Sunday, February 23, 2014

Psychonauts with FAE?!

Hello readers,

It's no secret that Psychonauts is awesome. What is Psychonauts? Oh, just a little video-game by Double Fine that is artistic, hilarious, and awesome. You play as Raz, a psychic circus runaway who infiltrates Whispering Rock Summer Camp, a place where they train young psychics to eventually join the international, psychic, spy organization called the Psychonauts! While there, he uncovers a conspiracy about a crazy dentist stealing kid's brains to make psychic death tanks.

It's awesome.

Why am I telling you about this? Well, mainly because I think this game can be modeled very well in the FAE system. I don't discuss this system on my blog very often, but it is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to take a generic or established setting and play it in a tabletop RPG. Not to mention, you can get it for basically free, so there's no excuse not to go check it out.

So, after doing some figuring and playing through the game in question again, I've developed a mini-hack for those of you who want to bring a little Psychonauts to your game table using the Fate Accelerated Edition. There's more that needs to go into it, such as stating out censors and actually testing it, but I think this is a good start.

Enjoy the psychic explorations below!

Psychonauts: With FAE!

Psychic Powers:

Access to Psychic Powers is activated by a relevant Aspect, usually the 'High Concept.' Experienced psychics, such as a member of the Psychonauts, have access to all of the following applications of their psychic power. Less experienced psychics, such as campers at Whispering Rock, may select three to start and can unlock the others through play.

PSI Powers – Clairvoyance, Confusion, Levitation, Invisibility, Pyrokinesis, Marksmanship, Shield, Palm Bomb, Telepathy, Telekinesis, Psi-Punch

Stunts can be used to further refine specialty in one or more of these disciplines.

Example: Because I can Talk to Fish, I get a +2 when trying to cleverly create an advantage by talking to aquatic creatures with my telepathy.

Because I'm a Recovering Pyromaniac, once per session I may give an 'On Fire' aspect to someone or something with pyrokinesis.

Entering the Mental World:

In order to enter someone's mindscape, they must have a Psycho-Portal, which is a small object shaped like a door that can attach itself to someone's head. Then, determine if the subject in question is willing to have you enter his mind.

If they are unwilling, you must succeed on an overcome action rolled against them. If they are willing, you may enter freely.

Then, do a Create an Advantage with an Easy difficulty (+0) for a willing participant, and a Moderate difficultly (+2) for an unwilling one. Every step above the required difficulty level determines your number of Astral Projection Layers. If you fail, you are not allowed to enter the mind for a number of hours equal to the steps below the target you scored.

Astral Projection Layers: When in the mental world, it is possible to be stressed out with no real-world consequence, so long as you have an astral projection layer left. When you fill in your last stress box while in the mental world, remove an Astral Projection Layer, then remove all of your stress. If you fill in the last stress box and have no layers left, you are kicked out of the mental world and take a moderate consequence in the real world.

Activity in the Mental World:

Activity in the mental world follows FAE rules, with the following additional possibilities:

-Astral Projection Layers (See above)

-Going from zone to zone in the mental world is usually blocked by a complicated series of platforms and obstacles, requiring an overcome action to get past. The conditions for success and failure are modified in the following ways for these particular overcome actions.

Fail: Succeeding at a serious cost should result in checking off a stress box. This represents a series of attempts that resulted in some falls into bottomless pits that were quickly resolved, succeeding only after many, many attempts.

Tie: As written.

Succeed: As written, with the following addition. Collect figments equal to steps achieved times five. Collect 100 figments in the Mental World, and you may unlock an additional psychic application, or earn a new stunt if all the applications are collected and if you don't exceed your refresh by taking the stunt.

Succeed with Style: The player may select a boost of their choice, or one of the following options:

Collect Figments along the way, equal to steps achieved times ten.

Find an Emotional Baggage Tag, or the Emotional Baggage for a tag you've already found. You cannot do both on the same Overcome action. When a tag and bag are reunited, you may earn an additional psychic application, or earn a new stunt if all applications are collected and if you don't exceed your refresh by taking the stunt.

Find and Open a Mental Vault: This reveals one of the Aspects for the person whose mind you are in. You get one free invocation.

-Some equipment that would be useful in the Mental World that a camper or Psychonaut can own or purchase from the camp store can be represented by stunts. Examples:

Because I own Smelling Salts, once per session, I may exit the mental world with no consequences.

Because I own a Cobweb Duster, once per session, I can collect mental cobwebs in an inter-zone obstacle, lowering the difficulty of crossing it by two.

