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#RPGaDay 2: What is an RPG you would like to see published?

One of the problems I have as an adult with a job and a family is that there are too many games and not enough time to play them all.  I own stacks of RPG sourcebooks and systems that I have never played, and probably never will, unless I live long enough to end up in a retirement home with a bunch of grognards with too much time on their hands.  That’s about the only form of retirement that appeals to me, actually.  A return to my childhood, where I spent nearly every day with a group of close friends having adventures without ever leaving the couch.   I figure that would be a good way to wrap up my life, if I manage to live that long.   Someone should start planning the themed retirement home for old gamers right now.

Anyway, I’m very reluctant to suggest new games when I have such an embarrassment of riches, because likely anything that I would like to see published would go unplayed along with the rest of the games that I have.  That said, I’ve always wanted to see a game setting, for really any system, based on the New Cobrazon and Bas Lag setting by China Miéville.

Perdido Street StationInstrumental to me getting back into science fiction literature post-college was reading Perdido Street Station, along with some short stories by Charlie Stross in Asimov’s.   One thing about games is that they’re usually somewhat derivative of the cutting edge work going on in literature, which is not something I say as disparagement.  I think that trend is changing as more talent is attracted to working in games, given that it’s still a decent way to make a living, where all but a slim few barely earn minimum wage writing prose these days.  But for most of my life, where innovation of setting and world-building is concerned, prose fiction has led the way.   Miéville’s work for me was like an atom bomb of creative world-building.

That’s not to say it wasn’t inspired by things that came before.  Miéville has been open about how much of his work was inspired by reading the monster manuals of various roleplaying games.  Relatedly, he also explains that he never really played RPGs, which breaks my heart.  It’s long been a dream of mine to some day have China at my game table with a few other people who never got to know the joys of playing in their youth.  I imagine he’s received better offers than mine, though.

Anyway, Perdido Street Station describes a wild, bizzare, thriving city that made me want to explore it. I wanted to go off the page as written and poke around in the dark alleys and tunnels.  New Crobuzon would be a fertile place for adventure and intrigue.  The various characters are already practically archetypes for good character classes and races to build further, interesting player characters.   And later books like The Scar only served to deepen and broaden the world as all good RPG source material does.

From what I understand, work has been underway for 6 or 7 years on a game set in this world, but nothing has come out yet.  Maybe it’s better that way; it can live in that perfect and ephemeral state of idea, rather than as an imperfect execution.  It might just be too good an idea, and I would always be disappointed with any execution.  Things that I spend so much time pining for can rarely live up such unfair expectations.  But if it ever does hit the store shelves, I’ll happily buy it and add it to my pile of unplayed game reference books.  I’ve got a space for it picked out on my shelf.

For the month of August, I will be participating in #RPGaDay. I haven’t posted much on this blog about my love for role-playing games, and for a while, I wasn’t really acknowledging that love myself.  But RPGs were my entry point in the the geek lifestyle, and they are very important to me.  I’ll be exploring my relationship with RPGs all month with these posts.

Map image by JenJenRobot via DeviantArt.


#RPGaDay 1: What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?

If I could be playing any role-playing game right this very second, it would have to be Shadowrun, chummer.

If you’ve never heard of Shadowrun, allow me to summarize.  If William Gibson and J.R.R. Tolkien stayed up all night doing blow and riffing on each other’s work, they might have come up with Shadowrun.  In this game, set originally in the far off future of 2050 (ha!),  magic has returned to a cyberpunk future.  We have the usual themes of megacorporations ruling the world, and of crushing poverty in the cracks, but add to that dwarves, elves, trolls, and and orcs, among many other new “goblinized” races that have sprung back into being with the return of dragons, shamanistic magic, and good old fashioned wizardry.   Native Americans have taken back much of North America, and what we think of the U.S. has shrunk considerably, with one major seat of power being Seattle, which is home to several of the giant megacorporations.

In Shadowrun, the players take the role of runners, criminal operatives who eek out an existence outside the system.  It’s a game of heists, of moral grays, and I don’t think any game captures the feeling of living in 2017 better for me.  In Shadowrun, everything is coated in a layer of grime, and there’s a strong sense of living in a world that’s the product of vast, uncaring forces that could crush you out of existence at any moment. Still, there is a lingering sense of wonder, and there’s the possibility of hope, of scoring big, of making it out.   Dreaming of a better life is never quite dead in Shadowrun, but it always feels just a little bit out of reach.  Maybe one more run will lead to a better life, but it’s more likely that your corporate masters will betray you, shoot you, and leave you to bleed out in the gutter because you failed to make your DocWagon contract payment this past month.

