because he only ever interacts with the world through rolling his own stats, as if nothing in the world but his own PCs' stats were real or mattered, then the World does not become True, he can't achieve Immersion, and THE GAME FAILS.

c. We are ultimately in service to the players!

No. The GM and the Players are ALL there to have fun. The GM isn't a fucking slave there, to be punished for some imagined ancestral sin by having to be a toadie to whatever a group of fetishists want as fantasy wish-fulfillment. There's a reason why Forge games are all for one-shots.

The GM has a DUTY to make sure his players will have the most fun possible for the longest time possible. Why does he have that Duty? Because HE IS THE ULTIMATE POWER, and with great power comes great duty. If he didn't have that power, he would not have any such duty and could be whatever kind of piece of shit he wanted. And for that matter, if he did not have that power he wouldn't even have the capacity to make sure players have the most fun for the longest time possible, because to make sure that happens he must be able to have the power to say NO to their capricious little spoiled whims of the moment. If he can't say No to them getting whatever the fuck they feel like just now, the game ends quickly as one or two people at the table (again, the loudest, most annoying players) get a session that went exactly how THEY wanted it to, and everyone else feels cheated.

d. Yeah, well maybe there's better ways out there than your one-true-way!

There aren't. That's why none of the bullshit garbage ideas the bullshit garbage Swine have come up with over the years to try to hijack games has produced anything other than misery, and why Old School, my "one true way", and myself personally are all more popular now than ever.
Must suck to be you some mornings...


Currently Smoking: Stanwell Deluxe + Image Latakia

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Classic Rant: RPGPundit's Advice for RPG-Designers Being Targeted by the Ctrl-Left

I'm not going to say who it was, for obvious reasons, but someone recently wrote to me privately, about how there were some of the Usual Suspects (in this case on RPGnet, but it could really have been anywhere) attacking his rpg-writing. This particular designer had never had this happen to him before now, and he was quite concerned and didn't know how to deal with it. They were attacking his present work, looking at old posts to find things he might have said years ago to use against him, whipping up the mob into a frenzy, etc.; all the usual tactics. So, I thought I'd share here what I wrote to him, since other people might also benefit from it someday. 
Names have been withheld, but the rest of this posted for general benefit. You never know when YOU might be the next one targeted, because increasingly, there's no real criteria as to who get's chosen as the Pseudo-activists' next victim.

Without further ado:

Ok, first: don't apologize for anything, don't try to hide anything. Don't delete things you said in the past. If you honestly don't believe in it any more, say so, but don't hide it. If you do believe in it, be shameless about it. They're going to go for the throat anyways, NOTHING will make them stop, so don't think you can try to make some kind of compromise with them. If you show any weakness, they just get more rabid.

Second, why are you engaging them on their own territory where they have all the advantage? They get to say things you don't, they can paint you as the unreasonable one, and if you get mad they'll paint you as 'erratic', and then when they think its the right moment, they'll ban you.
You're already banned there, it just hasn't finished happening yet.

Find better places to promote your product. The rpgnet ruling clique has decided your game is evil, that's it. You're dead there. You should go promote it where you are likely to actually find an audience, in other forums (like theRPGsite), and on G+ or Facebook.

The best way to beat them is to be blatant about how they mean nothing to you, and to succeed in spite of them. Whenever you do that, it weakens them. When you take them seriously, or try to reason with them, it only makes them stronger.

One more thing: in my experience, in the long run, there's no such thing as 'bad press'. Some of it can limit your options in the future, but usually only if you're very clearly a controversy-hound (along the lines of James Desborough). If you are professional about it, getting slammed by a gang of assholes just makes people pay attention to you. You'll be crying all the way to the bank, if you work this right.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Poker + Gawith's Virginia Flake

(Originally posted May 28, 2016)

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Update On My Project: Future Pundit Products

So, my little OSR products projects is continuing along. Today I saw what will probably be the final look of the cover of our series.  My publisher is eager and is doing a great job so far.

Over the past couple of weeks I've had to deal with a prolonged period of internet blackout and then personal illness. But I've still managed to get quite a few new products written. Here's the quick list of stuff you will soon be able to buy:

RPGPundit Presents: Three Medieval-Authentic Magical Grimoires

RPGPundit Presents: The Goetia

RPGPundit Presents: The Book of the Art of Hours

RPGPundit Presents: The Kitchen Sink!

RPGPundit Presents: Medieval-Authentic Firearms and Cannon

Anyways, that's it for today, I'll share more titles as I write them.


