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8/28/2014

Seriously, it's been out for over 10 years, someone should have pointed this out to me.

It's not like I was completely unaware of FATE. I knew it existed, I had heard of it, knew it won a bunch of awards. But in my "lalalala" land of blissful ignorance, I had no idea I was letting such a brilliant gaming system go by unmolested.

Since I know there are a few non-gamers and casual enthusiasts who read this blog, here is FATE in a nutshell (those of you who already know about it can skip this part and hang their heads in shame FOR NOT TELLING ME):

5. Cool Dice
This is not incredibly important in and of itself, but I always appreciate games that have something a little different that makes them stand out. Instead of using the numbered polyhedron dice you're used to, it uses FUDGE dice, which are 6-siders marked with two "+" signs, two "-" and two "blanks," which are considered Zero or even. All of the actions - absolutely everything - is resolved by rolling these dice and adding the appropriate bonuses (based on your character), trying to hit or beat a number.

4. Character Creation is actually "Creative" and SO Much Fun
The game is open and flexible. You don't make characters according to pre-set rules and templates. You make whatever you want, based on how you want your dude to react to the story and the world around him. If you want to make an acrobat thief, you don't have to pick through the rulebook and choose all the proper classes, races and feats to make an acrobatic thief, and then roll and hope you do well enough to actually be graceful. You write "Acrobat Thief" on your character sheet and *POOF* that's what you are.

3. It's Incredibly Story-Driven
Relationships to other characters, events and locations are important. You're not simply rolling dice to kill the next monster and determine how much treasure you get. Success is great, but failure is also an important part of the game as it determines how you and the world evolves. It's not that there's no strategy - you still need to roll well and choose your moments to succeed, but sometimes it's better to fail to give you bonuses for later on.

2. It's Generic and Endlessly Customizable
This one is so important. It works equally well with D&D-style fantasy as it does with pulp noire detectives or westerns or sci-fi or superheroes. Because it's about telling a story and creating dramatic conflicts and scenes, it's not so important if your character has a "Swordfighting" skill or a "Computer Hacking" skill. Well, actually, those things are important, depending on the game, but you get to decide which you need because...

1. Campaign/World Design is encouraged to be done together between the players and game master
There are hundreds upon hundreds of fan-created FATE hacks out there, in addition to some awesome official stuff, but the best part of FATE is creating or modifying your own world. There are even rules and worksheets in the book for this. This is so simple and I'm sure other games have done this before, but I've never seen it so concise and obvious. Everyone has a say in the game. Everyone can put their fingerprints on the world setting. The best games are the ones where players are truly invested in the world and how their actions affect it - what better way to do this than if they helped create it in the first place?

Not even counting those 5 great examples, the main reason I'm excited for FATE is that I see so much potential for PBEM (Play-By-E-Mail), which is how most of my games are run. In PBEM, finicky, nitpicking rules are a pain (I really learned my lesson playing 4E via email). I can see FATE working so, so much better, because the rules leave so much freedom for the powers and abilities of the players when they're writing in more detail of what their characters are doing.

I'm sure there are people out there who are not fans of FATE, and that's cool. I can understand if you want something with better defined rules and more structure (though to be fair, you can totally ramp up the rules and complexity of FATE if that's your cup of tea). But the fact is, this is just the kind of game I love, for all the reasons I listed above and more.

Now I just have to decide on what style of game to play. FATE would work perfectly for the Orange is the New Black game I envisioned a few months ago. It could be used for Splatter-Elf. It would work with a Walking Dead/Zombie survival/Horror setup, but I've always wanted to run a western-themed game, too. Watching my son's cartoons, I bet I could even come up with a bitchin' hack for Thomas the Tank Engine (there's some serious race wars going on in that show that would make for some great conflict and drama).

I suspect the next one will be a Sci-Fi space opera. My players love playing in universes they're familiar with. But will it be Star Wars? ROBOTECH? Battlestar Galactica? Serenity? Wing Commander?

Or maybe some unholy combination of all of them....

*EVIL GRIN*



(No actually, that would be terrible. Any suggestions on what to play are welcome. As are gushy love letters to FATE.)


