Sunday, February 9, 2014

Obscure Thinking

On February 6th, an old school fantasy gaming blog called 'Tomb of Tedankhamen' posted an interesting blog challenge for March, and a mildly infuriating lead in to it. Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm too dang sensitive. I apologize here for the mild nerd rage manifesting as barely veiled snark.

I'm doing my best here, OK?


The premise of this particular challenge is 'Obscure Game Blogging Challenge'. By 'Obscure Game' it would seem the author means 'Anything that isn't D&D'.

He begins by noting, "No doubt about it, D&D dominates the gaming scene old and new. That is not necessarily a bad thing, as D&D is a solid game (both in terms of system and genre) with an enormous fanbase. It serves as a ‘lingua franca’ for the gaming community, much as English serves as a global language for the world. As Nelson Mandela said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Make no wonder then that D&D has captured the hearts of so many for so long."

I don't know how to break it to him, English is:

A) Not the language with the most speakers. That is Mandarin Chinese.
B) Not the language spoken in the largest number of countries. That is Spanish.
B) Not the accepted diplomatic language. That is French.

English does have the second largest number of speakers worldwide after Chinese but it, like the countries that speak it, has something of an inflated ego.

So, IMO, does D&D.

Granted it was the first and yes, it does have the lion's share of participants and fans, far in excess of any other table top RPG I think it is fair to say, but it does not speak to my heart. Far from it.

Since March is going to be dedicated to my Muppets RPG, I thought I'd do what I've been doing lately with these types of things and answer it all in one post.

I'm crazy like that.

1 What was the first roleplaying game other than D&D you played? Was it before or after you had played D&D?

It was either Gangbusters or Boot Hill. I am not certain I remember which I tried first.

2 In what system was the first character you played in an RPG other than D&D? How was playing it different from playing a D&D character?
One of the above two. I remember the character and world made more sense to me. It was easier to imagine. I had seen dozens of cop and gangster movies and television show and untold number of Westerns.
3 Which game had the least or most enjoyable character generation?
Early on I really liked character generation in Villains & Vigilantes and Gamma World until I discovered games like Star Trek (FASA), Star Wars (West End Games D6) and others where you could pick the stats and/or skills you wanted. Random generation is OK but I know what I want to play.
4 What other roleplaying author besides Gygax impressed you with their writing?
5 What other old school game should have become as big as D&D but didn’t? Why do you think so?

Traveller. Traveller should have been to Science Fiction what D&D is to fantasy and in a
fashion it is. Unfortunately, it failed to embrace the changing market properly and got bogged down
in its complexity instead of playing up its flexibility.
6 What non-D&D monster do you think is as iconic as D&D ones like hook horrors or flumphs, and why do you think so?

No idea how to answer this question. What makes a flumph or hook horror iconic? They are
iconic to D&D  players but trust me, non-gamers have never heard of them. It's not like a
dragon, a unicorn or Pegasus.

What about the Rancor or a Tribble? I bet more people know what a Tribble is than a hook horror.
7 What fantasy RPG other than D&D have you enjoyed most? Why?

Probably Ars Magica. I don't like the fantasy genre very much but Ars Magica feels like everything D&D is missing. The setting feels right, the magic is both wondrous and versatile and the monsters are based on real world mythologies. Also, the system, while not perfect, is very interesting and easy to get accustomed to. Character creation is waaay more fun and interesting than D&D for me.
8 What spy RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.

Haven't played a lot of Spy RPGs but I really loved the James Bond 007 RPG from Victory Games. I wish I could tell you exactly why. It mostly boils down to them getting the feel of the movies and setting correct. Also, some great supplements.
9 What superhero RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?

I love Supers gaming and I have two main favorites, Champions 4th Edition and Mutants & Masterminds 3rd. I love them because they enable the players and myself to create exactly the character they want, allow for amazing diversity of character and scenario designs and are at the same time somewhat tactical, require the Player and PC to be smart, not just super.
10 What science fiction RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.

Where do I begin. Science Fiction is my favorite genre and I have a lot of favorites. I think my #1 top pick would be Traveller for that hard science/space opera feel, Star Trek (Last Unicorn Games and FASA) for the space exploration meets cinematic feel and Star Wars (WEG D6) for just being fast paced, easy and flat out fun.
11 What post-apocalyptic RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?

Not hugely into Post-Apocalypse games but I have had fun with Gamma World, the Japanese TRPG Crash World, The Morrow Project, Apocalypse World and even After The Bomb.
12 What humorous RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.

