Friday, June 24, 2016

Early Thoughts - Gods of the Fall

With the newest Cypher System Setting (alliteration anyone?) finally available I've started (only started) to read the book and digest it. I know that as I read more my opinions will "mature" more in that they will be better informed by a clearer picture of the whole. Still having already had an early chance to play and having good footing with the rules I can start to form ideas and opinions as I begin to read.

Good Gods Y'all!

There's something to be said for the wide open character creation options. Some may bemoan detailed lists of abilities specific to each possible Domain. Instead GotF allows Domain choice to be wide open and players to skin and adapt their abilities from Tier and Focus to their Domain. In doing so the game comes out stronger, at least in my mind, for its lack of overwrought mechanical complexity and its breadth of possible Domains. It's entirely possible to pick Domains you'd never see if MCG had gone with specific Domain lists.  Gods of Bubblegum, Tacos, and Left Handedness, are absurd but entirely possible for a creative player. Likewise a player could choose to be God of Earthquakes instead of a more broad and generic God of Earth.

More than that though is the way that the Seven Prophecies allow for potential Gods to ride the spectrum from good and just gods of light to a bunch of vengeful a-holes. Six of the Seven Prophecies are arguably straight up good and hopeful, but the funny thing about prophecy is that it doesn't always capture the whole story. Slaves could be freed only to be recruited into a burgeoning God of War's army to help him conquer the world. Bringing love into the world may well mean breaking as many hearts as you bring together. And then there is the Prophecy of Ruin which is just a little darker in general. So feel free to be that mean hearted God if it suits you, there's room in the game for darkness and light.

Rife with Possibility, RIFE I tell you!

Seriously, there's a ton of detail here, but so much more freedom to fill around the edges, between the lines, and more. I already talked about how the system really lets players do whatever they want for godly domains, and how the Seven Prophecies also give the GM a ton of freedom to design their campaign. The setting itself has plenty of options. Consider the ultimate cause of the Fall: The Annihilation Seed. Found deep below the world this is written up with many options for its origin and source, and if the author gives you five options another few of your own certainly wouldn't hurt.

Or consider the map. There's a huge amount of empty space between cities and holds and the edges of the map are not the edges of the world. I'm considering having my heroes come from the west, beyond the map in those blasted lands west of Corso. This gives me the opportunity to introduce elements of my own  making while not requiring the players have a deep understanding of the setting right out of the gate.

It's Got Depth

Literally. When heaven fell and broke the world it revealed the Deeps, five catacomb like layers under the Afterworld. The Deeps strongly imply that all of this has happened before and will happen again (OMG it was the Cylons!) but more than that they inject a plausibility to having vast dungeons and cave systems that lots of other settings never really earn. The fact that they are alien and weird and that there may be clues to what caused the Fall in the first place down there just adds to their possibilities for story and game use.

The Deeps aren't all that exists beyond the Afterworld too. There's Nod, the moon sized world that bathes a great portion of the world in constant darkness. There's Soulrest where once the dead went to their eternal reward but now without a god of death souls are the playthings (or worse) or beasts like the Hellmaw, or free to return to the world and cause their own troubles. And then there are the countless worlds out in the Aether ...

What Discoveries are Yet to Come?

Unfortunately I've read little more than a dozen pages, and skimmed perhaps twice that; all combined that's less than 20% of the book. There's still tons of setting to uncover, a bestiary to read, and a proper read through of the Dominion version of the CSR's power shifts to digest. I can't wait to see what else awaits!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Nuts & Bolts #83 - Pros and Cons of House Rules

Rules. As an RPG player (which includes GMs) rules are as vital as air or water and as damnable as the worst pests. Rare is the player who doesn't have a rule they dislike in even their most favorite game, and that often results in house rules. What are the pros and cons of house rules? Is it all sunshine and roses, or are we losing something in the process?

Pro: Diff'rent Strokes
Maybe it's the fact that we all have different tastes, or maybe it's due to the fact that RPGs are games that encourage creative solutions. Regardless players and GMs alike often find cause to create house rules for their games to suit their taste. If you think that rule for stun is too punishing and can really make combat un-fun you can tweak the stun condition to be less severe, or maybe tweak the rules around it so that a stun is harder to "earn." 

This is house ruling for personal taste, and it is a huge pro in favor of house rules. RPGs are a game to be enjoyed by everybody at the table after all, and what better reason to change rules than to help ensure everybody has fun?For a hobby about having fun, being able to control your enjoyment (and that of your fellow players) is pretty important. Playing with an RPG you customized also means you probably can work the rules into play more seamlessly. 

Con: Losing the Intent 
To loosely paraphrase Jurassic Park, "Just because you can make a house rule doesn't mean you should." Games are designed by people. People who have to choose how the rules inform and influence the gameplay. An RPG where social interaction is prized above violence will have rules to support those interactions and downplay violence (or possibly to make violence so hazardous that avoiding it is as wise in game as it is in real life). Understanding the designer's intent can be helpful for understanding the game's tone and feel and how the rules inform that. 

