deadlands

Tabletop RPGs other than GURPS and diving into the OSR scene

What a hefty title! As I type this out, I’m listening to Mörk Borg by GNOLL—that’ll be important a little bit later. As I’ve talked about in at least one of my monthly updates (including last month’s in which I shared a link to a thread about alternatives to GURPS), I’ve been experiencing GM fatigue, burnout, whatever you want to call it; but I also think I’ve been experiencing some kind of GURPS fatigue. (Maybe I just need to put more points in HT.) As much as I love the system, I think it might be too much for me—at least, for right now. The way that my group plays (and I tend to GM) is looser and more narrative and more focused on what feels right even though we all so much adore that GURPS is so great at simulation, which is really cool, but it kind of begs me to overthink things a lot. At our core, I think my group is more of a Fate group, but that’s not the right system for us either because it’s too loose and things start to feel very same-y after a while. (And I’m only talking about our experiences, of course.)

So, what do I want? Well, it would be something a lot like Fate (flexible, narrative, player-focused), but it would feel less like a toolkit, it would put a greater emphasis on equipment, it wouldn’t be so narrative-focused that it kind of waves away magic, and it would scale well in size and power level (which is why I thought “Knowing Your Own Strength” from Pyramid #3/83: Alternate GURPS IV was such a good start at this for GURPS). I really enjoy not having HP (which is why I really like “Conditional Injury” from Pyramid #3/120: Alternate GURPS V), classes, and levels.

Well, what else is out there? As I said, I have some experience with Fate, which I really do like. For a party-ish pick-up-y game, I’ve played lots of Everyone Is John, which is also fun, but is obviously not the kind of game I want to play for anything more than a session or two. Of course, there’s always Dungeons & Dragons, and I’ve dabbled in 3.5e, 4e, and 5e. I’m glad I did because it allowed me to find Eberron, but even D&D feels like too much while also feeling restricted. (Again, to me. I’m definitely not saying it is, and your mileage may greatly vary!) I’m not a fan of classes and spell lists, and I really think that there are just better alternatives even if I want that same D&D feeling (without going full Dungeon Fantasy RPG, of course). I also tried out the first edition of Pathfinder way back when, and that gave me similar feelings.

Now, as we’ve recently been playing Deadlands in my group, I know that Savage Worlds exists. As I’ve read over SWADE, it seems like it wants to be what I want: fun, fast, and furious. Better yet, PK has some great house rules and gives the system a nice recommendation: “Despite its quirks, Savage Worlds may be the best universal system when it comes to balancing groups of wildly disparate abilities and power levels.” That really speaks to me, and I even reached out to let PK know that said review convinced me to give it a go. Which I haven’t yet. But I’ll surely get there! Now, Savage Worlds still has a spell list of sorts with its powers, but they’re much more generic and there are guidelines on how to reflavor them, which is great. Plus, there’s a wonderfully-made Eberron conversion for SWADE, which means I can play Eberron without D&D and also without doing the heavy lifting of converting Eberron to a more palatable system (for my particular tastes).

Some other options I’ve found:

  • Numenera and the Cypher system in general seem pretty promising, and I’d definitely like to actually give it a go at some point. Numenera was actually the first tabletop RPG that my partner played—thanks to some random frat party.
  • Call of Cthulhu and the Basic Roleplaying system also seem interesting. If our group was more into horror, it’d probably be a higher priority.
  • Big Eyes Small Mouth and the Tri-Stat dX system, the Hero system, and Mutants and Masterminds are all recommendations I’ve been given, but they feel so close to GURPS that I’d rather play that instead (though, I will say that all three of them handle powers and balance quite a bit better).
  • Powered by the Apocalypse feels like an okay narrative system, but I don’t think we’d like it.
  • Genesys seems really popular for this kind of play style, but I don’t like the funky dice.
  • Cortex Prime also feels promising. It seems like it falls somewhere between Fate and Savage Worlds, which sounds right for us. I’ll definitely be giving this one a try.
  • Blades in the Dark is relatively new (to me, at least) tabletop RPG that I know very little about, but it seems like people on the internet really like it. Industrial fantasy sounds up my group’s alley, so this one has to get a try at some point.
  • Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine is another game that I’ve heard about only recently, and, while our group doesn’t ever really do the whole slice-of-life thing, we all enjoy Studio Ghibli movies, so it seems worth checking out for that feeling.
  • The Fantasy Trip is supposed to be something like GURPS 0e, and it has gained a fair amount of support and popularity since its revival in 2019. So, of course I have to check it out.
  • Everywhen just popped up on my radar, and I’ve seen a lot of reviews talking about it as if it’s the middle ground for other people who have likewise pendulum’d between GURPS and Fate—just based on that alone, it seems like it’d be worth a try.
  • Mörk Borg then showed itself to me. (Really, I can’t remember how I stumbled upon it even though it was just a few days ago. Perhaps it was the will of SHE.) A rules-lite over-the-top doom metal fantasy game that leans into itself while simultaneously not taking itself too seriously that hasn’t been out for long but already has a great community? Fantastic. Now, I’m not usually a fan of d20 systems (as I’m a true believer of the 3d6 bell curve), so that says a lot. Plus, the game is gorgeous. It feels like someone tried to turn in one assignment both to their art and game design class. Now, the art (and the dozen fonts) can detract from the experience of reading it, but it has a handy more-easily-readable guide toward the back of the most important rules. I judged a book by its cover, and it has already paid off.

