D&D Ideas — Other RPGs

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Welcome once again to the weekly newsletter. This week’s topic is other RPGs, which we discussed in our exclusive Patreon live chat. We hangout every Monday evening at 8 p.m. EST with Patreon supporters and talk about D&D, RPGs, gaming, life and whatever nerdy stuff comes up. Our new cover relaunch in Nerdarchy the Store continues with gorgeous new art by Adrian Prado, along with a couple of promo codes for miniatures, game products and RPG accessories. And yes, the Out of the Box Pledge Manager remains open for late pledges. You can get your hands on the book and all the add-ons including presale badges for Nerdarchy the Convention, or upgrade your badge to Legendary or Artifact level. There’s also a FREE encounter Seizing the Means you can download for a sneak peek at the sort of content you’ll find in the book. Check it out here.

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Explore the mysteries of the Crawl Wood with new metamagic, hazards, alchemy, verdant spells and spell augmentation, monk tradition and tools to create an unpredictable Sylvan influence. [Art by Adrian Prado]

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Delving Dave’s Dungeon

In our video intros we mention talking about other roleplaying games yet it’s been awhile since we have.

If you dig around the website and our earlier videos you can find some of that content. As a matter of fact I just responded recently to one of those comments on a video about No Thank You Evil from Monte Cook Games. We’ve turned a lot of our videos to private status that lack the current level of production. Unfortunately many of our talks about other RPGs were during the early years.

In the near future we are going to begin experimenting with some of the content. First up will be dissecting mechanics from other roleplaying games and introducing them into your D&D games to make them better.

First up we are looking at the Star Wars roleplaying game from Fantasy Flight Games. We are excited to see how fellow nerds respond to this new series. So many great roleplaying games have come out over the years, many of which owe their existence to D&D. But things have come full circle and now D&D can learn a thing or two from its predecessors.

What RPGs would you like to see us explore in future videos?

From Ted’s Head

We say in our videos that we talk about Dungeons & Dragons and sometimes we talk about other roleplaying games. It is rare but other RPGs are necessary for the industry. Let’s face it, if we only ever play D&D, we only play D&D. We never get to explore other rule sets that approach the game from a different angle or a different goal. I think this would be a crime. We need new rules and new viewpoints to expand this amazing hobby.

Dungeons & Dragons is a fantastic game, but it is not perfect. Many Dungeon Masters make house rules so they get to play the way they want to. Nerdarchy is no exception to this. So before I get into some of the other game stuff, let me give you a quick list of games I have done. I know this is nowhere close to the amount of games Dave played. His list is huge.

I started off with second edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and the gaming groups I was in mostly stuck to just D&D. One group was willing to look at other rule sets and I tried Shadowrun and Star Wars both for a handful of sessions. My elven street samurai was an abomination constantly looking for surgical upgrades and implants. He got so many that he only had a fraction of a percent that was still biological. It was bad, but I was young and did not know any better. If you played the game and want to understand his essence score was 0.6.

For many years we played D&D. I grumbled over the conversion of from 2E AD&D to third edition D&D. Basically I threw a hissy fit when fourth edition D&D came out. I was broke and had dozens of 3E books so I was adamant about not buying new books for this 4E. We did play it for a while, but I never ran 4E as a DM. Dave once again took up the permanent DM mantle to keep the games going. We had a lot of fun and I had some very cool characters. But it never really felt like D&D. The mechanics just felt off.

So we did something this group previously was unwilling to do. The idea came up that we would try a different game. In college I did briefly explore the Palladium ruleset by trying out some of the games in that system, most notably Super Heroes. I loved some of the build options but I did see it is possible to build characters vastly different in power and scope and as long as I was on the more powerful end it did not matter to me all that much.

