RPGaDay August 29

You can game anywhere on earth, where would you choose?

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgI’ve had to break the answers to this question down by type of game, because of course the RPG makes a difference.

Fantasy (D&D, Pathfinder) – I’d pick any of the dozens of still standing castles throughout Scotland or Wales. I’d prefer something on the coast, in a room with a great view out over the ocean. Transform that room to double as a fantasy-medieval tavern, because every great adventure starts in the tavern! Big wooden tables, torchlight, fire roaring away in the hearth! And the beautiful Scottish or Welsh countryside and seaside to complete the feel.

Call of Cthulhu – If we’re going for classic 1930’s CoC, then I want to set-up camp next to the pyramids in Egypt in a style as authentic to a Dirty Thirties archaeological dig as possible. Or, since I know Egypt is rightfully protective of their heritage sites, I’d want a run-down old house somewhere in New England, preferably overlooking the ocean. Of course it would need to be in a sleepy, seemingly quiet New England village, so I could stash clues all over and make the Investigators have to poke around and, you know, investigate.

Shadowrun – Tokyo, in a glass-walled boardroom overlooking the centre of the city. Some might say it should be Seattle, but I think Tokyo already embodies what many imagine as a typical Shadowrun city. This would also work for Feng Shui, of course, although we could also reset to Hong Kong.

Post-Apocalyptic – I’m thinking games like Gamma World and the like. I’d want to pick one of the large-scale abandoned places, like an abandoned amusement park, or the massive airplane graveyard outside Tucson.

Now, it can be difficult to travel to all these places, not to mention getting your gaming group there as well. So I’ve also though about what I’d do with a chunk of property to turn it into a super-cool gaming location. But I think this might fall under a future RPGaDay category so I’ll leave it for now.

I’ve definitely left some games off this list, so what would be your choice of game/dream location? Let me know in the comments.

RPGaDay August 20

Most challenging but rewarding system you have learned?

I’ve had systems which challenged me in different ways. When I was ten-years-old and just diving in to this crazy hobby, “getting” Basic D&D was a bit of a challenge. I didn’t understand hit points for the first few sessions I played, and therefore didn’t realize why my characters were dying. Don’t even get me started on THAC0! When I finally understood how the game worked, that was also when I felt ready to be a Dungeon Master.

For the first several years of my gaming life I only played D&D, and I thought all RPGs were like that. So when I looked at stuff like GURPS or Call of Cthulhu for the first time, I was blown away. That became another learning curve, and expanded my “gamer mind”.

Most recently I’ve been challenged by pure storytelling games. Having played games where the rewards come from the story for so long, it is a big shift getting used to games where the story is the reward. But I’m enjoying the perspective change, and the ideas it gives me for integrating more immediate rewards for story into my current campaigns. I’m still not fully comfortable out there in pure story territory, I’m always going to want some crunch.

What’s you’re most rewarding system? Let me know in the comments.

#RPGaDay, Day 20: Favourite Horror RPG

Call_of_Cthulhu_RPG_1st_ed_1981I mentioned in an earlier RPGaDay post that I’m currently diving deep in to Trail of Cthulhu. But before that I was head over heals for the Call of Cthulhu game, going all the way back to the first box set. I loved playing it almost as much as I enjoyed running it. The issue was finding people to play it with me. Growing up in Fort McMurray the player pool was already small, and the cross-section of that pool who also loved horror RPGs was not overflowing. Add to that the persistent issue that it is hard to run a long-lasting CoC campaign due to player mortality/insanity, and most folks, even the ones who loved the game, would often opt to play something else. I still managed to sneak in the occasional Halloween or Friday the 13th one-off, but the game mostly gathered dust on my shelf.

Another persistent issue with Call of Cthulhu, and why it isn’t sitting squarely atop my favourite list, was the investigative aspect of the game. Don’t get me wrong, I love games where I have to puzzle things out, especially when the mechanics of the game support that. But CoC, like many games of the time, was a straight ahead dice roller: you have a stat represented as a percentile, you roll percentile dice to see if you succeed, and only if you succeed do you get anywhere. If you don’t succeed (because random dice are random) everything stalls, and either the players have to figure out some other more circuitous avenue or the game master has to just give them the clue. Neither solution is particularly satisfying.

Enter Trail of Cthulhu. As you would expect from a game which uses a system called GUMSHOE, 200px-TrailofCthulhucoverToC handles clues and clue-finding a little differently. It starts with the premise that, as the characters are investigators of one stripe or another, they will find clues. Finding clues, after all, is not the real important part. Understanding a clue, that’s where the metal hits the bone. So in ToC you will almost always find clues if you are looking for them, and if you as the player can figure out what they mean you’re golden. If you can’t, though, your character can then choose to spend points from an appropriate skill to determine what the clue means, or if there is any extra knowledge to be gleaned from a clue you already understand. The upside is, no more stalled investigations. Your players will always have a way forward, and if they spend their point pools wisely, may gain information which gives them an advantage.

And having solved that issue, Trail of Cthulhu bumps out Call of Cthulhu as my favourite. All of that delicious, madness-inducing Cthulhu Mythos, with a mechanic which lets the players get to the meat quicker? Yes, please!

What’s your favourite horror RPG? Comment and let’s discuss.

RPGaDay #28: Scariest Game You’ve Played

The scariest game I’ve played, and I’m sad it hasn’t been topped since, is the first time I played Call of Cthulhu. I’d read H.P. Lovecraft and stories inspired by him for years, and I picked up the first edition of the game when it came out. But I didn’t have a chance to play it until my buddy Grant decided to run a campaign. Grant was a big believer in reality in his non-fantasy role-playing games. For him, and specifically with CoC, that meant we weren’t going to get away with things just because we were the hero. The dice fell where they fell, and if that meant we went insane twenty minutes into the game, so be it. Roll up a new character.

Grant ran us through a modified version of one of the intro adventures, and it was horrifying from the start. We began by answering a summons to an old friend’s hospital room, where he imparted a dark secret to us. Then he died, but not before expelling a fleshy, blood-soaked bezoar right on…me. First Sanity Check of the evening, but definitely not the last. We encountered forbidden books, the walking dead, and unnatural creatures from beyond. I actually managed to hold my sanity through multiple sessions, even as it was slowly chipped away by our ‘adventures’. When my poor antiquarian finally broke, he attacked, armed only with a cricket bat and his firm belief he was the Archangel Michael, some horrible beast of negotiable geometry. It was a good death, as Call of Cthulhu deaths go.

What made these sessions so scary? Partly it was Grant’s deadpan delivery, which somehow made the horrid things he described even more terrible. Play time was definitely part of it. Because of our various work schedules our games usually started at 10pm and ran until the wee hours. So we, like our characters, rarely saw the sun and were so very tired. But mostly we were just invested. It was the first campaign where no one tried to make it funny or silly. We bought into the world from the first game and never looked back. The importance of that is something I carried with me into my future gaming groups.

What was your scariest game? Drop it in the comments!