It's important to understand how a game's rules as designed influence how it plays. Look at the way combat lethality can impact the length of encounters, look at the way higher level play impacts the capability of the players to impact the world around them. If you don't pay attention to the design intent when you house rule you may find the feel of the game changing. 

Pro: Experience by Design
Picking apart and rebuilding rules gives you experience with how those rules work, how they are built and how to build new rules. For GMs this helps with encounter design, by helping us understand all the moving parts involved in a game. For others house rules can sometimes even lead to people designing their own games. Heck, the hobby exists because Gygax house ruled his historical miniatures games into an entirely new genre! That's not to say that a few house rules makes you a game designer. There's more to game design that tweaking what has come before, and innovation often requires a blank slate. 

Con: Losing Sight of the Past
Where Gygax had to build the rules that would define a hobby from nothing today we are anything but starved for choice. There's so many RPGs out there that it seems like you can probably find one that fits your taste perfectly, but that hardly stops us from tweaking and changing, fiddling, and creating our own new rules. I've even seen discussion where people talk about house rules without even having played the game as is. 

Forty years later we have an entire genre of RPGs that are looking back at the games of the past. The OSR game community is looking at what we've evolved away from and finding that while we may have come a long way in the right direction in some respects (ascending armor class anyone?) but they are also finding that we've lost something along the way. Sometimes new rules help a game, or all games, evolve, but sometimes you lose something that you'll miss one day. 

Pro: Dial "G" for Gritty
What about when you like the mechanics of a game system, but want to change the tone? I mentioned above that rules inform the gameplay. Sometimes the intent behind a house rule is to change that gameplay to change the tone of a game. Not all superhero games are the same for instance. What works for the high power "Silver Age" of comics doesn't fit the dark and brooding "Iron Age" of the late 80s. House rules to change the tone often involve minor tweaks to character capability and/or the combat experience (let's face it, combat/conflict rules are like 90% of most RPG systems). Being able to dial the tone 

Con: Horses Don't Push Carts Very Well
The urge to create house rules can come quick for some. Quick enough that I've seen people discussing changing the rules to a game before they'd even played it once as written. Maybe this is more of an opinion than a hard and fast rule, but I think you can jump the gun on house rules. It's important to play the rules as written before you start changing things. This helps you to understand all the interlocking parts. RPGs are complex things and if you intend to start modifying parts of them it stands to reason you will have a solid understanding how the work. I'm not saying that it's impossible to predict how the rules will play without playing them, but I do think there is value in giving a game its due before taking a scalpel to it. 

All of this brings me to the question: is there value in the house rules? Yes, of course. The catch is that you need to be aware of everything that a house rule will do to your games. There's certainly a lot to be gained, and maybe even more to be gained than lost, but all of this requires some thought and understanding. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Story Seed - The World at Dusk

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The radiator ticked behind me, cooling in the ocean breeze. It wouldn't run again. I'd failed to find oil enough to keep it from seizing and now the van that had been my home since the end began was dead. I stood looking out over the Pacific, the water was as blue as it had been in my dreams, as blue as the sky overhead. The whole vista played like my dreams, silent and still. The only other sound was the barely audible lapping of waves on the shore. Nothing else invaded this moment.

I leaned back against the van, the ticking of the engine was already slowing, as the vehicle, as Betsy, ceased to be more than the sum of its parts. I wondered again, not for the first time, how it had all come to this. Was I truly the last living human? I'd seen precious little evidence of other survivors since I fled the self destructive violence of New York on my little Vespa.

That Vespa had gotten me all the way to Illinois before crapping out on me, but in the ruined silence of some suburb of Chicago I'd found Betsy. Her keys were still in the ignition and her tank had been full. It was like she was inviting me in. In those days I'd wandered back roads and scavenged for food and supplies daily, living at most with a day or two ahead of me.

Once I found an entire mini-mart that had not been vandalized. I felt terrible that I was the one to breach its locks and pillage the contents, but it was that or go without food for a third day in a row. Guilt loses to an empty stomach every time I learned. Eventually, after I don't even know how many months zigzagging throughout central states I decided that I wanted to see the Pacific again before I too died of whatever contagion had gotten the rest of us.

Here I stand at the end of the world. It's been a year. Two, maybe? Since it all started. Since people began to simply die for no reason, in numbers that could not be ignored or covered up. I haven't see a living soul in at least half that time, and no sign that maybe there were some I didn't see in almost as long.

The world has grown quiet as humanity dies. I don't know if it is out of respect, or anticipation. The sun over the water is as beautiful as I remember from my childhood. It's been twenty years since I saw it last and I was only eight at the time. I smile, I always knew I'd see it again before I died. I slide my back down the side of the van and sit on the ground. I'm tired, but happy, and even though I need to close my eyes I just want to watch the sun set. On the world, on humanity.

On me.