So the group was suggested to try out some Palladium games. We played some fantasy and we played some super heroes. Dave wound up making a character that while fun, seemed to be on the lower end of the power scale. Not that it should really matter but the group was certainly split down the middle with half of us being major superheroes. The ones capable of sitting in the big chairs at the Hall of Justice while the others seemed relegated to support. Dave again having a richer history decided to begin a search trying to find a more balanced ruleset. He found a couple but the one we settled on was Mutants & Masterminds, at the time second edition.

He brought it to the group and explained the simplicity and we all moved forward with it.The system has its flaws like any other but much fun was had with this game for a while seeing multiple games and themes. We played a bit of modern and supers for a while.

About this time we began Nerdarchy and the amount of games we have been exposed to since has been a lot of fun. I played Fate and Fate Core, but just a little. I played the new Star Wars system for multiple games, and once you get the hang of the dice mechanic it can be a real blast. (Pun intended.) I played in several games in Monte Cook’s Cypher System (Cypher, Numenera, No Thank You Evil) and I ran a game of No Thank You Evil for my family, and ran a session at PAX Unplugged 2018. And somewhere in all the craziness of Nerdarchy I got to play some Dungeon World, Open Legend and Pathfinder.

There are a handful of games I want to explore and play but have not poured over the rules and/or not found a Game Master to run them for me. As like I would guess many of you loved the hell out of Firefly the TV show so would love to play the Serenity RPG. And from Fate I want to play Dresden Files RPG. I am willing to explore others to see what else is out there but I am easy to please.

So what is my take away all of these rulesets? The approach matters. There are loads of rules and suggestions in Dungeon World that, in my opinion, are worth getting the book and giving it a read through. It will help any D&D group tie their characters together. I cannot recommend this more.

Mutants & Masterminds is a game that is way front heavy on several factors. Making a character can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. It is very easy to make a characters who is strong and just wants to punch. But the game is built on a balance scale. It is a fact you cannot make a character like Hulk who can dish out loads of damage and hit all the time. You also can be really hard to hit or really hard to be damaged, but not both. This sliding scale keeps the game balanced but makes replicating certain notable heroes hard or impossible. But the classless customization is off the charts.

Having done a classless LARP for years I loved the M&M system. The game is also a sliding power scale as well, which can mechanically lock your players into an area of power and not be able to go higher until you as the GM declare the group has moved up or it never changes. This means for most games your power level is locked in, never changing and you have a complete character. If you tell most D&D players we are going to play a D&D game with 10th level characters, but you are never going to gain a level, the looks you get will be ridiculous. That is because D&D players are trained to expect leveling up. M&M is not that way. There is something to learn from that.

Cypher System in all its iterations has an interesting mechanic — you actually spend your experience points to achieve success at times. So you have to make the choice to either hold onto your XP so you can level up your abilities or to succeed in tasks, potentially preventing damage, to complete your mission. It is complex and genius. The two GMs I played these games with were on opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to giving out XP. One allowed the XP to flow like the running rapids, while the other gave it out as infrequently as possible. At times I recall not getting any from a session at all. This makes spending XP so much harder when it is that infrequent.

So when I want to run a game, I look at all the options and see what is out there. I am not limited to D&D though it is and probably always will be my favorite. The FFG Star Wars system has a great mechanic I would like to use instead of Inspiration that would be cool for villain battles. I’m still trying to play around with it. I already mentioned how Dungeon World’s character creation rules ties characters in the party better than any other game rules set I have seen.

So read those other rules, play those other games and see how it can make your gaming experience better. It might be what you feel the game is lacking or what you desperately want to avoid at your table. Me, I am going to keep trying new games whenever I get the chance. Thanks for reading all the way through my rambling.

