Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Simplicity by Dave Zajac isn't simple but it is resplendent

Simplicity by Dave Zajac (aka Swordfin Games) is a fantasy roleplaying game system for those who have an inner wrestle between modern fantasy roleplaying games an old school ones.

In the 70s corner is your flared corduroy self with huge mutton chops, tight rainbow jumper and CND medallion. In the modern corner is you in neon Lycra and electric blue Anime hair. You want both. You want the comfortable feel of the stripey sweater your wife burnt and you want the Lycra catsuit you should have stopped wearing years ago. Can Simplicity give you that? Old school but modern? Like retaking high school when you're 40?

It's not

Simplicity isn't. Great name but not true. It's not a monolith but it's not simple. That's OK, I like my RPGs like I like my salad: with some crunch. I'll explain as I go through but let's get that out of the way. If you want simple, pick up Risus or Warrior, Rogue and Mage.

No races, No classes

The first old school trope to be jettisoned are classes and races. Your avatar is built old school style from Body (dancing, carrying, punching), Mind (thinking, arguing, magicking) and Spirit (cajoling, cavorting, commanding). Each is a number between 8 and 23, which gives a modifier and other side-effects such as how much you can carry. From there, you calculate speed, damage reduction, health, equipment and abilities. Abilities (skills) use a skill tree system and each ability changes the rules of play in some way (more on this).

No wishy-washy story-driven life generation or other such modernity here. It's stock old-school.

Die!

Performing actions in Simplicty is simple: roll d20, add modifiers larger than 10. If you're hitting something, your weapon will have a die to roll, subtract the enemy's damage reduction (based on armour) and they take that many hits to their health. The old school is booted again with levels being the decision of the GM, not through hacking monsters.

So, where is the complexity then?

I harp on all the time about crunch entering through the back door. A resolution mechanic can look innocuous (this certainly is) but once you add the skills/abilities to the game, the number of ruling combinations explodes! I like this sort of crunch. It works for me.

This does make the system more complicated because the folks around the table have to keep track of all the effects on the rules of the different abilities. Complexity has also crept in with book keeping (weights for everything, including coinage).

Things that curl my nose

The rulebook feels scattergunned with rules. I would prefer a more ordered layout, particularly extracting all the inline rules (actions, combat, magic) out of character generation and into another chapter. I'd much rather refer to the combat chapter during character generation than have to root through character generation during a combat. I'd also like examples made obvious, perhaps by boxing them out. I'd like some more pictures too. Dave drew the cover, which is lovely! Let's have more of that.

Charming Terroir

Not terror, you heathen; terroir. The book grows out of excellent writing, a neat and not-fussy layout, a GM section that tells you how to build monsters and balance a game. There's even a map. Dave goes further on the website, where you can download a starting adventure, character sheet and optional rules. There's even a back page. If you fancy buying a hardcopy (which I view very much as a time saver for cash-to-burn hobbyists like me) then he provides that too.

Simple is not always good

It is a laudable goal to create a simple roleplaying game. However to create a playable game with just the right level of crunch is no less worthy. Simplicity isn't and that's OK. That's more than OK. This is a well written RPG that has the crunchy elements of the old school while chucking out other tropes with cavalier freedom. It sets out to modernise the old school without washing out any flavour and I feel it succeeds that tricky goal with aplomb.

Dave, thank you for sharing!

Monday, 6 January 2014

Monkey Hangout #2 is coming. Your questions please!

It turns out that the 1KM1KT monkeys are not just text based figments of my imagination and that there are fully fleshed out figments of my imagination, which was a relief. The first monkey hangout was so much fun that we've decided to do another.
Monkey Hangout #2: Sunday 12th January 2014, 8pm GMT

Lots of ways to join in!

We're a community. Not the kind that paints your fence for you but the kind you can banter with and get childishly excited about the same stuff with. Here's how you can join in:

1. Join on camera

It's first come first served and I think 6 places (including me) is the limit. As you can see from the video, we're all exceptionally beautiful people, so I am sure you'll fit. You will need a camera with headphones (microphone feedback is horrid without them), sign up on the thread on 1KM1KT, install the Google Plus plugin (only takes a moment) and be prepared to be answer a bunch of questions.

2. Join in on the chat room

The whole thing is streamed live, so you will be able to pop into the chat room. That's quite easy to do, get onto Google Plus, pop over to the Free RPG Blog page and you'll see a Hangout On Air with a link. Clicking that will send you through a page that you can enter text in a box! It's as easy as that. You can ask us questions and answer them too. Drop in, drop out, we don't mind - it'll be great to have you there.

