Wednesday, March 8, 2017

My Thoughts on the PDF Format

I own many PDFs. I won't tell you how many because I'm not going to take the time to count them, but suffice it to say my PDF consumer experience is vast. I've collected them all by honest means—either through purchase or receiving them free, legally. I thought as a PDF power consumer, folks might be interested in my take on them as a consumer.

PDFs Have Value

First let me say that PDFs, as you receive them, have value. The file you get is different from what a publisher sends to the printer, so they're not a "fire and forget" profit center for publishers. If you only buy the PDF (and not the print, if it's available), the design and development of the game you're purchasing is still worth money. Many PDFs have features that are very useful for the electronic format—hyperlinks, bookmarks, layering, etc.

PDFs Should Have Value

When PDFs lack some of the features that make them an advantageous format, they are more burdensome than useful. 

At the very least, PDFs should have bookmarks. Without some way of quickly getting around it, PDFs take longer to use as a reference than a printed book. If a PDF doesn't have bookmarks, it's really bad when that PDF is locked. That keeps the end user from adding the much-needed feature themselves.

Speaking of locking, every PDF should be printable and copy-paste enabled. If it's not, it loses its most basic utility. This isn't a feature—it should be standard.

Speaking of features, the best PDFs are also hyperlinked throughout and layered to control their printer-friendliness. If this feature is beyond that capability of the publisher, a "printer friendly" version of the file should be included.


This is a complicated subject, so I won't tell you what I think is a good price—it's too subjective. I'll instead go over my purchasing habits, based on the pricing I see.

Print/PDF Bundle. On the surface, this should be a favorite option, but for me it causes some internal conflict, depending on the PDF-only price. One of the reasons I collect PDFs is to save space, but if a PDF is more than $15 or half the price of the print book (whichever is less), I'm very hesitant to make a purchase. The only way I will purchase a print/PDF bundle, is if I can get it at my FLGS, usually through Bits & Mortar, and even then only if it's in stock so I can peruse it. When print/PDF bundles are only available online, with no sort of cheap way to see the game—either by price or by quickstart—I'm much less likely to make a purchase unless the book in question is from a publisher I know well or it's a sourcebook for a game I already collect.

$20+. For some reason it's really tough for me to purchase a PDF at this price, with few exceptions. I really have to know what I'm getting into to hit "add to cart." This is not a value statement so much as insight into how my brain works.

$15. This is the top end of "sight-unseen" purchases for me. That said, a PDF needs to have reviews from trusted sources or just a ton of generally positive buzz for me to make the purchase.

$5. This is basically impulse buy territory for me. If I'm even mildly curious, I'm really likely to buy here. I've "discovered" many new go-to publishers this way.

Pay What You Want. For these PDFs, I generally plug in the next dollar amount above the listed average purchase price, if available. Otherwise, I plug in a completely subjective $1-$5. Rarely, I'll pay zero, and if it's something I like, I'll go back and pay as above.

Pay Now, Receive Price Off Print. This is a super-rare, but it's my really favorite price. In fact, I will often ignore my typical $20 limit. My guideline here is up to 2/3 the price of the print.


I've shared my thoughts and process. What are yours?

Friday, November 13, 2015

My Top Supers RPGs

I've been thinking lately about a supers campaign. I've always been a fan of the genre, but I've never gotten more than one or two sessions to work for me as a GM. I believe that, in general, a supers game needs a good amount of prep—maybe more than other games—and that's my weakest point as a Game Master. I'm now taking a long view and really planning a future campaign. That said, because of my interest in the genre, I've read and played a lot of these games. I've narrowed it down to three go-to games. I'll present them here, along with some thoughts on their strengths.

Traditional: Savage Worlds Super Powers Companion (Second Edition)

Honestly I hate the word "traditional" as a descriptor for RPGs because the word feels like implies "right," which is not my intention here. In this case when I think of a traditional supers RPG, I think of Champions. Sure Villains and Vigilantes came first, but I believe Champions is what propelled the format forward. I also believe that Mutants & Masterminds improved on Champions, and that it's from this formula that the Super Powers Companion (henceforth SPC) was formed.

