PDF vs Dead Tree RPG Books

July 20th, 2013

I have been thinking about this for lately due to a release of Edge of the Empire from Fantasy Flight Games. The plan is not to release a PDF version on the game. As such, I have decided not to purchase the game. Some friends have questioned why that is. Therefor, I wanted to formulate how I use both forms of gaming books.

Dead Tree

For the most part, if I really think I will play the game and I would like to learn how to play, I buy the dead tree version. I like it for all the reasons people like dead tree versions of things. I like to be able to flip through it. I enjoy the smell of paper and I like the look of it on my shelf. I like my books signed by the authors.[1] You cannot get a digital version of the book signed. I guess you could have them sign your reader but that would get ridiculous after a while.


I use this version to play the game. With the exception of just one game [2], I have learned every game I own either through play or by reading the dead tree version. I have had almost every version of the iPad and as such I really enjoy the app, GoodReader for working with PDFs. I search for rules with it. I love it when they hyperlink the PDF so it’s easy to navigate.

The other use I make of PDF is for a game that I just want to look over and either steal setting material, mechanics or just don’t know about the game. I have backed a lot of Kickstarters at this level just to get the PDFs.


I want my cake and eat it too. I want both versions of a gaming book. I don’t even need it free. I will even spend money buying them both as I recently did with Ennie Award nomintated Broken Rooms.[3] If you want me to be interested in your game, release a PDF as well as the print copy.

  1. I know a lot of people in the gaming world and it brings me enjoyment for them to sign my books. Sometimes they write cool things in there as well. I’d say over most of my games are signed, I even have one book signed by Gygax himself.  ↩
  2. 13th Age since it still hasn’t been printed yet. An amazing game that if you love/hate d20 you should check it out. Has the sensibilities of the recent Indie titles with the approachability of d20.  ↩
  3. Review coming soon to a blog near you.  ↩


July 14th, 2013

I have been away from blogging for sometime now. Many reasons exist for this[1] but I want to get back to practicing writing. A friend, Rob Dongohue[2] introduced me to an app that directly accesses my blog and makes it easier to publish posts. I am going to commit to one post a week either about gaming or reviewing a gaming product that I have been using. Look forward to posting and writing on a consistant basis.

  1. Getting laid off, switching jobs. Then switching jobs again. Traveling a ton for the current job and working on my health. Dropped 30lbs. Been busy little bee.  ↩

  2. His most wonderful blog  ↩

Review of Bulldogs!

August 21st, 2011

Bulldogs! A FATE game that isn’t able to stop a bullet? Check. This book checks in 166 pages and is a standard RPG size. Does the book have an index and a Table of Contents? Yeppers. I personally have never seen the need for both, but that’s just me but people like to hear if that is the case. It doesn’t read like a text book does it? Nope, not at all. Some RPG books read like that and it annoys me. This doesn’t read like that. Does it really kick ass as it’s tagline says “Bulldogs! is sci-fi that kicks ass” ? Totally.

The quick review is that I like it. Quite a bit actually and I will get into more specifics. One more thing, I am going to assume that anyone reading this review is familiar with other FATE titles. If you are not, then I would check out one of the free versions out on the web or look at the FATE SRD over on Evil Hat’s website.

One of the things I love about this book the size. Since it smaller it is much easier to carry around to games. One of the main reasons I bought an iPad was to stop carrying so much weight when I went to game. This book is one which I could easily carry. It still has all the sections of a normal gaming book as well as typical sections of the various FATE books out there. Yes there is still art and the layout is not a text book, but it condenses the information. The aspect chapter is nine pages, compare that with Dresden Files RPG that has nineteen pages. Not that I am knocking Dresden (or other gargantuan size FATE books) as I love that game as well, I just like the size of this game.

