Behold, two blog posts in two days, as I struggle to catch up with my backlog. This week has been a busy one for me and roleplaying – we had the last session of our zombie game in Hillfolk, which ended with delightfully unsatisfying bleakness, and a big 6-player session for my Buffy campaign as a player from last year’s game put in a guest appearance. So now is a good time to update my #RPGaDay2015, since I’m on a bit of a roll.
- Longest campaign played. My monthly, ongoing, hard sci-fi Fate game, “Ferrymen”. Three years and counting with the same five players, no end currently in sight. We switched to Fate Core when it came out, but originally we started playing it as a Diaspora game. Its cluster creation tool helped us to create a universe in which one system has engineered a monopoly on faster-than-light technology, and leverages it to wage economic warfare on the other planets that don’t fall in line. The players comprise the crew of The Erebus, an FTL ship leased from the bad guys, and chronicles their attempts to combat systemic injustice and reform-from-within, whilst flying under the radar and surviving the hazards of space. Earlier this year, in a campaign-defining moment, the crew successfully broke into a fortified government building and released classified state secrets… But in the process one of their number was captured, and forced to fake his own death to escape. Last session he returned from the dead, and finally rejoined the crew, in a moment of hightened drama. Now, they’re taking their fight against the bad guys to the next level, stepping up from opportunism to explicit political activism. In case it’s not obvious, I really like this campaign.
- Longest game session played. From 2011 to 2014, I made an annual pilgrimage to the National Student Roleplaying and Wargaming Championship, aka The Student Nationals. Whilst wargames, board games and larps are all represented at the competition, the bulk of those attending are roleplayers – and over the course of a weekend, those competing play in two big roleplaying sessions, one on Saturday, one on Sunday. The Saturday game is slightly longer, seven hours I think, which is about as long a session as I’ve ever played. So it would be a tie between these four games: a Wild Talents game on my first year, the only one I didn’t run; a Savage Worlds game in which the players were Batman villains who escaped Arkham Asylum to cause mischief; a Mutant City Blues case that stumbled into a mutant trafficking ring; and a Hellboy game of BPRD vs Nazi-Zombies-plus-Elder-God that ran in Fate Core. I also ran a 9-player PVP mass-combat battle at the end of a Star Wars game I ran five years ago, which was long, but I suspect slightly shorter than 7 hours. And an honourary mention for the two 24 Roleplay Marathons I helped to organise (why…), which whilst split up into lots of different sessions, nonetheless involved more or less 24 hours of straight roleplaying. Quite the experience.
- Favourite Fantasy RPG. The One Ring by Cubicle 7. Firstly for the Tolkien setting, which still remains the definitive reference point for every fantasy game or story released even 80 years later. But also for the system, which rightly puts the focus on the emotional toil of long journeys and epic undertakings, and sets up a combat system which is layered and a bit tactical without the measure-by-the-5-foot-square minutae that turns me off D&D. The campaign I ran ranks as one of my all-time favourites, and I hope to be starting another one before the end of the year.
- Favourite SF RPG. Hmmm… See, most of the time, if I was running a sci-fi game I would be using Fate Core. Not because I believe that Fate Core is good for everything, but because the things I think it doesn’t do so well (horror, comedy, micro-level character advancement, superpowered stuff) tends not to feature in sci-fi as much as in other genres. But it feels very cheap to choose a settingless game as my favourite for a genre, so let’s say Paranoia, because it’s one of the funniest RPGs ever made and that’s great. If I’m allowed to count military-science-fantasy as a sub-genre of sci-fi, then it might be Only War, or one of the other 40K RPGs. But that’s just because I’m a Warhammer fanboy.
- Favourite Supers RPG. HA. Cue awkward silence. I’ve chronicled my less than satisfying experience with superhero roleplaying games before, so I can’t say I’m enthusiastic about any of the available options. I’d be tempted to pick Smallville, but as I mention in my review, I don’t think it counts as a supers game. Short of picking something I’ve never read that just SOUNDS pretty cool, I’ll go with Necessary Evil. I’ve never played it and I don’t want to, but I like Savage Worlds, and the setting’s elevator pitch of “aliens invade, all heroes die, the fate of the world rests with the scum of the Earth” is fun. How’s that for a ringing endorsement?
- Favourite Horror RPG. I’ve played in some cracking Trail of Cthulhu games, but my favourite horror RPG is probably Dread (the one with the Jenga tower). The one session I played was one of my favourite one-shots ever, though that had as much to do with the atmosphere OOC as anything else. Dread’s greatest strength is that the dwindling support for the Jenga tower makes an excellent pacing mechanism; its greatest weakness is that you have to go at Dread’s pace, and that GMs and players have very little ability to tweak the pressure one way or another. Regardless, I’d love to give it another go. I also really like Murderous Ghosts, and are we still pretending World of Darkness is a horror game? The setting, system and fanbase are all hit-and-miss, but I’ve had some great moments of play in that universe, some parts of which are extremely compelling. It wouldn’t be my favourite even if it did count as horror, but it’s worth a mention at least.
- Favourite RPG setting. This is tough, but perhaps for a non-obvious reason. I’m rejecting anything that’s adapting the setting of a different medium (e.g. Star Wars), because that would seem silly… But once I take out anything that’s settingless, involves building your own setting, or borrows the setting from an existing IP, I’m not left with many books in my library. My preferred approach to settings in RPGs is getting the players to build it themselves – it invests them in the world around them right from the start. My least favourite approach to settings in RPGs is anything I have to work laboriously to deliver exposition for in game, or that requires players to have done the course reading in advance. All that aside… I’ve already mentioned I am (somewhat) partial to the World of Darkness, which is at least well known, and whilst the setting of Legend of the Five Rings is pretty impenetrable to outsiders, Rokugan is at least an interesting locale in its own right. But the winner, again, is Paranoia. Partly because it is hilarious and on-point satire, but also because the requirement to explain the setting to players in advance is minimal. If players find themselves adrift in a setting that makes no sense to them… then that’s all part of the Paranoia experience.
This was as far as I got last time, but I’m determined to see it to the end. Probably with one big post to cover all 10 remaining questions. Wish me luck…