Saturday, May 2, 2015

Notice: This 'Blog Will Be Overhauled

This 'blog is due for an overhaul.

I've run this for several years now. I've done okay, but I want to do more and I want to do it far better than I am right now. This requires that I stop doing the posts that I have done, and instead treat this 'blog more like a regular column or other more professional production. I've been off reading some folks' 'blogs and sites who have, in fact done just this and did so on a shoe-string budget (or less, which is where I am right now).

Rebranding, relauching, maybe even migration to another host- all that needs to be considered, decided, and then acted upon. In that time, I will NOT be posting. This 'blog, for now, is in Archive Mode; it will either be closed entirely or relaunched in its new form when I am ready, and that is not going to be anytime soon.

I thank all of you who've been here for this ride; I hope you come back for the next one.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Media Examples of Campaign Models: Guardians of the Galaxy

Like that wide-open cosmic environment? Kreegor, CCW, and all that? Head off to a Redbox and rent Guardians of the Galaxy. That's the best example going of a RIFTS Space Opera campaign as it's usually played. Rag-tag crew, often on the wrong side of the law, and yet able to do what the law fails to do because reasons.

Don't say it's not an example of how the game actually plays. It does, just like D&D's accurately shown in Knights of the Dinner Table. Go see it if you haven't, take notes, and enjoy.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

House Rules: You're Better Off Trusting the GM to Handle the Details

If there is something that many people complain about, it's that the rules of a given game don't reflect how it feels to do something that is a thing in the real world. It can be car chases, knife fights, shootouts, surgery, injury and recovery, whatever- someone, somewhere, is complaining about it (and often online somewhere). They may even have valid points to make, and make them properly. However, what comes next is madness of the Sisyphean sort: an attempt to improve the mechanics to make it work as they think it should.

Stop. You can't even approach it with rules and mechanics without getting so built up that you might as well use it as code in a videogame (which is where the best approximations in gaming are, and we know how short those fall). Going that route is folly, and inefficient.

There is a better alternative. Instead, focus upon two questions: "Did I hit him enough to do the thing?" and "Did the thing do what I want?" This translates into Attack and Effect checks, and Palladium's rules are good enough to handle those two questions. What you want to do, when it comes to the details, is to use that liminal area as the conceptual space where the Game Master applies what he knows of how things really work (or, for unreal stuff, the closest analogues) and makes rulings from there.

So, let's talk about something that happens a lot: a Coalition soldier wants to shoot someone with his laser rifle.

Laser weapons, quite frankly, are not firearms no matter how much they may look like them (or how the rules treat them so). The big differences are a total absence of recoil (because there is no controlled explosion, and the following kinetic reactions, involved) and no projectile involved; the rifleman can point his weapon at the target, press the trigger, and instantaneously damage the target with a micro-second length of laser light so powerful as to flash-fry the target. (Because that's how lasers do damage: they burn the target at the point of impact.) The target gets burned, and suffers the consequences of being burned where the laser hit. (Anything that throws a projectile--firearms, plasma casters, etc.--has some form of travel time; the further the shooter is from the target, the more this matters in practice.)

Much as the "-10 to dodge lasers" rule is hated, it's a valid concept (if a botched execution) for that reason; it's a mechanical attempt to make that fact of "no projectile travel time to target" something that layman players can readily appreciate. I wouldn't be that blunt, but I'd gladly make a similar attempt (probably at the Proficiency and Tool Stat ends; the idea of "burst fire" for lasers is absurd, for starters). Go on, dodge a flashlight; that's what you're claiming to do when you argue against something like that -10 rule.

This also means that a shootout with lasers is a series of flashes (assuming, of course, that the weapons are even in the visible light spectrum), but not a silent series; the power necessary to be viable as weapons is also the power necessary to instantly ionize the atmosphere along the path it travels. This will be a sharp, audible crack not unlike the crack of a whip; to get "suppressed" or "silent", you need to tone the intensity to what real world weaponized lasers are (and do as they do; lase the target, burning it over time, until you burn your way to a kill).

