Tabletop RPGs in 2018

We’ve been playing the Pathfinder “Iron Gods” adventure path and are nearly at the end of volume 2. Originally it was a temporary fill-in when our regular GM got too busy to write, but it’s been a lot of fun. It’s set in a corner of Golarion that reminds me a lot of the old Expedition to the Barrier Peaks module (laser guns, robots, etc) and we’ve leaned hard into the ridiculousness. My original character guidance was “make something that would look awesome airbrushed onto a van” and it’s kind of spiraled from there. More fun than I expected, for sure.

Three sessions in it looks good. The hex-crawl structure is different from the other pre-made adventures I have played, and I don’t remember the last pre-made campaign I ran/adapted. We played from H1 all the way to E1 or E2 in 4e, so I see where you’re coming from re: burn-out.

Part of the motivation to run ToA is to reduce preptime, and in that way it works well. We took the heavy lifting with world and teambuilding using the Session 0 approach, and the Chult continent is easy to integrate in whatever setting.

The Technology Guide and this AP were a godsend for me when I was running my homebrew world in Pathfinder. Part of the backstory involved some high tech shenanigans (I’ve played too many JRPGs, obviously), so finally having some ostensibly balanced stats to work from when incorporating the techno goofiness into the fantasy setting was nice.

I say ostensibly balanced because man, Paizo really needs some more folks on their development team. . . whoever let the Alternate Class Guide and Mythic Adventures sourcebooks out the door in the shape they were in should probably be fired >.>

I didn’t realize it had a hexcrawl mechanic implemented! That’s awesome–I love that kinda stuff. Like you, I don’t generally run pre-made stuff, but I’m absolutely not above cribbing liberally from them.

Speaking of hexcrawl stuff, I recently slacker-backed Forbidden Lands, a new dark fantasy game from the people who made Tales from the Loop and Mutant: Year Zero using the Year Zero d6 pool engine.

While I’m probably going to toss their setting materials immediately (and hence didn’t back at the physical levels to get goofy stuff like glossy maps and item cards), I’m always looking for cool new ways to represent exploration of the unknown in tabletop games that don’t feel like grindy, mathy survival-horror supply-counting slogs or, alternately, too artificial/high level and disconnected to be interesting at all. It’s a tough balance to strike!

This fall’s a bit on the latter of the two sadly.

So I am never really a “fan”" per se of GURPS but two universes have really been giving me the itch to do a Tabletop RPG Campaign (either as a GM or to bribe and cajole a GM into running one).

1.) Viagens Interplanetarias

2.) Traveler 3rd Imperium

Both are universes that I have always wanted to explore, but never did in roleplaying. System immaterial, I’d love to today. Is anyone else interested, and alternatively, what other RPG “Universes” or settings are on our bucket list?

I’m a super duper weirdo who hates playing in established settings. I have this absurd need to abide by all the rules and dates and preexisting lore, which A) is usually impossible to consume/memorize all of (if not for me, then certainly for everyone else at the table), and B) seems to often leave little room for “major” storylines that don’t interfere or “change history,” as it were, or risk running into preexisting major events/characters.

I recognize it’s a problem entirely of my own making, but it’s one I have never managed to escape, sadly, so I by and large don’t play in established settings if I can help it, and never run in them with one odd exception (and possibly a second in the near future, gulp!).

That said, a genre or conceptual space I’m still desperate to explore via TTRPGs is that of the quintessential JRPG. To the point that I’ve made some posts about it. . .

I have been so wrapped up in other RPG projects that I haven’t gotten to give this the time it deserves just yet. But it’s coming. Oh, it’s coming.

P.S. - I’d never heard of that de Camp stuff. That sounds kinda neat!

It kind of is, he tried to have a rational gateway into a Space Opera/Sword and Planet thing. One of the things about the setting I like is that in all the books and stories there is no dominant heroic story-line, or world shaking events. They are all just tales from the universe. It leaves a lot of room for PCs to take on heroic or important roles. I’ll give SJG credit, they usually knew what they were up to when they did sourcebooks like that, they had an eye for fertile ground, setting-wise.

We played the next session of my old-school hexcrawl campaign based on Freebooters on the Frontier, Perilous Wilds (and Dungeon World), which I unimaginatively call “Perilous Frontiers”. The system has been a great fit for the setting, it lends itself nicely to a low-prep, “randomly generate everything” philosophy where the action at the table sets the scene for later adventures.

Here is the write-up for Session 03:


The party looked in horror as dozens of fist-sized spiders poured out from the webbing. Standing in the cave were Zarl “the Greenfish” the portly tattooed human thief, Leon the white-bearded halfling Wizard of rot and fury, and Tobrek the malicious human cleric of the god of insects. The metallic clanging from the alarm trap still echoed through the chamber. The spiders looked like a black carpet rolling towards them.

