RPPR Episode 112: Campaigns I Shan’t Be Running

RPPR-Illustrated-Channel-Six-previewPromo: Al Dente Rigamortis podcast – creepy pasta reviewed by RPPR friend, Review Cultist!

News: Raillery is back with a new Let’s Play series about Darkest Dungeon! Watch Aaron throw hapless adventurers into the meat grinder that is Darkest Dungeon.

The RPPR Fan Creation Contest is now underway! Win Arc Dream books by creating fan art of your favorite RPPR AP episode! Read the thread for more information and ask any questions you might have.

Synopsis: Caleb and I discuss various campaigns we’ve thought about and have realized we will probably never run. Of course, Charles Stross came up with the idea first. From Night’s Black Agents (check out the Prezi for his campaign here) to dungeon crawling, there are quite a few games we won’t be playing in the future (most likely). Find out why and what we’ve learned about it. No letter from Tom, but we do have some shout outs and great anecdotes!

Shout Outs

  • Dead Sea: A nautical horror novel about an extra-dimensional Sargasso Sea.
  • Wolf and White Van: a literary novel about play by mail RPGs and a lot more.
  • Annihilation: What if Roadside Picnic was even weirder? Let’s find out!
  • Jazzpunk: A short but funny satiric video game. Also, Wedding Qake.
  • Hotline Miami 2: Crazy hard, but amazing soundtrack and intriguing story. We still like hurting other people.
  • Witch: A dark fantasy RPG Kickstarter – play a lich right out of the gate!
  • Necropolis: An upcoming roguelike video game from Hare Brained Schemes.
  • The Pyramid: Decent horror film about a pyramid. Also, death traps.
  • Guy In Your MFA: You know, THAT guy.

Song: Can You Kiss Me First

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  1. NOOO. I was so afraid Unknown Armies was gonna be in this list, and it was. it’s absolutely the best RPG book ever written, just in terms of readability, to say nothing of the concepts (and you need to be a disillusioned World of Darkness fan to really appreciate what Greg was doing–he talks about it on his website, if you look up his postmortem on the series). you don’t need to read the influences, Caleb! you can run with what you’ve got! we belieeeve!

    plus the whole world needs you writing for UA and Greg has shown himself to be persuadable

  2. First, the Amazon links for Annihilation and Wolf and Whtie Van lead to Slang Design’s 404 page.

    Second, please add author names to recommended books. I’d like to avoid reading certain authors.

    Third, any chance of a list of those campaigns y’all won’t run?

  3. Author

    Links updated. The links have author names.

    This is an informal discussion so there won’t be a canonical list of campaigns we shan’t be running. It is subject to change after all – if the group composition changes, for example.

  4. If Caleb doesn’t run Continuum, force him to run Monster Hearts for the group Ross 😀

    The Reckless Dice Podcast ran an The Enemy Within campaign in three parts. http://recklessdice.com/2013/01/live-session-the-enemy-within-part-1/

    I am not totally familiar with the campaign, but I believe the GM did not cover one of the adventures because it was too much of a Warhammer sandbox (I believe this was Something Rotten in Kislev), and less relevant to the main plot.

    More relevant is the spoiler heavy dissection of the campaign here: http://recklessdice.com/2014/05/episode-40-the-grand-campaign/
    This discusses a lot of the shortcomings and high points of the campaign. Very interesting in terms of analyzing adventure mechanics.

  5. During the shoutouts – “oh, so that’s what the deal was with Detectives Walker and Pilgrim from Heroes of New Arcadia.”

  6. They actually republished The Enemy Within for the latest version of Warhammer Fantasy. The new systems got a lot of bits and pieces on the table but having all the relevant rules bits on cards really helped running it for my rule book phobic players. I’ve not run Enemy Within yet so no idea if its as good as the origninal.

  7. *hears the d20 talk* Well guess I won’t hear you play 13th age then 🙁

  8. Timestamp 48:10. Caleb promises to run another Eclipse Phase campaign. It will be far BETTER then Know Evil. I’m totally not taking that out of context.