3. Ask questions beforehand

Do you have a question you would like the Monkeys to answer? Have you got a burning thought about free RPGs you MUST have answered? Do you want to watch 6 people squirm uncomfortably at an impossibly hard question? Then ask away here or in the multitudinous methods you have open to you. Or hold onto it for the day and drop it like a question bomb.

The timezone is rubbish!

Yes. Since I found out the planet was a sphere and the sun shone on it at different times, life has been a wholly more complicated place. For me to run one of these for those in the "+" timezones requires a little bit more planning because it means morning in UK time. With a small child obliterating the house, that requires a little more planning and backup from The Mrs. It will happen as there are a bunch of RPG authors on the planet's posterior I'm very keen to chat with.

Can't make it?

No problem. Doubtless there will be more. If you think it's kind of fun to watch, it's 100 times more fun when you're there.

Friday, 3 January 2014

19 pocketmod RPGs - Harder Than Granite competition entries

The 2013 Harder Than Granite competition set a high bar. Complete an RPG in 24 hours, during November 2013, in pocketmod format and with no-numbers. What's more, being the greedy sort that I am, I wanted character sheets, front pages, indexes (if possible) and everything wrapped in a beautiful wrapper. The mind bending Heist Aces by Fred Bednarski won. Thank you to all those that took part.

I'm proud to list the entries with a lightweight review-ette of each. In alphabetical order.

A Flask full of Gasoline

A Flask full of Gasoline by Dyson Logos is a gritty, bare chested, manly game that me laugh over and over on each read through. It uses ingenious mechanics that mesh snugly with the theme of over-the-top Tarantino machismo. It includes booze too (and not the only game to do so), that washes flavour over the whole game. Jason "Chainsaw Aardvark" Kline and I had real trouble deciding between this and the winner Heist Aces (below).

Agents of Spectrum

Agents of Spectrum by the unstoppable Geoff Lamb is set in the super-secretive world of SPECTRUM. Spectrum are CIA/Men In Black organisation that keeps all that magic we know to exist hidden from civilians. As senior civil servants (who thought that job could be exciting?), you are in line to become "Control" but to do so, you need to make sure your Field Office is better than all the others. Uses Candy Land coloured cards with a simple mechanic of colour matching for actions.

Alpha Unix

Alpha Unix by Moriaty Games mashed the Matrix together with Groundhog day in a big bowl of delishousness. A succulent setting where numbers are not just shunned but will drop you deep in digital doo-doo. Computers use numbers, by writing them down you're only helping them. You're not HELPING THEM, are you? Alpha Unix is all setting and it's all good. Lovers of Paranoia will feel at home in Alpha Unix. Take or leave the mechanic, the setting is worth a look.

Artifacts and Ambitions

In Artifacts and Ambitions by gnapo, sentient artifacts aid humans using the awesome power of magic! As a player, you play both PUNY HUMAN with ambitions and a magical artifact. There is a lot of trading of powers and promises between the Artifacts and the PUNY HUMANS, who are ever-so selfish and grabby. Oral contracts fly about like tweets in a revolution with imagination running riot.

The Bodhisattva’s Smile

The Bodhisattva’s Smile by Michael Wenman (who live blogged the experience) is a novel story game that charts the pilgrimage of an NPC and the players jostle to be the one to aid the pilgrim with their sycophantic persuasion. It's a unique idea that delves into the soul and what it is to be human. Worth a couple of reads to understand what is required. Make sure you grab The Mandala of All Things first, which makes the game much easier to understand!

Daring Adventures

Daring Adventures by Kris Newton is a ram-packed supers game that eschews numbers in favour of cards and the cheeky use of a pot of tokens (sort of counting but not really - ish). Not only do you craft you own super hero but you also get to craft the villain too, giving this compact game an element of replay. Keep this gem in your GM bag for that supers pickup game you need.

Dwarfen Veterans

Don't be put off by the simple cover to the beguiling Dwarfen Veterans by Anastylos. It's a wonderful idea: Dwarfs sitting around a tavern table with tankards in hand recounting battle fought long ago. The better the description, the more visceral (and humorous) the more chance you have of winning. Use this idea in your fantasy game right now!. Might be especially fun if your group like to have a beer or two at the table and need a neat way to end a session while "four sheets to the wind"!

Heist Aces (Winner!)

