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MN

As many of you know, I am a Wargame Designer and I have a few games under my belt.

Lately, I have contemplated dabbling in some RPG design as well. I have personally played a number of systems such as various versions of D&D, Palladium systems, Legend of the 5 Rings, Powered by the Apocalypse Systems, Savage Worlds, GURPS, WEG Star Wars, various early TSR systems, and Shadowrun. However, I know there are a lot of games that I have NOT played.

That being said, what makes a good RPG system? What are the elements that help it stand apart? Are there mechanics or choices that you prefer?

Tell me what YOU like to play mechanically.

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As an RPG collector myself, I tend not to think of what is the greatest, instead of what works best for my needs at the time. Many systems do a great job at their core to facilitate the story you are trying to tell. Like the Star Wars Genesis system versus WEG's d6 system. Both do a great job helping run your story based in the star wars universe with books published with most details made for you. But the classic WEG version I feel does a better job for me personally. I have used the system enough I don't have to look up things in the book most of the time and that helps me run a smoother game. It works best for me just by the knowledge of the system and I know there should be already rules for about every spaceship or alien I need in my star wars game. This might not be the best system for a new game master to start with, they have to consider what makes things flow smoothly through the course of the game for them.
When WEG tried to use the same system for a DC superheroes game, it tanked. It was not a good system for that "scale" of game. But changing systems, you also have to always consider your players. Many might not want to buy or learn a new system. Make sure the system is approachable, the hero system is a great superhero system but if your players are not engineers they might not care for all the math and crunchy rules of the 500+ page core manual book they need to read through.

Looking at universal systems overall, Palliudum is troubled by the simple fact of its age and has not updated itself, like a high rise built on a bad foundation, when running games with it they tend to collapse under the weight of a game causing the game master to make things on the fly where other games have clearly covered the event. Some people enjoy this brokenness, while others look for something else. Most new players I know tend to avoid the system due to the amount of material published built on top of the outdated broken base system. Plus their reputation online isn't the best to welcome new players.

New games are coming out every day and with that change can be good and bad, with new editions arriving, I will always give them a look, but just like I told my group when third edition dungeons and dragons arrived. No one is going to break into your house and take your books away. No one is going to stop you from playing and enjoying a game of the second edition. The only thing is it will no longer be supported, but even that has changed with the internet nowadays, you have pockets of people that build websites and online groups that covet the old games make new content or even netbooks for them.
Many times I will buy a new RPG just to see how they handle actions and other things. Where one system might use a single D20 for most actions others might use cards and/or special dice with certain symbols on them. I find them all interesting how they handle the simple notion of "did I succeed or fail the action". It is funny how many ways the simplest skill test can be handled in the countless Rpg games out there, none are perfect. They just need to be good enough to not train wreck the scene, where everyone has to stop and look up a random rule in the book.

 
   
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Building on what Genoside07 has said, I would say that it is a system which is honest about what it is, does it well, and tries not to stray from what it was made to do.

I've not played a huge amount but I have read a lot of threads about TTRPG's, and this is the main thing I've taken away from it.

For example:

Dnd is a combat simulator. There are some social interactions but the vast majority of the game is built around combat. People make their characters with a view to fight, every class level revolves around fighting or helping others fight. most of the spells are combat spells. All the stats are used for saves against spells and effects, or for fighting and HP.

Dnd does combat well. The systems work smoothly, there are extra rules covered for climbing onto big monsters, and anything else can be dealt with imaginatively by the DM. It's smooth flowing and isn't overly restricted by its own rules.

But, Dnd falls down when it comes to non-combat things. In combat, a pass or fail is all you need. When it comes to social interactions, lockpicking, and other things where "just kill it" isn't valid, the players try to play it like a combat and tend towards saying "I want to intimidate" in the same way as "I want to attack". The system does work, but poorly.

