I'm not doing RPGaDay this year, but I'm still allowed to blog about games a little bit, right?
I bought some new games at Gen Con, and took another look at a couple that I bought last year. This has got me fiddling with my options again.
First, the easy ones. Icons rocks for super-hero gaming. Nothing else I've tried for that genre has been anywhere near as much fun. I'm sticking with that. Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space is an even easier choice for Doctor Who. And yes, Doctor Who is a genre.
The Vortex System (the one behind the Doctor Who game) is great and potentially useful for lots of genres. I've tried branching out with this a few times, though, and a funny thing happens. I start putting together the pieces of whatever mini-world I'm building, and I think, "Here's something cool from the book. I'll just re-skin it and use it in the scenario. Ooh, this is nice too!" And so on. Then I look at the pieces I've thrown together and think, "You know, these things would all still work in a Doctor Who adventure." And then that's what I have. Not that another Doctor Who adventure is a bad thing; it's just not what I was going for.
I've been thinking a lot about horror/paranormal stuff. Qalidar and Call of Cthulhu are fine for that, but both lead to issues similar to the ones I have with Vortex. That doesn't bother me so much with Qalidar. The problem there is that thinking about my own game makes me angry. Maybe it's because I'm still not done with the damn layouts for the second book, or maybe it's the similarly-premised settings or similarly-pronounced names that popped up after I put out the first installment, and are still popping up now. Maybe it's something else. I don't know. Whatever it is, it sours the preparation experience, which should be part of the fun.
Both Crawlspace and Stay Alive! would work. I've been in some great sessions of these games, and would gladly recommend either of them to anyone looking for a good dramatic horror or modern adventure game. Neither really sings to me as a GM, though. I can't explain it. Too close to home, maybe.
What's looking really good to me now is the Cypher System. Easy to walk people through, versatile, and focused more on speed than making every combat mechanically distinct, this looks really handy for convention games and sounds like a great match for my GM'ing style. The fact that it's a generic system also lets me do a variety of one-off scenarios without switching gears rules-wise. I'm not sure it's a great fit for four-color super-hero gaming, but I've got Icons for that anyway. I could even see using it for a lot of the medieval fantasy ideas I've got. For D&D style "elves & half-orcs kill a buncha monsters" gaming, though, I might still want something closer to the source.
And that's where much of my waffling occurs. I mentioned recently that I had been looking hard at 13th Age and liking what I saw. I think the easy monster generation is aces. I like how you put points into background choices to give you a nebulous skill system that still provides strong guidance for deciding what a character is likely to know. I like that moving combat along quickly was a design goal. And I like lots of other stuff. The people behind it have also put out some interesting, creative supplemental material which gives me all kinds of ideas, which in turn makes the thought of running a game exciting.
Also, though, there's 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, which I've already praised on multiple occasions. I've also run it a couple of times, and found it brilliantly adapted to my purposes. It somehow manages to both feel like the game I remember playing, and have much cleaner, more sensible mechanics. I can go portable with the basic rules, or go all-out with the complete game, or go halfway between. And it's really pretty.
The great thing about these choices is, the only drawback of picking the "wrong" one is that I might have slightly less fun than if I picked the "right" one. Slightly. It's possible, I suppose, that the ideal would be to run 13th Age for some monster-bash games and D&D for others, but, since I don't have infinite time, I'd rather just focus on getting as comfortable as possible with one of them.
But who knows? Sometimes I blather on and on about stuff like this, talk myself into an answer, then end up doing something completely different. I haven't even played 13th Age or Cypher yet, and you really don't know anything about a game until you've seen it in action.
Another great Gen Con! It certainly didn't hurt that there was no booth to suck the fun out of it. The closest I got to working this year was handing out cards to some players who wanted to know more about my game. Not once during the entire convention did I get out of bed before I felt like getting out of bed.
I'm going to do detailed summaries of the games in their own entries this time, so if you're going to play one of these at another convention and are worried about spoilers, just don't click on the link. The photos and stuff are all here.