8/21/2014

I've been pondering this question the last few days. I never really considered it in the past - it was always whatever seemed appropriate in the moment - but lately, spending more time in discussion online has made me realize that some people have strong opinions on this one way or the other.

First of all, let me state that I hate how "sex" and "violence" are always lumped together discussing the appropriateness or maturity of content, because they are completely different things that should probably be handled in separate conversations. The only reason I use them together in this scenario is because I suspect the biggest sticking point for most people will be the area where "sex" and "violence" blurs.

So how much violence is too much? For some players, just saying "You do 10 damage. He dies." is all the violence you need and they don't even think about it. For others, they want it to be really graphic, with descriptions of severed intestines spilling blood and feces onto the floor coupled with the sounds of ribs popping and tendons snapping. Does that turn you off from a game? Is it the responsibility of the GM and players to decide, or should the level of gore be suggested by the game itself?

As for sex, I know it's a touchy subject with many people. How much loving and boning do you want in your games? I posed a similar question a few years ago and most of the feedback was "we just fade to black and hand-wave the details." Yet from what I've been reading lately, there seems to be a market, or a least a sizable niche, for games that aren't afraid to shy away from sex.

I am fascinated by Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and I know there are a lot of fans of that game in the circles I frequent. When I first checked out the free (no-art) basic rules, it seemed like a really cool, streamlined retro-clone. It wasn't until I started digging a bit (and saw the actual art!) that I realized how incredibly dark and horrifying it is. There's a lot of sex and violence in there and the two are intrinsically tied together. On the other hand, it's still not as explicit or obscene as some of the stuff I've read from White Wolf. The LofFP modules (at least the ones I've read) mentions and implies a lot of sexual violence but doesn't spell it out too explicitly. It's kind of like it passes the buck to the GM, expecting them to take responsibility for putting that stuff in the game, even if the module kinda assumes that you will. It's a fine line that I think is brilliantly played even if no one in their right minds can argue that LotFP is isn't set in a dark, sexual world.

Full disclosure for bringing up this topic: I'm trying to find a sweet spot for the game I'm tinkering with. I know I want gore, blood and guts, but I'm wondering how much "tits and ass" should go in there along with it. To clarify, the violence in my game is so over-the-top that it's almost cartoon-y. Should the sex be the same? Should it be dick jokes and high school toilet humour? Should I steer clear of it altogether? I feel like it should be broached in some fashion.

I know I don't want to go that deep down the rabbit-hole, but how far is too far? Magical chainmail bikinis would fit perfectly in my game, as would giant crab lice and +1 magic wands of vibration. Should it just be left at that tongue-in-cheek kind of level, and leave the rest up to the player's and GM's imagination? That would be my gut reaction, but dark stuff seems to be all the rage these days. Do folks want this included in their games?

As an average RPG fan and gamer, what level of sex and/or violence are you comfortable with/want in your games?

8/20/2014

Up here in the Southern Ontario portion of Canada we have a tradition called "cottaging".  It's very different then what the urban dictionary says it is.  What we do is pack up the car on a Friday, drive 2 to 5 hours in extreme traffic, hang out in a small building with limited amenities, and then drive home in the same ridiculous traffic 48 hours later.  Sounds crazy, right?
But there are some up sides.  Most of the time you are in a beautiful setting on the water somewhere, with lots of toys to play with, and with lots of fun friends and family.  And in the evenings, there's not much to do besides play games. So here are some of the classics that come up often with my friends and family at the cottage.

Sorry, wrong Bauer...
1) Euchre. This is a trick collecting card game with 24 cards, which can be made from any standard 52 card deck.  It is most often played by 4 players in pairs, though there are 2, 3 and 6 player variants. Trump is called by a player and that player's team must collect more than half the tricks in that hand to gain their point.  The full rules are available here.  This game has a fair amount of strategy to keep it interesting.  It also helps to know your partner and their playing style as you must trust them to help you and no table talk is allowed.


Betty White has always been awesome.
2) Password.  This game has many other names, but this is the most common as it is based on the 1960's TV show.  There are many versions of this as a board game, but we play a simplified version that requires nothing to be bought other than some paper and pens.  In our version, we cut paper in to small strips, and each player gets a set number (usually 10 to 15) of them.  On each strip they write a word or simple phrase.  All the strips are then folded and put in to a bowl.  Players are divided in to teams.  One player from a team takes a piece at a time from the bowl and attempts to get their teammates to say the words on the paper by describing them, but without saying any of the words themselves.  They do this for as many as they can in 1 minute.  Play is then passed to the next team.  One point is scored for each word correctly guessed. Any passed words go back in to the bowl and are counted as a negative point. Once all words are guessed, points are totaled and a winner declared.

