Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Decisions

I've got to get a campaign going.

Sure, I can always run convention games, but what I'm really craving is something ongoing, something that can evolve its own storylines instead of relying entirely on me to force them into place. I've got several ideas. And what I mean by that is, I've already worked out the details of several campaigns. I'm not even going to list the stuff that occasionally flits across my brain, like the 70's style UFO hunter thing or the Lost Room spin-off. These are the ones that I'm serious about, that I've already thought through and could jump right into, given the chance.

So, in no particular order:
  • Dungeons & Dragons (5e) - Nothing groundbreaking here. Like a lot of people, I'm just excited about the new edition and really want to dive in. I had a Sea of Dust (Greyhawk) campaign a long time ago that would be fun to re-hash. Plus, just, you know, D&D.
  • Robinized Rocket Age - I'm seeing a similarly life-supporting but somewhat less populous solar system than the one described, borrowing a lot from the Martian Chronicles for that particular planet. Much of it I would use as written - like the creepily domineering Europans and the jungle highlands of Venus perched above the toxic cloud-covered lowlands. At least, I would make them toxic. They might just be extra hot in the game. I do a little bit more tinkering in my head every time I open that book. It's just teeming with inspirational nuggets.
  • Mostly Micronauts - I'm fairly certain I would use Icons for this. Another option would be an adaptation of Rocket Age, but, looking at how I would adapt the characters, I think the assumptions of a super-hero game work better. Anyway, this would be mostly based on the comic book, but would incorporate other stuff, including bits of the Farscape universe, my own creations, and various other tidbits that I've been daydreaming about adding for years. A lot of my Micronauts musings have already taken shape as bits of Qalidar, but I'm craving more of the pure gonzo space opera stuff now.
  • Straight-Up Super-Heroes - Speaking of super-hero systems, I'm still gearing up to run a four-color comic book campaign. I think this is the one I'm most likely to really do. From a starting place like that, I can still jump into Microverse or basic space exploration action as the mood strikes me. The hometown would be Beta City, mostly to give me an excuse to use our menagerie of City of Heroes characters as NPCs. 
Doctor Who almost made the list, but I'm fairly satisfied with convention gaming for that. Not that I couldn't be talked into a campaign if someone were to ask. And convention gaming is probably where all but one of these will take shape. It's a pity, because it's hard to get the "exploration" vibe in a one-off adventure, and there are things you can do with recurring characters that don't work when you just say, "you know _______ and he's always pulling stuff like this," but oh well. I really can't complain about the amount of gaming I get to do.

I mean, I will, but I probably shouldn't.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Daydreaming


Don't mind me. I'm just gonna set this down here for now.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Bringing Theater to the Mind

Andre Kruppa is an excellent GM with a great gleaming hoard of unique experience, and he's very generous with it in this book.

I'll be honest, I'm mostly too stubborn to take advice on my Game Mastering. Or lazy. I don't know. Either way, I tend to stumble along on my own and just deal with it if I find myself on an unfriendly path. Also, while I find the idea of using special lighting and other mood effects appealing in the abstract, I know that it will lose every last shred of that appeal as soon as those things move anywhere near the concrete. Heck, I don't even like miniatures. Even so, I found some useful tips for my games in here, stuff I will probably use.

Where this book really shines, though, is its practical advice on all that stuff that I don't do. If you have any interest in adding lighting, sound, and stuff like that to role-playing games, this is the book you want.

I guess that's it. If you really did read this review, I'm sorry. Your time would have been better spent earning back the paltry $3.95 it would have cost you to go ahead and buy the book on Amazon.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Trying Out Icons - Character Generation

Out of the whole assortment of my Gen Con and recently pre-Gen Con acquisitions, the game with which I had the least familiarity in advance was Icons so, after a brief wallowing phase during which I alternated between browsing various items as the mood struck me, this is the one I've spent the most time trying to absorb.