Don't Call it a Comeback
All week, I had been worrying about my Icons game, for which I had only had a few meager jots of inspiration. Somehow, after I came up with the idea and got the event listed, I completely lost touch with it. Once I set foot in that convention hall Wednesday afternoon, though, I knew it was going to work. The players would give me the right cues, or something new would pop into my head, or something. That's just what happens here.
Peryton Gamers Old Home Night was in the bar at Crowne Plaza. Turned out to be a really pleasant setting. We handed out GM badges and gave Jerry his "event uber overlord" t-shirt to thank him for organizing the group. Beckett had made some cool buttons so we all collected a few of those to give away. Tom lured some innocent bystanders into the party and they were fairly interesting. Well, I thought they were interesting at the time. Maybe it was the bourbon that was interesting. Thinking back, I can't recall anything particularly noteworthy about the conversation. Anyway, good times. Oh, and train car room!
And I'm Just Gettin' Warm
My first game on Thursday wasn't until 8PM, so I wandered around and checked out the exhibit hall. There were several things I was pretty sure I wanted to buy, so I went ahead and grabbed them, despite generally trying to not buy stuff until I've had a better look around. It's nice to have reading material. Stowing the Cypher System Rulebook and assorted 13th Age goodies in my room, I wandered off to find Tom for lunch. His "Big Foot Hunting" game had apparently gone well.
Some more wandering, a dinner at Champions with Caed, Jerry, and Liam (Tom didn't want to leave the JW), and then I was on my way to run "Shadow of the Peryton" for Qalidar. I had five players, which was almost full capacity, my friend Brian among them. It was a more toned-down adventure than usual, set entirely in Blackridge. It was more creepy paranormal Mothman-type stuff than gonzo alien. I kind of wish that had been the main focus all along, but at least I confirmed that the game works well for that kind of atmosphere.
Goin' Insane, Startin' the Hurricane, Releasin' Pain
Friday was the big day. After a quiet breakfast, a turn around the exhibit hall, and lunch at Claddagh with Tom and Caed, I jumped in. Icons was up first with "Raiders of the Dark Nebula," the one I had been fretting over and was still a little nervous about. One of my players, who had taken the role of a cosmic-powered hero(ish) called Nyarlathotep, summed it up well (after I confessed that I had made half of the adventure up on the spot): "How many hobbies let you come to a table with an outline, some good intentions, and a bunch of strangers, and end up with a story that nobody could have seen coming?" Well, that might not be the exact quote, but it's close enough for newspaper work.
I had enough of a break to go back to the room, switch out my game books, and have some expensive appetizers with Tom before it was time for my Doctor Who adventure, "Out of Joint." This was the only one I had actually playtested this year. Or ever, for that matter. Plus, I'm getting really comfortable with that game system.
I wrapped up the evening with a late night Aqua Teen Hunger Force session, "Inappropriate Mysteries of the Jersey Shore." The traditional gang didn't show up, but I did get two guys who had done a great job last year. They also brought a friend, and then there were four other people. Everyone was great. They even gave me some new ideas for game mechanics. I had been thinking about quitting the Aqua Teen gaming, but no, I'm not stopping now.
I'm Blastin' -- Outlastin'
All my events were done, so Saturday was Shopping Day. After an expensive waffle at the hotel restaurant, I saw Tom and Liam off to wherever they were going and started walking the exhibit hall, row by row. I got about a fourth of the way before I started feeling punchy and went to visit Tom and grab some lunch. Tom was just getting his game going and I couldn't get ahold of anyone else, so I had lunch with my new Icons book instead. Turns out I picked up a flawed copy, sliced so all the pages are tilted. All the text is still visible, though, so I can live with it. Looks like it's going to be a useful supplement.
Back to the exhibitor pits, I found a nifty pendant which I later decided to send to my mom as a gift instead of keeping for myself, and the Dark Dungeons movie. I spotted a few copies of Peryton Fantasy RPG in the wild. I guess it's silly to even mention it, but it's still fun to see my old stuff pop up in random unexpected places.
