Split Personality Disorder, Part 3

I’ve set up shop at unpossiblelabs.tumblr.com. Basically I’m pulling all of my gaming-related stuff under the Unpossible Labs umbrella:

When will the madness end?

Summer is for Trying New Games

My little gaming group has tried Spirit of the Century and Apocalypse World in recent weeks. Spirit of the Century is a clever, fun game, but I couldn’t get into it because 1920s/30s pulp just doesn’t do it for me. For whatever reasons, I’m not drawn to the setting. Apocalypse World is an astounding game because of how it focuses on story and interpersonal relationships. It’s also difficult to build a campaign around precisely because it’s so story-driven. So we’ll probably wind down AW after a couple more sessions.

That doesn’t mean either game was a waste of time. Far from it. Spirit of the Century has one of the best sections on gamemastering of any RPG I’ve come across. It’s fantastic material for any GM, and I highly recommend it. The FATE mechanics also provide some interesting food for thought, particularly as to how player characters can be built in a way that naturally reinforces their in-game cooperation. Apocalypse World taught me a few tricks about managing threats to player characters. The whole concept of a Front is something I’m going to use in other games.

As we start moving into fall and winter, we’ll be settling into campaign mode again. There will be fewer vacations and other disruptions once summer disappears, and something about the colder weather makes the idea of a more solid, consistent game appealing. I’ll start up my Eclipse Phase campaign again, and we’ll also get Dungeon World going. After a while it looks like Matt will fire up a One Roll Engine game set in the Ars Magica world.

Rotating through these games as we move into winter should be a blast, even more so because we experimented this summer. I feel like I’ll be a better GM for having run a few sessions of Spirit of the Century and Apocalypse World.

Form-Fillable Eclipse Phase Character Sheet

I finally got this one dialed in and ready to go. It’s a landscape oriented, two-page form-fillable PDF. Say that ten times fast.

You can snag it at Unpossible Labs and it is, of course, free.

Overheard At A Coffee Shop This Morning

  • Guy #1: So are you getting a tattoo or are you going to be chickening out and staying with the normals?
  • Guy #2: I was thinking about it and decided not to since I didn't want to fall in with the normals.
  • Guy #1: You just chickensh!t that's all you are. Afraid to get something and staying with the conformed.
  • Guy #2: I was thinking about it and thought that if I got a tattoo I'd just be conforming and a part of the normal now. You have a tattoo, those two over there have tats, and she does as well... just about 90% people in this place have tats on display. So, I figured If I don't get tat and piercings I won't be conforming to the norm... so whose the one that's conformed now?
  • --
  • Love this. Here's the thing: If you think getting inked, or dressing a certain way, or getting your hair cut a certain way makes you superior in some way, consider the number of great thinkers and subversives who have changed the world even though they looked just like everyone else. Appearance has nothing to do with anything but fashion. If you want to be radical, change your inner self and make things happen.

Yambo Ouologuem


Reporter: “Are Africans fundamentally more violent than the rest of the world?”

Ouologuem: “I would like to think that Africa excels in everything. But, unfortunately, after the Hundred Years War, Stalin, the Inquisition, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, et cetera, I am afraid that we poor Blacks, we underdeveloped Africans, lag behind the rest of the world.”

Pure win.

(via crimsondude-deactivated20140404)

Time is What Limits the Popularity of Tabletop RPG

It’s hard enough keeping walls around Friday night, which is game night for me. As a game master I need to spend additional time during the week prepping. When life gets unruly, as it has for me of late, there is no time for prep. I’m in that situation this week; because I’ve not been able to prep, there will be no Eclipse Phase on Friday.

That’s no big deal, because we’ll likely be playing Burning Wheel instead, and the guy who runs the game is a fantastic GM. I am excited to be at the table as a player. But I am dispirited by the fact that I’m not going to be able to run Eclipse Phase. Why? Because I am invested in the game.

I have devoted hours and hours to reading the game books, absorbing the rules, learning as much as possible about the game world, mapping out scenario concepts, creating NPCs, and so on. Time is my most precious commodity, and I don’t want it to go to waste. I also don’t want to pass up the opportunity to turn all of that effort into something wonderful, something unique and enjoyable for me and my friends.

This is not a new phenomenon for me. Ever since I graduated from high school I’ve had that feeling as a game master. I love running games. I want to facilitate marvelous, immersive, awesome game sessions. Yet for every hour of time at the table with the other players, I’m spending another hour in one form of preparation or another. 

One could argue that I just need to get more efficient at prepping. That’s a fair point; I’ll be the first person to agree that I could use improvement. Still, with most games you still need to devote a fairly sizable chunk of time to prep, no matter how good you are at it. 

The conclusion I reach is that time, in particular the time the GM must spend prepping for a game, is the largest obstacle to the growth of the tabletop RPG hobby. The game master is the lynch pin; without that person, there is no gaming group, no reason to buy game books (other than to read and collect without playing, and I suspect a fairly large percentage of RPG consumers do this).

There are a host of indie games that make it easier for a GM to throw together a quick game session. But regardless of the mechanics, to create the kind of immersive game that gives players that special feeling of engagement that only an excellent roleplaying campaign can provide, the GM has to put the time in up front. Still, some systems definitely make prep more difficult.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the opaque and arcane rules system of D&D is one of the single biggest obstacles to growing the hobby. I am not bashing D&D. It’s what got me into tabletop RPG, and I understand that for many gamers it is the game that fits their needs best. But to newcomers, D&D presents a barrier to entry. A non-gamer walks into a game store, sees the dozens of thick D&D books, and thinks, “My gawd, this is going to take me ages to comprehend.”

