Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Call of Spandex

I've been playing Champions Online to chill out here and there. It's fun, but mostly I'm either playing with strangers or solo'ing, so the plots I come up with to blend in with the game's built-in scenarios are all just me. For someone who's used to real role-playing games, that's not always satisfying. So, given that we recently found a way to play more often locally, I thought maybe it's time get back to pen & paper style superheroing.

My first love among super-hero RPGs was Villains and Vigilantes. It's one of my first RPGs, period, for that matter. It was only after V&V showed me what these games could deliver that I really got into Dungeons & Dragons. I still love V&V as a player. As a GM, though, stat-building for all those characters and taking all those combat formulas into account during play is a daunting task.

I used to play a lot of GURPS Supers once upon a time. We had a long-running campaign with all kinds of interlocking plots and conflicts. There were even a few spin-offs. If V&V stats are daunting, though, the prospect of slogging through GURPS again is terrifying.

I've heard there are some interesting offerings using the FATE system, but I hate all things FUDGE, so I didn't see much point in looking at those. I'm also not terribly fond of Savage Worlds. Maybe someday I'll talk about my reasons, but probably not. I wouldn't have even brought it up if I hadn't wanted to say something about why these popular choices weren't considered.

Mutants and Masterminds got more than a brief look. It's a well-constructed game, based on mechanics I'm familiar with, and I already own a copy. There might even be a GM screen somewhere in my house because Tom was going to run it one year for... I don't remember why. It seems like a very unTom-like thing to do. M&M is a little more fussy than I wanted, but it stayed in the running until the end. If you want satisfying comic book hero rules, after all, there's always going to be some complexity creeping in.

The original Marvel RPG from the 80's looked okay. I might have given it more consideration if I had ever owned a physical copy, and if I hadn't gotten really excited about something else before I got around to it. I had also picked up the more recent Marvel RPG by Margaret Weis Productions at Gen Con a couple of years ago. After a read-through, I didn't much like the look of the fidgety dice conventions and nothing else really grabbed me, but I admit I never gave the game a fair chance.

I toyed with the idea of making my own super-hero game out of Tom's TACK system, or finishing the one Michael was developing, but either of those would be a lot of work, and I've already got plenty to do. Finding another job for myself is not at all what I had in mind. Maybe someday.

And then there's this little gem, the Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game: SAGA System, which had been gleaming quietly on my shelf, virtually untouched, for years, along with three roster books. Mike & I had both picked up the game in 1999 or 2000 or thereabouts, tried a few fights, and liked it. It was particularly impressive that the Captain America versus Ultron test felt quite a bit like something that might happen in the comics (as opposed to, say, Cap being disintegrated in the first round or having powers beyond what you'd expect). And it was fun. We both talked about running some sessions with it, but our group was kind of sputtering out, and it was hard enough just to keep the D&D campaign going.

So that game got shelved. Life and gaming moved on and I didn't think much about it until this weekend. When I picked it up this time to check it out, I couldn't even remember how it worked, beyond, "cards." They pack a lot of different uses into those colorful cards, all on top of a simple and brilliantly flexible system that makes it really easy to deal with the kinds of surprises that are bound to come up in a wild super-hero action game. Every time I flipped through the book thinking, "I wonder how they handle..." I found myself smiling. Often the answer was what I was hoping it would be. Just as often, it was better.

So yeah, when my turn comes up to run something in our little get-together, I'm going to have them pick out characters from the books for a quick trial run, to get everyone (including me) more comfortable with the rules. After that, assuming all goes well, I figure I'll let them decide if they want to pick a character for the actual campaign or make one. I'd kind of prefer they make one, but it seems kind of scroogy to run Marvel Super Heroes and then tell people they can't play a Marvel character.

