Monthly Archives: July 2015

Episode 66 – Gatekeeping (with Mike Perna) 2

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Mike Perna of Innroads Ministries and Game Store Prophets joins us to talk about a complex problem in both faith communities and geek communities: Gatekeeping. Mike’s joined us before for Episode 33 (“Our Origin Stories”), and he was a perfect fit for this topic in many ways. He previously wrote an excellent article on gatekeeping, and has a lot of wisdom and experience to share with us.  We hit on a lot of small details—’controllers’ vs. ‘facilitators’; gatekeeping in church and in geek culture; comments on “pastoral customs” by Pope Francis; and others—but our focus is on solving the problem when you encounter it, not just documenting it. It’s a rather thoughtful episode, so enjoy, and tell us what you think in the comments!

Scripture: Ezekiel 16:49-50, 1 Corinthians 12:21-27, 1 Peter 3:8

Fitting a Game With a New System 11

In my last blog post, I lamented the heaviness of the GURPS system relative to my own available prep time and went over some of my thought process in finding a new system. This week, having settled on FATE, I’m going to go over some of the specifics of converting the game over. I’m far from an expert at this, so take this more as a set of observations than any sort of useful guide.

First and foremost, I have definitely decided on FATE. I snagged the FATE Core System from my friendly but sadly not-very local game store, Games Plus in Mt. Prospect, IL. I’ve also ordered a set of FATE dice and the toolkit book online. I feel a little bad not having grabbed those at the store too, but it’s over an hour’s drive and I wasn’t as sure that I’d be using FATE when I bought the core book as I am now.

Here’s what FATE has that’s making it more attractive than GURPS right now:

  • It’s simple. While I love GURPS (it was what got me into the hobby in the first place, after all!) and I especially love the newest edition now that I’ve invested in it a bit, you would be hard-pressed to find a playable game system with more pages of rules text. The core book is actually a 2-volume set that clocks in at just under 600 pages, and with the exception of about 50 pages, the entire thing is rules and examples of those rules being implemented. A lot of it boils down to simple concepts, but that is still an impressive corpus of material. And that’s before you get into magic and powers, before you get into advanced technology, before you get deep into the martial arts system – you get the idea. In order to get everything I wanted into the GURPS version of the setting, I was referencing something like twenty separate books. I’m going to be using two books for FATE, and they’re smaller – both in terms of page count and page size. The FATE books are about the same size as a novel, whereas GURPS books use the more traditional RPG form factor.
  • That simplicity translates into a shallower learning curve. A FATE character sheet fits on one side of about a half-sheet of paper. If your write small like I do, you could probably fit it on a 3×5 card. By contrast, the GURPS character sheets for the play group filled 3-4 full sheets of paper. This means there is a lot less to keep track of in play, a lot fewer systems to teach, and a generally shallower learning curve. It also knocks GM prep time down dramatically.
  • Aspects. I don’t think there’s a rules concept that’s been stolen for homebrewing more than aspects. For those unfamiliar with them, Aspects are a bit of descriptive text such as “Foppish Minstrel” that can be either Invoked (used for the PC’s benefit by spending a fate point) or Compelled (used to their detriment to make the game interesting with a Fate point given as compensation). They’re a really interesting facet of FATE’s game design, and I look forward to seeing the ones my PCs come up with.
  • Versatility. It’s going to look different than GURPS, but I’m pretty sure everybody will make the transition. This is a really good thing, because, as I’ve described previously, my player group contains both an artificial intelligence and a wizard. In addition, the world has supernatural monsters, aliens, advanced technology, and so forth. Versatility isn’t just nice or useful, it’s essential.
  • Speed of play. There’s not a lot to keep track of in FATE, and it leans heavily on story rather than mechanics. That should allow us to get the most out of our sessions.
  • SRD: I have a copy of the rules in print, as does Grant, but the rest of our group can access them for free online without resorting to piracy.

That’s all to the good. There have been some unforeseen consequences, though: FATE is extremely collaborative, to the point where coming up with certain aspects of the world is intended to be a group activity. This is very different from GURPS, which is a more traditional “the GM makes up everything and the players discover it” type of game. To be honest, even though I wasn’t expecting that and could probably work around it, I’m actually looking forward to see how it goes. The other one is that even though I’m not going to be using GURPS for the campaign’s rules per se, I’m probably going to keep a few of those books handy for ideas for story elements, technology, etc.

