Spotlight: Zach Best

It’s with a heavy heart that I write this post.

If I recall correctly, I first met Zach Best when I was doing the Solo Engine RPG Battle Royale Week. During it, Zach gave me a request to playtest his own engine, which you guys may remember as the Conjectural Roleplaying GM Emulator. I fell in love with the easy to understand rules, it’s simple resolution tables, and creative twists that resulted from it.

As a result, CRGE became one of my go-to Engine, eventually overtaking my previous go-to, Mythic. The result was me taking some materials from Mythic to create CRGE Kai. And I enjoyed solo playing with not just that, but also BOLD and UNE, which contributed a lot to several games, even without CRGE as the engine.

Thus, when I read that Zach Best, the creator of CRGE, BOLD, and UNE, had terminal cancer, I felt horrible. I haven’t really been keeping up with my solo RPG gaming, but I do tend to pop my head in the solo RPG community, so hearing that we might lose one of the nicest people I’ve seen in that community, I was pretty sad.

I may not have known him all that much compared to some of the others, but Zach Best left such a huge impact on my Solo RPG Hobby that, looking at it, I realize just now how huge it is.

Over at my Solo RPG Voyages Stats, I have used either CRGE or CRGE Kai in a combined total of 15.2% of all my current RPG Voyages. Although it translates to about ten games, keep in mind that I have about sixty-seven voyages under my belt, making it a hefty number. It makes CRGE the third most used Engine next to Tiny Solitary Soldiers with an 18.2% (12 Voyages) which I use mostly for wargame-based RPGs, and Mythic with a whopping 24.2% (16 Voyages). Like I said, Mythic was my go to before CRGE graced my presence. That’s how much I loved the system. If I had no other idea of what to use or I didn’t feel like going random, I’d go with CRGE or CRGE Kai.

Had I never been asked to beta test CRGE, chances are I would have stuck with Mythic, but possibly not enjoying keeping up with the Chaos Factor or the Threads as I had keeping up with the Surge Counter and where those Threads are heading.

CRGE was also the engine that was used in my favorite RPG session I have ever done: A Flower For Mara. The RPG gave me a lot of memorable moments. The story behind this was that I wanted to play the game, but because of it being meant to play in live-action and requiring people delving into their actual pasts, I had to get creative.

BOLD, the Book of Legends and Deeds, was used to flesh out the stories of Mara’s family, including Mara herself. This would allow the characters to have their own backstories without me having to go personal. Thus created my first memorable moment: I ended up having a character with “Harsh Power Play”, which implied they had ulterior motives. And so, after being given control of that character, I wrote that they were the villain in this story, which was kind of baffling considering how A Flower For Mara had no heroes or villains.

UNE, the Universal NPC Emulator, was used to make the conversations pop. Mainly to figure out what each NPC said to my character. It led to my second memorable moment. One of the NPCs, Thomas, was freaking out over the ghost of Mara. My PC, Ajax, confronted him on this and, soon, the two formed a pact to help people move on from Mara’s death, as it was obvious that her ghost had been appearing to several people.

Finally CRGE contributed to what may be my most memorable moment. Long story short, Mara’s daughter Zoe was actually Ajax’s daughter. The villain ended up discovering this and went to tell Zoe this. This leads to an Unexpectedly (CRGE’s version of a plot twist) so bizarre, that it remains my go-to quote for why I love using Engines to dictate the plot.

Limelit. The rest of the scene goes great for the PC’s. The estranged daughter of my character’s old flame just found out he’s her real father after all these years, is about to beat the snot out of him, and the rest of the scene goes perfectly for him.

Let me repeat that. My character’s about to get beaten up by his own daughter. And yet it goes great.

I was able to spin a devastating conflict into a moment where Zoe feigns attacking Ajax so as to fool the villain, as she found out about her true father prior to the event. This led to a complete 180 where Ajax, once a single person grieving for his role in Mara’s untimely death, now having support from her grieving family as they try to stop the matriarch from tearing them apart.