  9. This is a heartbreaking episode. 🙁

    Completely understandable, but still heartbreaking.

  10. I have a lot to write about today.

    Shadowrun makes great video games (And that’s what led to me picking up the core book) and then you look at the rules. I’ve been doing side by sides with Eclipse Phase and there’s a lot of stuff that EP Improves on (removing all the pointless gun porn because 3d printers etc). And I find the stacks and stacks of d6 both intimidating and from the APs Iv’e listened to slow what should be fast paced mechanics down.

    Possibly I’m slightly bitter because You don’t get to play Briareos (Essentially, had to look the spelliing up on wiki) because Essence Loss. It is funny that you can’t play a replicant in either though EP has a more subtle questonng of the human soul.

    I do find it funny that in eclipse phase you’d just get a lot of confused people wondering why you hadn’t just got a morph without built in obsolescence. Different kind of existential crisis In Eclipse-verse what with the Basilisk hacks and 2d Murder-Paper.

    There is an Apoc World Hack for Shadowrun:


    I was contemplating doing a Prequel thing for Eclipse Phase but I remembered I hadn’t played it yet and that I don’t have time to cut out a chunk of the core mechanics just because I have as yet to find a decent game to play Ghost in the Shell or Deus Ex.

  11. Damn it. Caleb. Read Tim Powers. Run that Unknown Armies. You too, Ross.

    You don’t have to read all of his novels; just read “Last Call,” the one that’s the most direct inspiration for UA; then read “Three Days to Never,” because it’s the greatest time travel/spy/occult adventure novel ever. Both are so fast-paced that you could knock them out in just a day or two. They could be your gifts to yourself for achieving writing milestones. Go down to SGCL and check ’em out. 🙂

  12. Io9 actually covered a lot of the criticism http://io9.com/shadowrun-the-cyberpunk-fantasy-game-that-couldnt-keep-1692250238?utm_campaign=socialflow_io9_facebook&utm_source=io9_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

    I would recommend Richard Morgan’s (Of Takashi Kovachs books that influenced Eclipse Phase) Land fit for Heroes series. The Premise being it’s about three heroes who have long since retired from Murder hobo-ing and then continues the story from when it usually stops.

    John Wick is still simultaneously the best Punisher film and Hitman film. I bring this up after seeing the latest Hitman trailer (so terrible.)

    Can’t watch Powers yet due to region locking (Good anti piracy measure though, unfortunately). I wan’t to read the books again but I can’t own it due to literally running out of shelf space. Fortunately for me I run a comic shop so I can make use of those as I evangelize that series to people.

    Sorry about the rant. I’m going through some stuff and I needed the distraction.

  13. Author

    @danthe57 – We have already recorded a 2 part game of the !3th Age. It will be posted this year. I just won’t be running a long campaign in it.

  14. I feel like Tim Powers is great inspiration for UA without necessarily being required reading in total. Listening to Caleb’s pitch for a game, I feel like you already grasp a fair bit of the spirit of it. But both of you are in for a treat in reading some Powers for the first time – I haven’t read the ones that Ethan C. mentions above but Declare is just wonderful “hidden world of spies meets hidden occult world”. In that way it’s actually closer to Night’s Black Agents.

    I feel like every habitual GM starts to accumulate these sort of orphaned campaign skeletons, but part of it is being able to identify a non-starter for the group *before* running it instead in retrospect.

    I also look forward to seeing what One Unique Things the RPPR crew came up with for 13th Age.

    Caleb: if you like Abercrombie (which is reasonable, he’s great) and your frustration with a lot of fantasy is the fundamental reality-breaking of how magic and gods work, I recommend “The Craft” series by Max Gladstone. The appeal for me was that they’re fantasy moved up a few hundred years – there’s giant cities full of corporations run by mages and contracts that distribute the gods’ power.