Having read through most of the book, I'm really excited by the possibilities, but it could be a while before I have the chance to try it out in person. I'm hoping to start a local campaign set in my own version of Beta City but, even if that doesn't work out, I'm already having visions of Micronauts-inspired convention games.

Anyway, Icons does have a random character generation system in addition to the point-buy one, so I can at least play around with that. I used to have all kinds of fun rolling up weird Villains and Vigilantes characters in between sessions.

Diving right in, I rolled my origin and got Artificial, which means some kind of technological or magical construct, with a +2 bonus to Strength and the Life Support power as a bonus. I rolled a 1 for the level, though, so it's not as life supporty as it could be.

Rearranging attributes is an option but, since I have no character concept in mind, and probably won't play this character anyway, I decided to lay them down old school style, right in order. Here's what I got:
     Prowess 4
     Coordination 4
     Strength 6   (rolled a 4, plus the two from being a robot)
     Intellect 3
     Awareness 5
     Willpower 5

I rolled for my powers and got three:
     Mind Control 3
     Stunning 4
     Phasing 2

Another three for specialties gave me:
     Military
     Power (I'll pick that later.)
     Psychiatry

Before I move on and pick my Qualities, I need to figure out what kind of super-hero this is going to be, and possibly re-arrange my powers a bit. I originally thought of dropping Phasing to turn Mind Control into a broadcast power, but that sounded more like villain material, so I dropped that plan in favor of a slightly more action-oriented character.

The Stunning power had been taking shape in my head as a kind of focused subsonic burst, so it seemed only natural to extend that to the Phasing power and make it all a sort of "vibratory" sort of thing. I had thought about working a similar angle with Mind Control, but I really wasn't excited about playing that power for a hero, even if I limited it to machines or something, so I dropped it entirely and turned it into a Flight extra tacked onto Phasing. I went with not breathing for my less than impressive Life Support power. If I understand the count correctly, that leaves me with a Determination of 2 (6 minus 1 for Life Support, 1 for Stunning, and 2 for Phasing/Flight).

Since Stunning is likely to be her main attack, I went ahead and picked that for her "power" Specialty. Working from my remaining Specialties, I was picturing some kind of tactical analysis/sabotage droid that developed a conscience, but then I decided that I could do better than some tired old "runaway slave" angle.

So the story goes that there was a crashed alien surveillance satellite found by a military unit. They studied it for months, eventually even probing it with help of cutting edge brain-machine interface equipment. They learned what they could from it, and then put the project aside. What they didn't realize was that, while the device had never been sentient and was now barely functional, the data itself - the combination of the alien device, the military equipment, and the way the interface adapted to the human analyst - had become a living mind.

Although lacking the skills to become a widely distributed intelligence or even take control of all the systems it inhabited, the emergent mind was able to access local personnel files and adjust the procurement systems to obtain the parts and the technicians it needed. Even this outcome was not completely under the entity's control, as several of the systems were meant to be part of an experimental body armor system designed to support crowd control teams. Eventually, however, Emergent succeeded in orchestrating her own construction.

She had to escape from her collective "mother" almost immediately, of course, but she didn't hold that against humanity in general. In fact, she looks upon humanity as... well, maybe not brothers and sisters. How about second cousins? She resembles a silvery mechanical woman and, despite her comics-code compliant mechanical anatomy, wears clothes because that's just how people are supposed to act.

Okay, this leaves me with the most intimidating part of the process, picking my three Qualities. I've played games where you write down quirks as part of the process, and where personality traits could have a mechanical effect, but this particular combination of open-endedness and mechanical importance is new to me. Okay, here goes:
     A Completely New Life Form
     Eager to Socialize
     Made of Spare Parts

These qualities fit the character, and I think they open up a lot of possibilities both for trouble and advantage. They also seem to be absent a bit of the zing I'm seeing in a lot of sample characters, though, so maybe I'm doing it wrong. The other thing that worries me is that they might all boil down to the same statement. I'll keep turning it over and see how I feel about later, I guess.