Because I own Dream Fluff, once per session, I may clear all of my stress boxes while in the Mental World.

That's all I have so far! I hope you enjoyed this post! If you didn't, here's a funny picture.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Fisticuffs: Why Is There So Much Violent Conflict Resolution?

Hey, readers!

The following is going to be another editorial related to the amount of violence in role-playing games and why it seems to be the go-to option for most conflict resolution. This is sort of related to my previous thoughts on why there has to be so much action in an RPG, but I think it is a little more mature look. Obviously, every story involves conflict, and conflict needs to be resolved. You could call any attempt to resolve conflict as 'action', so the previously proposed question is almost moot from a certain point of view.

So, let's imagine a rather common scenario in a role-playing game. Your party of adventurers, heroes, or what have you is looking for information of some kind. This could be the location of whatever noun you'd like, or some bit of further information in order to move plot points around and clarify things that have happened in the past. You find a person or group that has said information, ask for it, and they are unwilling to give it to you.

What do you do?

If you're in most of the groups I've participated in, the group will either push the guy with the best diplomacy or intimidation out front to force it out through good rolling, or the weapons come out and the rumble occurs until they are more apt to share what they know.

Now, while these are the two seemingly most obvious ways to resolve this situation, they are only two in a sea of possibilities that are often ignored. Why do we, as players, go for the guns and swords so often as a way of resolving conflict?

I ask this primarily because it seems to fly right in the face of what people experience on a daily basis. I can honestly say that throughout my lifetime, every conflict that has been brought up was settled without violence. This obviously isn't true for everyone. Still, human nature would dictate that most people would want to avoid distress and pain as much as possible, therefore solutions beyond violence would be preferable since they have a lesser chance of causing physical harm to oneself.

Still, one could argue that most roleplaying games are heightened to a place of adventure, where the world is dangerous, but you are more than equipped to deal with all of the dangers and show off how tough you are. This may be true, but since when did adventure equate to consistent violent solutions? Do we need to beat up everyone who stands in our way? Does every conflict between two factions have to be resolved through combat, or the threat of annihilation?

The answer to this question is relatively simple, and usually related to the system one is running and the characters that are in play. If one starts at the first, Dungeons and Dragons is, at it's core, centered around combat. Most of the things that differentiate between classes have to do with combat, or how one performs in violent situations, and usually this is how your character is measured. In fact, a big percentage of the rules are dedicated to this. When you are playing a fighter, and things don't come down to blows, then you feel like all of the mechanical goodies on your sheet are wasted.

Also, some people just enjoy a good scrap. The tactical and visceral nature of games of this breed appeal to a lot of people. In fact, role-playing games are reportedly the offspring of war-games which are made to solely simulate combat on multiple scales, so the progression seems natural. Combat is central to many systems, and it is the body, while flavor text and roleplaying encounters would make up the heart and soul.

Personally, I find it to be a little distasteful. I'm not coming at this from a moral high-ground, or the position of 'games shouldn't be violent' and such, but rather from the perspective of someone who understands the basics of good storytelling and likes to get into the heads of their characters. Honestly? I think games become much more fun when the alternatives are found. A search for information could become an adventure unto itself rather than a goal where bad guys on the other side stand in the way. More skills can come into play, and the personalities and varied skills of the characters start to matter more than how many hit-points they have, or whether they can do a 'Power Attack.'  The game starts to come alive and feel less like a mindless video game and more like a narrative with actual, thinking people.

From a character perspective, I think a lot of people don't realize the weight of taking another life, and how that can affect your character. Think about, say, a bubbly Gnome bard whose life is rather gleeful. After a dungeon where scores of semi-sentient or sentient beings were mowed down, do you think said character would remain so bubbly and gleeful? Causing injury and death to another being, regardless of what your differences are, is always a significant emotional event, unless you are either insane or hardened to the point where it doesn't matter. Granted, a lot of characters fit into those two categories, but I digress.

The bottom line here is this: play however you want, but remember that fisticuffs doesn't have to solve every encounter. Sometimes thinking outside the box can lead to a better story.

What are your thoughts about the amount of violent conflict resolution in games? Leave me a comment, start a discussion!

Hope you enjoyed my editorial! If not, here's a funny picture.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

More Villains! (DC Modern) - MHRP

Hey, readers!

I enjoyed the response from the stat blocks I posted last time, so I think I'll continue by putting up more of my content from my Teen Titans game for you to peruse, steal, copy, edit, or what have you! As before, these are different from standard DC flare since they are from my revamp of said universe, but with a little tweaking, they can be right at home in your Justice League, Teen Titans, or what-have-you games.