Not sure these ones are
in the official dictionary.
3) Scrabble.  A classic game for 2 to 4 players that never gets old in my opinion.  Players make words with letter tiles and score based on the value of each letter plus modifiers on the board.  There are official word lists and Scrabble dictionaries.  It is up to the players to decide what words will be accepted before the game starts.  I prefer some of the older word lists that don't accept some foreign words.  The best part of this game is that it is always a learning experience, and a chance to expand your vocabulary.

With friends we also play a ton of newer games; Euro board games like Ticket to Ride, Carcassone, and many of the others I've mentioned on this blog, and Cards Against Humanity is becoming a great favourite - but not when I play with my parents...

8/12/2014

So more Splatter-Elf happened on Splatterday night. Despite me being (at least in my opinion) woefully unprepared, I think we had a pretty good night.

There was significantly less combat than previous games, and probably not enough for good play-testing purposes, but the players seemed to just want to talk their way out of everything. Usually after picking fights with stuff way out of their league than backpedaling when they realized they were fucked.

Truthfully, maybe I shouldn't have let them befriend the troll AFTER they paralyzed and urinated on him, and certainly shouldn't have let them buy their freedom with half a coil of rope, a rusty dagger and a burnt-out torch, but the troll was given the promise of great riches and heaps of treasure, which is all he really wanted anyway. He was a smart enough troll to know that a troll's life span is decidedly shorter when pressed by a gang of dedicated adventurers. And true to their word, the players did return and pay off the troll after they dealt with a giant vagina pit monster.

Not as sexy as you would have imagined.
Long-time readers will know that this is actually the second time a vagina has appeared on Rule of the Dice. In John's case it was entirely accidental, but I can't feign ignorance; I knew damn well what I was doing.

My version of the Sarlacc Pit is the Sandimangina, a Splatter-Elf original which is basically carnivorous lady parts in the ground, but when it consumes a hapless victim and sucks out their blood and internal organs, the pit spits the poor bastard back out as a sort of sand-filled ghoul. Kinda like a scarecrow stuffed with dirt that only exists to find more victims to lure back to their unholy "mother."

Oh, and the thing is covered with giant crab lice that the ghouls would use as ammunition in their slings to fling at the players, which would then latch onto their victims and start sucking their blood.

One of the players had the quote of the night when he said, quite earnestly, after pulling a giant crab louse off his face and getting stuck in the pit up to his waist (losing his boots in the process):

"Does Splatter-Elf have any free clinics?"

That's just how we roll in Groteskia. The squeamish need not apply.

8/05/2014

#RPGaDay

No big post today. I've been doing short daily updates over on Google+ following the #RPGaDay gimmick. So if you've always wanted to know what my first, favourite and weirdest games, etc are, follow me or circle me on Google+. All the cool kids are doing it.


7/29/2014

The Fifth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons has been out for a few weeks now and the interwebs are flooded with plenty of reviews and evaluations. Rule of the Dice has been conspicuously absent on mentioning the latest incarnation of our favourite pastime's flagship (except for my prophetic post 3 years ago) for a few very good reasons:

1. Splatter-Elf is way cooler
2. I'm awful at writing reviews
3. I haven't read it

Terrible, right? I mean, the basic rules are free, and the Starter Set is available for under 20 bucks, so what's my excuse? I could give you a list, but instead I'll just blame climate change. Or maybe fracking. According to my Facebook feed, those are the root cause of all the problems in the world today.

So without further ado, I'm going to buckle down and share with you my very carefully-thought-out and entirely scientific breakdown of what we've seen so far in 5th Edition (or as I like to call it, the "Grognard-Bearded-Bastard-Spawn of 4th Edition.")