Dnd also promotes heroics, and this makes it a poor backdrop for a horror themed game. Take some people playing dnd and some people playing a lovecraftian horror game and tell them "the door splinters as some beast attempts to break through. Tendrils of fog swirl through the cracks in the door and you hear an inhuman screeching, and the scrabbling of claws on the other side".

Lovecraftian horror players run like hell. Dnd players roll initiative and ask if they'll get surprise if they open the door for it.

This brings us onto horror games, which again work well for horror and suspense but don't do combat simulation effectively. If they stick to what they're good at, they make great games. If they try to include combat, they start to suck.


So I'd say "Pick a theme". Then stick to it. If you want high adventure, make it and scrap any expectations of horror working effectively. If you want social adventure, then make sure you build the rules in a way that social interactions hold a key position.

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I think you guys are basically correct. Different RPGs for different genres or styles of play.

I do think there is also a place for a generalist sort of system, because sometimes your player group is not all of one mind, and it's not always the case that you can access a player pool which IS all of one mind, so a compromise system that nods towards various styles is useful in those situations. In some ways, D&D 5e is kinda like that, within the D&D ecosystem.

Although I know some of the adherents did take it too far back in the day, I do believe that the Gamist/Narrativist/Simulationist axes have some merit. It seems to me that nowadays Narrativist is the most popular, but people like a sprinkling of Gamist mechanics and some nod toward simulationism. But simulationist aspects tend to get cut out fairly early, and many people find strong reminders that they are playing the game breaks their immersion.

Personally, I quite like simulationist and gamist elements in my RPGs, and dislike systems like Fate that give narrative control to players.

   
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 some bloke wrote:


Dnd does combat well. The systems work smoothly, there are extra rules covered for climbing onto big monsters, and anything else can be dealt with imaginatively by the DM. It's smooth flowing and isn't overly restricted by its own rules.



No it doesn't. The game is built around combat, yes, but the combat system is serviceably mediocre. It's "I roll a die to see what happens and then I wait until I can do it again".

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chaos0xomega wrote:
 some bloke wrote:


Dnd does combat well. The systems work smoothly, there are extra rules covered for climbing onto big monsters, and anything else can be dealt with imaginatively by the DM. It's smooth flowing and isn't overly restricted by its own rules.



No it doesn't. The game is built around combat, yes, but the combat system is serviceably mediocre. It's "I roll a die to see what happens and then I wait until I can do it again".


That kind of sounds like an issue with the players rather than the system. Every game I've played has involved people trying to make cool combos, work together, and achieve awesome stories. If the players treat it like a turn-based combat game, then yes, it is not going to be great!

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 some bloke wrote:
chaos0xomega wrote:
 some bloke wrote:


Dnd does combat well. The systems work smoothly, there are extra rules covered for climbing onto big monsters, and anything else can be dealt with imaginatively by the DM. It's smooth flowing and isn't overly restricted by its own rules.



No it doesn't. The game is built around combat, yes, but the combat system is serviceably mediocre. It's "I roll a die to see what happens and then I wait until I can do it again".


That kind of sounds like an issue with the players rather than the system. Every game I've played has involved people trying to make cool combos, work together, and achieve awesome stories. If the players treat it like a turn-based combat game, then yes, it is not going to be great!


Don't blame players for doing what the mechanics encourage them to do.

Yes, players and DMs in TTRPGs could do ANYTHING with ANY system. But the system itself nudges players/DMs into certain directions if not flat out allowing/disallowing certain kinds of game play or punishing you for straying too far off the path/rewarding you for sticking to it.

D20, mechanically, is well described as serviceably mediocre. A great DM can bend or break the system to give good players more encouragement to do more wit it/get more bang for your buck out of it, but that has nothing to do with D20.

This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 2021/06/14 11:01:12



These are my opinions. This is how I feel. Others may feel differently. This needs to be stated for some reason.
 
   
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There is no perfect game system (regardless of what GURPs fans may say :-) ).

I won't say the mechanics are important, because they obviously need to work, but there is no 'master system' that trumps all. A well written game will have a methodology that captures the spirit and theme of the setting and style they are trying capture our imagination with.
   
