Category Archives: RPG Ravings

[TT] Advantage and Disadvantage Calculations

At Origins, I played in a couple of D&D 5th Edition playtest sessions, for a module and for the online tools. Two mechanics stuck out for me: the new system for preparing spells and advantage/disadvantage.

Advantage and disadvantage are simple to describe and powerful in their implications. If you have advantage, make the roll twice and take the higher number; if you have disadvantage, make the roll twice and take the lower number. Done.

3rd Edition had a similar intent with its “+/-2″ default rule. If the DM was not sure what sort of bonus or penalty something imposed, just go with “2.” That is a 10% difference on a 20-sided die. How does “advantage” differ?

Quite a bit. Several people have run the numbers (I think “enumerate the 400 possibilities” is a better method than running a simulation). As noted, the effect of advantage is small at the extremes and huge in the middle. If you are nearly certain to succeed or fail, advantage is +1 or +2. If you have a 50/50 chance, it is +5. Out of 20, that is really, really big.

Players will also feel advantage and disadvantage very strongly because of the perceived gain/loss of the second die roll. If you roll two 18s, “eh,” you say, “advantage didn’t matter.” If you roll an 18 and a 2, that’s a success with advantage and a failure wit disadvantage, and you can see fate hanging in the balance of that mechanic. It’s a psychologically powerful factor.

: Zubon

[RR] Atomic Robo RPG Review

Atomic Robo is a great comic, and it has become a great tabletop RPG, Atomic Robo RPG (“ARRPG”). While the book has been in digital form for a few months, the book is just coming off the dead-tree presses. Early reviews seem to point that not only is it a perfect embodiment of the Atomic Robo setting, but it also is one of the best versions of the FATE system.

Drawn to Rules

One of the highlights to owning this book is how much time was taking in using the Atomic Robo comic to explain RPG rules. I’ll let the book itself do the talking:

ARRPG rules sample

There are lots of ways to learn, and adding a slightly more visual style by using the source material was just a fantastic move. I’m a FATE veteran, and even I appreciated all the comics that crossed the line in to RPG mechanics. Continue reading

[RR] Ficklejuice

I came back from vacation to my two play-by-post campaigns I was at the time playing before I left. I gave fair notice to all participants I would be gone, of course. When I came back only one was still running. The one that didn’t need a gamemaster (“GM”). The other one, well the GM decided he’d got in over his head, and he just wasn’t going to be producing a quality game. So the plug was pulled.

I am incredibly jealous of those gaming group that have had decades long campaigns. I’ve found in my gaming groups that was rarely the case. The current top games, Pathfinder and I guess Dungeons and Dragons, are swinging the pendulum further away by having drop-in type campaigns run at the local game shops. It’s a great idea to get people playing together, but I think it’s also indicative of the fickleness I’ve found in this hobby. Continue reading

[RR] Player Character Antagonism and Interaction

Your mileage may vary, but as a GM I find a unified front of players pretty boring. “Why, yes” they all seem to say although only one player is talking, “we all agree and do this.” In real life even something simple like choosing where to go to eat on a group dinner can become a balancing act. Bob’s on a diet, and Fi wants a steak, or at least something from a cow. Throw a vegan in to the mix and the difficulty increases exponentially. No one presses “X” to move along.

The more I play role-playing games, the more I get the feeling that the story isn’t that big of a deal. Sure, a cohesive metaplot would be nice. However, it’s the situations that really seem to stick. Those situations are especially good if players become invested in the outcome. Go for a full boat, when the players want different paths or outcomes.

I just started playing two play-by-post games at, and already we’re hitting some great player vs. player or PC vs. PC situations. Continue reading

[RR] Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine Review

This review is based on the ePub version (i.e., Kindle), which is currently available for $10 at DriveThruRPG. A PDF version with art and print layout will be out later this year.

This is a roleplaying game. It is possibly the roleplaying game. It is genius. It is horrifying. It is a beautiful balance of everything that would drive a story forward. It is diceless. It is filled with meta-game moments. It is quite a task to understand. If you are on a path to better understanding how to grow as a gamemaster (GM) or as a player with a player character(PC) in tabletop RPG’s, I’d tell you to buy it. If you are on Pathfinder this RPG might as well be in ancient Martian.

