My RPG DNA, Part III: The Rise of Multi-Genre

(Part I, Part II)
By the end of my university days, I'd amassed an important collection of role-playing games. The question then became: What do I do with it all? Then my current pool of players finally acquiesced to play a little game from R. Talsorian based on Niven & Pournelle's SF novel ABOUT role-playing, Dream Park, and that gave me the answer I was looking for. Dream Park was a fairly simple, I'd go as far as say BROKEN, little game that encouraged you not only to play in all kinds of genres, but to merge them as well. In Dream Park, you play a player who, based on a vague invitation, selects the skills, powers and gear he thinks he'll need for a one-shot scenario put together by a GameMaster (played by the GM) in a sort of holodeck/animatronic/actor-filled environment. The players play for points that will allow them to purchase even more stuff for their next game, but risk losing them if they die, although some can be recouped if they come back as villainous NPCs later in the game. It's a nifty gimmick, and the published scenarios highlighted multi-genre concepts (1001 Nights/Star Wars, Superheroes/WWII, Postapocalypse/Zombies), though there was definitely a pulp feel about all of them.

This allowed me to adapt a lot of the adventure scenarios, setting books and RPG magazines I'd purchased over the last few years (and lead me to buy even more). I didn't stick with that particular group very long, just long enough to gauge what was missing from Dream Park as published. I would dabble with old favorites in the late 90s (DC Heroes, Planescape, Paranoia), but I would eventually return to DP when I recruited a whole new batch of players as we entered the 2000s. By then, I was almost exclusively recruiting improv players into my games. There are some very good reasons for this. 1) I was (and still am) deeply involved in improv/theater games, and most of my friends are improv players. 2) There's a natural relationship between improv and role-playing, though in the latter, you have to stay in character a lot longer. And 3) improv players tend to be naturally quick witted and funny, which makes for an enjoyable laugh-filled role-playing session. I could probably write a paper no one would read about how improv skills and flaws translate to the role-playing environment. In any case, this choice would mold my role-playing activities a heck of a lot. Playing with people who are more used to acting out scenes than the nitty gritty of rules has led me farther and farther into New School territory.

(LARP aside: In the late 90s, I tried my hand at LARPing with the improv gang, organizing two or three events that relied very little or not at all on rules, but were heavy on role-playing. Great fun, and the fewer the rules - in other words, the less fighting there could be - the more fun we had. My thanks to White Wolf magazine's diceless columns for many of the ideas. Some people have been pestering me about doing some more, and I just might. They better get their sowing machines out or it won't be the same.)

Before jumping back into Dream Park, I tried my hand at Last Unicorn's Star Trek TNG game, but it was a less than stellar success. Players shrugged off the show's conceits and played it more (too) realistically. The captain refused to get off the bridge and the department heads sent their underlings into danger. It turned the NPCs into the real heroes, and though the players seemed fine with it, I chose to end the campaign. There were other changes in the air. More people were asking me about playing, and yet were afraid of the committment a campaign represented. Everyone was either in university or working, and schedules were tight. I took ST: TNG's surviving players, grabbed a few new guys and started running Dream Park again.

I crafted a website with all the player options, so that players could pick their skills and gear beforehand. Soon enough, I'd added a lot of missing options, created new Professions, ported skills and a more granular Tech Level over from GURPS, and tons of superpowers from all those Supers games I collected. (The site is still active and people I don't even know have told me they use it.) With Dream Park, my pool of players ballooned to the teens. It was easy to assemble whoever was available for any given one-shot, while players also racked points and felt they were progressing. For my part, I got to use all manner of material from my shelves (or Pyramid Online which was a great source of multi-genre material): Call of Cthulhu (especially the non-Mythos Blood Brothers books), GURPS, In Nomine, 2300 AD, Space 1889, AD&D: The Horde/Spelljammer, Time Master, Torg, Chill, Shadowrun, James Bond 007, Weird War II, DC Heroes, Ghostbusters, and more all provided adventure material for those games. Every game was completely different.

GURPS Heads, GURPS Heads, Suck 'em up, yum!
But I still wasn't using everything I owned. That, along with my desire to run something other than one-shots (as fun as they were), pushed me to come up with a GURPS campaign that could make use of the 100+ sourcebooks I had. That campaign was Shiftworld, in which we changed settings every few sessions, but the characters remained the same, except not. The frontier town sheriff would turn into a motorcycle cop and later into Mars base security chief, for example. However, he would still remember the other timeline when the setting shifted. His memories would also hold the revised timeline. Aside from the heroes (and one recurring villain), no one noticed the "shifts". So while we took advantage of the settings' potential for adventure, there was an overall arc about figuring out this mystery. Old West, Autoduel, Mars, Ice Age, Mecha, Steampunk, Vikings, Time Travel... and then too many of the key players moved away, so the mystery was never resolved. It was probably the single best campaign I ever ran though, and I'd love to get the old guys together again to put a button on it once and for all.