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Good posts so far.

I have tried and own SOOOOO many systems but none of them do everything well or indeed suit every player / GM style, taste and needs.

Personally I like the basic D100 style system as it gives a good indication of how good/bad you are at something - however I equally enjoy Deadlands for the poker mechanism - which fits so well with the western game, The Buffy/unisystem for the fast and fluid combat - although all of these also have issues.

Conversely I find Savage Worlds deeply frustrating and unplayable in all areas and could never get to grips with the apparent complexity of GURPS. D20 is..."ok" but not a favourite.

As others have said - some systems seem to just work better for certain game worlds or styles. The Deadlands poker system just seems clunky in non western settings and D100 can have big issues with high level play.

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 Lance845 wrote:


Don't blame players for doing what the mechanics encourage them to do.

Yes, players and DMs in TTRPGs could do ANYTHING with ANY system. But the system itself nudges players/DMs into certain directions if not flat out allowing/disallowing certain kinds of game play or punishing you for straying too far off the path/rewarding you for sticking to it.

D20, mechanically, is well described as serviceably mediocre. A great DM can bend or break the system to give good players more encouragement to do more wit it/get more bang for your buck out of it, but that has nothing to do with D20.


The game is built on 3 pillars; the players, the DM, and the rules. all 3 need to contribute for a good game. If the DM weaves an elaborate world for the players, and the players then interact with it rigidly by saying "I would like to perform an investigation check", "I would like to move to the enemy and make an attack roll", and so on, then that is on the players for saying those words. It becomes much more interesting when you narrate cool things your character does, even if it still culminates in a single D20 roll to determine how well it worked out.

Flip it backwards, if the DM presented the world to you in this way - "there is a bandit in the trees. They make a shortbow attack. *roll*. It misses." - then that's worse than "*roll*. An arrow arcs out of the trees ahead and thumps into the dirt beside you. You see the face of a bandit in the trees as they fish for another arrow. What do you do?"

Both are following the rules, but the second option is better.

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MN

Please take it to the D&D combat is boring thread here please: https://www.dakkadakka.com/dakkaforum/posts/list/781964.page

I think it will be more constructive and add to the conversation there.

So, let me change up the original question. What are some mechanics that you have played that really worked well in the universe/system?

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The first that springs to mind is the 'Sanity' mechanic for Call of Cthulhu. Simple, but baked in with consequences. There really is stuff that You Should Not Know.

Not heavily plugged in to the rest of the system are Treason Points for Paranoia. Easy, fun but also give you a real sense of the setting.

I liked it in Pathfinder: Second Edition were they codified the different types of actions you could take in combat, exploration or downtime.

How not to do it: Rolemaster with it's endless 'optional' system books that weren't that optional.
   
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Yeah, and Role master has endless charts also, just what a game needs is fifty charts to see what happened.

Speaking of it, I remember years back my group was playing a game of MERP, it was a lighter version of rolemaster but still super crunchy.
We decided to ambush the horse-mounted bad guys on a forest path, with our elf in the tree above with the rest in the bushes on each side.
The plan was to hit with a round of arrows and clean up the rest in close combat. But I rolled bad, pinning my foot to the ground with an arrow. Then the Elf
failed his balance roll and fell out of the tree right in front of them. Basically, two bad rolls back to back killed our campaign.

Other things will turn you off a system also, not just rules, decades later, I was at a local convention and found a complete run of the Aces and Eights Rpg,
I love western-type RPGs and deadlands had too many other things going on for me to like it. Even better was I found someone was running a game that evening.
I signed up and was excited to play. All the players were novices and I had just a few minutes to look over the rules.
The game master was ruthless, there was a fight in the street and I was the first one out the door of our group, I got shot in the neck maybe, don't remember
exactly I just know it was bad and I spent the rest of the game bleeding out, followed by dying.
The rest of the players when down like dominos, after reading the book I realized it was a player dangerous game, but there are always ways to pull
back a little to help the game go nicely, the players are there to have fun too.

