21 November 2012

Follow-Up to the Follow-Up to the RPG Setting Post (With Less Settings but More Free Stuff)

In yesterday's blog post I mentioned a couple RPG's that are available for free out there. Today, on a whim, I spent a little time browsing free products at DriveThruRPG. The ease of digital publication these days means that there are myriad small, independent publishers releasing material. Trying to find actually worthwhile games can be a challenge, but here are a couple that caught my attention.

Atomic Highway is a post-apocalyptic game in the vein of Mad Max or Fallout. The book is of fairly decent quality for an indie game, with a tongue-in-cheek tone (I imagine it may have been released in print as well, although I'm too lazy to find out). The setting info is pretty light, mostly generic genre stuff that the GM can customise. The rules are pretty lightweight too, using a die pool based system with d6's. Included are rules for vehicles, mutations and some very simple psionics. All in all a fairly entertaining read.

Stars Without Number is a science fiction, space opera game with a fairly simple D&D style system. There is a commercial version with some extra content, but the free version is still a complete game, with over 200 pages. The premise is fairly open-ended, allowing GM's to design planets and societies of their own. I participated in a game earlier this year, and it was fun, although I'm not sure the rules were quite to my taste, in all respects.

I should also mention that the last incarnation of West End Games' D6 System is also available for free download, comprising three rulebooks for different genres: D6 Fantasy, D6 Space and D6 Adventure. These are generic rulebooks with little setting material, but they merit a special mention since this is basically the same system used in WEG's Star Wars RPG, one of the first games my group played extensively (besides AD&D). A variant of the system was also used in the Hercules & Xena RPG, which I also ran at one point. It's a fairly light and flexible system, although its one flaw involves the basic roll mechanic, which can require adding up a large number of d6's, which is, perhaps, a little more cumbersome than what I generally look for in RPG rules these days. Still, I do have fond memories of the system.

Right. That's enough for today.

20 November 2012

RPG Setting Follow-Up Post (With Free Stuff)

A quick follow-up to yesterday's post about RPG settings.

I spent a little time browsing Wikipedia, looking at some of the RPG settings out there. One game I thought I should mention is Talislanta, particularly for the reason that it is currently available for free. This is a fantasy RPG with a long history, originally published in the 80's, with the latest (5th) edition released in 2007. I haven't had a chance to really look into yet, but it seems to be a very large and varied world with a nigh ridiculous number of player character races to choose from (but, as they like to emphasise, no elves). Most of the various editions (including a d20 conversion) can be downloaded at talislanta.com.

Speaking of free RPG's, Eden Studios' WitchCraft can also be downloaded for free (I believe you need an account at DriveThruRPG, though). This is a modern day supernatural game, with a setting somewhat reminiscent of White Wolf's World of Darkness titles.

Turning back to commercially available games and settings, one aspect I neglected to mention in the previous post is... 'production values', for lack of a better word.. Call me shallow or materialistic but I really do prefer to hold, and read, a high quality, hardback, colour printed, beautifully illustrated volume. Naturally the content is what really counts in the end, but there's no reason why a game book shouldn't be an aesthetic object in addition to being a source of inspiration. The visual aspect is, after all, an important part of many fantasy and sci-fi games. (Also, I do much prefer to have an actual physical book than stare at PDF's on a screen.)

That being said, games these days can be bloody expensive. I've rarely been in a position to buy games just because I liked the way they looked, or was intrigued by the concept. (There are a few impulse-bought books on my shelf, of course, but they've invariably been bought at greatly reduced prices.) Rather I've tried to buy books that I've thought I might actually have a use for in the foreseeable future (though of course that hasn't always turned out to be the case).

Finally, since I've already been looking into White Wolf's games lately, I figured I should spend a moment reading about their fantasy title, Exalted, as well. Seems like a fairly interesting game, a little different from the typical D&D fare. But yeah, again we run into the same old refrain: so many games, so little time (and/or money).

19 November 2012

Setting vs. Creativity (More RPG Musings)

As a side note to my previous blog post, questioning an example of Latin usage in Vampire: The Requiem, it is actually noteworthy that I'm actually reading, and getting actual kicks from, actual RPG setting material.