    But both the gods’ power and magic aren’t infinite so there’s the larger problem of managing resources. The first book (Three Parts Dead) is sort of a murder mystery about a dead god and moves a little slowly; the second (Two Serpents Rise) is about an Aztec-inspired city in the desert… about 80 years after the mages have killed the bloodthirsty gods and stepped into the power vacuum. The writing is better in the second, but there’s a lot of background in the first book and it’s not bad for a first novel.

    I’m sure more book recommendations are just what you’re after with not having enough time to read Powers, but the way that there was some consideration of economics in these books was refreshing to me. (They’re also a reasonable 350ish pages instead of the brick-sized fantasy tomes.)

  15. Any Eclipse Phase is better than none, a masterpiece doesn’t necessitate retirement!

  16. Using the Shadowrun rules should be easy for you, Ross.

    Just give Tom all the Shadowrun 4e PDFs and tell him that he can play a German anarchist lizardperson ghoul marksman with a Beretta. Not as a pile of Fate qualities, but as a character with specific rules and deep setting significance for all of those attributes. Or he can play a German anarchist lizardperson ghoul who is so inhumanly charismatic that he can turn bigots into furries with a glance. Oh, and the most powerful person in the world of Shadowrun is…a German dragon CEO.

    Then give Aaron all the PDFs, tell him he can play a technomancer, and tell him a technomancer is basically a person who is also a living computer and the world’s greatest hacker and someone who can summon cute living sympathy-monster programs out of nowhere. Well, spirits of the internet. Tron people. You get the idea. And if he gets good enough he can steal himself a mecha.

    Wait a month.

    Have Tom tell you he’s figured out all the rules and the perfect way to explain them to anyone.

    Mention to Caleb that it’s a world where magic doesn’t upset physical and social reality, because all the best magic users work for the megacorps (and the second-best work for governments or organized crime), so they all work to maintain the status quo. And there’s religious magic without it ever being clear if any gods are real or if it’s just a mix of regular magic and the placebo effect. (There are actually much more concrete ways that the power of magic is limited in Shadowrun, but I feel like “because supply and demand means only the megacorps can afford decent magic” is the one he’d like most.)

    …and before you ask, all these things are true about 4e.

  17. Most of the places ive looked say 5th edition is the best one because they managed to make technomancers work properly (solution apparently was to make em’ literal computer wizards).

    I dunno man. I got the beginner box as a gift and I picked up the core rulebook. I’m just leery of any game who even the quick start rules go beyond a certain level of difficulty (also I don’t have the time for normalish games let alone simulationist ones).

    interesting recurring point on the Plot Points podcast that (tactical) combat is the least interesting part of the game. I’ve been digging into the evolution of rpgs lately how they seem to be lowering the math aptitude barrier for entry. Which is good, no one wants fights slowed down by knuckle draggers such as myself. From my personal experience my group is playing Dark Heresy and I fell in love with the percentile system. I also enjoy the idea that the Apoc Engine games because it establishes an upper limit on what you’ll get. Which I find oddly comforting.

    I kind of see Aaron as a guy with Drones who also hacks. Gotta give him a robot buddy to save.

  18. @EthanC if you happen to come back down here, can you provide a Powers reading list and a recommended order? because it looks like lots of his shit’s on Audible and if it inspired UA I wanna devour it.

  19. Systems have now become my biggest factor for choosing a game to run/play; when I was younger, setting was all that mattered (especially during the d20 onslaught).

    Now, I need games that are efficient and don’t require hours of prepwork. Eclipse Phase is as complex as I get, and even then it isn’t THAT complex. This is part of the reason why I got involved in the development of D6xD6; it and systems like GUMSHOE, Apocalypse World, and Fate are all easy to prep for and are built to ensure player actions drive the story.

  20. Is there any chance these campaigns-you-will-not-run could be reworked as one-shots for online games? Caleb’s prezi for The Golgotha Account is a thing of beauty, and I want to believe those ideas aren’t dead but biding their time.