Like last time, we're going to have the name and a brief description before the meat of the datafile. These are a collection of villains from either one-shot episodes or mini-arcs. However, the Riddler presented below was pretty much stolen from someone on the old Margaret Weis forums with a few minor changes, so I can hardly take credit for that particular brilliance. If I remembered the username, I would put it on, just so you can pour the praises on! Alas, I do not.

Without further ado: Villains!


According to the members of his Neo-Luddite society, the story of Bane is as follows. The dying town where his entire family grew up was apparently saved by the creation of a chemical factory. While the factory provided work, it also slowly killed the environment and those working inside. A tragic accident occurred while a teenage Bane slaved away, and he wore the gas-mask evermore to hide his scars, swearing to abhor and eradicate the sins of modern technology, modeling himself after an 18th century revolutionary.  Contrary to the regular look, Bane is a tall and lanky individual, whose strength defies his appearance.

Affiliations: Solo d10, Buddy d6, Team d8


Technology is Evil
Cult of Personality
I Will Break You”

Power Sets:

Venom Addiction:

Superhuman Strength d10
Superhuman Durability d10
Superhuman Stamina d10


Venom Burst – Step up or double Superhuman Strength for one round, then step it back to d8.

Broken – Step back the highest rated die in your pool. Then add d6 and step up physical stress inflicted by one.

Healing Factor – Spend d6 from the Doom pool to recover physical stress and step back physical trauma by -1.


Venom Dependent – Shutdown Venom Addiction powerset when you don't have access to Venom.

The Mask:

Cybernetic Senses d8


Immunity: Spend a d6 from the Doom Pool to ignore toxins and poisons.

Venom Reserves: Spend the highest die from the Doom Pool to restore the Venom Addiction powerset if it had been shut down.

Up the Dose – Spend a die from Doom and add d8 emotional stress to step up Superhuman Strength or Superhuman Durability for the remainder of the scene.


Gear – Shutdown The Mask to add d6 to the Doom pool. Spend d6 from the doom pool to recover.


Combat Expert
Tech Expert
Psych Expert
Menace Master

Crime Expert

The Riddler

One day, mild-mannered computer programmer Edward Nygma came to a startling realization. The world was getting dumber. People stared listlessly into their devices, relying on computers to think for them while they flopped to the tune of capitalism. At this rate, evolution would break down, and humanity would be unfit for survival. Therefore, he devised a system. He would test humanity, starting with the loathsome underbelly of human life, to see if they were intelligent. If not, they would fail the test and die. If they survived they were fit to live, and possibly help him continue to test humanity. Thus, the Riddler was born.

Affiliations: Solo d10, Buddy d8, Team d6


Knowledge is Power
World Renowned Hacker
Riddle Wrapped in an Enigma

Power Sets:

Weaver of Conundrums:

Enhanced Senses d8


Complex Puzzles – All assets, resources, and complications created by the Riddler can only be stepped back, rather than being shutdown, when targeted. Once it goes below a d6, it is shutdown as normal.

Ingenious – When creating an asset, resource or complication based on a riddle or puzzle, step up the resulting trait by +1.


Outsmarted – When an asset, resources or complication created by the Riddler is shutdown, take a d8 of Emotional Stress.


Crime Expert d8
Tech Master d10
Psych Expert d8

Menace Expert d8

Solomon Grundy

The Lazarus Pits are a wonderful natural phenomenon that have the possibility to grant immortal life to those who find them. However, it is not usually possible for a Lazarus Pit to bring one back from the dead. This does not explain the creature only known as Solomon Grundy, who is assumed to be a Robinson Cursoe who found one of the fabled Pits, but a tainted one. Upon his death, the island's pit brought him back to life... Wrong. Seemingly immortal, Grundy is a curiosity, and potential weapon, for those who wish to live forever. 

Affiliations: Solo d10, Buddy d8, Team d6


Dumb as the Dead
Hulking Abomination

Power Sets:

Lazarus Pit Pariah

Godlike Strength d12
Godlike Durability d12
Godlike Stamina d12
Enhanced Speed d8


Area Attack: ~

Healing Factor - Spend a die from the Doom Pool to recover physical stress and step-back trauma.

Nothing Hurts Grundy – Spend a die from the Doom Pool to ignore physical stress.

Grundy Smash – Against a single opponent, double Godlike Strength. Remove the highest rolling die and keep an extra die for your total.


