Saturday, August 15, 2015

Firefly Redux

The title of this post might not make much sense since I haven't really posted about the Firefly RPG before.  Well, that's not because I haven't played it, I just never got around to posting about it.  Sometimes it sucks being really busy because there's always something you don't have time for.  I have a lot of hobbies so there's already too much competition there, and when it comes to RPGs I'd rather my blog suffer as opposed to my play time or GM prep time.

But I digress.  I first ran a couple of Firefly sessions when the book first came out.  I'm just now getting to running a second mini-campaign.  One of my players recently posted about it here.  We actually talked about the very topic of his post after playing through our second session (after finishing up "Thieves in Heaven" from Things Don't Go Smooth).  It was a really interesting discussion, so I figured I'd throw in my two cents regarding that topic, and some other general thoughts.

A huge thing that Firefly players should keep in mind is that Complications shouldn't be scary.  The characters don't want to deal with Complications, but the players should have fun with them.  Complications are a major design goal of the system, which is meant to emulate an episode of the TV show.  Shit goes wrong from the crew of Serenity all the time, and that's part of what makes it interesting to watch.

When you think about it, it's really not all that different from most RPGs.  On the one hand players generally try to avoid bad stuff happening to their character, but on the other hand the game would be really boring if nothing bad ever happened.  Firefly is just really up front about it, and gives players a lot of narrative control outside of simply roleplaying their character.  It's a trend in modern RPGs to give players more narrative power, but it isn't always so blatant.

A Firefly player shouldn't think of Plot Points as having net zero effect when you earn one to roll a jinx just to have to spend one to later to step it down when the GM rolls an Opportunity.  A player will earn a Plot Point for every Complication the GM buys, but shouldn't feel the need to buy every Opportunity that the GM rolls.  The game has more drama if some of those Complications stick around, but that's not to say that Opportunities are useless, either.  They should be bought when there's a Complication with a high die value that risks forcing a PC to be Taken Out, or when the Complication is especially tough to deal with (whether it affects a lot of actions, has the potential to stick around, or will require a Recovery Roll using a skill nobody is great at).

In other words, with regard to rolling 1's the PCs should be getting a net positive amount of Plot Points.  Characters are hindered in some way now with the possibility of being more awesome in the future.  It's up to the player to decide when the best time for their character to shine is, making concessions to earn Plot Points which they can use at critical moments.  Big Damn Heroes will stumble and fall, but they'll get back up, too.

The same principle applies to Distinctions as well.  The Plot Point economy assumes you'll step your Distinctions down to a d4 to earn Plot Points early on in the episode when the stakes are lower, so you'll have a big pool of them to work with when the stakes are higher.

That said, I understand where my player is coming from regarding Complications being generated by "positive dice."  It's a little jarring in particular because we play a lot of FFG's Star Wars, where Threat and Despair (the best analogue to Firefly's Complications) are possible results on the negative dice.  But in Firefly it makes a little less sense to do things that way.  You could theoretically house rule that Complications are generated when the opposing dice pool rolls 1's, but that makes even less sense to me personally.  First of all, they're often opposed rolls so why should things get tougher for you when your enemy rolls especially low?  Second, it creates a disconnect when you want the GM to roll low, but not too low.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the way GM dice pools are built the PCs often have the advantage of a bigger dice pool.  In that way Complications are an interesting pacing tool because a bigger dice pool means players will have a greater chance of success (in other words, it's less challenging).  But if you're awesome at something you generally want to showcase that by overcoming more challenging obstacles.  Complications let that happen naturally, without the GM having to tinker with the difficulty of NPCs and scenarios.  Later on you're going to have to face a bigger GM dice pool, and in some cases it might make narrative sense that showing off your prowess might attract more trouble than you'd have otherwise.  What's a better story, shooting the bandit trying to get away with your hard earned cash, or limping forward on your sprained ankle, coughing as you try to see through the cloud of steam you just vented out when you shot that pipe, and still managing to make the shot?  And even if you don't buy the argument that more drama and challenge makes for a better game (maybe you're a power gamer?), there's still the fact that from a pure mechanical standpoint rolling 1's is good for your Plot Point economy.  Most players should find Plot Points more valuable than Complications are detrimental, so increasing your chances of rolling a 1 (by virtue of a larger dice pool) can be thought of as a good thing.

Maybe Obi Wan was right about that "certain point of view" crap.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Roll Under/Over Micro Systems

We recently had a session where one player didn't show up for an Edge of the Empire game, and the previous session had ended on an important scene right before a combat encounter.  So the GM surprised us by showing up, tossing some gum on the table, and announcing that we'd be playing a quick one-shot of a game called All Outta Bubblegum (a quick search couldn't locate the rules, but follow the link to a relevant blog post).  This turned out to only last about an hour and a half, leaving us time to test out another simple game I'd been interested in, Lasers and Feelings.

Both of these are extremely simple RPG systems less than a page in length.  Both have a binary mechanic where you roll a single die and in certain situations you want to roll over a certain number, whereas in others you want to roll under.  In All Outta Bubblegum that number changes over the course of the session creating an interesting pacing mechanism.  In Lasers and Feelings it stays the same, defining your main "stat."

All Outta Bubblegum starts you with 8 pieces of gum and you roll under (on a d10) to do something mundane, roll over to do something kickass.  You can spend a piece of gum for an autosuccess.  Once you're out of gum you can only succeed at kickass tasks.  Check out the blog post linked above for the nuance this provides.  We didn't really see that in play, but we did emphasize the resource-management aspect of it, and the game did tend toward an arc that made it easier and easier to be kickass.  There was an interesting meta-game wherein you try to make sure you have some pieces of gum left at the end just in case, but you still want it to be relatively easy to kickass.  It creates a tension unique to this system, and it was an interesting change of pace.  If you're intrigued, I'd suggest playing it as a beer-and-pretzels game.  Yeah, I know I didn't link the rules, but based on my experience that blog post is really all you need to play.  There's also an episode of the One Shot Podcast (episodes 20-21) that inspired my GM to choose this system (I also listen to this podcast, but I haven't personally listened to that episode).

