Things to Look For In a Tabletop RPG

cube-568059_1920

I love Dungeons & Dragons, everyone already knows this. But, I found myself wanting to go outside of that game in both setting and mechanics. My players got roped into running a D20 Modern campaign, which was a bit of a shock to my players who were used to 5e’s more streamlined approach when they opened up the skill and feat lists. D20 Modern’s character sheet has been removed from Wizard of the Coast’s website, perhaps stuffed in its archive mode.

A Google search leads to a fan-made character sheet, and you can only find the books at game stores that sell used copies (Games and Stuff gets a shout out here) or Amazon. It was during my search for a system (which I will write about in an upcoming post since I did manage to find one) that I eventually came to understand something in RPG product reviews.

I found that many product reviews lack a lot of information that I personally wanted to know. Usually, they boiled down to discussing mechanics and general “feel” of the system, but would only bring up cost and such in a very basic way. So, I wanted to compile a list of criteria that I had for purchasing a tabletop roleplaying game.

Cost of Entry

Simply put, if one wants to actually start playing, what do they need? I often hear about prices for core rulebooks discussed as if they’re in a vacuum when you usually need additional implements such as dice to play. This usually means that I end up looking at the introduction to find out what else I need, such as decks of cards, dice, and so forth.

Partly because my players are college students, and also because I try to be budget-conscious with my gaming decisions, I tend to go for systems that are less than $30 to buy core rulebooks for. Even now, my players are still getting their own copies of the 5e Player’s Handbook, which is understandable when the only thing separating you from total starvation is Cup Noodles.

Ease of Use and Ease of Explanation

Some RPG systems require a veteran player to show you the ropes. This doesn’t make them bad, but it’s severely limiting if you have a player base that doesn’t consist of veterans and you yourself don’t have experience with the system. My nightmare with playing the Star Wars RPG by Fantasy Flight Games is such an example. I’m sure that if a veteran sat down with me and ran through the entire system that I’d eventually get it.  But, can a completely fresh group sit down and play through a setting without succumbing to boredom?

System Flexibility and Portability

Dungeons and Dragons and, by extension, Pathfinder are exempt from this rule because of their popularity. However, for other games, I’ve found system flexibility to be a key issue when determining whether or not I want to purchase a new system. Since every system takes time to learn, it’s better to have a few systems that you use a lot as opposed to many systems that are only used in select circumstances (unless you have really patient or voracious players and money to burn).

In fact, I found myself looking for a “Not-D&D” system, which could be used when modifying D&D was too impractical and I wanted something that D&D didn’t specialize in.

Of course, there are systems that are good at solving particular design issues, such as GUMSHOE which does investigative play.

Publisher Support

Of course, when you play a tabletop RPG, you are going to have to visit the publisher’s page to download a character sheet. Additionally, you’ll probably want to see if they have additional rules supplements, campaign settings, premade adventures.

Are the character sheets printer friendly? I’ve seen many times where an aesthetically pleasing sheet gets the axe from me because of the sheer volume of ink it would require (even worse when they make these sheets in color). Are they form-fillable in PDF form? They don’t necessarily need to be since you’ll be erasing and writing stuff down anyway, but it is certainly nice if you have poor handwriting and need to write in static content.

Is there an easily accessible reference sheet that players or the GM can use? One RPG I looked at, which had problems with book organization, compounded this by having no GM or player reference sheet. Something that can be inserted into a GM screen is extremely helpful.

Is there a free introductory adventure meant to acclimate players and GMs to the game? Does the publisher have a “Getting Started” section that helps potential buyers pick what they need to play? Are there introductory rules for the game that can be downloaded as a PDF and played free of charge?

Is there a System Reference Document? How thorough is it? Has some content been removed or expanded upon? Has errata been covered on the publisher’s site?

This is a particular bugbear of mine (pun very much intended) because I find that nothing sours me on a system than a website that’s difficult to navigate or that is lacking content. If I don’t feel that the publisher is really supporting the product, it’s hard for me to get invested.

By the same token, there needs to be an easy access point, lest a neophyte get inundated with the sheer number of options. Otherwise, people will have no idea where to start.

Community

But a game where people play together is only as good as the people who play it. How easy is it to find a community? Do they have presences on Facebook, Reddit, and other channels?

Are they exchanging house rules? Settings? How is the user generated content handled?