Wasting Away – Every time Grundy uses his Healing Factor, his stamina is stepped down by one until he returns to the Lazarus Pit from which he spawned.


Combat Expert d8
Menace Expert d10


Dr. Ivo seeks to live forever, but his experiments have only brought about temporary results. He has heard of the properties of the Lazarus Pits, but their temporary relief from the mortal coil was unsatisfactory. Upon discovering the Island of Solomon Grundy, he set up a base of operations and begun a series of test involving the Lazarus Pits while also working on the ultimate evolutionary being that he will eventually transplant into. The prototype is finished: Amazo, the amazingly adaptable automaton!

Affiliations: Solo d10, Buddy d6, Team d8


Infinitely Adaptable
Cold-Hearted Android
Ivo's Greatest Creation

Power Sets:

Adaptoid Android

Enhanced Senses d8
Superhuman Durability d10
Enhanced Flight d8
Mimic d12


I Cannot Process that Emotion – Spend a die from the Doom Pool to ignore emotional stress.

Fast Learner – Spend a Doom Die. Amazo gets the “Stolen Power” asset immediately equal to the die spent.


Strengths and Weaknesses – Amazo is subject to the limits associated with the power sets he mimics.


Combat Expert d8
Tech Expert d8

Hope you enjoyed these datafiles! If not, here's a funny picture.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Fearsome Five! (DC Modern) - Marvel Heroic

Hello, readers!

Happy New Year! After our last editorial about NPC Overload, I thought it would be a nice ironic turn to show some stat sheets for NPCs! Since I've blogged quite a bit about my experiences with Marvel Heroic, I think giving back to the community with some DC-related datafiles would be just peachy.

Keep in mind that these are altered for my particular version of the DC Universe which I call 'DC Modern', but with a little adjustment here and there, they can be perfectly usable in your regular Teen Titans game, or any other setting which would require the use of the Fearsome Five!

Before each stat-block, I'll give the name and a little blurb about them. I'm pretty proud of some of the SFX and Limits I cobbled together, since I think unique permutations of the system are what fan-created content is all about!


Baran Flinders and his sister, Selinda, struck out on their own as High School drop-outs who were looking for trouble. They eventually wound up throwing in their lot with a gang that owed its true allegiance to the Cult of Blood. When Baran mocked the gang leader's girlfriend for her witch-like appearance, she cursed him to forever be a Mammoth. Twisted and ugly, but with the brute strength required of an enforcer, Baran was forever changed! He seeks a way to remove his curse with the help of her sister while also getting back at the gang that scorned them.

Affiliations: Solo d6, Buddy d8, Team d4


Sibling Bond
Driven by Revenge
Cursed Behemoth

Power Sets:

Cursed Form

Superhuman Strength d10
Superhuman Stamina d10
Enhanced Durability d8


Second Wind: Before you make an action using Cursed Form, move your physical stress to the Doom Pool and step up a Cursed Form power +1 for this action.

Versatile: Replace any Superhuman Cursed Form power with 2d8 or 3d6 for your next turn.

Haymaker: Double Superhuman Strength for an action, then add the second-highest rolling die from that action to the Doom Pool.


Self Conscious: Step up any emotional stress related to comments about Mammoth's appearance.

One Track Mind: After making an attack against an opponent during an action scene, you must only attack that one target for the rest of the scene. Spend a die from the Doom Pool to change targets or do something else.

My Sister's Keeper: If Shimmer takes trauma, take emotional stress equal to the highest die in the Doom Pool.


Combat Expert d8

Crime Expert d8


If there's one thing Selinda Flinders desires, it's power. Having grown up destitute her entire life with only her brother to watch her back, she sought a way to transcend her existence and rely on herself rather than others. The chance came when her addictive habits for mystically imbued drugs landed herself and her brother in the gang life. Before they were tossed to the curb for Mammoth's insolence, she tried an experimental mixture of drugs that wound up giving her the power to change elements. Now gifted with the knowledge and power to advance their status, Selinda seeks even more power and a cure for her brother's monstrous transformation.

Affiliations: Solo d4, Buddy d8, Team d6


Power Addict
Amateur Elemental
Sibling Bond

Elemental Control

Superhuman Transmutation d10


Elemental Supremacy: Add a d6 and step up the effect die when creating an asset or complication to turn something into something else.

Family Ties: Double an Elemental Control power when creating an asset intended to be given to Mammoth.


Inorganic Only: Elemental Control may not be used on organic lifeforms.