  21. 5th edition Shadowrun makes some things simpler, but it adds the “limit” mechanic, which basically means an extra step (figuring out which limit is relevant and what, after all the modifiers, that limit actually is in this particular step) on every single roll of the dice. I understand why they thought limits were a good idea – they make the game more balanced – but I would rather have a playable game than a balanced one.

    4th ed is jut, “bolt on every situational modifier you possibly can,” so basically it’s just a quantified version of what Caleb always does.

  22. I sympathize with your mutual take on Shadowrun. Another game I always get a hankerin’ for. Until I read the rules again. Would that there were a simplified version in some other system.

    Also from the gist of things here it sounds like you folks not so much like the tactical aspects of d20/D&D. This strikes me as interesting since the majority of these systems I’ve seen on RPPR is 4E, which from my moderate experience is about the most TAC-TAC-TACTICAL, grid, movement, action enumerated version of the game to come out.

    Any other edition I’ve played we’ve felt more comfortable abstracting things like exact position and exact extent of powers quite a bit, even in the midst of fairly detailed combat.

    To Caleb’s comment about wanting to play the factions in a dungeon crawl against one another: This has actually been an intended possibility in several major dungeoncrawls, albeit maybe not mechanically supported to the extent outlining resultant societal changes.

    Discussion and my smattering of experience suggests that high mortality in low level dungeon crawling was a feature intended to encourage strategies that involved not fighting. Hence the seemingly odd mechanic of gaining XP from GP in early editions: If you snuck past the dragon and got its hoard without a fight, that still counts for something. Of course fighting (and dying) is inevitably plan B when you run out of options.

  23. Re: 13th Age: I know your pain with this system well. I tried running a few sessions for the Rag-NERD-rok guys, and they complained through most of it. I’m so sad that they don’t get along well with d20 games, because I’ve been devouring Eyes of the Stone Thief, and it is inspired if you like cool puzzles and innovative fights. Sadly, I think it will go on my list of Games I Shan’t Be Running as well, but damn if that book isn’t 350+ pages of one kickass set-piece after another!

    Gotta say I’m sorry to hear Caleb and Ross won’t be taking a crack at Unknown Armies. It seems like the kind of thing the RPPR Crew would do really well.

  24. I think event based exp is the way to go. Most recently expoused by Numenera where you only advance when you discover stuff or the way they do it on the Critical Hit podcast with milestone/ flat per session exp.

    just thought of a champaign I’ll never run: I had the idea to do a game based on a group of friends at a community college in a standard Autjoritarian/ Dystopian setting.Objective would be to avoid government scrutiny and possibly graduate. Then I realized it wouldn’t work for pretty much every reason you stated plus I was super inexperienced.

  25. Author

    @idaman008 for what it’s worth, everyone enjoyed 13th Age. I’ll post it sooner or later.

    @Peter Kisner – the RPPR group was different when we did the New World 4E campaign – Cody, Dan, and Bill all enjoyed D&D a lot. I like d20 combat but I’ve run enough of it by now, especially after the New World. I’ve run epic level 3.5E battles that have lasted multiple sessions and everything in the New World campaign. Plus I did run Iron Heroes for one last d20 horrah. I think it’s time for me to move on.

  26. You guys ever think about trying Earthdawn? There’s a lot of dungeon crawl to it, but in the context of a much larger political world that would scratch Caleb’s manipulative itch. The world feels a lot more “lived-in”, with much more consideration to how magic is used in everyday life (short version: all the time in ways large and small, but life is still tough) and better reasons for why there are all these dungeons lying around filled with various amounts of treasure (short version again: hideous extra-dimensional monsters visit our world every few millenia and eat just about everything in sight; the best defense against them is to hide underground, but not every city/town/village survived through the centuries that the Horrors were roaming around).

    Oh, yeah, did I mention–extra-dimensional monsters that feed off of pain and suffering, many of whom are still lurking in dark corners of the Earth? You guys think you might like that?