A system that I love to read, but have no plans to play is Harnmaster, another super crunchy game but has rules for everything, I like it for the realism
of the world and for the game system, not the best and lots of math when making characters that can die in the first round of combat. But still an interesting read.

Plus, I agree Call of Cthulhu is one of the best Horror RPGs out there, a great example of clear consequences for your actions.
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 Easy E wrote:
That being said, what makes a good RPG system? What are the elements that help it stand apart? Are there mechanics or choices that you prefer?
Tell me what YOU like to play mechanically.
I quite like the game within a game of finding rules combinations, less so when they boil down to +1/-1 rather than actions and gimmicks. Particularly in more combat encounter heavy games where a lack of options can lead to all characters converging on a single point mechanically.
Also not much love for limited use specialities - i.e. an ace pilot who gets three uses of an ace ability per day and is otherwise no better than anyone else. IMO resources work for magic or equipment, not for something like a locksmith who can only pick one door every eight hour rest :p

Everyone in my group is different in their priorities though - one player hates overcomplex rules (notably exalted 3e combat) and likes characters like the sniper that always kills in one hit, the mage who is built like a tank, and so on, while another player usually goes for a daft gimmick character but likes to see mechanical progress (dislikes 3.5 dnd due to infrequent large progression jumps).

The other players are similarly at odds. A few commonalities would be not getting 'gotchaed' by the rules, not having too many variants on the same area of rules (i.e. a complex grapple system that doesn't stick to the usual combat rules), and having choices for character creation that don't feel like you are being railroaded or disadvantaged for chosing a character type.
   
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 some bloke wrote:
 Lance845 wrote:


Don't blame players for doing what the mechanics encourage them to do.

Yes, players and DMs in TTRPGs could do ANYTHING with ANY system. But the system itself nudges players/DMs into certain directions if not flat out allowing/disallowing certain kinds of game play or punishing you for straying too far off the path/rewarding you for sticking to it.

D20, mechanically, is well described as serviceably mediocre. A great DM can bend or break the system to give good players more encouragement to do more wit it/get more bang for your buck out of it, but that has nothing to do with D20.


The game is built on 3 pillars; the players, the DM, and the rules. all 3 need to contribute for a good game. If the DM weaves an elaborate world for the players, and the players then interact with it rigidly by saying "I would like to perform an investigation check", "I would like to move to the enemy and make an attack roll", and so on, then that is on the players for saying those words. It becomes much more interesting when you narrate cool things your character does, even if it still culminates in a single D20 roll to determine how well it worked out.

Flip it backwards, if the DM presented the world to you in this way - "there is a bandit in the trees. They make a shortbow attack. *roll*. It misses." - then that's worse than "*roll*. An arrow arcs out of the trees ahead and thumps into the dirt beside you. You see the face of a bandit in the trees as they fish for another arrow. What do you do?"

Both are following the rules, but the second option is better.


Agreed. But by the same token, the rules are not helping either the players or DM to do the more interesting thing. But say... Genesys or the SW RPG by fantasy flights give you not just success and failures on your dice but advantage and disadvantage. So yeah... you missed shooting the storm trooper, but with your advantage you say "Can the stray shot hit a steam pipe near them giving us cover?" "Absolutely!" goes the GM. And the mechanics help them both to be better DMs and Players.

Again, a good DM and players can bend and break D20 to do a lot. But D20 itself doesn't do much to help anyone do anything.


To those mechanics... that advantage/disadvantage thing was great.

I also really like games that don't tie combat mechanics to classes but instead offer a lot of simple combat maneuvers. Things that have their own little ups and downs to make each action in combat more strategic.

This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 2021/06/15 12:43:24



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While I cannot define exactly "What Makes a Great RPG", IMO, transparent mechanics are a step in the right direction. In that sense, the L5R mechanic of roll and keep is a clean, simple yet powerful mechanic. A player asks the GM for the target number, and then can call raises for stronger effects. It gives the player both agency and a meaningful decision. TN 15 on R5k3. Play it safe and go for the sure thing, or raise 3 times to TN 30 for extraordinary success? Player's call.

