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RPGaDay 2015

21st: Favorite RPG Setting

Another “I don’t have one”, maybe, but let me knock this around a bit…

As popular media settings go, I love playing supers games in the Marvel or maybe DC comic book universes, as long as there’s room to change things up a bit. I love Star Trek, especially the original series, and have played in or run quite a few Star Trek games, but none of them have lasted long. Star Wars has the big advantage of an easy buy-in, so I’ve played in and run that some.

I’ve done some games set in Middle-earth, and as a big Tolkien fan I’m always interested in that. 

I’ve played in a few of the D&D settings, but an Eberron war-forged is all I can remember.

See, I’m not a fan of pre-made worlds in general. Partly it’s the time and effort required to familiarize myself with a published setting – not just to read through but to really understand the flavor and tone of the setting. If I make up my own setting, I naturally have an innate sense of the details and tone, so I just find that a lot easier.

That’s the advantage of the popular media setting mentioned above: I know the tone, I know some or a lot of the details, and so do a lot of other people, so those settings have the advantage of an easy buy-in.

So…favorite? I guess I’d have to say “Middle-earth“. It has the combined familiarity of pseudo-medieval fantasy, Tolkien’s fiction, and the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit film adaptation trilogies. Trouble is, Tolkien’s world is a pretty specific sub-genre, and in particular the way that magic works is pretty far afield from what players are used to in a standard fantasy rpg. Still, there’s a lot to like there, and Cubicle 7’s The One Ring, for example, does a good job of capturing the flavor of Tolkien’s stories.

Hmm…I may have to call this a tie, though, between Middle-earth and the Marvel universe.

Thing is, I don’t think I would want to do a lot of gaming in either setting unless the game experience was top-notch: invested players who are at least fairly familiar with the source material and tone, and a GM who knows how to capture that flavor and make it last.



RPGaDay 2015

19th: Favorite Supers RPG

Ah, supers! Now we’re in my wheelhouse! I think I can claim that I have played, run, or am at least familiar with at least a technical majority of super-hero roleplaying games ever published.

I love super-heroes. I love comic books. These are things you need to know about me.

Now, I’m gonna do it – I’m going to mention Lowell Francis again: his Patreon page provides links to all of his Histories of Roleplaying Genres blog posts. Of interest here, of course, is his History of Superhero RPGs.

My own history with supers rpgs runs something like this:

Villains & Vigilantes. We played this as soon as it came out and loved it. Having played D&D for a couple-few years before V&V was published, being able to play a super-hero in an rpg was terribly exciting. It’s a fun, won my game, with random character generation and cross-reference charts! That’s how nerdy kids in the old days spelled “fun”.

Then Champions came out, and nothing was ever the same again. V&V had a lot in common with D&D and other rpgs of that era, but Champions was a while new ball game. Did I say V&V was nerdy fun? Champions was the game of champion nerds. It’s all about fiddly calculations and squeezing every bit of utility and power out of every fraction of a character creation point. I consider myself pretty smart, but you have to have a certain kind of brain to love and to master Champions.

Don’t get me wrong – I like the game; I just know that my own noodly proclivities will send me down rabbit holes in Champions that I will regret spending so much time on. But it’s a beautiful system; you truly can build anything from the building blocks that are the Hero system.

DC Heroes. I have a real fondness for this game, I think because it seemed like such a relief after the crunchiness of Champions. It felt like a more “mature” approach, somehow: the fiddly bits were pretty easy to grok, it had that wonderful Action Point scale, and I still carry a torch for that 9-grid attribute block.

[Long gap with little supers gaming. Sadface.]

Then Mutants & Masterminds hit! M&M is one of the most robust game systems I have ever had the pleasure to read, play, and run. It is rock solid. Like Champions, you components of the system allow you to build pretty much anything,g but without much of the Hero system’s crunchiness. I knew the game was impressive when I realized that Captain America being able to walk away from a fight with the Hulk actually made sense in M&M and worked mechanically.

M&M captures the pulpy feel of super-hero comics despite it’s crunchier aspects. As I mentioned my RPGaDay2p15 post on sci-phi games, I have considered using M&M for Star Trek, and as a big Star Trek fan that is no small complement from me.

