How to Play and Run Roleplaying Games

In my wanderings I have been able to locate two essential resources for anyone interested in Roleplaying.    Both of these pieces were written by the illustrious Greg Stolze, whose work inspires me on a daily basis.   Just so you know I’m not misappropriating them for my own gain, here are the man’s words from his site.  You can also find these under the “Links” tab on the right.

Attribution/Non-derivative Downloads


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

These are a bit different. The license on these articles lets you show them wherever you want, including in commercial books. But you can only use them if you attribute them to me, and if you don’t change a word of the text. Feel free to read them, share them, print them out and leave them lying in subways — just don’t change them.

How to Run Roleplaying Games

How to Play Roleplaying Games

First up is “How to Run Roleplaying Games”, where he expounds on the best tips and tricks for running a compelling and enjoyable game for yourself and others.  He details the most common mistakes that Game Masters can make and offers solutions.  Whether you are an expert GM or someone interested in running your first game, check it out.

Next is “How to Play Roleplaying Games”.   Not only does it explain the general nature of the games, but also the best ways for a player to contribute to a fun and enlightening game.   Everything from character creation, conflict and setting are explained in easy and vivid terms.  It’s a must read, as I’m certainly not directly reproducing this particular wisdom in the Spark RPG.

I stand on the shoulders of giants.  I would love to hear any thoughts you might have about his essays as well.   Please feel free to to expound in the comments here; my soapbox is your soapbox.

Reign Enchiridion – A One-Roll Alternative

I just finished reading my copy of Greg Stolze’s new book by the title of Reign: Enchiridion.  I am a fan of Stolze’s which meant I was proud to support during the auction for this particular book. Oh, you can find my name in the acknowledgments section on page 221 if you are curious.

Greg is the pioneer in the field of self-publishing as a method of directly satisfying the fans without need for middle-men.  Not only is his marketing an inspiration, his creative writing blows me out of the water.  It is a pleasure to recommend this book as an excellent Alternative Game to the Spark RPG.

Most of his books are supported via a method called the ransom model, where fans choose how much they would be willing to pay for a given product.  If enough people pledge up to the chosen total, the payments are made and the book is printed.  If a fan gives a small amount, they may get a PDF of the product for instance, while a larger amount might give a copy of the printed book or more impressive prizes.

Reign Enchiridion is developed by Arc Dream Publishing and Published by Cubicle 7 Entertainment.  The full credits for Writing and Design go to Greg Stolze.

Explanation of The Alternative

Reign is built on the solid ORE (One Roll Engine) system which you may know from “Godlike”, an alternate history superhero game set in World War II.  Wikipedia describes the task resolution system in a more concise fashion then I am currently capable of, so I include it here.

Reign Enchridion Corebook
Arc Dream Publishing
The O.R.E. system uses a dice pool of d10s equal to the character’s Stat and Skill similar to that used by Storyteller system, but the method to determine success is different. In the O.R.E. system, success is determined by die result matches, such as a pair of 8s. The Width of a roll, the number of matching dice, determines the speed (and damage, if in combat) of a roll, while the Height of a roll, the face up result on the matched dice, determines how successful an action was and location of a hit in combat. Shorthand notation for writing results is Width x Height, so a pair of 8s would be written 2×8 and three 2s would be written, 3×2. (Wikipedia)

The game is played on two levels simultaneously.  The first level of play is that of the character, with personal motivations and trials.  The second level of play is that of groups or “companies” which a player may direct.   The interface between these two types of games is well detailed and this system allows for kingdom-level action.  This fills the same niche as the old Birthright setting for 2nd Edition AD&D, though Reign is a better quality product in my opinion.

The Merits of The Alternative

Reign shares many of the same strengths as Savage Worlds; tactical richness, accounting for unworthy opponents and a tool-box approach which permits for creative setting-building.   By contrast, Reign also focuses on encouraging deeper roleplaying with the use of traits called “passions”.  Each character can have one of each of the three different varieties of passion; a mission which must be accomplished, a duty which governs your life and a selfish craving which you fall prey to.  You receive either a mechanical bonus when you act with your passions, or an equivalent penalty when you act contrary to them.  It’s a excellent mechanical support for good roleplaying.

Reign also comes with a series of tools for random generation of characters, of spells and of monsters.  These one roll characters, one roll spells and one roll monsters help the game master and a ton of fun to beat.

