Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Getting to the Apollo, Pt. II

RPGs, from a pure reading perspective, are funny things. They can read one way but play out another. The theory that you read on the page and the practice as the game plays out can sometimes be wildly different experiences.

This struck me when I read someone's post on G+ about how complicated they thought Star Wars: Edge of the Empire looked. I'll admit: it looked that way to me, at first, too. But my stubborn refusal to hack stuff (I really hate monkeying with mechanics; I'd rather throw away a good campaign setting attached to a bad system than convert to a different system), plus the fact I had already thrown down a big chunk of money on the corebook, meant I was bound and determined to try it. Although the first session was a little clunky, by the second session, it all just clicked perfectly. Now I couldn't imagine playing a Star Wars RPG with any system other than the "narrative dice" system of Edge of the Empire. I think that G+ poster would be doing himself a disservice by hacking the game before he even tried it out.

As is inevitably the case these days when someone asks "what could I use to hack this game?", the first two suggestions thrown to him by the community were Fate and the Apocalypse Engine. Both systems are great, but in my mind both systems are just as complex. Fate, I'd argue, may even be moreso. First of all, hacking every bit of Star Wars...every iconic alien species, stats for all the iconic technology, and of course rules for the going to be a bit of work, at least as much work as simply learning the system you're leaving behind. This is especially the case with the Apocalypse Engine, which essentially is nothing but a vast collection of micro-games, every move needing to be individually crafted for a situation. Yes, you could go the World of Dungeons route, but you could also just flip a damn coin whenever a player wants to do something. You start spinning out of the realms of gaming and into the existential areas of "what is a game?" Whenever I find myself going that far out, it's usually time to go do something else, because I'm way overthinking this.

Once you get passed the actual hacking process, then you have play itself. This is where I'd argue Fate Core gets even more complicated than Edge of the Empire. When are you creating an advantage, or just overcoming an obstacle? What is an aspect, or a boost, and when do you compel it? Where are your campaign's milestones? What are the established "ground rules" of the table? What is the reality of the fiction? All of this stuff, for me at least, can be serious headache material. And God help you if you try and go to the community about any of those'll get about ten responses, each of them completely different from one another. Several of them will ask you to go out and read other books, watch other sessions, read other community threads, and consult blogs on how to do whatever you're doing. Even once you've got the theory nailed down, the practice will be a constant point of contention.

You could, then, use any of the many available hacks out there already done by members of those respective communities. Sure, that's an option...but now you've switched from a lavishly-produced, meticulousy play-tested and widely supported game system to something some random dude on the Internet slapped together on a rainy afternoon. Is that really better?

Listen...I love Fate Core, and I of course love the Apocalypse Engine. But I'm getting a little tired of those games getting thrown around as the default, do-anything RPGs. If you're a big fan of either of those systems and you're deeply emotionally/intellectually entangled with them, great. I can certainly understand the desire to stick to what you know. But I do openly question the efficiency of hacking an existing game to those systems. I once even saw someone converting Numenera to the Apocalypse Engine. Numenera? Really?

The bottom line, as I've written before, is that tabletop RPGs are a labor of love. You can try and hack and sleaze and sidestep your way to a great game, but the best, most direct, most effective way to have the gaming experience you're craving is to get out there and practice. Don't be afraid of learning something new. Don't be afraid of sucking. Don't be afraid of not getting it. Crack open that book, study those rules, prep for the game, and run that sumbitch! After you've put the game through the paces, gotten it to the table a couple of times, collected some experiences and feedback from your players, then you can decide if a game isn't right for your needs. Before then, you're just speculating, and you could end up speculating yourself out of a fantastic game.

It's easy to stick with what you know. But the payoff for trying something new can be immense. Don't let a roleplaying game turn you off by merely thumbing through the pages. Get out there and play it!
It's not that hard, seriously.


  1. I can't claim to know much about EotE, but I am very comfortable with Fate Core. In fact, I'm comfortable enough with it that, if I wanted to play a Star Wars campaign, I would do it in Fate rather than trying to learn what each of those 7 different sorts of dice do.

    What I think you're underselling, and what a lot of the online Fate community doesn't get, is that you don't need to tack additional rules onto Fate. You can play a Star Wars campaign with Fate Core out of the box. If you want to put in a bit more work, write your own skill list to replace the mediocre/generic stock one. That's it.

    Aspects are a bit tricky to get used to, but once you do they allow you to leverage what you know about the setting as you need it, rather than formally writing it into the rules. They can cover the weird biology of strange species. They do spaceships and weapons. They even eliminate the need for lists of spells and Jedi powers with a trick called aspect-based narration!

  2. You're absolutely right: Fate Core can definitely run Star Wars right off the page. If you and your players are cool with that, then I think that's a great option! Likewise, I am a big fan of the old, West End Games d6 Star Wars RPG, so if you don't want to figure out those funny dice and just want to stick to something simple, that works, too!

    That last point, keeping it simple, is what matters most. My issue comes in not with people who want to just use Fate Core like yourself, but more with people who feel like they need to rebuild an entire RPG from the ground up just because they have a knee-jerk reaction to one aspect of one other game. That, to me, is time better spent prepping and playing the game then anything else.