Thursday, April 10, 2008


I was at my FLGS (friendly local gamings shop) and even though I went in for a Fantastic Four trade paperback I could not leave empty handed of something gaming related. And, what did I pick up? Dice!

That got me thinking about how I've accessorized my games in the past. Plus, it's one of those laws of nature or something that states gamers have to leave a shop that sells games with a set of cool new dice. Don't ask me why but it seems to hold up in most cases.

The biggest accessory I use is my dice collection. By many standards it is not a large collection but it is a collection that brings back memories. Many of those sets were bought at past conventions or when I invested in a new roleplaying game. So if you dumped out my bad of dice I could tell you the names of the different styles and tell you when and where I got them. They are also kept in a very nice suede bag that's about fist sized and sits on the table standing up. It looks a bit like those pouches used for gold in the movies with a leather drawstring.

Other gaming accessories I have used in the past are my Chessex battlemat with wet-erase markers and painted miniatures. I print out cheat sheets for quick rule reference, NPCs maps and PCs involved in the current adventure (as I am normally the GM). Lately I have added, due to Savage Worlds, playing cards and poker chips.

Battlemats and miniatures make it easier sometimes to show where the players' characters are standing when the rubber hits the road and every second matters. With a mat the local layout can be drawn and the players can move their characters around as the GM can move everything else from opponents to innocent bystanders. It helps when some people can't grasp where everything is in relation to everything else. It also helps when the location they are at is very complex to describe.

The reference sheets help smooth out the game and keep things going as quickly as the situation calls for so the cinematic feel can move from one situation to the next. Having sheets, even simple ones, with limited data from the players' characters helps for those moments when tension relies on just how much the players think they don't know of what's going on. ... Does his blaster still have a shot left or can I make it across the room?

Next is using other things that relate closer to the rules of a specific system. The playing cards are used in Savage Worlds for initiative giving it the feel of a fast, tense situation. They would even lend a feel of the old west if that were the setting you were playing in. Poker chips also give that feel but I picked them up for the Bennies mentioned in the Savage Worlds rules. It's a feature that lets the players have more control over what goes on with their characters in the game. If they think they need a little extra luck or don't like how a situation is shaping up they can spend a chip and modify it slightly. They can also be used for similar rules in other games like Hero Points in Mutants & Masterminds, or if you like that mechanic and want to add it to games that don't have it. I've found that letting the players have more control of the world makes the game experience much more exciting.

Something else I picked up that can be used with many different types of roleplaying games, as they all have some level of combat or turn based situations in them, is a Combat Pad from Paizo. This thing is a metal board sandwiched between two pieces of card, one side with info and the other blank. Then there are some plastic coated magnets that can be written on with wet or dry erase markers. All you have to do is mark down the character and opponent names and put them in turn order once everyone has determined initiative. It's really handy for the GM who is good at forgetting someone's turn when the action gets going.

There is one accessory I would love to try for my game but just haven't had the money to get. Dwarven Forge makes some miniature terrain that really has a cool fantasy feel to it but the sets sure are pricey. I have gone looking for some printable terrains that are done up with fabulous graphics but they tend to get knocked all over the place when playing and the Dwarven Forge stuff doesn't.

The thing is, the accessories don't stop there. I have seen so many different things to help roleplayers play their games. All you have to do is think of what you would like to be able to do in your gaming sessions easier and there is probably something that can be Googled, and if it doesn't exist as something specifically for gaming you just have to look into other hobbies for their supplies.

If you have a favorite or unique accessory please post a comment about it or e-mail me. I'd love to hear what it might be.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Role of Generics

First there were roleplaying games based on their own rules but it was not long before game publishers began coming out with generic rule sets not linked to any specific setting. When I was a younger gamer the major generic set was GURPS (Generic Universal Role Playing System), by Steve Jackson Games. It was a rulebook that had everything from character generation to combat and other things that could come up during a game session. What it didn't have was a setting, unlike things like D&D which was really tied into its Tolkeinesque fantasy setting. How GURPS got around not having a setting was by having additional soucebooks. They had anything you could imagine in those sourcebooks. One could be a fantasy setting, one in the far future with aliens, one in the old west with six-shooters and so forth.

I never quite got into the GURPS thing but over the years I have seen the roleplaying game industry move back and forth. For a time it would focus on setting specific rules and then generic rules. Most of the setting specific rules had some design decisions based to give a specific feel for that genre of play where as the generics tried to be so generic that they could handle anything from cavemen with clubs to sci-fi with psionics and phasers. In my opinion some of those earlier ones tried to be too generic.

Since that time there have been a few well designed generics that have their own feel, as opposed to the earlier ones that didn't have a unique feel of their own, which is what originally threw me off them.

There is one I am really impressed with on the market now, plus there are others that companies are beginning to put forth for the players who like making up their own settings. The one I have been drawn to recently is called Savage Worlds by Pinnacle Entertainment. It's built around simplicity and flexibility where the older ones were built around handling everything with specific rules. It leaves judging situations that happen at the gaming table up to the Game Master so play remains fluid.

What Savage Worlds does excellently is give the feel of an action movie. For the fans of pulp settings like Flash Gordon, The Shadow or even Indiana Jones, this is the best choice. But, an idea I had when first reading the rulebook, which is just a $10 investment by the way, was to try and use it for the long out of print Star Frontiers setting I loved as a young roleplayer. Since I was first learning to play roleplaying games I realized there are all sorts of clunky rules in that original Star Frontiers game, but this Savage Worlds set of rules is really formed to fit the feel of that sci-fi setting. At least I think so.

Recently I heard that the rules used in Serenity and Battlestar Galactica, both by Margaret Weis Productions, will be released as a generic set without the setting flavor of those two games. From owning Serenity and really falling in love with it's rules I am really looking forward to this upcoming release, the Cortex Roleplaying Game. It should be another set of rules for those who love to design their own setting around something fast paced and free flowing.

In addition to those rules there are others to check out. Here are some I know of at the moment. Some are purchasable and some are fan created and free to use.

  • Core (fan generated system)
  • Fudge (independently produced system with free pdf version)
  • Fate (created by Evil Hat Productions for their games but released separate also)
  • Fuzion (used by R. Talsorian for their Cyberpunk games)
  • Tri-Stat (out of print I think, but here's a fan update)
  • True20 (Green Ronin's generic roleplaying system with several setting books available)
  • Unisystem (created and used by Eden Studios in their games)

So, if you like some setting and there is no game specifically designed for it, go out and try some of the generic sets of rules to see if you can find one that has that perfect fit.

Hmmm... I wonder if Doctor Who could stand up to a Savage Worlds treatment... or even a Cortex treatment...