The other cool thing is the default setting is more frame work than complete deal. It is set in a galaxy where two empires are in somewhat a cold war state with neutral space in between them. This makes all sorts of adventures possible but the default campaign is one in which the players work for a large shipping company. This doesn’t sound that kick ass, I admit; but it goes further than that. The company insures the hell out of your characters and ship all the while loading it with dangerous cargo going to dangerous locations. Does this mean the rules are tied to the setting? Somewhat but that doesn’t mean you could use the rules for a FATE Firefly game or a FATE Star Wars game; if you wanted to use it instead of the RPGs already out there covering those games.

A few other note worth things in this book. One, I really enjoyed the Alien Species section. The game gives nine default races with rules to create your own. Currently, my favorite race is the Urseminites. A race of ill-tempered teddy bears who are universally hated throughout the galaxy. Two, the why skills are handled is very simple but eye-opening. The skills are broken down to how they are used by within the game. Meaning if a skill has the ability to be used as a block, it has a sub-heading under the skill called block. In this sub-heading, it discusses how this skill can be used as a block and gives examples. Very nice. Crew creation, aka character creation, is also slightly different than other FATE games. The characters don’t have group character creation as this game wants a bit of party tension.

The book uses the character advancement methods first detailed in the Dresden RPG. It also has a stunt chapter and a gear chapter. Now, since this is a sci-fi section ships get their own chapter. This is great because it simply extends other portions of the FATE rules to ships. This chapter is 13 pages, compare that to Starblazer Adventures ship chapter which is 64 pages. Again, I am not knocking that book, it just that I like the brevity of Bulldogs!

After this you must think that I thought the book was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Well, I do have some quibbles about it. First, the campaign frame work that I like also could use a little more to it. Second, I wish there would have been an adventure included but since there now is a free adventure on Drive Thru, that’s cool. Third, the game has each character have 10 aspects. I really think that is over kill in all the FATE games. As a GM, I have enough to worry about that it is hard to keep track of all the aspects the characters have. Now, to be honest, the game encourages self-compels as well as other player compels, but if you have a group that has a hard time doing that, this makes it difficult. The last complaint is that my post man didn’t like me and damaged my book, nothing major but it still irks me when I look at my copy.

I have played the game with the designer at Gencon 2011. I played the free adventure that is currently up on Drive-Thru RPG. It was a great adventure that was only two hours of which my character was cryo-frozen for 45 minutes of it. I have also started this up with my gaming group, we have just created characters.

Overall, this game is a great implementation of FATE. If I was going to own only one FATE game that would be Dresden Files RPG; but if I was going to own two, this would be the second one. I really enjoyed reading it and frankly it is less intimidating than other larger versions of FATE. I recommend checking it out, especially since the PDF is only 10 bucks.

Getting an emotional response to NPCs from PCs.

July 3rd, 2011

How does one get characters to actually care about NPCs? I have been struggling with this for some time in my current groups. I think it must be one of my faults as a GM. It isn’t that I try to force an emotional attachment to any particular NPC, the problem is that they don’t seem to care about any of them. It doesn’t matter if they are a good, bad or neutral character in the game. They kill the bad guys but it feels like they don’t respond to it. The other NPCs in the game, they couldn’t care less.

I have tried many different ways to try to get PCs buy-in on NPCs. I have tried getting them to making NPCs they care about on notecards before the game as in my current L5R game. I have tried the long game where the NPCs are around for several sessions helping the PCs and then get in trouble asking the players for help. I have read blogs all over trying to figure out if there is anything I could be doing better. I have tried several different suggestions. Therefore, I am going to try my blog. I know I haven’t posted in a while, I am not going to make an excuse, but I am going to try to post more.

If anyone has any ideas, please post them as I could use some help.

Review of Kingdom of Nothing.

March 20th, 2011

Can you spare some change? You don’t have any? Okay, how about a bite of food? No to that too? How about a role-playing game where you play beggars? Seriously? You think that would be fun? All right, I will give it a try. This is a game that is written by Jeff Himmelman who happens to also do some killer art for this thing. I know what you are thinking, the writer did the art? What is it going to be? Stick figures? Nope, these are full illustrations that are simply amazing. I think I’d have boughten the book on just art. It is put out by Brennan Taylor’s imprint, Galileo Games of Mortal Coil and How We Came to Live Here. Brennan also does the editing for the book.