So, in rule terms you still have Attack and Damage rolls. The GM, knowing how lasers function (because he's been reading up on them), rules that without superhuman senses (or outright supernatural ones) you can't dodge or parry a laser attack unless you're able to perceive the attacker's pointing the weapon at you somehow. (See him aim at you, get a sensor warning, etc.)- and then, the best you can do is pro-active/pre-emptive defense due to instantaneous travel time. (If he's on the ball, he'll also reduce the damage within an atmosphere due to bean attenuation, so lasers will have "effective ranges" meaning "distance within which targets burn as intended".) These rulings will account for situational details as required, and better than a massive tome of mechanics and rules can do. This principle applies to other things, like martial arts and dog fights and and hacking contests and so on.

I want you to stop letting the rules master you, and instead you be the master of the rules; they are tools, so treat them as such, to use or not as you see fit.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Putting It Together: Crossing The Streams

RIFTS is a tabletop role-playing game that professes the capacity to play whatever you can imagine. While the reality of this is less than the imagery created by the advertising copy, this is not false; it just takes some work to make it viable at the able. With that in mind, let us take a moment to talk about doing that.

There is a difference between "crossing the streams" (a campaign that melds two or more archetypical campaign models together) and a kitchen sink game where anything goes no matter the sensibility of it. We want the former, and not the latter, so we are not sloughing off the necessary work that running a campaign entails. Instead, we are changing what the workload is and the order of operations.

No, no handy media example this week. Now I'm making you do your own research. Hop to it, and get used to doing it; that's what it takes to make the pre-game work of a GM into something useful at the table.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Putting It Together: The Space Campaign

As I noted previously, campaigns in space require a bit of additional focus to make them sufficient in scope and scale to handle at the table. This is why I'm using Knights of Sidonia as an example. In this case, you have a space-faring campaign centered around a generation ship and the militia tasked with guarding it against the ship's alien opposition. (You want more? Watch the series.)

In RIFTS, this is easily done. One focusing on the solar system can work from Mutants In Orbit (you can do the orbital end of Mobile Suit Gundam and its successors easily) or Scrapers, and elsewhere using the Phase World books (selectively, of course). If you decide to use the Aliens Unlimited sourcebooks for Heroes Unlimited for additional material, you will go far. Yes, you will have to brew your own content, but there is so much archetypical examples to work with that doing it won't be hard.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Putting It Together: The Wild West Campaign

Like last week, I'm embedding a video that popularly displays one way to show folks what RIFTS means. This week, it's the New West, and we're using Muse's "Knights of Cydonia" as the video example. It has martial arts, cowboys, gunslinging, The Frontier, The Code of the West, and anachronistic technology- just like the New West. Just missing obvious super-powers or equal technology. As with last week, I'm asking you to take it in and start to think of how you would make this into a RIFTS campaign at your table.

Nope, no hand-holding. No conversions. Nothing but me serving up the materials. Make your own entertainment.

(As for the anime Knights of Sidonia, next week.)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Putting It Together: The Vampire Hunting Campaign

As I said last week, RIFTS has plenty of inspiration out there. One of the best, post-RIFTS, is Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.

Vampires, mutants, high-tech, specialized anti-undead techniques and tools, silver-as-anti-vampire, cross-as-universal-repellent, post-apocalypse w/ space travel. This is regarded as a RIFTS movie for very obvious reasons.

Go on, watch the film. Here, or elsewhere, or whatever, just watch it. Now imagine this occurring as a campaign in Vampire territory in North America. You can see clearly how this would work in RIFTS, can't you?

No, no rules or mechanics conversion will be done here; you're on your own, and by now you should be able to handle that task without me holding your hand.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

RIFTS and Your Game: Use the Sources as Guides for House Ruling

As I said previously, RIFTS uses geographic separation as the primary means to contain different genres--and different forms of gameplay--in a single line of products. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that RIFTS draws on a lot of source material for inspiration; as much of RIFTS comes from freelance writers' submissions, many writers draw from a lot of media sources for their work (which Uncle Kevin filters in turn when he rewrites the manuscript). Being able to recognize those sources, and them to use those sources for your own purposes, is a useful way to make this trend in Palladium's publishing practices work in your favor.

