One-page (ish) RPGs

The trend of mainstream RPGs has been more pages, more rules, more everything. I’m not sure who has the time to read, let alone remember, all of that. So in marked contrast I went looking for the shortest RPGs out there. Obviously these don’t have many rules; you and the others in your game are gonna have to step up to fill in the blanks, as is the spirit of what RPGs are meant to be.

All Outta Bubblegum

The Big Bear: Doin’ Thangs RPG

Big MF’in Crab Truckers

Danger Patrol

Everyone is John

Ghost/Echo

Ghost Lines

The Golden Sea

Lasers & Feelings

Maze Rats

Neon + Chrome

Shift

Tempora Mutantur

Bandcamp finds: acoustic guitar

I’ve been playing acoustic guitar a lot more lately (and what a difference a proper set-up makes!) and I wanted to share some great albums I’ve found on Bandcamp that feature this instrument, no vocals, excess effects, etc.

Mike Dawes – What Just Happened?


Vincent Gauchot – Enter The Machine


Alan Gogoll – Grizzly Caterpillar


Cory Heuvel – Bliss From Within


Andrew Maranta – Improvised Acoustic Instrumentals Vol​.​1


Donovan Raitt – Pursuing the Horizon


Evan James Smith – Speechless


Ilya Truhanov – Far And Wide


Bill Vencil – In the Wilderness


Tobias Wilden – A Path To Open Air


Life Is Strange

Originally I was going to get this game on disc, but in a recent PSN Store Sale it was too cheap to pass up, and had a rather small download size. Double win!

As I enjoyed playing Until Dawn so much, I looked to see if there were any other games that played similarly, whether for consoles and/or PC. The PS3 had Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, which have been combined in a special PS4 edition. However, I heard a lot about the game Life is Strange, developed by Dontnod Entertainment and powered by the Unreal engine. I immediately felt this was indeed the perfect game that I had been looking for.

Playing the character of Maxine Caulfield, you are an 18 year-old in a school called Blackwell Academy in Oregon, studying photography taught by a once well-known American photographer. At the very beginning of the game, Maxine experiences a very strange dream that is almost too real for comfort, and also discovers an apparent ability to rewind time at-will. Using this ability, the player is able to choose a different path at certain points, and similarly to Until Dawn the player’s choice will have consequences later on.

Navigating the events of Maxine’s once best-friend Chloe, the player will interact with many of the students and staff of Blackwell, along with the people of Arcadia Bay. Some of the choices the player will have to make will be very difficult, with quite gut- and heart-wrenching consequences. Leading up to the climax of the story is an incredible twist and ultimately making the most difficult and reality-affecting choice the player has ever had to make.

What makes Life Is Strange a great game is first and foremost the story and the characters. The voice-acting is incredible, and you come to care very much for not just the main characters but many if not most in the town. The accompanying soundtrack is also perfectly suited, and while a physical CD came out with the special edition (PC | Xbox One | PS4) it isn’t available by itself either on CD or via download, which is an incredible oversight. Of course, you can listen to it on Youtube or Spotify. So if you’re wanting a game that lets you sit back and enjoy a story and atmosphere, regardless of how emotional and soul-crushing it could be at times, I highly recommend this game, and I really hope Dontnod will produce future games like this one.

Mythras

Introduction

Mythras is the newest/current fantasy RPG from The Design Mechanism, written by Pete Nash, Lawrence Whitaker, and friends. Formerly RuneQuest 6 (and building on Pete’s and Lawrence’s work for Mongoose RuneQuest II), Mythras is now finally a stand-alone fantasy RPG, free from licensing issues. With an improved layout and RQ-specific material taken out, the page-count for Mythras has gone down quite a bit, and that’s reflected in a nearly-$20 savings when purchasing the hardcover (and ordering the hardcover from TDM includes the PDF!).

The hardcover is a solid, high-quality volume, with a matte cover with the amazing image shown above. The hardback’s binding  allows for easy reading which I greatly appreciate. The improved layout for Mythras removes the spaces on the side, so more text is put on each page. The print is fairly easy to read, but for me it is bordering on being almost too small. The artwork is incredible, and while it still shows a Roman/Greek-bias it still encourages the reader to create a fantasy world of their own, with or without any realistic historical base.

Characters

In this very short chapter (7 pages), the game goes over the essentials for creating a character, with most of the remaining chapters providing details. A character sheet will be filled out, using a pencil and eraser, as many values will be calculated and will change not just during character creation but over the course of each gaming session.

This chapter also starts via a side-bar Anathaym’s Saga, an example character that goes through all the steps of character creation. This is a very clever and easy-to-understand method, and I really wish all RPG rule-books used this!

