For the Love of Modiphius!

Time and again, I debate whether or not to dedicate time to writing regularly on my blog site. I often feel—like today, while I’m sitting at Coffeehouse Northwest with a dirty chai and chocolate croissant—I should be writing or developing my current RPG campaign instead (more on that soon).

But you have to write regularly to write well. I keep coming back to the idea of blogging because I know I need to write more quickly and freely without over-editing. I can save polish for finished works and need to retrain my brain and fingers to let words flow. It’s so important as a writer, and a lesson that I’ve taken too long to (re-)learn (over and over again, yes, I know).

As discussed in my earlier blog post, I want to blog (primarily) about tabletop role-playing games. Why? Because I feel like we’re in the middle of an exciting RPG Renaissance, and I want to draw attention to the games I love; I want to contribute to ongoing conversations about why and how role-playing games work, and why and how they sometimes fall short.

I’ll confess, right now I just want to share my excitement about several new titles released in the past year or so, but trust me, I’ll have plenty of criticism to follow if I begin blogging regularly (if you don’t hold me to it, it just might happen). Let me also confess that I feel a bit biased as a fan of Modiphius Entertainment, because they’re publishing and distributing some of my favorite RPGs, all by Swedish game designers: Mutant: Year Zero, Symbaroum, and Kult: Divinity Lost. Each of these titles have brought something unique to the tabletop, and Modiphius’ excellent taste and polished production values have secured for them the rights to several high-profile sci-fi titles that may transform me from a simple gamer into a collector.

Star Trek Adventures

What true sci-fi geek doesn’t have a soft spot for Star Trek? I was simply phasers-set-to-stunned when Modiphius announced in 2017 that they were producing Star Trek Adventures, a fully licensed RPG that appears to roll up all the different series into one expansive but consistent universe of possibilities. I haven’t yet dug into the rules of STA, which are based on Modiphiusown 2D20 system, but I’ve been impressed with all the visuals I’ve seen, and they’ve been continuously pumping out content, including the latest Strange New Worlds – Mission Compendium that I’m eager to review!

Vampire: The Masquerade (5th Edition)

Yes, like almost every other tabletop gamer geek, I was first introduced to role-playing games via Dungeons & Dragons (although I played a lot more Marvel Super Heroes as a teenager than I did D&D). But it was Vampire: The Masquerade that really set the stage for my love of role-playing and creating stories with RPGs.

I couple years ago, I ran a mini-campaign to introduce my game group to Vampire. (All but one were Vampire virgins!) It was right before 5th edition was released, and I didn’t want to wait for it, so we used the 20th Anniversary edition with slight modifications for the Victorian Era, using also Victorian Age: London by Night as a resource. The mini-campaign was, of course, set in London in 1885, following the Great Exhibition. A mortal mage, in possession of the Eye of Hazimel, is slain, and the player characters must find the Eye before it falls into the wrong hands. With all the tensions of London kindred politics serving as a backdrop—and a guest appearance by Victoria Ash—my ragtag group of player characters had to overcome my classic use of misdirection and navigate the uncertainty of whom to trust. Apparently, they all enjoyed it, because they’ve all voiced an interest in returning to Vampire.

Because of my current passion for other game systems (and admittedly, because I’ve read mixed reviews) I haven’t delved into Vampire, 5th edition, but I’m optimistic following the announcement of White Wolf’s partnership with Modiphius and the launch of new products. What really caught my eye was the new release of Fall of London. I’ve received a digital review copy and am excited to read it in depth, but just scanning through it, I’m impressed with what I see. To maintain continuity with earlier publications, London’s kindred (from the Victorian Age book) are present, but the new publication doesn’t rehash all the old stats and stories. Instead, brief overviews are given London vampires, and Fall of London presents fresh new story material. Visually, the publication is also rich and gorgeous.

Alien: The Roleplaying Game

WTF! I almost lost my shit when Modiphius dropped news of an official Alien tabletop role-playing game. As a lover of sci-fi, horror, and art that transgresses boundaries, Alien has long been a quintessential favorite. I faintly recall, decades ago, running a homebrew Vampire scenario for a group of friends in which a mysterious creature was stalking the city sewers. They guessed fairly quickly that they were dealing with an H.R. Giger alien.

What’s even more exciting about the arrival of an official Alien RPG is that it’s designed by the makers of Mutant: Year Zero and Tales of the Loop! The Year Zero Engine is perhaps my favorite RPG system to date, and it’s perfect for bringing the lethal Alien universe to life. My partner has insisted that I don’t buy it yet, because if I do, I’ll abandon current projects and want to run a game. I disagree, but I’ve agreed not to lay my hands on it at least until my current Kult campaign is well underway.

So many exciting new RPG titles to explore and so little time!

I know my blog (in its current form) is in its infancy, and I’ve yet to build a reader base, but if you’re reading this and you want to hear my thoughts about a specific RPG system or module, such as those mentioned above, please let me know! I’m happy to spend more time reviewing products my readers want to know more about.

Attributes: quantifying the Body & Soul

bc0b7fa1d9e4041fe4c3a165733ca487I’ve always been obsessed with the number four and four-point scales (or by extension, eight-point scales). Whether rating men or movies, what further delineation does one need than 1=below average, 2=average, 3=above average, and 4=exceptional? Yes, I use half points (and therefore, technically, an 8-point rating system) because let’s be honest, I’m one of those critics who rarely awards a perfect 4 (Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, 4 and 4). Nonetheless, sometimes you’ve got to give a 3.5 where it’s due (Hugh Jackman in the first X-Men movie, for example).

So anyone who knows me well won’t be surprised if I adopt a 4 or 8-point scale or rating system for my RPG. Because I want to include superhuman, almost godlike abilities, an 8-point scale feels more appropriate, with 1-4 representing normal human abilities. (Without going into too much detail, it’s helpful to think of the scale as exponential rather than linear, so 8 isn’t twice as good as 4, it’s sixteen times better).

But this post isn’t really about numbers or statistics. The trick for creating the right “feel” for an RPG isn’t in the numbers as much as it’s in the words we use to define characters’ capabilities. How do we divide people up into universal attributes so we can quantify and differentiate their aptitudes? And more importantly for me—how do I implement my multiple-aspect soul concept while keeping attributes relatively simple? No one wants six to nine basic attributes, then four more special “soul” attributes piled on top of that. (Or at least, I don’t.) I loved the concept behind virtues and humanity when Vampire: The Masquerade was first released. But nine attributes, a health stat, a blood pool, a willpower stat (permanent and temporary), three virtue stats, and a humanity stat—it was a bit overkill. I find the more stats that comprise a character (attributes, abilities, whatever you’d like to call them), the less significant some of them become. And sadly, one or more (or all) of the virtues were often neglected by Storytellers.

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