Let’s leave the bullet point and talk even more about Mörk Borg. (I love the colors, and my site is currently pretty much themed for it.) It’s fun, fast, and furious—so, watch out, Savage Worlds. But what exactly is Mörk Borg? Like, what makes it tick? Where did it come from? Why does something like that even exist? What had I been missing in my GURPS-centric world? It turns out I had been missing a growing community filled with indie tabletop RPGs and zines. Why let Wizards of the Coast or some other big company have all of the fun if indie hobbyists can do it better? A big part of this seems to be OSR, which is Old School Revival (or Renaissance or Roleplaying). I am just a wee baby, so I would rather let Questing Beast explain what OSR is. Now, I guess Mörk Borg isn’t actually “true OSR”, but it is definitely OSR-ish or OSR-adjacent or whatever. (And I guess that would make The Fantasy Trip something like GURPS OSR.) Still, the spirit of OSR tends to capture what I’m looking for, especially those that focus more on narrative and eschew classes (and, yes, I know that Mörk Borg has optional classes, but it also has an optional non-class-based feat system).

So, I stumbled into a whole new facet of my tabletop RPG hobby, and I hope this mania simmers and leaves me with a steady rekindled flame of passion. Especially because I’m going to be running Mörk Borg in about a week and a half.

Some games that I’ve stumbled upon so far (not all OSR or even adjacent):

  • The White Hack (a streamlined and innovative OSR-compatible retroclone)
  • The Black Hack (a more-recent streamlined and innovative OSR-compatible retroclone)
  • Macchiato Monsters (which is like a fusion of The Black Hack and The White Hack, and it is very high on my to-play list)
  • Beyond the Wall
  • The Legend of Zelda: Reclaim the Wild
  • Legend of Zelda RPG (which was made by 4chan, I guess)
  • OSRIC
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess
  • Maze Rats and also Knave (which are made by the Questing Beast, look amazing, and are very high on my to-play list)
  • Into the Odd and also Electric Bastionland
  • Jump the Shark (another silly one-shot micro-RPG)
  • Over Arms (which is inspired by JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Persona—count me in!)
  • NUMA (which is about frog samurai—count me in!)
  • Pacts and Blades
  • Into the Bronze
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics
  • OSE
  • Prole and also Tunnel Goons
  • Acres Past (the game formerly known as Acres Wild)
  • Night Yeast (a cool zine)
  • Dissident Whispers (a great BLM-supporting anthology)
  • Troika
  • Torchbearer
  • Swords & Wizardry

Really, I can’t vouch for any of these too terribly much, and this list is likely way more helpful for me (to keep track of all of this stuff) than it is for you. Still, there’s some kind of lesson in here about how I’ve been into the tabletop RPG hobby for over a decade and have only just now stumbled across these games thanks to chance and GM burnout. I’m excited to do something different. Well, more than something… There are a lot of games on my list. The good news is that I’ll probably never burn out on a system again. Oh, but—one last thing—I can vouch for Mörk Borg. I ran a quick one-shot duet with my partner, and we agreed very quickly that it feels nice and fun.

End of June report

My best friend gains another year under his belt as do I in a few days time. I’m still dealing with physical therapy for my pelvic floor dysfunction as well as shoulder impingement. It feels like the world is on fire with the continuing protests and another surge of COVID-19. I’ll say it: black lives matter, and everyone should be wearing masks. Politics aside, black lives matter, and everyone should be wearing masks. Personal feelings aside, black lives do matter, and everyone really should be wearing masks. I hope that’s clear. I know the internet allows me to more easily see bad news, but it really does seem like humanity is in short supply of reason and empathy. I’m sure it’s always been that way, but, as I said, it’s just even easier to see on the internet.

Life has felt extra weird and out of my control for the past month—probably even before that, but I’ve really been feeling that way lately. Here’s to hoping for some good things ahead.

Still, I managed to get out quite a few blog posts in a short span of time, even if three of them were about coffee recipes. It makes me happy, and I think that counts for a lot.