As this game doesn’t rely on character classes, you can go ahead and start thinking about what kind of character you’d like to play in general terms. While the game recommends starting with a human character and will likely be the most common race in games, almost anything from the Creatures chapter can actually be played, although some lend themselves better than others, and additional options are provided for those specific creatures/races.

The first thing to roll for is for the seven characteristics: Strength, Constitution, Size, Dexterity, Intelligence, Power, and Charisma. The book gives a nice short explanation of each one. The number of dice rolled for each characteristic depends on the chosen/intended race; for humans it is 3d6 for the first five and 2d6+6 for the remaining two. Other creatures/races will have their dice listed. You can also be allowed to assign rolled scores to each characteristic that uses that die size/range, or start with a preset pool of points and assign them to each characteristic as you see fit.

Along with the seven characteristic scores there are also ten attributes: action points, damage modifier, experience modifier, healing rate, height and weight, hit points, initiative bonus, luck points, magic points, and movement rate. All of these attributes each depend on certain characteristic values, and the book explains which ones and why.

After attributes each character has a set of standard skills (too many to list here). Each skill is calculated by either the sum of two characteristics or double the value of a single one; the values will also be effected by a character’s culture and profession.

Lastly, this chapter mention combat styles, a standard skill that’s actually an “umbrella skill” covering multiple techniques. Similarly to their effects on standard skills, the combat styles are determined by a character’s culture and profession.

Culture & Community

In this chapter we cover the next part of a character’s background. Culture cover’s a character’s surroundings and the society she grew up in, while community cover’s a character’s immediate and extended families.

A culture will affect the character’s standard skills, as well as introduce new professional skills. Humans have four basic cultures: barbarian, civilised, nomadic, and primitive. The rules don’t state what if any cultures are available for non-elf races. Another optional rule introduced before moving on to community is background events, things that happened in a character’s past, both good and bad. I think it adds more role-playing potential and will definitely utilize it.

Community relates to the character’s family, contacts, background events, and passion. In this section you’ll fill out your character’s social class, starting money, families, allies/contacts/rival/enemies, and passions.

After this section you should have a much clearer view of your character’s background and history. Overall I like everything that’s offered, though I wish more of it wasn’t so focused on the assumption of a human character. Also, some of the organization could be better; one example is things mentioned in the culture part, rules presented in the community section, but depends on culture. Whaaaa?

Careers

In this chapter we cover the final piece of the character’s background information, before getting into the “nitty gritty” of skills, combat, and other game rules.

While this game, like other D100 RPGs, doesn’t use character classes, it does use the concept of careers. By choosing a career, the player has a few additional standard and professional skills, as well as providing a little more detail on how the character has spent their time and what they actually do in life. There’s twenty-four to choose from, so hopefully at least one will either come close to what the player already has in mind, or will pique the player’s interest to try something new and unique. Of course the player and GM are welcome to create a custom career if desired.

This section also covers determining the character’s starting age, bonus skill points, and starting equipment. It also gives a brief description of the five (!) types of magic possibly available, as well as the character’s possible membership in a cult/brotherhood. These are covered in far more detail in later chapters.

Skills

In this chapter, if it wasn’t obvious, we see all standard and professional skills listed and detailed. I just assumed as a “heavier” D100 RPG there would be a whole lot of them, but overall the number of skills isn’t too bad. We also learn when to roll against a skill, as well as modifying a skill roll. After the listed skills are a few more rules, including re-attempting a skill roll, augmenting a skill, capping a skill, contested rolls, and group rolls. Again, the organization could be cleaned up a bit, as there’s no reason all of these rules could come at the beginning, and then all the skills listed.

Economics & Equipment

Having a fleshed-out character is nice, but you can’t do anything without some nice gear! In this chapter the rules go over income, bartering and haggling, culture/milieu, manufacturing, and enhancements. Between all of those rules are tables with prices and stats for amour, accommodations, clothing, food, livestock, tools, weapons (melee, ranged, and siege), shields, and vehicles. Some of these tables aren’t very large, and are obviously only meant as starting points for a creative GM and players to come up with their own custom creations that will suit their world.

Game System

This chapter, along with Combat, make up the bulk of the rules for the game. True, there’s plenty related to character creation and skills, but in this chapter are the many rules the GM will at least need to know where to look for situations that arise during the game. On the first page of this chapter it does include a list of what all is covered, so this is certainly a handy item to copy down for reference or even for a Mythras GM screen (I would include page numbers as well): acid, action/time/movement, ageing, asphyxiation/drowning/suffocation, blood loss, character improvement, disease/poison, encumbrance, falling, fatigue, fires, healing, inanimate objects, luck points, passions, survival, traps, visibility, and weather. Each section is fairly short, so a GM doesn’t have any excuse to be at least somewhat familiar with all of these.