I must confess that Wizards of the Coast’s method of focusing on premade adventures as opposed to rules supplements was a strategy I didn’t understand very well until I looked at the corresponding community pages like DM’s Guild. In actuality, a publisher should not act as an opener of floodgates, showering players with content. Instead, there should be a mix of publisher and community support, creating an ecosystem where content can be shared.

So, I find this list to be something that I would use in any given review of tabletop RPGs, and eventually, I’ll submit some reviews of my own.

Can’t Spin This

fidget-spinner-2329469_1920Now that I’ve managed to recuperate from post-exam exhaustion, it’s time for me to return to the blogosphere. I have a lot to talk about, and today I want to start with something topical.

I have seen the fidget spinner craze, and there’s been a lot of discussion on the toy in question and I want to approach a byproduct of that craze. Shortly after the fad took off, I saw the occasional odd post that voiced outrage at how neurotypicals were taking a toy meant for the disabled and making it impossible for the disabled to use due to the bans put into place after fidget spinners became popular and overused in the classroom.

These posts didn’t sit well with me. While the people who shared them probably just did so reflexively (which I admittedly find troubling, but somewhat understandable), it was because something unexpected happened.

Continue reading

A Series of Unfortunate Dates With Russian Women From My Spambox

 

So, as I mentioned yesterday, I received an invitation to find “hot Russian girls” and look at their private photo albums.

screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-6-00-58-pm

The savvy user may believe that this is just a phishing attempt. These people are wrong. I found myself quickly entangled with several suspiciously attractive Russian women. So attractive that they defy photographs. You’re just going to have to imagine hot platinum blonde women with perfect complexion and those ushankas on. Ushankas are pretty sexy, I’d say.

I struck up a conversation with Alyona first, and we quickly found ourselves eating at a nearby steakhouse. I remember her little quirks, how she’d wiggle the fork just a little bit when she stabbed into the hunk of meat. Her accent was thin, just noticeable if you asked her to speak in Russian or if a loanword got dropped in.

As it turns out though, my conversational skills around Russian culture needed a lot of work. It probably didn’t help that I cribbed all of my conversation topics from “Talking to Russian Women For the Willfully Ignorant”.

I began with vodka. Can’t stand the stuff, personally. Gotta have it mixed with something else. But she seemed hesitant. I pulled out topics, Tetris, communism, the prevalence of the names “Vladimir” and “Sergei”.

The conversation really got going when we talked about Lenin’s tomb. She informed me, “No, Lenin’s still alive. I don’t get why everyone thought he died and is just being preserved. He makes a pretty good cup of coffee too.”

This led me to ask, if Lenin was still alive, what else did I not know? She enlightened me, “Political decisions are determined by playing Tetris.”

Tetris! It was genius! Why didn’t I think of that? What if Alexei Pajitnov just flew in by chopper to the Kremlin? He would bring with the gift of Tetris ports, except for the iPhone one because someone royally screwed that up. How do you screw up Tetris? Maybe he has plans for the producers at Threshold who are making a movie trilogy out of it.

At that point, I could feel the tension in the air. Foregoing our social graces, we started making out on top of the table while “Korobeiniki” played in the background. Sure, I had no idea what was going on but I wasn’t about to kill the mood.

We finished up at a nearby motel, but we decided it would be best to part ways for now. I will miss Alyona, but perhaps it’s for the best. Perhaps if I check my spambox, I’ll find the next love…

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-9-52-41-pm

Hmm, looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me….

Just For Fun, Folks!

I wrote this as a social media post long ago, but it deserves a place here! Enjoy!

Inspired by the Portal board game, I have devised a list of potential board game ideas to pitch to Hasbro:
Mighty No. 9: Just copy the Mega Man board game, but do a half-assed job at it.

Konami: The Board Game: You are one of the top executives at Konami, and you’ve been looking to restructure the company by laying waste to your intellectual property. Players work together to sabotage valuable IPs through neglect, outsourcing to no-name developers for Silent Hill, and making completely inappropriate pachinko slot machines out of Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill, and Castlevania. The game ends when players land on the “Fire Hideo Kojima and Burn the Evidence of P.T’s existence” space. The player that cares the least wins.

