Thursday, July 18, 2024

Birth of an RPG

I'm going to talk more about Little Colony (LC). I've been pretty much living and breathing these rules since my play test two weeks ago. I do have plans for more play testing next week and I am feeling confident about those. Little Colony was born out of a few things. I guess that it started with JP Coovert. He is an RPG zine creator and cartoonist. I ran his campaign of Dragontown for two different groups using two different systems and both had a good time.

JP Coovert got me excited about zines. RPG zines are getting to be a popular retro thing these days. They harken back to the earliest editions of RPGs. Dungeons & Dragons and Traveller were both first produced as these little booklets. I've always been one to produce very concise works. It's not that I don't have the creative drive to write lengthier works. (I write here every day.) I just think that rules should be shorter, smaller, and easier to manage. I like the idea of RPG zines.

  
  

One of the groups that played through Dragontown, did it using my Five By Five rules. For that game I went back to my original version of the Five By Five rules and reformatted them into a zine. The new format is great and it's the version of Five By Five that I have linked to my sidebar on the right. (It's on the right if you are on a computer. I don't know how you get to it from a phone or tablet. Sigh.)

I even printed the zine for my friends and sent it to them. So, yeah. Excited about zines, and printing zines. This led me to learn about ZineQuest. ZineQuest is this thing where RPG designers like me produce a zine and then promote it on Kickstarter. It's a sort of "event" that will draw a lot of attention to your work. I got really excited about the idea of publishing a zine through ZineQuest. Having more people read and play my games would be really cool.

At first I thought that I'd just submit the zine that I had made of Five By Five. Then I found that the rules for the ZineQuest required that the submission be something new. I started working on a Monsters supplement for Five By Five that I could submit to ZineQuest. I could include the Five By Five rules along with the new supplement and I'd be good to go. (The Monsters supplement is currently in limbo, but I do plan to get back to it one day.)

I had been playing with different RPG ideas, and some of them were shared here. I really wanted to create something that stepped away from an emphasis on combat. Then I read Golden Sky Stories and my mind was blown. I wanted to do something like that. I started thinking about how I could create something in that same vein. The emphasis on making connections in Golden Sky Stories made me think about the Icon Relationships in 13th Age.

I love 13th Age. For a long time I told people (when asked) that 13th Age was my favorite RPG. I suppose that it still is, at least of the RPGs that I've actually played. That is in danger of changing. The problem is that Hasbro has left a sour taste in my mouth with regards to all things D&D. I still play D&D. I still enjoy it, but I don't want to. I feel guilty about it. There are so many great Indie RPG creators out there that deserve my attention and time at my game table.

The best things about 13th Age are Icon Relationships and One Unique Thing. I love the way that the Icon Relationships immerse the players in the game world from the very start. The way these relationships shape the game play and help the GM to cater the game to the players. One Unique Thing is just as awesome, allowing the players to put their own special mark on the game world and their character at the same time. Yet, for all this incredible innovation, 13th Age has one major drawback. The great ideas are then married to a game based on D&D, and the connection "feels" tacked on. There's nothing tying the D&D part of the game back to the 13th Age part of the game.

Before 13th Age, if someone asked me what my favorite RPG was, it was a toss up between Dream Park and the Marvel Superhero Adventure Game. I had already been playing around with making a game based on Marvel's SAGA system. I began asking myself, "What if 13th Age had been built by the folks who developed SAGA rather than those who worked on D&D?" Now a complete idea began to form. 13th Age + SAGA for system, with an approach in feel and flavor inspired by Golden Sky Stories.

(As for Dream Park, I just shared an RPG called 10 Cubed. It may not be obvious at first glance, but this game is greatly influenced by Dream Park.)

One of my most enjoyable recent RPG experiences has been a Numenera game run by my friend Dave. The game centered around a small colony and dealt with all kinds of politics and intrigue and had very little combat. It was so much fun and it provided me with the final piece of the puzzle. Changing from fantasy to sci-fi allowed me to create new icons that could feel completely different from the ones in 13th Age. The small colony feel worked well with the small town, slice of life ideas presented in Golden Sky Stories. (The name: Little Colony On The Big Moon is a play on the title: Little House In The Big Woods.)

  
  

That's how Little Colony was born. 

My version of the SAGA rules proved to be cumbersome at the table. It may be that trying to convert SAGA's Fate Deck to a standard deck of cards was just never going to work. From there I have since changed the cards from randomizers to resources and then changed them again. Now they are something that is both at the same time. I have added the random element back in (even after all the fuss that I raised) because I saw a way to do both that I really liked. (It's like having my cake and eating it too.)

Unlike 13th Age where the good ideas are just tacked on a D&D frame, LC is built around the good ideas. The mechanics are original and designed to work with the Icon Relationships (that I call Leader Connections.) By this time next week I should know if LC's new systems work. The first impressions from my players were very positive this time. So, that's a boon. I'm really happy with things as they stand right now. The rules are formatted, illustrated and complete. I can add more, but I wouldn't have to.

(In 13th Age's defense, it is still my favorite version of D&D. The characters are overpowered compared to other versions and can go on epic feeling adventures right at first level. I like that.)

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Presentation

Is it all about presentation? In my previous post (rant) I mentioned wanting a game with a greater emphasis on role-play (I actually said, "theater of the mind") than combat, or a game that at least provides as many mechanical tools for this activity as it does for combat. I also mentioned that the Powered By the Apocalypse games might do this.

Powered By the Apocalypse is a game engine, in the same way that Dungeons and Dragons is a game engine. It establishes a way to play, and many games are built around that baseline. There are a lot of Powered By the Apocalypse games out there. It's a game approach that seems to care more about story beats than wargame tactics. I said, "seems to" because I've never managed to play a PbtA game.

In fact, I have yet to fully read a game that is Powered By the Apocalypse cover to cover. The way that these games are presented gets in my way. The lists of moves seem to clutter the texts and I find them cumbersome. It's not fair, but it's a thing that is. I still want to fully digest and review a PbtA game. I have my eyes on Chasing Adventure. It has an appealing presentation, and it's free, but for now, so far, PbtA games have eluded me. (Maybe because I started with Dungeon World? My understanding from some reviews that I have read is that it can be difficult to parse.)

  
  

Trouble getting through the text means that I don't get the game to my table. With my current project: Little Colony, I received a very negative response to my game rules. However, I have known my group to be pretty supportive and willing to try new things. So, I made some changes to the way some ideas were presented, to how things were worded, and we are back on track to another play test. (They also raised some valid concerns that led to some rules improvements.)

A bad presentation can kill a design. If players think that things are going to play differently than you intend, or they just can't trudge their way through your text, you've got a problem. In my case, I tend to be concise. I don't like tons of descriptive text that prevents me from grabbing onto the mechanical parts of a game. I feel like all that lore that you want to write is best when it can be inferred from the mechanics. (And if you need to write it, put it in the back of the book.)