CRGE, however, gave me another surprise. Just when I thought Naomi, the villain throughout the story, would have Ajax trapped by exposing him as the indirect cause of Mara’s drug overdose, it turns out that she has no idea of Ajax’s role. However, a critical fail leading into Limelit caused what could have been a tragic ending into a more bittersweet one about forgiveness and redemption.

It felt less like I was playing an RPG and more like I was watching a made-for-TV movie unfolding. This feeling I never had with any other game I played. And it’s all thanks to Zach Best and his creations.

However, not everything in this post is sad and gloomy. There’s a way we can help Zach. On DrivethruRPG, there is a bundle in which all the proceeds will go to support Zach and his family during this difficult time. The bundle contains a lot of RPGs, some of which, like Kaigaku, I’ve heard nothing but good things about.

Let me put it to you this way: for the same price you pay for just Kaigaku’s Premium Edition, you’re essentially buying three RPGs, a 13th Age Supplement, a sandbox adventure that can be used for any RPG, a 5E supplement, two Numenera adventures, and a small book regarding Alex Yari and Jacob DC Ross’ remembrances of Zach’s work. And more stuff are being added along the way, making it a mutual gift that keeps on giving.

Before you ask, I have checked. The bundle becomes free once you purchase it, so if you bought it before new items have been added, don’t fret.

It’s a good deal that can also help out someone who gave so much to the community.

Thank you Zach, for all the support that you have given to all of us.

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The Valentine’s Day Special (Part 1)

Alright, so let’s begin playing Bliss Stage. I personally can’t wait to play it right now. The only problem is trying to figure out how to start it off. I have the setup, yes, but not a starting scenario. And I have an idea of what to do, but I feel like it’s more of an endgame scenario and not something for me to start off the session with but something to close it out on.

Fortunately, Bliss Stage has that covered with a section of the RPG called “The First Action”, which basically describes how the game begins. We start with a scenario in which it’s discovered that alien remotes are located outside the base. I can see a scene where the Authority Figure, a person who owns the farm that the base is situated on, approaching Shun lying on a pile of hay and telling him that he has to fight. Continue reading

My Chosen Engine

I have struggled with picking a personal favorite Engine. Out of the emulators I playtested, I ranked three on the top of my list, Covetous Poet, Mythic GM Emulator, and the Conjectural Roleplaying Gamemaster Emulator. I adored these three for various reasons… but… At some point, when I have no idea what Engine to use, I need to decide on one.

However, this is where things get… spicy. Over on the Solo Roleplayer’s site, Kenneth Norris had an interview with Zach Best, the creator of the CRGE. Originally, CRGE was to be a framework to put over Mythic GM Emulator in an attempt to condense the Engine and make things less hectic.

This the plus to CRGE. The answering is very solid, straightforward, and has an addictive system regarding keeping track of how many straight yes/no answers you have, so that when you roll again, you can get a better chance of an And, But, or Unexpectedly (CRGE’s plot twist option).

However, while I enjoy CRGE’s plot twist resolution system, sometimes I still hold a torch for Mythic’s plot twist resolution system. That’s when I realized… I could basically import that into CRGE without any fuss. I basically curb a rule or two by making all doubles, regardless of Chaos Factor, triggers for a Random Event.

So why not cut the middle man and import that (and Scene Rolls) over to CRGE? And so I will. Thus, I dub this Engine… Well, it’s not really worthy enough, since it’s just CRGE with two extra things imported from Mythic. I’m not even sure if it’ll work. Gotta give it a test run soon.

But anyways, I’m personally calling it CRGE Kai (bonus points to whoever gets the reference) but for all rights, intents, and purposes, (or TL;DR) CRGE wins the Enginebowl for me and unless I decide otherwise, it’ll be my go to Engine.

The Fan-Voted Quarter Quell Part 1

Alright, today we’ll begin the two-part Fan-Voted Quarter Quell, in which I play Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. To recap, I have three characters: Spider-Man, Serikus, and Dr. Maggio. What will they do? How will they meet? Well, let’s use our most voted Driver to answer that: Location Crafter.

