For someone who doesn’t game every week, 2019 was a good gaming year for me. I ran six sessions of Into the Void, our classic Traveller campaign. Jeff K and I started the SAFCOcast podcast, which has mostly been about Traveller since that’s what we usually play. We’re happy because it seems to be catching on with some of the Traveller/Cepheus Engine community. I got one of my oldest friends into our gaming group, which has been great. I reffed a Traveller game at Lone Star Game Expo, and Jeff K and I spent a day there, played Dungeon Crawl Classics, went to some great seminars, and finished the day with a talk by Marc Miller, designer of Traveller. Granted, I did fall way short of running a game every month, but things happen. We’re all middle-aged guys, so emergencies of different sorts tend to crop up.
So, I’m setting my gaming goals for 2020 high, again with the intention of running a game every month. We’ll continue the podcast, probably work in a session of GURPS Cyberpunk somewhere, as well as a session of V&V 3.0 – the Mighty Protectors. If my schedule allows I’ll do a couple of conventions as well. And of course, SAFCOcast will continue.
Cepheus Light is of course the version of Cepheus Engine recently produced by Omer Golan-Joel and Josh Peters. It’s a 2d6 science fiction roleplaying system that traces it roots back to the original Traveller RPG, which of course is my current favorite game to play or run. Sorry GURPS. I love you, but right now the simplicity combined with effectiveness of Classic Traveller really works for me. I’ll be back to GURPS soon enough. Got some great ideas that GURPS will RULE for.
Why is this exciting? Well, clearly I like Traveller and Cepheus Engine. But more than that, I like the direction this is going. I’m going to come off as a big hater of D&D 5e here, but I have to say it’s pretty overblown. It’s a slick marketing product, has high quality books and playing aids, and man it is pretty, but it’s just … too much. I’ve played it, and I had a good time. But as a GM, I’m just not interested in the kind of setting it presents. This upcoming Sword of Cepheus Engine just sounds right. It sounds well-conceived. It sounds like a system for people who really love to create, kind of like GURPS is. And I say this as a person that just isn’t very interested in the fantasy genre. As this system is described I feel like I wouldn’t mind running it.
Wow, eight games! For some reason if feels like a milestone. It’s hard enough to make the time to game and to get the guys all together, but it is worth the effort. The Sunday afternoon game time seems to still be a good time to play. I would love to play more than once a month, but it’s rough. Weeknights are not good for most of us, and weekend time is at a premium.
This last session involved a lot of bookkeeping for the PCs, trying to decide how to split the loot and/or reward for the stuff they obtained in the last session. Lots of deliberation. I was worried they would be bored with it, but of course it was their decision to spend that time, so I just let it go for quite a while. They were in Jump Space, so they needed something to do.
Anyway, they are now at the beginning of a new series of sessions, and as usual their activity has given me lots of ideas for things to do in the next few games.
I was reflecting on the nature of Classic Traveller yesterday, as I often do, and was thinking about the benefits of a game that doesn’t really have experience levels or experience points. When I played this game nearly 40 years ago the lack of a substantial progression system seemed like such a bummer. Now I think it’s great. Really keeping track of the passage of time in the game allows the PCs to take advantage of the very long method of improving their skills, but doesn’t make it the focus of the game. It also means that you don’t have to begin a campaign by slowing getting the PCs “up” to a level where you can have the “real fun.” They don’t start out super-powered, but they aren’t weak either. This is always an issue with D&D. 1st-level characters are so easy to kill, and since the game is so combat-centric I think it’s a real problem.
So as the GM, I find it very liberating to not really need to consider the experience level of the PCs when designing or running a game. They are skilled humans. If they get shot with a plasma rifle they will probably die. After four years of play, they will probably still die if hit by a plasma rifle. It frees me up to do what I want with the game, and not focus on levels or experience points. It also allows us to take our time with the campaign. We’re not rushing through this. We play for about three hours, and when I think we’re at a stopping point, we stop. I go home and think up the next few encounters, problems, and challenges. It all just makes the game a lot better.
All of this, however, also forces me attempt a lot more creativity in the campaign. I swear, for each session I spend a week coming up with ideas, making notes, writing up the session only to start over, then on Sunday morning before the game I get up, sit at my desk in state of panic because I don’t like what I’ve got so far, and then it all comes together. I assemble the pieces I’ve got, come up with contingencies plans, think up some NPCs that might be memorable, and the game seems to be enjoyable to the players and to me.