My problem was using terminology and phrasing that created misconceptions. My readers saw a game where their characters couldn't do anything without "paying" for the privilege with their resources. This was perceived as being very restrictive. (While resource management is at the core of the task resolution system that I am working on, it should in practice be no more restrictive than rolling a die.)

I decided to rewrite things so that spending player resources was presented more like "rolling a die." This seemed to help. I addressed a few other concerns with some new rules (which I believe were needed and do improve the game) and as I said, we are on track for another play test. That's not to say that everything is perfect. My players are still dubious of an RPG without randomizers, but they are on board to try.

That's a win.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

How Different Is Different?

In response to my "Tired of Dungeons and Dragons" post, one of my friends argued in a comment in the Facebook group that DC20 is nothing like D&D, and that it had a completely different system. The exact quote was: 

"DC20 is only “another Dungeons and Dragons” by theme alone. It is a vastly different system with completely different rules. It is not like Tales of the Valiant, which is just a reskin of 5E with the serial numbers shaved off." 

  
  

DC20 might be a great game. I think many people will love it. I will certainly play it if given the chance. That's not what this post is about. This post is about asking, "How different is different?" 

Is 4th Edition D&D more or less different from 3rd Edition D&D than DC20 is from D&D 5E? I would argue that the disparity between 4th Edition D&D and 3rd Edition D&D may be just as jarring. But, those both carry the name D&D and were written to cater to the same narrow audience.

What makes a game different?

I'm going to start with some general comparisons to DC20 and D&D, but take these with a few grains of salt, because I've not read or played DC20. I've only watched some videos that talk about it. These comparisons are based on impressions that I have and are not intended to be comprehensive.

  • Both games share a focus on player options based on tactical combat. (From this focus one could infer an emphasis on fighting in the game play.)
  • Both games use a twenty-sided dice as the randomizer in their primary task resolution system. 
  • Both games break combat down into rounds that represent short spans of time, and the roll of a die usually encompasses only a single action, like hitting with a weapon. 
  • Both give players choices of abilities that provide their characters different ways to mitigate and manipulate their options in the combat.

That last bullet point is probably where RPGs show the most divergence from each other. What completely blows my mind is how most RPG players see this as the defining aspect of all role-playing games.

Here's one example: 

  • D&D gives a player a primary action, a bonus action, a movement equivalent action, a possible reaction, and any number of free actions. 
  • DC20 gives players 4 action points to spend how they want.

Is the DC20 way better? I don't know. It seems like it might be easier to understand and to teach. But, you're still just taking actions by rolling dice to kill monsters.

As I said when I first began this rant, I don't know that much about DC20. I could be completely off base, but I suspect that if DC20 was released by Wizards of the Coast as Dungeons & Dragons 6th Edition, people would accept it at least as well as they did moving from 3.5 to 4th Edition D&D.

When I said that all the games that come out just feel like "another Dungeons and Dragons," that's what I was talking about. You can change the tactical combat options all you want, but if your game is no more different from D&D than 3.5 was from 4, then you are still playing D&D.

Pathfinder is just another version of D&D. 

13th Age is just another version of D&D.

How many games move away from D&D's combat-centric wargame roots? 

For every "Golden Sky Stories" there is, there are 1000 D&D variants.*

Why?

Because those are the games that sell, and sales drive the industry. But, why does it seem that all the greater majority of RPG players care about are more and different combat options?

Of course, that's not entirely true. The OSR, the old-school gamers look to strip away all those options to make the game simpler and create a game that is less about combat by making combat super deadly. But, they don't replace these options with anything, and players still spend more time rolling "to hit" than doing anything else. It's another trend that leaves me wanting. The OSR seems more to me about nostalgia than game play.

Maybe your favorite D&D clone is completely different from D&D to you, but I don't see it.

So, what am I whining about? What do I want? I guess I want games that explore "theater of the mind" options to the same degree that all these other games explore tactical options. 

I think the Powered by the Apocalypse games might be closest to this. Some of them seem pretty good. I've never gotten one to the table.

That means I really want a greater percentage of consumers to embrace a role-play focused style of game play. I think those players are out there, but they don't know it yet, because the market hasn't provided them with the games they want to play. And that's the proverbial "Catch 22" isn't it?

  

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Monday, July 15, 2024

Birthday Surprise

I got to take a trip to our FLGS, Out of the Box Games in Zeeland for my birthday. First I was taken out to breakfast at the Cherokee in Muskegon. We were going to go to the Board Game Yard Sale at the Gaming Annex in Muskegon, but unfortunately we were unable to attend.

The Gaming Annex's game rooms are up a long flight of stairs. When I read, "yard sale" I made the mistake of thinking the event was being held outside. It wasn't. I'm still using a walker following a knee injury in January and am unable to navigate the stairs. So, we didn't go, but breakfast at Cherokee was awesome, and my day was just beginning.

At Out of the Box Games in Zeeland a woman walked up to me and said, "You aren't going to start playing games without me are you?" This was totally out of the blue, and it took me several seconds to realize that this "woman" was my baby sister, Karla. I mean, it's not as if I didn't recognize her. It's just that she was taken completely out of context. 

I picked out Bardwood Grove as my board game birthday gift, then our daughter Kaylee texted Julie. She was ready to get picked up from work and we took Karla with us to pick her up, then went for an early dinner. (Karla had been hours on a plane and hadn't eaten.) We went to Country Dairy in New Era, where I got an awesome burger. 


Sunday, we played games all morning, but not before Julie went and got Karla and me Steak Egg & Cheese Bagels from McDonald's. (Karla and I were going on and on about how much we loved them.) I taught Karla the two player game, Botanik, then when Julie got back with breakfast, we played Marvel Remix and Forest Shuffle. 

Karla ended up buying both Botanik and Forest Shuffle for herself and we played both games again today before she had to leave to catch her plane. It was an awesome visit with my sister and an awesome birthday surprise. My thanks to Julie and Karla for giving me a fantastic weekend. 

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Champions Days

 I keep getting things wrong. When I moved back to Tulsa, I moved in with Bob Fultz again for a bit. Then I discovered the Brownstone Apartments that were close to Platt College, and I moved in there. Sally would move into the Brownstones with me later. 



Not that getting all of this right is all that important to anyone but me. But, yeah. That's what happened. I did go one Wednesday to World of Comics, and Doug did say that Doug and Carol McComas told him that I ran (past tense) Champions for them. 

That is what led to the first game. The second game was the next Wednesday. Robert brought his friend Dave, and Roland brought his friend Robert. So, I went from 3 players to 5. That is what most reasonable RPG GMs would consider maximum player count. That's 6 people around the table. 

The problem was that Doug owned a comic book shop. His friends were his customers. He didn't feel like he could tell people that they couldn't join the fun. The next game doubled in size: 10 players. I told Doug that we absolutely couldn't take any more. 

We moved from the back room to playing out front right on top of the comic book tables. (We just laid big flat pieces of cardboard over the comic boxes to make a huge table.) For the most part Doug kept the numbers from growing further, (we did get a few more) but he didn't like it. He didn't like telling people, "no." 

