UbiquitousRat's Roleplaying Dreams

UbiquitousRat's Roleplaying Dreams: September 2013

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Trekking Through The Mirror, Darkly

Yesterday I watched the fabulous double-episode of Enterprise entitled, "Through A Mirror, Darkly".

This was the inspiration. I needed it. It needed me. We met and it was geek heaven.

My Dark Trek game needs to begin in the Mirror Universe. An alternate Mirror Universe, however. And then we're going to clash with an alternate Federation-Trek Universe.

Confused? Fabulous!


The original appeal, at least to me, of the Mirror Universe is that characters can act on their passions and selfish ambition. Just like in a regular D&D game.

But in Trek, you get to put passion and selfish ambition behind a phaser. On a starship. And fight Klingons!

Can you imagine how cool it would be? 

Player's could form alliances based around faction loyalty. Are you the Captain's man, or are you backing the First Officer's bid to assassinate her? Are you loyal to the Empire, or are you secretly a rebel looking for a chance to strike back at the Empress?

Let's set it some time after the Empress has taken power using the USS Defiant... yes, let's incorporate the imagery from the latest Trek movies but place it all in the hands of the Terran Empire! Is it time for the war between the Empire and the Klingons? I think so! 

All in our own alternate... where anything can happen. 
Our Mirror May Differ.


Why not plan to incorporate antagonists from the pesky do-gooder Federation Mirror? But a Mirror to our alternate Mirror, methinks. That allows the latest Trek stuff to be rendered faithfully... and then twisted too. What if the war can span two dimensions too? Wouldn't that be cool?

The aim here is to introduce a really fun setting and then, through the interference of the Federation lot, show the players who the bad guys are... hold up a mirror, so to speak. 

We all enjoy the game where we get to fire phasers, beat up on weaker opponents, and take what we want... or at least, given the popularity of fantasy RPGs, that's how it seems to my eyes. This Dark Trek idea allows us to then throw stark light on that scenario... and reveal just how far we might have fallen.

Regular Trek games have too many limits to be fun - Prime Directive, for example. Mirror Trek throws all that out of the window and offers us unfettered play time with the cool shticks of the universe... without all the tedious moralising. Until the "good guys" show up from the Federation. And we waste 'em!

Game on!

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Sunday, 22 September 2013

Random vs Designed

This week Will started his campaign at the school club. Or at least he got us rolling up characters.

We're playing Imagine and he has outlined that we have travelled by boat down-river to a port city on the edge of the kingdom of Albion.

There are three players and it's up to us how our characters came to be there.

First step... create characters.

"I fancy a Mage"

So, here's the thing. I fancied playing a Gray Elf Mage. I rolled crappy. I am now playing a Civilised Human Priest. How did that happen?

Don't get me wrong: this is not a complaint. It's just an observation: I'm not playing my character. 

I'm playing a character that fits the group's game. It came about largely by chance and mixed only a little bit of choice. 

Oh, and it was my third choice.

Rolling Up

I never used to really think much about the age-old tradition of "rolling up" a hero. You know, roll the dice for each attribute and see what you get. Maybe that's because, when playing D&D (for example) the GM would let us roll the six stats and then assign the numbers to whichever ability we wanted.

Imagine defaults to a rolled attribute system. You roll multiples of d4 to discover each of the stats, removing lowest dice from several of individual rolls. It's very simple but totally emphasises luck. While there is a Points Buy system in the GM's Guide, our newbie GM wasn't using it. 

For me, the process was fun but it also destroyed my plan to play a Mage. The problem was further compounded when, shortly after quietly discussing (with the GM) the possibility of playing an Assassin, another player bellowed, "Hey, I'm gonna play an assassin!"

In the end, given my collection of scores, I decided to play the Priest. The party has a Mage and an Assassin. Neither of them is played by me. 

Is Random Wrong?

Random isn't wrong. It's just wrong for me. 

When we began to write UbiquitousRPG I chose to emphasise my own feeling that characters should be designed, not randomly rolled. We use a simple "spread the points around" system which lets players customise the attributes to fit their character idea. 

The downside of design, as opposed to random rolls, is that players can min-max the numbers. That's already happening in our Tikhon campaign, especially as (due to frequent rules changes) I have permitted massaging the numbers after the first few sessions. 

Yet... at least the guys are playing the characters they chose to play.

What do you think?

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Sunday, 15 September 2013

Dark Trek Returns

Ever since J.J. Abrams took the Star Trek franchise and revitalised it through the most recent movies, I have been itching to run some games in the setting.

When a couple of friends also started to engage me with requests to run a one-off Star Trek game, I found myself thinking about how I might do it.

Your Trek May Differ

If there's one thing that Abrams has reminded us it's that our Trek can differ from the franchise.

It's a lot of fun to take the setting, key characters, tech, ships and species of Trek. It's even more fun when you're not bound by the official canon of events.

My idea is to set my Dark Trek campaign sometime around the birth of the Federation, as the "Enterprise" series ends and the movies begin. Running one-off, high-stakes and very high-octane stories which move forward through the early era of the Federation would be very cool. What would be even cooler is if the players were aware that "Your Trek May Differ".

