Tuesday, September 29, 2015

These are the voyages...(What I'd like to play pt3)

Classy Classic
Star Trek. Depending on your age and pedigree of geek-dom that one phrase may conjure up all different kinds of images. While I have viewed all and enjoyed most of the iterations of Trek, classic will always be "Star Trek" to me. The name conjures up that opening narration by Shatner, the legendary theme, the Enterprise *woosh*-ing by at warp speed and so on.

When I caught the bug to do a solo Trek campaign, the original RPG by FASA seemed like a no-brainer. I own it, have played it quite a bit, and love it. It does classic Trek fine (and to be honest, you could probably do TNG on with a little creativity. My longest running RPG campaign ever was set 20 years after STNG using FASA rules).

The only thing that really "bugged" me was that I had an idea I wanted to explore of starting of an Ensign at the beginning of their career and progressing them through play up through the ranks. While FASA does have rules for skill progression (via Skill Checks) there are no rules for promotion and so on. 

This was important to the type of game I had in mind, to basically have "XP" and "Levels" (ie a very mechanical, non-fiat based way to progress in rank). Which led me to THIS:

Totally not Star Trek with the serial numbers filed off. Seriously...
"Starships & Spacemen" is Goblinoid Games "Trek-like" RPG built on the retroclone ruleset that powers "Labyrinth Lord" (their B/X D&D simulacrum). While it isn't 100% Trek, it is VERY close. Close enough to house rule and hand wave the rest of the way.

It has XP based advancement though levels/ranks. Plus it has a few other features of its own that I really like (such as a "resource management" style "mini-game" based on your starship's power).

While shopping around there was another game I had my eye on...

Is totally Star Trek, with the serial numbers left on...
"WNMHGB" is a free, Microlite-20 RPG that captures classic Trek perfectly, with just a dash of humor. I could totally play it on its own and have a blast, but it didn't have some of the features I wanted (like the full range of stats), but DID have others, like the nice d20 system task resolution system and a lot of cool Talents.

"Since both "S&S" and :WNMHGB" are d20 derived though, it should be no problem to mix-n-match from them" I told myself.

That's when my troubles started.

Next thing I knew I was fiendishly planning on adding bits from "White Star", "Hulks and Horrors", "Stars Without Number", as well as "Labyrinth Lord" and "Mutant Future". I'd caught OSR DIY fever (thanks "White Star"!). I told myself this is my chance to be WAY more gonzo than I normally am.

On paper it sounds great, but the idea quickly grew into a monster that I felt like I had no control over and couldn't get a handle on.

Also, it was starting to feel decidedly "un-Trek" to me. While I was excited by the gonzo mashup possibilities, in my heart, I think I'd rather just let Trek be Trek, & save the gonzo for something less "established".

SO...back to square one? In a twist of irony, after I started working on "the project with no end" I ended up finding a good set of "rules" (or guidelines) on  Character Advancement in Rank. Which makes me think, maybe FASA after all...


  • Captures Classic Trek perfectly, as it was designed to do
  • Easy and familiar system
  • No "conversion" required, all Trek material already built in


  • ONLY does Trek
  • No official rank promotion. Above house rules a bit open ended.


  • Easily to modify and houserule
  • Very "mechanical" advancement/promotion system
  • Lots of cross-compatible material and resources


  • Needs lots of "tweaking"
  • Almost TOO open ended. A bit overwhelming.
  • Not "really" Star Trek

NEXT TIME: A "frightfully cheerful" RPG...

Sunday, September 27, 2015


While reading the Stephen King memoir "On Writing" I came across the following fascinating tidbit...

Intrigued, I hit Google. I did not find an example of Wallace's Plot Wheels as I'd hoped, but discovered another interesting user, Erle Stanley Gardner, who wrote 119 novels of  the cases of lawyer/detective Perry Mason using a variety of plot wheels to provide twists and turns, as detailed HERE.

Interestingly enough, there is a link in the blog featured above the leads to the website of a Plot Wheel app you can buy ("The Brainstormer") HERE or try out the online version free HERE.

I find it encouraging and pleasing that have not only best selling writers employed methods not unlike our own, but that such a seemingly "new" innovation has actually been kicking around at least since the 1920's.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Chill out, man! (games I'd like to play, Pt2.)

Meet the new boss...
...same as the old boss

"Chill" is an RPG I never had a chance to play back in the day, nor have I ever met anyone else who had. It's odd, considering I was in full bloom as a budding horror fan back then. If I had seen the awesome cover of the 1st edition (far right) I probably would have remedied that.

Instead, the first I became aware of "Chill" was the 2nd edition from Mayfair...