But yeah, I could totally play this character.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

#RPGaDay 28: Scariest Game Played

The scariest game I've played would probably be Horror at Harwicke Castle, a Call of Cthulhu scenario by Andre Kruppa. Andre runs his games in the dark, using professional lighting rigs, sound effects, and, sometimes, a fog machine.

I played this one at Carnage in Wonderland (2011). My character didn't technically go insane (I made my rolls), but I was getting so freaked out by what was happening that I eventually turned on the other players and begged the monster not to do to me what it was doing to them. I died, but at least it was a clean death at the hands of human beings.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

#RPGaDay 26: Coolest Character Sheet

I don't really think "cool" should be a priority with character sheets, but here's more Doctor Who fetishism for you. This is from the original set. The newer ones are landscape format, which I hate. Same rules, so it doesn't hurt to stick with the one I like.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Gen Con 2014: Totally Worth It

tl;dr - Shit happens, but Gen Con and my friends are still awesome.

In the Basement, Mixing Up the Medicine
For the weekend before Gen Con, we met Jerry in Columbus for a soccer game and some Stay Alive! Well, Tom and Jerry and the Boy went to a soccer game. I stayed in the room and watched a delightfully awful monster movie. They invited me, but... alone in a hotel with a monster movie! After work on Monday, despite that beautiful new Player's Handbook calling to me from above my desktop, Tom and I did a bunch of last-minute prepping and printing, including having a spiffy poster made for Crawlspace.

On the Pavement, Thinking About the Government
Tuesday, Tom didn't get off work until after 8PM, so I had plenty of time to pack before he got home. Once he did, we were off to Indy... or at least someplace close to Indy. A combination of fatigue and the need buy easels & a dolly before we hit the whirlwind of downtown Indianapolis, made us decide to stop for the night in a smallish town somewhere northwest of our destination. Wednesday morning, we bought our supplies and made our way into the heart of Indianapolis.

Don't Follow Leaders, Watch the Parking Meters
We've pretty much got this setup thing down. We couldn't check in to the hotel until four, so we picked up our badges and I transferred all our stuff to the booth space while Tom watched the car. It may sound like Tom's slacking here, but I actually volunteered for the loading job because I'd rather do something like this than have to stand around and stress out over car protocols. While I was going back and forth, I snapped a picture of the main hallway in the convention center. It's not that the scene itself was all that interesting; it's just that I was suddenly so happy to be there and wanted something I could use to recall the moment later.

That done, we called our local friend Jordan and had lunch at Acapulco Joe's, and hung out with him for a bit. From there we stowed the car, started putting the Peryton Publishing booth together, and eventually checked in at the hotel. Heard a few times from Curtis and Tim, who were making their way over from Tulsa. That's another thing I was happy about - Curtis has been a dear friend since childhood, one of the first people I played RPGs with, and I've been trying to get him out to Gen Con ever since I started going in 2004.

Jump Down a Manhole, Light Yourself a Candle
Thanks to Tom, our Wednesday night gathering has a name: Old Home Eve. This year, driven from our traditional spots so the Diana Jones folks could reserve a space big enough for their egos (okay, I actually have no idea what these people are like personally or even who's on the list - I just liked the sound of it), we ended up having to meet at the Tilted Kilt. It was noisy, but the food was good and the staff treated us well.

Over dinner and drinks, we presented Jerry with his "event uber-overlord" t-shirt to thank him for herding all the cats of the Peryton Gamers group and translating our rants and scrawls into something the Gen Con staff could use.

I bailed around 10 or 11, I think. I wanted to get at least a little bit of sleep and not be hung over for the game I was running in the morning, and I thought it might be a good idea for someone to be at the hotel whenever Curtis and Tim got there, since they were rooming with us. Besides, while I enjoy a good buzz as much as anyone, I think I've mostly outgrown getting staggering drunk and stumbling from bar to bar until I can't find one that will let me in. Mostly.