Do the player's provoke a war with the Klingons? So be it. Let's play it out.

Or do they damage the fledgling alliance of worlds that is the new Federation? Let's work out the consequences in play.

What I want is for the players to feel that every decision they make can have potentially big consequences. This is, after all, what Trek is all about: heroic characters who make decisions that affect the galaxy.

Booting a System

My only barrier right now (other than finding time and a group to play it) is in deciding which narrative-style game I want to run with. I've narrowed it down to two: HeroQuest2 and Cortex Plus. The latter is probably going to win.

Narrative, you say? Yes.

At heart, I'm a gamer-simulationist. I've played Trek with FASA, GURPS and d20. The truth, however, is that TV and movie properties feel better within the framework of a narrative engine. Things have to "feel" right... and that means that the "reality" of the setting is actually beholden to the "believability" of cinematics, not hard science.

I'm taken with using the Cortex System Hacker's Guide... a good dose of Cortex Action blended with some of the new Firefly RPG stuff... and a few tweaks of my own. Unless I get lazy and just bust out the much simpler to run HeroQuest2.

Anyone for Dark Trek? I might just have to see about having that one-off game after all.

Game on!

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Sunday, 8 September 2013

Having Your Cake and Eating It

I'm not really a fan of roleplaying game theory. Generally, I like to play roleplaying games and tend not to think too deeply about why. 

That being said, there is a general tension in the gaming that I enjoy which, this week, has reared its head again: are we playing a game, telling a story or simulating a fantasy? 

I'm coming to the conclusion that it's all three.


I like games and the fact that they have winners. The old RPG standard that "roleplaying games don't have winners" is really an illusory claim - do the heroes succeed or not? The game doesn't necessarily end when they fail, but the fact is that they either succeed or fail (to one degree or another). 

What I really like about RPGs is that the players (generally) set the goals. Even if, as GM, you give them a mission, they can still choose to reject or modify the goals. Only in the most prescriptive adventure would the GM completely set the agenda... and, in my experience, that is less satisfying for all.

Games have goals and successes and failures. They also have resources by which the participants tackle those goals. And, as a general rule in RPGs, there needs to be a sense of fairness about the resources that the heroes have in contrast to those of the opposition. Parity and balance are not as important as fairness... at least not at my table.


Stories have plots and a sense of dramatic tension, the rise and fall of action towards a satisfying conclusion. RPGs sometimes try to emulate this narrative style, to greater or lesser success. 

Heroes should probably overcome the obstacles and defeat the villains in a good story (unless your hero is really an anti-hero). Heroes shouldn't die without good reason and they should do things that are consistent with their values and the moral position that they represent. 

It's probably less important to a story that the details of things are factually accurate or possible. It's more important that they feel right and maintain an internal consistency that gives a dramatic sense of possibility. In other words, actions and consequences should fit the story and not jar with the audience's expectations too much.


Simulations are all about "what if..." and "how..." questions. What if there was magick? How would that work? What if there were giant mecha? How would they operate? The point is to try and accurately model the fantastic within the context of a game. That doesn't just apply to stuff and effects, however.

If you're playing a roleplaying game then the first thing you might want to accurately simulate is the hero that you are playing. What if I am a Warrior... how do I play that Warrior properly? What if I am a Mage? There is a difference, right? How do I play it?

Simulations are often concerned with the way in which the details play out in a game. Things have to be not only internally consistent but also modelled with some degree of accuracy. The term "accuracy" is the bit that can cause some tension because, for a lot of players, what is scientifically considered "possible" is often not the subject of fantasy... and it's easy to forget that not everyone really cares about the details that you might care about.

All Three Please

At my table I want all three of those elements: we are playing a game with clear goals and useful resources; we are also telling cool stories which need to fulfil heroic concerns; we are playing in a fantastic setting which needs to satisfy a desire to feel alive and "real". And that doesn't sound like it should be such a hard thing.

Except that, over time, roleplaying games have become beholden to trying to satisfy one or (at best) two of those elements at the expense of the others. And there now exist evangelists for one or other of the camps that have grown up around each. 

I want to have my cake, eat it and come back for more. We are playing games. We are telling stories. We are simulating fantasies. This is meant to be fun.

Do I have a solution? Maybe it's simply not to concern myself over much with what, exactly, we are doing when we play. It probably means not placing self-limiting beliefs about "how games should be" above the fun of a session. 

The rules we have been writing for our own gaming are born out of the game-simulation-story tradition of classic roleplaying. We are probably going to be damned either way you look at us: the story-tellers will hate that our mechanics simulate effects in our world; the gamers will hate that we're not concerned with balance; the simulationists will dislike our concern for telling cool stories about heroes. 

The mistake, I believe, is in two attitudes: believing that there is only one "true way" to play roleplaying games; looking for what's missing instead of seeing what's there. 

The way we play games is simply that: it's the way we play games. If you like something from one game system then why not use it? If it doesn't quite work the way you want it to, why not mash it up with something else that you do like? If you and your players are having fun, who is going to be complaining?

Have your cake, eat it and come back for more.
Game on!

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