I also stopped by the Flying Buffalo booth to chat with Steve Crompton and take a look at the preview copy of the new Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls. Obviously, there wasn't time to do more than flip through it, so I can't say much about the content. It's huge, though, like a big floppy fantasy-themed phone book. It's attractively laid out and I'm sure they did some good work, but, for me, having a complete RPG in a tiny book was the main selling point of Tunnels & Trolls. I might still buy it if I see the print version for sale somewhere. I dunno.
Tom was off having a "business" dinner with somebody. Artist, I think. I found Jerry and Liam running Circus Imperium in the the giant, noisy board/card game hall. I was a little dismayed to see that Dungeons and Dragons was also in here, while its ugly stepchild, Pathfinder, enjoyed a nice private ballroom upstairs. I guess that's what sponsorship buys you.
Circus Imperium ("The Darkshade Circuit") was fun, even just watching. Drivers would fall out of their chariots and get trampled and jump into other chariots and fight and fall out and get dragged around. Jerry drew little blood spatters on the board to mark where people died or trace the paths along which they were dragged.
Jordan called and I spent some time with him. He had just bought a new board game in hopes of keeping his youngest hooked on the hobby. I think I did other stuff, then went back to the room to wallow in loot and watch bad movies on SciFy. Or SyFy, or however the hell they're spelling it now. House of Bones is good, and was fun for us because of its similarity to "The Horrible Fate of the Haunted House Hunters," but that didn't come on until everybody was falling asleep.
Now I Got a New Tour
Sunday was a lazy day. I wandered around a bit, then came back to the room, then Tom and Liam kicked me out so they could nap. Apparently last night's Crawlspace game ran late and was trolled by idiots. It sucks that this happened, but Tom having to deal with drunken assholes almost makes me believe in karma.
Back in the exhibit hall, I found a couple of t-shirts and a Doctor Who DVD set. I grabbed some of my new books and wandered off to read while the geezers napped. I found a really nice spot with comfy chairs and settled in. A bit later, Jordan got in touch again, so I met him, John ("Cram" on Trollhalla), and Tom in the hotel bar. John had picked up a copy of Peryton RPG and asked me to sign it. I didn't think of anything good to write until it was too late, so I went with a bland, "I hope you enjoy it."
After chatting a bit while watching Jordan's son open up his new game (Dominion with, I believe, a couple of expansions included), we moved on to the victory dinner at Bourbon Street. Back at the hotel, we got to hang out with Jerry, who had been busy working the auction for most of the weekend. It was a nice unwinding-night after a great con.
Oh, there's also Tom's blog. I don't know of anyone else in the group who's done one so far. Don't believe his lies. (Edit: Jerry has now posted his.)
Bean! (Heavily Modified)
Friday, July 31, 11pm-3am
Promo Blurb: Take the roles of animated fast food products or one of their neighbors in this off-the-rails RPG based on the late night cartoon.
I started off this year with something new, in which we had someone play Doctor Weird, someone else play his assistant, Steve, and the rest play the Grant Committee. Passing in suggestions, amalgamating them, and perverting their intent, led to the unveiling of a giant blueberry, which proceeded to eat its creators and roll off to ravage New Jersey.
In addition to the standards (Frylock, Meatwad, Shake, Carl), we had Willie Nelson (not the Willie Nelson), the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future, and Inignokt. Ghost and Inignokt were selling Speedos door-to-door as part of a pyramid scheme. Somehow this led to a Foreigner Belt mishap which caused a real pyramid to grow up underneath Carl's house. There was time travel, cloning, and a Boxy Brown cameo. The giant, spiked blueberry showed up on the news, but nobody cared. Carl died, but was revived when Frylock attached his head to Ghost's body.
As the neighborhood was destroyed (I think by the blueberry, but I'm not sure I'm remembering it right) Frylock and Meatwad left town.
The players had several good ideas for future sessions, including a pile of cameo characters that players could just grab, play for a few minutes along with their other characters, and then discard. That's in the works for next year, along with some tweaks to the Doctor Weird prologue system.
Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space - Friday, July 31, 7pm-11pm
Promo Blurb: Swept into a twisted branch of the Time Vortex created by the nascent Time War, the Eighth Doctor finds himself surrounded by an impossible assortment of companions in an abandoned Dalek city far in Skaro's future. Or, more precisely, a maze of Skaro's possible futures.
