What Do I Know About First Impressions? The World’s Greatest Roleplaying Game: The Zine

WGRG CoverThere are times when I could swear that I have visited a topic before, and yet I can find no evidence. I backed the Kickstarter for The World’s Greatest Roleplaying Game: The Zine, and I’ve been enjoying the content so far. You can find some of the individual articles here on DriveThruRPG. As a backer, I’ve been getting these in full ‘zine form, and the Kickstarter has now reached the third issue.

The World’s Greatest Rolepaying Game: The Zine is an experiment in creating optional rules for Dungeons & Dragons 5e by drifting concepts found in various indie games. While the full ‘zine isn’t available for purchase at the moment, I wanted to review my copy to give you an idea of what The World’s Greatest Roleplaying Game: The Zine has to offer.

What Has Come Before

The previous two issues included the following concepts:

  • Applying “Player Style” Playbooks to modify how a player runs their character at a table (Issue 1)
  • Using Festivals and Milestones in adventures (Issue 1)
  • Gaining a pool of supplemental skill points, borrowing from Gumshoe (Issue 1)
  • Creating a High School Drama D&D campaign (Issue 2)
  • Breaking the 4th Wall in Games (Issue 2)
  • Using Fate style aspects in D&D 5e (Issue 2)
  • A discussion on the pros and cons of using the X-Card in D&D 5e

Our Case Study

Issue Three of the ‘zine has 32 pages, with a distinctive tan and red cover, and black and white line art and formatting, as well as a black and white border for the pages derived from the cover image. Each article has at least a half page of black and white artwork.

The issue has a title page with credits and a table of contents, a page of backer thank yous, a page with the OGL information, and two pages of information on games that inspired the rules hacks introduced in the ‘zine. In this issue, there are also two pages of example clocks and stress tracks, to supplement the included articles.

Countdown to Danger: Using Clocks in 5e

This article looks at using clocks as a pacing mechanism in the game. While I have thought of using clocks as a more abstract means of advancing timelines and unleashing new plot elements, in this case, the clock rules presented are more about mitigating storytelling trends based on dice rolls. In other words, kicking the narrative in the other direction when the dice rolls are going bad, either for the players or the DM.

If you haven’t encountered clocks before, they are a timing mechanism where you have a set number of spaces that get filled in. These segments fill in when certain circumstances occur, and when all the spaces are filled in, it triggers a specific change in the narrative. In other games, this might track long term goals of factions, or the ability of opponents to determine who has been harassing their interests.

This article includes Dungeon Clocks and Hero Clocks. When the DM suffers setbacks for their characters, the Dungeon Clock fills in, and when full, allows additional attacks, reactions, lair actions, etc. When an individual PC suffers various misfortunes, they fill in clock segments. When the clock is full, PCs get to do things like gaining inspiration, taking a short rest, or recharging magic items.

I like the idea of using clocks in 5e, and I’ve thought about implementing clocks when characters spend extra time resolving a situation or making a ruckus. I haven’t actually thought much about individual player clocks on their side of the screen, although the idea of filling a clock to allow an immediate short rest vaguely reminds me of 4th edition D&D, as well as 13th Age.

This would be an interesting set of rules to use, although the multiple triggers given for the clocks for this particular implementation feel like they could get fiddly and easy to miss. For example, the DM triggers are:

  • Player Critical Hits
  • DMs natural 1s
  • No damage is inflicted on PCs in a single round of combat
  • NPCs are reduced to half hit points, or half of the original number of NPCs in combat are gone

The player triggers are:

  • PC rolls a natural 1
  • No players inflict damage during a combat round
  • A PC is reduced to less that 10 hit points

I did play with a somewhat similar idea, where monsters that have a recharge track would recharge their abilities faster each time they missed with one of their standard attacks. I like the idea of the ebb and flow of combat acting as a pacing mechanism, but I feel like this would be better substituting a current rule, instead of supplementing it.

Stress Tracks

The stress tracks article presents various ideas for replacing hit points as a health mechanism in D&D 5e. The options presented include the following:

  • Damage Tracks
  • Health Tracks
  • Damage Ranks

The first two options take their cue from Fate based games, while the third option leans towards the Savage Worlds means of implementing damage.

Damage Tracks involve having a set of stress boxes, modified by constitution bonus. When characters take damage, they mark off a box. If characters take more damage than their armor class, they mark more than one box, and at +20 damage past armor class, another box is marked.

Health Tracks takes the damage track concept, but also potentially adds in tracks for Mental and Social tracks, allowing tracks to be used to determine how robust a character can be in those situations, or against mental strain.

Damage ranks assign penalties when characters hit 75%, 50%, 25%, and 10% of their regular hit points. These penalties often have a mitigating factor. For example, at 75%, the penalty only lasts until the end of the character’s next round, while the penalty at 50% can be “bought off” by spending a hit die.

I’m not sure I am tempted to implement any of these options, but they are very intriguing. I like how the damage tracks incorporate armor class as a meaningful data point beyond the probability of getting hit. While the damage track is more granular than I usually want combat to feel, I really like the idea of using hit dice for more than just short rests. It would be easy to implement a “loss of hit dice” at these same break points to indicate further injury, although I’m not sure what I would do for characters that don’t have that hit die to spend.

The Game of Life and Death: Alternate Death Rules for 5e

I love playing with the idea of what happens surrounding death in D&D 5e. I have often roleplayed a character’s immediate afterlife, potentially offering them supernatural deals, or even trying to let them know what they might give up if they agree to return to the land of the living from their afterlife.

This article provides a few options, including:

  • The “Classic” Game With Death
  • The “Unfinished Business”
  • The “I’m Not Finished With You Yet”
  • The “Push from Beyond”

The “Classic” Game with Death is kind of brilliant. Instead of rolling standard death saves, the whole sequence of rolling death saves is literally the dying character playing a game with some personification of Death to return to the living. In this case, the player proposes the game, and if they have proficiency in that game, they get the bonus for that check. However, Death has a list of proficiencies that they can use as an opposed check. I love this framing.

“Unfinished Business” involves a character having a list of character goals which can be invoked for a bonus to death saves, based on how important that goal might be. “I’m Not Finished With You Yet” is actually very similar to the concept in Encounters with the Dark Powers. Characters gain a divine gift and a curse to pursue further goals.

“Push From Beyond” isn’t about staying alive, but allowing characters making death saves to intentionally fail in order to inspire their allies.

All of the articles in this issue have contained solid, well-reasoned discourse on how both D&D 5e rules work, and how various indie mechanics might interact with those rules, but this is the one in this issue I would be the most likely to use.

SA5eTY Tools: Lines and Veils

The SA5eTY Tools articles are about discussing how safety tools interact with D&D 5e, and what pros and cons they might have. In this case, the discussion is about establishing at the beginning of the campaign what will be off-limits as content, and what content will be emphasized in minimal detail.

The main “con” discussed is that lines and veils are an ongoing discussion, and more things can be added to the list over time. I’ll throw in that it’s a regular thing for my campaigns for the last few years to include a lines and veils discussion for in my session zeroes.

Final Thoughts

One of the reasons I have this blog, and why I write reviews, is that not only do I love games, but I love the discussion of games and the process of building games. I have enjoyed every issue of this ‘zine I have read, even when I’m not moved to implement the optional rules within them. All the authors have had great insights into what can be tweaked in games to produce different narrative beats, and it has all been done in the spirit of merging and hybridizing games, rather than approaching 5e as a problem to be solved or patched with indie mechanics.

I’m looking forward to the next installment. This kind of game discussion is exciting to me.

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