The first major change to note is the new and rather extensive step during character creation between generating your attributes and rolling your hit points: Deciding your character's gender identity, sexual orientation and predilection toward "catching" or "pitching." These new and refreshingly-detailed tables and charts may or may not have been inspired by certain rules from F.A.T.A.L., but since the last time I opened that book dark ominous clouds began to gather in the sky behind me, I refuse to examine it again even in the interest of research and fact-checking.

The biggest controversy surrounding this progressive and free-thinking (if expansive) addition to the rule set is that the Wizards (of Wizards of the Coast fame) apparently developed this multi-chapter section of the book through in-depth conversation with a known degenerate and excommunicated pariah of the gaming community. Personally I enjoy his blog and his work, but what do I know? I'm the guy who's a month late writing a review of 5E, so my opinion matters about as much as a pimply 14-year who's buying D&D for the first time and running home to play it with his cousin and friends and is obviously going to play it wrong because he doesn't have four decades of history and background to do it the proper and correct way.

(In case you were wondering, the consultant I'm referring to is Robin D. Laws. He's obviously a deviant because he's Canadian, and f*ck those guys.)

Moving along, I realize more and more that the "video gamification" that plagued 4th Edition is much, much worse in this new iteration. Sure, in 4E we had to contend with the WoW-style "tanks, DPS and healers" bullshit that made every single ranger look exactly the same despite several hundred possible options (any MMORPGer will tell you there's a "right" way to play), but the core problem that has plagued every video game released in the last 10 years has now crept into our pen-and-paper games as well: The release of knowingly-bug-infested content that REQUIRES patches straight out the box in order to play it properly.

The Wizards spent two years in open beta testing, and yet they're rolling out an incomplete game that crashes left, right and sideways. It constantly references things that don't exist yet, has a hard cap to your progression (once you hit level five the game just completely falls apart and you have to start over) and it doesn't really even have monsters in it! In order to really get anything out of this game you have to roll up lots of clerics and rogues and have them fight each other, Mortal Kombat-style! (Again, totally video-gamificating the genre).

The platform is so bad that The Wizards are already planning THREE ENTIRE BOOKS of errata over the next few months. Apparently while the first book fixes some of the glitches, it creates even more inconsistencies and discrepancies that requires yet another $50 hardcover of errata, which in turn will create more bugs and the cycle just continues. If this is The Wizards' new marketing campaign and product plan, give me back the stupid $10-a-month character generator from 4E. Or maybe I'll go play Magic: The Gathering.


(Holy shit, maybe that was their plan all along...)

Speaking of the Wizards' money-grubbing ploys to scam you of your hard-earned cash, one of the most-lauded changes to the rules is the "Advantage/Disadvantage" mechanic where you roll TWO twenty-sided dice and take the higher or lower depending on the situation. Unfortunately this is quite simply a horrible and mean-spirited addition to the game. Don't get me wrong, I love rolling as many D-twennies as humanly possible just as much as the next guy (which I'm sure is what they claim is the purpose behind this rule), but did anyone else notice how many d20's actually come in the Starter Set box?

One.

One f*cking d20, when every other page tells you to roll two.

While this is obviously a deplorable cash grab, many of you will argue that you have literal shit-tons of dice (a shit-ton being exactly 1077.5 kilograms) so finding an extra one to roll is not a problem. But I'm not talking to you dirty old grognards who have enough Doritos-dusted polyhedrons to use as the foundation for a house (I won't front - I'm just as guilty of dice hoarding, and most of them taste like Zesty Taco), I'm talking about that pimply-faced 14-year-old kid I mentioned earlier. You know, the new player, to whom a "starter set" is ostensibly directed? This kid will probably only have the dice that comes with the box, ergo, he will be missing the tools required to use one of the coolest features.

This is the face of a kid with but a single d20.

What do you do? Ignore the Advantage/Disadvantage rule? I suspect it will continue to grow in importance with each successive release of errata. Buy more dice? Maybe, but if my parents just shilled out twenty bucks for a box full of nerdy dragon stuff, I wouldn't be asking them for any more money (well, maybe I would, but I'd feel bad about it). Does he just roll the d20 twice? That would be shameful, because all of his friends are going to see him doing it, and they're going to know that his family can't afford to buy him a second d20, and he's going to know that they know, and even if it doesn't devolve into violent harassment and cyber-bullying (we know it will), the kid will still feel like shit and require months, if not years of therapy in their early thirties in order to deal with the residual feelings of inadequacy.