This game was to play Studio Ghibli films. Perhaps not as adventurous as Princess Mononoke, which would easily fall under a standard RPG system. This system was designed to play Ponyo or Spirited Away. There’s one scene in Ponyo, where the boy takes Ponyo out in a boat to explore the submerged world. It’s such an interesting slice of adventure, but without much purpose. How would you create a game like that where the player is involved? Continue reading

Edition Wars, Critical Mass

In D&D that is known as the edition wars. Psychologically that is the same well-known effect as people being angry about somebody playing a different MMORPG than they are. Pen & paper games as well as MMORPGs consume so many hours, that they become akin to a lifestyle choice. And somebody choosing a different lifestyle than you are is perceived as a threat, as it calls into question whether your choice was the right one.

While one might have trouble overestimating the inferiority complexes and senses of entitlement on display in many online discussions, another take is that choosing a different MMO or edition is a threat because it diverts resources away from your choice and increases the threat that your game will fall below the critical mass necessary to maintain support for it.

The fewer people that play your game, the harder it is to find people to play with. It also means less developer time and effort being spent on your game, because there are less resources to support them. In MMOs, that can lead to games going offline, at which point you cannot play anymore. Pen and paper games do not have that risk, but to the extent that there is value in having a supporting gaming community, you need them to support your game.

And the closer someone is to your game, the more problematic it is that they are not playing your game because they could be. They face the exact same problem that you do, in terms of needing attention on a particular game, but they are making that exact same problem worse by going with you 90% of the way and then diverting attention at the last moment (and of course the fools see you as the one causing the problem). Maybe this will be the expansion that radically expands the playerbase, as WoW did for MMOs, but most games are competing for the same pool of players. The scarcer resources are, the uglier the fights over them tend to be.

: Zubon

[RR] Investment in the Game

Personal investment in a pen and paper roleplaying game is one of the most important factors in the life and death of a campaign. It doesn’t matter through what medium the game is played (tabletop, forum, Google Hangout, etc.), the range of investment in the players matters.

The biggest investment in a conventional game is the gamemaster (GM). This is the player that tells all the other players “hey, come play in my world!” They are the rules arbitrator, worldkeeper, and general destroyer of fun. If the GM doesn’t have a strong vision or investment in the game they want to run, the game is not off to a great start. Continue reading

[RR] Stories in Blood and Smoke

In a way this is a review, but not really. This is also a post about what roleplaying can be, at least, within the context of one RPG: Blood and Smoke: The Strix Chronicle (TSC). It is about what roleplaying can be when the constraints of character are large.

TSC is the latest supplement for the Vampire: the Requiem gameline, which is now being handled by Onyx Path Publishing. Unlike the original Vampire: the Requiem, TSC is a standalone book. It has all the rules necessary to play the RPG. It is also a further world revision of Vampire: the Requiem. It’s basically version 1.5, now with boogiemen. If you are familiar with Vampire: the Requiem, I cannot recommend TSC enough.

For all the rest whose eyes glazed over at the last paragraph. TSC is where you play a vampire. Not just any vampire though. You play a Kindred. This is a vampire that tries to maintain some semblance of what it means to be human. You aren’t a monster, least not fully. This isn’t a game about dungeons or solving mysteries. Well, I guess you can to both. Foremost, it is a game about being a vampire. Continue reading

[RR] Character Story Mechanics

The most conventional setup for a tabletop RPG is for a gamemaster (GM) to run the game while the players react. The GM drives the world, and he or she also drives most of the story. The players use their characters (PC’s) to react to the world. Good players will roleplay their PC’s such that the response is what a barbarian would do, and not what Mark the Accountant would do, especially if Mark the Accountant is amoral about the barbarian’s death. In my gaming group we have a wider range with some player sticking to their characters while others blur the line between player action and character action. Either way, conventionally the players react.

A current mechanic I have seen more and more is for the players to be proactive in their character’s storytelling. I would say it is the RPG mechanic of the decade. Players have concrete reasons to push forward with their character’s motivations and ideals in many current systems. I personally love it. Continue reading

[RR] Two GM-Free Indies – A Hasty Review of Both

It was the worst of times. I had poured my heart and soul into starting a campaign for my group, and no one seemed invested. We had some fantastic times, but for whatever reason everybody seemed happy to just take from the GM. Perhaps it is just my current group. Perhaps it was the game choice. Perhaps it was me. Either way the table was not an imaginative crucible I had wanted it to be.

I started poking around and came upon two new GM-free games built around crucibles of imagination. Both games are virtual one shots. The first was Our Last Best Hope a game where the players go on an adventure to save mankind from a mankind-ending threat. The second was Microscope, which is a world-building game. I bought Our Last Best Hope in the latest Bundle of Holding, which has quit a few great indie games in their “humble” bundle. Continue reading