Currently Smoking: Stanwell Deluxe + Image Latakia

Monday, 19 June 2017

Wild West Non-Update

Because I was a little under the weather this weekend, I found myself obliged to cancel my Wild West session. So there's not going to be any update this time around.

In place, I post this for my players (and readers) by way of saying sorry:


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Egg + H&H's Chestnut

Sunday, 18 June 2017

A Spectacular Comparative Review of Amber, LoO, and LoGaS

I'm playing DCC in a bit here, so today I'm going to refer you to a very interesting review. No, not one of mine, but one of my games is being reviewed.

The review is by RPGsite contributor "Headless", and it compares the three classic Diceless RPGs: Amber, Lords of Olympus, and Lords of Gossamer And Shadow.

And yes, Lords of Olympus comes out of it looking really good. But that's not really what I found so good about the review. It was the detail and analysis comparing what each game has, what each game's strengths and weaknesses are.

So if you had any doubts about the differences and similarities between the three games, check out his review!


Currently Smoking: Mastro de Paja Rhodesian + Image Virginia

Saturday, 17 June 2017

RPGPundit Reviews: Kaigaku

This is a review of the OSR RPG "Kaigaku", written by Jacob Ross, published by Thunderegg games. As usual, this is a review of the print edition, which comes in the form of a slim but fairly dense 60 page softcover. It has a full-color cover, featuring a scene of a trio of Japenese-ish characters in the midst of a positive rain of petals, in front of a Japanese-ish building. The art style is OK, though not spectacular. The interior is full-color, and high-quality, with a dozen or so illustrations (mostly of characters) some of which are better than the cover, frankly. Plus, a shitty map (more on that later).

Kaigaku is described by the author as a game of "fantastic samurai adventures". It's based on the Black Hack, which in case you haven't heard is a modification of the standard OSR rules that has, for some reason, become ridiculously popular these days. At least, in the sense that after the original Black Hack book came out, a ton of people released a ton of other books called the "x hack", which was the original game modified to fit any variety of genres.

The Black Hack system  has several features I strongly dislike. More than that, distrust. Because they are the kind of things Forge assholes came up with. First: the GM isn't allowed to roll dice. Everything is rolled by the players, mainly in the form of roll-under ability-score checks. So to attack, a PC has to roll equal or lower than his strength (for a melee attack, Dex for a ranged attack). But if he's being attacked, the GM doesn't roll for the attacker, instead the PC just makes a Dexterity roll-under check to evade.

You see the problem with this kind of thing? It says, in game, that the player characters are the center of the universe; and out-of-game, that the players are the centers of the universe. It essentially prevents the GM from being able to alter the rules, because he has no authority to control the dice at all. He's reduced to being a kind of monopoly-banker. But the NPCs don't matter either. Yes, there's a slight penalty given for evasion if the NPC attacking you is higher level than you are, but regardless it is still based on your dexterity, not anything of his. There's no way, on account of that, to model an NPC who is a highly-skilled samurai (except to just pile on the levels).

Everything about the Black-Hack system is anti-emulative. It makes the very clear statement that the PCs are playing in some kind of abstract world, and not a real world.  For example, the NPCs are all vague and blobby, statistically speaking, as if they exist only in reaction to the PCs.

To give another example: armor in the Black Hack reduces damage, which of course makes sense (maybe even more sense than Armor upping your defense!), but then in turn, every time you take a hit with armor, the armor value goes down one point. Ok, so maybe that can represent the wear-and-tear effect of combat, the armor is being actually damaged as hits are suffered, right?  Only then, if the PC has a "good night's sleep", his armor magically fixes itself! Suddenly it's back to full quality.

Ammunition in the Black Hack is based on a die roll to see if you run out. You start out with d20 "usage die", and every time you use an arrow or a bullet or whatever, you roll the die in question. If you get a 1 or 2, the die gets downgraded (a d20 becomes a d12, then a d10, d8, d6, and finally d4).  So resource management, one of the key tenets of the D&D old-school game, is just utterly abandoned. Worse still, it means your PC exists in a universe where for some reason he can never actually know how many arrows he has left in his quiver.

So yes, there's a lot I find very shitty about the Black Hack system: it is anti-emulative, it's anti-GM, and it engages in needless abstractions.
Is there anything good about it? Well, basing all rolls off ability scores is not in and of itself a bad move. There's also good stuff it borrowed from elsewhere: for example, 5e's Advantage and Disadvantage mechanics.
There's also an interesting mechanic in the form of "intensifying", where you can do a check at a penalty (in increments of -2 to the ability score), in exchange for how if you make the check the amount you intensified by gets added to some kind of effect. The most common example is that you can try to intensify your attack roll to get a bonus to damage.