Between that disappointing unfinished business and an overdose of one-shots, something had to give...

In Part IV: The Mini-Series

Further reading about this era :
Remembering a Dream Park scenario
RPG award shows started in this era
Lesson from Dream Park: In Medias Res
Lesson from Dream Park: Multiple GM personalities
Nazis and dinosaurs: Part of EVERY genre
Hosting a one-shot LARP
Culling the massive collection... possible?
Profiles of my players from this era:
-The Obsessive
-The Flusher
-The Noble Hero
-The Hipster Doofus
-The Dud
-The Rest


Jeff Moore said...

Man I LOVED!!! Dream Park and Mike Pondsmith is a major game design influence. I am terrible about keeping old stuff. It seemed like every time I moved (and I used to move a LOT) I would toss everything rather than pack and just start over (it's true, and reason I don't have one of my first RPG designs anymore.) But, my copy of Dream Park managed to survive to this day and it still on my shelf (and I still look at it.) I just think Dream Park is absolute brilliance!


Siskoid said...

I'm always surprised to meet other Dream Park amateurs. I thought I was the only one.

Even when I consider my sword&sorcery teenage years, there's a very good chance DP is the game I most often played.

Anonymous said...

Men, i found Dream Park like yesterday and i loved it. Then a found your old site, and it awesome!

Great job!

Siskoid said...

Haven't played in a long while, but I'll keep the site up forever if I can, to keep the faith alive.

Anonymous said...

Siskoid, i have some questions about the Advanced Character build, because i want to use Dream Park to a supers game.

The book says you have 20 Options Points to buy things like Optional Skills, Vehicles, Psionics, Magic and Super Powers, right?

But, all the Quick Start Characters have much more Options Points.

I am missing something?

But, you know about some Errata to the books? Just curious.

Siskoid said...

No errata exists, no, but while you start with 20 points, this quickly goes up - to the point where I added the ability to multi-class for a price just so I could drive down the Option points available to some players.

Because Super-Powers are pretty costly, especially for players who choose other Professions, I've sometimes done this for a Supers "game": For that game alone, one super-power (under a certain cost) is free. The Superhero profession obviously still has the advantage, but it puts the other ones in play.Any given invitation to a game can impose limits as well (no more than X points in Superpowers, for example).

But do you mean you want to run a supers campaign (as opposed to a one-off game) with Dream Park? If so, simply choose a higher starting Option point starting level. Game works best with one-offs and the ability to flush and draw new options with each scenario though.

Siskoid said...

And I would suspect the Quick Start Characters are veteran players, with more than 0 games under their belts.

Darcy Dettmann said...

Well,i suspect the same too. Maybe they are the "iconic characters" if Dream Park, and thats why they are more powerful.

Anyway, my idea is something like Marvel Avengers Alliance, you can use your game pool to improve your Agent or call for help another heroes.

Or something like that.

And, think my browse stopped of put myself in Anonymous...

Siskoid said...

Then I recommend a higher starting pool, and if you want to get funky, a set-up where your heroes can actually change their options between missions. Say they all have to charge up in a machine (or with an H Dial). They always have their core powers/identity, but each game charge up different options (they might have go-to favorites of course), like a "skin" or "build" that tweaks them or gives them access to different power stunts. For example, a super-speedster whose core is running fast could build vibrational ability on top, or turning into energy at light speeds, or a wide range of air moving powers, or even intellect based powers.

Darcy Dettmann said...

I reading Fuzion Core (the dead tree version, who get some options from Dream Park), to steal the number of Options Points for Campaign.


Campaign Style__ Option Points

What you think?

Siskoid said...

That should work. You'll know more once you start making characters.

Darcy Dettmann said...

Well, just more one question. I see some powers and equipments gives you modifier in your Damage/Armor type.

But what happens if your, for example, have Tough (equal to a Light Personal Armor) and Chainmail (stops 3 wounds) or any better armor, you add they together?

I have the same question about powers who change your damage.

Siskoid said...

Up to you if you make any of these things cumulative. I would tend to say that in your example, the armor would be bumped up by one (from Very Light to Light, or whatever) because damage that gets through your armor, must then get through your skin.

But this is also a misleading way the DP book ranks armor, because it doesn't REALLY stop X amount of wounds per se. Damage rank is compared to Armor rank on a table, which won't always yield -3W as a result. At least, I don't think.

Darcy Dettmann said...

Thank for the help, Siskoid!


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