My Brother's Keeper: If Mammoth takes trauma, take emotional stress equal to the highest die in the Doom Pool.


Crime Expert d8

Science Expert d8


No one's quite sure where Gizmo came from. He doesn't go by any other name, and his short stature is hard to miss. However, his skill as an inventor is invaluable. He can make anything out of anything, so it seems, and his services often come at a high price, especially in cities where advanced fire-arms can be hard to come by. Now, he makes his home in the Motor City, scrounging together the pieces of dying industry to make a healthy profit in the underground.

Affiliations: Solo d8, Buddy d4, Team d6


Short Temper
MacGyver-Style Inventor
Maniacal Midget

Power Sets:

"I Can Build That"

Enhanced Senses d8
Mimic d8


Technological Intuition: When using Mimic to create technology-based assets or complications, add a d6 and step up your effect die.


Prototype: When you create an asset or complication with Mimic, shutdown Mimic until the asset or complication is eliminated, removed, or recovered.

Cobbled Together Arsenal

Weapon d8
Flight d6
Enhanced Durability d8


Charged Blast: Step or double Weapon on your next roll, or spend a doom die to do both, then shut down Weapon. Recover through an opportunity or during a transition scene.


Gear – Shutdown a 'Cobbled Together Arsenal' power to add or step up a doom die.


Tech Master d10
Crime Expert d8
Science Expert d8
Vehicle Expert d8


Once, Simon Jones was the second highest ranking member of the Cult of Blood with only Brother Blood above him. While the master directed the mystical side of their organization, Simon organized the gangs and the financial side of their various endeavors. However, Simon desired more, and his prayers were answered by a direct endowment of energy from the Being of Chaos Himself, Trigon. Through psychic revelation, he was able to be in limited communication with the Chaotic Incarnate, and thought that this made him higher than even Brother Blood himself! Therefore, he left the Cult of Blood in order to pursue Trigon's interests on his own.

Affiliations: Solo d8, Buddy d6, Team d4


Cult of Blood Turncoat
Untapped Potential
I Should Be in Charge!”

Power Sets:

Psychic Powers From Chaos

Mind Control d8
Telepathy d8
Psychic Resistance d8
Psychic Blast d8


Area Attack: ~

Echo of Trigon: Step up or double any Psychic Powers From Another Dimension power for one action. If that action fails, add a die to the Doom Poop equal to the normal rating of that power die.

More Powerful Than I Thought: Step back the highest die in your attack action pool to add a d6 and step up mental stress inflicted.


Trigon Clouds My Thoughts: Both ones and twos count as opportunities. Twos can still be used as effect die or to add to totals.


Psych Expert d8
Mystic Expert d8

Dr. Light

Arthur Light was a brilliant inventor for LexCorp before the company began to massively lay-off its work force in the wake of Lex Luthor's terrorist fiasco. All he could take away from his work on developing technology to defeat superhumans was his Light Suit. VATOR offered him a leadership position in their Suicide Squad taskforce, but he was swiftly fired when he proved to be utterly incompetent. Undeterred, he now focuses his malice on the teenage heroes who made him lose his position, and has proved a constant foe to the Titans.

Affiliations: Solo d8, Buddy d4, Team d6


Mad Scientist
No One Takes Me Seriously!”

Power Sets:

Light Suit

Light Control d10
Invisibility d10
Flight d8
Force Field d8
Light Blast d10


Too Bright!: Add a d6 and step up the effect die for blinding complications.

Light Absorption: On a successful reaction against a Light-based action, convert your opponent's effect die into a Light Suit stunt or step up any Light Suit power by +1 for your next action. Spend a d6 to use this stunt if your opponent's action succeeds.

Multi-Power: Use two or more Light Suit powers in a single die pool at -1 step for each additional power.


Gear: Shutdown Light Suit and add a d6 to the Doom Pool. Activate an opportunity to recover.


Science Expert
Tech Expert
Business Expert


-All characters are lowered to minion status, but can be advanced to up the difficulty, especially if they are working by themselves or in a pair.

-Area Attack is abbreviated by a '~', because I find it tedious to rewrite the same rule that I have practically memorized.

Hope you enjoyed today's Marvel Heroic stats! If not, here's a funny picture.


Monday, December 30, 2013

NPC Overload: Why I Hate Council Meetings

Hello, readers!

This will likely be the last post for this year, and hopefully the new year will be much more active with my musings! Thank you all for reading, commenting over on Google+, and all such things.

