Saturday, January 30, 2010

Defining the RPG

This comes from a comment Desert Rat made in my "golden age of CRPGs" list, he took issue with Diablo II being included.

He's not the only one to take issue with Diablo, or even Final Fantasy games, as RPGs.

So, since I have given this subject *way* too much thought over the years, I thought I'd give my take on the subject.

The reason most folks want to exclude Diablo is because of its lack of "role-playing". Diablo is hack and slash, its all about combat, combat and more combat. Along with some character progression and then more combat.

The thing is, I think Diablo has exactly the same amount of role playing as Mass Effect, which is to say, none.

Role Playing is social

In my opinion, role-playing can only take place with other human beings.

While Mass Effect has a ton of choices in it, and Diablo has almost none, except "will I explore the left corridor first", I don't think selecting choices off a dialog wheel is role-playing. If you have color coded responses, with the teal choice being good, and the red choice being evil, are you role-playing?

If you can go online and find out exactly what you need to say to bed that sexy blue chick, and if you can bed her every time by making exactly the same dialog choices, is that role-playing?

If you don't think this happens, go look at the many, many faqs for Bioware's amazing Baldur's Gate II, that will tell you just what you need to do to bed the good girl *and* the bad girl in the same game.

Is this role-playing? I say no.

Role-playing is inherently social and if that were your criteria, you'd have to exclude all single-player RPGs, while including things like LARPs and games with a heavy online component, like MMOs and (wait for it) Diablo.

RPGs are mechanical

Now the other way to define an RPG is mechanical. Think back to the days when Gygax and Arneson were slowly transforming the historical wargames they played into the first RPG. What were they adding to the games they played?

These games were already social, so it wasn't that aspect.

No, what was added was personalization and persistence.

Instead of controlling an entire army, moving your French grenadiers here and your cannons there, RPGs put you in the role of a single hero. And not only a single hero, but a hero you got to name and who was different from other heroes thanks to his ability scores.

But what really made RPGs different from what had come before was persistence. If I played Napoleon, no matter how badly I trashed the British last week, this week we started the battle over from scratch.

If my Hero reaches second level though, at the start of the next game he's still 2nd level and the game has changed along with him. I'm fighting Hobgoblins now, not Kobolds and my character continues to grow and change, and the game along with him.

In short, mechanically speaking, RPGs feature customizable, persistent avatars controlled by a human player.

One last point

Bringing this discussion back to the original question that started us off, another consideration with Diablo specifically is the game's heavy online component, where multiple human players link up online, form parties and take down monsters together.

Diablo and Diablo II are proto-MMOs and so, even if you reject my reason for putting Diablo in the same category as Mass Effect based on mechanics, I think the heavy online component, which is played with all the devotion of WoW, puts Diablo firmly in the RPG side socially as well.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Golden Age of CRPGs

I've often spoke of the perception that pre-Unearthed Arcana D&D is considered the golden age of tabletop RPGs.

But here's something to consider: we might be living in the golden age of the computer RPG *right now*

Diablo II (2000) Metacritic 88
Final Fantasy X (2001) Metacritic 92
Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind (2002) Metacritic 89
Knights of the Old Republic (2003) Metacritic 93
World of Warcraft (2004) Metacritic 93
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006) Metacritic 94
Mass Effect (2007) Metacritic 89
Fallout 3 (2008) Metacritic 91
Dragon Age: Origins (2009) Metacritic 91
Mass Effect 2 (2010) Metacritic 95 (so far)

That's 10 great CRPGs in the last 11 years.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

So, Mass Effect 2

I think I've figured out what the "mass effect" is.

It's the time distortion field that makes me think I've been playing "for about an hour", which apparently lasts from midnight until the sun comes up.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Vigilance Press releases Old-School Psionics!

Old-School Psionics takes a "what if" approach to psionics, presenting an alternate set of rules to those found in the original core rules.

If you'd like to bring psionics into your game without the need for complicated charts and attack matrices,

Old-School Psionics presents the Mentalist, a new character class dedicated to psionic abilities, which are detailed similarly to spells and broken down into seven levels of power.

Psychic abilities are broken down into four disciplines and dozens of new abilities are presented.

Old-School Psionics also brings back several classic psionic monsters including the Aboleth, the Duergar, the Brain Mole, the Doppleganger and the Duergar.

Some new monsters are also included such as Men (Astral Wanderer) and the inscrutable Unseen Masters.

Finally, a brief campaign sketch is presented that takes place in the Astral city of Nexus, gateway to the planes, which includes random encounters and sketches of several alternate prime material planes for characters to visit.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Preditors and Editors

The Preditors' and Editors' reader choice awards are ongoing, and the Buried Tales of Pinebox anthology, to which I was a happy contributor, has been nominated!

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Listmania! (RPGs)

Ok, this is dicier, because I am talking about colleagues. Put simply, what are my favorite small-press RPGs?

Here's the rules for this one: first, it can't be anything I was associated with, my hypocrisy has a few limits; second, nothing by Wizards of the Coast, because they get enough accolades.