Heist Aces by Fred Bednarski won the competition! It's a beautiful high tech heist game that has depth and complexity. There are no numbers in the document whatsoever, it leads you through the act of setting up and executing a Heist. It offers great replay value and I understand that Fred is looking to expand the concept (I certainly hope he does). It's also Fred's first design (although I found that out only after judging). Congratulations, Fred.

House of Unusual Size

The House of Unusual Size by Shae Davidson is a chunky, imaginative setting in a small package. The characters explore vaulted rooms, musty corridors and dank passages of a huge house Dickensian house. They take it turns to be a spotlight player while all the other players throw horror at them. It's a smashing idea that would belong in any campaign.

Keeton's Journey

Keeton's Journey by Andrew Hague follows the journey of Keeton, a wandering medicine man from ancient Japan. Inspired by Mushi-shi, it has a neat mechanic where it uses the spots on a old-fashioned D6. But wait! You said! Dice! Spots! Numbers! But no... Keeton's Journey uses the shape of the spots. The '4' is the box, for example. Very clever stuff. I've needed a system to run a bit of Kung-Fu Panda and this is it.

Keeton's School of Arcane Arts

Hogwart your face clean off in the magic-em-up-ery of Keeton's School of Arcane Arts by Alec Henry. Built around the ingenious idea of drawing your spells in the form of simple shapes on paper, handing those spells to the GM and then when you want to cast something you have to remember the shape. The GM then compares your pre-drawn spell with the one you've hurriedly handed over for accuracy. The less accurate your copy, the less beneficial the effect. Oh the fun you could have with this!

Make the King

The King is dead! Actually, not quite! But he will be soon. Make the King by Davide Pignedoli is a game where each player has a shot at becoming the next King and must convince the poor, dying monarch that they are the best choice. Mechanics take the form of comparing mugs of tokens and this game is a good diversion for players who like to get their claws out.

Pockets full of Adventure

Keeton has discovered universes in the pockets of his trousers! Stan Taylor's Pockets Full of Adventure allows you to explore those dimensions. Some are large, some are tiny but all are jam packed with things to find. Character creation is a single sentence and the mechanics revolve around flicking to a random page in a book. How brilliant is that?

Pocketful of Heroes

Geoff Lamb's (yes, again) Pocketful of Heroes is a supers game but I like more than just for that. The system is very neat, using a card deck with randomly dealt suits to match up with statistics and then using the same suits again for the actions. It has a superdude on the front and the adventure is a supers one but I think the game is a neat generic system that is well written, described and presented.

Prophecy

Prophecy by Anastylos plays upon the use of tarot cards to generate each character's personal story and token passing as a way of controlling the narrative. Your character is described by adjectives and the mechanics use a choose-to-lose mechanic that gives the player control. If another player doesn't like this idea, they must choose a fist. Some tokens are success tokens, some are fail tokens. When you run out of success tokens? Well, have a guess.

Quest(ions)

Quest-ions by Jonathan Lavellee is a cunning fantasy system that uses the pocketmod booklet itself in the mechanics. A player can choose a page from the booklet upon which there are action words which make up the choices for that round. Ingenious! The GM is rotated (not physically) and your character is defined by a combination of Body, Mind and Spirit and they are used to narrow down what types of actions you can do.

Star Punk

Star Punk by Emmett O'Brian makes you work hard. First, you have to create your larger than life characters. Then (if that wasn't enough), you have to create the world on which you live. After that (if you still have any energy at all), you have to battle the evil Keeton. Taking damage is all about taking new "conditions" (disadvantages) that can only be removed with good roleplay. It's light, it's got an adventure and it's Sci Fi.

Super Robot Go!

Climb inside a mech and live out your Pacific Rim fantasies in Super Robot Go! by Geoff Lamb. It's a super-lightweight giant robot game that focuses around the lovely Mech drawn in the rules. Mechanics are ably provided by Fudge dice, comparing the amount of positive and negative dice. It's got some neat mechanics and an adventure too. Scratch that giant robot itch I know you have. Just don't scratch it with a giant robot, that won't end well.

Witch Hunt

Grab your pitchforks and head off into the forest to hunt the witch. Why? Because she's evil. Why? Because she does bad stuff. Why? Because. Geoff Lamb's game puts you in the shoes of ordinary folk (they won't mind) and see you heading of in narrative to hunt evil. Why? ARE YOUR FOUR YEARS OLD?! Candy Land card decks control the theme of the narrative, GM sets the scene and the players riff off each other.


Are you in this list and have a blog that I didn't link? Argh! My apologies. Please get in touch in any of the myriad of ways open to you.