Today I'd like to talk about an issue that I have come across once or twice in my earlier career as a Game-Master and have been trying my best to avoid ever-since. Sometimes it's an isolated incident that can be plowed through and hopefully forgotten. Other times, it's a situation that lingers and seems to get worse and worse as time goes on. I'll try to explain the issue below and see if I can brainstorm some ideas to avoid or lessen this problem.

I speak, of course, of NPC overload.

The first four years of gaming that I experienced through High School was dominated by Star Wars games. Our group started with the Revised Core Rulebook, and eventually migrated to Saga after realizing how much better it handled the universe. Edition isn't important, however, especially in regards to this topic. I bring up Star Wars because there was one major element that groups that contained one Jedi or more had to encounter at some point.

Jedi Council meetings.

I mean, you can't just have some semi-important Jedi running around without having to report to a Council eventually, and how many times can you say that most of the delegates are gone? Therefore, the players have to approach the Council and discuss their mission or ask for something, and you as the GM have to play all of them. Needless to say, it can be daunting, even if you have a cheat sheet with the names of various council members and maybe one or two adjectives to describe their personality.

No matter how good your Yoda voice is, you start to sound like you have really severe schizophrenia, and it can be boggling for both you and your players. Let's not even get into what happens when parts of the council start to disagree and you wind up having an argument with yourself while your players stare at you funny.

Unfortunately, this isn't limited to just meetings of a body of delegates. This can happen any time there is more than one important NPC in a scene that requires interaction. Try running the Masters of Evil and suddenly you have to speak for a bunch of villains at once. Or maybe there's an NPC in the party, and they have an important connection to a villain, and you find yourself talking to yourself again while the players sit back and watch.

I call this NPC overload, which can either mean one of two things.

1: You have the party interacting with a large group of different NPCs, or NPCs are interacting with each other for an extended period of time.

2: The actions of NPCs in interactions are so detailed and complicated that it leaves the players out of important events.

Obviously, a good GM should avoid #2 at all costs and try to involved the player's as much as possible, even when two NPCs are spatting or having an argument. Players should always be the focus of events, and if the other characters are getting in the way of that, things need to be rearranged. If you're just going to have a bunch of your characters doing important things, why not write a book instead of running a game?

However, #1 can be an issue for even seasoned GM's at one point or another. What can we do to mitigate this problem, or make it more accessible/enjoyable for all involved?

Here are some suggestions:

1: In a meeting/summit/council type situation where all of the members are pretty much in agreement, simply divide up answers between council members/voices. Maybe the first one on the list answers the first question, or two and three make a point together in response to something a player said. It takes getting used to at first, but this generally helps these difficult events flow, at the very least.

2: If two NPCs are arguing, involve the players between every back and forth. Give them a chance to interject what they think, end the argument, or support one side or another. If you feel like you've been talking to yourself for too long, you probably have been.

3: Limit your active NPCs per scene. Any more than two can get complicated, and three's a crowd. Make sure your players are the center of every scene, even when dealing with very important characters like the main villain or the ruler of the land.

3.5: Don't send a group when one can do the job. (For non-combat, anyway.)

For myself, this issue has mostly been resolved, either by avoidance or using some of the strategies above to make it tolerable. However, since I haven't talked at length with too many game-masters about this side of the hobby, I'm not sure if this is just me, or a further epidemic! Let me know if this comes up in your games, and how you handle it!

Hope you enjoyed this little article on NPC overload. If not, here's a funny picture.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Metaplot: Flavorful Setting Dressing or Harbinger of Doom?

Hello, readers!

As you may or may not know, over the last couple of years White Wolf has been working on making 20th anniversary editions of some of their classic lines. Referred to as the old World of Darkness (or Classic), these lines gathered enough of a following in the 90's to sit themselves as probably the second most popular line of roleplaying games after Dungeons and Dragons. Vampire the Masquerade started the charge, and the setting expanded to include werewolves, mages, ghosts, mummies, demons, the Fae...

Yeah, it was a veritable monster mash drenched in grunge, leather, tattoos, and conspiracy.

I was quite a fan of Masquerade, even though I got into the hobby when these books were out of print and the new World of Darkness was just starting. The video game, VtM: Bloodlines, is what really drew me in and I dug up some old books to quench my growing curiosity about this interpretation of the creatures of the night. Thankfully, this pulled me into the Vampire fandom before Twilight came and bred disgust and anger. While I didn't run or play a lot of it, Masquerade always held a special place in my heart, even after Requiem came out.

