Referee’s Bookshelf – True20 Adventure Roleplaying and True20 Companion

True20 is one of the many unexpected uses Green Ronin have put the OGL to. Having already made out like bandits with Mutants and Masterminds, their adaptation of the D20 rules to superhero games, Green Ronin originally developed True20 as the system for Blue Rose, an attempt to market tabletop RPGs to the romantic fantasy crowd – a portion of the fantasy market typically poorly-served in a gaming context. I don’t know whether Blue Rose made any headway in that section of the audience, but it did get a reaction in the tabletop RPG hobby – who soon began lobbying for a standalone version of the system without all that yucky kissing attached. The end result is the True20 core rulebook. In its first incarnation, this included a collection of sometimes interesting but generally not awe-inspiring campaign settings at the back, but in recent printings it has ditched these and instead includes the material which formerly made up the True20 Companion. Therefore, I’m going to review both here (skipping over the campaign settings, which I don’t personally have much interest in) since between them they cover the material which Green Ronin are presenting as being key, core material for the game.

So far as I can tell from the explanatory notes and from the general approach behind the design, the intent behind True20 was to provide a system which was somewhat more intuitive than 3.X Dungeons & Dragons but wasn’t so radically stripped on that you’d describe it as a “rules-light” game – I think the idea was that the audience they were going for with Blue Rose weren’t dyed-in-the-wool gamers, so they would benefit from a system which was intuitively easy to learn, but at the same time they also tended to be grown-ups and so didn’t necessarily need to have their hands held. I’ve not read Blue Rose, so I don’t know how the rules concepts were explained there, but I wouldn’t give someone the True20 core book as their first RPG myself; it’s a little too dense to be beginner-friendly, and I think designer Steve Kenson unconsciously assumes the reader has a little more familiarity with RPG conventions – and particularly the conventions of the OGL – than a complete beginner would necessarily have. (In particular, the explanation of how damage works feels confusingly brief and I’m fairly sure the accompanying roll summary and gameplay example are actually incorrect.)

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Listen to edited highlights of exciting Fisting sessions!

For the benefit of the user who got here after asking their preferred search engine “what does one feel with insertions and fists?”: you might get a better idea by listening to Shimmin’s recordings from the first Deathwatch mission, which he’s been posting bit by bit to his blog over the past few months. These are particularly significant gaming sessions for this blog, because they were the subject of my first few posts here, so if you’ve like what I’ve posted here over the past year or so, you might like to give them a listen.

Giving Some Love To Ryan Macklin

As you might remember from my review of Dungeon World, my respect for one of the coauthors of that game shot up when he strolled into a forum discussion to lay the smackdown on his own fans. Specifically, he came in to ask them to kindly quit promoting crazy hype about Dungeon World which didn’t actually reflect the game’s strengths.

Well, Ryan Macklin, one of the contributors to FATE Core, has done much the same thing and I love him for it. I particularly like the direct attack on “FATE can do anything!” because one thing which always irks me when I visit RPG.net is the tendency of its userbase to latch on to a particular “RPG.net darling” and promote its use for every possible campaign concept, no matter how inappropriate. They did it to Savage Worlds, they did it to Wushu, and it serves nobody.

That said: sorry Ryan, but I remember when FATE was FUDGE Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment and I’ve enough affection for FUDGE to still regard FATE as being a variant of FUDGE – a very, very successful variant, mind, but still a variant – so I’m going to keep using the all-caps and regarding it as an acronym. Despite what you and the folk behind FUDGE might think, you don’t get to wave a magic wand and pretend your acronym didn’t originate as an acronym. You know who else likes to redefine or define away acronyms? Byron Hall of FATAL fame. Not classy company to be keeping, dude.

ENWorld’s Hot Roleplaying Games – December 2013

Hm, this is interesting. ENWorld have a regularly updated chart of the hottest RPGs based on what’s being actively discussed on as wide a pool of internet fora and blogs as they can find RSS feeds for. It’s an interesting approach, and I suspect a broader sample than is offered by, say the ICv2 sales charts (which are based only on the reporting of game store owners served by a particular distributor, when they can be bothered to provide the data in the first place), or the sales charts on DriveThruRPG/RPGNow (which of course can be distorted by people downloading free PDFs they never actually intend to use en mass).

