As with other questions we’ve had this year, my response is “All of them?” A more precise answer would be, whatever one you have on-going material for.

I’ve played a lot of long games, but they usually last about two to three years before they run out of steam. The longest campaigns were ones where the world and the PCs changed from time to time. The Star Trek campaign I ran from 2000- 2005/6 was actually three tightly connected campaigns, one taking place coterminously with another, or a follow on “series.” I had a Babylon 5 game that lasted about three years, and a Stargate one that had a similar run. The first ended when the story did, the second faded away. The longest continual campaign was probably the recently ended Battlestar Galactica game, which eventually knocked all other games out of rotation as it powered along for five years despite players coming and going, births and other life intrusions.

I think the question is “What can you keep fresh?” The BSG game was fantastic, fun, and came to a very satisfactory end. But I miss it sometimes and keep thinking there were things I could have done with it.

The question for today was “Describe a game experience that changed how you play.” I really don’t have a response for this one, so I’m going to go with my own question: How Has Gaming Positively Affected Your Life?

There’s the usual hackneyed responses about having made so many good friends through the hobby (and I have), but here’s a few really concrete ones:

First, I learned how to think quickly and creatively because I usually get stuck with GM duties. This also ties into the second positive effect on my life: I learned how to tell stories well, both verbally and written.

Related to that second effect, I 3) developed an interest in many things and have maintained by curiosity throughout my life because I have a real hankering for verisimilitude, which 4) led to my branching out into writing and teaching history.

That intellectual curiosity about, well, everything started with the old James Bond games in the ’80s. I wanted not just the feel of the movies, but some level of realism in those games. (I’d eventually go into the intelligence game and get out just as fast.) Cars, boats, planes, guns, intelligence agencies and their operations, I wanted to know everything I could about them.

With Space: 1889 I dove deep into Victorian history, which was my main focus until my doctoral work. A hard switch to modern American history coincided with taking an interest in Hollow Earth Expedition and the 1930s. I immersed myself in Star Trek to run a game for almost five years. Now I’m heavily researching Late Antiquity Rome and early Christianity for the D&D game, but the impetus for the setting might have come from having taught Early Western Civilization a lot over the last six years.

Fifth and tied to that “friends” truism: I met a lot of my girlfriends, and both wives (not at the same time) through gaming, although not always directly. Gaming got me laid. A lot. Even my wife, who wasn’t a gamer, I met through my gamer pals of the time. My daughter is playing in the other room as I type, alive because of gaming.

I once clinched a job in a small firm doing intelligence work because the president was a gamer.

Has gaming positively affected my life? You bet!

I think on this one I’ve got to go with Numenera and Tales from the Loop. I’m not a fan of the Numenera  system, but come on! the art is gorgeous!

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And the artbook of Simon Stålenhag inspired the whole bloody game Tales from the Loop, so I think that counts.

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Our Dungeons & Dragons game got off to a late start last night, but jumped straight to the action. We had cliffhangered last week after the first round of combat between the party and a pair of Erinyes (Furies) with a pair of Hell Hounds in tow and Bayla, the succubus that has been plaguing the bard, Calvinus, with thoughts of betraying his comrades, sex, and murder. (How’s that for a sentence..?)

The first round saw the Legate Quintus Marcellus Quadius attack with minimal effect Poena (Indignation), who then gutted him and dropped to near dead. The poisoned blade cut through his armor like butter and was killing him quickly. Invidia (Malice) had injured the monk, Icio, badly, as well. Calvinus had managed to slow the hell hounds with shatter, doing enough damage to stun them. Augustinian had cast a cure wounds and a lesser restoration on Marcellus to prevent his death. Carrus the dwarf had found himself using a bench as a shield, and found his sword almost useless.

I quickly realized that we were looking at a TPK (total party kill for the uninitiated) within a few rounds. Over the week, I was thinking of how to save their butts, and decided i would throw a character in that I had crated, should they need more firepower.