Player characters included the Doctor (obviously), Kamelion, Romana, Harry Sullivan, Sarah Jane Smith, and Rory Williams. They made their way through the petrified forest and down to the ruins. Harry fell down along the way and discovered an odd bit of Time Lord technology.
They worked out that the towers and the pit were "like a giant TARDIS" although the term "paradox machine" didn't come up until later. They encountered several of the alternate-history Skaro life forms that had been pulled into the time spur and had a conversation with Davros, who had been making the best of the situation by improvising a crude robo-man conversion to turn his attackers into his troops. Unlike the last group, they actually looked into the pit, which was fun. It was also fun when they realized that Davros was just hamming it up and really was as much a victim of the real villain as they were.
Icons Assembled Edition
Friday, July 31, 2pm-6pm
Promo Blurb: The dust of a dead star-god, the Tenebrous Nebula has sheltered many strange civilizations, but none as relentlessly expansionist as the Dire Wraiths. Since their awakening at the fall of the Ilkani homeworld, these shape-shifting techno-mages have terrorized entire star systems. Take the role of a starfaring super-hero in this mashup of Micronauts, Farscape, Rom, and assorted other space fantasies.
To be fair, the only Farscape reference was the living ship, and the Rom connection (Dire Wraiths) was mostly just backstory. Also, I don't think I even mentioned the Dark Nebula in the game. I didn't really have any idea what I was going to do when I wrote that blurb. It was like January or something.
I came up with basic stats and power sets and let the players come up with names, appearance, and qualities at the table.
Nyarlathotep: Seriously, that's what he called himself, saying that he was inspired by the Old Ones, although he didn't seem particularly insane. He had cosmic energy powers. Typing out his full name will get old fast, so let's call him Narly for short.
Trixatrix: Insectoid working with Narly. Extremely enthusiastic and somewhat naively friendly. Great leaper and had a rocket lance.
Siren: Winged human patterned somewhat loosely after Marionette from the comics. Also had sonic powers.
John Legate: Experimental subject whose shape-shifting and power-duplicating abilities were far more extensive than he let on.
Arok: Canine-enhanced humanoid with tracking, ESP, and fast attack powers.
Siren, John, and Arok were experimental Body Banks subjects imprisoned and forced to fight in the arena (although John was pretty sure he could escape any time and was staying because he liked fighting). Narly and Trix were trying to break them out because Narly had received a vision or something about one of them being the key to overthrowing the Archon. They had, therefore, allowed Trix to be captured and thrown in with the other prisoners for... reasons. I don't know. I just thought it sounded cool.
When the cyber-tyrannosaur with rocket launchers came out, somebody said this was sounding more like Epic Magazine than a comic book adventure. They downed it really quickly, though, so I probably didn't make it tough enough. Anyway, the breakout proceeded and they fought their way past the armored "angel" guards (ironically, a much harder fight than the dinosaur) to the landing strip, where they were drawn to a big wasp-shaped ship. Trix found that it was particularly well adapted to his people. They blasted their way out, shot down their pursuers, and warped away.
Then they found out that the ship was the result of a larger project the Archon was investing in, using beings similar to Trix's people as stock to create an biologically networked race of cybernetic bug soldiers. At this point the comparisons moved from comic-book style magazines to heavy metal album covers. Anyway, the researchers lost control of their engineered soldiers and fled the planet, accidentally leaving behind the unfinished device which had allowed them to communicate with the network, but was not yet able to accomplish its intended goal of shutting the bugs down.
Deciding that this was what they were looking for, the heroes headed for the planet and found that, as promised, it was overrun by crazed cyber-bug people, some of which had exposed brains, because that's cool-looking. The building that was supposed to have the device in it was covered by a gigantic hive. Trix made some fake cyber-attachments for himself out of spare parts and John transformed himself. It soon became apparent that the bugs were communicating with pheromones and would not allow either of the imposters through, until John duplicated this ability as well.
After some tense experimentation, John and Trix fired up the machine, made contact with the bionic network, and guided it towards a more advanced level of functioning. Also, they led the horde of vengeful cyber-bugs back to the Archon's world, overthrew him, and took over.