Horrible, but not in a good way...
...as seen above. Very uninspiring, to put it mildly. I picked it up a few times and leafed through it. The art and layout inside were of similar quality, and equally off putting to me.

It's a shame, as I probably would have had a lot of fun with it. "Chill" is a perfect, classic horror toolbox for emulating pretty much any pre-70's horror. Emphasis on the CLASSIC in classic horror. As far as I know, "Chill" was pretty much the ONLY option one had for NON-Lovecraftian horror.

But between cover, art, layout, and so on, it just didn't do a good job of communicating to me what it was all about.

Fast forward to the present. Goblinoid Games, the same company responsible for helping bring back the love for B/X D&D with their Moldvay/Cook retroclone Labyrinth Lord acquires the back catalog of Pacesetter Games titles, including "Chill", with one slight catch: the rights to the NAME "Chill" had been sold off long ago. Hence the title change. "Cryptworld" (above left) IS "Chill" with a new name and a slightly broadened set of sensibilities. 

The range of horror beasties has been widened out to encompass more contemporary horror sub-genres (such as the Slasher or Alien Body Snatchers) alongside all the old classics.

Still longing for a generic horror RPG I decided to pick up the PDF. It's a far cry from the impenetrable 2nd edition. Very cleanly laid out, almost spartan in its presentation, it is all lean meat and no filler, with simple, thematic art. Look at that cover above. "Cryptworld" gets what it's about and does a good job of conveying that to the player.

Now, history lesson aside, "Cryptworld"/"Chill"/The Pacesetter system is a decent, solid, old school system, EXCEPT for the Pacesetter Chart. It gives me fits every time. I sit down and look at it, read through, whatever, and understand it well, then walk away and ask myself "how does that work again?"

It's not really complicated, just hard (for me) to absorb. I couldn't explain to you how to play without referring to the book if I tried. So that is a bit of a problem. It could be my advancing age, deficits in attention span, etc, or it could just be that it's a system that I just don't grock as easily as others.

So great was my desire to get  SOMETHING off the ground in this genre that I ran a quick series of sessions over the course of a week or two using the D6 system instead, specifically one of the greatest "lite" versions of it.

the greatest universal RPG ever IMO...
...and the greatest "lite" version of the same
I had a blast with it, and am tempted to continue. But I'm also torn, in that I really like "Cryptworld"("Chill") too. Decisions, decisions, decisions...

  • Does what I want right out of the box
  • Fantastic "beastiary"and lots of material available

  • System isn't as intuitive/familiar as I'd like

  • Lot's of FREE support material available, most of it of useful in this style of game
  • Know the system well. Easy to improvise/make stuff up on the fly

  • Would need to convert over a number of CW monsters and such.

(PS, FWIW there IS a 3rd edition of "Chill" out, but it is NOT the same system as the classic version, and TBH I'm not sure I like the looks of it. In any case, old school cross compatibility with previously released materials WAS a consideration, so there is that...)
3rd Edition, not the same as old OR new boss...

NEXT TIME: To Boldly Go, Yadda Yadda...

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Games I'd like to play (Pt.1)

It's so beautiful...
Until I get ready to actually PLAY something, I thought I might at least enjoy talking about some of the games I like to (or WOULD like to) play, and discuss their pros and cons.

The first up is also the first RPG I ever played, and the first RPG I ever solo'ed. Back when I was a dumb kid I quickly left Moldvay/Cook aka B/X D&D behind for other games (looking at YOU "Champions"!)

Don't worry, you're beautiful too...
Whenever I DID (infrequently) play D&D again, I was always forced to play AD&D, because that's what all the "cool" kids were playing. (TBH, I never liked it. I knew I liked "Basic" better, but could never explain why, & felt weird for doing so, so I kept THAT a secret).

It took the intrawebz for me to discover A) I wasn't the only one who felt this way, and B) Just how awesome B/X is.

Even when I did play it I was trapped by many of the assumptions on the "limitations" of D&D (both mechanically and in style of play).

If there is any ONE good that came out of the "Old School Revolution" (and there is PLENTY), it is how many eyes have been opened to the possibilities of D&D.

As for reasons I want to play it, even though fantasy ISN'T my first choice of genre, the pull of old school, nostalgic D&D is  strong. Just thinking about all the things it encompases makes me want to play it, right now.

Another strong deciding factor is just the sheer, overwhelming, about of material and support available for it. Again, the internet has brought a golden age that might even surpass the old days in terms of both quantity and quality material available, a huge chunk of it available for free or for a pittance.

I've got so much material available to run sandbox wilderness campaigns, urban adventures, and more now that it's sick. Just the number of random tables alone I've accumulated is staggering.

So, PROS? (see above)

CONS? None really, other than I'd like to play something ELSE (and by else, I mean in addition TO. My D&D sandbox was just warming up when I put it on hold, and I do really want to get back to it soon).