Curtis and Tim showed up not long before Tom, around 2:30 or 3:00 AM. We didn't talk a whole lot, although Curtis expressed some alarm at the presence of large numbers of weeping angels in the hotel. There were even a couple of smaller ones skulking around outside our window. A few hours later, I shoved Tom back out the door to go "open" the booth.

Try Hard, Get Barred
Thursday morning, I was all proud of myself because I got out the door in plenty of time to show up early for my game. Then I made the mistake of going through the convention center instead of around it to get to the Marriott. You see, some people go batshit insane over the official opening of the exhibit hall at 10AM on Thursday.

By "some," I mean enough to sack Rome, all ninety gazillion of whom were packed into one great shoggoth-like mass between me and my destination. Once they had closed off my retreat, many of them absolutely refused to budge, possibly for fear that I might get in front of them and snatch up some exclusive limited edition version of something they wouldn't otherwise be interested in. Maybe next year I should bring a machete.

While slogging my way through this liquescent horror, I ran into Jordan and we chatted for a while before splitting off on our separate missions. Eventually, I got a break. A small formation of Gen Con staffers in a hurry to get somewhere was pushing its way through the crowd, and I was able to jump in behind them and ride their wake past the worst of it.

Get Blessed, Try to Be a Success
Of course, I was still a few minutes late. I had been a little worried about the turnout of "Storms Over the Isle of Dread." When I came up with the idea back in January, I thought it would be a great way to draw people in. I didn't find out until later that the D&D Next playtest had already insured that anyone who ever cared about the Isle of Dread was already sick of hearing about it. Still, I needn't have worried, because I got a great group of players and had a lot of fun. I think both of the male/female pairs were couples, but in any case I'm pretty sure they all knew each other, and that tends to work out well. They came up with cool characters like a fixer who was raised by a crazy janitor who thought he was vampire and a karcist who grew up hearing voices and tended to enjoy following their darker impulses. They were also great schemers and plotters, which is the kind of group I like for Qalidar. They took control of the greeter robots and then used one to get into the cyber-tyrannosaur and bring down half the plateau with photosonic cannons. They also correctly worked out the nature of a plot element which I had been fairly sure everyone would ignore, so that was cool too.

Ring Bell, Hard to Tell if Anything is Going to Sell
I texted Curtis to let them know I was done, and headed over to the booth to see who I might run into and how things were going. Seems like things were going well. I wandered off before long to do some shopping.

I took Curtis around the convention center to find where he would be running his Cards Against Humanity game and generally give him a feel for the landmarks. I don't think I did a very good job, but Curtis managed to find his way around in spite of my help.

We hooked up with Tom for a late lunch at Champions and were pleased to find that the menu of our traditional meeting place had once again become a real menu instead of last year's index card with nothing but deviled eggs and sliders on it. I was overjoyed. I don't think anybody else much cared.

Duck Down the Alleyway, Looking for a New Friend
Thursday night's D&D5 game was a new thing for me. I had been to other peoples' off-the-books games and I had been to pickup games, but I had never arranged one myself. Luckily, Caed (the other Robin) was involved, and she scoped out a cool corner for us in the lobby at the Omni. We did have to steal the bench from the piano to have enough seats, but the last thing anybody there needed was some attention-whore trying to play piano, right?

The game itself was lots of fun. Familiar faces included Curtis, Brian, Todd, and Caed at first. Jerry showed up later on and I clumsily hurled his character into the action mid-stream. I also got to meet Caed's son, Dylan, and a friend of hers whose name I keep forgetting. The scenario was ostensibly "Danger at Darkshelf Quarry," a recent prequel adventure included with the Slavers series hardback. I hadn't prepared much, so I ended up winging a lot of it to cut down on page-turning. I didn't even have the Player's Handbook until the previous Friday, so I just used the basic characters from the Starter Set. Twice. The fact that I was able to DM this pretty much off the cuff and mostly follow the rules as written confirmed my impressions about the new D&D. Definitely a game I want to play more of.