Sure, there are many preferable alternatives one could throw at a newcomer. Call them gentle introductions: Basic Roleplaying springs to mind as a good example. But everyone knows that D&D is the tabletop RPG. Ask a non-gamer to name a tabletop RPG, and you’d likely draw a blank. Then ask them if they’ve heard of D&D. To non-gamers, D&D is tabletop roleplaying.

It is my belief that as long as D&D is the game by which tabletop roleplaying is judged by the outside world, it will always remain a niche pursuit. It simply requires a time investment that is too great for all but the most devoted; even people who buy the books and want desperately to play more frequently are constrained by the amount of time it takes to prepare for a session.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. The death of the tabletop RPG has been announced several times in the nearly three decades that I’ve been playing. Yet here I am still playing most Friday nights, with a small but happy crew of like-minded gamers. Perhaps tabletop RPGs will always be tottering on the precipice, and GMs will always wish they had more time to prepare.

Last July I toured the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation, which is this incredible armor (tank) museum tucked away in the hills above Silicon Valley. They have dozens and dozens of tanks restored and presented in three massive warehouse buildings. I’ve been too lazy to title most of the 80 shots I took, but if you’re into tanks, you’ll be able to identify most of them.

Last July I toured the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation, which is this incredible armor (tank) museum tucked away in the hills above Silicon Valley. They have dozens and dozens of tanks restored and presented in three massive warehouse buildings. I’ve been too lazy to title most of the 80 shots I took, but if you’re into tanks, you’ll be able to identify most of them.

"Brigitte Bardot is the assassin!"

Several days ago I sent a teaser to my players to get them curious about our Friday night Eclipse Phase session. But by the time the end of the week rolled around, the three of us were all pretty wiped out from work and various other things. We eased our way into the game session, all of us suspecting that we might not be able to finish the brief adventure I’d planned.

As fate would have it, we managed to pull off a fantastic game session. Our two intrepid heroes were tasked by Firewall with stopping an assassination at the exclusive orbital hab of an absurdly wealthy playboy who also led a double life as a strong supporter of Firewall. Derivative, I know. But if it works, it works.

The gazillionaire, a man by the name of Sharpan Wisla, was famous for his exclusive parties, to which only the cream of the inner system could ever hope to attend. The people who show up at Wisla parties are hypercorp executives, famous artists and actors, powerful politicians, and so on. The theme of this party was 1950s entertainers, the idea being that each attendee would have to obtain a morph of a famous screen actor, musician, dancer, or comedian from that era, and impersonate him or her for as long as possible.

Firewall had strong reason to believe that one of the guests would be out to kill Wisla. Killing him would not do any meaningful long-term harm to him as a person, but it would affect his influence. If he were killed, particularly during an exclusive event such as this, it would make it more difficult for him in the future to mix and mingle with the elites, and carry out his secret agenda of maneuvering the wealthy and powerful into assisting Firewall without knowing they were doing so.

Wisla’s security team was suspect, so the player characters had to go in alone. Another odd twist: the premise of the party was strictly enforced. No mesh access or other information transmission beyond good old fashioned human interaction would be allowed. The security system inside the hab monitored this continuously, and anyone disobeying would be bounced out of the party.

Furthermore, Wisla did not want the party disrupted. He did not want to know who his Firewall protectors would be. Part of the fun of the party lay in not knowing who was who, so while Wisla had a guest list, he did not know how each guest would be morphed. 

The players chose to show up as Steve Reeves (the muscle man who played Hercules), and Jimmy Stewart. The adventure was a fascinating mix of the players attempting to suss out the motivations of the characters they encountered as they chatted with a host of alter egos ranging from Frank Sinatra to Sophia Loren and James Dean to Kim Novak. We had a lot of fun with it, and as you might expect in a party of high rollers, there was a fair amount of debauchery.

The whole while, the players were narrowing their suspect list down. It looked for a while like the Indian actress Nutan was the assassin, but at a critical moment, Brigitte Bardot pulled a straight razor on Jimmy Stewart, who fled in terror, screaming out, “Brigitte Bardot is the assassin!” The ensuing scene is difficult to describe in detail, but it wound up with Sophia Loren in custody and Bardot in a huff stomping off with Marlon Brando.

It was only later, as Steve Reeves and his new friend Marilyn Monroe watched Elvis tear into a second, blistering set, that Bardot took a leap toward the stage, straight razor in hand! Muscle man Reeves managed to stop Bardot in time, and he and Stewart took Ms. Bardot and Ms. Loren back with them to their Firewall handler, who would determine exactly who these two really were, and why they would want to kill Wisla.

All in all, it was great fun. I’m thinking of writing up the setting and some of the characters as a loosely-defined scenario that any Eclipse Phase GM could use (with any  of dozens of 1950s icons being the assassin or assassins).

The Atlantic has a collection of 53 black and white photos from the New York City Municipal Archives, ranging from the beginning of the 20th Century to the 1930s. Good stuff for Call of Cthulhu, Spirit of the Century, et. al.

The Atlantic has a collection of 53 black and white photos from the New York City Municipal Archives, ranging from the beginning of the 20th Century to the 1930s. Good stuff for Call of Cthulhu, Spirit of the Century, et. al.