We started with round 2: Marcellus woke from his near death experience to the awful sensation of his guts dragging themselves back into his body from the healing and restoration combo. Calvinus distracted Poena long enough for her not to attack Carrus, then crawled under the table to get away. Augustinian hit Marcellus with protection from evil. Carrus realized he didn’t have anything that would really hurt the fury, so he used his sword — with an excellent throw — to cut the candelabra over her head, which with Calvinus’ action lost her an action. He then whipped a large silver serving tray, discus style, into her face. (Which then ricocheted into the back of the recovering Marcellus’ head.) The hell hounds snapped out of their stupor but wouldn’t have an attack until the next round. Icio and Invidia were locked in a battle, flying above the others’ head and damaging candelabras, walls, and other things while wailing away at each other. With some lucky rolls, he was able to avoid dying, but used his reaction to attempt to call on his angel, Michael, to aid him.

Bayla the succubus made a last attempt to win over Calvinus, then switched from the carrot to the stick. That was when she and the furies noted the arrival of a new figure — a tall woman in a hooded leather dress and leggings, pale skinned with eyes so light blue or white they almost seemed to glow, and a long barbed tail, similar to that of a nephalhim (the damned or what we’re calling tiefling.) They exclaimed with disgust the appearance of “the Anathema.” With a few graceful moves and contralto utterances, she generated an eldritch spear that when throw broke into two and injured the furies.

The next rounds saw Marcellus and Icio battling the two furies with limited effect using the broken-in-two blesse and silver-tipped quarterstaff of the monk. Calvinus was able to use his songs to try and throw the furies off their game, and the hell hounds — unleashed on the Anathema by Poena — cut loose with their fire breath, singing Carrus’ beloved beard, his eyebrows, and the left side of his hair off, not to mention the clothes not covered by his centurion armor. Tables and walls were set alight. Augustinian was cuaght by Poena in a rope of entanglement, which almost broke his concentration on the protection spell…

…and that’s when Michael arrived. The angel was written up as a solar with a few tweaks. He burst through the window, shot flaming arrows into the furies and succubus (driving the latter to disappear and run for it.)  The furies responded and soon the room was awash with flaming swords, daylight cast by the Anathema, and then falling husks of armor and discarded weaponry as the Erinyes were taken down by Michael and Icio, wih the aid of the Anathema.

While normally, it’s a good idea to make sure the PCs, the heroes, are the ones that get the spotlight for fights like this, the fact they were hugely outclassed seemed to make this a good time to use a literal deus ex machina (which is, to be fair, build into the aasimar character, Icio.) Additionally, it set the stakes dramatically higher, and created an air of awe and fear. They were no longer fighting small armies in Germania; they are taking on gods and angels.

MIchael then confronted the Anathema, who doffed her hood to reveal the pale white coloring of an aasimar, but the horns, along with the obvious cloven hooves and tail or a tiefling. When Icio asked why she aided them, she told him, “My mother thought you would need my help, brother…”

Michael informed her she should stay clear of them, but she told him she could not. She had been tasked by the Lord of the Underworld, her master, to assist them. All the while, she waited, arms wide, for Michael to smite her…but he cleared off. Calvinus was the only one to hear her say, “I thought not, father.”

Icio was still in shock by the whole affair — the furies, Michael finally intervening, and this new creature. “Are we related?” he asked her. “Of course we are, brother.” Not brother as in his being a monk, but her brother. “How are we related?” he asked. “We come from the same seed.” “Who is your mother?” “She who stands at the crossroads and sees all possibilities.”With that, she left, telling them, “You’ll see me soon.”

But his father is Zaccharius, a carpenter! Calvinus informed him of her father comment, which has left him stunned…could this be a trick of Satan? He knows the Adversary has taken an interest in him. Yet, Michael did not smite her when he had the chance.

We ended there, with Carrus the dwarf shaving forlornly, and taking an interest in the weaponry and armor the furies left behind when they were killed(?)