I do think that in the future I want to give the players a little less accounting stuff to do. That tends to bog things down a bit. Once in a while it is alright, like last weekend, but certainly not every game, or even every four games. All four players need something to keep them engaged at all times, and I feel like this last game I dropped the ball on that a bit.
Oh, here’s something I found on one of the internet groups for gaming — an article about Lester Dent’s formula for writing an adventure novel. Dent is the author of the well over 100 Doc Savage novels. As an early teen I read about 70 of these books. They are formulaic but entertaining. I had read that Dent had a formula for writing these, but this is the first time I’ve seen it. I think there is some good advice for writing RPG sessions here. Granted, it won’t all work because the players will nearly always do something that you don’t expect, but I think the overall direction of this formula (as well as some of his other advice) might allow a GM to create a nice “filter” to run sessions through. A list of elements to make sure you include. I have made an effort since returning to gaming a few years ago to be a lot more descriptive of location and atmosphere in my cyberpunk and science fiction campaigns. I think I’m going to go through the Dent Formula and make a list of elements I want to be sure to include in every scene I write. It’s just too easy to get going and forget these things.
On a different topic! While preparing for our game Sunday at Madness Games & Comics, among all the Magic the Gathering and D&D players I noticed two guys setting up to play the Fantasy Trip, using the massive and super cool new boxed set from Steve Jackson Games. I was so happy to see someone playing this! I went over and met the two guys who were there, Bruce and Scott. Really nice guys. Bruce told me he’d played a lot of GURPS in years past, and we spent a bit of time talking about such things. He said he recognized my name from online stuff, which tells me what I already knew – I spend way too much time online – but it is nice to make a face-to-face connection!
So, we all connected on MeWe.com, where a lot of the old Google+ groups have migrated. Bruce is sharing writeups of his gaming session, and they are brilliantly written.
I’ve been digging deeper into The Mighty Protectors – Villains & Vigilantes 3.0 over the last few days. I created my first character. I’ve been looking at the excellent Marvel Comics character write ups at MP Writeups.
I never thought I’d say this, but I think this game may be a superior superhero RPG to Champions. It’s at least just as good. I think that with regard to game balance it is superior. The combination of limits on the point totals of basic characteristics and abilities helps, but I think the real genius is limiting the average damage of attacks based on the total point value of the character. Keeps things in line.
As I’ve written before, I think GURPS is best suited for somewhat oddball campaign settings. Honestly, I feel like if one want to run a pretty standard fantasy campaign, D&D is fine. If you want a standard supers game, Hero System/Champions is really good (You can do it with GURPS, but the game mechanic in the Hero System of Stun damage vs. Body damage, makes it uniquely suited to supers.) But if you to do something unique, GURPS is the way to go. I cite Victorian Apocalypse as a great example. This guy came up with a really fun and novel game world, and GURPS is very well-suited to realize it in the game.
I am kind of interested in doing an urban fantasy/magic style game. Not sure exactly where to go with it. I started reading the Dresden Files books this week. I’ll read a few of them. The first one was really quite enjoyable. Coming up with a setting like this, the would allow players to modify some of the classic fantasy archetypes into modern versions might be fun. It might also be easier than cyberpunk to give them a continuing motivation to band together.
Back in the 1990s I read George R.R. Martin’s Wildcards series. It’s kind of a “what if supers existed in the real world” kind of thing. Really fun books. There is a GURPS sourcebook that came out back then for this world. I think I’d be interested in running that kind of supers campaign as well. Honestly, I’m really good with the Hero system, and it would be a lot easier for me to use it, but I think the level of realism in the GURPS system lends itself to a better approximation of this kind of world.
I’m also interested in a science fiction/space campaign, but I’m not sure where to go with it. I could see using some of the old Traveller materials like “the Spinward Marches” as a campaign setting. I’m really not interested in the whole space ship building and combat thing. I think I’d rather have people get around via teleportation or some Doctor Who-ish way. I don’t know. Haven’t thought enough about it.
However, I think that CyberTex is going quite well, so I’ll continue developing that campaign as I experiment with ideas for other game worlds.