My favorite feature of the SPC was an option in the first edition and rightly made the default assumption in the second edition—static power level. I believe that (and correct me if I'm wrong) the SPC is the first supers system that maintains a constant power level for supers, while still allowing characters to improve in other areas, like skills, Edges, etc. I believe this is the best "happy accident" of the modularity of Savage Worlds, as it feels closest to the comics I grew up with.

Another thing I love about the SPC is a benefit of Savage Worlds, in general, and that's the ability to play with the dials of grittiness and lethality, among many others. And speaking of modularity, the SPC was designed to have cross-compatibilty with the Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion, opening up two more common comic book tropes to the game, aliens (ex: Guardians of the Galaxy) and futuristic supers stories (ex: Legion of Super Heroes).

Narrative: Prowlers & Paragons

Another term with a lot of baggage in the RPG world, in this case by "narrative," I'm referring to the word's literal definition, rather than the infamous descriptor born out of GNS theory.

Prowlers & Paragons (henceforth P&P) is interesting to me because it's literally more of a conversation and really pulls back from the crunchiness of the aforementioned traditional supers games. It's also a great use of dice outcomes being used to confer narrative control, rather than effects. I'm told there will be a more "in depth" version of P&P released down the road, and it's my hope they tread lightly, being careful not to lose what makes this game so compelling. The only drawback I see with this game is that it's niche in terms of the type of group who will excel at and enjoy playing it.

Honorable Mention: Worlds In Peril

Pick-Up: ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying: The Assembled Edition

You can literally make characters and play a scenario of ICONS in the same sitting, only losing 15-20 minutes of a typical session. Some people chafe at random character generation, but ICONS mitigates this with a series of on-the-fly options that come up during creation. I've built lots of characters, and I've never had a problem coming up with something fun and playable. The powers list for this game is short but can be made more in-depth with the addition of the Great Power supplement. There's also a simple option for a point buy build, if you're into that sort of thing... Honestly I think ICONS is plenty robust for most applications, in addition to being a great pick-up game, I think it would serve as a great compromise between the SPC and P&P.

Honorable Mention: Fate Accelerated Edition, Venture City Stories (for Fate Core)

So tell me about your supers favorites? Do you have just one or do you have different games for different applications like me?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 - 20th - Favorite Horror RPG

It's August 2015, and to follow on with the success of last year's #RPGaDay event, David Chapman at Autocratik has created a new list. Each day in August, I'll be posting my "answer" to that day's topic.

It's my opinion that it's impossible to play a long-term horror campaign without it becoming either comedic or action, or some combination of both. If I'm choosing a favorite action horror RPG, I'd have to go with the Rippers setting for Savage Worlds. I love the Victorian era for horror, and Gothic horror, in general. Couple that with Rippers' use of its own take on the classic "Universal" monsters, along with the penchant for tweaking the historical, and honestly it's the most fun I've ever had with horror.

That said, if I'm looking for creepy, psychological horror, played over a shorter period of time—a few sessions at most—then I have to go with tremulus. This Apocalypse World-based game is definitely creepy. I also like that it's quick to generate characters and get playing. When players have to invest a lot of time in creating a character, I find they're less likely to fully embrace the genre and over-protect their characters. With a game like tremulus, that's all on the table. Players know they can't expect to hold on to their character for a long period, and they tend to have an easier time buying in.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 - 19th - Favorite Supers RPG

It's August 2015, and to follow on with the success of last year's #RPGaDay event, David Chapman at Autocratik has created a new list. Each day in August, I'll be posting my "answer" to that day's topic.

