Tabletop RPG Podcast and Roleplaying Resources

Category: RPG (Page 1 of 14)

Stan’s Favorite Game Systems

I enjoy trying out new games, but I’ve also found that ‘mastering’ a game system often takes many sessions of running those rules. These days, I’m usually more comfortable converting an existing IP over to a game system I like and have mastered, rather than learning yet another rule system from scratch each time I run games in a new setting. Conversion does time some time, but so does learning a new system!

Anyway, with that background, here are my favorite game systems and some notes.

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Flesh Out Characters With A Character Connections Chart

Here’s a system I developed after being inspired by both mind-mapping software I have used as part of story-creation as well as the very innovative Smallville RPG techniques of character building. I call it “character connections.”

Developing Character Connections

Creating a character connections chart is a great way to chart relationships and conflicts and build some depth for your characters before you launch a campaign. Taking this extra step can make your two dimensional characters come to life and make your roleplaying experience more enjoyable.

Create a grid which maps all the characters possible connections such as the one below.  As you go through each stage, players add sentences to a square in the row with their name next to it.

The process has a number of steps equal to the number of other characters in your group (for example, a party of five requires 4 steps to complete this process.

  • If you have three characters, the steps are: Person and Trouble
  • If you have four characters, the steps are: Person, Trouble and Event
  • If you have five characters, the steps are: Person, Trouble, Event and Place
  • If you have six characters (the maximum recommended), the steps are: Person, Trouble, Event, Place and Heritage

In the Person stage, you create an NPC (maybe a father, captain of the guard, an ex-girlfriend, etc.) which somehow connects you to another player. Alternatively, highlight some interesting aspect of the relationship between you and the other character.

In the Trouble stage, you determine some conflict between you and another player. This should add drama but not be something that would hamper teamwork. A “vowed to kill you” aspect doesn’t exactly lend itself to working together!

In the Event stage, you identify some past event which effected both you and another player.

In the Place stage, you pinpoint a location which connects you and another player.

In the Heritage stage, you develop a shared ancestry or other origin related event to connect you and another character.


In this example we’ll have three characters from Star Trek.

In the Person stage, Kirk writes “Knows Spock’s ambassador father Sarek.” For McCoy, he writes “Friends with McCoy since the Academy.” Note that the Person connecting them may simply be a past friendship between the two, so the person is simply the other character. Spock writes “Kirk reminds Spock of his Human mother’s influence on his DNA” and “McCoy’s nurse, Christian Chapel, has a crush on Spock.” McCoy writes “Always tries to may Jim (Kirk) think” and “Spock should be more human.”

In the Trouble stage, Kirk writes “Why can’t Spock see the value of human emotion?” and “McCoy is always acting like Jiminy Cricket.” Spock writes “Kirk is simply not…logical” and “McCoy is a loose canon, letting his emotions cloud his judgment.” McCoy writes “I’ll put Kirk on medical leave if he goes off the deep end” and “Spock is like a green-blooded computer.”

There’s simply a few summary sentences in each box, but behind those sentences are deeper stories which have been fleshed out during the banter between the players (if you’re at a tabletop) or in a paragraph or two per stage (if you’re doing this online via text posts).

Tips for Online Usage

If you’re doing this online it may be a good idea to post your idea as a ‘Draft’ (put the word “Draft” in the title or at the beginning of the paragraph). This gives you a chance to essentially ask permission from the other player to do something with your shared history.

Note that conflicts can add drama and excitement, but do be careful to make sure you give affirmation in OOC posts and continue to stress that this is just story-conflict not actual conflict between the players. I should all be in good fun; not something personal.

If your RPG system has the concept of alignments or values, make sure the relationships reflect this. Don’t allow one lone wolf evil character whose actions sully the group’s fun!

Top Games Wanted at NTRPGCon

Yesterday I talked about Top Games Played at NTRPGCon. Now I’ll move on to some interesting survey results.

I ran a poll on the NTRPGCon Facebook group which asked “What old-school game that is seldom / never run at NTRPGCon would you most like to play in next year?” I listed a few games, but allowed folks to add their own choices. Below were the results.

Star Frontiers was the clear winner — I suspect based on that and feedback folks were giving in the comments that we’ll see at least a few Star Frontiers at the 2017 con! I’m considering running a Bunnies & Burrows game and maybe another Middle-earth game.

