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Favourite Revolutionary Game Mechanic

This: “Every moment of play, roll dice or say yes.”

I think that this phrase from Dogs In The Vineyard by Vincent Baker has more functional GM practice packed into its five words than almost any GM guide ever published for any game ever — which is probably why the adulterated version (“Say yes or roll the dice”) has appeared in many RPGs published since.

This is the phrase that tells the GM to be a fan of the players. This is the phrase that tells us that system matters. This is the phrase that tells us to play to find out what happens. This is the phrase that tells us to focus on what’s important and move the game forward. This is the phrase that fixed roleplaying.

/mic drop

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Favourite house rule

I’m going to have to recuse myself on this one, as I’m not sure I’ve played any game in recent memory that used any house rules I liked, much less house rules at all. The closest I can come is hacking bits from one game onto another, e.g., using Marvel Heroic initiative in Fate, or using Arcana Evolved Hero Points in straight 3e.

Honestly, extensive use of house rules often feels like a symptom of a larger problem to me.

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Perfect game for you

The obvious answer here is Burning Wheel. 😉

But if this is about ideals (like yesterday’s topic) then I’d say a game with:

* Rules that support its premise
* Rules I find enjoyable to use
* A rulebook that is well-edited and well-organized
* Pleasing and functional graphic design — it doesn’t need to be fancy, it needs to be good
* Useful tools for facilitating play, i.e. doesn’t always require intense prep, pre-play
* A GM role (I tend to like games with GM/player divides)
* Lots of player authority (I like to share the GM love around the table)
* Inspiring art
* An egalitarian ethos (i.e., no “we’re using ‘he’ for all pronouns because it’s grammatically correct” or other inane gender/racial bias stuff)
* PDF copy included with print price (ideally) 🙂

I think that’s about it. I reserve the right to add more tenets in the comments.

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Perfect Gaming Environment

I’ll confess that I don’t really know what this means; I assume it’s asking us to imagine an ideal situation and then describe it.

I suppose it goes without saying that the perfect gaming environment is one in which I feel comfortable and am gaming with people I like, playing a game I want to play.

Gravy would be: lack of ambient noise or competing chatter, suitable lighting, comfortable-but-functional seating (so folks aren’t falling asleep), readily available food and beverages that don’t get schmutz all over everything and aren’t totally unhealthy, a big table with room for everyone’s stuff, and clean bathroom facilities.

If this sounds like gaming at someone’s home, as opposed to a store or con locale, that’s no accident. I think being invited into someone’s home creates a feeling of trust, intimacy, and obligation of hospitality on the parts of the both the inviter and the invitees. So, you’re both allowed more emotional comfort, as well as obligated to not be a big jerk — you’re a guest here.

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Favourite RPG setting

I’m gonna cheat yet again and call this a tie between M.A.R. Barker’s Tékumel and Greg Stafford’s Glorantha. I’m all assuming that the topic addresses published RPG settings, and not setting types or home-brew settings.

I’m also sort of cheating because I have had very little actual play in these settings. I’ve played two sessions in Tékumel, one using Guradians of Order’s Tékumel: Empire of the the Petal Throne  RPG, and one using Barker’s home-brew rules as GM’ed by the excellent Victor Raymond. The only Glorantha proper session I’ve ever played was a fantastic HeroQuest event run by Ian Cooper at last year’s GenCon.

But! These settings have intrigued me since I was a wee lad. Both are so vividly realized and detailed, and both target various tastes of mine. In the case of Glorantha, it’s the Dark/Bronze Age Europe and western Asia feel, plus the rich mythology. In the case of Tékumel, it’s the heavy dose of India mixed with semi-classic-SF trappings — yet without feeling like a “kitchen sink” of swords and lasers and random stuff. Honestly, neither of these settings feel anything like others I’ve experienced.

And also, importantly, they feel organic — pure creations of their creators and the fandom they inspired. It could be my ignorance talking, but I don’t get the impression that any parts of these settings were created out of some business or marketing need. Maybe I’m a snob, but for me that makes them somehow “pure” or “genuine”; a product of the hobby, not the industry.

Runner-up for this category would be WotC’s Eberron. Yes, it’s sort the polar opposite of my winners above: a corporate artifact created out of a need to sell books. Despite that, I still think that Keith Baker managed to create one of the best D&D settings to yet see print, especially if we restrict ourselves to the original 3.5e setting book and ignore a lot of the supporting material that came later. I think it fits the D&D paradigm (especially the 3.5e paradigm) better than any other setting, and has lots of “situations pregnant with crisis” baked right in: the mystery of Cyre’s destruction, the status of the warforged, Five Nations politics, House politics, mysteries of Xen’Drik, etc. Sure, it has its issues (Xen’Drik-as-Africa and the tribal drow), but overall I think it’s pretty cool.

Big Wreck is my master now

A month or so ago a friend of mine sent along this video, with an appropriate “HOLY @#$%!” as commentary. I watched it once and kind of thought it was good, but didn’t think too much more about it.

Then when we were in Portland for another friend’s wedding, it seemed like every spare moment we’d be all like, “Dude, play that video again.” The more we watched it, the more floored we were.

Since then, I’ve been listening to their albums almost non-stop. For a while there, I had to listen to “I Digress”, “Diamonds”, “A Million Days”, and “Wolves”, in that order, before i could do anything else on my commute.

Big Wreck is fronted by Ian Thornley, a Canadian singer and guitarist. Apparently, they had some Top 40 hit back in the ’90s (“The Oaf”), but I’d never heard it before. They made two albums before breaking up, and then Ian Thornley recorded two solo albums under the moniker “Thornley” while signed to a label run by Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger. These albums were (IMO) utterly terrible but sold phenomenally in Canada, making Thornley a rock star there. I.e., Kroeger managed to “Nickelback” Thornley’s career.

