Thursday, January 31, 2013

New Year, New Games - January Report

Hey, remember how I've been talking about wanting to try out a whole bunch of new games this year? How my gaming group was going to start rotating in new games for a short run to see how much we like them and such? Well, it's time to start living the dream. This past just-over-a-week, I've already crossed two such games off my gaming bucket list with the promise of more sessions to come. Here are my thoughts so far.

Adventurer, Conqueror, King System

When I first heard of ACKS (which, I've been told by +Jason Hobbs should be pronounced "axe"), I thought it sounded neat: a BX retroclone designed toward the old-fashioned end game of becoming a a ruler with a stronghold and a solid domain game. I've never actually gotten a campaign to "domain game" status, so I've been interested in this game ever since. I've actually been looking for the "perfect" domain game for just about 12 years now and have gone through everything from Birthright to Empire to try to find something satisfactory. For $10, the ACKS pdf seemed like a sound investment.

Turns out, it was. ACKS is not just another retroclone. In many ways, it attempts to smooth out a lot of the little complexities of BX (like, say, combat tables) while still offering players a bunch of options (the proficiency system here is not quite as toothless as the AD&D proficiency system and not nearly as complicated as 3e's feats) and allowing DMs to take advantage of all "early edition" material he wants to with minimal conversion (AC conversion is the only thing I'm noticing right now). Since I mentioned it, the "to-hit" system is terribly easy and is almost a sort of "reverse THAC0" in that you have a target number (determined by class & level) that you have to roll equal to or better than to hit an unarmored foe; AC is ascending, starts at zero and adds to this target number. Thus, a first level cleric (to-hit throw 10+) has to roll a 12 or better to hit an opponent in leather armor (AC 2; 10 + 2 = 12). This might not sound like a big deal, but it vastly beats looking up to hit targets on charts every time and for some reason, simple addition is easier to do than simple subtraction.

So far, I've played two sessions of ACKS, run by Mr. +Brian Takle (who also ran the D6 WEG Star Wars game I played in in November and December) and had a blast both times. Sure, much of that could be the players involved, but to focus on the rules for a moment, my level 1 cleric has been remarkably successful as a fighter even if he's not been terribly successful as a healer (despite taking the Healing proficiency twice, I've not yet been able to put it to good use). The rules play remarkably fast without much looking up of particular details except in extreme cases where the thing being looked up is of huge import. Furthermore, the weight of consequences in the game feels immense; if dropped to 0 hp, for example, your hero might not die, but he will most likely have some lasting consequence from the calamity. Thus, in our ACKS game, we have two characters missing an eye. Danger has real, lasting meaning in ACKS, and that's a beautiful thing.

As far as the actual domain rules go, at level 2 (as of last night), I'm a long way off from knowing how those play. To be honest, they look neat and very old school (centered around hexes!) which should be fun if we ever get to it. For my tastes, however, the ACKS domain rules aren't ideal and are a little too crunchy, as in "too many numbers to crunch" and "too much stuff to keep track of." To be honest, I'd prefer a Birthright-like system that marries BR domain management to a hex-based system and divorces it from a specific setting, allowing for lots of flexibility. Yeah, I know. Good luck there.

Savage Worlds

The other system I've gotten to try in the last week is Savage Worlds (sorry, no RPGNow link), run in this case by Mr. +Matt Woodard. Matt has, for the entirety of the time that I've known him, been a huge proponent of SW and, if my G+ feed is any indication, he's in good company. Apparently, if you're not playing 4e or Pathfinder and aren't an OSRior, you're probably playing Savage Worlds. Okay, I get it. It's one of the big guys right now, which means it's absolutely worth paying attention to. When Matt suggested that we run a SW-powered zombie apocalypse game, I eagerly bought in. Fact: SW uses the standard polyhedrals (except for the d20) so I get to bring all my dice unlike most "generic" systems which buy in to one die type exclusively. Fact: I love killing zombies and post-apocalyptic survival stuff. Fact: I can't afford not to try a game for which the core rules are only $10 in print. Yup, $10 in a digest "explorer's edition." Nice stuff.

I've only played one session of SW so far (the next is coming up on 2.10) and I really enjoyed it. At the outset, +Tim McMacken Jr commented on how I'd been "spoiling" the group with my tactical & hex maps for D&D and how surprised he was that Matt wasn't using stuff like that for SW. Matt's comment was a sort of "wait and see" response and as the game progressed, Tim (who's still really new to RPGs in general) was impressed by how little they were required so long as everyone was on the same page. Matt's concept had us all playing Marines (except for me; I was playing a Navy Corpsman since the Marines apparently don't have medics and borrow them from the larger pool of Navy personnel), and the ladies in our gaming group ended up picking the higher-ranking folks which put +Laura Montoya in charge of all of us (she's just as new to RPGs as Tim) which had her out of her comfort zone for a moment, but with some reassurance from the rest of us, she adapted to the role of boss lady really well.

Similarly to ACKS, it would be easy (in this case, very, very easy) to just say that I had such a good time because of the awesome role-playing and DMing that was going on. In no time, we were in-character (well, most of us) and trying to sort out our problems the way our characters would. I think the other PCs are getting sick of my Corpsman's "Heroic" Hindrance, and if they're not, they will be soon. I think that the reason it's easy to just talk about how the RP was the part that "made the game" is that the rules don't get in the way of the game. They're unobtrusive, simple and easy to remember. The only thing that was difficult to sort out were the rules regarding automatic fire on our squad's SAW (that's military-talk for "big ass machine gun") and targeting an area, so we made up our own rule (which I like a lot). There was some confusion about the Wild Die and the fact that it gets rolled every time you're rolling a succeed/fail roll (and doesn't get added to the other result), but nothing that couldn't be worked around by astute rules-lawyer-y types (like me) just figuring things out for folks. All in all, it was a really great time and I'm looking forward the next session.

Next Time

For February, I'll get some more ACKS in and more SW zombocalypse. I'm not sure how many more sessions of SW Matt has prepared, but if he just has one more, we'll need another short run game to round out February. I'm hoping that this will be +Rad DeLong running Amber Diceless or his brother +Andrew DeLong running a session or two of his legendarily epic homebrew game that I've only ever heard discussed in furtive whispers in the decade plus that I've known the DeLong brothers. There's also been some talk from Matt Woodard about a possible ShadowRun 4e run session or two which would be awesome, too. To top all of this off, it seems like the Game of Taps has stalled out (although perhaps only for a moment), freeing up my Monday nights for another G+ game; I'd like to use this to either (a) get into someone else's game (particularly one from my RPG bucket list or tour des editions) or (b) run a BLUEHOLME game. Yup, I'm thinking about actually running BLUEHOLME. Let me know if you're interested (Monday nights, 10p EST/3a GMT), I'd love to kick ass with you.