Well, if I had been slightly more ambitious, I might have gotten ahead of the curve on this thing by now. Alas, my weekends are just busy enough with accumulated nonsense that I haven’t managed to do a great deal of writing. And today doesn’t look to be any better on that count than the last couple of days.
Favorite Free Game
The original intention of this one doesn’t really flip my switches, if indeed we are talking about actual fully playable RPG’s that are completely free. I’m not sure what actually falls into this category, other than some of the weirder Open Game License products out there on the net, and my general disinterest for the ephemeral nature of some guy’s weird PDF’s is not enough to warrant a very wide selection.
That said, I do have a nomination for such a game, which I will cover at the end of this.
If I expand the definition out to include “Free RPG Products” of some sort or another, I can come up with a clear winner outright. This comes from the vaguely dubious “Free RPG Day” cohort of products. I’m not generally a fan of Free RPG Day, since I come from an area where there isn’t any real selection of gaming stores in the first place, and the ones that actually participate in Free RPG Day are a slim number at best. Where I used to live, the main store that stocked such was run by nattering dipshits who picked over the stock of good products before the public was given access, and they were about the only outlet in roughly a hundred miles in any direction.
While the idea is solid, the practical nature of the promotion leaves a lot to be desired, given the slow death of the local gaming store. In the mythical heyday of game shops scattered through a region, this would have been the way to garner interest and attract a wide audience. Instead, we have a mere handful of stores in a large metro area, and nothing in the sticks. And guess where I ended up landing?
All grousing aside, my broad-based pick for this category is the We Be Goblins series of modules from Paizo. These are their recent line of Free RPG Day wares, as of the Jade Regent Adventure Path, and they concern the exploits of a handful of Golarion Goblins and their struggles against … well, mostly their own bad tendencies.
Paizo had done previous Free RPG Day modules, most of which were unremarkable. I remember the Kobold King modules, vaguely, but I never had any opportunity or excuse to run them.
The Goblin series, on the other hand, came into play when I needed a quick series of one-off games for some guests one weekend. I’d picked up all three as they came out, skimmed the basics, and put them on the shelf. They’re very simple and straightforward, and the original served as a sort of sideways introduction to the Jade Regent path, as it details one of the important set pieces of the module from a different point of view.
In these modules, the players are given their choice of goblin characters from the Licktoad Tribe. (This is as awful and descriptive as you would expect.) The opening of the module has them competing for favor from the Goblin King (in a series of weirdly brutal games) before heading off to deal with a threat to the tribe. (Actually, they’re sent off to steal some fireworks, only to accidentally deal with a threat to the tribe. Such are goblin adventures.)
The four goblin PC’s are terrible creatures, in keeping with the longstanding portrayal of these creatures in the Pathfinder game. They’re to be played for brutal and comedic effect, which my players readily picked up. As the adventure unfolded, they pushed each other to more horrible feats of daring, just for the sake of “being as goblin as possible” in the game.
Each of the three modules build on the previous, even though they’re largely considered single session distractions. By the time the third one starts, the characters are heading their own tribe, with all that implies. Paizo even put out miniatures for the characters in one of their blind pack releases. This has the weird effect not only of making these figures more expensive than goblins would normally rate, but their pig animal companion rates the highest price around for a farm animal miniature.
In short, these modules are great, and it’s worth the time to seek them out.
Insofar as the actual free RPG product that I referenced above, this is a bit of a grey area that I’ve heard people bitch about a little while back.
The background on this is that a professional game designer got it in his mind to work up a fan project that he had been monkeying around with in his spare time. Being a known quantity in the industry, he laid out and built a solidly publishable product as a fan work and posted it on his website. Since he wasn’t charging for the game, he let it sit without seeking the rights and permissions.
The problem came in with the fact that he submitted it for consideration at the Ennie Awards. Since it wasn’t any sort of official game, unlicensed and outside of the interest of the trademark holders, the internet blew back on the writer because it was somehow a ripoff of intellectual property. In the ensuing firestorm, the creator had to delete it from his website and essentially go into hiding. It wouldn’t surprise me if it ended up getting a lawsuit along the way.
Part of me can see the indignation, but the reaction was well into the shrill and nasty end of the spectrum for a piece of fan-created work. There was no profit, and had it not pissed off people voting on industry awards (the fan awards, if we want to be honest about things; none of this nonsense was due to the Origin Awards), it would still be up for general download and perusal.
The game I’m talking about is the Mass Effect Fate RPG, which was one of the best uses of the Fate OGL that I’ve seen. Given that the original CRPG game is a gestalt of a dozen recognizable science fiction properties (Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and Alien, to name a couple easy examples), screaming “ripoff” to the winds seems a tad ironic to my ears. I have my own copy of the free PDF, and when opportunity affords, I intend to sit down and make use of this particular free product, even in the face of collective indignation.