Many Paths of Character Creation

Tuesday, September 15th, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse

Star Wars Force & Destiny-small Star Wars Force & Destiny back-small

For many RPG gamers, creating characters is one of the highlights of gaming. They get to make significant choices and craft and hone their character to their vision. If they are invested in the character, players typically engage more in the collaborative storytelling environment that RPGs are. For many players, this is the most creative time in the process, for thereafter they engage in the setting as laid out by the game master (GM). They may have an influence on the game and that setting, but the act of creating primarily — if not exclusively — resides with the GM after character creation. Even in truly sandbox games where the players can go wherever and do whatever, they are operating within the construct of the GM.

RPGs across the spectrum devote pages to character creation, often taking up a significant portion of any rulebook and entire supplements that provide new options. Most games lay out these options as a series of choices the player makes — though always reserving GM fiat.

Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars: Force and Destiny, and others use a process whereby you select a species (if applicable), select a career, apply a number of adjustments to the basic character template, and then make choices about talents and specializations and skill choices. The names may vary (class, feats, etc.), but the basic principles remain. For example, in Force and Destiny from the core rulebook, players choose from one of eight species. These have default attribute score adjustments and some level of unique trait or ability (breathing underwater for Nautolans for example). Players then choose from one of four careers and then choose from one of three specializations in that career. One of the narrative or logical challenges with this construct is that if you want to play a 40-year old human smuggler, you may have the exact set of skill points, etc., as other players, who may have a 20-year old bounty hunter just making her mark on the world. Truth be told, this is not a significant challenge, but one nonetheless. Particularly in class-based systems. My 40-year old cleric is at level one — the same as that 20-year old barbarian.

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A Rough Guide to Glamour Goes Gold

Sunday, September 13th, 2020 | Posted by Nick Brooke

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I always enjoy catching up with my Australian friend Michael O’Brien (“MOB” to his friends). We met back in the nineties when we were part of the so-called Reaching Moon Megacorp, a group of ardent Glorantha fans working on the pioneering RuneQuest/ Glorantha magazine Tales of the Reaching Moon – he was an editor, I was the dogsbody. (I should mention that MOB is a director of the Chaosium now, alongside our American Reaching Moon Megacorp colleague Rick Meints – it’s a small world, sometimes).

As MOB and I live on opposite sides of the world, we usually only bump into each around conventions. And so, the last time we met was at Dragonmeet in London last November. MOB was about to launch the Jonstown Compendium, Chaosium’s community content site for RuneQuest and Glorantha on DriveThruRPG. And he talked to me about things that might now be possible…

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Maximizing the Crunch: Dystopia 23

Monday, August 31st, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse

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In my last article, I reviewed one of the most rules light systems I have ever read. Some game masters (GMs) and players like games with a hefty amount of crunch — that is, game mechanics that require dice rolling or calculations and with a level of specific details for certain types of tasks. Dystopia 23 may take this to the most extreme I have ever experience. The Primer is 149 pages. By comparison, the quick start rules for The Expanse were 42 pages. For The Witcher TRPG (called Easy Mode) they were 32. For Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit, two booklets were a total of 98 pages — including a lot of flavor text. In terms of crunch, Dystopia 23 pummels those quick start rules into the ground.

When the Dicegeeks podcast interviewed Dystopia 23’s creator, Jason Carruth, he made no bones about how he loved to see a lot of crunch in a game. He reveled in the joy of designing crunchy games.

Before I cover the mechanics, however, let’s talk about the setting. Dystopia 23 covers familiar cyberpunk ground. The game takes place in the 23rd century. After economic collapses and mismanagement, the corporations have become the power in the world. Hordes of impoverished people struggle in the sprawls — vast favelas and slums that buttress up to the walled cities where the middle and upper classes live. Sprawls are unpoliced anarchy, which gangs and other various power brokers seize upon to exert control, often with as careless disregard of human lives as corporations. Even the cities are divided, with corporations having purchased areas for their exclusive use.