Shenmue: Explore an incredibly detailed board while reading the cards as monotone as possible. While there is combat, the real fun is getting to collect capsule toys and drinking soda. When you get to the third section of the game, wait for at least fifteen years to resume play. But you can always go back and ask around for sailors.

Fanboys: Are you too emotionally attached to a consumer product as a way to compensate for the lack of meaning in your life? Fantastic, you can meet up online with and argue over which gaming platform is the best! Earn points by successfully annoying your target into stepping away from the computer in rage, and don’t be afraid to play the “death threat” card. Points don’t matter because no one you’re defending actually cares about you, but watch out! If the moderators find your rambling, you could be banned. The expansion includes “PC master race” pawn, updated spec wanking, and a shaker full of salt.

Videogame Movie Adaptations: You’re a plucky Hollywood executive trying to reach the coveted 18-35 year old crowd, but there just aren’t enough superheroes to go around these days. You can always try to be the one executive who manages to make that first great videogame movie adaptation! Buy the rights to a popular franchise without doing any prior research into whether or not it has any cinematic value.  Bank on its marketability, but come to the cold realization that you’ve joined literally every other one of these in existence. The game ends when one the players reveal themselves to be Uwe Boll.

Disproportionate Outrage: Did a publisher move a character just a few pixels to the left? Were they caught in the egregious act of removing a gratuitous panty shot? Well, you’re all about that artistic expression, right? Send hate mail, useless petitions, death threats, rape threats, and whatever means are at your disposal to get what you want. Remember, your devotion to a piece of media takes precedence over a real person’s life! Comes with double standard rules that ignore when Square-Enix has to clothe a male character more modestly. For some reason, that’s not such a big deal…

Half-Life 3: Just an empty box.

Where Do They All Belong?

dsc_0064

Photo by Routine @ Morguefile.com

Many days ago, I remember praising SunkenThought’s article in which she described the relationship she had with her husband. That was for a very specific reason, because I was at the end of a long string of lousy dates that never seemed to go anywhere. I was consumed by the cynicism that modern dating, online dating especially, engendered.

My peers have become worn out, and many of them remain single. But not just single, they’re lonely too. Many of them yearn for affection and love, but things just don’t seem to be working out for them. It is not just my male friends who feel this way, as my female friends also feel this crushing sense of loneliness. If there was a theme to the 21st century millennial dating experience, it would be the Beatles’ classic “Eleanor Rigby”.

Continue reading

Rayman 2 and Nostalgia

 

rayman2screenshot.png

Screenshot of Rayman 2: The Great Escape. Taken by Dylan Greene

 

I don’t usually listen to nostalgia. My childhood was pretty awful all around, and I have little desire to return to it. However, I must confess every once in a while I manage to get my hands on games that I enjoyed long ago and get little jolts of nostalgimine (totally legit, I swear) from playing.

The retro game du jour is Rayman 2: The Great Escape. Released originally for the Nintendo 64 and ported to just about every console on the market at that time and beyond.

I have found that my reaction to old games has been split into two broad reactions. One is “Cool, I forgot about this!” and the other is “Ugh, I forgot about this!” Either way, memories give way to the reality of the game.

In the case of a game like Sonic Adventure, I got to rediscover fighting with the camera, playing as Big the Cat in fishing levels that make no sense in a Sonic game, and the cold realization that this and Sonic Adventure 2 was used as a blueprint for the ill-fated Sonic ’06. Not that there weren’t good moments, but it certainly lacked the sense of wonder I had conferred upon the game in my childhood.

Fortunately, Rayman 2 has not succumbed to that effect. All of the elements that I enjoyed are present and while I have gripes about small things the game is solidly built.

My main criticism, at least when it comes to the PC version, is that it suffers from “consoleitis”. This is when a console game is taken and ported to PC without much care. You can see this in the way that the controls are bound. Instead of the typical WASD for movement and building around that, the movement is bound to the arrow keys. The “A” key jumps, and the space bar attacks.

This goes against almost every PC gaming convention since the space bar is usually reserved for jumping. Short from diving into the game’s .ini files, there is no way to rebind these keys to my knowledge.

Still, once you get used to these controls, Rayman 2 is still Rayman 2. There are the Robo-Pirates, the cartoon fantasy world, and of course a limbless hero with a lot of pluck. Since it’s only $5.99 on Good Old Games, I’d definitely give it a shot!