And all because WotC wouldn't spring for an extra goddamn d20 in their starter box.

This is the face of a kid who's going to end up in rehab some day, and it's all Mike Mearls' fault.

Speaking of the box, why is there so much Chinese air in it? I mean, the box itself is pretty substantial, but there's only a couple of thin booklets and a few sheets of paper in there, so why such a large box? Was this a conscious choice on the part of the Wizards, or did someone in the print shop overseas "accidentally" make the box larger in order to fit as much "air" in there as possible. Did it smell funny to anyone when they opened it? Has anyone sent a copy to the CDC, just in case? I mean, they will probably just end up playing it in the break room on their lunch (you know those eggheads are into this shit), but maybe they could check it out. You know, just in case.

I could go on, about how the Wizards are shunning their devoted 4E gamers (all 11 of them) in an attempt to win back the nihilistic and cynical grognards that are just going to house-rule the shit out of it if they play it at all, or how the book was laid out by Phoenican typesetters (page numbers on the wrong side? What kind of heathen barbarian would do that?), or how they are insidiously sneaking some new-age, new-school extrinsic rewards systems into the ancient and rotting OCD-riddled infrastructure of D&D, but I should probably quit now and get around to actually reading the damn thing. Are there gnomes in this one? Assassins? Man, I hope they brought back the original rules for making a bard.

Stay tuned for Part 2! In about 4-6 months.

7/28/2014

Definitely NOT him.
In every gaming group, it's good to have "that guy".  I guess I should be more specific:  Not THAT guy, but *that* guy.  All clear now, right? And just for the record, I'm using "guy" as a generic term, girls are awesome too.

I'll elaborate.  You need that one person who is super confident, has some great creativity, and/or will just do what needs to be done to make the adventure great.
More like him.

In our RPG group that person changes depending on what RPG we're playing, but an excellent example stands out in my mind from our last play test of Splatter-Elf. I'll be honest, I didn't have the time to properly prepare for the adventure. Another player was joining us for the first time ever. Without the third, the "that guy", the GM would have had a tough time getting the mood of the game set.
This one player came in with a custom character built, a background created, and a play style decided upon.  From his first introduction in the tavern he helped us get in to the twisted world of splatter elf.  Splatter-Elf (lots and lots of info on this blog!) happens in a very dark and disturbing world.  This player found the line not to cross, then took 42 steps over it.  His descriptions of his spells violating the other player characters were awful in a great way, and helped encourage the new player in the group to relax and be just as silly and disgusting as the rest of us.

A different situation is a game that I GM'd in a Play by E-Mail situation. A recap of this are here and here.  Unfortunately when we chose to play Battle Star Galactica, the players neglected to mention that most of them had never seen the show and knew next to nothing about the setting.  Luckily for me C.D., who also writes for this blog, jumped in with both feet and hit the ground running.  He (possibly unintentionally) helped me to build the tension and setting of the ship limping along under constant threats from the Cylons.  He guided the other players in to the mindset of lying when necessary to cover your own ass, and keeping secrets.  In the end I think the game went very well, but without C.D. being "that guy," I don't know that it would have been nearly as good.
I didn't have enough witty pictures to go with this post,
so here's a picture of a Catstronaut.
We've all played with an "Alpha Player" who railroads a game and takes the fun away from the others, and it is great to avoid this.  However you still need at least one person to step up to the plate and take on a bit of the story creation to help the GM, or to get way in to the theme and help expand the world, or just to be a total goof and put the other player's at ease.  I hope that at least some of the time, that's me.

7/22/2014

Splatterday Night was an illustrious moment in the history of Splatter-Elf the RPG. For the first time ever, the Godfather of Splat himself, Philip Overby, joined us live via satellite from Yokohama, Japan to sit in on a play-test session of the game. We hoped to learn great things from the man who coined the term "Splatter-Elf" and basically invented the genre, but sadly the biggest thing we learned is that Google Hangouts hates people that live in Japan.

(Your hear that, Google? I hope one of your bots scans that and you fix your stupid software.)