NEXT TIME: I "Chill" out...sorta...

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Emergent game play and narrative, a subject worth consideration

In the board game world is where I first learned the term "emergent narrative". There are many pseudo RPG-like board games (like A Touch of Evil :The Supernatural Game) where random elements converge and a form of story emerges from these random details.

Apparently the terms "emergent play" and "emergent narrative" came out of the development of video games, as you can read about in this Wikipedia article, which explains the whole concept in more detail.

Oddly enough, as much as I've discussed solo RPG'ing, it never really occurred to me that this thing and process that I've been struggling to describe, help others with, and implement myself, is really the same thing that I'd encountered and discussed in my other gaming endeavors.

I raise this point appropriate of nothing, other than I think it puts things in the proper context to realize what we're engaging in, when we solo role play, is a form of emergent play, where we're take random, disparate elements, and allowing a coherent narrative structure to emerge.

I don't know if I have any other point, other than having a useful frame of reference when discussing solo RPG'ing, and when considering the process ITSELF. I think it clarifies and crystallizes a something that I've struggled to put into words. The play itself is part of the process. The process itself is part of the play. And the narrative is what emerges.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Baby steps

...one step at a time
As a Solo RPG'er, I've had to learn many lessons over and over. Remind myself of my own advice again. This might be perhaps chief among them.

As a soloist, it is incredibly easy to get overwhelmed. If you are dealing with real life issues  even more so (such as the ones referenced in my previous post, or whatever RL issues you might struggle with in your own lives).

Being a solo player means it's a one person show. (DUH!) Thus all the "work" falls on you. (IF you let it! How much work should there BE? Is it possible to make the work a part of the PLAY? To do mostly play with no work? Topic for another post I think...)

In any case, my recent bout of frustration led me to thinking about my process, and where I went astray.

I think as soloists we're probably all big dreamers in some way. After all, we're all playing RPG's for starters! Add to that we're attempting to do so SOLO, which is a big dream in and of itself, since there are plenty of people who thought (and still think) that it can't be done.

If you're like me, you live in your head a lot. You think a lot. So with all this thinking and dreaming it's easy to get lost. To go astray. To loose sight of what you were trying accomplish, and overwhelm yourself by dreaming big, without having actually DONE much of anything.  (Again, maybe a topic for another time).

Back to the topic at hand...

...not quite

...I do think it's important at some point to just jump in and play (as many wonderful respondents on the previous post reminded me). I ALSO think it can be important to take each thing as it comes, one step at a  time...

...also not quite
..and deal with each problem, each situation, as it arises. I think that was one of the reasons that my most successful solo campaigns to date DID work. That I DIDN'T think about it too much, DIDN'T plan it out, and DIDN'T prepare a bunch.

I did think about it quite a bit at first, just getting stuff together and figuring out my approach to the whole process, since it was my first solo endeavor, but eventually I had to just jump in and DO it.

AFTER THAT came the process of taking each situation and problem as it arose, figuring out ways to solve it, and continuing.

Maybe easier said than done, I know. But I think (for me at least), that I have to come to grips with the idea that solo RPG'ing, if it's going to be something that I do, has to be an elephant that you eat with a teaspoon, not all in one bite.

...don't worry, it's just a cliched metaphor.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Why ya gotta go and make things so complicated?!?

Work, life, and all the other aggravations in-between have gotten me to thinking perhaps I bit off more than I can chew when it comes to the "Star Trek-y" thing I'd been contemplating. My reach may have exceeded my grasp.

In addition to all the other daily issues one normally struggles with, I am a chronic Depression sufferer, which means it is often hard for me to find motivation or enthusiasm for much of ANYTHING at times.

Add to this trying to tackle a project out of my league (at the moment), with a lot of prep work required, and that just makes it worse. Then add guilt at thinking about dropping it, and it gets worse. And so on.

But the truth is, the more I think about it, the less enthused I currently am. All of the prep, and everything else that goes along with, is feeling like work. Work isn't fun. Thus exacerbating the issues above.

I'm starting to come to grips with the idea that, for now, I would really like to just PLAY and not do a bunch of campaign work.  That I should probably settle on one "out-of-the-box" system. Same for campaign setting, or at least one that I know intimately, or by default (modern), or emerges from play (D&D sandbox).

I think I need to lay off the home brew for now. It's too overwhelming and is standing in the way of actually getting something going. SO...I think I'm putting that project on hold for now, and may try to get something going that I can just improvise and freestyle better. More on that later.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Birth, School, Work, Death

What he said...

Number three on that list has picked up more than I was prepared for, so posting will be spotty for the foreseeable future *sadface*.