Okay, so, yeah. Done blogging. Ready to play now.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Shuffling Star Wars

This past weekend I worked hard on a very important project: I figured out the optimal order in which to watch the Star Wars movies. I've heard a lot of agreement (disregarding the ones who just snark about how awful the prequels are as if that was a new insight) that the answer is New Hope and Empire followed by the prequels and concluding with Return of the Jedi. That makes sense because it flashes back to Darth Vader's story after we find out who he really is, but it always felt a little clunky to me. After days of careful scientific study, I've settled on the following alternative:

The Phantom Menace
A New Hope
The Empire Strikes Back
Attack of the Clones
Revenge of the Sith
Return of the Jedi

The Phantom Menace just has "prologue" written all over it. It has a mostly sunny tone, so it makes a nice backdrop for Obi-Wan's nostalgia in New Hope. Phantom Menace also tells us a little bit about Luke's dad without any giveaways about where his career is going. Most of those tantalizing hints about the past in New Hope are still tantalizing, but we have a hint of familiarity that makes the story start coming together. We may wonder what the heck is up with the droids and how they got where they are, but that's okay. Memory-wiping is mentioned right there in the same movie for the worriers.

Why not put Phantom Menace with its fellow prequels? Well, besides the way it fits with New Hope, there's the fact that it really stands apart from the other prequels in a lot of ways. It has a lighter, more fairytale feel. The mini-Anakin in this movie is a very different person from the more capable Anakin in the next two. Finally, putting all three prequels together would make for a long and rambling flashback between Empire and the finale.

I realize that, when we meet Yoda in Empire Strikes Back, my plan offers no chance for the new viewer to be fooled along with Luke, but that doesn't bother me because I missed out on that experience too. Back in the day, I (and probably my entire generation) had seen enough ads for the toy and heard enough bemused TV chatter about muppetry to know exactly who the little green guy was before I got anywhere near the theater. Having seen him in The Phantom Menace and then skipped way ahead though, our hypothetical viewer might be inspired to ask another question - has Yoda's exile in the swamp driven him insane? 

Once we have our big Darth Vader revelation in The Empire Strikes Back, we can descend through the storm clouds over Coruscant and flash back to a more grown-up Anakin and his fall to the dark side. The beginning of Return of the Jedi somehow just feels right after the end of Revenge of the Sith. I guess it's the fact that fully-trained Luke feels much more like the promised new hope than wistful farm boy Luke ever did. I like the way Anakin's despair in Revenge of the Sith is relatively fresh when the conflict arises in Return of the Jedi, too.

There you have it. Now, as a diligent scientist, it is my duty to test the replicability of my findings. Seeya later.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Qalidar Finally Available

Well, the Quick Start anyway, and lots of other Qalidar stuff that I just threw in as a bonus, all for the price of whatever you feel like paying. Here's the blurb:

This Quick Start package contains a complete scenario, pre-generated characters, and all the rules you need to to play the game. A separate Player's Pack file is included so GMs can show the rules to players without giving away any surprises. In addition to all that, we've thrown in a third file, a version of the preview edition from Gen Con 2013. We took out the exclusive sample adventure and the art, but otherwise it's a complete copy of the prototype game. (You won't need the prototype file to run the quick start; it's just a bonus.)

And here's where you can go download it:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

BASHCon XXIX: Never Tell Me The Odds

Also, never tell me the proper way to capitalize words in a title.

This past weekend was BASHCon in Toledo, one of my favorite gaming events. I think there are several reasons for this. One is that we're getting a little bit of a group going there so, despite the kudzu-like incursion of Pathfinder organized play events, we can all count on enough friendly faces to run a good game, as long as we coordinate a little bit. It's almost like a hoot that way, but we still get to meet new people too. It's also a short trip which, combined with the fact that it only runs Friday night through the weekend, means that I don't have to take any time off from my day job to enjoy the whole thing. Throw in the cozy venue and the fact that we've never treated it like a "work" convention, and you get a bright couple of days in the middle of winter.

Tom picked me up directly from work and we were off to Toledo in high spirits. Despite a formidable wall of ice, we got into the building and registered for the con in record time. You never know how it's going to go because BASHCon is run by a rapidly cycling crew of students, but this year they really did a good job keeping the lines moving.