This was also the same time that Champions 4th Edition came out. What is popularly called the Big Blue Book or BBB. It didn't actually occur to me before writing this, but I am sure that must have been why Doug started the Champions game in the first place. He did sell many copies of that 4th Edition book. 

This went on for a few weeks, but something was about to change all of that, something that had happened when I first came back to Tulsa and was living with Bob.

(Sorry for the short post. My sister Karla is here visiting from Georgia. She came to see me for my birthday.) 


Saturday, July 13, 2024

Biggest Mistake of My Life

 I skipped over something to get to World of Comics and the Champions Game. That's been over 30 years ago, and a lot of stuff has happened. So, you'll forgive me for jumping around a bit.



After graduating from Platt College, I stayed on and worked, and I gamed with Doug and Carol at the Villa. All of that was true. But when I read back the part about meeting Doug, I realized that I had got it wrong. Before that happened, my one year lease with the Villa expired. I was making an actual wage, and my rent was about to increase a substantial amount.

In contemplating the prospect of moving, I realized something. I was homesick. I missed my family and I wanted to go home, back to Coulterville. So, that's what I did. I called Mom and told her that I wanted to come back home. I didn't know about Fred being so mad at me before I had left, but things had clearly settled down, because they drove out to Tulsa to get me, and I came home.

Looking back on it, this might have been the absolute worst possible decision that I could have made. I was stuck back in Coulterville. At this point, everyone that I knew had left. Even my friend Jon who was 5 years my junior was now away at college. More than that, there were no opportunities in Coulterville. My best hope would have been to find something in St. Louis, but that was bigger than Tulsa, more competitive. I was a disabled kid with a GED and a Commercial Art Certificate from a trade and technical school.

I was screwed. I did it to myself. I wasn't going to find a decent job. My desire to "go home" may have just ruined my life. This was one of those life altering moments, and I had taken a wrong turn. Lucky for me destiny, (and a very wonderful Mike Garner) had other plans.

Mike Garner, who was the antisocial tech nerd at Platt College who was teaching me about computers and was rapidly becoming a good friend, called me. He asked how I was doing. Had I gotten a job? Was I happy? I don't think I said anything actually negative. It all felt pretty surface level as I try to recall it now, but a few days later I got a call from Jim Warren, Platt College's Dean.

Jim explained that Mike was going crazy without me, that he couldn't handle the student interruptions and that he needed me back to help. Jim offered to fly me back to Tulsa and give me my job back, with a raise. If I went back to Tulsa, I couldn't move back into the Villa. There was a waiting list. I was a hard luck case the first time. Now, it was different. The raise meant that I would be making enough money to afford a standard apartment in Tulsa.

It would be a new start.

I dodged a real bullet. I was happy to leave Coulterville again. I wasn't homesick anymore, and I never would be again. It's true what they say, "You can't go home again." I had grown up. It was time to begin building my own life in Tulsa.

Sally was back in Tulsa. (She had been unavailable for awhile, but I can't remember.) She was living in a place called the BrownStone Apartments. The thing was, these apartments were really close to Platt College. Walking distance close. This time she was on her own. There was no roommate. I was became the roommate. I moved once again in with my sister. 

Friday, July 12, 2024

10 Cubed: a Small but Powerful Superhero RPG

Despite all my grumbling about the conflict with my play testers, Little Colony is getting better. Some new ideas have come out of the recent debates that continue to improve the game. I am still going diceless. I won't change that unless some really compelling play testing convinces me otherwise.

  
  

I did in one of my posts mention that resolution mechanics weren't that tricky. Stating that I had created many in the past. Case in point, I found this laying around on my hard drive. It's a 6 page (8 with title page and character sheet) superhero RPG that uses a 2d6 roll high mechanic. It's pretty good, if I do say so myself, and I had forgotten all about it. The game is called 10 Cubed.

It's been quite some time since I shared an original free RPG. So, here you go. (Just to prove that I still love ya!) This should make the fans of the more traditional RPGs out there pretty happy. 10 Cubed is something that I had worked on a few years ago (2020), and just rediscovered.

Enjoy.

(In searching for an image to decorate this post, I found that 10 Cubed is also a beer. Neat!)

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Thursday, July 11, 2024

RPG Norm Bias

I shared my diceless rules with my playtesters and was met with some very strong negative feedback. Is this just a bias for the RPG norm, or are my rules truly bad? I don't think that I can know the answer to that question without getting my rules to the table. But, then I have to ask, "Can my playtesters be objective?"

  
  

Perhaps the "RPG norm" bias will color the opinions of my play testers, but the same must certainly be true of anyone who picks up a copy of my zine. What I want to avoid is an initial "these rules suck" reaction. If they really do suck, okay, I need to start over. If they're just different, then I need to find a way to make them approachable.

At first, when I got the negative reactions to what I had written, I was angry. I am proud of what I have here. I think Little Colony is a great little project and maybe one of the best things I've done. Receiving a bunch of negative feedback (and zero positive) took a bit of the wind out of my sails. I want to stay enthusiastic about this creation.

I do have a plan C. I can use a simple 2d6 roll high mechanic and make Little Colony like every other RPG that's already out there without changing the character creation, setting, and world building components that have proven to work so well. I can do that, and I know it will work. So, why does that feel like giving up?

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Diceless Roleplaying Games

I want to talk about diceless roleplaying games. The first paragraph on Wikipedia describes them this way:

"A diceless roleplaying game is a roleplaying game which is not based on chance: it does not use randomizers to determine the outcome of events in its roleplaying game system. The style of game is known as "diceless" because most games use dice as their randomizer; some games such as Castle Falkenstein use other randomizers such as playing cards as substitutes for dice, and are not considered diceless."

Diceless doesn't really mean "without dice." It means "without a random element." This element would include dice, cards, flipping a coin, casting runes, shooting tiddly-winks into a cup ... whatever.

RPGs evolved from wargames. Dice in wargames introduced an element of chance for the outcomes of combat. That is retained in nearly all RPG products, because nearly all RPG products contain a strong combat element. Randomness creates a sense of suspense in these combats. The combats in RPGs are a strategic mini-game. They use dice and math to create a playable simulation of combat.

But what about a game where combat is minimal or non-existent? 

This past Saturday, my friend Dave ran a session of Dungeons & Dragons that was very nearly devoid of combat. (I say "very nearly" because a single attack roll was made. Yup, just one.) This session was great. I loved every minute of it. Dave is an incredible DM. He has a knack for presenting the players with a conundrum and then just getting out of the way.

He once presented us with a huge and ancient red dragon who was chained and trapped in eternal agony at the center of an active volcano. What did we do? We figured out a way to set the poor trapped monster free. (Nothing deserved to exist in such torment.) How did we do it? If you learn anything when DMing D&D, it's that players can be surprisingly inventive. That's why the best DMs just create an impossible problem and wait. (Dave is a master.)