All of them. I mean, I love Toon, Teenagers From Outer Space, Hunter Planet, InSpectres, Men In Black, Tales from The Floating Vagabond, Red Dwarf and so many others. I love the ease of play, light on mechanics, heavy on theme. I love the generally upbeat nature of comedic games, even when they are dark comedies.

Did I mention I created a Muppets RPG? Because, yeah, Muppets RPG. Oh and Galaxy Quest. Yeah.
13 What horror RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?

Another genre I am not really big on but I would have to say either Call of Cthulhu, our homebrewed variant of Chill or our homebrewed variant of Stalking The Night Fantastic. Horror games require a big buy in and than being OK with dying easily. Most are not scary enough. They lose the horror part of Horror in favor of gore and shock. Not the same.
14 What historical or cultural RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.

Not sure my favorite but I enjoyed Bushido and Land of the Rising Sun (despite them being a bit too crunchy), Flashing Blades (same) and of course Boot Hill. Well, OK, our heavily modified, kitbashed and homebrewed Boot Hill. It rocked though for sure.

The questions keep ending with 'Give details'. I wish I could. I haven't played some of these games in a long time. Others I play so often I wouldn't know where to begin. If I had expanded this to the entire month that's probably when I'd be able to really think about more extensive answers.
15 What pseudo or alternate history RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?

Hmmm, what games actually qualify in this category? Castle Falkenstein? Space: 1889? Godlike? Heck, even Ars Magica sort of fits in here. Indeed, I love all the games I've just mentioned. I hope I get to run some of them again soon.

I will say that with alternate history games, I don't always use the provided setting but rather my take on the setting. Since these are games because on divergent paths of actual people and events, I  often find history books a better source of ideas than the games themselves.
16 Which RPG besides D&D has the best magic system? Give details.

Ars Magica. No question. Magic that can be cast on the fly, or with rote or spell, magic item design and research, Wizard Duels and a host of other rules and ideas that make playing a mage feel like you are doing and being something special.

D&D and its cousins have, IMHO, the worst and least interesting magic system in the history of gaming.
17 Which RPG has the best high tech rules? Why?

Depends on what you mean. Hero System/Champions has the most flexible, balanced and yet easy to screw with systems ever. Mekton is fantastic for more than just Giant Robots. It's good for Starships, space stations and vehicles as well. Traveller's Fire, Fusion and Steel was also quite awesome and perhaps the best for individual devices and personal weaponry.
18 What is the crunchiest RPG you have played? Was it enjoyable?

I don't like crunchy RPGs overly much and yet, I love Champions. Many people view Champions as very complex and certainly crunchy, but because most of the crunch is behind the scenes and not as in your face during play (at least the way we play it), I think I can accept the level of crunch that runs through it.
19 What is the fluffiest RPG you have played? Was it enjoyable?

Most 'fluffy' games are pretty enjoyable to me, though I'm always searching for that sweet spot between rules-lite and crunchy that will give me exactly what I've been looking for in a game. I find it easier to add a little to a fluffy game than take away a lot from a complicated one.
20 Which setting have you enjoyed most? Why?

Star Trek is probably my favorite established setting to game in, especially when focused on the era of the original television series. Next would be DC Comics of the Golden Age to right around Crisis On Infinite Earths.

I don't usually like the settings of games.

That is to say, as awesome as the Traveller canon milieu is, MY Traveller canon milieu is much cooler. I have recently read a number of posts in a number of places touting how cool Mekton's setting was. First, Mekton had a setting?! Then I thought about it and realized, oh yeah, it did have a setting of sorts in that 'Algol' thing. Yeah. Never used that in any way.

The default settings of 90-95% of all RPGs that aren't based on some known IP are, well, I'll just say it, they suck. Never use them and if I do it's with major modifications.
21 What is the narrowest genre RPG you have ever played? How was it?

Not sure how to answer this one. I mean, is Teenagers from Outer Space a narrow genre game? It focuses on a specific style of Japanese Anime and Manga comedy but, there are hundreds of those and they're very different in the details. Is Star Wars or Star Trek considered narrow because each only focuses on a single IP? Marvel Heroic? DC Adventures?

I really can't, or don't, think of any of these as narrow.
22 What is the most gonzo kitchen sink RPG you ever played? How was it?

D&D. It stinks.

But, if we are talking about non-D&D games, I'd have to say RIFTS and Torg, both of which I can't stand.

First and foremost I think both have really weird rules that, for very different reasons, make each game cumbersome, unnecessarily crunchy and no fun for me.

Second (and a very close second mind you), with exception of Superhero games, I really don't like kitchen sink games or settings that try to be everything. I find that they lack a cohesive feel, an easy and accessible theme that can help me see their worlds. When I try to imagine the world of RIFTS, all I imagine is a chaotic mess with no rhyme, reason or purpose.

