The Homebrew Review, #1: The Window
Have your gaming sessions fallen into a rut? Tired of your tried-and-true, well-known RPG systems? Then it's time you put aside your Monstrous Manuals and your Vampire Players' Guides and picked up a homebrew RPG, one of those little-known RPGs made by gamers, for gamers. There are hundreds of these floating around on the Internet. The only problem is separating the good stuff from the crap, and we here at Gamegrene.com will now be doing that for you with the Homebrew Review.
Have your gaming sessions fallen into a rut? Tired of your tried-and-true, well-known RPG systems? Then it's time you put aside your Monstrous Manuals and your Vampire Players' Guides and picked up a homebrew RPG, one of those little-known RPGs made by gamers, for gamers. There are hundreds of these floating around on the Internet. The only problem is separating the good stuff from the crap, and we here at Gamegrene.com will now be doing that for you with the Homebrew Review. In this, the first edition of the Homebrew Review, we'll go through The Window, a progressive, nearly freeform system that uses as few rules as possible to offer you a uniquely liberating gaming experience.
"The Window is a transparent portal into the imagination, a roleplaying system designed with the simple belief that roleplaying is about story and character and not about dice and dick waving." This strong, simple statement is really all you need to know about this game. The Window is what designer Scott Lininger calls a third-generation roleplaying system, where "the lines between PCs and NPCs, live-action and table-top, even Gamemaster and player, are blurring." It's a well-honed, beautifully presented (you can work through a series of explanatory pages on the site, or download the entire document for offline reference) game for people who would rather spend their sessions acting and interacting than arguing about rules.
Everything about The Window is built around a set of guidelines somewhat pretentiously referred to as the Three Precepts: "Everything about a Window character is described with adjectives rather than numbers." "It is the actor's responsibility to play their role realistically." "A good story is the central goal." All the other rules are almost incidental, designed not to get in the way of the players' dramatic urges and the Storyteller's masterminded plot, but they do exist.
Window characters are built around five basic traits: Strength, Agility, Health, Knowledge, and Perception. Depending on the setting they choose, Storytellers may also opt to include additional traits such as Luck, Sanity, or Magic. Personally, I would like to see the inclusion of Charisma or a similar trait for social rolls, but the system can be tweaked easily enough if you feel the same. (The creators even make it abundantly clear that "The Window loves to be modified.") Each character also has any number of skills to represent his more specialized knowledge. There is no specific system given for choosing skills or distributing points, which can be either refreshingly liberating or maddeningly vague, depending on your point of view.
The level of each trait or skill corresponds to one of the following types of dice: D30s, D20s, D12s, D10s, D8s, D6s, and D4s. The fewer sides the die has, the better the character is at that skill. When it comes to making competency tests for using these skills, any roll of 6 or less is considered a success; anything else is a failure. (However, the Storyteller can also raise or lower the target number as she sees fit.) Contested rolls, like combat, are won by the player who gets the lower roll. It's as easy as falling out of bed - perhaps a little too easy, in fact. Players who are used to more structured environments like D&D or even the World of Darkness might feel lost or overwhelmed by the amount of responsibility and trust this game places in the hands of the players. The creators realize this, and provide just the right amount of hand-holding in the form of a gorgeous walkthrough of the process of creating a unique, well-realized character which eases players' transitions to this more freeform style of gaming.
There are only two areas where The Window comes up short of being an ideal system for character- and plot-driven gaming. First of all, after reading through the rules I felt more than prepared to play The Window, but I hadn't the faintest idea of how to run the thing. The writers gloss over this, saying "The Window is designed to support the Storyteller's own style." This is all well and good, but what about Storytellers who are just starting to run games and haven't discovered their own style yet? Any kind of support, even just one page offering tips and tricks used by other STs, would have been appreciated by me.
Tied to this problem is The Window's complete lack of anything resembling a built-in setting. True, there are a few player-created worlds offered, one of which (The Stage) was written by The Window's designer and is listed as the "preferred" setting for The Window, but they're hidden away in an easily overlooked listing of Window-related links. While the settings given are by and large adequate, I would like to have seen at least one of them presented along with the rules to give beginners more guidance. Once again, some may like the freedom The Window gives them to create their own world, but most players and STs just won't know where to begin when making characters or putting together a campaign. After all, what do you do with a system where games can be high fantasy just as easily as they can be modern horror or science fiction?
In the end, The Window is an acquired taste in gaming. It requires a certain amount of maturity and experience, both on the part of the players and the ST, to shoulder the responsibility it places on everyone to tell a good story with only marginal guidance from the system itself. Gamers who enjoy realistic combat and the challenge of playing by the rules will hate it, but gamers who prefer the challenges of interpersonal relationships will love it. And frankly, I loved it. I think it would be very useful as a transitional game for LARPers or freeform gamers who want to get into tabletop gaming, and vice versa, or just as an easy solution for gamers who are sick of losing hours of good roleplaying to pointless rules disputes. So if you're feeling restricted by the rules of conventional roleplaying games, I'd highly suggest you give The Window a try.