Anyway, after an hour of fiddling with Google+... and Roll20... and Skype, we eventually got a usable work-around and we were off and running! This time around we had a dwarf Sanguine Sorcerer (note: he was a "midget" human, not a dwarf-dwarf - an important distinction that he loved to remind everyone about), a Hunter-Killer (a new build, basically a ranger/brigand) and Mr Overby played a Bloodlust Berserker with a ventriloquist dummy (actually the skeleton of a goblin) he called "Rodney." The Nefarious Cutthroat from session 2 nearly joined us as well, but was called away during our 60-minute attempt to log into fucking Google.

The good news is that all that frigging around really got everyone in the right frame of mind for Splatter-Elf; grumpy, impatient, irritated and homicidally enraged (isn't that everyone's reaction to Google Hangouts?) The group plowed through the first part of the adventure, cutting through the legwork/exploration part in record time, ignoring all side encounters, red herrings and potential combat situations like it was no thing. I'm coming to realize that a) I'm either really bad at building scene-driven, plot-based adventures or b) my players are really good at seeing through my ruses and once they get the adventure hook they hold onto it like a 500-pound catfish.

After roughing up some townsfolk, making a deal with a whore that involved attaching a giant magical leech to the midget's testicles, and stealing the inkeeper's glasses for the Berserker's near-sighted bone puppet, the group had all the clues they needed to find the lost treasure (the treasure of course being the wizard's goods that the last group failed to capture during the previous session). Because they had burned through the bulk of my adventure so quickly, I had to throw the standard Splatter-Elf go-to encounter at them: murderous lepers. It's a good practice encounter for those who are new at the game because it gives a taste of combat without being too dangerous, plus it gives plenty of opportunity to build up some Blood Points to use in the tougher encounters to come.
Olly Draftmaker - the First Ever player-created character
for Splatter-Elf.


The group found the treasure, only to be attacked by a giant demonic beaver (the wizard's guardian, which also survived the last session and escaped) and its pet undead cow. The group survived, though barely... it was a close call. The berserker survived being crushed by a flying cow by a hair (and a very lucky roll) and in the end they only won because the dwarf blood mage got off a fortuitous spell that stunned the beaver long enough for them to put it down.

Overall a pretty successful night. The guys seemed to enjoy it (though Philip was actually hoping his dude was going to die spectacularly). The most fun (and horrified guffaws of uncomfortable laughter) came from one of the players' jaw-dropping descriptions of his character's actions. A major rule I've added to Splatter-Elf since the first roll-out is that the players have to describe the effects of their attacks. I simply say you inflict a "minor wound" or a "severe wound," and the player has to come up with what it looks like. Where do you hit the enemy? With what kind of weapon/action? As long as it falls into the proper categories of minor/major/severe/dead, and the description entertains the game master and other players, the player gets Blood Points that he can use to fuel more powers and special attacks down the line.

The dwarf Blood Mage's descriptions were horrifying, disturbing and hilarious. Philip described it best, likening it to Cards Against Humanity: the stuff he was saying was so terrible, inappropriate and disturbing, the only response to it was to laugh (well, either that or log off immediately and unfriend him on Facebook.) For example, one of his spells, "Steal Vigor," steals hit points from an enemy and heals an ally. The spell description describes something about a black mist being drawn magically from the victim, that then forces itself into the ally and is described as horrifying to witness. The player took this several steps beyond that, explaining - in detail - exactly what shape that "black mist" took, exactly how it "penetrated" the other player (repeatedly) and exactly how that made the character feel (as well as throwing in the resulting body functions it triggered for good measure).

Yeah, this ain't a game you play with your little sister.

But that's what I'm trying to do. I don't want it to simply be an extra-weird and creepy version of Dungeons and Dragons. Nor do I really want it possible to play a watered-down version of Splatter-Elf that simply becomes Dungones & Dragons. I want the weirdness and the horror and the sense of humour to somehow be intrinsically tied into the rules so you can't separate the two.

I also learned a few technical things that need to be fixed, like the ratio of attack vs defence bonuses (everyone misses way too much) as well as the Blood Powers still need tweaking. The Blood Mage works great, but non-mages also need something to make them equally fun to play.

Thanks for reading! Tune in next time when the Berserker turns the dwarf mage into his new ventriloquist dummy as payment for "healing" him.

This is the face of Splatter-Elf.