Reading the blog for the Victorian Apocalypse campaign has been fun. Honestly, I’ve never had any interest in Steampunk as a genre. It’s always seem like more of a fashion movement. I don’t know if I’d say Victorian Apocalypse is straight-up steampunk, but I do like it. The time line (that link) is really well done. I’m always amazed when people can come up with homebrew settings that seem to well-reasoned, creative, and engaging. My friend Bob does that with his Wuxia games. He’s become very knowledgeable about ancient China, and he’s able to weave that knowledge into his campaign. Being a massive Wuxia fan, familiar with all that genre’s characteristics doesn’t hurt either.
From the time I started gaming, it really never occurred to me to run anything but a homebrew world. We bought dungeon modules, but we always just dropped them into our own campaign worlds and modified them as we saw fit. But being young kids at the time, we didn’t expend a lot of brain cells considering the histories of our worlds. We just tried to create fun dungeons to explore.
Anyway, back to steampunk and stuff like that. Reading that blog has gotten me thinking a lot about my own cyberpunk world, it’s timeline, etc. I’ve been working on a timeline, and damn, coming up with something that doesn’t seem stupid is not easy. There’s some retconning that needs to be done too. There are some technologies that the cyberpunk literature seems not to have fully anticipated. Wireless tech is one of them. The Sprawl Trilogy seems like it largely missed that. Bladerunner did too. The real game changer is nanotechnology. How far should I let nano go? Because if it goes too far things start getting really weird. Or quantum computing. I may simply have to say that those technologies — nano and quantum – are simply so dangerous to work with that few people are willing to delve into them, and perhaps there’s some super-secret agency that goes around “handling” those problems.
Such are the problems of a person of limited intelligence trying to design a tight homebrew world.
Yesterday I found a copy of GURPS Deadlands: Weird West at a local gaming shop. It’s a very cool setting. I bought it, and read the introductory chapters at lunch. Very well done. I think these kinds of setting books are great. I love seeing how talented writers create a good setting, incorporating real history with all sorts of weirdness and fun. I’ve never wanted to run a full western game. But the notion of weirding it up is really appealing. How about the world of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (already super weird!) with magic and monsters? I like that.
I need another five hours in every day to pursue all this stuff.
OK, I’m posting a GURPS post again because, theoretically, tomorrow I’ll be on the GURPSday list, and I want something to show up from my feed! So yes, this will be a more rambling post than most on this blog.
Life is quite busy. The summer involves two overseas skateboarding contests I’m going to (don’t be too impressed — I’ll be in the “Masters” division, and I’ll come in last, but I’ll have a great time), and I’m also supposed to test for black belt in Aikido this summer. Combining the training for that with a very engaging but tiring job, and I’ve not had a lot of time for adventure design.
However, the need to roll the 6-sided dice is upon me. It has been a few months since the last adventures in CyberTex, so over the rest of this month I will without a doubt be writing CyberTex Episode 4.
My recent rereading of William Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy has me in the right frame of mind. I have finished the books, and I’m listening to the audiobooks in the car on my drive to work (which is a short drive, so this takes time). I’m halfway through listening to book 2, Count Zero.
For a genre that is extremely dependent on atmosphere and mood, listening to a well-read audio book is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the author’s vision. Particularly with Gibson, listening to the book after reading it has greatly increased my appreciation for the work and the genre. It’s just cool.
Not sure how many plot elements I will steal and mutate for a CyberTex story arc, but I have purchased a nice little notebook (I’m a notebook nerd) to write down possible game themes, hooks, etc. I’m especially happy with the $5 Japanese Platinum “Preppy” fountain pen I’m using (it was cheaper at the cool Japanese bookstore we found nearby!) It writes a very fine line, and using this cool Japanese artifact makes me feel like I’m doing the “real” books for some black clinic in Chiba City. See? It all fits together.
I wrote a post last night that I felt was a bit too negative, so I have deleted it. I will say this. It had to do with the Steve Jackson Games 2016 Annual Report to Stakeholders, which indicated the struggles of producing hardback GURPS material in a profitable way. There are a number of really great GURPS books that I would LOOOOOVE to have in hardback, that have only been done in PDF thus far. First amongst them, the How to be a GURPS GM, by Mook Wilson. This is very well-written, inspiring, and useful guide to, well…, being a GURPS GM. I think that combining that product with a few other useful items into a nice hardback might be cool. I’m no game business expert. I’m just a player, but I know I’d buy that.