But wait Adam, didn't you read the 100 pages of source material scattered across a dozen splatbooks so that you know what's going on? Why no, I didn't. I have no interest in doing that. Bugger off you wankers.
23 What is the most broken game that you tried and were unable to play?

So many really and still we gave them a try. Except F.A.T.A.L. After casually looking through it I laughed and never touched it again.

The most broken huh? World of Synnibarr?
24 What is the most broken game that you tried and loved to play, warts and all?

Fantasy Games Unlimited's Space Opera. I have no clear idea in my head how we played that game but we played the heck of it at one time.
25 Which game has the sleekest, most modern engine?

Hard to say. Marvel Heroic, while not really sleek, has a modern and workable system that is a lot of fun to play. I think the One Roll Engine of Godlike and Wild Talents perhaps. Great games.
26 What IP (=Intellectual Property, be it book, movie or comic) that doesn’t have an RPG deserves it? Why?

Probably Star Trek. There have been some great Star Trek RPGs over the years but the fact that there hasn't been an official one in a while really surprises me.

Other than that, Galaxy Quest. Seriously. If any company reads this and wants to make a Galaxy Quest game, drop me an email. I have it all worked out. It functions beautifully.
27 What RPG based on an IP did you enjoy most? Give details.

Really? Star Trek first and foremost.

After than, believe or not, Star Wars. I am a much bigger Star Trek fan than I am a Star Wars fan but WEG's D6 Star Wars game is a work of art. Pure genius. Hits the Simplicity vs. Detail sweet spot like few others.

And my Muppets game of course. I'm just saying.
28 What free RPG did you enjoy most? Give details.

Risus? I think I'd have to say Risus.

I found it so inspiring that I made it the basis of my Muppets RPG before refining and distancing the rules further and further as I went along. Still and all, I think much of my current views on game design, why we make things the way we do and what the point of it all is, has been heavily influenced by Risus.

Standing ovation to S. John Ross. *Applause*
29 What OSR product have you enjoyed most? Explain how.

I don't know if there is an OSR product I've enjoyed most. I have enjoyed the ones I have enjoyed all equally. And that equal amount is roughly between 'somewhat' and 'more than a bit'.
30 Which non-D&D supplemental product should everyone know about? Give details.

If you play Last Unicorn Games' Star Trek RPG, I can not recommend Steven Long's Spacedock supplement enough. It is, as it is billed, an Advanced Design and Construction Manual for starships, space stations and other large, space capable things in that game and in the Star Trek universe. A labor of love and a work a brilliance. It is also absolutely free. You rock Steven!

Mythic Europe and The Medieval Handbook (various editions) from Ars Magica are supplements I go back to again and again. If you are playing D&D they are probably not needed. If you are setting your medieval fantasy in an actually medieval world, read these books.

Aaron Allston's Strikeforce for Champions is a must have for anyone running a Superheroes RPG. It's a sourcebook and supplement and much, much more. What it is in short is a 'How To' book on running a Superhero campaign by someone who not only wrote for the Champions RPG, but who ran a successful Champions campaign and put down the hows and whys of his success in a guide even a veteran GM would find fascinating and useful. Highly, highly recommended.

31 What out-of-print RPG would you most like to see back in publication? Why?

So many. So, so, so many.

Hunter Planet is often my number one choice for 'Games That Didn't Get A Fair Shake'. I would love to not only see it back in print but I would love to do a new edition, with the creator's input and advice, that expanded and updated the theme a bit. Loved the idea for this game.

Let's see, what 'obscure' RPGs did I cover here? Hmmm...Star Trek, Star Wars, Traveller, Champions, Ars Magica,  Gamma World, Villains & Vigilantes, Mutants & Masterinds, DC Adventures, Mekton, Teenagers From Outer Space and Toon among others.

Yeah. Obscure games.

Barking Alien



  1. Judging by the blogs I read, the tendency to consider D&D the "alpha and omega" of RPGs seems more pronounced in the English-speaking world* (and that probably means mostly the US, but I'm not sure). In other countries, D&D was not necessarily the first game published or the most prevalent. In Spain, "old schoolers" are as likely to have started gaming with RuneQuest or MERP as they are with D&D (I started with Star Wars d6, and I got my first contact with D&D through the Baldur's Gate videogames years later). Vampire was HUGE, and Call of Cthulhu is one of the most popular games (but you could say the same for most of the world). Nobody would call those "obscure games". Right now, the publishing of Pathfinder in Spanish has been big news, but so do the translations of the latest editions of Ars Magica, Pendragon and RuneQuest. Nevertheless, we are also talking of a certain "Stacy Malibu effect": people will buy new versions of D&D even if the only come with a new hat.