It is an eighty-two page softcover black & white book with art throughout. It has the standard form factor most of the small press books have, 8 x 5.5 inches. There are several full page pictures so the page count of actual text will be less. It does have a table of contents and an index, so the index police will be appeased. Granted with how small the book is, I figure a decent table of contents would be sufficient. It has a character and relationship sheet in the back. It is a quick read and took me less than a day at work to finish it off. I have a hurry-up-and-wait kind of job at the present moment, don’t be judging me. Let’s not get side tracked, lets get back to the book, it’s why you are reading this in the first place. The book retails for around 15 dollars and from what I learned after I purchased, years in the making. How many? I have no idea, but the wait is over.

What is this game about? Beggars. Granted if that was all it was about, it’d be a very boring game. I wouldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to look at it. This book is to beggars as Don’t Rest Your Head is to insomnia. If you don’t know about Don’t Rest Your Head, well, check it out, simply amazing premise for a game. Well, back to your regularly scheduled review. You are one of the Lost, a beggar who has literally nothing and since you have nothing, a supernatural force known as the Nothing comes to get you. Stop that right now, it isn’t the Never-Ending Story. There isn’t a flying doggy-dragon. I digress yet again. The only way to free yourself of this hunter is to work through your issues and figure out your past. You see, since you’re a Lost, you don’t remember your past.

Character creation is one of the places where this game truly sings. When you make characters after all of the number crunching (there isn’t any since there are only two stats: Lucidity and Survival), picking stuff (the GM is encouraged to not let you have much, you’re a beggar, duh!), pick your skills (free-form), pick your echo (an interactive object of what you want to guide your character) and burden (what’s holding you back); you hand out a sheet of paper with the character’s name in the middle along with the character sheet. Each person then takes something on the character sheet, say the skill Negotiation and writes a secret about it. The juicier the better since this will not be known to the player who owns the character at the beginning. The object of other players is to help drive the story to reveal this in play.

The core mechanics revolve around loose change. Yep, that metal stuff that’s returned after you give the restaurant fancy paper things. You need some of that and a beggar cup. You wager your character stats which have pennies on them equal to their value at the beginning of the session, by putting them into a cup. Each penny is worth one success. Skills give you a nickel which is worth two successes and your echo is worth a dime which is three successes. Your burdens have a quarter associated with for when you are really desperate. You then have the chance to ask your fellow players if they can spare change. In which case, they can add their own coins to the pot and they can lose these coins just like the acting player. Then shake the cup and slam it down to the table. All right, it might not have said slammed, but who cares, if you gotta go, go with gusto. All heads are successes and it is versus a target number the GM sets for you. This is another game where the GM gets the chance to roll dice or mechanically act in the game. It bothers some people but to me it doesn’t matter. Successes you keep the coins and gain some new pennies.

The other cool mechanic is that there is a concept of plot coins. You gain these by introducing cool things into the game or by helping characters with their issues. The reason these are important is that they are how you buy scenes for the game. This allows the players to choose what the next scene is going to be. You start the game with three and will need a lot more to finally get your character the life he always wanted.

This is one of those small type games that I think could have the danger of too much awesome at the table, especially in the right kind of group. This can also be really dark since it covers dark things that drive people to homelessness. There are supernatural elements to it that I didn’t cover in great detail as I think you should discover that in play. As I said, the art is amazing, worth the 15 bucks alone. If you are looking to add a nice focused game to your groups list of games, you should check it out.

Review of Happy Birthday, Robot.

November 11th, 2010

I get distracted by looking at this beautiful little book, so if I stop typing for a bit, that’s what happened. This game is written by Daniel Solis with illustrations by Rin Aiello and published by Smart Play Games and Evil Hat Productions. I was fortunate enough to get in on the Kickstarter and therefore have a signed copy by the author. I didn’t spend the extra to have a custom illustration, just the autograph. Another thing that I thought was cool was that the Kickstarter was fully funded in only a couple of days so Daniel decided that for every three copies he sold, he’d donate one to school. He wrote this with children in mind. I thought this was awesome and almost bought another copy just for that.

