This is a first look at a draft of Rune & Steel, a tabletop RPG that is being Kickstarted by the father-son team of Ryan and Kael Shuck. The game aims to provide a rich fantasy setting based on Norse mythology. Because this is still a work in progress I’ll hit a few aspects of the game I find most interesting, rather than attempt anything like a review. Read more
Cyberpunk Red puts players in the chromed-out retro-future of Night City in the year 2045. This is a game that knows what it is about, and it follows its earlier incarnations without being trapped by them. The mechanics are straightforward, and making interesting and engaging characters is easy. Cyberpunk Red is like an instruction manual – very focused on play, easy to absorb. It’s also full of visual and textual flavor that drops you right into the setting. Whether you use the Jumpstart Kit or the core rulebook, you’ll be getting a quality product. Read on to get more detailed impressions and see the differences between the two products. Read more
This is a first look at the Quest tabletop RPG. It appears to have two primary design goals: to serve as an easy onramp for tabletop roleplaying newcomers, and to facilitate smooth online play. I won’t attempt to judge if it succeeds in those goals definitively, as I don’t believe it’s possible to issue such verdicts on a game I haven’t played. These are merely initial impressions as I dig into the game. Read more
Dungeons & Dragons has always been the most widely-recognized tabletop roleplaying game by far, but its dominance has waxed and waned over the years. Now due to the tremendous market success of Fifth Edition, D&D in some ways stands apart from the rest of the tabletop roleplaying universe. So what are the effects of D&D’s preeminence on the market as a whole? Read more
The 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set has been with us for five years. It’s sold over 800,000 copies and been hailed as one of the best RPG starter sets ever produced. Now Wizards of the Coast has released its successor, the Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Kit.
A few weeks ago I wrote about a three-factor system I devised for classifying tabletop RPGs. After fielding questions about the system and thinking about it further, I’ve come up with what I believe is a better version of that original concept.
Classifying roleplaying games in an objective way that makes it easy for people to find a game that suits their needs isn’t easy. Much of the existing terminology carries the accumulated baggage of years of arguments in blogs and online forums. Theories of game design can be helpful in understanding a given game, but they weren’t created for sorting and classifying games. We need something better. Read more
If you’ve been exploring tabletop RPGs long enough, you’ll occasionally stumble across a game that truly changes your idea of what is possible in a roleplaying game. You play it once and are forever transformed. This doesn’t mean you wind up playing the game until the end of time. But the best of these games provide ideas and mechanisms you can draw from and riff off of in other games. More fundamentally, they help you understand what makes you tick as a gamer, and what aspects you want to explore more deeply.
These are three of the games that most powerfully affected the trajectory of my roleplaying journey:
RuneQuest – I’d been playing primarily TSR games (AD&D, Gamma World, Top Secret) for a few years when I came across RuneQuest. Two aspects of its design grabbed me immediately. First, there were no classes. Here was a game in which you could play a badass fighter who also threw powerful spells. Second, the world of Glorantha, though only outlined in the core book, was well-defined in supplement after supplement. It utterly fascinated me. This was the first fantasy world in which magic and the gods didn’t feel bolted on. A character’s cult affected everything from the spells they could use to their relationships with other characters, and magic permeated even mundane activities in a way that felt organic. This is the game that turned me into a setting nerd, and since then I’ve run multiple Glorantha campaigns without coming remotely close to exhausting its potential.
Apocalypse World – This is a game that combines very clear definition of how the game should be run with almost no definition of the game world. It’s a game that gives a GM tightly-defined tools for putting player characters into dangerous and difficult situations without much prep. Many of those tools can easily be used with other games, which is excellent of course. But Apocalypse World also introduced me to the notion of something that lurks between success and failure: success with a cost. Roll a 7-9 on two six-sided dice and you succeed, but something unintended and bad also happens. This simple, elegant mechanic makes every die roll potentially perilous. It also keeps the GM on their toes, because you have to constantly be thinking about what could go wrong. It’s a supremely elegant way of injecting drama into the game. Argue all you want about which Powered by the Apocalypse game is best, but for me it will always be the original. I’ve run one-offs and short campaigns as well as played, and if I ever get the chance to play it again I’ll surely take it.
Burning Wheel – Few tabletop RPGs are as complex and deep as BW. It’s an idiosyncratic wonder – strongly opinionated, filled with ridiculous skills, rigorously detailed without telling you much at all about setting, and daring in some of its design choices. Combat is unpredictable and frightening. Magic can go badly wrong. But most importantly, character advancement is directly tied to character beliefs. How your character engages with their beliefs determines how rapidly they advance. Stay true to your beliefs and you become more capable. Waver from them and you don’t. This mechanism gives gamemasters so much to work with, so many ways to hook characters into adventures and put them into situations that test their beliefs. I’ve only played one BW campaign and haven’t yet run it, but I’d love to build a campaign some time. The way it provokes the kinds of character growth you see in novels, without forcing overarching story, is amazing.
As a kid I read an illustrated version of Robinson Crusoe, and ever since I’ve found desert island questions irresistible. You know, “You’re stranded on a desert island with only one tool. What would it be?” Read more
I’ve been running post-apocalypse campaigns since the 1980s, using a wide variety of game systems. Why so much love for these games, when he idea of the world undergoing a cataclysm that wipes out most of humanity is so utterly horrifying?
I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. But there is something compelling about imagining yourself trying to survive and find hope in a world at once familiar and radically different from our own.
Many post-apocalypse games have made their mark on the RPG world. Powered-armor-wearing-mutated-jackrabbit heroic explorers represents one pole, and count-your-shotgun-shells Mad Max-style survival represents another. But some of the most interesting and unique post-apocalypse games are those that put a whole new spin on the genre. Read more