I begun my RPG career using settings created by other people. Being a real Tolkien nut as a kid, the first game I bought was I.C.E.'s classic Middle-earth Role Playing. One of the first longer campaigns I ran was a Dragonlance game. Star Wars was also a big thing for us back in those days. At some point this changed, however. For many years I felt that using ready made settings was a bit of a cop out, the refuge of lazy or unoriginal Game Masters. I felt that my time would be best spent creating something truly original and unique.

That is, of course, pure bullshit. Stories are stories, regardless of where they come from.

The turning point for me was perhaps the Pathfinder game I begun running last year. Admittedly, opting to use the official setting was, to begin with, largely a matter of convenience. It just didn't make sense to spend lots of time and energy designing a setting for a game so heavily based on clichés of the fantasy genre.

Lately, though, I've begun to feel the same might apply to other, less clichéd types of games as well. World building can be lots of fun and quite rewarding, but ready settings have many benefits as well. You might have more time and energy to spend on the details of the story and characters. The details of the setting might be a good source of inspiration for your stories. Also, seeing as how the setting has already been worked on for a considerable length of time, probably by several people, it is likely to be much more detailed and complete than anything you're going to come up with on your own.

Of course, as with any thing, you have to separate the wheat from the chaff. I'm sure there are many settings out there that are far from perfect, whether incomplete, broken some way, or just plain boring and unoriginal. But there are real gems out there, I'm sure, both among traditional genres and the more exotic.

There are two distinct types of setting material out there, though. There are those settings particularly designed for RPG's, and those originating from other media. Regardless of my formative years spent in love with Middle-earth and Star Wars, right now I'm inclined to think that the settings best suited for gaming are those designed for the purpose. For one thing, it is nigh impossible to really recreate the mood of your favourite novel or movie. Also you might be more wary about changing things and stepping on canon's toes, which isn't necessarily good for your storytelling.

So much for the general. But what about specific settings? I must say, I don't really have all that many cool, original games in my collection, nor am I particularly familiar with many of the settings out there, having for a long time favoured generic rules over specific settings (and, you know, being too poor and shit to buy tons of games). The majority of settings in my collection are actually licensed games, I think, which I'll skip for now.

Pathfinder I have already mentioned on several occasions. As for other D&D-ish worlds, if I wasn't already so invested in Pathfinder, DragonMech could be worth a closer look, and of the official Wizards of the Coast stuff, Eberron is likely among the more interesting. I think I'm also growing to like World of Darkness. I don't own any of the books yet, but I might eventually have to get some. (I think the current, rebooted version may actually be more to my liking than the classic version.) I'd certainly be interested in discovering some more exotic and original fantasy and sci-fi settings, I don't have too much in that vein in my selection. Although variety is a double-edged sword: one never has time to play all the games one would want!

15 November 2012

Of Latin and White Wolf Products

I recently spent a little time reading up on the White Wolf's (new) World of Darkness setting, particularly Vampire: The Requiem. One of the vampire factions in that game is called the Lancea Sanctum. Being a bit of a language geek, this phrase caught my eye.

At first glance, it looks like a noun followed by an adjective. I don't actually know Latin, but I've read a little about the basics and there are some handy online tools to look up words and stuff. So... 'lancea' is a word for a type of lance or spear. It is a feminine noun. 'Sanctum', naturally, means sacred (as in sanctified). But here's the snag: '-um' is the usual ending for an adjective's neuter form, not the feminine.

As Wikipedia states: 'In Latin, adjectives must agree with the nouns they modify in case and number and gender.' This means that when you have a feminine noun, any adjective describing it should also be in the feminine form. So, as far as I, with my admittedly limited language skills, can tell, the phrase should actually be 'Lancea Sancta'.

OK, so before publishing this comment, I decided to still dig around a little in case I was mistaken somehow. On White Wolf's wiki I found a statement that the faction would have originally been called 'Lancea et Sanctum', i.e. the 'lance and sanctum'. The modern English meaning of 'sanctum' is a sacred (or private) place, which (as far as I can tell) is derived from ecclesiastic Latin. Grammatically this phrase then seems more justifiable.

However, removing one small word makes a world of difference. As I said at the start, it looks like a noun and an adjective, not like two nouns. There is just no good reason for omitting the 'et'. You wouldn't shorten the English translation to 'lance sanctum'. It simply wouldn't make any sense. I can't help thinking that the 'Lancea et Sanctum' version is someone's retrospective (and less than successful) attempt to fix a grammatical error. (Though I don't know the source of this version. I haven't read any publications beyond the main Vampire rulebook, and if that book offers a translation for the covenant's name, I've missed it.)

