Stuffed Crocodile

Mazes, Martians, Mead

What I learned making a list of RPG companies

I put together a list of currently active RPG companies a while ago. The reason for that was mostly to check how the hobby actually looks like right now.

I don’t think I know even now. I have the feeling that some things still elude me, even though I found some crazy/interesting stuff while searching for new companies. But you know what? Despite all the doom and gloom the hobby is still freakishly wide and varied.

Sometimes I have to wonder about these companies. I mean, ok, we have a rather niche hobby, but some of these games should have been better known just for the concept alone. Instead quite a few seem to be one-man shops with 90s websites, and products that could only have been published back then. Some even still have websites that haven’t been updated in two decades.

Still, they soldier on, and that is admirable.

Some interesting things:

  • Judge’s Guild exists, again. This is which incarnation by now? In any case, they still have stuff from back in the day for sale
  • Flying Buffalo on the other hand STILL exists, and still sell Tunnels and Trolls, since 1975. I haven’t checked, but I think this would be the only company on the list that lasted in exactly the same configuration for such a long time (41 years!)
  • the runner-up would be Chaosium. But I am not quite sure how exactly they now are organized. There’s some shuffling-around with Moon Design Publications going on
  • the prize for the title with the most gratuitous fan-service/alliteration I would have to give to Tri Tac Games Beach Bunny Bimbos With Blasters
  • quite a few companies have stopped publishing RPGs over time. The one I noticed the most was FanPro, once the powerhouse of German RPG scene. By this point they are reduced to a one-author publishing house with attached 2nd hand bookstore
  • despite the proverbial antipathy of Christians towards RPGs there are two dedicated Christian publishing houses that have RPGs in their program. One has a German-language Narnia RPG, the other is the infamous DragonRaid, which was created as a non-satanic alternative to D&D. Yes, DragonRaid still is being published.
  • the most convoluted story I found so far is the one of Paradox, Cabinet, White Wolf, and Onyx Path. Swedish company Paradox Entertainment which published Kult and Mutant Chronicles was sold to the Hollywood-based Cabinet Entertainment, but there still is Paradox Interactive, which recently bought White Wolf. So now the website of White Wolf doesn’t have anything but some fluff on it, but Onyx Path which used to develop White Wolf stuff is now selling stuff. I assume there is some drama in the background that I am missing out on.

The Curse of Being a Responsible Adult

It has been a year since we played any RPG. I was just talking about this with one of my players. The last RPG we played was the second session of Shadowrun a year ago, and then some Arkham Horror later on.

In between our group did meet, but stuff kind of shifted away from role-playing over time. I still prepared scenarios, but we haven’t played any. We played boardgames, went to film festivals and movies, met for half a dozen other things. Just the role-playing didn’t work out.

The curse of being a responsible adult, you still might like the same things as before, but you don’t have the time and energy to do it all.

Fluxx

Did I mention Fluxx before?

We played it again tonight. We had a boardgame evening (no time for proper roleplayingšŸ˜¦ ), and used Monty Python Fluxx as a warm-up.

You see, there is a basic version of Fluxx, but I haven’t seen that one yet. There also are multiple variations that use different images and themes from each other, some even modifying the rules to get what is basically a completely different game.

The ones I have or have played are Monty Python Fluxx, Star Fluxx, and Cthulhu Fluxx.

The basic rules are simple, and even get put out on a card: Take 1 card, play 1 card. Everyone draws 3 cards in the beginning and thenĀ  the game begins.

This means that in the beginning there is not even a victory condition in play. Luckily it does not stay like this for long. Players can play new rules (e.g. a rule that allows to draw multiple cards per turn), can put out “keepers” (which allow to meet victory conditions), goals (which set victory conditions), or other action cards that might completely change the game. Players might encounter “Creepers” which are like Keepers only they attach themselves to the players and bar them from winning.

