Category Archives: Random musings

Getting Back Into The Game

It has been quite some time since I last posted on this blog. For me writing about the hobby always is easiest when I actually play in or run games. Something comes up in a game or I stumble upon something interesting while preparing a game which inspires me to write about. Sometimes there’s drama on the internet which I want to comment on. But in these last months I just didn’t feel like it.

My situation has also slightly changed since January. I was elected into the staff council of the university I work for and since May about half of my weekly work hours are dedicated to that new position. It’s an exciting new job, but it’s also totally different to what I’ve done before. The positive side effect is that I am feeling more confident, and in general, my mood has improved. I haven’t had any anxiety attack or depressive episode in quite a long time.

I still have been gaming irregularly over the last months, but because of COVID-19 we stuck to online gaming. Recently I’ve got my second vaccine shot and I am seriously thinking about getting a few players together to play face-to-face again. I’m still excited for a lot of games – new and old – and I’d love to run something for my friends. Unfortunately I am still suffering from option paralysis (not helped by the fact that I supported way too many RPG-related Kickstarters lately).

At the moment I think Old-School Essentials is probably the best game for me to get into DMing again. I am pretty familiar with old-school D&D, so that that’s one hurdle out of the way. I am also pretty excited about the new Advanced Fantasy books which should arrive at my doorstep this month. While playing JRPGs on my new Nintendo Switch I also stumbled upon a couple of elements I’d love to borrow for a D&D campaign, so I might have enough inspiration to get things started.

Unfortunately my confidence in my GM capabilities always take a nose dive when I actually start preparing a game. Hopefully I can avoid it this time. How have you folks dealt with something like this? Have you continued playing during the pandemic or have you basically stopped playing altogether? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

WEG Star Wars: An Almost Perfect Roleplaying Game?

I think it’s not the first time that I’ve mentioned my love for West End Games’ original Star Wars Roleplaying game from 1987. It’s one of the first roleplaying games I’ve played and it’s a game I still read from time to time even though I don’t actually play it at the time.

One thing I’ve noticed in recent years is that Star Wars The Roleplaying Game 1st Edition – albeit all of its flaws is an almost perfect roleplaying game, especially if you’re trying to introduce new people to the hobby.

Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game 30th Anniversary Edition

The most obvious advantage is its setting. Star Wars is hugely popular – nowadays probably even more so than back in the late 1980s. It’s THE pop culture phenomenon of the second half of the 20th century. Everyone knows it, most have watched at least one of the movies, many love it. This makes pitching it to new players extremely easy. You may think introducing D&D might be as easy, but that’s only true if you have been raised on D&D-inspired fantasy material. Many D&D-isms are actually quite specific to the franchise, and are not easily grasped by new players.

The second huge advantage of WEG’s game is its mechanics. The D6 System is an easy to learn, fast, cinematic and quite robust roleplaying game system. The core rulebook also does an excellent job at teaching how to play it. The book starts with a basic explanation of the most important concepts which is followed up by a solo adventure which any aspiring GM or player can play through. More detailed rules are included, but you get the basics first, which is actually how more games should be structured.

The GM advice included is also pretty good. You get concrete advice not on how to run roleplaying games in general, but particularly how to run Star Wars. How can you convey the vastness of the Star Wars universe and the impressive vistas you know and love from the movies at the game table? The book has an answer for that. It gives tips on whether its appropriate to make “pew-pew” noises, provides adventure hooks and explains how to design your own adventures. Apropos adventures: there is of course a fully-fledged introductory adventures which you can use to jumpstart your own campaign using the ideas and hook provided in the book.

Because of the character templates the game uses, people don’t have to worry about character creation too much. You just pick a template, make a few changes if necessary and start playing. Players more familiar with the system can of course create their own templates.

The setting information included in the book is limited, but because of the popularity of the setting there’s not much needed to enable GMs to run games in the Star Wars universe. The 145-paged book contains everything you need to start playing aside from a couple of ordinary six-sided dice. No fancy dice are needed – which is another plus.

In my opinion the Star Wars Sourcebook is the only other book of the roleplaying game series you really should have, everything else is just “nice to have”. It includes stats for most major characters, more equipment and vehicles, creatures and aliens, and a lot of beloved spaceships. Together with the core rulebook GMs have more than enough material for months to come. The entry hurdle is pretty low with this one.