Solving problems is about creative thinking, not rolling dice. Dice are part of the "legacy" of role-playing games. If you don't feel like you have "played" a session of D&D unless miniatures have hit the table and initiatives have been rolled, then you are sitting at the table for the wargame. That's okay. There are many folks like that. I am one of those players who sits at the table despite that.

  
  

So, maybe diceless roleplaying games are for me?

The idea of diceless roleplaying tabletop RPGs has been around for awhile. Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game by Erick Wujcik was first published in 1981. Yet, I have never played in a diceless game. The sad truth is, as I pointed out in my "everyone just wants to play Dungeons & Dragons" rant, the RPG general player base seems to be largely inflexible. If trying to get players to try something other than D&D is difficult, getting them to play a game without a random element is nigh impossible.

  
  

Not long ago, I read and reviewed a diceless RPG called, Golden Sky Stories. I really love the idea of this game. It is because of Golden Sky Stories that one of the first things written in my latest RPG design (Little Colony on the Big Moon) is a declaration that combat is not part of the game. 

This statement met with immediate push back from my play-testers. I mitigated this resistance by explaining that combat isn't strictly prohibited by the rules and would be allowed should the story demand it. We played the game, and everyone had fun. 

There was no combat. 

There was no combat because contrary to what D&D may teach us, physical violence is not the default method of solving problems. In fact, deadly combat is and should be at the bottom of the problem solving list. Endangering your life is a last resort. When faced with this eventuality, running away is the preferred course of action. Despite this, my players were angered by the idea that they may not be able to fight.

After my resolution mechanic failed me during my recent play-test of Little Colony, I am considering a diceless approach for the game. I feel pretty confident that this approach will serve my game very well, and "get out of the way" allowing the role-play to take center stage. So, my question is, "Should I do it?" Should I choose a mechanism for my game that means that I immediately eliminate 99% of my possible player base?

Objectively, the answer is, "No." 

If I want to create a commercially viable product that other people in the RPG space will play and review and talk about, then I need to "tow the line" and create something that the larger community wants to play. 

Sadly, doing that breaks my heart a little. I feel like, just as in my example of "no combat" above, if players try it, they will like it. But, as I mentioned in my D&D rant, most new RPG systems are read but never played.

What should I do? 

The other school of thought is to, "Create the game that you want to play."

That's the path that I am currently walking down. Who knows where I might be after a few more play tests. For now, I am going to feed my passion and hope that if I am true to my dream, others will connect with that passion and get caught up in it.

Tuesday, July 09, 2024

First Play-Test of New RPG

I finally ran a playtest of my latest RPG project. While the results were a bit mixed, I have to say that overall I was really pleased. 

  
  

Even though I had said that we would make characters at the table, I also said that players could go ahead and give character creation a try if they wanted. To my surprise everyone made characters. No one had any trouble with character creation, and everyone liked their characters. This was a win, win, win. Awesome. 

The game went smoothly. The character creation includes a bit of world building, and all of that worked. People were role-playing, because the stuff put in there to support role-playing was working. However, actual task resolution tended to stall the game. So, I may need to scrap and completely rewrite my primary resolution mechanics. While that may seem bad, I feel pretty good. 

Resolution mechanics aren't that tricky. They're a dime a dozen. Getting players engaged with your game and its world is HUGE. That's way harder than the resolution mechanics, and it felt like I nailed that. Okay, I still need to find the right resolution mechanics that don't interfere with the role-play. I still need to do that. 

I've written a bunch of rules-light RPG systems that were all about playing around with the resolution mechanics. It's not my first rodeo (or even my second.) But … world building. That's new for me. The fact that everyone connected with the Little Colony on the Big Moon and hit the ground role-playing was huge for me! 

I'm already writing the new mechanics for the next play-test. If they don't feel right, I already have an idea for a third approach. In the meantime, I had players jump in and make characters (without any questions) just by reading the rules that I've written so far. Those same players all had a great time living in this new world and playing their characters despite the awkward task resolution issues. 

My dream is to have this game ready in time to participate in ZineQuest 2025. I think that if I can get a good mechanic in place and tested, that all the really hard work is already done. I feel like this game might be something special, and I'm proud of what I've accomplished so far. 

Wish me luck. 

Monday, July 08, 2024

Samson & Starblaster

For part 2 of my Longshot City review, I am going to walk through character creation in the hope of showing off the versatility of the game's random character creation process. Let's take things one step at a time, by the book.

1. Roll Stats.

Roll 1d3+3 for skill, 2d6+12 for stamina, and 1d6+6 for luck.

Right off the bat, I've hit a snag. While this is classically old-school. I don't like random generation that deals with quantity during character creation. It's not fair to players, and it's been replaced in most systems by a point buy or standard array. Fortunately, Longshot City is a fairly simple system to house-rule and I feel like I can do it here without damaging the integrity of the game. 

So, I'm on step one, and I'm already introducing a House Rule. It's pretty straight forward, and I would do something similar for any game that uses random generation for a measure of quantity during character creation.

House Rule #1 (and only?) Static Values During Character Creation

In character creation any requirement to roll dice to find a value measuring quantity will be replaced by a static value as follows: 1d3 = 2, 1d6 = 4, 2d6 = 8. (That should cover it.)

This means that my character will have a Skill of 5, a Stamina of 20, and a Luck of 10.

For those people who like keeping everything random, I will say that these values are pretty tight and that for this kind of thing, I think that Longshot City represents a better example of random quantity generation than I have seen in most other games.

2. Determine Archetype.

Roll d66 and look up the indicated archetype (pg 2–pg 21). Copy any possessions, advanced skills, and special abilities for that archetype onto your character sheet. You may decide which die is which after rolling (instead of before).

This step contains the bulk of character creation. The "deciding which die is which" refers to the d66 roll. It means that when I roll the 2 six-sided dice, I can decide which die to assign to the tens value and which to assign to the ones value. So, unless I roll doubles, I will get to make a choice of two Archetypes. 

Okay, here's another house rule … 

House Rule #2 Rolling Doubles when determining Archetype

If you roll doubles on your d66 roll to determine your Archetype, you still get two choices. You can choose the doubles that you rolled or the doubles of the next higher value. If you roll double 6's, you may choose from double 6's or double 1's.

There. Now, no matter what I roll, I get 2 choices.

So, I rolled and I got a 33. LOL … My house rule gets a chance to work! I will choose between Archetypes 33 and 44.

33. Monster Hunter

Your faith shall be your shield and the predators of mankind your prey.

44. Only Friend

You have a best friend who the world at large cannot understand and accept. You keep each other safe.

So … Buffy Summers or Johnny Sokko?

I am totally going with Johnny Sokko! There's a lot to unpack here. I will share the page from the book.

  
  

Origin: Any (refers to Friend's Origin) – okay, the next step in character creation is Origin. This will have me rolling for any possible origin. (Some Archetypes have suggested Origins.) But, this is about the "friend." The friend is the superhero.