You might also be pleased to hear that the digest sized softcover book (~230 pages) has a listed price of $9.99 each.  You know what I said earlier about the merits of economical, portable and attractive books?  This holds true for Reign: Enchiridion as well.  I currently have two copies of the book and I am grateful that I have a spare copy to loan out to friends or use in game.

The Merits of Spark RPG

Spark has been designed for somewhat different purposes compared to Reign.  A portion of the game system in Spark is inspired by Unknown Armies, one of Greg Stolze’s past masterpieces. By using more free-form skills, there is a bit more room for creativity and no two characters are the same.  This allows Spark RPG to be focused on utility across multiple genres, rather than being optimized for a single genre like Reign.

Spark is built on the principle that physical, mental and social tasks are of equal importance.  As a result, there is less emphasis on specific combat maneuvers, defensive options or precise definition of harm.  Spark generalizes damage, as opposed to Reign which clearly identifies when a character’s left arm is heavily bruised.  Personally I think the more generalized approach leads to games that I am more likely to enjoy.

Summary

Reign is a captivating game, optimized for telling stories of great deeds in fantasy worlds of your imaginings.  It is a game suitable for rich combat, for larger scale strategic pursuits with the company rules and for excellent roleplaying opportunities.   If this sounds like it’s up your alley, I recommend picking up a copy or two at Indie Press Revolution, Arc Dream Publishing or your local FLGS.  You can also explore some of the free content at the official Reign site and you may choose to pick up the larger main book including the richly detailed world of Heluso and Milonda.   If you prefer a more flexible multi-genre accommodating game system with less focus upon physical combat, you may appreciate the Spark RPG.    Either way, you will be able to tell compelling stories and enjoy yourselves thoroughly.

References

First echoes of the Spark Soundtrack

As previously mentioned, the excellent composer James Durham has been working on a score for my podcast. I just wanted to report that the draft I just heard is astounding. It is my hope that within the next month or so, I will be able to at minimum provide a clip of the piece for you to feast upon.

In other news, I am nearing the end of my first run of playtesting of the game system. A great many things emerged from the process; a mechanic which makes conflict most dynamic, how to handle shipboard combat and a host of other tweaks. I have finished this revision pass for chapter one (character creation) and the first half of chapter two (mechanics). Once this particular editing is done, I will be sending it off to a few external playtesters to see how it runs in the wild. I will keep you posted.

Clearly a Body of D12

So, the attribute system for Spark is linked to Dice. The larger the die, the better the attribute, in a system somewhat similar to that found in Savage Worlds.   A D4 attribute is crippled, while a D12 is human maximum.

This is a clear example of a D12 Body attribute, representing the peak of human physical capabilities.  I am impressed and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Easy yet diverse character creation

One of the design goals for Spark was for the character creation process to take the least amount of time possible while still retaining the diversity of character options.   I am pleased to say that I appear to have been successful, at the very least during my playtesting.   I had two of my playtesters over this evening specifically to examine the process for making a new character.  Each of them had some experience with the system and had previously made characters, yet they were able to achieve some impressive results.  Typically they would have more guidance in the form of setting specific documents but this was partially an exercise in improvisation.

Cantina Scene: I set the scene as the Cantina from Star Wars and asked the pair of them to make unique alien characters, with no other restrictions.   It took 30 minutes from conception to completion of the characters and both of them fit the bill.

Player A made Olivia the Octopod, a hard-drinking, fast flying, 8-tentacled pilot of a mid-size transport ship.

Player B  made Grog, a hideous ogre-like alien who has apparently liberated the plasma cannon from a fighter jet for use as his personal rifle.

Tavern Scene: After that success, I directed them to attempt a similar exercise within a standard fantasy setting and it took another 30 minutes to finish these characters off.

Player A made P’eri the Magnificent, halfling wizard with delusions of grandeur. She was a wizard with a talking and somewhat intelligent elephant familiar.

Player B made Hali-h’imam, an eternal water elemental who is spending his time one the dry lands to watch the solids and learn their ways. While he has a harder time affecting the physical world, his quasi-material state also protects him from many forms of harm.

Some useful feedback was given, but I am fairly pleased at how well the system is functioning.  Thirty minutes to make an unusual character is perfectly appropriate in my opinion.  I would be eager for new challenges though, if any of you fine readers would like to propose a type of character for me, I will try to see if the current system can accommodate it.  If it doesn’t, I will be happy to feature your character in the book.