Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Open Source Roleplaying, and Success by Amazon

A recent industry report by the creators of Roll20 shows that the Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game is a legitimately popular RPG, sitting between Pelgrane Press's 13th Age and Monte Cook's Cypher System in popularity. I've written in positive terms about BFRPG before, and I think it's a solid old school system. I still love its declaration of "This is OLD SCHOOL" even if I'd prefer a layout with a bit more pizazz. But BFRPG is smart in ways that other RPGs haven't thought about.

If you read the Project News page on the Basic Fantasy site, you will see that the game is constantly undergoing a process of being honed, re-proofed, corrected, and occasionally updated in very minor ways. It reads like a log of updates to a piece of software, right down to the release numbers and the idea of "release candidates" for print versions.

Basic Fantasy is, to my knowledge, the only RPG out there that is actually serious about the idea of being an open source RPG. You can literally download the Open Office document files that the rulebook PDFs (and the printed versions) are derived from, work on them, and if you want - make them your own. Swords & Wizardry has a single RTF document, but it's not the actual source of the layout for the print versions. Of course, this constrains the layout (see above), but it's a radically open concept in gaming.

The community recently leveraged this to create a Field Guide, a bestiary full of creatures both new and old. If you look at the amount of material between new classes, races, and additional/alternate rules, it's clear that there is a possibility for BFRPG to release a fairly thorough "Advanced" or "Companion" type of product with the ability to branch far beyond its four races and four classes. And since the rules are all modular, you can plug any of them into a game. And it doesn't even have to be BFRPG; it could just as well be Moldvay or Labyrinth Lord or LotFP.

But I don't think the open source approach is the only reason for Basic Fantasy's spread on Roll20, which I suspect may reflect broader support than many people realize. Because Basic Fantasy RPG is able to spread through Amazon. When I pull up FATE Accelerated, I see this on the third page of the related items scroller:

The Basic Fantasy rulebook pops up all over the RPG recommendations on the Internet's largest store, and it's a complete RPG for only five bucks. It has 83 reviews and 73 of those give it five stars. When you look at it you also see a book of monsters and four adventure books, each of them under $4. BFRPG, the Field Guide, Adventure Anthology 1, BF1 Morgansfort, BF2 Fortress Tower and Tomb, and JN1 The Chaotic Caves combined cost only $23.96, and easily provide a weekly group with a year's worth of adventure. At $5, extra copies of the rulebook for the table are not an expensive luxury; each player could have the rulebook, even though they don't really need it.

I suspect that BFRPG has been quietly spreading old school gaming ideas through its placement on Amazon. And that's all to the good. Not everything in the OSR is loud and shiny and front and center; a lot of people are just playing straighforward RPGs that make a good time for them and their friends. Which is kind of humbling from the perspective of those of us toward the center of OSR circles.

Basic Fantasy has been continuously revised and updated, even if only incrementally, for almost a decade. It's a quality open source product and its community is doing as much as any publisher out there to build old school roleplaying. It is what it says on the box: a meat and potatoes old school experience. And it deserves more acclaim than I think it gets.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Reflections from AD&D

I ran another AD&D session last Saturday and it went well. I'm not going to summarize the whole game, but I do want to share a few impressions. None of these deserve their own post but together they make some observations I feel like sharing. This is spoiler-rich so my players may want to look away.

Logistics, or Sometimes You Need a Pack Goat

The players spent a lot of time on logistics. Since the temple they were exploring was up a mountain, with steps leading up to it, they couldn't bring their mule. This caused some rumination on alternatives, and the players discovered that the AD&D Players Handbook lists goats for all of 1 GP. So of course they decide that pack goats are a wonderful idea. Sadly they didn't go through with it, but it was filed away for future reference.

Since we live in a wonderful and strange world, there is a FAQ about pack goats. By my estimate, a goat should be able to carry 20-30% of its body weight, and goats tend to weigh about 150 lbs, so that'd be 30-45 lbs. Just in case you want pack goats in your game.

Also in logistics, the PCs spent a bit of time burying their coins in large metal boxes, which was interesting. Since I've used the Keep on the Borderlands so many times, PCs usually just leave money at the Keep's bank, so this was a new twist. They are lucky I'm not using the gold-spine books, because aurumvoraxes.

The Importance of Time

Some time had passed since the last time the PCs had gone to the temple. Their initial mission involved finding the priest who had gone to re-open it and his entourage. The PCs had left without finding where they were, so I decided that an aquazombie had found them instead. This led to some wonderful aquazombie encounters.

If you don't know what an aquazombie is, find Jennell Jaquays's superlative adventure "Night of the Walking Wet" from the old Dungeoneer zine. They are 2 HD creatures that replace living flesh with slime and communicate the disease with a successful unarmed attack (a save avoids this).

But I've found as a referee that I really enjoy making time count by having weird stuff happen in the dungeon when the PCs leave. After all, as Gary said, "YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT. "

Dwarves and Elves are Useful

As a referee, it's much easier to describe Dyson Logos's maps if there's a dwarf involved. Since they have a great sense of elevation inside dungeons, you can just describe things to them directly - "You had gone up a hundred feet and you've come down about sixty." Makes perfect sense of things.

Elves spot secret doors a lot.

Thematic Unity and L'esprit d'escalier

I missed a few opportunities in my take on the water temple to thematically unify several elements of corruption. I wound up leaving it a mystery for the players, The aquazombies should have been tied to the corruption in the secret area of the temple, then I could have had something really cool going on. That's l'esprit d'escalier, stairway wit, the great example being George Costanza's "jerk store" comeback in Seinfeld. Players always figure out things in a better way than the referee does.

Of course that's what publishing a module lets you do, so I guess I have to get to work.