Combat

Here we come to the meat of the game, and what some consider the most complex part of this D100 RPG, as it follows in the tradition of RuneQuest rather than the simplified systems of Call of Cthulhu, OpenQuest, and Magic World. In this system, each creature doesn’t just have one number representing their health; using a system called Hit Locations, a successful hit will hit either a specific or random part, possibly causing serious damage or even loss of limb depending on the damage dealt.

This chapter covers quite a number of items, including: combat styles, combat rounds, special effects, close combat, ranged combat, and hit locations. There’s a lot to take in, especially for those new to D100 RPGs or RPGs in general. If a GM or player is having a difficult time grasping the basics, I would recommend starting first with Mythras Imperative or even OpenQuest Basic; both are free and will get someone comfortable with how a D100 RPG operates, knowing that coming back to Mythras will have a few differences (esp. coming from OpenQuest Basic) as well as some additional rules.

Not only for the first few sessions but overall, combat in Mythras shouldn’t occur too often; both because it can be quite deadly (but as noted in the rules it doesn’t have to end in death) and because in contrast to D20/OSR RPGs characters don’t have experience points nor levels, and fighting and killing creatures and other adversaries don’t grant the characters any immediate advancement or advantages.

Magic

This chapter introduces an oft-misunderstood aspect of Mythras: its magic systems (called Disciplines). Looking through this and the following five chapters, it’s easy to assume that it’s a huge part of the game, even though there is a lot to learn. But as noted in the opening remarks of this chapter, all five disciplines are optional! As a GM and/or group, you can decide which, if any, fit into your game and world. You may already have something different and unique in mind, and can use that in addition to or instead of what’s offered here.

This chapter introduces the five disciplines, as well as discussing magical traditions, abilities, casting times, magical energy, and characters and using magic.

Folk Magic

Folk magic is the “lowest” form of magic, available to those without years (let alone a lifetime) of study. It can aid common everyday tasks, or be utilized by a wild witch hiding from those who would harm her without question. Many of the available spells would be extremely handy to have by any player, and as a GM I would need a really good reason to not allow them in my game.

Animism

Animism is the magic derived from communication with spirits and their realm. Instead of spells, a player will have two skills, trance and binding, which allow the player to have awareness of the spirit realm as well as control them. There are a wide variety of spirits to choose from, and of course the player and/or GM is welcome to modify or create new ones.

Mysticism

Mysticism is the summoning and flexing of great personal strength and conviction, allowing feats of abilities far greater than peers. To realize this, the player will develop two skills, meditation and mysticism. Using these skills a variety of talents are available for use, allowing the player to augment skills, invoke traits, and enhance attributes.

Sorcery

Sorcery is the closest to the classic magical system found in D&D and other D20 fantasy RPGs. Using the skills of invocation and shaping, a player can learn and invoke a variety of spells.

Theism

Last but not least we have Theism, the magic that involves the belief and worship of godlike beings, similar to the Cleric class in D&D/OSR RPGs. This magic involves the skills of devotion and exhort, and instead of spells the invocation are called miracles. This magic can also involve cults, covered in the next chapter. I think this type of magic, along with deities and religion, can add a wonderful flavor to a gaming world, but it’s one I would be sure to use sparingly.

Cults & Brotherhoods

A major feature of RuneQuest and now Mythras has been cults, for whatever reason. I understand they’re prominent in some Appendix N literature, but for me personally they aren’t a major factor. That’s not to say I would never use them, but in my games and worlds I don’t envision their use. Besides their more obvious religious aspect, worshiping a true or made-up deity or other leader, cults also factor in some magical learning and applications.

What does interest me more is the notion of brother- and sisterhoods. These secret groups and societies don’t emphasize religion and/or magic, and in my view that’s far more appealing. These can be utilized very creatively within a large city or other politically-involved games, and even outside of Mythras the information can be very handy for other RPGs. Even outside of a civilized area it could still be possible to meet a member, sparking either a player’s interests and/or can involve the current or a possible future story-line.

This chapter goes over the rules for creating cults and brotherhoods and their heirarchies, and also lists some of the possible benefits to joining them: training, protection, material aid, social status, magic, gifts, and divine intervention.

Creatures

Mythras offers a decent selectoin of creatures, but it’s quite a bit slimmer than what you’d find in 1E and other similar OSR RPGs. Of course, since combat and kills in Mythras doesn’t yield much in the way of character advancement, a large roster of creatures isn’t quite as necessary. It also wouldn’t be too hard to bring in creatures from other RPGs, though you’ll need to think up relative skill values and hit locations.