EDIT: I did a little more digging around and apparently the Lancea Sanctum sourcebook itself translates the name as 'sanctuary of the lance'. But this is still wrong. 'Lancea' is the nominative form, not the genitive. It is also normal (though not strictly necessary) to place defining words after the main word. So the correct translation for 'sanctuary of the lance' should probably be 'Sanctum Lanceae'.

Whatever the case is, there's one important piece of advice I would like to give to anyone working in the world of fiction: if you want to make use of a foreign language, please, take the effort to get it right!

8 November 2012

Two Haikus, No Explanations


I should not count the
years, for those are the moments
I feel like screaming


No autumn has been
complete without the warmth of
lips to thaw the soul

6 November 2012

A Brief Interlude on the Beauty of Art and Meaninglessness of Genre

A brief moment from my life:

I was just browsing music on my computer, trying to decide what to put on. I realised that Cat Stevens and Cradle of Filth were both equally valid options, and the absurdity of this struck me.

This is why I love music, and art in general. Genre means so very little, in the end. The places where we find pleasure and wonder can be so diverse, and frequently surprising. And this, basically, is what makes life worth living.

So in the end I put on Teaser and the Firecat. And after that, it'll be Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder.

1 November 2012

People That Puzzle Me (Being a Brief and Slightly Silly List)

In a recent blog post about horror I said that people unable to watch horror movies puzzled me. And this is true, although by no means does it mean that I'd wish to force horror movies on anyone, but simply expressing that when your brain is wired a certain way, it can be hard to relate to people whose brains work differently. Anyway, this got me thinking a little about all the weird ways we people differ from each other.

So, for fun and procrastination, here's a little list of some things, off the top of my head, that puzzle me:

  • Milk drinkers. (Don't you people have taste buds? That stuff is vile...)
  • People capable of eating with a mismatched knife and fork. (Well, I guess I'm technically capable. I'll eat with what I'm given, I don't want to seem rude. But I'll never set mismatched utensils myself.) (Same applies to cups and saucers.)
  • Pets. (Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against animals, but I don't really get anything out of them either, meat notwithstanding, and could never cope with the expense and responsibility.)
  • People who didn't like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (but liked the first movie). (Seriously? One of the most amazingly epic productions in movie history!) (Same applies to Matrix sequels.)
  • People who like the Star Trek reboot. (No comment should be necessary.)
  • People who watch movies in theatres. (Apparently everyone else but me has bottomless pockets and infinite toleration towards morons?)
  • People who watch movies (or shows) on TV. (Seriously, how do you cope with the disruptive commercials and general lack of control?)
  • People who keep on talking about movies all the time. (This is not an actual point, but a self-ironic comment looking back at the last few entries.)
  • Pop music. (To clarify, since that's a pretty vague term, any blatantly commercial and artificially produced music. As a rule of thumb, if the performers didn't write the music they're performing, that's generally a bad sign.)
  • Rap music. (Actually, I think a lot of rap music is probably worth more respect than average pop music. I just can't stand the sound of most of it...)
  • People who habitually use the term Dungeon Master instead of Game Master. (Anyone with a modicum of knowledge about the history, and diversity, of RPG's should understand why.)
  • People who eat cheese on its own. (It belongs in a sandwich, damnit!)
  • People who eat 'lunch' at midday, as opposed to 'dinner'. (How do you people stay on your feet without a big meal early on? And if your noon meal actually happens to be your main meal of the day, why the f*** would you call it 'lunch'?)
  • People who eat at restaurants. (To repeat, apparently everyone else but me has bottomless pockets? Even junk food seems ridiculously expensive these days...)
And... obviously this list only scratches the surface, but I'm having trouble thinking of more just now. I may edit this post if I think of good additions later...

Differences make us human. They are something to be celebrated, and the purpose of this list is by no means to criticise anyone. Although these things may puzzle me, I accept that people have different tastes.

That being said, there are of course things that are not matters of taste or opinion. Bigotry and violence should never be accepted. (Or beetroots. The sooner that plague is exterminated from the face of this planet, the better. That is not a matter of taste or in any way negotiable. Even though much of the population seems to, unfathomably, have a differing, and, in my mind, utterly insane, view on this.)