roleplaying games

New year, new games

It’s been harder and harder to put gaming content over here as I scheme and brainstorm for my position at Cannibal Halfling. That said, talking about my plans as a GM, as opposed to my hypothetical wisdom as a wonk, is both necessary to my process and occasionally illuminating.

I got a little money at Christmas, and I spent it all on role-playing games (yeah, I dare any of you to be surprised). Two titles are now in my hands, thanks to the wonders of Amazon. In addition to that, some of the electronic gaming I did over my vacation helped ground some of my GMing plans.

First, I bought Torchbearer, taking my own advice from planning my hex-crawling campaign. Now, on first read, Torchbearer, like Burning Wheel and to a degree even moreso, has strong baked-in setting assumptions that aren’t easy to change. That means that even as I bought it for my hypothetical hex-crawl setting, I see challenges. Rewriting the magic system to the more ethereal version I had outlined will be difficult without strongly affecting game balance. The assumptions about what and where settlements are in Torchbearer will need to be scrutinized to see if they can match the feel I’m looking for.

That all said…guh, I love this game. It’s not GURPS by any stretch of the imagination, but even so games like Torchbearer are where the term “crunchy” got its wings. While the rules are relatively simple, they are deliberate and significant. The lighting and encumbrance rules are inspired…and those mechanics are things that are intentionally ignored in most games. I still need to read the GM’s section of the book to get a feel for how I’d write a game, but understanding the turn structure and the phase structure makes me believe that other than the magic system everything would slot in fine. And as far as the magic system is concerned, the pared-down D&D-esque system used in the game is not offensive to my sensibilities, and could still fit into a game that has the right feel, if not exactly the same setting as I envisioned.

Second, I bought Victoriana, in part out of interest and in part out of a plan to use it for my in-person group. Steampunk is a setting I’ve always had interest in, but attempts to write something dating back to college have never quite panned out, in part due to not having enough material to pull from. Victoriana has a complete setting based on both fantasy elements and historical elements from the mid-19th century, and makes for a convincing Shadowrun 1856.

I’ve been interested in Victoriana ever since it showed up with the Fuzion rules in the early 2000s, and the new version has a system that, while the dice mechanics are completely different, still has some of the Hero System (merits/flaws) and Cyberpunk 2020 (skills) DNA left in it. Ultimately it’s a good thing Victoriana left Fuzion behind, but the legacy left in the game is a good one. Beyond the game itself, I started playing the original Dishonored, which immediately gave me some great flavor. Between that and our household’s viewing of Penny Dreadful, I have some neat ideas that should translate well.

Speaking of PC games, I played Deus Ex: Mankind Divided over my vacation. While the mechanical power level bump was fun, It was definitely not a step forward for the series, and probably could have been a Human Revolution DLC. At the steep discount I got it for these problems could be overlooked, but I feel bad for anyone who paid full price for it. Anyway. Like the previous games, the sense of style was fantastic. But here’s where this ties in: There’s a section in the middle of the game where Prague is on lockdown, but you still have to use the subways to get around. So, instead of the loading animation being Adam Jensen on the train, it’s Adam Jensen walking down the unused subway tunnel. In that walking loop (which due to my dogged insistence on not using an SSD I saw quite a lot of), you hear the leather of Adam’s coat flex, and he’s playing with his cyber-hands, with all the servos moving and making noise. Between that and the matte black/carbon fiber weave look of all the cybernetics, it hit me: *this* is what Mike Pondsmith meant by style over substance in Cyberpunk 2020. You may have a plot, you may have all the intrigue, but at the end of the day it is equally important to have a feel, and to know what things look like, sound like, and even smell like. So now, having some solid visions for what my new dark future looks like, I’ve gotten really excited to run The Sprawl again. Which is good, because I am still running that next, no matter what my ADD tells me.

I don’t know when I’m at bat again for running The Sprawl, but I hope it’s soon. Regardless of the timing, my plan is to write about it in depth…just not here. Seamus has used the Adventure Log format to write about his in-person game “Living on Borrowed Time”, and I plan to adopt the format for my campaign, using the dramatic nature of PbtA to keep the writing exciting. I’ll also keep an Obsidian Portal page up; my experience with Apocalypse World has helped me keep good habits for using Obsidian Portal’s tools, and tying it in with the blog posts should get some synergistic traffic to both sites. Hopefully in a few months I’ll be ready to go, but in the meanwhile I’ll have to see if I can get the in-person group wrangled for some Victoriana.

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