Qalidar: Resistance - Thursday, July 30, 8pm-Midnight
Promo Blurb: The quiet college town of Blackridge is being haunted by a soaring shadow, a dark, winged shape with antlers. On the ground, weird agents are looking for something, terrorizing people in their homes and then disappearing. Is it just a coincidence that there's a nuclear power plant nearby?
For this one, I had five players, taking the Ascendant, Fixer, Karcist, Mystic, and Scrapper characters. They were third level, high enough to have some cool powers, but low enough that they can't just rampage through the town. I opened with the statement that they had all done a little bit of Storm walking, but this was a familiar town on a familiar world. The Fixer was actually a student at the local college (University of Arkansas at Blackridge) and the Karcist was his dad.
As the blurb promises, there had been some weird sightings and some suspicious retractions, and the heroes were there to check it out. Also, there wasn't really a nuke plant in town, but several people had seen the ghostly image of one across the lake.
After finding out what they could from their senile motel manager, they headed out to the college to interview students. After stalking a few, they found their way to Matt, a zine publisher who was able to point them in the direction of Jim and Stacy, who had seen the creature, and to Doctor Morton, who had made a public statement and then retracted it. Also, there had been bigfoot sightings at the Cliffs overlooking the river, but not even Matt put much stock in those stories. The Mystic and the Fixer saw a cloud that looked like a steam plume from a nuclear plant.
Morton wasn't terribly helpful, but Jim and Stacy independently provided fairly consistent accounts of an encounter on a hiking trail on Chactas Mountain. The Ascendant had a strange, brief conversation with a man in a suit. They really did see Bigfoot at the Cliffs, much to the Fixer's delight. The Karcist nailed him with a magic feather and he floated off into the foliage below.
On a nocturnal trip to the lake, they encountered a pair of eyeless children whose psychic assault almost killed the Karcist. The Ascendant encountered another man in a suit hidden in the trees, but he (the man in black, not the Ascendant) disappeared during the fight with the other creatures. I was gratified by the level of creepedoutedness my players displayed in reaction to this encounter.
Finally, they made there way out to Chactas Mountain, where the Karcist's ghostly helper led them to the peryton, actually just a winged shadow-humanoid with smoky tendrils twisting up from its head. In the fight, it was destroyed fairly quickly, only to release a fiery wraith from its charcoal-coated skeleton. The wraith was eventually destroyed by the Scrapper's crystal knife as well, leaving a fine, iridescent dust which the Fixer collected in a canteen.
Renting a boat from Ray's 24-Hour Marine, they went out to the nuclear plant and confirmed the Mystic's intuition that the forces drawing it towards this reality (which would have been extremely disruptive) had been neutralized by the creature's destruction. There was other stuff that led them to all this information, but that's the general idea.
And, damn it, I forgot to tell them about interrupts, which is a pity, because interrupts are cool.
Here's what I've submitted so far. This'll probably be it:
Doctor Who vs. Cthulhu (Friday, 11:30 pm)
Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space
A panicked message from his old classmate, Drax, leads the sixth Doctor to a frozen ruin on the surface of Pluto. An unscrupulous syndicate has determined that the planet is passing through a region of "soft space" that can be used to access a parallel universe known as E-Space. In their efforts to exploit this potential energy well, the Synarchy has tapped into the dreams of something sleeping on the other side, and quite possibly disturbed the ancient star god enough to awaken it. Oh, and, "Promise you won't get nettled? Come on, Doc, it ain't all that bad! It's just that you may not be the only old school chum I called."
The Fire Within (Saturday, 1pm - 5pm)
A fallen star, a dead mayor, villagers scouring the hills for an unknown prize, and a mysterious prisoner that no one has seen.
Doctor Who: Out of Joint (Saturday, 7pm - 11pm)
Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space
Swept into a twisted branch of the Time Vortex created by the nascent Time War, the Eighth Doctor finds himself surrounded by an impossible assortment of companions in an abandoned Dalek city far in Skaro's future. Or, more precisely, a maze of Skaro's possible futures.
