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Dust and Mirrors: A soundtrack for Night’s Black Agents

NBA-CD-front-coverOver the last years Pelgrane Press have become one of my favorite publishers. Their games are written by my favorite game designers, the artwork and production quality is excellent, and they are one of the few publishers which release soundtracks for their games. For some of you the notion of scoring a roleplaying game may sound weird, but for GMs like me – who love to use music during the game sessions – it’s brilliant.

Dust and Mirrors, the soundtrack for Kenneth Hite’s Night’s Black Agents is the latest work of James Semple and his team (Marie-Anne Fischer, Thery Ehrlich, and Chris J Nairn). The album contains 19 tracks with a playtime of about an hour. Like Kenneth Hite’s game, Dust and Mirrors combines two genres almost seamlessly. There are fast and exciting  tracks reminiscient of the spy genre and the more dark, brooding and atmospheric tracks that are firmly rooted in the horror genre.

Each track was obviously composed with a certain kind of scene in mind. “The Brief” for example is a slow and peaceful tune that might work well while the players are preparing for their next mission. This is contrasted by tracks like “Heist”, which is much faster, more aggressive, and which makes your heart beat faster. Other tracks like “An Eye for an Eye” are very dark, and almost atmospheric and reminded me a bit of their other work for Esoterrorists and Trail of Cthulhu. Overall Dust and Mirrors contains a wide variety of musical styles, but each of them fit perfectly to the genre-mix that is Night’s Black Agents.

Even though each track fits a certain type of scene Dust and Mirrors can also be played as background music. I actually enjoy the music so much that I even listened to it repeatedly during work. It makes dreary office work so much more exciting and mysterious! Alas the first track called “Night’s Black Agents Theme” is a bit too short. But that’s only a minor quibble. Overall James Semple and team have produced another great soundtrack. I hope that Dust and Mirrors has not been the last album he and his team produced for Pelgrane Press!

The soundtrack is currently available from the official Pelgrane Press store for $15.95 (£9.95) for the MP3 download.

Why I prefer rules-light games

In a comment on one of my post someone told me that I am overanalyzing things. I have to admit he’s totally right. It’s something I noticed a while ago. Heck, I even do this with pretty straightforward rules-light systems and even games I’ve designed myself. It’s how my brain works. The fact that I have a full-time job and sometimes struggle with depressions haven’t made things easier. When I was younger I ran games like Shadowrun and D&D 3.5 which are not known for being particularly rules-light, but nowadays just reading through the rules cause me headaches. Often it’s just easier for me to make up rules on the spot or make a quick ruling instead of having to remember the rules from a 500 page rulebook.

But first let’s talk about what a rules-light game actually is. Alas there are no clear guidelines to determine how rules-light or rules-heavy a game actually is. People often refer to “crunchiness” but this term isn’t properly defined either. We actually use these terms to describe something about roleplaying games but we can’t be sure that my definition of rules-light fits yours. In my definition a rules-light game usually has one (or a couple) simple core mechanics that cover most standard situations. Non-standard situations are usually solved by the GM making a ruling on the spot. Rules-heavy games usually have either a different mechanic for each subsystem and tend to come with rules for every conceivable situation. One example is Shadowrun’s infamous water-treading rule.

Things can get a bit fuzzy if a game has a simple core rule set but countless options. Even the simplest game can leave the “realm of rules-light” quickly if you give the GM and players countless options to choose from. That’s why I consider Fate Core more rules-light than the version of Fate used in Spirits of the Century. For me, a simple rule that shows me how to create my own stunts feels “lighter” than having to wade through a long list of precreated ones. I don’t know if that actually makes sense, but it’s just how my brain works.

Ok, we now should have a good approximation of what I’d call rules-light. So why do I prefer these games over the more complex (and sometimes even more complete) ones? As I mentioned before I just don’t have the time and patience to read 500 pages of rules before I can run a game. If I had sticked to the same game for the last twenty years or so, I probably wouldn’t have minded  using a rather complex system. Back in the day, I still had the time and the motivation to learn pretty crunchy rules (by the way, crunchiness is another pretty vague term). But I never stick to one system for long. I like to try out new things. Alas I don’t get to play or run a game every week. There have been periods when we didn’t game for months. And in light of these facts it just doesn’t make much sense to me to put up with complex systems. It often takes quite a while to read the rules, prepare the game, and all this effort is wasted when you play perhaps once per month. Rules-light games also give me more time to focus on the things more important to me. Let’s say I have 3 weeks to prepare for a new game I want to try out. If I spend 2 weeks reading the rules, I am left with just 1 week to prepare the actual game. But if the rules can be read in an hour or so, I have almost the full three weeks left where I can ponder about what I can throw at my players.

I can fully understand that a lot of people love crunchy games where each new supplement comes with new options and new rules. But for me these games just don’t work anymore – at least most of the time. There are a couple of games I’d consider rules-heavy that have piqued my interest and I am actually tempted to put in some time and effort into those. Hero System looks very interesting, even though it feels extremely massive. I fear this game might put me into option paralysis pretty quickly, but some day I might give it a try. The latest edition of Shadowrun on the other hand just feels complex for the sake of complexity to me. And from what I’ve seen so far, I am not totally alone with that opinion.

So in a nutshell, I am old, lazy, and have the attention span of a squirrel on caffeine, and that’s why I love rules-light games. 😉

On the other hand: rules-heavy games might have their advantages…

Ultimate Game

Ask The Readers: Shadowrun WaRPed?

220px-Shadowrun-logoOver the last few weeks I have been thinking a lot about Shadowrun. A while back my players asked me to run Shadowrun for them, and since then I’ve looked into various editions of the game. The 5th Edition actually caused me headaches (I’m not kidding) and while the 4th Edition makes much more sense to me, I still find it way too crunchy for my tastes. In my search for an alternative system, I looked at Fudge, Savage Worlds, a Shadowrun Hack of Apocalypse World, and a few others.

Last but not least I remembered the WaRP system by Atlas Games. WaRP is a very rules-light system which has powered the famous Over The Edge RPG. The whole system is just about 30 pages long and is freeform enough so that it can be used for almost every genre. From what I’ve seen so far a “normal” cyberpunk game could easily be run with the WaRP system. You just need to define fitting Traits during character creation and you’re done.

Alas Shadowrun is not just cyberpunk but also has several fantasy elements. Adding the various subspecies of Metahumanity is pretty simple. Just include a reference in your Central Trait. It gets more complicated when you want to create a character with magic abilities. WaRP allows the character to pick Fringe powers (which can be everything from magic to Psi or the abilities of superpowered humans). What I am wondering now how I could easily use WaRP’s Fringe powers to emulate Shadowrun’s magic. Alas I am lacking experience with the system, so I am asking for your help.

Do you have experience with both Shadowrun and Over The Edge (or the WaRP system)? How would you handle magic in a Shadowrun game powered by WaRP? Please post your ideas below!