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Old 01-31-2016, 12:33 PM
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Default I read RPG manuals

As I've mentioned on Talking Time before, I collect tabletop RPGs and spend an hour or two reading from them most nights. There's just something so enjoyable about collecting little bits and pieces of mechanics that intrigue me, comparing philosophies between different games, that kind of thing.

I'm happy to say that most of the things I notice in these games are positives, interesting and intriguing tidbits that make me excited to make a character or make me want to see how things would play out in actual use. Things like Shadow of the Demon Lord's class mixing and freeform initiative, or the way Emergence encourages you to customize your magic via fancy modifiable foci fire up both my imagination and my love of playing with numbers.

Then there's Anima: Beyond Fantasy, the kind of game that makes me wish every game had a forward explaining its design philosophy so I could understand what the hell was going through the authors' minds as they came up with this stuff. For starters, it's a d100-based game. Not percentile dice, d100. With skill bonuses up to 200, and difficulties up into the 400s (the dice can explode, you see). All of the numbers in this game feel big, usually too much so; for example, the base damage of a longsword is 50 and a target difficulty of 40 is considered Easy.

By my count there are eleven primary (read: combat) skills and thirty-eight secondary skills, not counting the several additional HP/MP build options.

Using special abilities in combat requires a charge up period to build up mana. Magic (as opposed to Martial or Psychic abilities) actually seems to be the easiest to keep track of and use in that regard, since there's very little customization there.

Combat is based on opposed rolls: I roll to attack, you roll to defend, we subtract the defense from the attack, we pull out a table to cross-reference the result to your armor level for the hit location and damage type of my weapon to get a percentage, then multiply that percentage by my weapon's base damage (or just look it up on a second table) to determine the final damage of the attack. That's assuming my attack roll was at least thirty higher than the defense roll; with a difference of a mere positive 1-29, nothing happens, and if the defense roll is higher than the attack then a counterattack is possible, assuming the defender still has an action available that turn.

Oh, and if you're wounded in combat before you can act, you lose all your actions for that turn. Hope you don't roll low initiative! Or you can choose to make your defense rolls at a 50% penalty so you won't lose your actions if hurt, but then you're taking more damage and oh yeah, the tankiest class in the game gets all of twenty HP per level. You can get more HP, but it requires one hell of an investment of character points for a rather paltry amount of HP.

Of course there's a death spiral too, with lost HP granting you blanket penalties to your rolls. And penalties to defense for being attacked multiple times in one round. This is a realistic high fantasy ruleset, don'tchaknow.

I could go on about things like how each piece of armor provides seven different kinds of damage resistance to track or the incredible and inscrutable special attack creation rules, but I think you get the point. "Byzantine" is the best word for the system, really. There's charts everywhere, for everything. Everything. Making a ranged attack? Look at table 45 to see what difficulty check you have to make based on the distance to the target, then probably at table 7 to remind yourself what number that difficulty description goes with.* The game feels more complicated than doing taxes. I realize that sounds like hyperbole but seriously, I've spent a lot of time this month studying to prepare taxes for the general public and that felt way more streamlined than the description of character creation in this game.

*This isn't just a Savage Worlds-style "ranged attacks are a flat skill check" method either. In Anima, if your attack roll beats the DC for range, then your target still gets to make a defense check with the possibility of making a ranged counterattack.

Phew, alright, I think I've got that out of my system now. All that stuff said, there's still some interesting stuff in the game (I particularly like the possibility of playing the counterattack system to make a high risk, high reward melee combatant). It's just buried under piles of extremely granular simulationism. I would still try a session of Anima: Beyond Fantasy, if only out morbid curiosity. But I wouldn't expect to get a whole lot done my first time out, either.