It is a 40 page hardcover about 8.5 inches wide and across. It has a full color cover and interior on glossy paper, so it’s just as pretty on the inside and the out. It doesn’t have an index but has a very thorough Table of Contents. But before you “Index Police” go all ballistic, there is something you should know. The final page where an index would find its home is the complete rules to the game. Yes, that’s right people, Daniel made it easier for all of us by just giving us the entire rules on one sheet. The back cover tells you what you need to play the game and time it’ll take, etc., very similar to a boardgames now-a-days. It says it’s for three to five players. I remember hearing that Daniel likes to make game rules read like a boardgame ruleset as it is easier to follow.

Well, what about the rules? Glad you asked. As with most games of the role-playing bent, you need a sheet of paper. One sheet should do it unless you write really big or have really interesting luck also if you were following along, you’ll realize that a pencil/pen would be needed as well. You will also need around 20 coins. And lastly you need a custom set of dice you can only get made from a Tibetan monk. These are beautifully handcrafted and are relatively inexpensive. The only problem is that you need to go to Tibet. I guess you can get away with about fifteen dice of the d6 persuasion. If you are lucky enough (or stupid enough, as my wife says) to own enough of them to sacrifice fifteen to the greater good, there are stickers you can get to replace those passé numbers or dots. I guess you can buy blank dice, but I had a ton and therefore didn’t mind the sacrifice. These dice have two BUTs, two ANDs and two BLANKS. Put all this stuff in the middle of the table.

It is implied that the current storyteller is the scribe for his part and passes the paper around, but I like to have one person be a scribe. Once that person is armed with paper and pencil, pick a person to start the story. The youngest player starts the story and can select up to three dice to roll. Any blanks he keeps and he passes the BUTs to his neighbor on his left and the ANDS to the right. He can then roll more dice, up to three or pass. If at anytime either of his neighbor gets four dice, then the player cannot roll again. He writes a sentence where each die is a word. He can use a Robot once for free. Then the neighbor on his right uses his dice on the same sentence with a free AND followed by the person on his left who can use a free BUT. The storyteller player collects coins for each blank dice he used in the sentence, head side up. Then the storyteller role passes to the left. What are the coins for and why do they need to be heads up? You can give them to other players to give them more words to be able to use in the sentence, at which point they are put tails up in front of them. The game ends when a player has ten or more coins and there is the epilogue.

I just described the basic rules. There is plenty of more stuff in the book, including optional rules as well as some great stories written by various people that play-tested the game before its release. It has tips on how to play this with children and how to use in a classroom environment. Did I mention it is a very pretty book? Back to the point, it’s a really great little game that isn’t quite a role-playing game but fits more to that then a boardgame. Granted as mentioned, the rules are laid out in a fashion very similar to a boardgame. If you have kids that are somewhat interested in our little niche hobby, you owe it to yourself to pick it up. It is available from Indie Press Revolution and you get the PDF if you order it, so that’s an added bonus.

By the way, I have played this with kids and adults with everyone having a great time. Granted when it was all adults, Robot turned into a dirty little robot that did things that Robots shouldn’t, but that is for another post someday down the road.

Uber Dice Tower

September 19th, 2010

I have a friend who is into wood working and I off-handedly asked him to build me a dice tower. I gave him a half a case of beer for supplies for he said he had spare wood. Here is what I got.

There is a damn light in the thing. This is the most awesome dice tower that I have ever seen. Did you notice the working drawbridge with counter weights. He also made a moat. The dice tray separates so you don’t need the dice tower or moat. I have some amazing friends. Thanks Dave!

Ending a scene

August 6th, 2010

I’ve been gaming a lot lately playing a mixture of story and adventure gaming as defined here, by my friend Ryan Macklin. With all that gaming, I have noticed a trend that I think is consistent across both types of gaming styles, how to end a scene. There are tons of articles on the Internet about framing a scene which means to start a scene. But I haven’t seen many articles on where to call a scene done. The ones I have seen have said, when it feels right which I feel is just vague enough to not be useful Here is my rules on the subject,

  1. End the scene on the awesome.
  2. If not awesome, end it on a cliff hanger, which is itself awesome and thereby fulfilling rule 1.
  3. Not everything needs to be resolved.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.