Thankfully, Thornley came to his senses and realized that Kroger was forcing him to make shitty music — he posted some of his demos on MySpace to show people what he actually was starting with before Kroeger molded his songs into radio-friendly unit-shifters. He then re-formed Big Wreck and has since made two new albums.

Anyway, if you like vaguely Soundgarden-y, Zepplin-y guitar rock, you need to check these guys out. Thornley is a jaw-dropping guitarist, a great songwriter, and an impressive singer.

I realize that this is not hip or cool music; it’s not edgy or artsy, and it’s really freaking white. But dear god it totally nails almost everything I love in rock music. It’s heavy without being cartoony, virtuosity without wankery, and rocks without being rock cliche.

#bigwreck  

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Favourite Horror RPG

I’m going to go with Sorcerer by Ron Edwards.

This is a tough one, as I don’t think I play straight-up horror RPGs all that often, leaning toward urban fantasy and “heroic horror” genres like Buffy and Hellboy, And it’s weird to classify Sorcerer as “horror”, because it’s not horror in the classic RPG, “investigate/fight monsters” sense.

Still, Sorcerer is very much (maybe literally) about confronting inner demons (and outer demons, since summoning and handling them is the whole point). It’s about the price of power and the horrible things we’re willing to do in payment. So, it’s not oogy-boogy-spookum horror, but “Oh, my God, what have I done?” horror, which is a lot more appealing to me.

I’ve read the rulebook and the supplements a few times, but I’ve only played it once, a great session run by Ron as part of the Kickstarter for the annotated edition (thanks to MadJay Brown for inviting me). I’d love to play some more, much less get around to reading my annotated edition. This is a powerful game. It’s also an indie classic, one of the Great Games™ of our hobby, and I think everyone should at least read it (and its supplements), if not play it at least once.

Ref: http://adept-press.com/games-fantasy-horror/sorcerer/

A (distant) runner-up for this topic would be Call of Cthulhu d20. Yeah, I know, lame. Whatever. I honestly consider this a good d20 design, frankly an improvement over the original BRP version. I’ve had fun both playing and running it, and it always makes me sad that Chaosium did pretty much nothing to support it. It’s maybe the only stripped-down, low/no-power d20 design I’ve seen, and, for  a d20 game, it works pretty damn well.

David Bowie: “Outside” (1995)

“Outside” sees Bowie reunite with Brian Eno for his first “experimental” album since 1979’s “Lodger”. Also on hand are Bowie veterans Mike Garson, Carlos Alomar, and ’90s-partner-in-crime Reeves Gabrels, among others. This is Bowie’s longest studio album to date, clocking in at about 75 minutes. Recorded dialogue interspersed throughout tells the story of detective Nathan Adler as he investigates “art crime” at the end of the 20th century.

Having been underwhelmed by “Black Tie, White Noise”, I was pleasantly surprised by opening tracks like “Outside” and “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson”. This is definitely more challenging music than Bowie’s made in probably a decade, and the theatricality of it is reminiscent of “Diamond Dogs”.

That said, it also reminds me a bit of a similar project from 1993, Pete Townshend’s “Psychoderelict”, namely in that the concept sort of gets in the way of the music. I can help but wonder how much more enjoyable the album might have been if the dialogue had been removed and more focus put on the music.

Wikipedia notes that this album was entirely improvised, Bowie having started recording with no songs written prior. Honestly, I think it kind of shows; there are some good moments, but also some repetition and fairly static composition ticking along in time to what now sound to me like fairly dated drum loops. I was actually surprised to find out that it was Gabrels on guitar here, as his usual virtuosity and edgy harmonic sense seems largely absent.

I’ve listened to the album three or four times now, and honestly nothing past the first few tracks seems to stay with me. Still, it’s Bowie moving in a general direction that I like, so I happy to see where he goes next.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outside_%28David_Bowie_album%29

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David Bowie: “Outside” (1995)

“Outside” sees Bowie reunite with Brian Eno for his first “experimental” album since 1979’s “Lodger”. Also on hand are Bowie veterans Mike Garson, Carlos Alomar, and ’90s-partner-in-crime Reeves Gabrels, among others. This is Bowie’s longest studio album to date, clocking in at about 75 minutes. Recorded dialogue interspersed throughout tells the story of detective Nathan Adler as he investigates “art crime” at the end of the 20th century.

Having been underwhelmed by “Black Tie, White Noise”, I was pleasantly surprised by opening tracks like “Outside” and “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson”. This is definitely more challenging music than Bowie’s made in probably a decade, and the theatricality of it is reminiscent of “Diamond Dogs”.

That said, it also reminds me a bit of a similar project from 1993, Pete Townshend’s “Psychoderelict”, namely in that the concept sort of gets in the way of the music. I can help but wonder how much more enjoyable the album might have been if the dialogue had been removed and more focus put on the music.

Wikipedia notes that this album was entirely improvised, Bowie having started recording with no songs written prior. Honestly, I think it kind of shows; there are some good moments, but also some repetition and fairly static composition ticking along in time to what now sound to me like fairly dated drum loops. I was actually surprised to find out that it was Gabrels on guitar here, as his usual virtuosity and edgy harmonic sense seems largely absent.

I’ve listened to the album three or four times now, and honestly nothing past the first few tracks seems to stay with me. Still, it’s Bowie moving in a general direction that I like, so I happy to see where he goes next.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outside_%28David_Bowie_album%29

#davidbowie