On the other hand, there’s some quirks to the presentation which make me lift an eyebrow. D&D and related games are segregated out, except for 13th Age for some reason, and the overall scores each game is currently hitting is only visible if you mouseover the relevant listing. So, I thought it would be interesting to consolidate the chart here, put back the numbers, and see what conclusions could be reached. So, here’s the current standings (not including the percentage of all discussion figures because, of course, the segregation of D&D wrecks that) as of 3rd December 2013:

RANK	GAME					SCORE
1	D&D Next (5E)				3326.4
2	Pathfinder RPG				2408.5
3	D&D 3rd Edition/3.5			1646.9
4	D&D 4th Edition				 829
5	FATE					 398.2
6	13th Age				 225.8
7	Numenera				 210.6
8	Old School Revival (OSR)		 182.9
9	World of Darkness			 177
10	Shadowrun				  98.9
11	Savage Worlds				  84.6
12	OD&D					  69.4
13	Exalted					  63.7
14	AD&D 1st Edition			  60.2
15	Traveller				  60
16	Warhammer 40K				  57.5
17	Call of Cthulhu				  52.3
18	Star Wars: Edge of the Empire		  51.4
19	GURPS					  44.7
20	AD&D 2nd Edition			  43.6
21	Mutants & Masterminds/DC Adventures	  43.2
22	Star Wars (SAGA/d20)			  36.8
23	Dungeon World				  34.9
24	Gumshoe					  30
25	Stars Without Number			  28.6
26	Castles & Crusades			  26.6
27	ICONS					  26
28	Warhammer FRP				  25.3
29	Star Trek				  23.8
30	d20 Modern				  22.7
31	Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space	  22.1
32	Marvel Heroic Roleplaying		  21.1
33	Dungeon Crawl Classics			  20.8
34	Deadlands				  19.5
35	The One Ring				  19
36	Eclipse Phase				  18.2
37	CORTEX System				  15.6
38	RIFTS					  14.3
39	The Strange				  14.2
40	Gamma World				  11.7
41	A Song of Ice & Fire			  10.8
42	Dread					   9.7
43	True20					   9.6
44	Feng Shui				   9.1
44	Firefly					   9.1
46	d20 Future				   7.9
47	Iron Kingdoms				   7.8
48	Hackmaster				   7.3
49	Alternity				   6.5
50	Dragon Age				   6.1
51	BESM					   5.2
51	Runequest				   5.2
51	HERO System / Champions			   5.2
54	Godlike / Wild Talents / NEMESIS	   3.9
54	Star Wars (d6)				   3.9
54	Paranoia				   3.9
54	Rotted Capes				   3.9
54	Fading Suns				   3.9
59	Marvel SAGA				   2.6
59	Brave New World				   2.6
59	Earthdawn				   2.6
62	DC Heroes				   1.3
62	Smallville				   1.3

Thoughts:

  • Some wacky (and, I feel, mildly manipulative) decisions here. Why are all the Gumshoe or CORTEX-powered games lumped together, whilst, (say) the BRP or SAGA games are listed separately? Why are only three of the One Roll Engine games bundled together but not Reign? Why isn’t Dungeon Crawl Classics considered with the other OSR games? Why is “OSR” even a category, for that matter, when the OSR isn’t an actual game and some discussion of games like OD&D or AD&D 1E/2E could qualify as OSR discussions too?
  • Still, some interesting trends. It appears that there are a whole bunch of people who talk almost exclusively about versions of Dungeons & Dragons; the numbers may be exacerbated by the fact that some forums out there are exclusively Dungeons & Dragons-based, on the other hand the fanbases of other games can (and have) produced forums exclusively focused on them too so it’s still a measure of how much D&D dominates our hobby.
  • It’s also not surprising that Dungeons & Dragons Next is generating more discussion than any other version; after all, Wizards are producing about as much teaser material for Next as they are actual gaming material for 4E at this point.
  • Even so, it must be humiliating for 4E to be lagging as far behind its predecessor and Pathfinder as it is. Clearly 4E is a huge deal as far as the rest of the gaming scene goes, but it’s a miserable shower of shit when it comes to the performance you’d expect from the currently in-print version of D&D.
  • If you combine the scores for OD&D, the two editions of AD&D, and the Old School Revival score (since that’s going to be dominated by clones of pre-3E D&D editions and systems derived from those games) for an overall “TSR-era D&D” category, it would come to 356.1, sat just under FATE. Though I don’t know if direct addition of these scores is legit based on how the algorithms work, so take that with a pinch of salt.
  • Holy fuck, people still remember and talk about Alternity?
  • For that matter, how badly is the Dragon Age RPG underperforming when people are less excited about it than they are about Alternity? Then again, the toxic reaction to Dragon Age II and the general souring of Bioware’s reputation lately might have turned people off it.
  • FATE‘s high performance may be down to it being the present RPG.net darling – it’s currently the game people recommend whenever someone says “I’d like a game that does (X)” over there, just as Savage Worlds before it and Wushu before that.
  • It’s worth remembering that this just tracks discussion of a game and, so far as I can tell, ENWorld’s algorithm isn’t smartypants enough to tell whether the conversation is positive or negative. An enormous hate campaign could drive you up the rankings just as nicely as happy praise would.