First example, your party has made it through the entire dungeon and thereby to the big bad and his billion mooks. You are fighting and fighting and managed to kill the big bad but a ton of mooks are still left.

Not Awesome: The GM makes you finish off rest of the mooks and then you must take time to searches of bodies adding another half hour (at least) of real time to the scene.

Awesome: The GM describes the final blow of the big bad and takes everyone takes narrative leeway to finish up the mooks.

I play some 4e and many of those people want to make sure the resources are used and such. Well, I say just make a cost of a healing surge or two, if it’s that important.

My second example is a little less clear cut. Everyone is a character in a village being attacked at night by some creature. People are paranoid and believing each other the culprit searching for answers about what’s going on. Two PCs are talking to each other.

Not Awesome: The two PCs have an argument with each other for 10 minutes of real time. Each of them accusing the other but neither player calling for a roll or end of the scene stating that they continue arguing. While the rest of the players are watching as nothing gets resolved and there is no drive to conflict.

Awesome: One of the PCs calls out the other stating he has proof of his consorting with the demon and ends the scene on a cliff hanger with PC asking for a trial scene next.

The problem here is that people are sitting and watching instead of playing. Even in story games which don’t necessarily have a ton of mechanics, people need to be cognizant of others and try to get to the point and end the scene.

I just want to stress that don’t be afraid to end on the Awesome, it will make your game that much more memorable.

The Bones Blog Carnival : Necromunda Dice.

June 6th, 2010

When I read The Bones and saw they were doing a Blog Carnival, I figured I could contribute a story. About fifteen years ago, I used to play Necromunda, a Games Workshop game, with a couple of friends. One of these friends used a set of dice from the Necromunda box set, a pair of d6s. For those of you that don’t know, Necromunda is a miniature game dealing with gangs set in the Warhammer 40k universe.

My friend was the least superstitious of the group, so when his dice went bad he never thought about it. After about six sessions where no matter the advantage in numbers or status effects, he couldn’t win a match he began to have doubts. When the seventh match came and again he couldn’t roll, he could no longer deny the dice were BAD. He set out to do something about it. He took the dice and put them in the bottom of an empty coffee tin. He then put an inch of lighter fluid in it and proceed to light it on fire.

When we met for the eight match, he pulled them out of his dice bag: a sludge of black and white plastic. He then used some new dice he bought for the occasion which worked better. The following session though I noticed the plastic sludge still in the dice bag. I asked him about it and he responded, “It teaches the other dice a lesson.”

I have been enjoying reading other people stories of dice. I would recommend you check out The Bones, Us and Our Dice with a number of stories from various people in the gaming industry.

Experience Points and why they sometimes suck.

April 16th, 2010

I was listening to the recent Return to Northmoor podcast and they discussed the topic of experience points relating to Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition. Well, on the podcast they said that the plan of 4e is to level after approximately 13 encounters. I am the typical busy family man and we play 4e every other week and at most get through 3 encounters during a session. That would mean it play a year and not miss a week, the party would be around 7th level. I know the Dungeon Master Guide describes a couple of methods to increase this, like doubling XP. That still means the party only makes 14th level. That sucks.

On the show, they discussed leveling ever session, especially when you only meet ever other week. I think this is an awesome idea. I used to be against this philosophy since it was breaking the designer’s intention. But considering it this morning during my workout, I have come to the conclusion that it is a lot cooler for the players to experience the more advance level than to bow to convention. Therefore at tonight’s game session, I am going to tell my players they can level at the end of ever session. That way they will get to experience higher level stuff.

Yesterday I alsoread, Rob Donague’s post about RPGs should be hard. He discusses that gamers only enjoy things they have to work for. Does changing the dynamic of experience points make the game too easy? Does it ruin their experience at the table? I guess we will find out.