Unfortunately, this is going to be my first drive with it, so I’m not sure how well I’ll do this. To remedy this, I’ll test out the system with a prebuilt Location by virginian_john. The scenario is also a nice starting scenario for our guys before we have to get the ball rolling. Let’s do this. I’m gonna roll up a scene for the three of them and see how well they can mesh together. Continue reading

It’s time to kick ass and chew bubblegum… by playing All Outta Bubblegum!

Alright, last Monday of the month, and after that, this blog’s going into a special hiatus where I’ll only be focusing on major sessions that I have planned. As such, we’re gonna do a breather game in the form of All Outta Bubblegum.

If you haven’t been familiar with movies, allow me to educate you. In 1988, John Carpenter released a movie called They Live. It’s a movie about a guy who discovers that the world he lives in is a lie and that the rich-class civilians are really aliens undercover. You ever see that picture where a guy puts on the shades and sees that an advertisement really has the words OBEY on them? This film is where that came from, along with the infamous line “I’m here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I’m all out of gum.”

The rules of the game are simple. You have 8 points in your stat called Bubblegum. You can do two kinds of actions. Kicking ass or not kicking ass. Like with Lasers and Feelings, these two actions differ in the fact that when you roll a die, one stat will have the range of success be above a certain number (in this case, Bubblegum) with the other being below. In this case, not kicking ass is the above and kicking ass is the below.

If you end up failing to not kick ass or get your ass kicked by someone else, you lose a point in Bubblegum. Eventually, you’ll end up without any Bubblegum for your non-asskicking actions. In short, you’ll be… you guessed it: Here to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and you’re All Outta Gum.

A very clever concept for a one page RPG. Some people who play the RPG even suggest to hand out sticks of bubblegum to represent your Bubblegum stat, as it’s highly discouraged to write down the stat. However, Solo RPG Voyages operates differently. I don’t do an entire session in one sitting. I tend to just write up the process throughout several days to even weeks.

So I’ll write down the stat. As for an adventure, we’ll be using TOSS for the framework. The only things left to do is to figure out a concept for a character and find an Engine to run. I guess I’ll base the character (and situation) off of where the RPG got the premise from: aliens living among us and this character must stop them.

As for the Engine… Well, since we’re using a Conjecture Games product, it’d be sensible to use Conjecture Games’ Engine too. Now, first question. Continue reading

Let’s Finish A Flower For Mara

Alright, let’s finish off A Flower For Mara. For those who haven’t, please read my previous part, as it sets everyone up. For those who want a quick skimmy, here you go:

Mara’s dead. The game would have been about people grieving for her had it not been for a few Oracle rolls telling me that her mom had a hand in the recent ‘hauntings’ (though they’re more like ghostly visits) and that I should investigate further. What this results in is Naomi being an evil mastermind and the group is banding together to talk about their feelings to make the ghost of their regrets go away.

We also discovered that Zoe isn’t Caleb’s father. It’s Ajax’s, my PC. And that Joshua just… gave up grieving. No. I’m not making this up. He just… gave up. Zoe’s took the whole truth of being Ajax’s daughter rather well, but only because Naomi is actively trying to tear the family apart. Why? Out of revenge for what everyone did to their daughter.

Now, in keeping with the tone of the RPG having a TV-show sort of feeling, I would probably do a Previously On segment, but that’ll be me splicing together different scenes together to replicate what I just gave above.

So far, Zoe and Joshua set down their flowers. The others are well aware of setting the flowers down. And now we’re going into Fall. It’s gonna be hard to figure out what to do, since everyone is now allied with each other. We also have to make sure Naomi doesn’t impede us. Though the real question is why we don’t just pull an intervention and shove her into the same room as us, hold her down, and pretty much settle everyone’s differences.

This… is a hard nut to crack. I really wanted to play the whole year out and finish this on the final act, but I think we’re gonna finish in the Fall. So, I’m gonna skip to the final confrontation with Naomi, since I assume that the next few scenes is everyone putting their flowers down and admitting their griefs as soon as possible.