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A Report on Modiphius’s Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of—Part Three

Monday, August 24th, 2020 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

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In the previous two articles in this series (Part I and Part II), I have explained Conan 2d20’s core mechanic, character structure, and combat. I believe that this is what is required to begin to “grok” the principles of this game. For the concluding installment in this discussion, therefore, I will address criticisms, provide “mini-reviews” of the various Conan 2d20 supplements, and point to the overall Conan gaming community.

My online Conan group initially formed around me as GM. I ran two adventures over five sessions. Currently someone else is GMing and is soon to pass the “story stick” to someone else. This method of shared GMing, I believe, is representative of Robert E. Howard’s source material: episodic, (in our case) “main characters” come and go.

The current GM once gave to me what I think are accurate estimations of Conan 2d20 overall. He gives the artifact of the game (beautiful, full-color art throughout, well-bound, a place-ribbon included in every volume) and the system itself an “A.” Rules presentation he awards a “C.” He says, when he recommends Conan 2d20 to prospective gamers, he feels like he is recommending a friend who he knows is lazy to a job interview.

The laziness, perhaps, results from rules presentation. The book forces quite a bit of cross-referencing to figure out some of the particular action resolutions. Moreover, the reader must learn that some terms, which may at first appear to be synonyms of each other, likely have particular meanings in terms of game mechanics. This confusion is mitigated only partially by the use of capitals to denote particular mechanical functions. A lot of the rules, unfortunately not always expressly stated as such, must read as logical propositions, i.e., “if A and B, then C.” And this sort of reasoning delightfully spills out into the forums. Also on the forums are outright new rules constructions and innovations, usually to fill in what has inadvertently or by design been left out of the book. To be clear, the rulebook often states its ethos as being a flexible system wide open to GM rulings, but this assertion is compromised by the presence of Skill Talent trees: it is not unlikely that a chance GM ruling or group consensus, which may result in a campaign precedent, will “invade” a feature conferred by a Talent, which consequently invalidates the worth and usefulness of that Talent. With this measure of ambiguity, Conan 2d20 rules lawyers are likely to find many opportunities to bring suits to court.

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The Party Always Comes First

Monday, August 17th, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse


One often learns about small, independent, or quirky games from game store owners or fellow RPG enthusiasts. So it was from a friend and player in my ongoing Star Wars campaign that I heard about Party First by Gamenomicon published in November 2019. This rules light game has some intriguing mechanics and a setting waiting to be fleshed out by the ambitious game master.

After reading it, I imagined a group of friends were together one evening and wanted to roleplay, but they did not have their rule books and did not want to be weighed down with a lot of runway to get to a game. Pure speculation, but it has that feel that players can pick it up fast and be gaming in minutes. The book is only 46 pages. 46. I do not have a source book on my self that is that short, and while the brevity speaks to a rules light devotion that does not mean that the system is not well thought out or complete.

The setting is a familiar yet alternative Earth. I have long been interested in history, and World War I, the fall of the Russian Empire, and Rasputin have always been of interest. Party First hits all of that sweet spot for me. However, it is not Earth. Countries and people have recognizable but different names. Rus for Russia. Anglia for England. Dervish Empire for the Ottoman Empire (another particular area of history I enjoy). Vladislav Lesnik for Vladimir Lenin. All of these are laid out in an alternative history.

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A Report on Modiphius’s Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of — Part Two

Tuesday, August 11th, 2020 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

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This is the second article in my “explanation” of Conan 2d20. Last time I focused on 2d20’s core mechanic and on this game’s design philosophy insofar as it is an emulation of the “physics” and flavor of Robert E. Howard’s Conan fiction. This one will detail more aspects of gameplay, particularly player character components and action scenes.

Last article, I maintained that Conan 2d20 characters begin as powerful in mechanical ability (unless the alternative Shadows of the Past character generation is used). When I argue that this system is one of the better ones for Conan gaming, my rationale begins in this place. People who want to play a Conan version of Swords & Sorcery, I believe, don’t come to that desire by imagining operating a 1 Hit Die noob who is struggling to survive an attack of rats and who must run from most monsters. In contrast to this vision, Conan characters, though chronologically beginning their careers as young people, are formidable. Consequently, right away in the “campaign,” the GM is free to throw whatever she wants at the characters, just as Robert E. Howard challenged Conan with whatever he fancied, with whatever he believed would make an exciting story.