The most blatant example comes from the first Triax book, where there is a rather obvious lifting from the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise, and many of the other mecha and cyborgs in the book are likewise only a step or two away from their source inspirations in Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell, and similar science fiction works out of Japan originating in the mid-to-late 1980s or so. Another is the Burster from the core rulebook (Stephen King's Firestarter and Pyro of Marvel's "X-Men"). Once you know the sources, you can--and should--investigate them to see how the original material executes the concept and compare it both to what the as-written game version executes it as well as how you want it to work (assuming that it differs).

Digging into this will involve engaging with the mechanics of Palladium's game engine at various points, and that means dealing with math. Have your calculator handy.

Say, for example, you're a big Gundam fan and you want to play this up. Using the Triax Devastator (the not-Gundam), you want to know in playable terms things like (a) how far can it move per round (involves converting real-world measurements into game-playable ones), getting in and powering up (vital for ambush scenarios), speed of reloading/refueling (matters in long engagements w/ nearby resupply, especially if not using an engine w/ practically unlimited fuel), and other concerns that real (para)military pilots should (and do) concern themselves with. Converting all this into a set of data that players (who are NOT pilots, and often lack (para)military experience, and so would not readily think of such thing) can use at the table is necessary tedium. Some similar process is necessary for every other source material analysis you want to make, even if the material is about something so unreal that you're going off game mechanics and hunches.

The purpose for this is simple: by generating the data, you're testing to see if the claim (explicit or implicit) has the evidence needed to back it up. If your robot doesn't perform the way you think it does, then having the data on hand is a good thing. First, you have evidence on hand to disprove the claim. Second, you have a start point from which you can make useful changes to get the result that you want in a manner that will work in actual play and be supportable when (not if) it's disputed. Being the Game Master means mastering the game, and that means mastering the rules; making the rules work to support what results you want out of the game comes easily once you achieve rules mastery. It's worth the effort.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Educate Yourself to Better Your Game

Today, we have the Internet. Self-education today is easier than it has every been. Time to talk about making use of this power.

All tabletop RPGs are dependent upon the quality of the individuals playing and running them- especially the quality of those running them. Just as works of fictions are better when the writer expands upon the base of knowledge employed in creating the artifacts of his craft, so it is that the hobbyist plays and runs better when he does that same expansion of knowledge and brings that to the table. We experience, first-hand, just how this manifests when someone who's too used to thinking in terms of manipulating the rules as if they were the controls of a car sits down as your table and begins to say and do things that no one with such training or knowledge would dare conceive.

Like it or not, this is an element of the medium that cannot be removed without killing it; it is as fundamental as breathing, and we see this in the discourse of forums such as The Gaming Den and its insistence upon making the playing of characters (and the running of games) no different in practice than coding and playing a console or PC RPG. What the regulars at that forum demonstrate by their behavior to be a flaw is, in fact, both a great strength and a limiting factor: tabletop RPGs are, quite frankly, limited in their potential only by the ignorance of their users. This is not so with competing RPG media.

So, how to fix this? Encourage one-another to seek out and rectify gaps in one's knowledge base as said stoppages become relevant.

Now, how many of you play characters that use firearms? How many of you have actually used one? I would be willing to suppose that a great many of you believe a number of wrong things regarding firearms--starting with the error that "clip" means "the detachable thing I use to load the gun" (Nope.)--simply because you don't know any better. Well, thanks to this thing you're using to read my blog, you too can rectify this error and many others.

"But my guy's using a laser rifle!"

That's nice. How about learning how the real ones work? Same goes for railguns; we have real ones now, and they are massive. Competent speculative fiction will extrapolate from real technologies or current developments; we can all do this now, and you are not exempt. Those mini-missiles? Been around for millenia in some form or another, starting with Chinese rockets using blackpowder to deliver arrowheads in massed volleys further than the bows of the day could reach.

"But my guy's using (unreal thing)!"

Your guy's fictional magic? Based upon, to some degree or another, real world systems of magic. You need not believe that the real world stuff is true; you just need to grok how it's supposed to work, and why, and that assumes that the magic system isn't actually (following Asimov) just the Sufficiently Advanced Technology sort of "magic" (as, alas, The Force turned out to be).