Is it really so hard to understand that constantly insisting on technical precision in conversational language is an obnoxious waste of time? When people are making speeches, the difference between a democracy and a republic is almost always irrelevant. There's no reason not to refer to the Whateverittechnicallyusedtobe as the Confederate flag, because that's what it's called here in the future. I've even heard people sniffing haughtily over the difference between strategy and tactics, which... seriously? And don't even get me started on the gun jargon evangelists. The point is, outside of specialized professional usage, language is fluid. If everybody knows what you mean when you say a word, then THAT'S WHAT IT MEANS.
I'm a long-time fan of the Fantastic Four. It was one of the first comic book series I collected and I still re-read the old issues. Despite the inevitable doubts, I'm excited about the new Fantastic Four movie. I can't help it. I had reservations at first about Sue and Johnny not being biological siblings, but I found that fairly easy to get over. As long as they act like brother and sister, I'll be fine with it.
I also like the other two movies, though, and I'm a little bit sad that they didn't just continue that line.
I know, I know. These movies are far from perfect. Their Doctor Doom was just not Doctor Doom. In both movies, Sue had to get naked in public for no particular reason. The scene where Sue's response to Ben's angst was to whine about Reed not paying attention to her makes me cringe every time. And back to Doom: besides not being properly Doomish, he has awful, awful, awful fight banter.
But the biggest of those is easy to dismiss. Doom isn't Doom, but he's a great villain in his own right (except for the banter, but that's only a few seconds of pain). Seriously, try watching it without comparing him to the comic book character, and then tell me what's wrong with him. And the thing is, we don't even need Doctor Doom. Sure, he's a great villain, but he doesn't define the Fantastic Four. He never did.
For me, Fantastic Four is about two things: (1) these characters and their relationships, especially with each other, and (2) facing the Unknown. Just look at the first issue. First off, see who's not on the cover? Right. Doctor Doom. After a little bit of bickering, they bravely and illegally hurl themselves into the void. Then they go into a kaleidoscopic underworld and face not only strange monsters, but the Mole Man. Like the FF, the Mole Man is a human transformed by his exploration of the Outside. When they do meet Doctor Doom in #5, it's as a set-up for a time travel adventure.
Doom is still an important recurring villain, one most FF fans look forward to seeing. I wouldn't deny that at all. I just want to make the case that what really defines the Fantastic Four is not the villains they fight; it's the new worlds they explore. And the family thing too, but I don't think I need to argue that point with anyone who's ever even flipped through an issue.
The two movies from a few years back have what I'm looking for in a Fantastic Four movie. They've got mad science, the Unknown, and four people with super-powers held together not only by that fact, but also by a disarmingly normal kind of family bond.
I've heard people fuss about the cast. Unless they're only talking about Doom, I don't get that at all. The actors playing the Fantastic Four in these movies all handle their roles beautifully. I don't even know how to argue the point, because the opposite position makes no sense to me.
So anyway, yeah, I'm looking forward to finding out what they've done with the my old friends in this one. I can tell from the previews that they know it's got to have the Unknown, and I think I see the kind interpersonal dynamics I want, as well. It looks like it might also have another strange way of pointlessly cramming Doctor Doom into the story, but I'm still going in with an open mind and a lot of hope.
I switched my main focus from Blackridge to the Bad Idea. I just found myself too consistently pulled in that direction, while every step on Blackridge was feeling forced. Still, maybe someday. There's a lot of potential there, and I developed some cool stuff while I was working on it. One of my Gen Con events is set in Blackridge, even.
I submitted one event (Doctor Who: Out of Joint) for Carnage. Planning to put in one more. I'm thinking it'll be D&D or another Doctor Who. Possibly both, at which point I guess the "one more" bit would need updating.
I probably won't be visible much on Google Plus or my public Facebook page for at least a few weeks. Maybe longer. I think social media stuff is consuming way more brainspace than it's worth right now. Seems like I've been figuring out ways to talk about what I'm working on more than I'm actually working on it. I'll probably still tweet a random thought now and then, though. It's easy enough to blurt those out and be done with it.