Top 12 Games Seldom/Never Run at NTPGCon

  1. Star Frontiers (38 votes)
  2. Top Secret SI (22 votes (tie))
  3. Star Wars WEG d6 (22 votes (tie))
  4. Bunnies & Burrows RPG (13 votes (tie))
  5. Stormbringer RPG (13 votes (tie))
  6. Chainmail (13 votes (tie))
  7. Marvel TSR (13 votes (tie))
  8. Gangbusters (12 votes (tie))
  9. Dark Sun (12 votes (tie))
  10. Star Trek (FASA, LUG, etc.) (11 votes)
  11. Runequest (10 votes)
  12. MERP (8 votes)

18 other entries got between 1 and 7 votes. See the full poll results here.

Top Games Played at NTRPGCon

stan-shinn-citystateFor those who don’t know, North Texas RPG Con is an old-school RPG gaming convention which has grown in popularity each year (this year they had well over 300 attendees which maxed out their gaming space; next year they will have bigger facilities and more attendees I believe).

What games are folks running at NTRPGCon? Here’s a rundown of the 2016 games based on games listed on their 2016 calendar.

Early D&D (OD&D, B/X, BECM, AD&D, 2e, retroclones): 55 Games

This breaks down into:

  • 8 OD&D games
  • 11 B/X games
  • 2 BECM games
  • 9 Swords & Wizardry Games
  • 23 AD&D games (1e & 2e combined)
  • 2 Labyrinth Lord games

DCC games: 19 Games

DCC is a new-ish game but with a very old-school vibe.

D&D 5th Edition: 18 games

The rise in popularity of 5e is notable given the old-school focus of the con. By contrast, I’ve never seen a Pathfinder or 4e game run at NTRPGCon (somebody correct me if I’m wrong on that).

Traveller: 8 games

This is the Classic Traveller edition (the little black books). We didn’t have any of these games for years, then last year Mike Kelly and I ran a total of 3 Classic Traveller games. Now this year, we had 8. Great to see this games surge in popularity at this con!

Misc. Games

There was also a smattering of other games (each run 1 to 3 sessions):

  • Gamma World 1e
  • Villians & Vigilantes
  • Ghostbusters RPG
  • Paranoia
  • Metamorphosis Alpha
  • Call of Cthulhu
  • Boot Hill
  • Barbarians of Lemuria
  • Astonishing Sorcerers and Swordsmen of Hyperboria (AS&SH)

In my next post I’ll talk about ‘Top Games Wanted at NTRPGCon.’

Stormbringer & Cthulhu Roleplaying Awesomeness!

This last Friday I had the joy to play in Theron Bretz’s Stormbringer RPG game which he ran at NTRPGCon this year. I’m doing a series of posts analyzing combat speed (what speeds or slows down combat in RPGs) and this was a great game to play in and analyze. Before I get into combat speed analysis (which I’ll tackle in my next post), let’s take a look at a couple of incarnations of the Basic Role-Playing game system.

Basic Role-Playing (and it’s ancestor, Runequest)

Basic Roleplaying

Basic Roleplaying

The Basic Role-Playing game (BRP) system is a percentile-dice-based system used in many role-playing games designed by Chaosium (most notably, Call of Cthulhu). It’s ancestor was the 1978 game Runequest. In Britain in the 1980s, RuneQuest was recognized by the gaming world as one of the ‘Big Three’ games with the largest market share (the others being Dungeons & Dragons and Traveller).

At its core, it has a lot of D&D-style mechanics (abilities, damage, hit points, etc.), but with a percentile based skill system and some other elements layered in. The BRP Character Sheet from Chaosium gives you a quick feel for the stats at work in the system.

Basic Role-Playing eventually became the GURPs / Savage Worlds-style generic system based on Runequest, with Runequest (now in it’s 6th Edition) remaining the leading Fantasy incarnation of the venerable rules.

Other variants such as Chaosium’s Magic World allow you to incorporate interesting magic system to emulate Stormbringer’s setting (even though Chaosium has long lost the license from Moorcock).

If you’re looking for interesting or novel magic systems, the BRP family of products has many options, and is modularized to allow you to toggle on or off whatever magic subsystems you want for your setting.