From the Nerditor’s desk

Dave and Ted got away with reminiscing about their experiences with roleplaying games other than Dungeons & Dragons, and they’re the bosses so I’m gonna take that path too.
A combination of first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and the Red Box served as my introduction to RPGs, through my older brother. Back then it was all about TSR games because he had D&D, Gangbusters and Gamma World. Consequently those are the games I had too (when I could swipe them long enough to play without him noticing).
When I started getting my own RPGs in my friends and I gobbled up Palladium games, especially Rifts, Robotech and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness. The first one is an amazing, unique setting we’d never imagined before. The other two also had a huge cartoon and toy presence so of course we wanted to play in the same world as the Invid Invasion and discover the secret of the ooze and all that ourselves.
High school was all about White Wolf. Vampire, Werewolf, Wraith, Mage and Changeling came on big and bold with edgy art and modern day monsters and everybody was hooked. I liked Changeling and Wraith the best of the bunch, but played mostly Vampire and liked Mage not at all.
Since then my gaming mostly revolves around D&D. I’ve played every edition and enjoyed each one more than the last, a fact still true today. Tabletop RPG games and groups were sporadic at best for many years, until fifth edition D&D came around. I’ve played more 5E D&D in the last few years than probably all the other RPGs I’ve played in my life combined.
I’m proud to say I’m a D&D fanboy and with 5E I’ve had opportunities to explore all sorts of different ideas at the gaming table. My bookshelves hold tons of other RPGs and I enjoy looking through them, but if I’m honest it takes a lot for other RPGs to hook me. Instead I find inspiration to bring to my D&D experience from most of these other RPGs.
The No. 1 thing I look for in other RPGs is “what do I do when I play this game?” If the answer is fight other creatures, accomplish adventures, earn better gear and level up” then I’m probably not going to be very interested. That’s what D&D does so I’m more likely to come away thinking of how I’m going to evoke the same feeling I got from a theme, setting or narrative in my favorite game.
Mechanics don’t captivate me. Story potential accomplishes this.
In Tales from the Loop, characters are kids, in the quasi-modern suburban world except an incredibly advanced technology exists near their home. Players don’t engage in combat or find alien laser rifles as a matter of course. At least, it’s not the expectation or motivation to play.
In Marvel Super Heroes Roleplaying Game (the FASERIP one) characters earn karma for doing superheroic stuff like saving people and building a good reputation in society. There’s plenty of fisticuffs and energy beams and whatnot but there’s no explicit assumption of battles to reduce enemy health to zero. There’s no guarantee your character’s powers include anything combat related. One of my favorite RPG characters ever, Nite Lite from our Nerdarchy live stream game, could make light holograms and change the color of stuff. For a wimp in an LED jumpsuit he did okay becoming a hero.
My point is when it comes to other RPGs I’m looking for what they expect players to do and then the mechanics of how they do it. I’ll flat out say it: I don’t like crunchy games. I don’t care if the designers calculated probabilities and determined a system of rolling a d4 and a d12 creates the most efficient yadda yadda or whatever. If you’ll notice the two games I just mentioned use only a single die type each (d6 for TFtL and d100 for FASERIP). I’m simple. Maybe D&D is a complicated game but after 34 years playing it the game concepts have become part of who I am as a person at this point.
One last thing I appreciate in other RPGs aside from very simple mechanics is a self-contained nature. A lot of other RPGs contain everything you need to play in one book — including an adventure. These feel more like a true game to me than even D&D.
Is it that much different to pick up Kids on Bikes than Monopoly when you and your friends feel like playing a game? Certainly they’re different animals but what I mean is there’s no expectation of ongoing commitment. You dole out the multicolored cash, roll some dice and buy up real estate on a board for a few hours in one case. You dole out character templates, roll some dice and resolve a spooky situation in your home town for a few hours in the other. Do you play Monopoly every week? Probably not, and maybe you won’t pick up an RPG for several months or years either.
As Nerdarchy explores other RPGs more in 2020 through our videos and website, you can count on me to hold Dave and Ted’s feet to the fire so when we’re looking at these other RPGs we’ll find what makes them different than D&D both in terms of what players do and how they do it — two very different things. At the end of the day, for me it’s all about the stories we tell and remember throughout our lives. In D&D and other RPGs it’s often the dice influencing these things, but you don’t need complicated systems for amazing stories to emerge. Just a group of friends.
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