Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Back at it.

As has been pointed out over at Team Zieser, I'm finally getting around to updating this blog. It just never occurred to me that someone, somewhere, was reading this thing. So, basically, I have had plenty of opportunities to foist my opinions upon someone else and have been asleep at the switch the whole of the time. Shame on me.

So let me see, since my very first post was about boardgames, I suppose I should get around to posting about one of my other gaming passions: the roleplaying game. As I've stated before here, I started as a teenager playing "Dungeons & Dragons" and haven't stopped yet. Oh sure, there were years during college where my interest in these games seemed to wane. But I've always ended up coming back to the hobby for one very good reason. These games are fun.

I have yet to find a source of entertainment as rich and interesting as the roleplaying game. Part wargame / part improvisational theater/ part Monty Python sketch; there is no other pastime, in my view, that offers such surprising fun. Many people find roleplaying games interesting, but have yet to take that first step and purchase one.

However, with the Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook running $39.95 and Dungeonmasters having to shell out another $79.90 for the Dungeon Master's Guide and the Monster Manual, many people may shy away from trying it out. And with $4.00 a gallon gas and everything else we have to spend our hard earned cash on, who can blame them? So what if I told you there are a number of quality rpgs out there in the wilderness of the Internet that are free for the downloading? Here, let me tell you about my favorite 5.

Steve's Top 5 Free Roleplaying Games
The phrase "Free RPG" has been a byword for "poorly edited crap" for many years, but these are exceptions to that rule. These are all professionally written; laboriously play tested, skillfully illustrated and just plain good games. All of these games are in PDF file format and can be downloaded and enjoyed instantly! For those of you wishing for a physical book, all are available in a print-on-demand format. You can also take the file to your nearest copy center and have them print and bind a copy for you there.

Labyrinth Lord by Daniel Proctor
This book seeks to emulate the experience of playing the Dungeons & Dragons Basic and Expert sets circa 1981. In fact, LL is dedicated to Tom Moldvay, who edited the Basic set and passed away last year. The "Moldvay edit", as these sets are referred to, was one of the friendliest to new players, It taught you how to play roleplaying games, and Dan's re-envisioning of this rule set does not stray from this mission. Dwarves, Elves and Dragons; all the usual fantasy tropes are here and ready for you to adventure with. The rules are quick and light and easily adaptable to nearly any kind of fantasy adventure, plus fully compatible with any adventure written for D&D Basic and Expert. Not a mere re-write, I can think of no game better to introduce new players to the roleplaying hobby than Labyrinth Lord.

Basic Fantasy RPG by Chris Gonnerman
At first blush, this book seems nearly identical to Labyrinth Lord. Although it does draw its inspiration from the same sources, Basic Fantasy seeks to deliver the classic fantasy gaming experience, but update some of the mechanics to be compatible with newer D&D products (to some extent). Well written and expertly illustrated (if I might say so myself;)), BFRPG is also well supported with a number of free adventures and supplements that add more character types and adventure possibilities. Basic Fantasy is also in its 2 edition now, with a few rules tweaks and some organizational issues cleaned up. A good starter game for beginning roleplayers, Basic Fantasy is a good base to build great adventures on.

Encounter Critical by Hank Riley and Jim Ireland
In 1979, a group of avid gamers in Wisconsin called the "Saturday Night Slayers" decided that they needed their own set of rules for the games they liked to play. Visionary Hank Riley needed a game that focused on "true scientific realism" in the combination of science fiction and fantasy gaming. Thus, Encounter Critical was born. EC is in fact a modern game, but written and illustrated in a very old-school style. Author S. John Ross wanted to see if his good natured hoax would fool anyone into believing they had found a long lost classic, so he released the file onto the internet to see who would bite. A few people were fooled, but it wasn't long before he was found out.

Hoax or no, EC is a wonderful homage to the games of the past in a highly enjoyable and playable format. If you are unfamiliar with the rpg books of the late 1970's-early 80's, there will be jokes here that you will be unaware ARE jokes. A true gem.

Mutant Future by Daniel Proctor and Ryan Denison
The late 1970's and early 1980's saw a United States still gripped by the latter portion of the Cold War. The tensions in this time were reflected in the media of the day (anyone remember Missile Command?), and they also popped up in roleplaying games. Many games were published that sought to emulate the world after a full-on nuclear war. Some were rife with desperate realism. Most, however, were filled with radioactive mutants and malfunctioning robots in a world gone mad.

Mutant Future is a science fantasy rpg that is set in just such a world. Using the rule set from Labyrinth Lord, MF is chock full of robots, advanced ray guns and more weird mutants than you can shake a tentacle at. Especially interesting are the Spidergoats, which seem to have become the unofficial Mutant Future mascot monsters. This is a game for those with an interest in science fiction or those who would like to play games like Dungeons and Dragons, but find the inclusion of magic and magical creatures not to their tastes. Those wanting to include those elements in MF will not be disappointed, as there is a section dealing with bringing mutants and robots into the world of Labyrinth Lord.

Risus by S. John Ross
S. John Ross is a very funny man. He is also a talented game designer. Now put the two together and what do you get? Risus the Anything RPG! Risus (pronounced Rhee-soos for you Latin scholars out there) is designed for quick, impromptu game sessions or for anyone who likes a minimum of bookwork and a maximum of fun.

The whole of Risus is only six pages long (3 if you double-side it!), yet it conveys a great little set of rules for whatever you want to do with it. Fantasy, Science Fiction, Romance, Comedy, whatever: Risus will do it with style. One thing that it does not do is to explain the terms and concepts of roleplaying to the beginning gamer. The author assumes that since you downloaded Risus, you know what to do with it. Since it was never written as an intro to roleplaying, I can't give him bad marks for that. A great little game and a very funny read; Risus is definitely worth your time.

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