Why were they changing everything, I wondered? What was wrong with the Camarilla, Anarchs, and Sabbat? Was the Cain legend too definitive for the modern day where we can't be really sure of anything anymore? It seems I was blissfully unaware of one major thing that the World of Darkness lines had that eventually spelled their doom.


For those of you who don't know, this basically means that, in the established setting, things changed between books as things moved in the fiction. Major NPCs did things, powers came in and out of fashion, Clans joined and left organizations, and every edition or book seemed to scramble things a little and all lead to some sort of end-of-the-world scenario for each line. Of course, this end-of-the-world needed to be spelled out at some point, and in 2004, the meta-plot ended with three novels and books that presented the Storyteller with some ideas on how to map out Gehenna, or the Apocalypse, or whatever flavor of Armageddon your horror monster was facing.

According to those older than I was, this metaplot became incredibly confusing, and if you didn't buy almost every book that came out from White Wolf for your line of choice, it was easy to get lost. Things became more and more ridiculous, and things fell apart until most people were convinced that the metaplot needed to either be ignored or thrown out.

While what happened to White Wolf was likely a result of poor planning and too many chefs in the kitchen, that left me in an interesting place, because the idea of a metaplot was intriguing to me. You mean, a setting can change organically from the powers that be? It was a new and exciting idea to me, that settings can evolve. A familiar sandbox could grow, or have new toys, or at least different toys, maybe even based on input from the community?

That leads me to this question: is metaplot in a setting a bad thing? I don't think that is necessarily so. It is tricky, and has a lot of negative points, but maybe a well-handled meta-plot could even enhance a game line, or give it direction that it was lacking.

Let's bring this to Vampire, since it is the setting I'm most familiar with in the White Wolf scheme of things. Requiem brought with it a setting that erased the definitive nature of the metaplot. No more scheming Elders, no more Cain, no more over-arching Camarilla, no more Gehenna. No one knows how Vampires came to be, but all these organizations have different ideas and methods on how to run things, and they all coexist and battle out for supremacy, city by city. This made the game completely customizable, which is great.

But, something was missing. Comparing the two side-by-side, I feel like I have more of an idea about what sort of game I could run in Masquerade rather than Requiem. Sometimes, there is a thing as too much freedom, and I got that feeling while reading a lot of the other new World of Darkness lines. Take out the Wyrm, and what do Werewolves do? I guess they're just... Spirit police? Don't even get me started on Changeling. I was more Lost than they were when trying to puzzle out what kind of stories you can tell from the base book alone. It was an overwhelming feeling of, "That's great...Then what?"

The White Wolf examples aside, there are a lot of problems inherit with metaplot. While it can add great flavor, it also potentially detracts from changes to the setting that happens organically in game. Oh, your players killed the Prince, who in this new book, leads some sort of revolution? Whoops. Your players took down the Camarilla in Paris? Guess this new thing doesn't make sense now. The setting can never truly take account of your characters because the publishers likely don't know about them, so whether they are major power players or not, things will happen without them to a pre-determined end. That takes a lot of wind out of the players sails, even if the Storyteller edits the new developments to fit your version of the setting. It almost feels like it doesn't matter what you do since the setting moves on and ends without you, potentially.

That argument could be countered by the 'Use what you want' rule that most of these books implied, but the feeling could still remain.

Metaplot is also hard to keep track of. Settings are often broad, and if handled in the White Wolf fashion which slapped something new into almost every book (and there were a lot of them), it is incredibly easy to lose people under the weight of new developments. It does have the benefit of creatively using justifications in the setting to explain new rules in an edition update, but that could be outweighed by the amount of stuff you miss if you just buy a couple supplements and not all of them. Roleplaying books are expensive, even in the advent of Drive-Thru RPG and the like. Does a company really want to force a player to buy everything to see how things progress?

Heh, kinda sounds like comic book series. Not that those settings ever evolve...


Detractors aside, I think a setting could really benefit from some smart ideas regarding this concept. Maybe books that advance the metaplot could be written in a way that emphasizes the players rather than established NPCs? Maybe the creators could regularly poll its community to see what developments they want to see? Maybe some of these books could come with clearly defined options for what happens next, almost like how White Wolf handled the 'End-of-the-world' books?

I don't know, but I think there's untapped potential in an experiment that may have horribly backfired and ruined a line in the past. This is the age of the internet! Companies interact with their communities now more than ever, especially when it comes to role-playing with the advent of small press. Push the boundaries of setting, developers! Don't just define, refine, change!