Your guy is illiterate? How illiterate? Functionally so, or totally so? This matters--something that even Uncle Kevin fails to recognize, and therefore follow through with--a great deal in how someone thinks, interacts with the world, relates to those with greater power, etc.; this is also true for those who are illnumerate.

Your guy knows multiple languages? Great. How similar are they? When and how did he learn these languages? These questions directly affect how your character perceives knowledge; languages are systematic symbol systems meant to make regular certain concepts that a culture needs to pass efficiently between its members, and different languages symbolize both different knowledges as well as use different schemes of symbolism. You likely has no idea that this is what's going on, did you? Linguists do, and they study the hell out of this now in conjunction with other specialists from other fields using an inter-disciplinary approach.

If you, the player, cannot conceive of something that your character would then you CANNOT play him properly. If you, the player, cannot comprehend why your character CANNOT conceive of a given thing, then you CANNOT play him properly. You are robbing yourself, your fellows, and the game of the fullest possible play experience by maintaining willful ignorance of things that rightly affect how your character thinks, feels, and acts. Embrace that challenge, embrace the suck that will come from realizing just how important what you're learning is to your man, and come out better on the other side for it.

Alone in gaming media, and matched by few others, the tabletop role-playing game offers such opportunities for life-long improvement and transformation by those willing and able to step up to the challenge. This is a medium of virtual experience, almost as powerful as life itself (and compensating for that by allowing you to experience things otherwise impossible), so seize that for yourself, and bring your A-game.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

This Coalition Worship Has Gone Full Retard

So, today I received the weekly email from Palladium Books updating subscribers on what's out and what's coming. I cannot make this shit up.


Rifts® Sourcebook – The Coalition States: Heroes of Humanity The events unfolding in World Book 35: Megaverse® in Flames threaten to change the entire landscape of Rifts® Earth, as the demonic minions of Hades and Dyval seek to bring Hell on Earth and turn the planet into a dimensional gateway to Armageddon!

The Coalition States, along with Northern Gun and Lazlo, take the lead in the defense of North America. Heroes of Humanity explores the good and bad in the Coalition’s efforts to save humanity and send this new threat back to the pits of Hell.
  • New Coalition weapons, armor and war machines.
  • The Coalition States: Are they heroes or villains? Or does it depend on whether you are human or not?
  • Can the CS fight alongside mages and D-Bees if it means saving the world?
  • How is the CS dealing with the Minion War on Earth?
  • One plan to battle the Xiticix and who really pays the price.
  • Adventure ideas and more.
  • Written by Kevin Siembieda, Matthew Clements and other contributors.
  • Final page count and cost yet to be determined but probably 96 pages – $16.95 retail – Cat. No. 889.

What is this I don't even.

But wait, there's more!

Rifts® Secrets of the Coalition States: The Disavowed

“Desperate times require desperate measures. War has nothing to do with morality or justice. It’s all about winning or dying. We cannot bind our hands with high ideals, even our own, or worry about the laws of renegade nations or the rights of alien people. We must fight fire with fire. And you are the match.” – Colonel Lyboc, addressing a Disavowed team.

The Disavowed are so Top Secret that their existence is known only to a handful of the Coalition States’ most elite, top echelon, with Joseph Prosek II the mastermind behind the Disavowed operation, and Colonel Lyboc its shadowy face. Find out who these men and women are. How the Disavowed get away with using magic, traveling to other parts of Rifts Earth and even to other dimensions in pursuit of enemies and strategic information that cannot be had through conventional means. Learn about the secret parameters in which these hard-boiled warriors, secretly hand-picked by Joseph Prosek II, operate, why almost every mission is considered a suicide mission, and why they must forever be the Disavowed.

  • CS operatives so secret that even the top military and political leaders right up to Emperor Prosek know nothing about them. And if they did know, would they condone their activity or condemn it?
  • Are the Disavowed heroes or renegades? Assassins or soldiers? Madmen or super-patriots? Or a little of them all?
  • Unsung heroes who keep the CS safe, or thugs and pawns of a shadow agency within the Coalition government?
  • What role does the Vanguard play in this group?
  • How do they reward their D-Bee “teammates” when the mission is over?
  • What happens to the Disavowed when they have seen or learned too much? Adventure ideas galore and so much more.
  • Written by Kevin Siembieda and Matthew Clements.
  • Final page count and cost yet to be determined, but probably 96 pages – $16.95 retail – Cat. No. 892.

