[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] Stories in Blood and Smoke

[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] Character Story Mechanics

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

[RR] Skills as Story

In the ramshackle of numbers we call a character sheet there is usually a place for skills. Skills are usually learned or honed abilities or knowledges. A bootlegger might have some really good driving skills. A mediator will have something like diplomacy. Of course, they are virtually worthless without the gamemaster (GM) presenting a challenge. There are many ways to incorporate a skill in to the story, and I am going to look at a few tools a GM can use to enliven a game with skills.

Skill Checks

Climbing checks have become legendary in my gaming group. We were in some sort of badlands, and we needed to climb some cliff faces. The problem was that none of us were great climbers, or if we had some inkling the dice hated us.

‘Climb check.’ Continue reading [RR] Skills as Story

[RR] PDF Roleplaying

It seems like only a few years ago when Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition (D&D 3e) came out. I remember how almost everybody in our gaming group had the Player’s Handbook. A few of us had the Gamemaster’s Guide, and there was one or two Monster Manuals lying around. Now things are incredibly different.

Tabletop roleplaying has gone digital. Our gamemasters (GM’s), including myself, often have a laptop propped up for reference. Players learn the rules with free quickstart versions of the game. Most of us have printouts of abilities and spells, which stem from portions of pdf’s and other digital files. This is the tabletop of this century. Continue reading [RR] PDF Roleplaying

[RR] Scarlet Heroes

I apologize. This week has been a ruddy mess. I wanted to talk about print-on-demand publishing and digital books, but just couldn’t get it together. I kept going off on tangents. Combined with work, barometric headaches, and prepping to start my own campaign… well excuses.

Since I can’t share my grand thoughts, just yet, I will point you to a result of all the good things in tabletop roleplaying games this century: Scarlet Heroes.

Scarlet Heroes started as a Kickstarter where backers immediately received the draft for feedback and the necessary gratification. It then moved to digital / print-on-demand publishing, which is a smart move for any RPG book. And, it rounds out the how-to-do-it-this-century style with a free quickstart.

What is it? It’s a roleplaying game meant to be played with a single player, with or without a GM. It’s an overlay to old school Dungeons and Dragons so you can run that single player through old school modules meant for whole groups. It’s a way to create Dungeons and Dragons style adventures of legend for that single player. Plus it has a nifty setting. Can’t go wrong at least checking out the quickstart.


[RR] Memorable Props

The best campaign I ever ran was using FATE, which is a system able to wrangle our group towards more roleplaying. One of the reasons it was so good, in my opinion as the GM of that show, was that each NPC was memorable. Okay, maybe not every single NPC that I threw under the bus (or that drove it), but I worked hard to make each situation memorable.

Coloring encounters will result in a stronger game as the table unifies in the vision of the encounter. Everybody is going to have some picture in their mind of what is going on, but it is so easy to gloss over the details and turn the encounter into a stark distillation. Players will also have different levels of imagination and stock in the game. It is part of the GM’s job to make sure encounters can be colorful.  Continue reading [RR] Memorable Props


I once read a funny definition of tabletop roleplaying. It is the exchange of emails detailing calendar conflicts in the faint hopes of gathering for a few hours. There is a lot of truth to that, at least in my experience. Our GMs have to really have an idea in their campaign for easy exit when a player can’t make it for the weekend. We have backup plans of board games and card games. It takes a lot of work, contingency, and flexibility to come together for our favorite hobby.

It was even worse when I had to move a few states away.

During that dark time I found a hidden movement within RPG gamers for solo gaming. It feels contradictory in a way. Here is a hobby built on social gatherings and interactions. Why play it solo? I’ll get back to that. First I want to talk about how.


There are a few systems I’ve seen to solo RPG. Some are run as adventures very similar to a Choose Your Own Adventure-style book. Others are more open ended. Continue reading [RR] Solo TTRPG

[RR] The 13th Age

Good start last week. Let’s move on to why I love the 13th Age RPG, which is on the edge of Dungeons and Dragons family. To be certain 13th Age is D&D, but it changes the feel of the game. 13th Age simplifies it and condenses it. On the back of the book Jeff Grubb, of much D&D fame, says 13th Age “was the type of game that OGL was supposed to create”. It’s not just a Pathfinding polish to D&D. It is its own creature.

Character History

In a more general sense, 13th Age seeks to bring a lot more narration to the tabletop. It starts with the character. Instead of an entire character history that usually nobody cares about, 13 Age has the One Unique Thing. This is a short phrase to define why your character is special. I am the only human child of a zombie mother. I have a clockwork heart made by the dwarves. I have a celestial soul trapped in a mortal body. Whatever the case it should be special, and with a good GM (gamemaster) it will drive stories. Continue reading [RR] The 13th Age

Welcome to RPG Ravings [RR]

While not as catchy as Zubon’s Tabletop Tuesday, I will admit it took me half a cup of coffee to forsake Tabletop [RPG] Thursday and get another mildly catchy title. I’ve noticed that a lot of MMO players, especially bloggers, at least understand the concept of pen-and-paper role-playing games (RPGs). I know a lot of us also frequent the fabled rpg.net, which is the hub for that niche of geek. So to get more posts on KTR, I’m going to branch out on Thursdays to write about pen-and-paper or tabletop RPGs.

Let’s start with the granddaddy of RPGs, Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). Or rather, let’s not. Tobold has been talking about D&D Next for awhile, and I’d rather talk about something we have. Let’s talk about the children of D&D 3.5. Continue reading Welcome to RPG Ravings [RR]