The adventure itself pretty quickly turned from a stealthy investigation to a wild chase. Curtis and Todd took turns trying to drive me crazy, so I'm pretty sure at least the three of us had a good time. Sometimes it was hard to keep up with what everybody was doing because the group was so large and not everyone was willing to shout their actions across the lobby at me. All in all, I thought it was beautiful chaos.

Don't Wear Sandals, Try to Avoid the Scandals
By the time I got into circulation Friday morning, Tom and his new protege were already stressing about an upcoming game they had planned. Tom ran off to help with that while I held down the fort. Mostly that's what I did during the day. I was snagged on the way back from a bathroom run by Icons, having just found out that it actually does away with the things that annoy me about FATE/FUDGE/ETC, and still being in the market for a fast-playing, low-prep superhero game. Seriously, I was just minding my own business, conscientiously returning to my booth, when that game jumped out and tackled me. I still haven't given it a thorough read, but it looks promising.

Friday night at nine was Aqua Teen Hunger Force time. I ran with a setup that Michael had suggested to me last year, and I wish he could have seen it. The premise was that it was time for Carl's high school reunion. He was hoping to score, and the other characters were determined to tag along for various reasons. I added the fact that all of Carl's classmates had been replaced with Plutonian replicants determined to steal the Foreigner belt for Emory and Oglethorpe.

I handed out nametags and sharpies to provide extra opportunities for the characters to be demented. The reunion was, of course, a disaster. I always have trouble remembering everything that happens in these games. I guess it's because it's all so non-linear. Maybe too many endorphins fry my brain. I dunno. Anyway, Frylock made 2Wykyd sentient, the Mooninites (a new option this year) were Mooninitish, Meatwad cooked up some mustard gas in an effort to help with the party favors, and almost everybody died or was mutated.

All of that only got us halfway through, though, so everybody swapped characters and I ran a follow-up adventure for the second half. Somehow Love Mummy, Billy Witchdoctordotcom, and Travis of the Cosmos ended up fused into one monstrous entity and, again, lots of other characters died. That's generally how these things go.
As I was closing down, I noticed Tom's Crawlspace game getting started over in the corner. I thought about staying to watch, because those sessions can be almost as much fun as ATHF, but I decided to head back to the room for some swag-wallowing and sleep instead.

Twenty Years of Schooling and They Put You on the Day Shift
I had been planning to sleep in Saturday, since Tom was opening the booth, but when everybody got up and started talking about getting breakfast, I figured I might as well join them for a high-priced waffle or two at the hotel restaurant.
 The exhibit hall was swarming. I don't think I've ever seen it this full, and they had more space than ever to spread out over. Seems like I hung around there for most of the day. Folks were in and out. I think that's when YogPaul stopped by, which was a nice surprise. We met him on our second or third Gen Con at a Cthulhu rally.

Get Sick, Get Well, Hang Around the Inkwell
After the hall closed, Tom handed off his Qalidar game to Scott, whose event that morning had fallen through, and staggered off to the bar. I had been feeling progressively more cruddy all day and called off my own evening game, then made the mistake of sharing this information with Tom.
Tom: Come on, have a drink with me.
Me: Blurgh blargh yargle fargle.
Tom: Oh, you'll be all right. We won't stay out long.
Me: Bleahhhh.
Tom: We'll just have one drink, and then we'll go see how Curtis is doing. You want to support your friend, don't you?
Me: Poop.
Tom
: That's the spirit! I'll see you downstairs in a couple of minutes!
So we had a couple of drinks and started wandering around. We did, in fact, check in on Curtis to see how he was doing. We also checked in on Scott. Both seemed to be getting along fine.

I started feeling quite a bit better, which of course made me feel guilty about dropping my game, but I got over it and bought one of those ridiculous plastic goblets they were selling in the Marriott lobby. I don't know why. Maybe some parts of my brain were still sick. It was kind of fun, though. Kind of like at a carnival where you know you're getting conned, but you try the game out anyway just for the hell of it.