Your Friend's Advanced Skills

4 Athletics

4 Power – Enhanced Senses

4 Power – Superstrength

Possessions

Friend Summoning Device (wrist radio, magic whistle, etc.)

Oblivious Parents

(LOL … let me just pause here and say how hilarious it is that my "Oblivious Parents" are one of my possessions!)

Special

You are a child with a powerful and unquestionably loyal friend. Set your Skill and Stamina to their Minimums. Roll as normal for your friend.

Okay so the Skill of 5, and Stamina of 20 that I generated above are for the friend. My Skill will be the minimum of 4, and my Stamina will be the minimum of 14. My Luck of 5 remains the same.

Roll on the Friends Table to determine who your friend is. (I rolled a 5.)

Luck Dragon!

Okay, less Johnny Sokko and more Atreyu/Bastion – still super cool.

Replace Athletics with 4 Fly (okay)

Gain +1d3 Luck.

Cool, using my static value house rule 1d3 = 2. So my Luck increases from 5 to 7!

That's Step 2 of Character Creation done.

3. Determine Origin.

Roll d66 and find the corresponding origin (pg 22–pg 29). Write it down, along with your wealth rating and any related possessions, advanced skills or special abilities.

For Origin, I rolled a 43.

43 is the Origin: Basement Inventor, which does not sound right for a Luck Dragon.

Flipping that around to 34 we get: Raised in the Wild. That's Perfect!!

Skills: +4 Bushcraft,

-2 Etiquette–All.

Wealth: Struggling (-3).

All of this lines up perfectly with the character that is forming in my mind.

4. Personalize Your Character.

Keeping your archetype and origin in mind, come up with a gimmick and pick a name. Codenames and secret identities are fun, but not required. Decide on any flavor options with the GM (e.g., a signature weapon or energy type). There are no exhaustive lists to pick from for these options.

Hmm … I'd have liked a little more guidance here, but it's cool. I have a good start. So far I don't have any way to fight bad guys with this character. 

The dragon won't be using weapons. It's a little unclear if the beastly attacks combine with the super strength, and just exactly where my dragon should fall on that chart. 

One of the other "friends" (one of the ones that I didn't roll)  specifically lists gigantic beastly damage as a boon, but that's the only boon that particular creature grants. I was thinking that my dragon would be really big, but I don't want to take away anything from that other friend option by assuming I would get that too because I'm a dragon. 

I'm going to avoid this problem by just recording unarmed attacks and multiplying in for the Superstrength. This seems a bit weak for a dragon, but he's a luck dragon, not a fighting dragon.

5. Record Baseline Possessions.

Every character starts with a storage system (e.g., a backpack, a utility belt, or lots of pockets), a costume, a set of civilian clothes, a multitool, and a burner smartphone or some other communication device.

I'm a kid. I won't have a lot of stuff, but I'll write down what makes sense.

  
  

That's all there is to it.

Character creation in Longshot City is a breeze and there are a lot of different characters that you can end up with. I like the clean, easy look of the resolution system. I think this one might be finding its way to my table soon.

Sunday, July 07, 2024

World of Comics

I auditioned for and was cast in 2 more plays at the Center, Black Comedy, and Dark of the Moon. (I received a glowing review in the Tulsa World for my performance in Black Comedy.) Time passed, and I graduated from the commercial art program at Platt College. I was able to stay on at the school as Mike's assistant, but my hours changed to match the school day. I now worked from 7:30 in the morning until 3:30 in the afternoon … a full time job!

  
  

Getting off work at 3:30 in the afternoon was cool. Wednesday was comic book day at World of Comics, and I actually had some spare money to spend on comics. I would go in every Wednesday after work. One such Wednesday, Doug engaged me, telling me that he had heard from Doug and Carol that I was running a Champions game for them on the weekends. I told him that I was.

Doug asked if I could run a game of Champions at the store. I was eager to please and said enthusiastically that I would be happy to. I asked him when he wanted me to run the game, and he said, "Tonight." Wait, what? To run an RPG, one needs time to prepare. This was not going to happen and I told Doug that I couldn't do it.

Doug protested and said that since the game wasn't until after the store closed at 6, I had a few hours to prepare. He had a table in the back and offered to give me pencil and paper. I could just go on back and get ready for tonight's game. Also, I didn't need to worry about getting home. He would give me a ride after.

Sigh, I guess Doug wasn't going to take, "No." for an answer.

I sat down and sketched out an idea about a burglary on a yacht. I didn't know what kinds of character's my players might want to play, and I need to make sure to facilitate the Aquaman types. I shouldn't have worried about that. (Am I the only person who loves Aquaman?) 

  

I just needed a few supervillain types to challenge the players. I created a character named "The Dwarf" that had a prehensile beard with powers patterned after a Marvel Comics character called the Medusa. I made another character called "The Pixie" who could shrink down tiny. This one was based on the Marvel character The Wasp. (I couldn't afford to be too original. I was under a time crunch.)

  
  
  

Getting this little bit ready took all of the time that I had. Six o'clock rolled around, and it was show time. There were three people in attendance including Doug. (Four - if you include me.) There was Robert, Rolland, and Doug. Three players was actually perfect, and the game went over great! Everyone had a blast. I wish I could remember the characters that everyone played, but I was lucky to drudge up the characters that I created.

Honestly, those "Champions Days" are a bit of a blur.

Saturday, July 06, 2024

Life Was Good

I now lived in the Aliene Murdock Villa Apartments (referred to by most residents as simply: the Villa,) which was an apartment complex for persons with disabilities. The Villa was right next to the Center for the Physically Limited which was a recreational and personal development center for people with disabilities. It was also home of the Center Stage Players, a theater group (troupe?) that I had just become involved with.

I had a special kind of pass that allowed me to take cab rides anywhere in Tulsa for a dollar, or ride any city bus for free. I could get to school in the mornings by taking a cab or riding the bus. I stayed late everyday after school for 2 hours to "work" in the computer lab. For this I got paid minimum wage and no benefits. This miraculously provided me enough to live on and afforded me the freedom I needed to go to rehearsals every evening.

After rehearsals, I walked across the parking lot, and I was home. Everything was perfect. Bob Fultz who had let me stay with him for a short while as I waited for an apartment to become available lived in the Villa too and made himself a friend to me. He introduced me to Doug and Carol McComas who lived in the Villa as well. Doug and Carol were RPG gamers, and collectors of toys and comic books. (I had found my people.) On the weekends, I hung out with Doug and Carol.



We gamed. Carol DMed the brand new 2nd Edition of AD&D, and I introduced Doug and Carol to Champions 3rd Edition. Champions was a superhero role-playing game that I discovered while still living in Coulterville. The game play is fairly simple, but there is a speed track that takes getting used to. Character creation however was very involved and is to this day perhaps the most complex that I have encountered. (Also the most versatile, the game attempted to let you build any superhero from any source that you could ever imagine.)