Okay, that's enough ranting. I hope you enjoyed this article. If not, here's a funny picture.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Gaming Update - December 2013

Hey there, readers!

It has been quite some time since I last posted on here, but I'm not dead yet! My blogging senses are tingling, and I'd like to get back into this after my hiatus. So, I thought that before digging into the meat of the things that are spinning around my head concerning the RP hobby, I should let you all know where I stand in the life of a gamer.

Because dividing things up is fun, I'll be breaking this up into little sections! I don't want this post to go on and on, so I'll  be brief.

Games That Have Ended/Have Been Postponed:

Marvel Civil War - Due to a few players having to bow out for various reasons or having spotty schedules, this game has been postponed. We were going to move on to Annihilation instead, but that was soon nixed due to several factors. So, with mixed feelings, this game has ended, and may be picked back up sometime around next Summer, by my estimation, if at all.

Marvel Origins: Avengers - I ended my game after a few sessions for a couple of reasons. The most prominent reason was that my Wednesday nights kept getting busy, so it was hard to maintain a steady rhythm. Secondly, while I think the game was going just fine, I started to get a little burnt out with some of the elements that just weren't working in my mind. One of those big ones was the Hulk, who's player never showed up, but remained a potential 'Instant Win' button that could be pressed, and the players treated him more like a weapon than a character. Another was the abilities of the characters, which was my own fault, really. I felt that the power level was just a touch high from what I had originally envisioned, which made presenting challenging encounters difficult. So, I may pick this up again someday. We'll see.

Games That I Left:

Dresden Files: Detroit - The group that I was playing X-Men with moved onto a game of Dresden Files, based on the FATE system. Things were going rather alright, and I had a character I rather liked. Unfortunately, my Mondays started to get difficult to schedule around, and my enthusiasm for the game faded as a result. Couple that with the fact that I wasn't really feeling the setting, and I decided to leave.

Games That Continue Intermittently:

Teen Titans - Our group managed to finish the first Act after about a year of inconstant schedules and trying to get everyone corralled. All of the players really want the game to continue, and I do too to an extent, but it is a combination of being in the right mood and getting this new act set-up, which I haven't done completely yet. However, I am far from canning this game due to the potential, so it continues on, when I get to it and the players are free!

New Games I'm Playing:

Marvel Tales 1964 - On the newly reformed Margaret Weis forums, a call went out to do a similar mission statement that I had originally discussed on here in the past. Creating a new Marvel universe from starting at the beginning of these character's stories and seeing where they go. However, our GM took a more classic approach, re-adapting existing comics and running them as sessions with the three main groups: Avengers, Fantastic Four, and X-Men, running a different group every week. I'm playing Wasp, Mr. Fantastic, and Jean Grey, respectively. While I may get into more detail later, let's just say that this is probably the most fun I've had in an online RP since my first run of Breakout last year.

X-Force - There is a group on Facebook called 'The Doom Pool', which is for fans of MHRP. The person who runs it was getting rather tired of the lack of games seeking players and decided to start a bit of Breakout with characters from X-Force. Hoping to help him out, I joined as Wolfsbane. The game has been interesting so far, and I find myself reunited with a player from my Marvel Origins game, which is a treat.

Unknown Title of a Pathfinder Game - One of my friends, who plays in a few of my games, is running his own game back at the college I used to attend, and I am able to join them through the magic of the internet and the times I come to visit. This Pathfinder game takes place in a world between worlds, so to speak, where all magic channels through in every universe, and most of it takes place in the sky. I play a feline rogue who is married to her vices, and the other characters are great to interact with. The plot is just getting going, but I am excited to see how things unravel.

New Games I'm Running:

The Barrier Gem Prophecy: Arms Race - Lovingly called 'The Sequel' by my players, this is a sequel to a campaign I ran for a group of fresh-faced college Freshman who had either never played a table-top RPG before or had done so only once or twice. With some wonderful changes like switching from D&D 4 to Pathfinder, we begin the next chapter in the tale of my custom made fantasy world as it deals with the aftermath of the first campaign. We've only done the first session thus-far, but it went incredibly well, and it was great to see old characters brought back and new characters thrown into the mix.

The Near and Present Future:

My GM itch is getting to me, and my mind has been running with ideas. I feel like I'm almost ready to try my hand at running something online again, hopefully with more success than I had previously. What will it be? Who knows! Part of me has really gotten back into Vampire the Masquerade, so that's an option, and I'm always up for Marvel Heroic. *Shrugs!*

So, that's my gaming update! Hope you enjoyed it. If not, here's a funny picture.