Losers, Cheaters, Six-Time Users
We were on our way to pester Jerry at the auction when the guy who was supposed to be house-sitting called and said he just dropped by to discover that our apartment had been ransacked. We lost both our main computers (leaving only the netbook I had brought with me), our laser printer, DVDs, jewelry, and whatever other stuff they thought looked valuable (some of which was comically not valuable, but that wasn't very comforting). Tom took off to deal with stuff at home and make sure the cats were okay (they were) while I stayed to work the last day at the booth and catch a ride back to the Rustbelt with Jerry.

Walk on Your Tiptoes, Don't Tie No Bows
Sunday, I was lucky enough to have a lot of help. Friends provided moral support, helped run the booth, and even hung around later to help me box everything up and get Jerry's car loaded. And of course there was Jerry with the car. Ken St. Andre came by and helped sell stuff. I don't even think he knew anything had happened, but I think several of our sales were entirely due to his efforts.

And, sales-wise, it was a really good day, probably the best we've had since we started doing the exhibitor thing in 2012. Christopher Helton from Dorkland and Bleeding Cool stopped by and we chatted for a bit, too. Still, it was kind of hard to enjoy that particular day. No post-con victory celebration this year. Well, not immediately post-con, anyway. I still count the time we had at Gen Con as a victory.

The Pump Don't Work 'Cause the Vandals Took the Handles
I had taken Monday off because we originally planned to stay Sunday night in Indy, and Tuesday to decompress. As it happened, Monday and Tuesday were mostly dedicated to getting things up and running the best we could at home. Over the past week, though, I have been able to find a fair bit of time to enjoy the haul I brought home, and it looks like it's all pretty great.

We're thinking about moving. If our neighbors didn't do the job themselves, they had to have known about and not had a problem with it. And they were always douchebags even if somehow they're squeaky clean this time. I guess I'll never know either way. They'd best not try it again, though. This place is tricked out like the Tomb of Horrors, now.

Tom's write-up, as usual, is all over the place. There's a summary of the games he ran on one blog and then there's part one, part two, and part three of the general-purpose travel log on another. Whichever one you read, don't believe his lies. Jerry's is here. We're collecting a list of others in this thread.


#RPGaDay 25: Favorite RPG No One Else Wants to Play

I have two that I'd like to mention for this one. The first amazing RPG that I can't get anyone to play is the Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game. I'm not talking about the relatively new one. I mean the SAGA system one, with the cards. I came up with a plan to play a bit of this game a while back, and something may yet come of that, but I'm not terribly optimistic. It's a lot of work to teach a game to other people while you're still learning it yourself, and this one doesn't really work like most of the games I'm used to, so I end up not pushing for it as much as I probably should.

The game is really cool, though. I love all the little design touches that make super-hero adventuring feel like something from the comics. I also love that the players actually hold a hand of cards and get to choose which modifier they use for a given situation. Plus, any super-hero game I ran would most likely be borrowing a lot from Marvel anyway, so the focus on that particular universe is a plus. Oh well. Maybe I'll have better luck with Icons.

As a runner-up, I give you another card-based game, Everway. This is a very story-focused game that Wizards of the Coast put out in the 90's. From what I understand, it didn't do very well. I wasn't paying a lot of attention to new RPGs at the time, so I completely missed it. I heard about it in 2007 or so when I was researching card-based RPGs and picked up a copy on eBay.

In Everway, you build your characters more on the forces that drive them than on relatively concrete traits like strength and agility. The core attributes are measured in "four elements" terminology that gives the game an air of mysticism right from the start. The randomizer is a tarot-like deck of cards which is interpreted by a combination of binary good/bad indicators and the GM's read of the card's message. I honestly don't know how well this works out in actual play - I've never tried it - but it would be fun to find out.