So, this was my life. School about art, which I loved. Work, playing on computers, which I loved. Rehearsal for a play which I loved. Weekends playing RPGs, which I more than loved. I was thriving. It changed my whole personality. I was no longer closed off or bitter. I had pretty much forgotten the tramas of my past. I wasn't an outcast anymore. I was accepted. Not just by some small section of those in my world, but by everyone.



The play, Bell, Book and Candle opened. It was reviewed in the Tulsa World, and I was mentioned specifically as a "stand out." (As if my ego needed any more stroking. I was already on top of the world.) I played "Nicky" a modern day warlock and the brother to the main character, a modern day witch who had fallen in love with a mortal man. (Bell, Book and Candle inspired the television series Bewitched.) In the movie version, Nicky was played by Jack Lemmon. So, I feel like I was in good company.

A short time after the play closed I rode the bus to a comic book store called, World of Comics. I had been there once before with Doug and Carol. I went in and browsed around and grabbed a few comics, taking them to the counter to buy. Doug (the owner of the store, not the husband to Carol) introduced himself to me. He had seen me here with Doug and Carol and recognized me.

I didn't remember him specifically, but that was all about to change. Little did I realize that in the very near future, this Doug would become one of my best friends, and in an even more distant future, the Best Man at my wedding.

Friday, July 05, 2024

Longshot City Review Part 1

A while ago, I backed a Kickstarter for an RPG book called Longshot City. I am a sucker for supers RPGs especially if they stray away from the modular point buy mold that has been the established method for these sorts of games since Champions set the standard. Longshot City is one of those outliers.



There are a lot of superhero RPGs. As a huge RPG and superhero comic book fan, I own a lot of superhero RPGs, but I am always on the lookout for the perfect one for me. I don't feel like I have found that yet. Is Longshot City going to be that perfect superhero RPG? I don't know. Maybe?

What first attracted me to Longshot City was the clean simplicity of its character sheet. Superhero RPGs can get notoriously complex. That's something I tend to push against. I just wrote about being burned out on D&D. A big part of that is the game's upward trend in complexity. 



Superhero games have almost always been more complex than D&D. Asking for one that is less complex than current editions of D&D limits my choices quite a lot. They do exist. I wrote a review for Amazing Heroes awhile back, and there's also The Supercrew. I love both of these games a lot, but both may fall a bit too far into rules-lite territory for most.

Longshot City is designed and published by Melsonian Arts Council who published the RPG Troika. MAC is a British publisher, and in their part of the world, while I was playing D&D, those folks were reading Fighting Fantasy game books. (If you look into Fighting Fantasy, you will see that the books were written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston. Be aware that this is not the same Steve Jackson of Munchkin and Fantasy Trip fame, but a British author with the same name.)



Fighting Fantasy is a choose your own adventure style game book with dice driven conflict resolution elements. It is important to note that these were not designed to be played tactically with miniatures like D&D was. Fighting Fantasy was always designed to integrate with the telling of its story. It's a different beast. It is a game system designed around the reading of a book. (There is an Advanced Fighting Fantasy RPG. I have read it, but never attempted to bring it to the table. Maybe I should change that.)

Troika's design was inspired by and based on Fighting Fantasy, the gamebooks and system that its authors enjoyed growing up. Longshot City, in turn, is based on Troika. I have not played or even read Troika. Its tagline is: The Science Fantasy RPG. I should probably check it out sometime, but it doesn't seem that familiarity with Troika is required to play and enjoy Longshot City.



The resolution mechanic in Longshot City looks very simple and straightforward. Roll 2d6 and hope to get a result that is equal to or less than your total skill value. So, it's a roll under system that uses six-sided dice. Opposed rolls are different. Here both parties roll, add their total skill values, and the high roll wins. Again, really simple. Combat uses opposed rolls. Most everything else is roll-under. 

Speaking of combat, attack and damage rolls are separate. Damage is rolled on 1d6 where a number is then selected from an array. A knife, for example, shows a damage array of 2,2,2,2,4,8,10. If you roll a three with a knife, you choose the third position from the array inflicting 2 damage. If you have bonuses to your damage roll, then it's possible to roll higher than a 6. If this happens, any value over 6 results in 10 damage with the knife. The rules feel pretty routine and grounded in the old-school, but one that stood out to me was the rules for inventory. 

Every player can carry 12 things. More than that and you start to suffer penalties. But, that's not the cool part. The cool part is that when you need to pull something from your pack or purse or pockets or whatever and you are under time constraints (like in combat) then you roll 2d6 and must roll equal to or higher than the object's position in your pack. This makes ordering positions in your inventory very important. Need to be a quick draw with your gun? Better list your gun first in your inventory. (I thought that this was cool.)



The rules for Longshot City look good. They look like they could be easily managed at my table, but they aren't the part of this book that stood out the most. What really grabbed my attention was the myriad of charts and tables used in character creation. All characters are meant to be created randomly and the variety and quirky charm of these selections promises to produce a game with a very different feel than anything that I have played before.

Speaking of charts and tables, I want to make special mention of the "Knockout Table." Most games in the old-school are pretty deadly with a strict "if you are out of HP, then you are dead" policy. I imagine this might be true of Fighting Fantasy as well, but that generally doesn't feel like the way it's done in the comics. Longshot City manages to walk this line by adding something called the Knockout Table.



The Knockout Table ensures that falling in combat has some kind of serious consequences, but death is not always (or even usually) one of them. These results are so true to the spirit of the genre of comic books that I might use this table even if I end up playing a different superhero RPG. It's such an awesome table, I'm just going to share it here.

My physical hardcover book is beautiful. Its dimensions are 7.25 x 10 inches, which is larger than a zine but smaller than most standard RPG books. It comes in at around 75 pages, and for presentation I give it a 10 out of 10. As for all the great character creation tables, I have decided that the best way to show those off is to create a character step by step, which I will do in part 2 of my review on Monday.

Thursday, July 04, 2024

Beer Can Fourth of July

Today is July 4th. This is observed in the United States as our country's Independence Day. This is not something that I generally choose to celebrate. I don't like the heat, or crowds, or loud noises. Independence Day is probably my least favorite of the holidays, but the movie with Will Smith and Bill Pullman was good. 

I don't really believe in national borders. I guess it's indicative of growing up engrossed in a fantasy existence. I like the idea that everyone in the world deserves the same opportunities regardless of the accident of their birth, whether it's their nationality, their race, or their gender. As the barriers to communication continue to erode thanks to technology, I like to imagine that we are heading towards a united world. I like the dream that Gene Roddenberry shares in his vision of the future.

I don't support recent events undertaken in the name of patriotism. I don't believe in building walls to keep others out or in storming our capital to protest the peaceful transfer of power. I am grateful for the opportunities that being an American has given me, but I want everyone in the world to have those same opportunities. Shoring up our borders is never going to get us there.

  
  

I do have one 4th of July story from my childhood. It's short, but I have often recalled it, because it speaks to the distinct personalities of myself and my two sisters. It's a story that I call:

  

Beer Can Fourth of July

It was July 4, 1975. I was 9 and about to turn 10. My sister Sally was 8, and my sister Karla was 5. Mom and Chuck were working in the role of tavern keepers, watching over and running a tavern for the owner. Literally watching "over," as part of the arrangement allowed us to live in the apartment above the tavern.