    I'll say that there is probably an important group of players that only play D&D and know little else. I have come to that conclusion because you can sometimes see an amateur game anounced like if it was a great leap in roleplaying design... and it is if you only know D&D. If not, you'll recognize that the "innovative" concepts have been used for at least a couple of decades.

    *It seems the language parallelism is quite fitting, after all XD.

    PD: Formerly signing as "Valerius"

    1. Valerius! Wow, where've you been? I hardly recognized you, what with the name change and all.

      I like your analogies a lot. Guess you're 'speaking my language'. Wokka Wokka!

  2. Pretty sure English has the most speakers overall as many learn it as a 2nd language. Certainly more speakers worldwide than Mandarin Chinese last I checked.


  3. D&D is a game I only play when I really really want to play a game and no one will agree to anything better. And sometimes not even then. Because it's not even the best fantasy game.

    1. I agree. But it is the DEFAULT game.

      That is something I wish I could change. I really do. I wish there was more than one default game.

      Also, Science Fiction and Superheroes, which garner so much more at the box office and on TV, don't translate that success to the table top market. For me, someone who doesn't recall having that much fantasy exposure as a kid, that's always struck me as bizarre.

    2. D&D is the default game because everyone understands hit guys with swords or spells.

      Myself, I hate the game for all the plane-skipping and God-killing that goes on.

      Table top stuff works much better when everyone's not weak, but not too strong. Like, you can beat up the common person but if everyone in the town or station gets together, they can beat you up. It makes for situations that requires thinking not just straight punching. If you're going to just straight punch, play a video game. Table tops were made for thinking and talking to actual people.

      Too many of the box office superheroes punch or explode their way through challenges instead of think their way through to make for a good table top. The only good superhero table top I've ever seen is limited powers or powers that the villains out-think to make the players talk and use what they have creatively.

    3. I won't argue with you on any of these points, but I have had a very different experience with Superheroes.

      I usually prefer a power level akin to the classic Silver Age or Modern Age Justice League or Avengers. Even on that level, the best villains are smart villains and the best way to stop them is not with punches or zaps, but with creative use of your powers and a clever approach to the situation.

    4. I don't like Silver Age powers in a table top setting because Silver Age seems more to just catch a person's attention with time-travelling treadmills and super-knitting. If that was all the players had, it'd be fine but it's always just a detail to other ridiculously over-powered characters. I've never seen a DM manage to provice a good challenge in a superhero game because everyone's characters are practically gods.

    5. Again different experiences. And apparently different Silver Age titles. It seems like you're focusing on the most exaggerated elements and not the best ones for a continuing campaign. Again I would point to the Avengers but also the late Silver Age books of the late 70s and early 80s like Legion of Superheroes, the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans, The Claremont/Byrne X-Men and others.

      I myself have run a number of successful Superhero campaigns and Supers is the only genre I ever played in as a player where I thought the GM was absolutely amazing.

  4. Another pass for me - I just don't care much for most of these "answer 30 question" things. Plus this one sounds like it's coming from someone who's never played anything besides D&D and I don't know how you could have grown up in the 80's, 90's or today and have that narrow a perspective.

    Plus if I wanted to be snarky about that whole "dominates the scene" line - old, yes, new, well, according to numbers I keep hearing about, Pathfinder is the big deal now, not D&D. There isn't even a current version of D&D in print, officially.

    Number 4 bugs me too - I like E.G.G. quite a bit but the assumptions inherent in that question are massive and put me off of the whole thing.

    1. Agreed. I think Gary was a created fellow and he essentially invented or co-invented a pastime, but he never struck me as a great writer.

  5. Don't let Victory Games see you give the credit for James Bond 007 to Mayfair!

    1. Doh! That's right! Honestly, I make that mix up each and every time I talk about that game. Will fix it tonight.

      Thanks for the sharp eyes!

  6. Anything you would recommend for Traveller beyond the Core Rulebook? I have a birthday coming up and I figured I would pick it up.

    1. If we're talking classic Traveller I recommend the Alien Books, practically anything by Digest Group Publications (especially The World Builder's Handbook (which is really for MegaTraveller but its compatible) and the Journal of the Travellers Aid Society Magazine.

      Off the top of my head.

    2. Scouts was also good. For Robots I would actually search the internet for the MegaTraveller Robots book. A fan made product that is fantastic for robot design.

  7. I just the hardcover Traveller book, what's it called, that encompasses the first handful of books...never saw the need for anything else although I do like that patrons book, whatever it's called, for jumpstarting stories.