The basic rules are surprisingly easy, and the game soon drops into a nice rhythm that allows for a fast and fun game.

mpf_flatfront

The variations play with this formula. Monty Python Fluxx is rather weak in this regard, it often has cards that depend on knowing Monty Python and their comedy, and we all know how annoying that can be over time. One card for example demands everyone sing a bar of a Monty Python song. After a dozen versions of Every Sperm is Sacred and Always Look on the Bright Side this becomes frustrating at best.

Cthulhu Fluxx on the other hand makes the game even more twisty than before. Creepers still are bad, unless you turn out to be evil yourself, then having them is a boon. Even some keepers make it more difficult to win, and easier for all to lose. These might not seem to be large changes, but the game actually becomes even more challenging with this. All of a sudden one cannot easily understand anymore if another player just has lousy luck in this round, or is actually working to undermine all the others.

SF_BoxTop_CS3If you want to try the game best get Star Fluxx by the way. More interesting than the MP variation, but less twisty and dark than the Cthulhu version. It also has a surprise type of card that can be played whenever and makes the game more interesting without going too far in the other direction.

It’s the small things…

Success!

My work’s proxy is now blocking this blog because “Games”.

Not WordPress though, just the actual blog. So I can post but cannot read what I posted.

[Call of Cthulhu] The Cubicle 7 London Box and general musings on what we assume is progress

I bought myself the Call of Cthulhu London Box by Cubicle 7 as a slightly belated birthday gift to myself. Have I even mentioned before that I started Masks of Nyarlathotep with my group a while ago?

It might be better that I didn’t, because work and life got between everything again and we are stuck just before the Ju-Ju House, so at the very, very beginning.

Having this box on the other hand fires the idea to play this up again. In fact I am wondering if maybe I should be playing this with the new players I managed to find a while ago. Well, in addition to the ones I already played the first few sessions through with I mean. Actually restarting the whole thing from scratch would be one idea I was floating. It’s not like they remember anything from back then. So we could start the whole thing at the Chelsea Hotel again and I could properly track what stuff exactly they already found and whatnot.

Yeah, I lost a bit of track there. I am not quite sure what exactly happened and which clues they managed to find, and I actually was working through the campaign again and I think I understand much better how to structure the whole thing now. Masks needs to be pulpy and action-packed and deadly.

Why I am thinking this right now?

Well, I did just get the London box, as I mentioned, and I really would like to use that one as well. And Masks does have a rather big part of it set in the London. And at least in this case I would have some printed maps and a guidebook my players can read. In fact my wife was nearly as giddy about the whole thing as me, taking over the box and reading the London guidebook as soon as I went to inspect the other things I bought.

So far it looks rather promising, if a bit cartoony and slightly too glamorous for, well, London. I think it slowly becomes obvious that we are nearly a hundred years away from the time most Call of Cthulhu material is set in. We just don’t have so much of a grasp for these times anymore.

Just yesterday I found an old forum entry on Yog-Sothoth.com wondering why exactly one would send telegrams in the 1920s, when the telephone already existed.

Not that this is a new phenomenon. I am lately reading the first few years of Amazing Stories (from the late 20s), and one reader had the gall to criticize H.G.Wells for not having planes in the War of the Worlds (published in 1897). It had to be pointed out that the story they were reading was written before planes were a thing. But I am going to go into that in some separate entry at one point.

The thing is: I don’t have a clue how my children will react when at one point I will tell that yes, we were alive in a time when not everyone had a mobile phone, internet was a once a week for an hour thing, and people watched whatever was on television for lack of a choice. And that was just my childhood.

Re-evaluating Magic: The Gathering

Image.ashxLately I reconsidered my disdain for Magic: The Gathering; I even spent a lot of money buying new cards, and found my old cards back at my parents’ place. I bought Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 for my tablet and had a blast playing it. Despite all the misgivings about the game in the community it has a rather nice structure for new players, or those that haven’t played it for close to 20 years.

Did anyone notice that Magic turned 20 in 2013? How is time going by so quickly?