This episode had some great reveals and managed to start tying Greco-Roman and Christian myth together. I’ll be doing a lot of reading on the Chaldean Oracles and Julian the Apostate this week, which will link Yahweh/Jehovah, the “Shadow” that supposedly keeps the various planes separated to protect the world of Man from the gods, and the Anathema’s mother. It also fleshes out more of Icio’s backstory with Michael, hints at the nature of angels vis-a-vis the old gods, as well as that of the barukhim (aasimar) and nephellhin (tiefling.)

This question brings up an interesting secondary one: Is a game ever really “dead” if you can find it online (either as a used book or a scanned copy?) I would say “no.” You can play a game long after it’s out of print. I was regularly running James Bond: 007 which went down in 1988 or ’89, if I recall correctly. It certainly wasn’t dead to me or the numerous players who enjoyed the system. Space: 1889 was defunct in the middle ’90s, but never really died; it was eventually resurrected as a Ubiquity and Savage Worlds setting recently. FASRIP Marvel Superheroes and Mayfair’s DC Heroes still have followings, as does (god, knows why!) FASA’s Star Trek.

As Doctor McCoy once said, “No game is ever dead, Jim, as long as we play it.”

So which game would I like to see resurrected? A few years ago, the answer would have been Space: 1889. Done! I think I would go with James Bond: 007 that Victory Games put out in the ’80s. I was working on it as a project a few years back, but there was a retroclone, Classified, that beat me to the punch. I changed tack and started working on a new version of the mechanics, but I have been waylaid by teaching, raising a young girl, and other projects that could be busted out quicker and cheaper.

I would like to see Castle Falkenstein come back, but I would want to see the combat rules reworked to be more cinematic. (I did a set of house rules that sped play and were more fun for the players almost immediately after buying the game.)

Another good one would be the Marvel Heroic — probably the best application of Cortex Plus. It was an excellent set of mechanics for the superhero genre. Hand-wavy enough to get the job done, less focus on experience and improving characters (you could just build what you wanted), and the use of character and story based milestones for advancement was a great idea, if a bit imperfectly implemented.

 

There’s a glut of small press RPGs out there. I’m guilty of it — I produce adventures for Fate and Ubiquity. There’s a lot of folks chasing the same dollars, even if e’re not necessarily “in competition” with each other. My stuff, for instance, doesn’t really intersect with the Dungeons & Dragons crowd much. I’m not competing for high fantasy eyeballs, but am I competing with, say, Triple Ace..? Maybe.  Because there’s so much out there and most of us don’t have a trust fund or cashed out big in the early internet boom, I suspect a lot of folks are like me — I do’t let go of money for a game book unless I know I want it, or I want to support a line or the people doing it. (I wasn’t a huge fan of Cortex Plus Firefly, for instance, but it was a solid product and I wanted to see the line succeed.)

That’s where reviews come in.

It’s hard to find information on a lot of the smaller guys; DriveThruRPG patrons don’t appear to rate the products they buy very much. When you do see a rating, it’s usually very good, or very bad, and often highly subjective. You can sometimes find reviews of smaller games on YouTube and Facebook, but they are often targeted at specific systems — Fate, Ubiquity, Runequest, D&D…

For the larger publishers, reviews are a little easier to come by. You can find them in the same places — YouTube or Facebook,the forums on rpg.net, but also in smaller game blogs like this one. Interested in a review of a game? Google is your friend. There’s also Amazon ratings.

Often, I get my reviews from some other gamer I know. “Dude, you’ve got to check this out!” Which is usually followed by something from me to the tune of, “Do you have an e-copy or book I can borrow.” If I like what I see and I think I’ll use it, I buy a copy. If not, it gets deleted because I didn’t pay for it and the producers do deserve to get paid for their wares. (Seriously, I’m no piracy-basher. Borrow, look it over, if you like it, buy it. If not, delete it and press on. It’s the right thing to do.)

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