RPG a Day 2015 – Day 2: Kickstarted game most pleased you backed

Catching up with Day 2 of #RPGaDay2015.

Kickstarted game most pleased you backed

Kickstarter has been a revolutionary development for the RPG industry.  It’s allowed neiche products to be produced with a degree of surety that wasn’t previously possible, and it’s allowing small companies or individual writers to get the money they need to actually get a product off the ground.  It’s not a single magic bullet to cure all of the RPG industry’s ills (as a few high profile failed or misjudged projects have shown), but it’s allowed for a lot of innovation that just wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

I’ve backed quite a few RPGs over the last few years, and I’m pleased with all of them. Fate Core featured heavily in last year’s RPGaDay, and the assorted new World of Darkness lines that are coming out have all been pretty excellent. (Although I still haven’t run Mummy or Demon as yet…)

But of all of the RPG products I’ve backed, there’s one that I keep coming back to more than any other. It might be a bit of a stretch to call it a game in its own right, although it more than just one game in fact.

The Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide Of all of the systems currently out there, the various iterations of Cortex Plus are my favourite. They’re each designed to emulate a particular genre, and do that genre better than any other game I’ve seen. Leverage (Cortex Action) covers heists, Smallville (Cortex Drama) covers teen TV shows, and Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (Cortex Heroic) does comic book superheroes better than any other game I’ve seen.

While the underlying system remains broadly similar between the lines (roll a pool of dice based on various characteristics, add two of them together to see if you succeed), the specifics change in notable ways to reflect the assumptions of the genre it’s emulating. The Leverage RPG rates your character on how well they do in various roles in a crew of con artists (Hacker, Hitter, Grifter, Thief and Mastermind), and includes a “flashback” mechanic where you can establish facts about a scene to reflect the preparation work and long cons that you’ve done without having had to play through them all in advance. Smallville’s character traits are based on the values they hold to and their relationships with major characters (PCs or NPCs). Marvel Heroic has an XP mechanic that rewards you for playing like your chosen hero, and power set rules that lets the Hulk and Hawkeye both feel 100% like the characters from the comics and also be on a team together without one feeling overshadowed by the other. (There’s also a Firefly RPG they’ve recently released, but I’m not as familiar with that iteration of the rules.)

So, there’s a lot to like about the system already. The Cortex Hacker’s Guide takes the three core sets of mechanics (Action, Drama, and Heroic), presents them in their most basic form, and then gives you a massive toolbox of options to use with them. Want to run a fantasy RPG using Cortex Plus? Then it’s got you covered with both the Old School Job for Cortex Action presenting the classic dungeon crawl as a badly planned heist, and Fantasy Heroic Roleplaying for worlds of sword and sorcery comic book adventure. The Breed hack for Cortex Action covers anything involving human/animal hybrids ranging from Dark Angel to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Backstabbing BFFs for Drama is Mean Girls (or any other high school film or TV show) the RPG.

There’s no shortage of other setting hacks, but there’s a number of neat additions to the system for any game including alternate Stress types to make sure the stakes match the genre, implementing time pressures for anything from disarming a bomb to catching a criminal before they make their escape, and advice on how to structure one-shot games for both setting and mechanics.

It’s generally a fascinating look into the depths of three closely related game systems, and a fascinating read if you’re interested in game design and genre emulation. Of all the Kickstarted RPGs I’ve got, it’s probably been read more than the rest of them combined, and that’s in no way playing down how much I’ve enjoyed the others.

Come back tomorrow, when we’ll be looking at new RPGs of the last 12 months.

RPG a Day 2015 – Day 1: Forthcoming game you’re most looking forward to

Day 1 of #RPGaDAY2015 and as the observant among you will have noticed I’m running a couple of days behind already…

Forthcoming game you’re most looking forward to

There’s no shortage of forthcoming RPGs to be excited about – Kickstarter seems to have helped the industry no end (see tomorrow’s post) and we’re seeing a huge amount of high quality games coming to the market. However, there are two standout titles I’m looking forwards to.

Star Wars: Force and Destiny.

