Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Descent into Geekery: RPG edition

My expedition into playing table top RPG is a pretty short one. I am not really sure why I never got into this earlier in life, but looking back it was probably the right decision to wait since I would have been completely sucked in. I used to play quite a bit of cRPG either on computers or consoles. I enjoyed the story, but many times the grind just got in the way of things. I wonder if game designers ever will focus on creating grinding that is fun? DragonAge: Inquisition is pretty close in that your grind helps further some of the side stories.

Really my tabletop experience started with one of my friends getting very sick. I knew that he used to play D&D back in the old days with his friends back in Detroit. So I started emailing them and seeing if there was anything we could do to play over skype or anything really. We kept nagging my friend, but he declined the offer each time. When he passed away, the group that we had assembled decided to play if for nothing else but to honor our lost friend.

At the same time, Wizards of the Coast had just launched 4th Edition (I said I was pretty late to the game) and had done a number of podcasts with the guys at Penny Arcade. So Nick agreed to DM our first path through using 4th Edition. We had a couple of copies of the player handbook, Google Wave and Skype. Nick was able to bring in his friend Jeff and I was able to bring in Scott. It was a small group but it was a good start. After a bit of time, I decided to give Nick a break and I took over DMing. We decided to split it up like TV seasons where each would go for about 3 months and would trade back and forth.

We did this for a few years but unfortunately (or fortunately) I had caught the bug. When I wasn't DMing, I wanted to still be creative or at least more creative than being a player would allow. I wanted to create worlds. I wanted to understand more about the craft of DMing. At the time, I was listening to the Penny Arcade podcast, Nick introduced me to the Critical Hit podcast. These led me to a better understanding that the rules were a framework and that I could move things around to find the optimal setting for fun for the group. The DM, Rodrigo, was unhappy with the skill challenge in 4e, so he had his own set of rules which were much more streamlined. I also bought the Lazy Dungeon Master book by Mike Shea along with his other books. I wanted to DM, but I didn't want to do 3 hour of prep for every 1 hour of game play and this certainly provided me with the tools necessary.

Then Google turned off Google Wave. I mean... what the hell? We had a nice little die roller and were getting well versed in the classic "theater of the mind" stuff. I had even mucked with my webcam and a pile of miniatures to try and simulate over the net, but that sucked too. Maybe turning off Wave was a good thing. I did some extensive searching and settled on MapTool which turned out to be a very good thing. It allowed us to share our map space and have individual tokens. It had a built in die roller, but overall the learning curve was pretty steep. The big bonus was that it didn't bog down when you had a huge chat backlog.

About the same time, I picked up a second group. We would play less frequently but could play occasionally in person since everyone was local. I went with a store bought campaign setting book using Neverwinter. I definitely found though that less frequent meant that we could miss months at a time, when I was trying to find a new time slot that worked with the party. But still that group progressed and I enjoyed running it for them. I did find that in person D&D was WAY MORE FUN, but if given the choice between no RPG time and Skype based RPG time, I would take Skype any day of the week.

I also started playing D&D through WotC at PAX. This also fed my addiction to rolling dice and thinking of crazy actions or characters for one-shots. Fast forward a year, and I was offering to DM one-shots at PAX for the WotC folks. I didn't do it a lot but it was a guarantee that I would get to play for a little while. As D&D 4 was winding down to a close, I started to look at other rule sets. This fed yet another addiction to understand how a RPG would tick. What makes it fun? What did the different rules do to change the way the game is played? Reading the works of the Angry DM/GM has also really helped in perspective of how games can and should be run.

13th Age. I happened across this because a friend suggested that I look into it. It was very much in the vein of fourth edition, but trimmed down some of the mechanics a bit. Plus at high level, you roll a lot of dice. I played it at PAX and instantly fell in love with it. I loved that it was 4th-lite, but that it also gave a huge amount of improv hooks for characters and stories. It really made the perfect convention game, because of those improv hooks and also that the things that made your character unique for others of similar class and race could be put together in about 10 minutes at the start of a one-shot. I ran a couple of one-shots with people I knew as well as running them at PAX. It wasn't till this year that I started running it as part of a long term campaign. So far so good, but I think I need another couple months with it because I have a good feel for it. So I would totally recommend going out and picking up 13th Age.

I also started buying up other rule sets. The Bundles of Holding became yet another addiction where I was able to pick up classic Traveller, FATE, Numenera, PARANOIA, Vampire and World of Darkness, Dungeon World, and Torchbearer. I also picked up Fate Accelerated, Laundry Files, Dresden Files, Pathfinder, and way too many kickstarter based RPG. A recent pickup was the Firefly RPG which I have now run twice for one-shots. This is a great system as well as the dice pool mechanic when coupled with complications and assets works to be a lot of fun.

It definitely feels like the last few months, I have really expanded the variety of play I have looked at as well as played.

D&D Shadowfell notes
D&D Neverwinter notes