Mom and Chuck had worked late that night as one does when running a tavern, and they were asleep. We, being children who had not yet achieved our hibernating teen years were up and about. We knew better than to wake Mom and Chuck. So, we whispered and played quietly. This didn't last too long. Being quiet was boring. We needed to go outside. 

Going outside meant sneaking downstairs into the tavern, through the back storeroom and out into a fenced in backyard that was really more of a weed filled alley than a yard. That's what we did. First we reveled in the novelty of being alone in the tavern during the day. We played with the pool table. We stole and shared a Slim Jim from a big barrel of the things. (Why we did that, I can't say. Those things are awful!)

  
  

We did eventually make it outside through the storeroom. Sally stole a can of warm Coke from the storeroom because the salty Slim Jim had made her thirsty. We must have been careless with the Coke, because when she popped the top, it fizzed and a stream of Coke shot into the air. I would have thought that she would have been upset over the wasted Coke, but instead she was overjoyed.

"It's fireworks!" She exclaimed.

Karla chimed in, "Yay! Fireworks!" (I don't think she even knew what they were.)

That was it. The game was afoot and high jinks were about to ensue. We rushed back into the storeroom and, I went to grab a case of Coke, so that we could drag it outside.

"No!" Sally objected, "Don't waste the soda."

Right! Sally was always thinking ahead. We grabbed a case of beer instead. We didn't care about the beer. In fact, in our minds using the beer in this fashion would leave Chuck with less beer to drink, and we liked Chuck when he drank less. It seemed like a win, win.

We took turns shaking up beer cans and "exploding" them into the air creating our own fireworks. 

We watched in sublime rapture as can after can of beer shot its glistening, fizzy, amber payload into the sky over our heads, sparkling in the bright morning sun! Then raining glistening drops of golden beer sparks all around us.

It was glorious! 

To this day, it is the best fireworks display I have ever seen.

In the end, I believe that we shook up and shot into the air, a case and a half of beer. What did we do with the cans? Nothing. We just left them laying all over the ground in the back alley. As the sun began to rise higher in the morning sky and noon approached, we were smart enough to sneak back to our rooms and play quietly like nothing happened.

Then of course, the door to our room opened and Mom and Chuck were there. Here is the part of the story that I always remember because what happened next was just so … "us."

"Do you want to tell me about the beer cans?" Chuck asked with a sort of calm that said that we were really in trouble.

I knew that we were caught, and suddenly became aware that what we had done was probably wrong. Funny that this never occurred to me during the beerworks display.

I hung my head in shame, silently. It was all I could do.

Sally, who was and still is the most cool headed human being that I have ever met, looked Chuck straight in the eye and said, "What beer cans?"

Karla, only five, had not honed her survival instincts just yet, but she wanted to be helpful. So, she looked to Sally and said, "You know…"

Thinking back on it now, I'm sure that we smelled like a brewery. 

There was no avoiding the consequences. We took our lumps, and we had to pick up the cans. It didn't matter. We had won. 

We had our very own fireworks show, and we got away with a little something extra in the process.

Because, you see ... they never did find out about the Slim Jim.

Wednesday, July 03, 2024

Tired of Dungeons and Dragons

I've been playing Role-Playing Games for over 40 years. Not just casually. I have played and continued to play these games on a regular basis during every bit of that time. My friendships are largely centered around the activity of role-playing games. This blog was created to give me a place to "think out loud" about my own RPG designs. I wrote in my memoir about first playing D&D and the impact that it had on my life at the time. That impact remains.



RPGs led to board games. Those too impact my life. They are an important way that my wife and I can interact and connect. I am fairly certain that I wouldn't be so engrossed in the world of board games if I hadn't first discovered and immersed myself in RPGs. I have made a few friends here in Michigan. I made those friends while playing Dungeons and Dragons. I will be playing Dungeons and Dragons this Saturday.

I need to "level up" my character. Currently, I have one level of Fighter and one level of Druid. Fighter and Druid are character classes. These help to define what your character can do. I have two of them because I can't make up my mind. That's a problem with me. I always want something different. We have so many board games because I love playing different games. I like exploring new mechanisms in different combinations.

That's kind of a problem when it comes to RPGs. The board game hobby seems to be driven by a thing people like to call, "The Cult of the New." It seems like the term is used as a negative one by those people who have been playing board games for a lot longer than I have. It refers to a preference for the newest shiniest game on the store shelf. I don't see this as a bad thing. It means that people are always trying new games.

In the RPG world, there are plenty of new games. The problem is that people don't play them. The RPG groups in Muskegon mostly play D&D. Those that don't struggle with low attendance. Humorously, the "Cult of the New" vs "Cult of the Old" debate also exists in the RPG hobby, but it's about different versions of Dungeons and Dragons. The new "5E" (5th Edition, the latest version of D&D) versus the old "OSR" (Old School Rules, versions of D&D that are written to emulate older out of print versions of D&D.)

The RPG hobby can be about so much more than different ways to play Dungeons and Dragons. There are many other RPG games that have been written and could be played by an enterprising RPG group. I've reviewed a few. The thing is, when I step into the local public game groups, those games aren't being played. One of my friends is super excited about a new game coming out called DC20. It's really just another company publishing their own version of Dungeons and Dragons.

There's as much diversity in the RPG industry as in the board game industry, but not in its player base. How is that possible? Well, in the RPG hobby usually a new game book is purchased by the person who will be the Game Master. A Game Master is someone who hosts the game. That person is usually someone like me. They are someone who likes creating worlds and imagining all the different things that a game can do at the table. 

Maybe like me, they purchase new and different games, or create them themselves. However, when it comes time to play, if they bring this innovation to the game table, especially in a public forum, they will experience diminishing returns. I mean, low attendance and reduced interest. The greater RPG player base wants to play D&D. This bias is so strong that Hasbro, the publisher of D&D doesn't attend conventions, and doesn't interact with their customer base in any meaningful way. They don't have to.

GMs hope and dream of new ways to play. We are the ones who purchase the products and drive the industry, but in the end, when all is said and done, we buy these games just to read them, not to play them. And this happens a lot. I guarantee that 95% of games purchased on DriveThru RPG are read, but never played.

And people like me, who have been running and playing the same game in the same way for 40 years, continue to do so, because it's the only game in town. In a hobby that should be an abundance of riches, I can look at all the shiny options on the shelf, but I'm only allowed to touch just one.

So, I look at my Fighter/Druid and consider taking my 3rd level in Warlock just to mix things up a bit, because -- because I just don't care about the options that I have. They aren't new. They aren't interesting. They aren't all that different from the options that I had in 1984. D&D's tactical combat isn't fun. Killing monsters isn't fun. Gathering treasure isn't fun. Leveling up my character isn't fun.

… And yet, playing D&D is fun. 