I originally gave up on Magic in about ’97 or ’98. I think I was one of the first people in my region to even know what a trading card game was, and most likely one of the first ones to buy the game at all (the German 3rd edition starter set, and the Renaissance reprint set). I weathered the Homelands expansion (still widely maligned to be one of the worst ever, but with a lot of flavor and amazing art), had a lot of fun with Mirage and Visions (which had an amazing Africa inspired theme that has not been repeated since), and then hit a roadblock during the Weatherlight saga.

Image.ashx2It was Serra Avatar that killed it for me back then. I had not graduated to buying large amounts of boosters and starter sets, and when my neighbour managed to get a card collection multiple times the size of my own, just a month after I introduced him to the game, I knew I was in trouble. And then he played Serra Avatar (a creature with toughness and power equal to the life of its controller) and I knew I wouldn’t manage to compete.

Well, I guess I could have. If I spent more of my money on trying to catch up.

The problem was that I didn’t want to. I already was deeply into RPGs, and I decided that I’d rather spend more money buying books and other supplements thanĀ  cards. So there was that.

I sometimes would buy a few boosters afterwards, but around ’02 or ’03 the art direction became so grating that I stopped doing even that.

Then a few months ago El Goonish Shive had an arc set during the equivalent of a Magic tournament. El Goonish Shive is a webcomic that has been running for a long time now. There is shapechanging squirrel hybrids and anime style martial artists in there. There is a lot of weird sexual fetish stuff without anything really overt in there. And then at one point an arc with lots of important plot development was set at a Magical Gatherings tournament. One of the characters works in a comic shop, and they have a weekly tournament.

And while reading this I was thinking: hey, that reminds me, that game wasn’t actually so bad.

And it has gotten better in the time I was away. I only noticed it after starting the computer game, but the rules have been straightened out a bit, card design has been changed, the art has matured a bit, etc.

Mana burn is gone for example. No more damage points if you miscount how many lands you tapped. Interrupts are gone, folded into instants. Creatures have become stronger to make them a feasible choice against spells.

Mulligans have changed as well and created an even deeper tactical part. Instead of just doing the Mulligan when one has either no or only lands, now everyone is allowed to reshuffle and draw again (minus one card) if the initial draw is not good enough.

The game has sped up. Stuff is happening in the game. There is constant action instead of a slow slugging of cards against each other. I guess this is what happens when you actually try to learn from your mistakes and try to improve a game over the course of 20 years. Not everything is perfect, but I dig the current version of Magic much more than the one I used to play.

The Wilderlands are a strange place

Ready Ref Sheets, page 49:

Somehow Anchovies are fruits in the Wilderlands

Ready Ref Sheets, pg. 49

By the way, apples show up only as rare crab apples and as the unique Golden Apple. This means that in any given hex you have a 1/400 chance of finding coffee or rubber, but only a 1/8000 chance of finding sour apples. And a 1/16000 chance of finding a non-sour apple that gives immortality.

Have I mentioned I love the old JG stuff?

Terry Pratchett is dead

Terry Pratchett is dead.
I don’t think there is a single other author who had such an influence on me and my view of the world.
Scribner once said “Reading is a means of thinking with another person’s mind; it forces you to stretch your own.” and so I think that he will live on, in a way, in all of us who spent part of their life in his books. And his books remain.

I hope that he will continue to change the people of this world for the better.

[Shadowrun] A Night’s Work (1990 Shadowrun Promo)

Action! Magic! Matrix! Cheesy CGI! Improbable 80s hairstyles! This one has it all!

[Shadowrun] Run 1.1: Speakeasies, Devil Rats, and lots of Pizza

So, we had our first session of Shadowrun 5th edition today. It was a bit of a surprise for me. I had the rules beforehand (only as a pdf though, which was hard to read from), but I did not actually plan to do anything with it. Then my players actually asked if we could play some. It seems they didn’t play the pen and paper game yet, but they did play Shadowrun Returns.
It went ok, I guess.