    And XP mechanics that allow you to infuse your magical gear (read: phat l00t) with special powers when you wield them, letting characters bond with their iconic gear as they build their legends.

  27. Sooooo…..You should seriously re-think not doing the enemy within.

    Firstly, caleb, it may be of the 80’s, but it is the angry english thatcherite 80’s of miners strikes and calling people wankers.

    System-wise, it is spitting distance from Cthulhu. )

    Price-wise, more of a concern, but I will happily contribute to a fund to have you purchase it.

    Shadow over Boggenhaffen is okay, but death on the riek, and the power behind the throne blow Masks out of the water. Caleb especially, as a player, you will love the power behind the throne.

  28. Tarrinaska it isn’t a re-print, it is a spiritual successor, for a game that share the name WFRP but is not WFRP.

  29. Aren’t they coming out with a new addition if UA this year? I heard that strategicon. Also where is the link to Caleb’s prez?

  30. I feel like Caleb’s problems with Clerics/Fantasy Religion specifically are taking too much from a modern or even medieval vision of religion. You get into historical polytheist religions with heavy anthropomorphism, and you’re taking a gamble every time you bump into a god. Sometimes you say the right prayers and have virtue on your side, and your arrow will find that one weak point, other times you’re just on a lovely hunt in the forest, minding your own business when you see the wrong chick naked and she turns you into a boar and has your own hounds eat you (because the greeks loved Irony). While obviously not a ton of systems model that well, but if you think of typical fantasy gods less as “crystal dragon jesus” and more of “less dickish zeusodin” it fits a lot better. There’s not one true god, but a bunch of those fuckers rattling around, commanding different cosmic principles.

  31. Makes sense on a lot of these games on why you’re not running them. Though for time travel there is some goodness coming out in the future which should be easier to deal with, one is Feng Shui 2 from Robin Laws where an underworld (similar to the underworld in Big Trouble in Little China) allows traveling through time & the other is from Pelgrane Press with Timewatch. Both I believe should possibly be out in 2015 & after hearing a competition site (One Shot Podcast), I’m sold on getting Feng Shui 2 as it looks really easy to do cinematic action & storytelling (a lot like the Star Wars Age of the Empire from Fantasy Flight with it’s wild narrative dice).

    For Tim Powers, try Anubis Gate, there are a few others that look interesting but I started with that one & enjoying it so far.

  32. Once again I play the cut and paste game between RPPR and Audible. Thanks for more book recommendations.

    They haven’t sucked.



  33. holy shit, I picked up Last Call on Audible and thirty minutes in can already see how it inspired UA. and it’s already had the most real depiction of parenting (plus supernatural elements) I think I’ve ever seen in a book. I actually think I would recommend reading UA -before- reading Last Call, so you can get these moments of OH MAN I SEE WHAT THIS IS ABOUT as the taciturn exposition gets handed out. …eighteen and a half hours to go, maybe it gets bullshit, but man, as a UA fanatic, this cold open is fantastic.

  34. Nice, crawlkill. I recommend following it up with Three Days to Never. Psychic Mossad agents, time wizard Charlie Chaplin, and the ghost of Albert Einstein’s clone. Plus a really good father – daughter relationship.

    The thing I like best about Powers is that he lets his villains make as many mistakes as his heroes. Which results in some really wild plots.

  35. As a hipsterish journalist I would play that Dramasystem campaign right away! And also love to listen to it.
    I was not too much a fan of the Dramasystem as a system, I guess I would go for Primetime Adventures for a very much TV-showish game.

  36. I heard there was a new edition of Unknown Armies in the works for the same reason as there’s a new Delta Green.

  37. To deviate slightly away from the comments about games and mechanics and venture over to the anecdote section of this episode…

    I recently watched John Wick after listening to this podcast and have to disagree with Caleb about John’s conviction and motivation. As a dog owner, I was cringing as soon as I saw that little beagle puppy (beagle owner to boot), thinking “Oh shit, oh god no! Don’t do this movie!” And then when the inevitable scene happened, I was right there with John Wick, slightly choked up and ready to watch this man go to town and wipe out the ENITRE Russian Mob from the face of New York… all for that puppy.