There are a ridiculous amount of supers RPGs on the market, and many of them are amazing. For me, the best of the best is ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying: The Assembled Edition. For longtime readers of this blog, you may recall I had some issues with the original edition of the game, this version serves to explain itself much better and the organization is like night and day. There have also been a couple tweaks that allow for more options against particularly tough opponents. If I was running a supers game tomorrow, and it was 100% my choice of what to run, it would be ICONS.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 - 18th - Favorite SF RPG

It's August 2015, and to follow on with the success of last year's #RPGaDay event, David Chapman at Autocratik has created a new list. Each day in August, I'll be posting my "answer" to that day's topic.

There are a lot of great Sci-Fi games out there, and there was a time I would have had a hard time picking one favorite. But honestly, this is a no-brainer for me. The very first RPG I ran was Star Frontiers, so I didn't cut my teeth as a GM with D&D the way many have. Recently, Pinnacle Entertainment released The Last Parsec line of games, which use the excellent Science Fiction Companion as their base. This game is very clearly a love letter to my first love, Star Frontiers. So Savage Worlds + Star Frontiers? That's an easy call!

Monday, August 17, 2015

#RPGaDay2015 - 17th - Favorite Fantasy RPG

It's August 2015, and to follow on with the success of last year's #RPGaDay event, David Chapman at Autocratik has created a new list. Each day in August, I'll be posting my "answer" to that day's topic.

This is a tough one. I've been playing a lot of fantasy lately. My weekly Sunday game has been 13th Age, I'm playing in D&D Encounters on Wednesday nights with my daughter, and I've played and run a ton of Dungeon Crawl Classics games at my FLGS. They're all great games. I guess I'll break it down and come to a decision by the end.

I really love the feel of 13th Age. It has excellent theater of the mind-style combat. It's very satisfying to use the various powers in the game. For the game master, the stat blocks are a dream. The One Unique Thing and Icons-related rules are pretty cool too. That said, in later levels the damage dice can be cumbersome, and while there are suggestions to take an average on some, that sticks in the craw of many gamers. Also, the Icon dice rules can really leave the GM hanging. There's a lot of advice out there for these, but at the end of the day, it's easy to run out of ideas or be repetitious when there's a lot of fives and sixes on the table.

Fifth Edition is the best D&D since Second Edition. I'm enjoying playing. I ran one session and found it easy. I love the organization of the books, and the new art style is really evocative. The PHB comes with a great selection of races and classes. Adjudicating the game is easy with the simplified combat rules. That said, there's still quite a bit of math necessary to create encounters, and the stat blocks haven't really been improved. Thus far, I'm also not a big fan of the way WotC is handling setting in this edition—I don't typically have good luck with published adventures. I also have an unreasonable hatred for the Forgotten Realms.

Dungeon Crawl Classics just speaks to me. The design of the book is mind blowing. The art is blended into the layout beautifully. The book is deliberately written in a Gygaxian style, which I find quite fun. Every spell has its own table you roll on to get your results, and every wizards' spells look and act a bit differently. Remember way back last paragraph when I said I don't have much luck with published adventures? Well DCC has the best published adventures in RPGs today. They're well-organized and very creative, and I love running them! I also love the funky dice, but it bugs me I can't get them in all the cool modern Chessex styles. While the base mechanics are super-simple, the game is quite fiddly when you want to do anything involving magic.

Having gone through all three candidates, I just can't provide a favorite. I love them all for different reasons, and they're all my favorite, depending on my mood. Sorry, dear reader!

#RPGaDay2015 - 16th - Longest Game Session Played

It's August 2015, and to follow on with the success of last year's #RPGaDay event, David Chapman at Autocratik has created a new list. Each day in August, I'll be posting my "answer" to that day's topic.

I don't recall when I've ever played in a session more than four or five hours long. That said, if I did, it would have been in my teens during the summer. We'd hang out in my friend, Shane's basement and play whatever we were up to at the time. Those could have gone 6+ hours, I'm sure. Lame, but that's my answer.