The official theme for the year was "a game against evil," which I think is some sort of pulp reference. It reminds me more of Sherlock Holmes' "the game is afoot." Maybe that's pulp too. I've never been clear on exactly how far the definition of pulp extends, or if it just covers everything old timey. I thought it had something to do with cheap paper, but that qualification doesn't seem very reliable, either. Anyway, we ignored the official theme. Take that, linguistic ambiguity!

Up first (after dinner at Phoenicia) was one of the two main BASHCon events for me, Tom's Friday night Tunnels & Trolls game. Jerry and I have been playing our regular characters in this for years, along with Liam and a shifting entourage of frequently short-lived co-delvers. This year, we were joined by a new member, Dan. Tonight's adventure was the first example of this year's "never tell me the odds" title. We held out against wave after wave of the goblin hordes before finally surrendering, only to magically charm their king later. None of this helped us much against the demonic fungus in the caverns below, but we came out with lots of treasure and XP, and nobody died.

Saturday morning, I joined Tom, Paul, and a guy whose name I forget for a Glow playtest. Props to that guy, though, for taking a chance on something new. Character generation was a hoot. I ended up with a shaggy, loose-skinned mutant with long floppy ears. A lot like a bipedal basset hound, except for her four fluorescent green slit-pupil eyes. She and her also-many-eyed friend wandered across post-apocalyptic Cleveland and met a robotic museum curator (Paul), who aided them in a comical but ultimately successful attempt to assemble and load a machine gun to fend off some three-wheelering thugs.

Over lunch, we ended up with a few too many wargamer/military trivia experts at the table. They seemed like nice enough people, but the conversation kept droning into things like the capabilities of different kinds of tanks and how silly it was that the Greezeltact 37 supplement failed to account for the fizgraggled barrel of the tlorogastic blargleflarglegun. It's all good, though. I'm into lots of things that bore other people, myself. For example, Tom didn't seem to appreciate it when I pointed out in the middle of his T&T game that moss is not a fungus.

Next up was Qalidar. I ran "Liberation of Katun" for Jerry, Paul, Liam, and Tom (whose scheduled Wobble game was cancelled because there was only one player). I providentially stumbled upon the useful tactic of starting the game with a short fight, so they moved on into town with a better idea of how the mechanics actually work than they might otherwise have had. They were a little too efficient at bluffing their way into the main facility, and missed out on the resources to be had by scouting the town, so they were pretty quickly cornered and about to be exterminated by the deadlander guards and their photosonic pistols. They came up with some clever improvisations at the last minute though, and managed to not only escape with their lives, but blow up the power supply. Not a complete success, but they did some damage and they all got out alive with useful information and a couple of spiffy weapons.

I didn't have anything scheduled for the evening. Neither Tom nor Jerry expected anyone to show up for their games (Crawlspace and T&T), so there was talk of grabbing a bite and turning in early. As it happened, one guy showed up for Jerry's game and two for Tom's. I sat at the table and read my new Doctor Who supplement while they played. Jerry ran his guy through a solo instead of the adventure he had originally planned to use. We did grab that bite to eat after everyone was finished, though.

Checking out from the motel Sunday morning, we ran into Paul on his way home and said goodbye a second time while snow glorped all over everything. This brings us to the second game I always look forward to at BASHCon, Jerry's Dungeons & Dragons (hybrid 1st & 2nd edition AD&D) game. This was, as expected, a lot of fun despite (or maybe because of) some bickering and fisticuffs between the two barbarians. Later, after magically slowing the frost giant, I almost got mashed by an ice troll because of an ill-considered teleport, but managed to keep the monster at bay long enough for the rest of the party (minus the two halflings, who just stood around waiting to spring an ambush that was never going to happen) to finish off the giant and help me. We got ahold of the Hand of Vecna and decided that next year's adventure would be about our quest to properly dispose of it.