Unfortunately other Star Wars games were never as good as the very first one. Even the second edition was a lesser product – at least in my opinion. It included a lot of new rules which might have given the game more mechanical depth, but it also raised the complexity which can easily drive off players or GMs less interested in this aspect of the game. The d20 edition released by Wizards of the Coast at the height of the d20 System craze, was a great game, but it was even more complex and had a way higher hurdle of entry. Fantasy Flight’s series of Star Wars roleplaying games are brilliant in their own way, I love the Genesys System they spawned, BUT again, it has a higher complexity than the simple d6 System, uses proprietary dice and is quite costly. Perhaps Star Wars fans are financially more well-off nowadays.

Sure, nostalgia plays a role, but I still think Star Wars 1st Edition by West End Games is an awesome Star Wars game and a great game in general. Heck, you can easily hack it to be used in other settings or genres. The excellent Heavy Gear d6 is a perfect example. Unfortunately it has also been out of print for ages. Fantasy Flight Games has released reprints of the core rulebook and the sourcebook a few years back which should be still available online. Alternatively some fans have scanned many if not all of West End Games’ Star Wars games and made them available online.

If you are a fan of Star Wars I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of this fine game. It’s the perfect game to introduce people to the hobby, it’s easy to learn, easy to run, and even the reprint is not too expensive. It might even be a great gift to a Star Wars fan (of any age) who might not familiar with roleplaying games yet.

So what are your thought on this game? Did or do you enjoy playing it? Would you recommend it as highly as I do? Or do you think I am totally off my rocker? Please share your thoughts below. Every comment is highly appreciated.

The Crux With Established Settings From Movies, Games And Novels

Who doesn’t know this? You’ve just played through a video game, watched a movie or read a novel thinking this might make great source material for a roleplaying game. In fact some of the most beloved tabletop roleplaying games are based on established franchises like Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, just to name a few. But they are definitely some issues when trying to bring these settings to the game table.

I recently played the critically-acclaimed Horizon: Zero Dawn. Aside from the exciting story, the gorgeous graphics and the impressive soundtrack, I fell in love with the world building. I immediately thought this might make a great setting for a tabletop game. There’s actually enough depth to make this work, BUT there’s one elephant in the room that needs to be addressed.

In the game you play as Aloy who is eventually on a mission to save the world. As with many of these stories, Aloy is basically “the Chosen One” and only she can unearth what happened in the past and prevent that history repeats itself. If you try to come up with cool adventures for a party of adventurers in a tabletop RPG version of the setting, you immediately have to struggle with the fact, that you’ll probably never match the experience of the video game.

There have been several cool Lord of the Rings roleplaying games, but whatever you can come up with, your party of characters will never rival the deeds performed by the Fellowship of the Ring. Sure, you can run successful games in the Middle Earth setting, but you have to be content with either ignoring canon or running adventures which don’t interfere with the established history.

I fully understand that a GM can truly make a world their own. You can ignore canon, let a party of characters take Aloy’s place, have someone else carry the One Ring to Mt. Doom, and who says it was Luke Skywalker who destroyed the first Death Star? But that’s not what many people want or even enjoy. Personally I always have to struggle with myself when I plan to ignore canon in a roleplaying game.

Star Wars and Star Trek actually fare a little bit better than many other settings because even though the protagonists in the movies and TV series have quite some impact on the setting at large, there are eras and many places who have never been explored in detail. But even then there are many people who don’t want to play second fiddle to Han Solo or Jean-Luc Picard.

In my opinion good roleplaying game settings don’t have larger-than-life heroes aside from the player characters themselves. They should be the ones whose deeds change the world for better or for worse. They should be the focus of their own stories, not some NPC in control of the GM. That’s actually one of the reasons why I am not too fond of the Forgotten Realms. It’s one example of a roleplaying game setting with far too many extremely powerful NPCs running around and taking the limelight away from the player characters.

Will all this make me stop thinking about converting established settings? Probably not. Even though I know it usually doesn’t work that well, it’s just too tempting. Especially since there’s always hope that someone who likes the source material might get interested in the roleplaying games hobby. But in the future I’ll probably think twice before putting too much work into such an endeavor.

What is your stance on the subject? Do you think I am totally in the wrong here, or do my arguments have some merit? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!