Lasers and Feelings has one mechanical stat for each PC, which is their number.  The number ranges from 2-5, with 2 being slanted heavily towards "Feelings" and 5 being slanted heavily towards "Lasers."  3 and 4 are for more balanced PCs.  Basically, if an action falls under the broad category of Feelings then you want to roll over your number on a d6.  If Lasers is more appropriate to the action, you want to roll under your number.  You can get more dice by being prepared, being an expert, or having someone assist you.  If your exact number is rolled then you have Laser-Feelings, which doesn't count as a success but does allow you to ask a question about the situation to gain some more insight.  Since you'll often be rolling multiple dice you can also get multiple successes (1 success has complications, 2 is great, and 3 is a critical success).  For our session we played a Futurama game, where I played Professor Farnsworth (number 5), and the other two PCs were Dr. Zoidberg (number 3) and Fry (number 2).  The system supported that setting thematically, and resulted in a lot of slapstick, ridiculous humor.  We ended up shrinking Fry down to enter the bottom end of Kiff's digestive tract where he battled worms who were trying to mind control Kiff into destroying the Professor's latest doomsday device, destroying the quantum tunnel in the process.

Whereas All Outta Bubblegum's core mechanic created an interesting pacing and resource management meta-game, Lasers and Feelings offers a really simple but surprisingly flexible party-game that self-generates character development, more strongly emphasizing the "roll-playing" part of a Roll Playing Game.  All in all, both were interesting experiences.

In the back of my mind I'm often thinking about what would be a good RPG to play while backpacking (I have yet to actually play an RPG while backpacking, but it's still something I'd like to have in my back pocket).  Either of these would make strong candidates, and seem far more practical than any other alternative I've thought of so far.  Especially Lasers and Feelings, considering those mini D6s that are pretty easy to find, and weigh almost nothing...

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Brief Update

Yes, it's been a good long while since I've posted anything.  No, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth.  I haven't stopped playing/running tabletop RPGs either.  In fact, with 3 weekly games and an online PbP, I'd say I'm still going pretty strong.  But this combined with a more time-intensive job and various other hobbies means that the one aspect of gaming I've had to cut down on is writing about it and reading about it.  I really should try to at least get some short posts in every now and then, though.

I've been playing Star Wars Edge of the Empire a LOT lately.  I'm running a game that will probably start winding down here soon (most of the players have long since maxed out their build concepts), but despite the larger-than-I-prefer party it has a good outer rim feel to it.  It seems like every time the PCs make some progress some complications sends them off on a new adventure.  But it's getting time that I bring home their personal arcs and let them retire on some moisture farm on Tatooine.  They probably won't do that.  Tatooine hasn't been kind to them.  Kinder than Nar Shaddaa, though.

I've been having an absolute blast as a player in another Edge game playing a Gand findsman.  He hasn't acquired enough notoriety to earn the use of his real name, so like any humble Gand he refers to himself as Gand, in the third person.  But when two Gands talk to each other they can of course tell the difference between these (proper?) nouns.  Playing a subtle, non-Jedi Force Sensitive has been a lot of fun.  Gand has Foresee and Enhance, the two force powers that I see findsmen using to augment their bounty hunting ability (I'm staying away from Seek until Force and Destiny is officially released; of course this campaign will have ended by then).  This campaign has developed its own brand of slapstick humor as well, and hilarity ensued when two of the regular players couldn't make it to several sessions in a row, and we took a third on temporarily.  This turned the party into this:  Gand (Bounty Hunter: Survivalist, Force Sensitive Exile), Khan (Sullustan Bounty Hunter: Gadgeteer), and newcomer Mara (Bounty Hunter: Assassin).  And those sessions mostly entailed buying pants, bribing police chiefs with nerf steaks, and getting the autograph of Jorje Lu'cas, producer of the Star Wars holiday special (the reel was destroyed by Khan, but fortunately Gand has a pirated copy on his ship....which was stolen by his rival, whose kids were just murdered in the custody of an NPC companion of Gand's....Gand doesn't think he'll ever see his favorite movie again).   Go figure.

Finally, I just finished running my Saturday group through Tales from Wilderland, the first adventure compilation for The One Ring.  This system didn't click with my other group, but these guys had a great time with it.  I started them off with Kinstrife and Dark Tidings (I wasn't sure if it would be a two-shot test of the system or if we'd play longer, and that was my favorite adventure just from reading it).  Then we went back to Of Leaves and Stewed Hobbit, we skipped Don't Leave the Path (we were already on this side of Mirkwood) and Those Who Tarry No Longer (it's an interesting story but I'm skeptical of how it would play), and played the remaining adventures pretty much in order.  And the PCs (just three of them) survived (although poor Peter Lochlan, formerly bland Hobbit, went back to the Shire with four permanent shadow points and flaws).

The One Ring was the first non-D&D system I introduced to my gaming circle, and I suppose I didn't have enough experience with a variety of systems to make it work really well the first time several years ago.  The one group still doesn't like it despite being weaned off of Pathfinder by this point, but I'm glad I got this opportunity to actually run it well for a group of fairly new, narrative-focused gamers.  I was quite pleased with how the system ran when it was run and played well, and hopefully we'll play it again in the future.