Easier than 1st ed. AD&D's crunchiness. +2 STR Bonus, +1 from Bless, +1 from Magic Weapon, +1 Song Bonus, -2 since you are using a glaive glaive bec de corbin against AC5, -2 rain, -1 from Fear-causing enemy, etcetera ad infinitum.
Math is Fun from The Order of the Stick is an good example of this.

Similarly, I ran a lot of 1st ed. Champions in jr. high and high school. The math could get in the way of the actual game play.

Make character building a liberating experience instead of a confining one. You CAN make this, or do that, not you CANNOT.

Oh, and get away from random character generation. That's fine for NPCs, but players should be able to make the character they want to play, not what the dice dictate. "Wow. your highest Stat is a 13 Wisdom. You are a Cleric." Or getting killed off in character generation like 1st ed Traveller.

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 Ancestral Hamster wrote:
A player asks the GM for the target number, and then can call raises for stronger effects. It gives the player both agency and a meaningful decision. TN 15 on R5k3. Play it safe and go for the sure thing, or raise 3 times to TN 30 for extraordinary success? Player's call.
I've always had mixed feelings about the target gambling mechanic, particularly when the game system makes it key to the outcome.

Adding to a target for a headshot or similar I can get behind, or taking multiple swings at lower odds. Not so much high skill characters having to choose between being no better than the rest or gambling on a win big/lose big roll.
   
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 Genoside07 wrote:

A system that I love to read, but have no plans to play is Harnmaster, another super crunchy game but has rules for everything, I like it for the realism
of the world and for the game system, not the best and lots of math when making characters that can die in the first round of combat. But still an interesting read.


I played Harnmaster for a while, back in the 80's. A great setting and with GM who's on the case, a great game. The -1% for each point of 'blood loss' was punishing though. But great fun was had with spellcasting. You could be a subtle, quiet sorcerer, but you got bonuses for loudness of incantation and dramatic gestures so each spell ended up being a major production. :-)
   
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 Ancestral Hamster wrote:
While I cannot define exactly "What Makes a Great RPG", IMO, transparent mechanics are a step in the right direction. In that sense, the L5R mechanic of roll and keep is a clean, simple yet powerful mechanic. A player asks the GM for the target number, and then can call raises for stronger effects. It gives the player both agency and a meaningful decision. TN 15 on R5k3. Play it safe and go for the sure thing, or raise 3 times to TN 30 for extraordinary success? Player's call.

Its a big problem system to me, just because people are bad at math. TN 15 keeping 3 dice _isn't_ a sure thing, and TN30 is absurd. 3 10s on d10s out of 5 dice is absurdly long odds.
L5R always swung hard towards 'comedy of failures' in resolution, which didn't fit the samurai fetish drama they were going for.

And that's before you get into how broken and exploitable that system was.

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It might be upsetting to some people, but there are some systems that I can not wrap my head around and just don't understand the enjoyment out of them.

The first is LARP, or Live-action role-play. I understand the cosplay of it and the simple rules for combat is usually paper, rock scissors. But it just kind of weirds me out
when someone I know from the game store starts acting like an ancient Scottish pirate. I can see it can be a form of improvisational theatre, I just feel kind of embarrassed for the
people that go off the deep end for the character in the game.

Next up is the diceless game, not to be confused with RPG games that use an alternate way like cards to figure out the outcome. Most of the time diceless is up to the game master
what is successful or not. It could be how well the person is in the game or how he acts, maybe they just want to see how that person would handle an event.
But I always like a chance in my mind, that's why casinos are so popular.

I have tried both in the past, but they are not my cup of tea, just too far out of my comfort zone to ever hit the table, plus even more trying to convince my group to play it.