So, this is a thread for gabbling about interesting, unique, and just plain WTF mechanics/design bits in tabletop RPGs. What do you guys have for me?
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Old 01-31-2016, 01:36 PM
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Maid RPG has an interesting dice mechanic that works great for it, but would work horribly for any other game: D6 * stat. Rolls are often contested. These swingy probabilities work so well because failed rolls in Maid lead to just as interesting situations as successful ones.
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Old 01-31-2016, 02:31 PM
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I recently backed Strike RPG on Kickstarter and have not yet been disappointed with it. The main way I can advertise it as is "4e D&D but actually good".
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Old 01-31-2016, 05:37 PM
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I used to read pc game manuals. When that was still a thing.
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Old 01-31-2016, 08:22 PM
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Originally Posted by Madmachine View Post
Maid RPG has an interesting dice mechanic that works great for it, but would work horribly for any other game: D6 * stat. Rolls are often contested. These swingy probabilities work so well because failed rolls in Maid lead to just as interesting situations as successful ones.
Hell, in Maid the failures are probably much more interesting than the average success. Especially if you have (or are!) a sadistic GM/Master who enjoys watching the maids scrabble to clean up their messes....

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I recently backed Strike RPG on Kickstarter and have not yet been disappointed with it. The main way I can advertise it as is "4e D&D but actually good".
I was looking at that after you mentioned it the other day. From what I saw on the website it looks like Dungeon World and D&D4 had a baby; I'm intrigued and it's near the top of my list to order.

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I used to read pc game manuals. When that was still a thing.
Man, I read the hell out of the Ultima IX manual back in the day....
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Old 01-31-2016, 08:56 PM
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When I was a kid I saw this big oblong box at some random store on some random outing I went along with my mom on. It had some kind of huge red dragon thing on it, mom I want this thing! She obviously knew something about the name on the box, she was the one who had the Marios and the Zeldas I was playing, and that I was a kid way into video games and fantasy novels so she bought it.

And that's the story of how my mom DM'ed the AD&D newbie box instead of reading me bedtime stories.

This kicked off a childhood of loving to read DND supplements. What a horrible sentence, I know. I think it's what gave me such a deep love of video game mechanics, constantly reading about mechanics and fluff and how the relate in tabletop games. I used to ask for splat books for campaigns I'd never even heard of outside of the backs of other splatbooks. I own the Sha'ir's Handbook FFS. So yeah I dunno, I have a weird love for RPG books too, even though I've never once even ran my own campaign.
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Old 02-01-2016, 07:45 AM
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Without people buying and reading games they never play and never will, the RPG industry (such as it is) would be reduced to Vincent Baker sitting in a bathtub yelling POLYAMORY and enjoying the echoes
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Old 02-01-2016, 07:52 AM
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This thread is making me wonder where my old Project A-ko sourcebook that I never played is hiding these days... Oh, and I'm pretty sure I have a GURPS book for Myth: The Fallen Lords. Where the heck did I put those?
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Old 02-01-2016, 09:00 AM
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I love reading RPG manuals, even though I always hit a spot of disappointment when I realize that I probably won't run a game anytime soon

One neat mechanic I was reading was in one of the Double Cross supplements that tries to turn a sort of standard GM and players set up into a more colloborative effort, even letting all players share GM duties through a random scenario generator. Basically it has some basic scenario descriptions and then you roll options for things like the rival, who or what you're trying to protect, and motivations for characters while the players decide how they all fit together. It was pretty interesting, if a little clunky. Though one of the scenarios is a murder mystery where one of PCs is the killer so you have a lot of distrust and player interaction going on which is really fun.
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Old 02-01-2016, 09:40 AM
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Especially if you have (or are!) a sadistic GM/Master who enjoys watching the maids scrabble to clean up their messes....
Nobody without this sort of sadistic streak should be running Maid.

Last edited by Madmachine; 02-01-2016 at 09:58 AM.
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Old 02-01-2016, 09:44 AM
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I remember seeing True20 a while ago, that had a few neat ideas. Functionally it was just a simplified 3.5e that used three class types and feats to simulate spells and class features (in fact I think I remember seeing most of the stuff from it in the Unearthed Arcana for 3.5e) but what I liked most was the vice/virtue alignment system. Effectively, you had both a virtue and a vice, and playing to type for either one granted you their equivalent of AP. You could always play to one and ignore the other to generate a good/evil character, but that would limit your character growth, obviously.

I don't know how workable that'd be in practice, but as a means of taking down the alignment grid of classic D&D, it's interesting to me.
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Old 02-01-2016, 04:21 PM
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Ya know after thinking of this title I would love to have a rpg on Audio Book like.. Patrick Stewart just reading a dungeon masters guide. This is something I'd pay money for.
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Old 02-02-2016, 08:07 AM
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Narrowing this down to games I've actually played...