A lot about the news lately has reminded me of the thrill of playing Shadowrun as a teenager with my best friends, Hans, Jason, and Jared.  The four of us cut a swathe through the cyberpunk Seattle that was epic and exciting.  I think nearly all of us tried our hand at game mastering stories.  Later, in college,  I played in a epic campaign not as a runner, but as a runner turned DocWagon operative charged with heading into gun battles to save dying runners who were paid up on their contracts.   Of course, not all was on the level inside of DocWagon. Conspiracies were discovered, and everything turned to shit in that particularly exciting way that always seemed to happen in a good game of Shadowrun.

A lot of games of Shadowrun played out like this:

  • Players are presented with a job by the GM, hired by some shady NPC or fixer
  • Players research and meticulously plan the job like professional criminals
  • Job goes south in about 30 seconds, but players manage to succeed at their goal

Somehow, this never grew old for me, and even though we knew the plan was never going to go off quite right, it was always exciting to see how things were going to turn.  Shadowrun was a lesson for me in how the desires of the participants don’t always make for the best stories.  Can you imagine how boring Shadowrun would have been if every single job went off without a single hitch?  You might as well get a job as a salaryman, chummer.   At that point, you’re just workin’ for the man.

Shadowrun was never a perfect game, mechanically speaking.  I’ve played something like four or five different editions, and I’ve never felt any of them balanced out very well.  Cybernetically-enhanced reflexes were nearly always a must.  I’m not sure what the current version requires, but back in the day, if you wanted to roll giant fistfuls of dice, playing a street samurai with enhanced reflexes was a sure-fire way to do so.

Me, on the rare occasions that I got to play instead of GMing, I always liked playing shamen.  I’m not a very spiritual person, but the mystical/spiritual world of shamanic magic in Shadowrun always appealed to me in some deep and profound way.  Nature spirits were intriguing, especially urban ones.  The novel series by Robert N. Charrette played heavily in my interest, I suspect.  I am often tempted to re-read these books with an adult writer’s eye, but I worry they would disappoint me.

For me, Shadowrun captures all the excitement of living in today’s upside down world, with none of the risks.  There are many a day where I would happily return to the 1990s and play Shadowrun instead of living in 2017 in the Trump presidency, watching as corporations grow in power with each passing day.  We’re getting all the negative parts of Shadowrun, and none of the good.  Sadly, it seems like a magical awakening isn’t in the cards for us here in the real world.

For the month of August, I will be participating in #RPGaDay. I haven’t posted much on this blog about my love for role-playing games, and for a while, I wasn’t really acknowledging that love myself.  But RPGs were my entry point in the the geek lifestyle, and they are very important to me.  I’ll be exploring my relationship with RPGs all month with these posts.


The Dungeon Tile Project

I haven’t been writing much, lately, although I am deep in revisions on a number of stories from earlier in the year that you should see coming out soon. Instead, I’ve been working on 3D printing, casting, and painting a bunch of dungeon tiles for playing fantasy role-playing games. It’s been very good for me to spend less of my “leisure time” at a computer where I can encounter political news. So, below are a few photos rounding up what we’ve made so far. There are over 300 individual tiles, plus countless doors and other items/props. Only a few of these items have been things that I’ve designed myself — the big demon statue being one of them. Most of the models are items I’ve purchased from various companies — especially Hero’s Hoard. This project has had enormous help from my business partner Elwood Schaad and painter/artist Gabe Dorsey.

I opted to go with the partial wall style tile over the full-wall style you see from companies like Dwarven Forge because in my experience, they’re more playable. Walls much higher than this get in the way of players maneuvering their figures. I wanted something that looks good, and plays well. On Monday, we’ll be playing our first official game on the tiles. I’m really looking forward to seeing how people react to them.

This is all part of a side venture I’m working on with a partner called the Level Up Guild. LUG is a company that specializes in exactly what the name says – we aim to help people “level up” their gaming experiences. Stay tuned for more information about what that means in more specific terms…


Gaming, Geek Life