I realize I am thinking of Conan 2d20 in relation to the elephant (no, not that Elephant in the Tower, but that other elephant of gaming), and I’ll try to give it a rest after this. The comparison is in front of me because, as I explained last time, I have read many reports of people giving up on 2d20 because its rules are too far off from their familiar d20 expectations. My argument is that this is because Conan 2d20 is formulated, specifically, to emulate Robert E. Howard’s Conan. Whether it succeeds or not is very much still under discussion, and, elsewhere, that discussion goes on and on. But I believe that the Original Game, as awesome as it is, is built, out of its wargaming roots, as a melting pot or synthesis for all of fantasy literature. Conan 2d20 does Conan, just that, with all of its requisite limitations of “real” characters doing heroic things. The d20 iterations of Sword & Sorcery — even those “hacked” to better do Conan — still contain some difficult features, qualities inherent in and virtually impossible to remove from the system design. Chief among these is level-based advancement and, in most cases, the magic systems.

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A Report on Modiphius’s Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of — Part One

Thursday, August 6th, 2020 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

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That title is probably the last time, in this article, that I’m going to refer to this game with all those words. It was important to get it right, the first time, but usually I just call it Conan 2d20.

Because that’s what it is: it is playing a Conan game by using Jay Little’s 2d20 engine or mechanic, which he designed for Modiphius. There are other Conan RPGs out there, all of them, of course, out of print: an “original” TSR Conan RPG (I’ve never had the experience), a GURPS version (I only just learned about this one, and I’ve never played GURPS — the Hero System was my game of choice during the “universal system” era), and Mongoose’s d20 version (which I did play, at GaryCon one year, and it was a delight!). Outside of RPGs designed — or modified — specifically to accommodate a Conan vibe and setting, there are a number of options ranging from d20 derivations from Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea to Low Fantasy Gaming to Crypts & Things to Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells to “other system” derivations such as Savage Worlds to RuneQuest to Barbarians of Lemuria to many others that I’m either forgetting or about which I simply don’t know. Of these other games, when I make an argument that Conan 2d20 is my most favorite system for accurately emulating Conan pulp fiction, I should make clear that I have not played all of them, though I have read (and even played) most of those listed above.

Getting into Conan 2d20, for the casual gamer, or for the merely curious, demands a fair amount of cognitive load. This is because, I believe, the system is so innovative — and those innovations are precisely what makes this a Conan game. I have encountered many anecdotes of gamers and consumers gleefully obtaining this gorgeous hardcover tome (or PDF), riffling through it, saying, “Huh?” then setting it aside with a “Sorry, not for me, but the art is pretty, and this still makes a good resource.” This describes my own initial reception, as I was losing my mind to higher Levels of play in Pathfinder and, with immense relief, was going “old school” by picking up Swords & Wizardry. But I kept sneaking glances at Conan 2d20 and thinking “what if?” Bob Byrne and I tried to do something via Play by Post. In my home group, a year or so later, I got a 1e enthusiast to start running for my casual players so that I could give 2d20 a go with two seasoned players. But then, after I had successfully run two adventures, the pandemic hit, and these two players weren’t interested in online play.

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Character Options Explode in Advanced Player’s Guide for Pathfinder Second Edition

Saturday, August 1st, 2020 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones


Last year at Gen Con Paizo released their Pathfinder Second Edition. The reception, from those I spoke to, was generally positive. People hadn’t been particularly displeased with Pathfinder First Edition, though after a decade of the game there were some balance issues. When people gave it a chance, many players transition to Second Edition without looking back.

In my experience, people are only thrilled about a new edition of a popular roleplaying game if there are serious issues with the existing edition of the game. For example, the flaws of 4th edition D&D paved the way for widespread enthusiasm when 5th edition was released.