[A couple years gap with no supers gaming. Also sad face.]


I could go on for a while about Smalville, the Dramatic version of the Cortex Plus system. Suffice to say:

  1. It’s one of the few rpg rules books I own a hard copy of.
  2. It’s one of the few rpg rules books I have read all or most of.
  3. Character creation is a collaborative, creative process that produces rich results.
  4. I dig the core mechanic, which regularly asks you why your character is even in a given scene or encounter.

Those are the supers games that I’ve played or run at length. I’ve been in a few very short games using the Marvel Super Heroes Role-playing Game (aka “FASERIP”) over the years, and liked it okay. I’ve also had a couple of flirtations with Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, also a Cortex Plus game. I’d be happy to play more FASERIP, and I’d love to get in on some face-to-face MHR action.

Worlds in Peril was brought to my attention recently. I’ve skimmed the free odd version of the rules, and it is very narrative, and I mean that in the best possible way. Powers are essential a set of descriptive statements. Over all it seems very promising.

If I had to run a supers game right now…I love M&M but I’d rather not have to run it again… I might try Truth & Justice I’m not in love with the fiddlier bits in Smallville (I’m working on a hack of it with the help of the Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide)… I’ve been wanting to use Danger Patrol for something, so I think I’d give that a try, but it’s not a supers game, per se.

I guess my vote would have to be for Mutants & Masterminds as my favorite supers rpg. It may be the strongest supers game ever made.



RPGaDay 2015

18th: Favorite SF RPG

I don’t know that I have one.

I’ve used GURPS for my own loose setting many, many years ago. I enjoyed the old FASA Star Trek rpg back in the day. I’ve run a Star Trek game using a homebrew loosely based on Decipher’s Star Trek rpg. My best friend ran a fun Firefly-ish game using his own homebrew. I think I played some original Traveller back in the day. Other than that…???

If I had to run a sci-fi game right now…well, that would depend on the setting. If it was Star Trek, there’s a couple of fan-made systems and hacks out there I’d take a look at again, or I’d use Mutants and Masterminds. The mechanics and the way characters are built captures the pulp feel of classic Star Trek pretty well, albeit in a more cluttered way than I’d prefer. If it was Star Wars… I’d probably look at Fate, the many system hacks out there, or a variant of Lowell Francis’ Action Cards. For something in the Firefly or Traveller vein, just sort of generic trouble-makers in space… I’m so not motivated to run anything like that right now that I can’t get my head around it.

I feel like sci-fi roleplaying game systems tend to get bogged down in the additional mechanics supposedly required by their settings, like starship combat, space fighter-craft combat, various high-tech weapons, etc. I’d rather a system that could come up with a set of mechanics that would apply to every kind of task resolution, rather than tacking on special rules and sub-systems.

I will take this as an opportunity for anyone reading this to educate me: suggest a game system to me that does this. I readily accept my own ignorance here. The only system that I can think of that just off that the bat would probably be able to accomplish this is Fate.

Actually, just writing this has jogged my memory – if I wanted to run an actual, “hard” science-fiction game, I’d take another look at Shock, by Joshua A. C. Newman, so that going to be my pick. I haven’t used it yet, but it’s pretty interesting…



RPGaDay 2015

17th: Favorite Fantasy RPG

Boy – that’s a rough one; I like different things about different systems. If I had to pick a rules-set to use right now, it’d probably be 13th Age; it is the simplest fantasy ruleset I know that still has a very easy buy-in and familiarity to any gamer who has played D&D or Pathfinder.

That said, here’s some systems I’ve been intrigued by lately. I have this Frankenstein-like homebrew I’m working on, and in the pursuit of that I have looked at a LOT of fantasy RPGs, to see what I like and don’t like in a rules system.

Simon Washbourne’s Barbarians of Lemuria.
Mostly I like the loosey-goosey magic system. The link above is to an early, free version, but there are many newer editions.

Gregory Phillpotts’ By a Throw of the Dice.
Another nice loosey-goosey magic system.


Gates & Gorgons, by Rafael Chandler and Kobayashi.
This game has attitude – ruthless, deadly attitude.