Call of Cthulhu

I have looked over the Basic Role-Playing game system and its variants (Call of Cthulhu, Ringworld, Elfquest, etc.) over the years, but last month (when I played in a Cthulhu game) was the first time I’d ever played in one of these percentile-dice-based systems. It always struck me as overly crunchy (due to long skill lists and percentile notes all over the place). However, the Cthulhu game ran amazingly fast and I was very surprised at how enjoyable the system was to play!

Brandon Peterson's Cthulhu game

Brandon Peterson’s Cthulhu game — we filled in the stats as we tried to do things (our characters had amnesia!)

Stormbringer RPG

My experience a few weeks later in Theron’s Stormbringer game was much the same as in Call of Cthulhu: combat which was immersive, cinematic, and fast-moving.

The Stormbringer RPG game which Theron ran used the 1st edition rules first published by Chaosium back in 1981. The setting is based on the Elric of Melniboné books by Michael Moorcock. The game takes its name from Elric’s sword, Stormbringer.

Stormbringer Character Sheet using percentile-dice based skills

Stormbringer Character Sheet using percentile-dice based skills

This game was unbelievably fun. Part of it was that Theron was such a great GM. Part of it was the theater-of-the-mind style which Theron used: I always find theater-of-the-mind to be some much more immersive, especially with Fantasy games (sneaking past a 200-yard long sleeping dragon just can’t be replicated with minis!). Part of it was the evocative Melniboné setting which Theron described so well.

Some of it was the system itself.

Cover art really brought out the Moorcock vibe!

Cover art really brought out the Moorcock vibe!

The game is not particularly balanced (like the source material, our Melnibonéan sorcerer clearly out-powered a mundane rogue character I was playing). For a con game, I don’t mind being unbalanced (though I might care more in a longer term campaign). But what stood out was how fast-paced the game was, while still being evocative and cinematic.

Stormbringer 1st Edition Box Set really had the old-school feel

Stormbringer 1st Edition Box Set really had the old-school feel

Characters, even though they had a lot of experience (maybe equating to Level 7 in D&D, though BRPG doesn’t have levels per se), still only had 10 to maybe 13 hit points. Combat was gritty and death seemed never more than a couple of bad dice rolls away.

Old-school dungeon crawl but with the distinct feel of Melniboné

Old-school dungeon crawl but with the distinct feel of Melniboné

In some ways it was more satisfying that AD&D combat. Characters had a chance to roll in attempt to parry a blow If you scored a particularly good hit, you could take (or inflict) a ‘major wound’ which the GM would look up on a table. Between major wounds descriptions from tables, and Theron’s own flavorful descriptions of combat, the battles hit the zen-like sweet-spot of being both super-fast and super-descriptive.

All-in-all, this was one amazing game. Great players, great GM, and a system that flowed fast and really made you feel like you were in Melniboné!

Getting Into BRP

I really loved the Stormbringer and Cthulhu games and the simple-but-flavorful BRP system. I did a bit of research and found that BRP could be a nice potential fit for games that need a particularly exotic magic system to emulate non-Tolkien style Fantasy games. BRP Fantasy systems come in many flavors. Here are a few top choices and some notes I made based on reviews.

  • Runequest (6th Ed.) —  Chaosium’s long-lived product with five modular magic systems to choose from (including a Rune magic system). Based on some reviews, I might find this incarnation a bit too crunchy for my tastes.
  • MagicWorld — Another Chaosium version that incorporates many Stormbringer setting rules, but with the Moorcock IP stripped out.
  • OpenQuest — There is a Runequest SRD, and OpenQuest takes the SRD bits, streamlines it, and represents it in simpler form. Fewer skills for example. This would probably be my favorite one to start with. It is reviewed here. And as an even simpler first step, the free and small OpenQuest Basic might be just the place to start.

While I’d likely look elsewhere for generic, supers, or Sci Fi rpg systems, the magic flavors in the BRP products have enough appeal to warrant consideration if you’re looking at a non-traditional Fantasy campaign. In any case, I loved all my BRP experiences and I am gladly adding this system to my short-list of game systems to consider for GMing or playing at cons or in home games!

Combat Metrics

Aside from being cool systems to play, in my next article I’ll talk about how BRP systems play out with regard to combat speed.

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