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Free RPG Day 2017

So, I’m running behind again, but I figured I’d write this up anyway. Free RPG Day 2017 happened a the weekend before last. A few of us made the trip of to Dice Latte in Seoul for the event. I didn’t take any pictures—I’m terrible at taking pictures of anything but the kid, these days—but I can say a good time was had.

We arrived late, expecting my friend Justin to run Blades in the Dark rather than joining in on any of the official tables (because none of us had thought to sign up for anything—if I had done, I would have probably ended up at the LotFP table, but it and every other table ended up being fully booked). However, it turned out that there was a Numenera game for which a number of players had not turned up. The GM, someone named Wendy Jeong who apparently works at the shop, ran the Numenera adventure that was part of the Free RPG Day’s offerings, so we joined her table to round out the group.

Photo by Joey Croner, nabbed from Facebook. This is the group I was in…

I was pleasantly surprised: I expected to be confused by the system, since I’ve never read the rulebook or anything, but it was actually really easy to get the hang of it. After the one session, I felt like I had enough of a handle on it I could probably bull-in-a-china-shop my way through running a canned module with the system, and maybe write new stuff for it and run it after playing it a few more times.

The adventure that was run for us—Dennis Detwiller’s The Spire of the Hunting Sound—was good fun: there was a spot where we got stuck and had to get a direct, clear hint from the GM about to how to proceed, but I can’t say whether it’s an issue with the adventure design or some other factor.

(Though I do think maybe the puzzle where we stalled was a little opaque, I also feel like this was a situation of the kind that the Gumshoe system was designed to sort out: you don’t get stuck—or dead—just because you missed that one single clue that the designer or GM feels ought to have been clear enough for you to catch (or, in other systems/scenarios, the clue that you missed because of a bad die roll). If you put only one solution to the puzzle in one place, you have to wait for players to find it; more potential keys to the puzzle scattered in more places means the waiting is less… stalled.)

In the end, though, it didn’t matter: we had fun anyway. I was impressed with Wendy’s bilingual GMing: one player who turned up late was a Korean who needed some bits translated, which Wendy handled like a champ. She was also a generous and benevolent GM (unlike me!), which made sense for this adventure. The other players were fun to play with, too—I already knew several of them, though with one exception we’d never played any tabletop RPGs together —and we had a good time.

I don’t know what to think about the Numenera line, exactly: I like the concept, and the art and production values of the book I’ve glanced through seem great. I suspect if I was the kind of guy who was eager to have prewritten settings handed to him in gamebooks, I’d be all over it… but for me, it’d be more likely to be relegated to the role of something merely useful to riff and borrow from: I probably wouldn’t be running anything like a canonical “Ninth World.” Hand me a setting idea that cool—a game set in our world, but a billion years from now… after the rise and fall of eight previous global civilizations, only some of which were human—and I’m more likely to get excited about generating a lot of the worldbuilding and content myself, though I’m sure I’d also trawl through the odd Numenera PDF for inspiration. I guess that’s like any game line I’ve gotten excited about. 1 If I was going to drop cash on a game setting based on this system, I’d probably go for The Strange.

Still, setting and system are different things. Whatever my reluctance to buy into Numenera, I think the Cypher System ruleset used for the game is pretty solid. It’s clean, simple, and easy to learn, and I think it’s flexible enough to be used in running any number of really different kinds of games. I wasn’t crazy about the “feats” approach to some of the class-based skills—that reminds of me computer games and D&D 3.x/4E, and I guess my aesthetic’s just a little older-fashioned—but even so, characters didn’t feel too overburdened in play. (The default character sheet, on the other hand, looks pretty, but for a newbie it’s confusing as hell!)

One of the adventages of the ruleset is that it conceptualizes stats as resource pools that can be depleted and replenished, instead of as static ability/skill ratings like I’m used to. That means action was a kind of resource-management game, and since the pools replenished relatively easily (at first), I felt encouraged to use them more liberally and take more risks in general. The specialization rules (for “trained” and “untrained” skills and so on) took a little getting used to, maybe because I’ve mostly been playing a system with a much simpler specialization system for a while, but I think it’d be easy to adapt to them and make them second nature for me within one or two more sessions at the most. While I remain lazy about rulesets, I think Cypher’s one that wouldn’t be hard to learn and internalize, and it might be a good system for introducing young or inexperienced gamers to the hobby.

As for Dice Latte, it seemed like a pretty cool place. There were tons of board games (many of which my fellow travelers praised) and they had plenty of tabletop RPG books on the shelf—some for use in the shop, and on a different shelf they had some for sale. I was astonished to finally see the hardback of the Dungeon Crawl Classics core book on the shelf, and discover that it’s as thick as the average volume of an encyclopedia from the old days was: I had no idea. It was fun also to see so many of the core books from AD&D 1st and 2nd edition on the shelf, which brought back a lot of memories. (They have books from all editions, I just never got farther than 2nd, for a mix of reasons including a few mentioned above.) The owner, Joey Croner, was a cheerful and welcoming host and seems like a really good guy. If I lived in Seoul—or close to it—and had more free time, I’d probably make an effort of getting there for the D&D and other RPG games they run on Wednesday and Friday evenings.

More than anything, the trip up reminded me that I love playing RPGs and relit the fire under me that will eventually lead to my getting my own game group started up again, even if it’ll be mostly new players—two-thirds of my group from last year, with whom I ran my Obtenebrations game, have already moved away from Daejeon, or will be doing so soon. But there are others who’re interested, so it’s just a matter of finding a place and time for it. Once I finish drafting my book, that is… I’ll be ready for a break.

I still want to get a chance to play Blades in the Dark sometime, though… and waiting with curiosity to see the Lamentations of the Flame Princess offering for the event… which I backed and which is apparently on its way through the global postal system someplace by now.

(I got a chance for a peek through it at the event, and I’ve received the PDF, but I tend to be happier reading a physical good for RPGs, I’ve found.)


Oh, as for goodies: I ended up grabbing a copy of the bestiary book for the upcoming Starfinder game from Paizo. While I was mildly curious about the setting, I don’t play Pathfinder (see my comment about 3.x above) and I grabbed it mainly because I was happy to let others have copies of things they wanted more than I did.

I was surprised to learn that it’s not a separate universe, but a science-fantasy setting conceived as being in the deep future of the fantastical world in which regular Pathfinder is set. I hadn’t expected that, and I’m curious to see what they do with the concept. Space goblins, I dunno about, but some of the other alien horrors in the book were interesting and very adaptable to any FRPG setting.

I do wish there’d been enough copies of the Numenera book, but I’ll live without it and as I said, for me it was mostly interesting just getting a look at the Cypher system rules.

Oh, and I should mention that I also got a nice little Q-Workshop d12. It’s nice, a handy little d12, which is funny: I have fewer d12s than any other sort of dice, for some reason I can’t name. (Maybe because I use them so rarely?)

Oh, and my buddy Ahimsa—who ran a Lamentations of the Flame Princess game at another table for the event—also furnished me with the set of knock-0ff “Zocchi dice” he picked up from me from the US:

While none of those weirdo alternative dice are necessary—aside from the d7 and d14, any game worth his or her salt can generate random numbers within those ranges using two dice and multiplication, division, or both—they’re fun to have around as a curiosity.

  1. With the possible exception of the XP-era Mongoose edition of Paranoia, where I like the setting enough to just run it as is, at least for starters.

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