Then there was Mexican food and a fishbowl-sized margarita. My convention loot included The Time Traveler's Companion for the Doctor Who RPG and a set of iridescent dice. It may not sound like much, but it's not a bad haul for BASHCon. They have some good regular vendors, but it's not anywhere near big enough to be a shopping con.
And back across the white sands of Ohio we went. The sun was out by then, so it was a pleasant enough day. Paul has blogged about the convention and Tom is doing his infuriating multiple post thing, so I'll just point you to the first one. As usual, don't believe his lies. Jerry seems to have forsaken all forms of social media except Trollhalla, so I'm not sure we're going to hear from him.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Gen Con 2014 Events

Here's what I've got lined up for Gen Con this year. In addition, I'm planning to run short +Qalidar demos at the +Peryton Publishing booth whenever I'm there. The other Peryton Gamers events will be found here, once we get everybody's final submissions in.

Storms Over the Isle of Dread
Qalidar: Resistance RPG
Thursday 10AM-2PM and Saturday 9PM-1AM
In a lost corner of a backwater world called Mystara, something has gone terribly wrong. Multiverse-traveling agents of the Typhon Corporation, hoping to exploit the psionic talents of a population of aquatic creatures living in the heart of the Isle of Dread, have instead become pawns themselves. The horizons of the long-isolated kopru have thus been expanded beyond their darkest ambitions. These sadistic monsters must not be given time to explore their options further.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Reunion
Bean! The D2 RPG (heavily modified)
Friday 9PM - 1AM
It's time for Carl's high school reunion. He can't wait to show off 2Wycked and maybe hook up with Denise Zambrano. As long as no weirdo aqua something whatever food monsters or shrieking robots from the future get involved, it's gonna be pretty sweet. Tonight!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Why So Serious?

I've got a nice confetti-filled Happy New Year post over on my superhero blog, but I have some other stuff I want to talk through here, you know, new yearsy evaluations and decisions, things I've been turning over in my mind for a while.

Back in August when I put out the "preview edition" of +Qalidar for Gen Con, I was all gung-ho to move forward. I was proud of what I had accomplished and I knew I had reorganization to do, new art to collect, layouts to clean up, and a Kickstarter to plan. And I was already making progress.

When something unthinkably awful happens, though, it changes everything, even stuff that doesn't seem connected, even after you think you've gotten back on your feet. I've been seeing a lot of what I'm doing, a lot of what I had convinced myself I was enjoying, in a new light, and I'm starting to wonder why it ever mattered.

On the creative side - writing, gaming, all that - sure, that's not in question. Specifically, Qalidar itself is something that I have really enjoyed exploring, and something I still fully intend to share.

The things I'm questioning are mostly just the frills that people expect from something that's "professional." None of these tasks are difficult or even particularly onerous but, collectively, they add up to worrying a lot about silly details like pictures and maps and layouts, things that don't do much for me. It's not like I'm ever going to get a significant payday out of this, or even recognition. I never expected the former, but a little bit of the latter might have been nice (not necessary, just nice). More importantly, I've decided there are a lot of people out there whose opinions are wasting my brain-space. While resolving to ignore them might help a little, I'm looking for ways to make people like that matter even less.

Obviously, I'm not going to ask folks to pay for something that doesn't have at least some of those professional frills, but maybe there are other ways to get stuff out besides just coughing it all up on a blog, which almost seems too relaxed. One idea I'm turning over involves DriveThru's trendy "pay what you want" option. I could put my stuff in a readable form, release it that way, and forget it. If somebody snags one just to write a douchy review, it'll be easier to let it go because my biggest investment was the creative part, the part I would have done anyway. If people figure they've gotten something useful and want to drop a few coins in the tip jar, they can. If they don't, it's all cool.

That way, I could still go back later and look into paying someone else to turn the ones that people have been supporting into professional books. Maybe the updated version would be added to that same product entry, which would then be changed to a set price. Something like that, anyway, just so people who "invested" early wouldn't feel shafted.

The other thing is fiction. I can write a novel or whatever on the bus, commission a cover (or throw one together from stuff I have), do the proofreading, MOBIfy it, and I'm done. Even simpler than the other scheme, and way simpler than all the crap you have to go through dealing with traditional gatekeepers. And if nobody likes it, I'm still done with it and free to move on. I don't have to worry about who I should try next or wonder if I wasted my time.