I like sourcebooks and genre books. I’ve purchased a lot of GURPS stuff over the last 2 years. If the book looks like it might be useful at all, or just looks cool, hell, I’ll buy it. I have no interest in running a WWII game, but dammit I’m going to pick up the hardback WWII book at a local gaming store this month. I think GURPS Horror 4e is one of the best things I’ve seen. I bought it, read it, and immediately decided to bring some Lovecraftian horror elements into my Cyberpunk campaign (Yes, I know there’s a CthulhuPunk book for 3e. Let’s just say I “found” it).
But yeah, I’ll pretty much buy any GURPS supplement that is even slightly interesting to me. I’ll buy old 3e stuff if the material is good. I wonder — are there any interesting current or upcoming popular genres that might make a good GURPS book? A book all about post-apocalyptic stuff? (OK, now I see a whole post-apocalyptic section on the GURPS website. But you get my meaning.)
I will say this. I have thought about running one of our sessions on a Sunday afternoon at Madness Games and Comics, a massive and popular local store that provides lots of tables for folks use. I want to do this just to expose observers to GURPS. Here is a bit a problem. What if they like it, and and to get into it? The hardback Basic books are not available in the store. Are they available to retailers still? I see they can be procured from Warehouse 23. If a little interest was generated locally, could the local store get the books? I would hope so. The basic set needs to always always always be available. Two years ago when I started this, that particular store had both books. Now they have none. So the books did sell. It just took a little while.
Well, whatever. I’m looking forward to writing CyberTex Episode 4. Going to start using more of the Cyberspace Cowboy rules from the 3e book. Should be fun!
In two Sundays we’ll be playing session #2 of CyberTex. I’ve been doing a lot of reading of inspirational material. Currently I’m reading the second of Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy — Count Zero. Very cool and lots of fun.
I also have watched about half this old documentary about Cyberpunk. It’s got some nice interview segments with William Gibson, but is also about “real world cyberpunks”. I used to read about these dudes back in the mid-1990s, and it always seem really adventurous and fun. It seems like that kind of thing is just really dangerous and illegal now.
I have a week to finish preparations for session 2, so I need to get into gear. I have done a lot already, but I have so many ideas.
This is not a new topic. I’m sure it has been talked to death, but when a member of a somewhat advanced party is killed, how do you handle it?
In D&D, I think this presents a very large problem, since the gap in survivability of 1st level characters and say, 6th or higher, is huge. So you lose a character or two, and what do you do. I’ve recently read about various ways people handle this. Some have the person roll up a new character, and advance them to the old character’s level, or maybe a level or two below. I’ve never been a big fan of starting characters at higher levels. For me as a player, I never feel like I have any emotional investment in that kind of character. It just doesn’t feel the same as running a character up from level 1. I actually saw one guy on a Facebook discussion say he considered the Experience Points to belong the the player, rather than the character. Obviously people can do what they want, but that seems weird to me. A little too much like just getting extra lives in a video game.
BUT – if you have a party of somewhat advanced characters, and one dies, if you make that player start over again with a 1st level character, a couple of undesireable things seem likely. First, the new 1st level character may simply ride on the coat tails of the rest of the party, gaining levels almost by association. Or second, the challenges faced by the party may simply be too difficult for the new character, killing him/her quickly if the DM doesn’t go easy on him. I can remember really good DMs who could integrate the new characters in, and give them challenges appropriate to their level whilst still challenging the higher level characters, but that’s not easy in a D&D game.
In the past I’ve participated in groups that avoided this situation a couple of ways. In some cases, in a particular DM’s word/campaign, players would have more than one character, so that if one died, there was still another to work with. We only played one at at time, so this made progress slower. It did have the added advantage of giving the players a more diverse group of characters to chose from when starting a game. If you played in a shared world, with multiple DMs running games at an agreed upon power level/style, the multiple characters can work out pretty well.
As I am about to start a GURPS Cyberpunk campaign in a couple of days, it made me realize that game systems like GURPs make it a lot easier to introduce new PCs to replace dead ones. In GURPS, a PC gets better, but the world is still pretty dangerous. There isn’t such a huge gap in survivability between new PCs and experienced ones.
Hoping to finally get the GURPS game started in January. It is time to start, even if the first couple of games are mostly for learning the system. I have been looking forward to this for months now, and I am ready to get it going.
I played RISK last night with my nephew – the Doctor Who edition. Pretty fun. I could do that again, even though I’m really not any good at it.