Full. Retard.

We can stop fapping over these techno-Nazis any time now. They're Nazis. Stop trying to make Good Guys out of them, Uncle Kevin. Yes, I do blame you and not the "co-author" whose manuscript you--if you hold to your pattern, and you usually do--suckered out of the guy and then hacked up to suite your sophomoric sensibilities (which haven't matured since the 1970s). Christ, folks! This is just the sort of crap-tastic content that I spent so many posts trying to clean up and make sensible. Bother.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

RIFTS and Your Game: Shaping the Setting as Customization

An easy way for a Game Master to take what is written and make it yours is to curate and shape the setting material to your liking. This is a liminal conceptual space where rules and setting blend, so you might as well think of this as an aspect to making House Rules.

To illustrate the point, I'll go with the Coalition States and its primary socio-economic institution: the Army. The Army is where the Coalition puts the able-bodied men within its reach. By putting all adult men into the Army, it subjects them to a single comprehensive authority with total control over their lives, so we'll do that and remove all civilian life from the Coalition States: the Coalition doesn't have an Army, it IS the Army. The rules effect? All Coalition characters are Male and Military. (With two exceptions, as noted below.) This culls the playable options down to a handful of Occupations (which, really, are military specializations) and exactly one race/sex combination; it also narrows the range of playable spaces down to those specific to military operations- something that an expansionist, manaphobic, xenophobic, racist, sexist, authoritarian, and totalitarian military dictatorship operating in a milieu that justifies its propaganda on an hourly basis would be.

(Exceptions: Dog Boys and Honeypots. The former are still male-only, but male Canine; the latter is where the very few women allowed outside the home operate, both in counter-intelligence and in foreign intelligence. You expected post-apocalyptic Nazis to do otherwise? Learn your history; they would, because in many respects they did.)

Let's get more specific now.

A Coalition man, regardless of his specialization, must complete Basic Training. This includes, since the technology exists, the mandatory implantation of certain cybertechnologies. Ear modifications that act exactly as real-world electronic ear protection headphones, eye modifications that guarantee 20/20 vision as well as instant polarization (making eye glasses/sunglasses pointless), lung modifications to ensure endurance in the field, and a datajack in the base of the neck- all imposed to get any given recruit up to baseline functionality at best possible speed. (Yes, the datajack is that important; it's easier to have a unit jack into a cybernetic network to get trained/briefed/etc. than to talk it out (since all Coalition personnel are totally illiterate, so written stuff is out).

So, rules: instead of a Coalition character having a choice, they get a set package of cybernetics as a standard feature of that Occupation, to be considered part of Basic Training and not Specialization training.

Now, let's do some variation thinking.

Abolish man-sized energy weapons and instead replace them with latter-day (but otherwise conventional) firearms. As our Coalition is based in North America, they will use foreseeable iterations of U.S. Army small arms or rivals thereof. Instead of the M9 (i.e. a Beretta 92 model), we'll grant the Coalition officers a latter-generation Glock 17 or 19. (Pilots or similar personnel will be issues a Glock 26, while Technicians will instead be issued a hypothetical Glock carbine--as a real one does not exist as of this post; other manufacturers do this--chambered for the same handgun cartridge, and thus uses the same magazines; we can base this on the Keltec Sub-2000, the Kriss Vector, or some other real-world model but I think just imagining an up-sized Glock filling out the same profile as the venerable M1 Carbine would do.) This will have some cascading effects, but I think those to be desirable ones that are beneficial to the game experience anyway.

Likewise, the standard rifle will be iterations and variations on the AR-15 platform (currently the M4 variation in the U.S. Army). Maybe the standard cartridge will shift to the now-new .300 Blackout cartridge, instead of the current standard 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge. Upgunned versions chambered for the .308 Winchester cartridge ("AR-10" sorts) may be the standard issue instead, depending upon the commonly-encountered opposition of the Coalition. Specialized operators will still use bolt-action rifles, often chambered for that Winchester cartridge by default; far bigger and more powerful cartridges (such as the .50 BMG) will be employed as required (and yes, for those not paying attention, such rifle platforms exist and have for some time).

