Lost in the Role – or – Why so Little RPG Talk?

If you look back on my blog, you will see that up until this year I had a heavy focus on roleplaying games, especially science-fiction RPGs. This year I have turned hard into boardgames with a mix of tabletop family games and wargames landing on the table. RPGs have definitely fallen off to the side.

I recently took a look at DriveThruRPGs Black Friday to Cyber Monday Sale and made a few purchases, but at the same time I asked myself why I lost my RPG mojo. Last year I really tried to like Star Trek Adventures from Modiphius Entertainment. I participated in part of the Living Playtest and offered (few, very few) comments. In the end, instead of liking Star Trek Adventures, I was turned off to RPGs and only now am (sorta) giving them a chance again.

I have talked elsewhere about the art in Star Trek Adventures and how I find it totally opposite what I imagine. I also talked about how the now-decanonized Klingons Sourcebook for the FASA Star Trek RPG was more inspirational. But the part that turned me off the most was this:

Courtesy Modiphius Entertainment

This is the Star Trek Adventures Borg Cube Collector’s Edition Box Set. To me, this is not an RPG.

I cannot fully explain why I have such a visceral reaction to this offering. I understand that I don’t need the extra maps, and dice, and miniatures, and tokens, and other baubles to play an RPG. I know that all you need to play is a simple set of rules and imagination. I know because that is what I did with Classic Traveller for many years.

I think when I saw Star Trek Adventures I saw the continuation of a trend towards bigger RPG rulebooks and more IP-related gaming. To a point I had bought into that market with Serenity and Battlestar Galactica and Traveller 5 and Mindjammer and Atomic Robo and Firefly and Star Wars Roleplaying Game finding cherished places on my shelf.

But then something changed.

The first was that Mongoose Publishing brought out Traveller Second Edition and repackaged it in a way that makes it totally a price grab. This was just after they changed the rules for third-party publishers and stifled creativity (no…that’s not fair…they monetized it in an unfair manner). This was followed not long after by Star Trek Adventures and the Borg Cube trying to assimilate my wallet.

I rejected them…and walked away from the RPG hobby for a bit.

I am slowly finding my way back, thanks to small publishers like Gypsy Knights Games and Zozer Games and Stellagama Publishing. For a while that’s where I think I am going to stay for RPGs, on the smaller side of the spectrum with publishers who offer material that stimulate my creativity in a more rules-lite, non-restrictive campaign setting.

220791-thumb140I have found my RPG mojo…it never left and it is actually little changed from the late 1970’s. It just doesn’t need a large box and multiple rulebooks and maps and tokens and minis and hardcover expansions. It needs nothing more than the PWYW Cepheus Engine and a setting like The Clement Sector. What I need is like what Zozer Games is offering; the very simple 1970s 2d6 Retro Rules. With these simple tools I can make grand adventures; I don’t need a huge Kickstarter box or endless hardcovers or miniatures or tokens to do have fun.

Miniatures Monday – Star Wars Miniatures Battles Companion & Imperial Entanglements

Courtesy BGG

IN AUGUST 2011 (wow, that long ago?) I got the West End Games Star Wars Miniature Battles rulebook. At that time I mentioned needing the Star Wars Miniatures Battles Companion for vehicle rules. Last week, I was once again in Gamer’s Haven in Colorado Springs and searching the used game book section I happened across a boxed Star Wars Vehicles Starter Set  as well as the scenario book Imperial Entanglements.

First off, I was amazed to even find the Vehicles Starter Set at all. Secondly, to find it COMPLETE is a real bonus to me. By complete I mean not only does it have the box (with expected wear) but the Companion Rulebook (mint condition – probably opened only a few times),  five die, and unopened/unbuilt/unpainted Snowspeeder and Scoutbike miniatures!  All for the cost of $6.99!

Courtesy BGG

Like the original Miniatures Battles Rulebook, Companion is compatible with West End Games’ Star Wars Roleplaying Game Second Edition rules. Like the basic miniatures rules, Companion continues to be a stand-alone game; i.e. one doesn’t need the RPG to play Miniatures Battles.

The heart of this game are the vehicles. Vehicles rules are in Chapters One and Two (total of 24 pages). Additionally, there are six pages of Reference Sheets for vehicles, including two pages of actual vehicles. I am a bit disappointed here; actual vehicle descriptions are missing. Instead, the authors direct the player to other WEG Star Wars RPG products. Good if you are a Star Wars RPG collector; bad if you aren’t (or can’t anymore). On page 27 there are rules for “Converting Other Star Wars Vehicles” – as described in Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. The end result of all this for a player of today means that in order to expand the vehicle list one must either acquire the older materials or try to reverse-engineer the vehicles given to divine the design assumptions.

Vehicles cover only about 36 pages of this 96-page book. The balance covers new combat rules, equipment, and unit insignia and organization. Chapter Six, “Scenarios and Campaigns,” has one stand-alone scenario and one campaign. Interestingly, for a supplement focused on vehicles the stand-alone scenario specifically states the NO VEHICLES are allowed whereas the campaign limits the Rebel player to one landspeeder and two speeder bikes while the Imperial player is limited to a single speederbike.

When I first wrote about the basic Miniatures Battles I stated that the game was more of a wargame and less an RPG. Companion doesn’t change that. I am also disappointed that even though vehicle rules are here, they are not showcased in any scenario or campaign here.

Courtesy BGG

Imperial Entanglements is a scenario book for Star Wars Miniatures Battles. Interestingly, the  section titles “Rules Updates and Clarifications” starts out with the following quote:

“All rules-intensive battle games, including Star Wars Miniatures Battles, have a few oversights and ambiguities.”

After “clarifying” the rules, Imperial Entanglements has nine scenarios. Each scenario is a bit unique:

  1. Big Game is a solitaire safari hunt
  2. Terror in the Trees takes place in an Ewok tree village; beware the Ewok traps and falls!
  3. Hammer of Destiny uses a single vehicle as a terrain/objective piece
  4. A Bazaar Encounter is a swoop gang brawl
  5. To Hunt the Hutt is a bounty hunter ambush
  6. Who Goes There introduces a “fog of war” mechanic where the table as laid out is not a true reflection of the ground
  7. Scavenger Hunt is a take-the-booty-and-run scenario
  8. Rescue Run showcases the prisoner rules and variable night visibility.
  9. Surprise Visit is an ambushed ambush.

Taken as a whole, the scenarios bring home the point that Miniatures Battles really is a skirmish game.

For $6.99 (Vehicles Starter Set) and $3.99 (Imperial Entanglements) I can’t say I’m disappointed. Miniatures Battles is a decent set of rules, though I must say that other skirmish games do a better job of streamlining rules and creating a faster playing experience.