Tobrek cursed these non-insect arachnids, clutched his holy symbol, and began a chant to trick the spiders into thinking the stalactites on the ceiling were birds of prey. It seemed to work and the mass of spiders pulled back. Zarl sprung into action. He wiggled behind a boulder that was shoulder-height and pushed with all of his might. It creaked then started to roll towards the spiders. Tobrek, still chanting to keep up the illusion, didn’t see the boulder and wasn’t able to move out of its way. It crushed a few of his toes as it rolled over his feet and he yelped in pain. Leon wanted to make sure the boulder finished its job, so he called up his spell of deflecting rot to aim the rock straight and accelerate its motion. It impacted the mass of spiders with a satisfying squish, and lodged itself into the lower half of the passageway. A few more thrown rocks and the spiders pulled back entirely.

The thief fashioned improvised torches from the bones and clothing of the dwarf skeleton in the previous chamber and handed them to his companions. He led the way and they climbed over the boulder and burned a path through the webbing. A new passageway led them deeper into the caves. Soon they spotted the shining 8 eyes of one of the man-sized spiders, blocking the way in a narrow crevasse. Leon smeared something green and slimy and smelly on the back of Zarl’s shirt, hoping to create a deflecting miasma to protect him in battle, and Zarl drew his sword and charged the spider.

The spider puffed itself up and shot a thick stream of webbing at the thief, but he dodged out of the way and and struck the spider. The spider pulled back and shot another stream of webbing, catching his sword. He dropped it, withdrew and readied his sling. Zarl hit the spider with a well-aimed rock, and the spider replied with a final stream of webbing - that hit its mark. Zarl was trapped, and his companions looked on in horror, searching for a quick solution, as the spider extended its dripping fangs and started to pierce the thief’s neck. Tobrek started to chant another prayer, but his fickle god punished his insolence for disturbing him too often. Leon, out of spells, grabbed a torch and thrust it between Zarl’s feet, thrusting it up and into the webs. Luck was with him, and the only thing that got burned was the webbing that had trapped Zarl. The thief and the wizard stumbled backwards, the cleric drawing power to heal his companion’s wounds. Zarl loosened one more stone from his sling and the spider was no more.

The party decided not to venture further in that direction. They had no interest in fighting more giant spiders, and even less interest in encountering the even larger queen that had killed their companion in the woods. The webs beyond were thicker than any other, she must lay ahead. The searched the room, found a huge skeleton of something that Tobrek knew was an Ogre, and pulled a small sack of silver coins from the bones.

They decided to pull back entirely. Everyone was hurt, Leon has over-exerted himself, and Tobrek thought it was wise to spend some time appeasing his god. They withdrew to the campsite they used the night before, ate lunch, and then spent some time in quiet reflection. Zarl worked on his whittling, the cleric muttered dark prayers to his rotting god, and the halfling pulled out his thick book and studied his incantations.

Later that afternoon Leon was surprised to see a single drop of water splash down on his book, then another, and then a third. He just had time close his book and put it away when the skies opened up and a cold rain enveloped the thin forest. The party knew of only one place to seek shelter and returned to the spider caves. In the mouth of the cave they started a small campfire, divided their rations, tried to make the dark rock floor as comfortable as possible, set a watch and fell asleep.

Leon woke up in the dark witching hour well before dawn with a start. He yawned, rubbed his eyes, and realized that both Tobrek and Zarl were both asleep. The fat thief was snoring like a pig - and had fallen asleep on his watch! Leon grumbled then realized with horror that a set of shiny 8 eyes were staring up at him in the dark from down a sloping passage further into the cave. He slid his staff and poked Zarl “in the junk”, and swatted Tobrek also. “Spiders - down there - in the dark” he hissed. Zarl, perhaps feeling guilt from dozing off by the fire, jumped up, leapt in front of his companions, and fired a stone harmlessly past the spider into the darkness. The spider was ready and pounced on the thief, and the fight was on. Things ended badly after a few swings, and poor Leon held up his staff managing to impale the wounded spider as it crushed him under its weight. Tobrek brought him back from the brink of death with a muttered prayer to his god, and the wizard gasped another breath. No one died … yet.

Leon stayed awake the rest of the night, nursing his wounds and muttering about his companions. They all managed to get some rest and were feeling a little better in the morning, as the rain continued outside. Tobrek started to realize that perhaps his companions were like-minded and talked for a while about the benefits of worshiping the lost god of fear, insects and rot. Leon recognized that rot also powered his spells, and Zarl knew a thing or two about fear and dark places, and they all started to see the benefits of a closer alliance. That would have to wait, however, as the dark caverns were not going to loot themselves.