I know from comments on the prior blog post a few of you out there have had the experience of switching systems on the fly. I’d love to hear how it went and what went into the transition. In the meantime, I’m pretty excited to see what Grant cooks up in his Unknown Armies game.

Episode 65 – Non-Human Characters

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Grant and Peter are back to talk about non-human player characters—the weirder, the better! After a quick reminder to rate and review us on iTunes or Stitcher, we get on with our main topic. We run through the spectrum of inhumanity: Near-humans, former humans, intelligent animals, and more! Then, we go through questions players (and GMs) need to ask themselves about these sorts of characters to make them effective, believable, and interesting.

Scripture: Genesis 1:21, Hebrews 13:2

When the System Doesn’t Fit 2

I’m on vacation this week, and as such, my routine is a little off. I forgot I had a post to write until Grant jogged my memory, so I apologize that this post is coming a little later than they typically do. -Peter

Recording Episode 64: Matching System and Story got me thinking about the topic referenced in the episode title, but I kept mulling it over for a long time after we finished recording the audio for the episode. As I’ve referenced on the podcast, I’ve been GMing a GURPS game for the gaming group that Grant and I are in. There’s been some good player buy-in and our gaming group’s inter-player dynamics are good enough to make many groups green with envy, but despite all of that, I put the game on what’s hopefully a short hiatus last week.

The reason was, of all things, prep time. GURPS is a really neat, really useful system, and it’s capable of having an AI that operates remotely in the same party as a ninja, a wrecking machine with a combat exoskeleton and a heavy assault rifle, and a wizard/field scientist. However, at the power levels my PC group is operating at (800 points), all of that awesome requires awesome challenges, and often awesome foes, and when a goon takes you 45 minutes to an hour to stat up properly with the aid of character generation software, something has to give. GURPS’s simulationist mechanics also tend to move slowly in combat, and it’s really, really easy for someone to take a rifle round and die. None of this is to say GURPS is a bad system – I’ve used it before and enjoyed it, but it wasn’t fitting quite right with the feel I wanted – my intention was something closer to an action movie – and even if that was going perfectly, the prep time was more than I could handle.

I entertained a number of different system ideas – I have a fairly substantial library of generic and semi-generic systems, but as it turns out, this was a thorny one.

  • Feng Shui 2 just came out, and as a Kickstarter backer, I have a copy. It is specifically geared for action movie style roleplaying to boot. But there’s no way to model Grant’s really interesting artificial intelligence PC. Egeria (the PC) is a massive supercomputer/data center in the bowels of the Intrigue, the warship the PC group is based out of. None of her abilities are physical in any way – she operates by accessing things remotely, hacking, piloting small drones (or larger ones), and receiving A/V feeds from the other PCs. There’s nothing at all like that in there. Dang it. Scratch that one.
  • GUMSHOE is a system I’ve really been wanting to try running for a while, and I have a good selection of different products that could be hacked together in different ways. However, none of them really cover the AI or the science-y wizard. No dice on that one, either.
  • Mutants & Masterminds would probably allow a pretty clean PC translation, but the four-color nature of the artwork and writing was causing me cognitive dissonance as I read it, and the prep time would likely be only slightly less intensive than GURPS, though it would probably work in a pinch.
  • D20 Modern has the same prep time issues as Mutants & Masterminds, and also couldn’t handle Egeria.
  • Savage Worlds is a fantastic system, but we just used it for our last campaign, and it too would have some trouble with the AI and the wizard.

Finally, in frustration, I did what I should have done first: asked my gaming group for suggestions. Grant suggested the FATE system, which is ultimately going to be what I’m going to try converting to. It’s both generic enough and narrative enough that it can handle the PCs and an interesting assortment of bad guys, the rules are available free online, which is useful to both me and my players, and it’s flexible enough to handle the specific tone I’m trying to set. I’ve got some time off this week, so I’m going to start the conversion process.

The take-away from my whole ordeal is this: If you find yourself in a situation like this and get stuck, make sure you ask for ideas from other folks as as soon as possible. If you’re stuck, there’s nothing like another person’s brain to get you UN-stuck. Other roleplayers, particularly ones that have played and/or read a lot of different systems, are your best resource for clearing the mental logjam. It’s also not a bad idea to diversify yourself a bit. One of those systems sitting on your bookshelf might be just what you need some day.