Now, aside from those couple of details, most of what's "good" about the system ends up being stuff that I'm fairly sure is specific modifications done by the designer for this game in particular.  For example, he has rules on honor and dishonor (with special things each does): characters who are Honorable can invoke their honor (under specific conditions) to make a roll with Advantage. On the other hand, any dishonorable act is rolled by them with Disadvantage.  A character can choose to start out already Dishonorable, in which case he can't call on his honor but he'll never suffer disadvantage for dishonorable actions.
The mass combat rules are pretty good. The Samurai-dueling rules are quite good. The rules for crafting items are good, particularly in that they aren't stupidly complicated! Even the 'social combat' rules for courtiers are not awful, and I usually detest social combat rules. I'm not quite sure I'd end up using them or anything, but they're not terrible.

In terms of character creation, you roll as standard for the ability scores, and there's an option to have three skills (that aren't really listed or anything, you just have to invent them). You choose one of four classes: Ascetic (kung fu monk, basically), Bushi (warrior), Ninja, and Courtier. Each class has its own special features, starting gear, weapon and armor proficiencies, hit points, damage (in this system, damage is by class, not by weapon type, though certain weapons can modify your basic damage), and also the way you roll to level up (in this system, every time you go up in level, there's a chance that your ability scores will go up).

After this, you pick a clan (of course, if I was running this, I'd probably not let PCs pick their clan, I'd want to choose it for them), and your "Ryu" or school of training. There are a number of different schools, for different classes, and that are sponsored by different clans. It's possible to attend a school different from the one your clan sponsors, however. Each school has its own special abilities, that are gained at every even-numbered level.

It's funny, as much as I dislike the base system, all the stuff that the designer did that was specific to the setting is really good.  But what about the setting?

Kaigaku is not set in history, instead it's set in a fantasy world "inspired mainly by feudal Japan, but with elements of Korea and China mixed in". In general, the setting has that kind of strictness, ritual-based-culture, and honor system that's stereotypically Japanese. In the setting, there is an Emperor, whose seat is divided between two branches of the imperial family (northern and southern), with each taking turns in the Imperial throne. However, the implication of the setting is that the emperor holds relatively little power; instead, the various clans have a great deal of power and control over their respective territories.  In addition to the clans, you also have a number of outsider groups: there's the northern barbarians who must be kept at bay, the aborigines of the setting (equivalent to Japan's Ainu people), and two different groups of Gaijin (equivalent to the Spaniards and the English), who have introduced firearms (and foreign religion) into the setting.

There's also magic, of a sort, in the form of the "kiseki", magical stones of power that can be added to objects to grant special abilities. Ascetics can also channel the power of kiseki directly, implanting them into their bodies. Non-ascetics can do this as well, but if they do so they're pretty much doomed to go insane.

The book details the 8 major clans of the setting. There's also a number of minor clans, two of which were detailed in the book. Each clan gets a description of what its general deal is, who its notable members are (and what they want), how they relate to the other major clans and the gaijin, where they're based, and of course the Ryu schools that clan sponsors. There's also suggestions for the type of adventures that can feature this clan.

The material on the clans is some of the best work of the book. It's easy to read, interesting, and exciting (in the sense that in spite of the issues I have with the system, it made me think I'd want to play this setting sometime).

There's also a chapter (supposedly for GM's eyes only) that details the secrets of the major players in the setting. This is also very good.

Then we get to the most unforgivable part of the book: the map.
Holy shit is this map godawful. I mean, seriously, you're writing for a branch of the hobby that loves their maps, there's even people who would likely make a map for you for free if you asked nicely, and instead we get a dull near-featureless piece of crap.  I wish I could show you this map so you'd know what I mean, but I wasn't able to find one on a google search (if I was the author, I wouldn't want this map shown anywhere either).  It's basically just a peninsula with a mountain range, no other features; no forests, hills, cities, rivers, roads, or anything. You just get the clan names superimposed in areas of the map that we presume are their core regions, but nothing else.

This game setting, and the otherwise very high production values of this book deserved so, so much more than the map it got.

There's also a character sheet in the back of the book, which is fine, except that it's facing the map so you have to look at that godawful thing to see the character sheet.

What can we conclude about Kaigaku?  Well, I find the system flawed, but the setting really is awesome.  If you like the Black Hack, I guess you have it made with this product.  Otherwise, you could probably run it, with a little modification, using a more traditional OSR system. The setting is really cool, and would be well worth playing.

Such a shame about the shitty map, though.


Currently Smoking: Neerup Egg + Image Virginia