Zarl led the way in a new direction, down the carved steps and into the lower area where the metallic clanging had echoed the day before. He soon found a small chamber with a statue of a human-sized figure in wizard’s robes, but with tentacles for arms and bulging round eyes on top of a worm head. There - he knew he saw it move! He told his companions and they all crept up to watch a statue … a still, stone statue. Leon threw a pebble at the statue and it bounced off its stone head and rolled across the floor. They chuckled at the thief, Tobrek impatiently brushing past him while Leon examined the statue.

Well, what do you know? Zarl was right. As soon as it was alone with Leon, the statue swiftly sliced at him with its fast, stone arms. Leon ducked under them and called out for help. Tobrek smashed into its back with his mace, only chipping the stone. Zarl fired a bullet from his sling but lost his grip and the leather sling went flinging across the room. Leon summoned one of his spells, and dark rot riddled the statue with black cracks, clearly doing a lot of damage. He leapt at the opportunity to finish it off with his staff, but slipped on the sling that he did not notice under foot like a leather banana peel. He landed with a smack on his face, and the statue smashed him unconscious with its stone tentacle-arms. Zarl cried out and charged with his most prized possession - the crowbar that had been his favored tool as long as he could remember - and hit the worm-thing statue. The magic holding it together failed and the statue disintegrated into a pile of rubble.

Leon was in bad shape. They rolled him over and his face was smashed, his nose pulped into a flat, bloody mess. Tobrek and his god argued internally for a while, and he was unable to convince the god of insects while the halfling should be saved. Luck, the same fickle luck that had taken Tildur earlier in the week, this time decided that Leon should live, and he coughed out a spray of blood but did not open his eyes. Tobrek finally won the ongoing argument with his god - for now - and was able to heal the halfling enough to wake up. Zarl, making the most of a bad situation, figured the crumbled stone pile would be magical and poured it into a sack.

The party decided to creep forward, slowly, cautiously. Zarl couldn’t help himself - there was no way he was leaving with only a sack of maybe magical rocks that he could maybe sell to the town alchemist. He peeked ahead and saw thick red curtains, and beyond that an ancient and dusty sitting room and bedchamber. He passed a few books back to Leon, who flipped through their crumbling pages and kept a few that related to military history. He slowly slid a few drawers back to Tobrek to search for false bottoms, but the cleric lost his patience and pushed his way past and entered the room. It was clear that the statue was a guardian, that guardian was dead, and they had better get on with figuring this place out.

Everyone was intrigued with what lay ahead. A dim light, the faint smell of wood smoke, and the trickle of water were the clearest evidence they had that these rock chambers were still inhabited. Zarl took the lead, searching carefully as he tiptoed ahead. He found and ignored what appeared to be a wooden privy consisting of a wooden seat over a deep natural cavern with rushing water far below. Curving the other direction he found the source of the light and the smell.

This was a rich, warm chamber lit by a flickering fire. A single, large cave had been widened to serve as a bedchamber and study. A thick patterned carpet covered the floor, the furniture was carved and solid, gold ornaments lined the wall, and a large mirror with intricate designs hung on the wall. But the thing that caught his eye was a woman, dark haired and seated at a large chair, flipping the pages of a massive book as she slowly read by the light of the brazier.

They withdrew and whispered excitedly. Tobrek was suspicious, and he poked in to ask his god what her intentions were. His god confirmed his suspicions that this was an evil and malicious force. As he was about to pull back from the tiny corner he had peeked around, the woman turned and looked right at him. She was a lovely, dark haired elven woman with a regal face wearing rich robes, and she simply turned back to her tome and continued to read.

This freaked everyone out. Well, not Leon who wanted Zarl to sneak in there and stab her in the back. Zarl angrily suggested the halfling do it himself, but Leon knew he was in no shape to start the attack. The party did not have the courage to confront her, nor the confidence to slip in and try to make off with some of the riches, so they decided after a short but heated debate to head back to Laborton.

They withdrew sullenly from the caverns, the flickering light of one of their last torches dancing along the walls as they backtracked. Soon they stood at the mouth of the cave, standing over the embers of their extinguished campfire, and saw the heavy rain and thick fog that enveloped the sickly forest. It was going to be a long, cold, wet march back to the Inn.

Here is a picture of the dungeon map, which is almost cleared:


All of the character are now level 2. We play again in a few weeks. Roll20 has worked great, there is even a Freebooters character sheet to use inside of the virtual tabletop.