 
   
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Personally I don't consider LARP to be a game at all (and you will note that the acronym is LARP, not LARPG), as you said it is improvisational theater - but one with structure which defines the improvisational interaction.

Likewise I don't consider the "diceless" games that you described to be games at all - there typically is not a resolution system or mechanism or really much of anything to them, its just a moderated improv act.

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chaos0xomega wrote:
Likewise I don't consider the "diceless" games that you described to be games at all - there typically is not a resolution system or mechanism or really much of anything to them, its just a moderated improv act.
I'm wondering if there are any old Fighting Fantasy books which could be completed without rolling dice based on choices throughout the book to avoid combat or pick up gear to bypass challenges.

IIRC the old conspiracy X system could be almost diceless too, in the sense that you could skew a character so much that they would either automatically pass or fail just about any action. Not quite the same thing though.
   
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A.T. wrote:
I'm wondering if there are any old Fighting Fantasy books which could be completed without rolling dice based on choices throughout the book to avoid combat or pick up gear to bypass challenges..
IIRC, the D&D series of adventure books published in the 80's were diceless, but in a simple moralistic way.
You can:
A: Help the injured elderly woman
B: Walk on by
C: Steal her stuff.

I only bought one, and with that sort of "adventuring", I did not buy any more. It was a disappointment after getting the first Lone Wolf adventure book when I'd visited the UK previously, but for some reason, the Lone Wolf books did not show up in my part of the state once I was back in the US.

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Oof 'tis a broad question indeed. I do like the d100 systems quite a lot. Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, they have...problems, though. Having a bit of trouble with void battles in RT right now, skirmishes of a number about twenty or so combatants need homebrew streamlining or else it just goes on and on and at higher levels, you have a morass of millions of traits to keep track of, but it's quite nuanced and adaptable. I like the opposed rolls system so much I based my TT Skirmish game I'm making almost wholly around it. I like the diversity of characters you can make in DH 1's classes, in the first game I played we had two assassins in the party but both where very different and not just in terms of characterisation. Mine was a stern professional who was a jack of all trades but more of a swordsman, he was stealthy and an infiltrator. The other assassin was the crazy death cult type who used combat drugs like they were going out of fashion, dual wielded swords and didn't do stealth at all. Both were the same class but so different they may as well not have been, and that was just at rank 1. And that was before the awesome backstory stuff you can use in the RT core rulebook.

Also enjoy running and GMing Call of Cthulhu which is D100 too.

Hmm, will think over the systems I like and why and try to correlate what they have in common to see why I like them so much besides the d100 being in common and come back later.

"The best way to lie is to tell the truth." Attelus Kaltos.
My story! Secret War
After his organisation is hired to hunt down an influential gang leader on the Hive world, Omnartus. Attelus Kaltos is embroiled deeper into the complex world of the Assassin. This is the job which will change him, for better or for worse. Forevermore. Chapter 1.

The Angaran Chronicles: Hamar Noir. After coming back from a dangerous mission which left his friend and partner, the werewolf: Emilia in a coma. Anargrin is sent on another mission: to hunt down a rogue vampire. A rogue vampire with no consistent modus operandi and who is exceedingly good at hiding its tracks. So much so even the veteran Anargrin is forced into desperate speculation. But worst of all: drive him into desperate measures. Measures which drives Anargrin to wonder; does the ends, justify the means?

 
   
Made in pl
Regular Dakkanaut




Circa 20 years ago I played 1 on 1 RPG via an online communicator with my then-girlfriend. We were spending days together and playing online when we got home.

It was Warhammer Fantasy (an Imperial courtesan from Nuln- Bianca) and WH40K long before any official WH40K RPG (Aemilia Goldenwing, a SoB Canoness https://www.deviantart.com/cyel/art/Cannoness-Work-in-Progress-79276461 )

Almost 2 years of almost-daily role playing.

Not a single dice roll or character stat card or rulebook in sight to spoil the fun. Pure interactive narrative.

Best RPGing I've ever had in my life.
   
 
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