Freemarket uses identical decks of cards for conflict resolution - one for each player and one for the superuser. It also has a mechanic for flooding memories into / bleeding memories out of characters, that usually results in character sheets covered in subtly altered, transmitted memories pieced together from different characters. It's fresh in my mind since we just played two sessions at PAX South...

Rock of Tahamaat has two GM roles - one does the usual facilitation duties, and one plays a hedonistic space emperor whose actions inadvertently ruin the lives of the other player characters.

The Shab-al-Hiri Roach has a clear winner and user, and a deck of cards that governs when and how an ancient Sumerian god-king possesses the characters.

Most of the play in The Quiet Year is drawing on a shared map, and the game uses a normal deck of playing cards to pace the four seasons during which it takes place.

I feel like I should include at least one game you can actually buy a physical copy of... Burning Wheel character creation (specifically orcs) is great. And Burning Wheel character advancement is the most incredibly satisfying clockwork collection of RPG mechanisms I've ever played with.

I love how thoroughly this video explains Burning Wheel: Adam Koebel - Why I Love the Burning Wheel
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Old 02-02-2016, 07:16 PM
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Hey, I have a physical copy of Freemarket!

I've been reading Burning Wheel Gold a little bit the last couple days (my new work schedule does not, so far, allow for a whole lot of RPG reading time). I gave it a look a while ago when I first got it and remembered the mechanics as looking pretty complicated, but looking at it now I have no idea why. And this time I was on sleeping pills when I read the Hub section!

A lot of what I've seen so far in Burning Wheel seems to be "How to be a good GM, set down as gameplay rules." Or maybe "How to have a punchy, high-momentum game." I like that! Even if I don't take a lot of the rules forward I will take a lot of the philosophy, I feel.

That said, I'm glad I started reading the book before watching that video. That guy's enough of an asshole it would probably turn me off the system just from his recommendation.

Quote:
I love reading RPG manuals, even though I always hit a spot of disappointment when I realize that I probably won't run a game anytime soon
I freed myself of that a long time ago. Just pretend like you're going to write your own system some day and you're looking for ideas to steal doing research.
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Old 02-06-2016, 07:51 PM
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I like stacking wound penalty systems for some reason. More dramatic? That's probably why I like Dream Pod 9's games so much even though I've probably only gotten to play Heavy Gear like 3 times total. I've played Palladium Robotech more than that, but our group was mainly in love with D&D 3/3.5 back when I had a regular one. Even then, I used to kind of 'sell' my injuries a bit for effect.
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Old 02-06-2016, 10:03 PM
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I like stacking wound penalty systems for some reason. More dramatic? That's probably why I like Dream Pod 9's games so much even though I've probably only gotten to play Heavy Gear like 3 times total. I've played Palladium Robotech more than that, but our group was mainly in love with D&D 3/3.5 back when I had a regular one. Even then, I used to kind of 'sell' my injuries a bit for effect.
That's another thing True20 did that I kind of like, too. Instead of HP totals, you basically stack up wounds, which impede your Toughness rolls. Rolling badly enough on a Toughness roll in response to being hit can kill you. Contrariwise, rolling high enough might ignore the hit.

But in practice that'd mean rolling an extra d20 per attack, which in addition to extra dicerolling, would make combats way the hell too swingy for my tastes.
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Old 02-06-2016, 10:37 PM
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I like stacking wound penalty systems for some reason. More dramatic? That's probably why I like Dream Pod 9's games so much even though I've probably only gotten to play Heavy Gear like 3 times total. I've played Palladium Robotech more than that, but our group was mainly in love with D&D 3/3.5 back when I had a regular one. Even then, I used to kind of 'sell' my injuries a bit for effect.
FATE's wound tracking is pretty nice, as you have boxes that you tick off that will eventually give you negative aspects that opponents can use to their advantage. In some FATE games you have separate physical and mental tracks which is also nice, so you can stress opponents into losing, or do that thing where you can actually win battles by arguing. It's pretty snazzy. FATE Accelerated has everything on one track which is also interesting, since you can do a combination of attacking and arguing to win fights.
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Old 02-07-2016, 07:02 AM
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The negative feedback loop of wound penalty systems... I can see the appeal from the "but it's realistic!" point of view, I suppose, and it is more dramatic to finally succeed after getting beat down a bit, but the PCs are already in the shit if they've taken enough damage to trigger penalties and now it's that much harder for them to get out of the shit!