The big stumbling block for a previous First Edition Pathfinder player to transition to Pathfinder Second Edition is the sheer volume of content that Pathfinder First Edition has available. Pathfinder is known for the sheer number of character options. An almost dizzying array of character options, one might say. The sort of character options that almost necessitate third-party software like Hero Lab in order to track it.

While Second Edition still allowed for extremely diverse character options right out of the gate, it was nothing compared to the options available for First Edition. One major step toward expanding those options is the recent release of the Pathfinder Second Edition Advanced Player’s Guide (Paizo, Amazon) providing new ancestries, backgrounds, archetypes, spells, equipment, and the Second Edition versions of four Pathfinder class options: Investigator, Oracle, Swashbuckler, and Witch.

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Starfinder: Enhanced Starships, Exploring Near Space, and Other New Goodies

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

StarshipOperationsBack in 2017, when Paizo was ramping up for the launch of their new space fantasy RPG Starfinder, we were fortunate enough to offer exclusive previews on two of their new ships months prior to the release of the game. Since the 2017 release of the game, we’ve been keeping a pretty active eye on what Paizo has been releasing and, though there have been some fantastic additions to the game, there hasn’t been a major emphasis on new options for starships. That all changes with the release of the new Starship Operations Manual (Amazon, Paizo), a July 2020 release that was slated to coincide with Gen Con 2020. (Which, you may recall, is happening online this year.)

There have been some previous supplements in the past that dealt with starships. The Starfinder Pact Worlds setting book (Amazon, Paizo) has a chapter with various starships representing groups and societies, like the robotic Aballonian ships, the militant Hellknight ships, and the living ships of the Xenowardens, that weren’t in the original Starfinder Core Rulebook (Amazon, Paizo), and also provided some related new starship options like biomechanical ships, hydroponic bays, and drift shadow projectors that could be incorporated into other ship designs. The recent Near Space setting book (more on that in a minute) also had a chapter in a similar vein, including ships of the aggressive Veskarium. The mechanics of starship combat itself was addressed more deeply in the Character Operations Manual (Amazon, Paizo), released last winter, by creating the Chief Mate and Magic Officer roles to enhance starship combat for characters who were not well supported under the original set of rules.

So is the Starship Operations Manual just more of the same? While it does contain a ton of these sorts of options – starship weapons utilizing 20 new weapon properties, expansion bays, and security systems – it also goes beyond that, introducing fundamental variations to the core starship mechanics. It is worth recapping here that the core design of Starfinder, as a campaign, is that as the group progresses, the ship itself also “levels up” as the players do. The idea is that you’re constantly tweaking the ship and scrounging/bartering for parts and upgrades, and so you get a set number of Build Points as you level up that you can spend to buy new features for your ship. So the ship really gets tailored to the specifications of what the crew wants out of it, both in terms of mechanics and in terms of thematic feel. A group of mercenaries may have an armored battleship, while a group of smugglers might have a sleek and maneuverable transport, while more honest businessmen might be piloting a diplomatic passenger ship. And with the Starship Operations Manual, you really have the ability, as both players and GMs, to make the most out of the starships within the game.

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Robots, Deep Space, and Star Trek: Free RPG Day at Games Plus in Mount Prospect

Monday, July 27th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Free RPG Day is not something I can remember ever taking part in…. mostly because the only local gaming store here in St. Charles died ten years ago. But when I saw the Facebook announcement from Floyd at Games Plus on Friday (above), I was intrigued enough to make the 30-mile drive to Mount Prospect Saturday morning.

Games Plus is easily the best gaming store in the the Chicago area — perhaps in the entire country. It’s the home of the Games Plus auctions I’ve written about extensively for the the past 10 years. Like all retail stores, it’s struggled as a result of the pandemic, and I was overdue for a visit to show my support (and spend some money) anyway.

And several of the items in Floyd’s pic grabbed my attention, especially the Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure from Goodman Games, the Root the Tabletop Roleplaying Game adventure, and the Warhammer Wrath & Glory module. It’d be a challenge narrowing my selection down to two items, but I figured that’d be part of the fun.

So what is Free RPG Day?

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