Tim Kirk’s High Valor.
I like a lot of how characters are built and how their traits get used.

Matthew M. Slepin’s Swords of Fortune.
For it’s “dark” pulp fantasy tone.



RPGaDay 2015

15th: Longest Campaign Played

Geez, these are getting harder!

I honestly don’t know. However, I can probably narrow it down to two contenders.

The first would be “Saviors”, relatively low-powered supers game using the Hero system, run mostly by Lowell Francis (man, he keeps coming up in these RPGaDay posts, doesn’t he?). I can’t even tell you how long it ran, but it seemed like a very long time – and I mean that in the best possible way. It was the kind of game where you just couldn’t help but be invested as a player: stakes were high, character death was a real possibility, and schemes were going on that you often felt you could do little to stop. I think I can safely say that for everyone involved it remains a hallmark of our gaming history.

The character I was known for in that game was The Word. He was a mysterious, perhaps insane, highly-principled, lives-in-the-sewers, trenchcoat-wearing, relentless vigilante inspired by the Rorschach character from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen comic book miniseries. He had what looked like a Christian cross on his face, but was never intended as a “Christian character”. I just liked the stark, idealistic iconography of it, especially for a mask. The horizontal beam hits right where a character’s eyes would be. He also had what looked like a priest’s collar with that little exposed white square, which combined with the vertical beam of the cross to sort of make the whole thing look like an exclamation point.

word color SM word wall SM 

The other contender would have to be whatever my friend Scott Hamlin called the AD&D games he ran back when we were both stationed at Fort Hood, TX back in our Army days. I feel like our weekends consisted of buying comic books, eating at restaurants, and playing D&D – in fact, we had a nasty habit of commandeering a large section of a restaurant, ordering lots of  food, and gaming too loudly for hours and hours. It was an absolute blast. That went on for a year and a half, give or take.

If you see someone online with the user name “Daz Florp Lebam”, that’s me; that was the name of a very silly character I ran in Scott’s game.


RPGaDay 2015

14th: Favorite RPG Accessory

Another hard one.

I don’t use or much care for GameMaster screens… I don’t use battle-mats or the like much… I use miniatures only semi-regularly… I’ve tried a bunch of dice-rolling apps, and I find Dice Roller to be the easiest to use, but I actually don’t use it much.

Basically, I don’t like gimmicks, props, and doodads when I run a game. I’d love to have mood music playing all the time, but the last thing I need when I’m running a game is more stuff to manage. As a player, I really like maps and minis and facsimile props – I guess because then I’m not the one who has to manage them!

I do like to have a few different sizes of paper on hand: post-it notes and/or 3×5 cards, regular 8.5×11″ lined and blank paper, and larger paper for the occasional map sketch. Also: a pen, a pencil, and a highlighter, the latter for marker super-important text when I’m looking up stuff in a rulebook.

I guess my answer would have to be: my tablet – a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. I use it as I prep for a game and also at the table, for PDFs, images, and online randomizers. It has a good-sized screen, a built-in removable stylus, and a decent amount of storage. I have Dropbox and Google Drive on it, for accessing files I’ve used or found while on other computery-type devices. I actually use my phone more for finding, browsing, reading, and moving those files around wherever I happen to be, but at the table the tablet is much more versatile for my uses and for sharing with the players.



RPGaDay 2015

13th: Favorite RPG Podcast

I don’t think I have one – or rather, I’ve only been listening to one lately, so does that count?

Anyway, it’s Play On Target. One of the hosts is my pal, Lowell Francis – he of the mighty Age of Ravens blog. Lowell is one of the best GMs I’ve ever had the pleasure of being tormented by playing with, and he knows gaming like nobody’s business. I put a lot of stock in his thoughts, observations, and opinions on games and gaming, so, naturally, I like listening to him talk on a podcast about gaming.

Really, though, what’s great about PloT is that it’s not just Lowell; the other hosts  – Sam, Brian, and Andrew – have fairly different gaming histories, preferences, and viewpoints – moreso than amongst the co-hosts of other gaming podcasts I’ve enjoyed in the past. On top of that, they rotate who leads the discussion each episode. The net result is a show that always feels new.

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