We did not actually get far, despite the fact that I consciously had my players choose archetypes from the books instead of creating characters by the priority system. But then it turned out that one of us had to go on a spontaneous business trip in the morning, and another had to be home earlier. So, we managed to get the meeting with the fixer, the meeting with the Johnson, a single fight, and some legwork in.
On the other hand we want to meet next week again, which would be a record for our group.
The group consisted of a Chinese Ork gunslinger with triad ties (the archetype from 4th edition), a covert ops specialist (also from 4th), a black dwarfish decker with an online persona modeled on the Ms. Marple novel (the archetype from 5th ed.), and an occult investigator with an alcohol problem (also from 5th). I considered properly converting the archetypes from 4th edition to 5th, and then realized that the ones from 5th edition are wrong anyway, so I just did some basic conversion stuff to be able to get going and left it at that (well, I calculated the limits for the characters). If they get hooked on the game I might be able to create proper characters with them, so far those were mostly just so I could show them what was possible.
I also made pizza and salad, and one of my players brought tiramisu brownies, so that should have helped keeping the mood up.
I should have studied the combat rules more intently. I wanted to do some test fights against some opponents, but in the end I did not have the time for that. And that was after I had a week more to grok everything. Basically I only grokked most of the rules on Thursday. We were supposed to play last Saturday but had to reschedule, so that was not possible. So, after another week I now felt able to do it properly. It was a partial success. The Shadowrun 5 rulebook is slightly obtuse.
The characters met up (the decker only as an icon) in a dingy pizza place in Seattle Downtown, some dive that mostly was kept alive as a front for the owner’s fixer business. In a sort of emergent gameplay the characters all ordered a pizza and demanded to see the manager, which we established was the way to get an audience with the fixer. We soon came to the conclusion that that this also was the only reason why this place made any money to begin with.
The owner, a huge ogre called Mario, told them about a job. They were to meet their Johnson in The Speakeasy, a 1920s styled bar with some period-appropriate backrooms, and some less period-appropriate jukeboxes in the entrance hall. Hey, its all 20th century, ain’t it?
The Johnson was a mousy type who clearly was nervous. The job was simple: a datasteal from a small soda factory in Tacoma. The runners even managed to fret out the guys motivation, which either means I was playing the role really well, or just way too transparent.
After a few initial investigations the runners met at some dive bar in Redmond (The Crash) the occult investigator knew. She knew the bartender and asked if they could use the attic. Sure, the bartender said, if you don’t mind the rats. They did, but they agreed to take care of the rat problem, found out that the Ms. Marple-like icon they met at their fixer was actually a tough black dwarf, and then tried to take care of the rat problem.
And here I encountered the problem that I A) underestimated how tough devil rats are and B) did not completely figure out the combat system until 3 rounds in.
The combat took longer than expected, especially because I had to revise the rules constantly.
It took me nearly the first round before I noticed that yes, devil rats have a physical limit of 3, so they actually can’t have more than three successes in unarmed combat and defense rolls, even though I nearly burned a hole into the table with my successes.
The players on the other hand rolled mud. Most rolls they had did not even hit enough to start hurting the rats, and the ones that did glitched out at the same time. In the end it took 3 rounds until the decker finally managed to hit one of them by sheer luck. Two of the rats were finally killed by a spirit the occult investigator summoned, and that more because I couldn’t find the rules for spirits and did not want to bog down the game too much. Also I wanted to get on with things and at least I did roll successes for the spirit.
So then they had some planning and some legwork. After a short planning session one of them went out again to investigate further, he broke into an nearly abandoned property next to the factory and did some reconnaissance.
And then we had to stop.

Lets see what next week brings.

I remembered again what I liked about the game back when I played it more often, around 2000. The adventures are easy to do, the system is maybe not intuitive but easy to understand, and the background allows people to do a lot with their character. The world is just close enough for them to get into their roles properly, but far enough to have some really great worldbuilding in the game.

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