The game's "Mega-Damage" conceit, when confined to its original scope of use (i.e. tanks and similar objects), works fine; the vast majority of entities in a RIFTS campaign do not qualify for such a status and therefore should be handled accordingly. (You can achieve much of what is implied by using Mega-Damage by other means, especially for super-natural entities, such as Immunities and Resistances or some other concept that other tabletop RPG engines handle very well.)

The rules effect? To eliminiate needless redundancy in conceptual spaces, as well as conceptual confusion, by keeping the baseline of Coalition campaigns as close to that of "The Army vs. The Monsters" as possible- and thus making buy-in very easy for new and returning players, since the unrealities they need to deal with are confined to a few Gee-Whiz widgets and the inhuman presences that they confront on a regular basis.

There, a set of examples of how you can make the body of RIFTS into the game you want- all at varying degrees of emphasis (rules vs. setting), degrees of player-vs.-GM engagement, degrees of in-play vs. away-from-table engagement, etc. so you can see what I intended to do to achieve the desired effect- and thereby do this sort of thing for yourself. This is one of the many reasons for why being as skilled and as knowledgeable of things beyond gaming matters; you can't do this well, if at all, if you refuse to improve yourselves as individuals.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Community Trend of Willful Stupidity Hurts the Game

One thing I noticed when discussing RIFTS with others, online and in-person, was the distressing tendency to avoid anything that would make the game as-published (especially setting material) unusable right out of the box (as it were)- to not question or analyze either the rules of the setting as presented at all, but take it as-given and go no matter how ridiculous or unworkable it may be.

There is no kind way to put it: this is the thinking of a child barely able to reason at all. It's a combination of naivety and willful ignorance that appalls me. It assumes that things "just work" with tabletop RPGs, when they rarely do, and eschews the need to engage with the game to get the result out of it that you want. I also find the appalling gaps in the knowledge of others, often willfully so, contributes to this problem; a lack of education on what religion is, how it works, and why it is not the same as faith or belief in one or more gods is ably demonstrated in the game's treatment of gods and demons. (The comic book trappings betray Siembieda's background in the comic book world of his youth.) Ignorance of how physics works (ballistics and energy), how injury and medicine work, how militaries work, etc. run rampant throughout the game's corpus and too many follow that lead in a blind-leading-the-blind that is now inexcusable.

You're reading this. You have Internet access. Rectifying gaps in useful knowledge is now easier than has ever been before! Failing to make the most of this opportunity, and then using that knowledge to fix fundamental load-bearing pillars of one's mechanics and setting premises, is a grave error that demonstrates the terrible quality of character for far too many people. It's neither tedious (you can break it up into chunks you can digest over a coffee break), nor difficult (arrange chunks in an easy-to-hard progression) to do this about anything. YouTube alone is so great a treasure that I cannot comprehend the refusal to make the most of this resource.

While I can, and do, put some effort into fixing what's broken here I am unable to be as Atlas and shoulder this alone. I expect you people to do likewise, to expand your knowledge, in order to make this game as good as it could be had it been made by a sufficiently knowledgeable individual.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

RIFTS and Your Game: Making The Most of Who's At The Table

There are plenty of people who play tabletop RPGs, and what they get out of the experience varies. Lots of online arguing goes on over these differences, but at the table that need not be something that makes the fun go away. This is a hobby with a diverse array of satisfactions to obtain; make use of that for your group's benefit.

Both online and at the table, you will encounter people who play the game for reasons other than why you do so. It is wise to make the most of the matter, and you do this by apportioning some of the necessary work around to those who are interested and competent to do so. Do you have someone who is great at managing the minutia of the rules? Let them be the table's Rules Encylopedia, to consult as required. Got someone into the numbers game? Let them optimize characters to achieve the desired performance, in terms of mechanics, and instruct others in how to use the tools to get those results. You get the idea. Yes, this is very much like managing actual employees at your job; take the opportunity to develop and hone those skills. (And they say that tabletop RPGs impart no useful skills.)