So, Thanksgiving. Continue reading

Let’s Overdramatize A Flower For Mara

I can understand LARPs. I really do. Most people tend to refer to roleplaying as being in a play, but in reality, it’s more like playing a game, but you and your friends make up an epic story to justify why you have to get through your obstacles. LARPing, however, is the quintessential idea of roleplaying, at least with what people say about it. There’s no literal rules like in most RPGs, and even if there is, there’s usually a reason that makes it fair for everyone, like how you’re required to make weapons soft.

Most people make LARP scenarios. Some of you can recall me mentioning one where you have a final conversation with someone before they finally pass on. Seems grief is a popular topic, as there’s another LARP based around the death of a loved one: A Flower for Mara. The story’s simple: you have a cast of characters having four acts to voice out their grief, concerns, sorrows, and all that other stuff, all while Mara tries to have them cling onto their regrets.

Like Fiasco, the scenario sets up inter-character conflicts and ulterior motives of intrigue, which I like very much. Seeing Thomas wanting to get to reading the will ASAP much to Caleb’s chagrin due to it being too soon (and also because part of the will discusses what becomes of his house), only for Thomas to confess later that he’s more concerned with how Caleb would make use of the house that has been in their family for a long while and would rather have some of the heirlooms they have be put in the museum so that they’d be treasured in an attempt to get his father’s approval is a pretty sweet moment.

Though, A Flower for Mara’s tone is less comedic than Fiasco with the whole grieving storyline. One of the game’s main concept is each character having a grief that motivates them. Here’s the thing: the grief has to be a real thing that happened to the player. The game warns that playing A Flower For Mara will hit close to home for some players.

That said, there is room for comedic moments in the game, as the playtest shows and you don’t have to reveal your Grief if you don’t want to. So what am I going to do with this RPG, per se? Well, in celebration of GM Day (which I missed by so many miles) and the CRGE being released, I’m gonna do a double whammy. Using A Flower For Mara as a Driver, I will also use BOLD, UNE, and CRGE to play through a LARP. Before we begin though, there are a few things I wanna get clear.

The first being griefs. At the risk of shooting down the message A Flower For Mara is trying to convey, namely it being a story where people get to converse and act out feelings of sadness and grief, I’m gonna change up the nature of them. Although, considering that I’m playing only one character and everyone else, Mara included, are gonna be controlled by UNE, it’s probably gonna be a given.

Each character will have a grief that’s unique to them and will serve as a driving motivation for why they act that way during the grieving process. This ties into my second thing I want to settle. Zoe’s age. As stated in the game, Zoe’s age impacts everything because she is Mara’s daughter. I need to determine this before I determine griefs because Zoe’s grief might just be “this is the first loved one I lost”. With that, let’s get to our first CRGE question:

Continue reading

Test Driving The CRGE Engine

Hey everyone. This is going to be a bit of a special playtest, since it’s literally a playtest. Conjecture Games’ founder, Zach Best, asked if I can test out the Conjectural Roleplaying Gamemaster Emulator, or CRGE for short. I agreed and here we are. The RPG I’m playing with this is another movie-based title: There Is No Spoon, by Steve Darlington. Unlike Ghostbusters, I do not have a starting scenario in mind, so any story I have will be generated by CRGE.

One thing I will note right now is that there is a section that addresses the paradox of solo RPG being more of a GM’s job than a PC’s job and makes a suggestion of how to separate GM knowledge from PC knowledge, which I give kudos for. One thing I also found interesting was a section devoted to multiplayer Play-By-Post RPGs. I am actually a veteran of PbP RPGs and that I believe is where I got my start to roleplaying. There’s a lot of nice information regarding what to do when solo roleplaying, including whether to ask a big question or ask smaller questions revolving around a bigger one.

Perhaps the most important is the advice of always asking “why” after your questions are answered. Most games I played never tell this to me, but instead say “conclude from there your answer”. For example, if I were to ask Mythic if this door is locked and it says yes, it will just tell me “the door is locked. What do you do?”, but if I ask CRGE the question, it will instead say “Yes, but why is it locked?” It’s pretty thought-provoking and I like it for that. In fact, that is actually how I’ll begin this game, by asking why. Continue reading