How The Window Measures Up:
- Playability: A-
- Presentation: A
- Setting: B-
- Overall: A-
Interested in The Window? Check it out for free at http://www.mimgames.com/window.
The Homebrew Review Game Supplement
Note: These Window characters were created specifically for The Stage setting.
Abigail Harper and Dr. Maya Sandoval are two government agents who work in Boston. Although they claim to represent the Center for Disease Control, they are actually regional officers for the Department of Special Investigations. Wherever there are supernatural manifestations or rumors thereof in Massachusetts or the surrounding states, it is very likely that Abby and Maya will show up to investigate the phenomena and destroy them if necessary.
26 years of age
Long curly red hair, blue eyes, freckles, always wearing the same stained and rumpled pair of overalls.
Abby was an only child born to unmarried parents. She never met her father, but was very close to her eccentric mother up until the woman died a few years ago. Born in Boston into one of the infamous Old Families of occult investigators, she grew up intimately acquainted with the paranormal. Her mother and grandmother, wanting to help carry on the family tradition, taught Abby a good portion of what she knows about the supernatural.
Although Abby studied psychology in college and graduate school, her first love and interest was always the occult. When the DSI offered her a job after graduate school, it was a dream come true for her. Abby is fascinated by all aspects of the paranormal, but she has a special interest (some would say an obsession) in the Amaranthites.
Abby is a talkative, outgoing woman who usually interacts with the witnesses of the phenomena while Maya looks around for evidence. She is very curious about the occult and more often than not lets her curiousity get her into trouble. Keeping her position as a DSI agent secret is very difficult for her. Abby is ashamed of her lack of immediate experience with the supernatural and is likely to lie about it if questioned. Abby is often frustrated by the secretive policies of her employer, since she thinks that people have a right to know about the supernatural activity that goes on under their noses.
Abigail Harper has...
- Average strength. (D12)
- Above average agility. (D10)
- Average health. (D12)
- Some knowledge of the world. (D10)
- Superb sanity. (D8)
- Good powers of perception. (D10)
Abigail Harper is...
- A trained psychologist. (D10)
- An expert in the occult. (D8)
- A pretty good shot with a handgun. (D10)
- A terrible driver. (D30)
- An amateur writer. (D20)
- A decent athlete. (D12)
- A charming young lady. (D10)
- Less knowledgeable about history than she thinks. (D20)
- Good at sneaking around. (D10)
Abigail Harper carries...
- A semiautomatic handgun,
- A cellular phone,
- Her wallet,
- A pack of cigarettes, and
- A small notebook and pen to record her thoughts and observations.
Dr. Maya Sandoval
31 years of age
Short black hair, brown eyes behind cats' eyes glasses, fashionable yet professional clothing.
Maya was born in Mexico City, although her family emigrated to Texas when she was two years old. Three years after that, her brother David was born. Maya's father was a surgeon, and she always looked up to him and eventually decided to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor.
Throughout her childhood, Maya and David were always close, and they managed to stay that way even after he joined the Army. But in Maya's second year of medical school, her family received word that David had been killed in an accident. In her grief, Maya became very suspicious about the circumstances of David's death after she happened across a copy of his autopsy report, and decided to investigate them. When it became clear that no known force on Earth could have killed David, she took the next step and began to seriously study the supernatural. Working without any outside help, Maya came to the conclusion that David had been killed by the Darkness, a mysterious, deadly, and seemingly intelligent substance that the government had brought into the U.S. in the mid-1800s. Of course, the DSI took notice of her efforts and decided to offer her a job. Following her graduation from medical school, Maya went to work for the DSI and has been there ever since.
Maya is considerably calmer and more reserved than Abby. She prefers to work behind the scenes and only speaks when it is absolutely necessary. Although Abby usually provides the hard facts needed to explain their cases, Maya is often the one who makes the connections needed to apply them. Maya believes that in order for the world to be a good and safe place, either all evidence the supernatural must be suppressed, or the source of it must be eradicated entirely. This is the only major disagreement she has with Abby, who she counts as one of her best friends despite their many differences.
Dr. Maya Sandoval has...
- Below average strength. (D20)
- Average agility. (D12)
- Good health. (D10)
- Considerable knowledge of the world. (D8)
- Good sanity. (D10)
- Excellent powers of perception. (D8)
Dr. Maya Sandoval is...
- A noted medical doctor. (D8)
- Fluent in Spanish. (D10)
- Able to shoot a gun. (D12)
- Quite knowledgeable about the occult. (D10)
- A dabbler in theology. (D12)
- A bad liar. (D30)
- Well-informed about the culture and history of Latin America. (D10)
- A skilled photographer. (D12)
- A good driver. (D12)
- A very attractive woman. (D8)
Dr. Maya Sandoval carries...
- A large black purse,
- A revolver,
- A cellular phone,
- A camera and film, and
- A small first-aid kit.