I'll agree that a Sudden Existence Failure system like D&D is kind of silly when you think about it too much, but at least it's simple enough to grasp and you can fight right up to the PC's end. I think it's best when a wound penalty system either has some way to easily ignore the penalties when it really matters like Burning Wheel letting you burn the more common kinds of artha, or subvert it entirely like Tenra Bansho Zero reversing the whole thing and making you more powerful as you are injured, actually encouraging you to play close to death so you can accomplish more.
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Old 02-07-2016, 01:40 PM
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In a system like D&D's where the primary goal is to deplete your opponent's resources before they can deplete yours, wound penalties don't make too much sense, but I think that system might really shine in a system where the goal is to get your enemy into a position where they can't fight back. But to put together a system like that you'd need stuff like a good grappling system, which probably isn't immediately on the horizon.
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Old 02-12-2016, 04:13 PM
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This would be the best place for it, but I finally finished my old world of darkness collection, by buying everything from kindred of the east. I can safely run a actual world of darkness and not something just set in it.
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Old 02-12-2016, 06:40 PM
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Goodness gracious. I mean, I've probably (easily) spent somewhere in the four figures range on my collection, but I can't imagine the dosh you'd have to put down to get the whole WoD.
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Old 02-13-2016, 03:15 PM
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Well I bought this over many years and generally when I got some good deals. Most of the KoE stuff I picked up for roughly 10-15 a book depending on what one. Some of the rarer first edition stuff was ridiculous and in the 30-75 range so I settled on only going for revised and anything from the 20th anniversary stuff as it comes out. The leather bound hardbacks are a cruel joke on the wallet.
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Old 02-14-2016, 06:36 PM
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Man, I remember seeing the nWoD Changeling for $300 once. That was nuts.

So I've been reading Burning Wheel. It welds mechanics and story together pretty well! On the other hand, this means a lot of detailed rules for a lot of different things that often seem pretty similar and yet aren't really compatible. I mean, like, a lot more rules than I really expected? I can totally see why once you get past character creation the book suggests you stop reading sequentially and maybe just play one session focusing on each major system presented after that; I was reading the rules for Range & Cover last night when I realized two things: the first was that fatigue was starting to set in and the second was that almost every chapter of Burning Wheel seems to be its own minigame.

Every chapter has its own mechanics, right? They may be adjacent, but they're separate. Dwarf and Elf character creation are right next to each, and they're similar, but they don't mix. Same with talking and ranged combat, and I'm sure once I get to melee combat it'll be the same. All their own little games, possibly - probably! - leading into each other and yet kind of disparate. And they're all way more complex than I expected. Somehow I'd always gotten the impression Burning Wheel would be a lot closer to Dungeon World than it is.

Also, it combines exploding dice and pass/fail dice pool mechanics. I don't think I've ever seen that before.

I need to rest a bit before pressing on. I think I'll clean my palate with Battle Century G; that looks much more straightforward.
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Old 03-04-2016, 09:18 PM
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It's more a world-generation system than a traditional GM-and-Players RPG, but I just read the rulebook for Microscope and it seems awesome. The idea is that the players decide on a big swath of fictional history they want to explore (for example, "the rise and fall of a great empire) and then create periods, events and scenes within that history. The cool thing is that you're constantly jumping in time and focus. So maybe one player's turn is defining the period of prosperity that came just after the empire was founded, and another player's turn is narrating a scene in a childhood of the assassin who would kill the last emperor. The scope and dynamism seem really neat and I can't wait to try it out.
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Old 03-05-2016, 04:20 PM
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One of the key points there is that you only get down to what we'd consider traditional roleplaying when you already know what happens in the scene and the group wants to see why it happened - we know that the aliens suddenly retreated when they had the advantage, or that the prince who was previously a man of his people turned his back on them in a crisis, but we need to know why. Microscope is one of those games I always wished I could get to a table, which is rare for a game without a lot of mechanical meat to it. The problem being that it would have to be an actual table - I've never had much hope of making the game work in IRC or roll20, which is where all my roleplaying is done these days. Maybe Tabletop Simulator would work....