Conlang stuff report

My conlang has continued to mostly be on the back burner. I did get some extra bits of inspiration from Toaq and Ceqli. And, when I say “extra bits”, I mean some loglang inspiration that might fundamentally change how a certain part of my conlang works. I’m not turning my current greyfolk language into a loglang, but, like I said, I have some really neat ideas.

Speaking of stealing borrowing ideas for my conlang, Globasa turns 1 on July 26th. I’ll do my best to make a blog post for its birthday, especially because that should mark the worldlang becoming much more stable as it goes into Phase III.

RPG stuff report

My GURPS/Fate Savage Worlds Deadlands mess has continued to go really well, which is nice. I’m planning on adopting even more of the Savage Worlds framework. I don’t think I have the Will to ever leave GURPS behind—I love it too much! But even GURPS likes to sand down its own rough edges to streamline play. Even outside of the post-apocalyptic genre, the Boldly Going Forth chapter of GURPS After the End 2: The New World is great for just that. I’ve already taken it much further by just leaning on Fate‘s aspects for so many things, but I ended up wanting a bit more crunch than what that provides. Savage Worlds, in a lot of ways, seems like a nice middle ground, and I think I can adapt a lot of its ideas to make GURPS better fit the play-style of my group.

Also, another GURPS Kickstarter will be launching soon. If there’s enough money put into the project, we’ll be able to grab 12 PDFs for $3. Not $3 each. I mean $3 for all 12 PDFs—again, assuming that the project reaches a high-enough funding level.

Writing stuff report

Well, I’m supposed to start Camp NaNo tomorrow. It’s gonna happen, but I think I’ll at least be off to a rough start. In April, I got 10,000 words (which was my goal) in only 20 days; so, I’m not too worried about taking some extra warm-up time.

End of May report

Oops! It’s already June 1st. My GURPS/Fate game was pushed back from Saturday to Sunday this weekend, so I ended up forgetting to write this post yesterday.

Of course, there are other things going on right now. Like, a lot. And I’m tired of people acting like this is a political issue too. You know what I’m talking about. Justice for George Floyd. Police brutality, racism, and murder are not political issues. And, if they are for someone, then that person’s politics are tainted. I feel fairly confident in saying that. I’ve also seen some of what’s going in first-hand in Columbus. It’s been really strange for me, coming from a smaller town. Big city protests are so different. Anyway, here’s a reminder that these things are not binary: I support the protesters and their message 110%; I have seen continuing police brutality during these protests about police brutality; I understand the rioting because people are frustrated that their voices aren’t being heard, so this is how they yell; and I think most of the looters are opportunistic idiots. I feel that so much nuance is being lost in the way that the internet (and people parroting the internet) talk about things. It’s rather unfortunate. Also, on that last part of my stance, I’ve heard what I believe to be a false equivalency about ‘a few bad cops’ giving all cops a bad name and ‘a few bad rioters’ giving all protesters a bad name. It’s not equal in my eyes. Law enforcement is an institution, they are expected to uphold the law (and should be held to higher standards), and they are expected to keep each other in line. Protesters are a sea of individuals with a largely common message, but they are not an institution in themselves.

I don’t even know how to transition after saying all of that. As I said in my fourth life update, my arm is just about back to its old self, and I am in physical therapy for pelvic floor dysfunction. A lot of other small things have happened (like getting my keyboard), but the details are in that post, so I’ll move on to my progress over the month. Well, first, let me say that, even though May was such a weak month in terms of blog content, it’s not a bad thing right now. This time, it’s a good sign. In spite of the craziness going on in the world, I’ve been enjoying my life as much as I can, and I have finally found my GMing spirit. As the honeymoon phase starts to die down (and I settle into things again), I’ll be talking way more about what’s going on right here on my blog.

Conlang stuff report

I took a look at how I want to handle adverbs and prepositions. I only worked on my conlang for a couple days this month. Right now, I’m actually waiting for Globasa to firm up a little more, so I can steal borrow some more ideas. I am trying a more cautious approach rather than just jumping into things only to radically change things again a short while later. Right now, I’m happy with that approach, but we’ll see if the conlang bug bites again.

RPG stuff report

I’ve dumped using Fate Condensed on its own, and I have integrated the Fate framework into GURPS. Aspects are actually a really handy way to cover my ass for rules that I can’t remember or that would take too much time to look up. Really, it just helps me drive GURPS in a narrative manner, which is really nice because I love GURPS and its complexity, but it can bog me down a lot, which is a me thing. Some people can just gloss over rules or make things up on the fly, and I can too, but I always feel guilty for doing that, and I feel a lack of structure when I do things like that. My integrated system gives me the structure by using Fate‘s narrative framework—as I said. It’s not perfect, but I’ve cobbled together 6+ pages of rules, and I hope that I can eventually share them in some form without having to worry about infringing on any properties. (With the power of logarithms, I’ve even finally been able to incorporate “Knowing Your Own Strength” and “Conditional Injury”, but more on that later too!)