Before getting to that list of creatures, there is about 10 pages of rules and other explanations, much of it looking off-hand like it could’ve been put into the Combat chapter. Looking at the creatures themselves, each stat-block is larger than in many other D100 and OSR RPGs, but a large portion of that is due to the hit locations, and on some creatures that list can be quite long and overly specific. If converting an OSR creature or creating my own, I would try to keep this list fairly short.

As mentioned in the Characters chapter, almost any of the creatures can be used by a player who doesn’t wish to play a human. It may only recommend obvious choices like the dwarf and elf, but here are the ones I would consider and encourage to players depending on the GM’s game: centaur, minotaur, and panothaur.

Games Mastery

In the final chapter of Mythras, we have some information and advice for running a Mythras game. Like the rest of the book and rules, it isn’t very detailed nor heavy-handed, because it doesn’t need to be. It’s the right amount that both a new-comer to RPGs and veterans of RuneQuest and other D100 RPGs can get a nice refresher and ready to run these rules.

Conclusion

It’s hard for me to be biased, as I’m a huge fan of D100 thanks to Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green. Many other D100 fantasy RPGs have come and gone, with Chaosium recently giving Magic World the axe; they are now working on a new version of RuneQuest. D101’s OpenQuest is a serious contender, and with no hit locations and fewer magic systems it’s a bit simpler to get into than Mythras. The Design Mechanism also offers Classic Fantasy, an add-on for Mythras to allow for classic OSR-styled gaming; but that’s almost double the pages of rules, and if I wanted an OSR game then I’ll just use an OSR rule-set. Overall I think Mythras, and D100 in general, allows for a more flexible game without the use of classes, etc. If you wanted to play a game set in The Elder Scrolls universe, then this would be perfect!

I’m glad that Pete and Lawrence now have their own game free from any licensing, and I have to wonder why they didn’t just do that to beginwith. With the move away from the RuneQuest name The Design Mechanism is also starting to provide material for other genres. If you’d like to test-drive the rules to see if a D100 RPG works for you, check out the free Mythras Imperative game.

Jurassic Park

The Film

Released to great fanfare in 1993, Jurassic Park utilized animatronics and CGI that few films even now have surpassed. Its plot veering quite a bit from the book, we nevertheless get a glimpse into a magical possibility led by the child-like enthusiasm of John Hammond.

Drs. Grant and Sattler are visited at their dig site in the Badlands by John Hammond, a major sponsor of their dig and a well-known philanthropist. He offers them more money and years of digging in exchange to visiting a site he promises is both unlike anything they’ve seen and “right up their alley”. Along with Dr. Malcolm they fly to an island, where they encounter living, breathing dinosaurs. After their initial excitement wears off, they realize that these creatures, as any of nature in general, cannot be contained. Things start to break down and people dying, and the rest of the movie is spent fighting to survive and escape the island.

Besides the incredible special effects, what I really like about this movie is the character quirks of everyone, and the details of their mannerisms and interactions with each other. I like that in the movie Dr. Grant doesn’t like kids, and his interactions with John’s grand-kids and fighting to protect them slowly brings him around, eliciting a great smile from Dr. Sattler.

The debate of trying to control and change nature is just as if not more relevant today than when the movie was released, and on the other side we see the passion and dreams of John Hammond falling apart, knowing that despite all the horrible things that happened he truly did want to bring something amazing back for the enjoyment of everyone visiting the park.

The Book

I first read Jurassic Park a long time ago, but didn’t remember much about it, especially as I had watched the movie so many times since then. Recently I purchased it on Kindle and read through it while travelling. I was surprised at how different it was compared to the film. Unlike the differences in the books and films of The Shining and Wonder Boys, this had larger character changes that affected not just this movie but the films that were to follow (but besides Jurassic World I haven’t seen them).

In the book Dr. Grant and Ellie are colleagues but not involved, and Ellie is a graduate student rather than a botanist. Dr. Grant actually doesn’t mind being around the grand-kids. Dr. Malcolm does have similar mannerisms, but in the book he doesn’t survive at the end. The lawyer, Gennaro, is not a stereotypical weasel and does survives. The park warden, Muldoon, isn’t much different as depicted in the movie, but in the book he does drink and seems to be a little more frustrated at the events leading up to what happens when the consultants visit. Just as in the movie Wu isn’t given much attention, although he is the true mastermind behind the dinosaur creations. As an aside, I’m really happy he was given a larger role and more screen-time in Jurassic World! Dr. Harding, the park’s veterinarian, does have a little bit larger role in the book, but is still pretty much a side character and honestly could be combined with Muldoon as the park’s resident expert.

In the book I didn’t really notice that the debate of controlling and changing nature was as prominent as in the movie. The book’s ending is quite ambivalent, with everyone flown to San Juan but not allowed to leave the island, at least so far. It certainly sets up for more to come, but as much as a sequel would be nice to read I do wish the story was a little more wrapped up.