This is also a good opportunity to become familiar with elements of the game that you would otherwise miss, don't properly appreciate, or aren't quite up to speed about. The game itself is a machine, however wonky, and the setting is a thing that operates under principles that mechanics alone cannot account for; I can only address so much at a time, so I would hope that you folks would be willing to do some examination and exploration of your own instead of waiting for me (or another writer) to do it for you. Those other elements attract those people whose perspective differs from yours, so you will soon tie faces to ideas and have opportunities to discuss productively with those people about these things- and in doing, make both of you better and more satisfied participants.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

RIFTS and Your Game: Set Your Expectations First

I'm taking a break from talking about House Rules to talk about something else.

First, a reminder: I do not think of RIFTS as a single game, but a dozen or more games contained within a single product line and sharing a ruleset. This means that I do not see things as some of you do. Please account for this difference should you wish to reply.

Regardless of the game, it is vital that everyone on the table be of one mind as to what the campaign is about, and therefore what to expect (and what is expected from them) when at the table.

What this means is that the Game Master and the players need to have a chat. If one player looks at giant robots and thinks Battletech, and the GM thinks Mobile Suit Gundam, there is going to be some needless friction that detracts from the fun to be had. The same sort of thing is true of magic, psychic powers, personal weapons, cybertechnology, and so on. Having confirmation of what the elements of the game mean at the table ensures a more manageable game for the Game Master, and a more entertainment experience for the players; when you are certain as to what to expect, then you can direct your energy into engaging the game and immersing yourself into the immediacy of the experience- which directly makes the time spent more fun by eliminating nagging bits that pull you out of the moment.

This is why I talk about curating the available content, making House Rules, and so on: it's all there to establish what to expect at the table, up front, before the dice get thrown. Marking out the boundaries and so on first ensures that all who sit at the table can skip to the fun part once you do start throwing dice around. It also makes it easy to notice when something isn't working, quickly identify what's wrong, and then remedy the issue. This is a fundamental element, a load-bearing pillar, to making any tabletop RPG work for you and yours; you can't just sit down and play- that's one of the adverse differences in medium between TRPGs and other RPG media, but the hassle is worth handling.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

House Rules & RIFTS: Managing the Game - Verisimlitude, Pt.3

There is a term, usually seen in online discussions of games such as Dragon Age or World of Warcraft, known as "character progression". This concerns the development of a character's personal might, be it through the acquisition of more or improved powers (whatever they are), or from the refinement of that character's attributes and skills, as a direct result of gameplay. (This is why level-based systems are dominant; they play directly into the long-established preference for character progression as a central element of game design and play.) For the tabletop role-playing game medium, this cannot be ignored (indeed, it began here), but it can be handled.

The way to address verisimilitude with regard to character progression is to require that the character acquire the new or improved power as a reward for successful pursuit of the character's goals. In other words: progression is treasure, not a leveling-up benefit. A magician must either successfully perform spell research, successfully convince someone with the power to teach/imbue/etc. it unto him, or take it as Spoils of War from an enemy magician. A cyborg must find the bionic component and either trade or steal it, and then find someone or some thing to install it. You get the idea. By this means, the GM can constrain progression to a rate he finds acceptable and he controls what powers a character may acquire. (You can't rebuild your Cyborg into a man-sized Transformer if the technology to do so is not available.)

This also applies to more mundane aspects. The GM controls what skills are available to acquire, and what it takes to learn those skills from said sources. It applies to raw attribute development (usually physical) also; such progression methods requires that the character commit to and devote time to a program of training and study (yes, even for physical development) that they may not be able to do for reasons of more pressing matters requiring their attention. (You can't pick up Electrical Engineering if you're a combatant in the middle of an active military campaign, and you'll not be able to master the Way of the Ennervating Fist if you're already consumed training to master the Strike From All Angles Sword Skill.)

In short, you--as the GM--can, and must, establish what the players can do to progress their characters and then to set what the costs for those improvements are at your table. That is not just one ruling, but a small handful of them that all work together to create the desired effect. A reasonable player will not have an issue with this approach.