How is that possible? Because role-playing at its core is about pretending with your friends, and I will always enjoy that. I had a blast during our last few games. I will have a blast on Saturday. But, D&D doesn't get the credit for that. The credit belongs firmly in the hands of the RPG process itself. Maybe that's why people don't want to change. Maybe learning new systems distracts from the RPG process. 

I don't know. I do know that I will still be playing RPG games in another 40 years, even if D&D is still the only game in town. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2024

Pauper's Ladder

I want a board game called, "Pauper's Ladder." A second edition of the game is getting ready to come out in October. I thought about asking Julie to preorder it for my birthday, but I'm afraid that she might feel weird about getting me a birthday present that I won't be able to enjoy for another 3 or 4 months.

  

This isn't a game we can just wait for and then go buy at our local store. It's published by a small independent game company in England. The only way that I will get it is if I preorder from the publisher and pay international shipping. That makes Pauper's Ladder pretty expensive, but I still want it.

Pauper's Ladder is an adventure game. It's a competitive game where players race to achieve objectives in a sort of fantasy over-world environment. This is similar to a game like Talisman, which we used to have but got rid of. Talisman was a good game and we liked it, but we didn't love it. The overall scope of Talisman was a bit too narrow and gameplay just took too long.

  

Pauper's Ladder has a more "sandbox" feel to it, and plays in about half the time of Talisman. These are solid pluses. In addition, a YouTube reviewer that I enjoy called The Dungeon Dive named Pauper's Ladder as his number one adventure game of all time. And, while I was watching a playthrough of the game Julie said, "That looks interesting." Yay!

Julie isn't a fan of fantasy games like I am, but she enjoys some sandbox adventure type games. I'm thinking specifically of Stardew Valley: The Board Game. I actually get some Stardew Valley vibes from Pauper's Ladder, mainly in how charming and approachable it seems. These are big pluses for the game.

  
  

Unlike other adventure games, Pauper's Ladder seems like it will actually fit on our table and be easy enough to set up and tear down. These are huge pluses. There are a lot of adventure games. The market for adventure style games has exploded over the last several years, but almost all of them (and I do mean all of them) are huge table hogs requiring massive amounts of time to set up and hours upon hours to play. 

  
  

Also, they are all campaign games that require a commitment of several game sessions to play. Julie and I play games together and we don't mind the idea of a campaign, but it's nice to be able to just play a game for the experience and then come back to it when we want, rather than feeling like we are being forced to play a game multiple times. Which we have to, with campaign games, because we forget. We are old. We were born in the 1900's.

Pauper's Ladder isn't this. It plays in a single session of just a few hours or less. It has tons of support from the publisher, and tons of fans worldwide despite the limits of its distribution. This said, I do recognize that Pauper's Ladder isn't for everyone. It is very random. You draw cards to see what happens and then react to the draw of the cards. You have little means of mitigation, but the game isn't punishing. If you fail to overcome a challenge or defeat a monster, there are no negative consequences. Your character can't die. You won't gain the positive rewards that you might have hoped for, but you just keep on playing.

  

Pauper's Ladder's board is a large (but not too large) over world map. It's brightly colored and divided into various zones. Each zone represents a kind of terrain. There are mountains and forests and mines and cities and swamps … stuff like that. Each type of zone has a deck of encounter cards that goes with it. When you enter a zone, you can explore it. When you explore a zone, you flip a card and place the card into the zone to show what is there. Each zone holds from two to three cards. If a zone is full, you can't explore any further. You must encounter the things that are already there.

Achieving certain milestones in the game is your goal. There are milestones for completing quests, acquiring skills, battling monsters, gaining treasure and one for slaying a dragon. The first player to achieve 3 of the possible 5 milestones is the winner of the game. This is one of those wander around the board and look for opportunities kinds of games. You have a character that will grow stronger and more capable as you play and every character travels with a bird companion. (Yeah, a BIRD companion. It's THAT cool!)

  

A big part of the fun of adventure games like this is the sense of discovery and the surprise that comes from drawing a new card. That can grow old after a lot of plays, but Pauper's Ladder has an expansion called the Moon Towers that replaces all the decks of encounter cards with new ones and adds new objectives. So, once you have played out the base game, you can start again with a completely new experience. There's also the This Cobbled Isle expansion that adds a new type of encounter area and several new cards that can be played in either the base game or the Moon Towers expansion.

  
  

There's a lot for an adventure game fan like me to be excited about in Pauper's Ladder. I think that its charming look and casual game play will appeal to Julie. I know that the sense of adventure and exploration will appeal to me. This is the kind of immersive game experience that I live for. In the hobby game community people talk about their "grail game." This is a game that they hope to gain, but that seems more like a dream or myth than a reality. Pauper's Ladder is my grail game. It's the board game that I most want to have.

Monday, July 01, 2024

Board Game Hobbyists

Julie and I have around 200 board games in our collection. That feels like a lot. I know that there are collectors and hobbyists out there with a lot more, but for us … it's a lot. We don't play frequently enough to even play all of the games that we have in the course of a year. The cool thing is, we like all the games that we have. There are only a few games now that we are thinking of getting rid of. Every game that we have is a keeper, yet we don't play every game that we have.

  
  

So, why do I want more?

That's an interesting question, and it creates a sort of funny mental tug of war. I often bounce back and forth between, "Let's cull half of our collection." And "Let's buy this awesome new game that I found!"

Julie laughs at me for these obviously conflicting points of view. Not because they exist, but because of how quickly I can switch between them. I believe that I had once suggested culling over half our collection and purchasing a neat looking new game, not within the course of a single conversation, but actually within the taking of a single breath.

I meant both things sincerely. I don't mind clearing the decks. I am a strong proponent of "Out with the old. In with the new." So, yeah. I recognize that we have enough board games, and that we may even have too many board games, but I still want more.

We watch videos on YouTube of people who talk about the board gaming hobby and rate their favorite board games. They talk about and review new games that are coming out. Reviewers often get copies of games many months or even as much as a year or more before the games are available for purchase by the average consumer. Those games that they are still talking about, or the ones we can still remember by the time they reach store shelves are the first ones that Julie and I are likely to buy when we make a trip to our local game store.

It's the learning about and pursuit and purchase and playing of board games, it's all of it put together, that escalates board gaming from a past time into a hobby. Clearly, I spend copious amounts of time, reviewing, ranking, regarding, and reminiscing about our own collection. It's why I wrote nearly 50 blog posts ranking my board game Top 100. (And that was just the most recent ranking frenzy.)

I have a birthday coming this month. I want to go to Zeeland to have lunch at our newly discovered favorite Mexican Restaurant and then go to our friendly local game store to get a new board game. I'm not sure what game I will get. We never know what might be available when we walk through the door. It's another reason that we try to stay informed about what's coming. That way we will recognize something that we might like when we see it.

It's fun. Learning a new game is fun. Finding a favorite game experience is fun. Spending quality time with my wife is fun. Sharing this hobby is fun.