A scifi Powered By the Apocalypse-alike I’m backing is winding down its Kickstarter today. Pretty excited for this one after being a little let down by Tachyon Squadron’s release last month!

I backed this bit haven’t even opened the PDF yet. What didn’t work for you?

I’ve been watching Impulse Drive for a while and I’ll jump into the Kickstarter. Thanks for the reminder.

To be honest, I should have read it a little more carefully before backing it.

I run a large public scifi campaign using Fate, so I’m always hunting for new rules and tools to make it better and cooler. Our game is essentially Keystone Cops / Police Academy in a gonzo-comedy space opera near-future, so we play pretty fast and loose and focus heavily on gags, characters, and keeping things light. The characters all live on a space station in a relatively lawless area of space, taking missions from whoever will pay, ostensibly on behalf of the Space Patrol, the interstellar navy run by an alliance of about a dozen alien races. In reality, they’re a fourth-string team of washouts sent there to provide a token naval presence before probably dying horribly; half of them are ex-cons or contractors. Their missions take them all over space doing all sorts of goofy stuff, schlepping around in their unit’s light cruiser, the SASP Functional when they need to get off-station.

Anyway, TS is pretty much 100% space fighter pilot action in the vein of Wing Commander, borrowing heavily from WW2 lore and stuff like Top Gun. Humans only, super action-oriented, all characters are fighter pilots in a squadron fending off an evil empire on behalf of an independent system. The space combat system is thus geared exclusively for fighter-scale combat with lots of formation- and team-based add-on rules.

All of which is super cool! I fuckin’ love Wing Commander!

But all of which is also completely useless for the purposes I’m shooting for here :) – no aliens, extremely scarce personal gear rules, heavy character-building focus on the “shake off the PTSD by drinking heavily with my buddies” angle of fighter pilot fiction, and a ship-to-ship combat system that would be way too fiddly and specific–not to mention entirely the wrong scale–for the sorts of space fights we do have.

Ironsworn has been out a while and pardon my curiosity, how is it going?

Ah. Got it. I’ve actually moved away from Fate after a few years of running it, so I’m not sure why I backed, other than potential fodder for my own eventual SF stuff. But, I’d say a fighter-pilot-centric setting is probably a feature rather than a bug for me if I do ever get around to running it. It’d be cool to do something BSG-ish with a focus on the flight deck.

Pretty good, I think? I’m really not sure how to apply metrics for success. The PDF is free, and there’s been about 7,500 downloads via DriveThruRPG and about that many via my website (though for the latter it’s hard to tell how many of those are unique users). I’ve managed to convert a stunning 239 of those into buyers of the print version.

Mostly, I’m thrilled that there’s 200+ people on the Discord channel, and 700+ in G+, and bunches of cool play reports, and the community is positive, supportive, and creative. Seeing people play the game was the real goal, which is why I made it free, so mission accomplished. Overall, it’s been such a positive and drama-free experience.

I’m working on supplement stuff, and the first release will be a bit of a testbed on whether I’m tilting at windmills. In order to “break through”, I think Ironsworn needs something like a mention from an industry notable, or streaming play on a popular channel, or some other exposure that I’m not smart enough to make happen.

Thanks for asking!

Over 200 physical books sold is pretty great for an indie title. Have you sent it out to reviewers? That of course helps. But yea, it needs to be on one of the big channels to really break through these days if you are an indie title. Or already have a big community. Have you considered what to do when G+ shuts down next year? Would be a shame to loose such great community.

I haven’t, but I’ll probably take a look and see if there’s any candidates.

Yeah, it’s a shame. Lots of G+ RPG communities have bolted over to something called MeWe, but I’m not particularly keen on it. I don’t expect the service to be around past a couple of years, and it’s a bummer that content is all hidden instead of open like G+. Also, the “Free speech or death!” mantra of the exec team lacks a bit of nuance that I’d like to see these days.

So, I don’t really have any plans, other than hoping I get some retention through Discord and Reddit. I really, really liked G+ for it’s RPG communities. It was my preferred social space, so it’s a huge bummer. My own community has already quieted down significantly since the announcement.

I am on MeWe because most of the people I follow on G+ moved there already. Not a huge fan and hope something else will emerge. Really going to miss G+, the RPG community there is fantastic.

Ugh, yes, the disappearance of G+ is gonna really hurt the online RPG community. I don’t know of anyone else who actually used it, but I follow several games on there, and the activity level is far higher than reddit, Facebook, twitter, etc.

Is this on anyone’s radar?

The theme isnt for me, but I can say the Apocalypse engine is very good.

No. Gracias, Señor, pero no. No me gusta el escenario.