The latest in Fantasy Flight Game’s line of Star Wars RPGs, Force and Destiny focuses on Force sensitive characters in the Galactic Civil War era. The Jedi Order has fallen, and any Force sensitive individual is hunted by the Empire for their talents. Player characters live as outcasts on the fringes of the galaxy, doing what they can to make a difference and seek out the lost lore of the Jedi.

It’s pretty compelling stuff, and gets to the heart of what most people want from a Star Wars game. The core system is also very well done – like a lot of Fantasy Flight Games products, it uses a selection of custom dice with weird symbols called “narrative dice”. These symbols have tell you if you’ve failed or succeeded at a given task (read this preview for more details on the dice system if you’re interested) but also introduce minor advantages or setbacks in the situation that can help or hinder a character. Did you roll a lot of Successes on your blaster shot at that Stormtrooper, but also several Threats? Then maybe you’ve run out of ammo or the shot has ricocheted and hit a pipe filling the area with noxious vapours. Did your roll to repair your speeder turn out to be a failure but you got some Advantages in the mix? Then perhaps you’ve been able to salvage some valuable parts, or get it briefly running to limp a little closer to your destination. It’s a neat system that helps inspire improvisation in both players and the GM.

The Force powers are also neatly implemented. There’s a Dark and Light Side element to all of the powers, so your morality and interactions with the Force can change what your powers do without invalidating the XP you’ve already spent. The ability to heal using the Light Side of the Force can quickly be turned into potent harm if you turn to the Dark Side, which also means that as you grow more powerful the temptation to tap into the Dark Side becomes stronger. I can easily see a lot of PCs being tempted to tap into the Dark Side when the odds are stacked against them…

It’s also cross-compatible with Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion, the other two Star Wars games from FFG, which are focused on smugglers and the Rebellion respectively. This opens up options for both players and GMs, and gives each major element of the Galactic Civil War era its own focused line while also easily allowing for a more mixed campaign that draws in elements from all three.
Blue Rose, AGE Edition

The original Blue Rose, published 10 years ago, was a breath of fresh air into the RPG market at the time. System-wise, it was an innovative new take on the D20 system, paring it down to a few broad classes that could be easily mixed together to build the character you wanted, and providing a notably simplified skill system that has a great deal in common with the approach to skills taken in 4th and 5th ed D&D. These rules would then be expanded on to produce Green Ronin’s True20 system, which was an elegant iteration of D20 that covered pretty much any genre or period of gaming.

Its setting and themes were the real innovation however. Blue Rose is firmly in the romantic fantasy genre, drawing on Robin Hobb or Mercedes Lackey rather than Lord of the Rings or Conan-esque sword and sorcery. The setting assumes the PCs are loyal to the Kingdom of Aldis (or at least its ideals), and would be (comparatively) selfless heroes working to protect others against the forces of evil in the world. Aldis is a pretty utopian society, where nobles are good and just (at least at the point they become nobles, they can have a change of heart later on…) and the ruler is selected by a magical deer who can sense if someone is good or evil. This isn’t in and of itself anything new within the romantic fantasy genre, but it’s a positive and optimistic outlook that’s rarely seen in RPGs.

It’s also notable that gender and sexuality are touched on far more than in most fantasy RPGs, with gay, gender fluid and transgender characters and NPCs included as part of the setting. There’s also no divide between the genders, with male and female characters seen and treated as equals (at least in Aldis). It’s by no means an unproblematic representation on this front, but it’s one of very few games where the setting is openly positive towards and welcoming of characters who aren’t just straight men. Given the issues in geek and gamer culture at the moment, this really felt like a breath of fresh air in 2005.

The Kickstarter for a new edition of Blue Rose has just completed, funding well above its original goal. Rather than being D20 based, it’s moving to Green Ronin’s Adventure Game Engine (AGE) previously seen in their Dragon Age RPG and in the Titansgrave web series. It’s a system I’m really interested to see in play, as it looks like it’s a neat streamlined game that still has a lot of space for fun mechanics. The setting is being expanded, and thanks to the Kickstarter will also include a number of campaign seeds, including one where the PCs are a group of wedding planners.

In short, I’m hugely hyped for this game!

Join us tomorrow, where we’ll be talking Kickstarter.