Just finish it, forget it, and start writing the next one. Everything else can slide.

Is that a good way to grow a business or be a "successful" author? Probably not. Like I said (or at least implied), though, "business sense" is one of those things that I never should have let myself care about. And no, Kickstarter would not accomplish the same thing. More likely to get a significant amount of money, sure, but that right there is ninety days (at the very least) in purgatory for every single project. Exactly the wrong direction for me. Nixing my Kickstarter plans was one of the easiest decisions I've made.

But again, these are ideas for future projects. Qalidar is going to get finished, and it's going to look great. I've already got tons of art and a few maps commissioned, and I have every intention of getting the physical book into real game stores. As for the other half of Peryton Publishing, I doubt that Tom has any issues with the way he's doing stuff, so I'd expect Crawlspace and Tunnels & Trolls and his other projects to keep chugging along the same way.

None of this is set in stone, of course. I'll think it over. Who knows what I'll do?

Monday, December 09, 2013

Just For One Day

This Saturday past was Holiday Game Bash VIII, a big get-together or a small convention, run by North Coast Gamers. +Tom K and I spent the day celebrating that we could be heroes with +Jerry Teleha and a nice assortment of new people.

Tom and I headed over to the Rock City Music Hall a little after eleven in the morning. We were looking forward to checking out the games and spending time with Jerry, but not all that optimistic about our own events because we were running RPGs and, last time, this seemed to be mostly a board game crowd.
We were greeted inside by smiling hosts and a board with the "tour of games" logos on it. They've really got a great venue. The one we went to a couple of years ago was in a church and I ended up in a Sunday school room with tables and chairs that were made for toddlers. This time it was a big open hall with plenty of grown-up size tables and a restaurant/bar in the next room. We signed in, found Jerry, grabbed some drinks, and looked up our table numbers.

The role-playing games were in kind of a nook at the front of the hall. Tom's game was first up on my list. He was running a Qalidar adventure called "Corporate Raiders" and I was helping him out with the rules because, even though they're waaay on the light side, he's d20-challenged. We sat around the table for a while and were starting to think it would be a wash, but then Tom spotted an acquaintance wandering by and snagged him. "Corporate Raiders" was set up so that we started out as almost-retirees with no levels in any class. I based mine on Mallory Archer and John created an engineer named Wayne. I don't want to give too many spoilers, but we did eventually get to make our characters more adventure-y, which helped us survive in a world gone mad with Tom's pyramid-headed raiders and shiny glam warriors. Not exactly the kind of opponents I would have come up with, but it was fun for me to see Tom (or anyone) making his own thing out of my game.

We found Jerry at the bar and had a late lunch. The specials they had for the Game Bash were good and actually quite a bit cheaper than the regular menu. Jerry took off first for a game he was in. Tom & I followed after another round to set up for mine.

We were still fairly early, but there was nobody using the table before me, so we camped out. A guy came over and introduced himself. I think his name was Ben but, for reasons that will make more sense later, my brain insists on labeling him "Sherman Peabody."

The scenario was basically the same one I ran at Gen Con this year. As always, I tinkered with it a bit while we played. This time I left a little bit more a mystery to solve and threw in a bunch of machine-munching antroids. Jerry showed up about a third of the way on and we worked him in. He had a particular grudge against giant ant-like creatures from a bad Tunnels & Trolls experience. I don't know about them, but I had fun, and was especially gratified by their reaction to the "peel."

Next up was Tom's Crawlspace game. Jerry, Ben, and I stuck around, and several more people showed up in short order. One of them said it was the game she had been looking forward to all day. We had some great performances here, which seems to be particularly common with Crawlspace. Ben's crazy administrator (Sherman Peabody), a quirky and somewhat randy detective, an outraged grad student whose work had been stolen, and a couple of hedonists stumbled around the college campus and the surrounding town and turned a vampire mystery into a manic soap opera. (The vampire is on the cover, so I don't think giving that away is going to be a problem.)

And that's pretty much it. They were closing the place up when we left for a late night snack with Jerry.