    And with that said, I have some puppies to hug and some Tim Powers novels to check out.

    Cheers 🙂

  38. What reason is that, Adam?

  39. That they were both very 90s. Very hard to use vi tapes for magic when no one uses them. Delta Green is getting it’s post 2000s version which is why I made the comparison.

  40. About half an hour in, Caleb mentions reading about post-apocalyptic stress syndrome, could you give us the names of the book(s) were you reading?

  41. Night’s Black Agents was still my favorite listen from RPPR.

    Also the last time I had fun with Pathfinder, I was drinking and designgin a post scarcity society and space station within the rules.

  42. Also, I’d love a Raillery of Aaron playing This War of Mine.

  43. Interesting article. “American Indians have experienced something rarely encountered in human societies: the intentional destruction of culture,” has to be one of the most naively optimistic lines I’ve read in a while. At first I thought it might be because the author is a religious studies major rather than a historian, but then I realized that a religious major should at least be familiar with the founding texts of one of the world’s major religions. You know, the one with all the commandments to destroy a bunch of (now extinct) cultures?

  44. So i decided i didn’t believe Caleb when he said the annihilation book was weird. Now that i have finished listening to it. I can say that it is not only weird, but Weird. I am halfway trough the second book and somehow its even weirder. i think im losing time listening to it. Like it has some how put me under hypnosis and is forcing its self into my mind because of how little of it i think i understand. I honestly have to take breaks from it or i start to not understand anything that is happening in this book. It has also made it harder to understand the poeple at work, like they will say something to me and my mind takes 10 seconds for it to really understand what they are saying.
    I highly suggest everyone listen to this odd book.

    (this could also be a product of working a swing shift at a factory)

  45. @hansbrackhaus

    I gave the author the benefit of the doubt with that sentence, though I’m not crazy about how the construction invites the perfectly valid interpretation that the work comes from a place of historical ignorance. I’m assuming the paper meant to imply the Native Americans are unique in that they have experienced the intentional destruction of culture AND have survived into a historical age with the technology and politics willing to record their struggles, without succumbing entirely to cultural assimilation or extinction.

    In that light, I think the sentence is a pretty accurate observation, especially within the continental US, which has certainly and gleefully destroyed many more cultures than those listed in the paper. I doubt that author has forgotten about the Hittites or Philistines, but there aren’t a lot of those guys left around to interview.

    My biggest beef with the paper comes from the perpetuation of the “evil white destroyer” myth. Don’t get me wrong: there were a lot of evil white people, and they destroyed the hell out of everything, but a great many Native cultures were strong enough to withstand the storm…or would have been if not afflicted with diseases that killed 9/10 of the population. The “apocolypse” of PASS started like movie apocalypses do: there was a biblical plague, and THEN the asshole raiders came.

  46. There are lots of modern groups that have experienced the intentional destruction of culture and have survived into a historical age with the technology and politics willing to record their struggles. Russian and Soviet governments went after a lot of neighboring cultures in the 19th and 20th centuries. Different groups have been trying to destroy the Yazidi culture at least since the Ottomans, and people are still at it today. Chinese states have waged war on cultures as well as governments from the present back to who knows when. Europeans in Africa and Southeast Asia sometimes respected cultures or just ignored them and focused on profits, but they also tried to destroy cultural practices and beliefs all the time. Both Christian and Muslim proselytizers have tried to eradicate other religions countless times.

    I brought up Biblical groups because it seemed like those would be the ones a religious scholar would have the least excuse for ignorance of.

  47. Welp, Caleb did in fact end up running that game about helping a collapsed post-apocalyptic society survive. Congrats on how good Nagalisitu turned out!

  48. I mean Nagalisitu is about people aiding a group of displace refugees suffering from the horrors of colonialism if anything.

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