Hand in hand with finally having a solid system (for me, personally, of course), I am finally running a really solid setting: Deadlands. I absolutely love Weird West stuff. It’s one of my favorite genres right now, up there with New Old West. I have the third edition GURPS Classic: Deadlands book for a nice and easily convertible reference point, but there are so many great adventures for Deadlands Reloaded, and I have had a blast converting and running those. It has taken away a lot of the burden of being the (forever) GM, but, even more importantly, because it has done that, it’s given me a lot more space to actually be creative. If I don’t have to worry about setting up the quest, the location, and most of the characters, I can dedicate a bunch of my prep time to creating cool things on the side. Spoiler alert to my players, but, yes, I plan on having a Weird West version of Metroid’s own Samus Aran appear.

Have I forsaken Norðlond? Oh, no. No. Absolutely not. If the Native Americans in Deadlands are trying to get back to the Old Ways, then who says that’s not happening in other (perhaps colder) parts of the world? Norðlond is definitely up next after I take off my Deadlands training wheels. I’ve mentioned my own campaign world that I’ve called GURPS Project Sirocco, which was going to squeeze in Norðlond as part of that, but, as I said, it may just become part of Deadlands now. We’ll have to wait and see! Really, it would make sense either way as both approaches give Norðlond a (semi-)post-apocalyptic magic-comes-back kind of scenario.

Writing stuff report

I didn’t work on my story at all, unfortunately. All of the story-building parts of my brain have been hard at work on tabletop RPG stuff. Next month, however, is another Camp NaNo, and I plan on participating. I’ve got some ideas stewing in the back of my brain, though!

It’s a life update! 4

First of all, I want to apologize for the dry month on my blog. It’s good news, not bad news. I’ll start by saying that I have started GMing tabletop RPGs again! (Oh wait. I said that in my end of April report.) More on that a bit farther down.

Well, my new mechanical keyboard did finally come in a couple of weeks ago. It’s an HK Gaming × Durgod Hades 68 with Gateron Silent Brown switches. I love it so much. It’s like my Vortex Pok3r but quieter, better quality, and with arrow keys. Maybe I’ll do a more formal review sometime!

As the COVID-19 era continues, I have remained quite politically charged. At some point, it’s not even about politics. I bought two reusable masks for me and my partner, and we wear them whenever we go out. I’m not a sheep. No one’s rights are being infringed. It’s uncomfortable, sure, but I am an unselfish person, so I am willing to sacrifice a tiny bit of comfort to help in the effort of taking care of humankind. Furthermore, I wear mine for those who can’t wear one. It’s like vaccines all over again. Don’t even get me started.

My arm is just about back to its old self, but I am now doing physical therapy for pelvic floor dysfunction. It seems like the pain from my infection has my nerves and muscles all in a bind where they just don’t want to chill out, and trying some physical therapy sounded like a better option than jumping straight into nerve surgery. I’ll freely admit that I’m a wimp about that stuff. Ick. I was actually the one who suggested it to my urologist (it was an informed idea backed by medical papers—I’m not one of those patients). He was totally on board with the idea! Which was great for me. I’d much rather do stretches and yoga, and my physical therapist is awesome. I’m continuing virtual therapy and Al-Anon as well. It’s wonderful as always. It’s important to accept and seek help. Doing so can sometimes be a better show of ‘strength’ than just trying to go it alone.

I haven’t played any video games. It’s been weird.

I have kept up on my coffee game. I just got a bunch of pre-ground coffee from an international market. Don’t get me wrong. I love grinding my own beans. I just also love not having to take the time to grind beans whenever I want coffee. Plus, I like cheap Cuban espresso for café cubano. My espuma has been consistently good, so I’m really happy with that, and I’ve been experimenting with chicory to make New Orleans iced coffee as well. I also donated some coffee to local front-line workers with the little extra money I do have to spend right now.

I’ve been re-watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars with my partner. We’ve also been watching a lot of Psychology in Seattle and James Hoffman videos on YouTube.

Oh, and the Steve Jackson Games Summer 2020 T-Shirt Collection has three days left on Kickstarter. You know I’m all about that Basic Set shirt. Plus, they’re supporting a local printing company to get these shirts made. It’s worth every penny.

On that note, yes, the rumors are true—I’ve been GMing again. It started out as Fate, but I quickly missed GURPS. So, I started integrating some rules. Well, then it turned into GURPS with some Fate rules integrated. It’s a fun system, and I will have to go into more detail soon. Well, what about the setting? I mean, obviously, I went with Deadlands. More on that later too!

I’ll try to squeeze out another post between now and my end of the month report, and I will make good effort into getting a bit more published in June!