This is for the little guys.

God bless them, every one.

Once again, in no particular order.


Gutsy, ballsy, brilliant. The single best idea anyone ever had for the OGL and the single greatest sign of why, the more "corporate" you are, the more the OGL scares/angers/worries the bejeezus out of you.

The surest sign that the inmates had taken over the asylum.

2. Year of the Zombie

As you all know, I am pro-apocalypse. However, I am anti-zombie. In my not-so-humble opinion 99.99% of everything involving zombies are just fucking dumb.

YOTZ (and they had me at hello with that acronym) captures the spirit of the one zombie movie I will watch repeatedly, the first Dawn of the Dead. It puts the survival in "survival horror" and casts the zombie apocalypse in stark, realistic military terms.

3. OGL Conan

Among the things I love, Conan is near the top. You can have your epic fantasy with your Legolas and your Strider, give me the moody, iron-thewed barbarian any day. This book comes the closest to capturing the magic of Howard's Hyboria better than any RPG ever, narrowly edging out GURPs Conan.

That's high praise in case you weren't aware.

4. GURPs Alpha Centauri

As much as I love CIV IV, my favorite Sid Meier game is Alpha Centauri. It's just an amazing setting and a game that oozes atmosphere, thanks to great voice acting and a great story. It's something a turn-based strategy game shouldn't even be ABLE to do, but it does, and brilliantly.

This book takes that great setting and turns it into a great RPG world.

5. Godlike

This book probably has more to do with me becoming a writer than any other. As awesome as this gritty take on WWII supers is, and it's nothing short of amazing, the d20 conversion notes in the back, by Mike Mearls, did more to spur me to try my hand at writing a d20 supers game than anything else.

5 greatest living directors

Because the mood struck me, and stupid lists are fun.

Warning, there will be no arty-ass directors here.

These are in no particular order. They're all great.

1. Ridley Scott

Why: Alien, Blade Runner, Black Rain, GI Jane, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down.

2. James Cameron

Why: Terminator, Aliens, Titanic, Avatar.

3. Quentin Tarentino

Why: Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Basterds.

4. Woo-ping Yuen

Why: First, he's the single best action/stunt choreographer of all time. He has elevated something functional into an art all its own. When I watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon it's more for Woo-ping than Ang Lee.

And when I watch Charlie's Angels it sure as shit isn't for any contribution McG made.

And as cool as the Matrix is, without Woo-ping's fight choreography it wouldn't be half as awesome.

When he actually takes the entire reins on a movie, you get Drunken Master (Jackie Chan's finest movie) and Iron Monkey, one of the best movies anyone ever made period.

And when his Hands of Shang-Chi movie comes out, it will be the greatest movie ever made.

5. Oliver Stone

Why: Platoon, Wall Street, Talk Radio, JFK, Natural Born Killers, Any Given Sunday (yes, this movie is kind of dumb but god, is it awesome to watch- it's a movie not a fucking english paper).

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Atlantean Crisis!

It's a M&M Superlink Blitz! Coming at you from Vigilance Press, courtesy of Mike Lafferty.

An emissary from Atlantis has come to warn the city of a dire underwater threat that is quickly approaching. His warning may go unheard as trigger happy police have mistaken the aquatic diplomatics for supervillains and opened fire!

Can the heroes stop the chaos before it's too late to heed the Atlantean's warning?

This quick-playing M+M Superlink Adventure is designed to make the GMs job easy and has been thoroughly playtested to ensure your players get into the thick of superheroic action the minute they sit down.

More Modern20 goodies at the DM Sketchpad/OGL Wiki

Here, in the far future of 2010, we enjoy many conveniences: food from a pill, moving sidewalks, personal jetpacks, and free Modern20 goodness from the DM Sketchpad, all made possible by our all-knowing, all-powerful, sentient AI-oligarchs, and viewers like you.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

"Modern Pathfinder"

So there's been some talk lately about a "Modern Pathfinder" on various fora lately.

Basically, it's going to be d20 Modern, brought to you by the guys that brought you d20 Modern.

I have a couple questions about this. Such as- will it actually be compatible with d20 Modern? When I hear the word "pathfinder", I think backwards compatibility, but some comments have led me to believe a lot might change.

Oh, and I've been name-checked in threads on the topic several times, which is flattering as hell.

I guess in some ways, I'm seen as a standard-bearer for modern games because I never stopped writing modern games.

Here's a tip on how that came to pass: I am not faking the funk on liking modern games. Since the first time I laid eyes on Champions, Danger International, Justice Inc. (hell yeah Justice Inc!), Here be Tigers (oh man, here there be tigers), Gamma World and even Marvel Faserip, I've loved the idea of gaming outside a fantasy setting.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against fantasy games, as witnessed by all the work I've been doing on OSRIC stuff lately, and sci-fi is cool as hell, but there's something awesome about a modern game that no other game can capture for me.

Night Ride Part 1

Night Ride Part 1 “Look, Pa, it’s my turn. Also, Nana is having one of her spells again and she has no idea who I am when she gets this w...