Looking back on the thread, I can't believe I was talking about wound penalty systems without mentioning Pokemon Tabletop United, one of the more elegant such systems I've seen. Rather than affecting how well your rolls go, HP damage will give you and your pokemon Injuries that temporarily lower your max HP by ten percent each. It doesn't change your ability to get out of a bad situation like roll penalties would, but it does give you definite worries about endurance and means that you can't force your way through anything and everything by just bringing along enough potions.

So has everyone else noticed how many games are using a stat for finances these days instead of making you count pennies? The first time I saw it was a few years ago with Rogue Trader and the rest of FF's Warhammer 40K games. Now I've seen it in the last three games I've read - Burning Wheel, Battle Century G, and Strike! - and there's probably more in my collection I'm not thinking of off the top of my head. I'm not complaining, not by a long shot - it streamlines something that's really just paperwork in nine games out of ten, and the only game I really enjoyed counting and using my money I was using it to buy my way to political power happily donating it to various worthy charitable causes - but roll-for-finances is really taking off.
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Old 03-17-2016, 05:25 PM
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All of John Harper's designs are really gorgeous - both in the "elegant systems" sense and the "fantastic graphic design" sense. Lady Blackbird is a great example. Look at how much information he packs into so little space. The entire game (which is admittedly small anyway) packed into just a few pages. I really really want to play it.

I'm super excited for his big game, Blades in the Dark, to finally get a full release.
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Old 04-08-2016, 07:30 PM
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I've been reading a couple of GM's advice books in anticipation of potentially running a game. The most useful of the lot has been The Lazy Dungeon Master's Guide, which advocates a loose, less-is-more, hook-based GMing style, with the primary goal being to avoid over-preparation and railroading. It also has a lot of stuff about getting over hang-ups about altering, mashing-up, or simply lifting from pre-existing material. That's always been a hobgoblin of mine, and seeing a forceful advocacy of why your setting doesn't have to be the most beautiful and original thing ever created is nice.

I also read Robin D. Laws' chapter in Unframed: The Art of Improvisation for Game Masters. It's a brief but useful outline of the Petitioner and Granter model of dialogue in fiction, and how it applies to roleplaying games, most pertinantly why negotiations between players and characters can end up going in circles quickly.

That essay had the effect of getting me to read the venerable Robin's Laws of Game Mastering. It's a lot broader than The Lazy DM's Guide, but there's a lot of realpolitik stuff in there about the different types of players, how to cater your games to them, and getting out of ruts and getting past blocks. I think that GM's sections/books have been getting better over the years, but they still tend to be pretty pie-in-the-sky, especially the 'Example of Play' sections, so to read something between that and "lol, cheetoh hands, which one's the d12 again, my campaign is in ruins" memery has been useful.
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Old 04-08-2016, 07:36 PM
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If you want some more GM advice, I really recommend Adam Koebel's series Office Hours.
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Old 04-08-2016, 07:55 PM
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I'll definitely check it out.

More pertinent to this topic, Conituum is probably my favorite obscure 'paper' RPG. It's so late-90s Alt- it shits glowsticks, and from what I've heard, its actual mechanics are a garbage fire, but it's got an absolutely killer central conceit, and some noble soul ought to rip out the frag stuff and apply to less unwieldy ruleset. You know, for those mystical unicorns that apparently can get a game of something like Spirit of the Century off the ground.
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Old 04-09-2016, 10:37 AM
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That cover is... wow. Just wow. I don't think I can really process the whole thing in just a day or two.

A lot of Continuum's conceit sounds really interesting, but I gotta ask: how do you have people changing history when causing any form of paradox gets you wiped out of history? You'd have to be so very, very careful. Honestly sounds a lot more interesting to play....

In other game reading news, I finished Strike! It's pretty much everything Kalir says it is, really. The central mechanic of letting a d6 unilaterally decide fate (with maybe one modifier if you're lucky) feels very limited and swingy at first, but thinking about it I realized that in most games I would be balancing numbers to about the same odds anyway, so this just streamlines things.

The tactical combat in Strike is really the basic essence of what D&D4E should have been. Basic abilities, lots of opportunities for reskinning, and not dozens of barely different ways of doing the same thing over and over. No need for a computer program to build your character and line up all your abilities and mods for you. It's beautiful, really. Strike is definitely going on the short list of games I want to play some day.
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