Thursday, December 7, 2017

Not-so-super villains

The Red Hood's gang of re-furbished C-listers
The general consensus among my kids is that they want me to continue to run a superhero campaign, but are getting a little sick of the rules-light system Bash! (always with the exclamation point in the title).  So I'm considering re-tooling the campaign with new rules, if not resetting the entire story.  Because Bash! was supposed to be a "beer and pretzels" game to get me by until the next big thing, I hadn't bothered going too deep, plot-wise.

So right now, I'm thinking about the foundation for a new supers game, and what's on my mind is Brian Michael Bendis' run on The New Avengers and the several iterations that followed, up through the "Siege" storyline.  This isn't too surprising since it is Bendis' work that formed the core of the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game, which I ran for a long while.

Bendis began his arc with the "Breakout" event in which Electro is hired to bust Sauron out of the Marvel version of Supermax called the Raft, an island off the coast of New York City (because that's where you ought to keep all your supervillains).  Containing the subsequent chaos is what brings most of the heroes together who will form the core of the new Avengers roster: Captain America, Luke Cage, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, etc.

But the Breakout event also established a group of supervillains who would become the core of the antagonists throughout his run, individuals who had successfully escaped.  Over the next many years, very few new villains would actually be introduced, but instead Bendis would rely on using and re-using the same characters.  Most of the time the villains would be under the command of a smarter, more powerful chief antagonist such as the Red Hood or Norman Osborn.  There were some heavy hitters like the Living Laser and Count Nefaria, some mid-tier threats like the Mandrill and the U-Foes, and some that barely qualified as mooks like Crossfire or Razor Fist.  Eventually the Red Hood would resurrect most of the downright D-listers that were casually killed by the Scourge at the "Bar with No Name" massacre.  You can find a complete list of the Red Hood's gang (and hence most of Bendis' roster) here.

Bendis had decades of material to sort through and pick out some pretty lackluster character concepts to overhaul.  But it did get me thinking about world-building for superhero RPG's.  One could get by with a pretty decent campaign with really only about a dozen low- to mid-tier villains, and two or three major archvillains.  Like in the case of the Bendis Avengers, the lower-level villains could show up with some regularity as henchmen for the arch-villains or as convenient in media res sub-plots for sessions.

So time to crank out a bunch of new villains, much like I did ages ago with the "25 Villains of Christmas."  Those 25 villains were the flesh and bone of the MHR campaign.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Boldly going where we maybe shouldn't

Good gravy, it's been forever since I made a blog post about gaming.

So, I'm currently playing in a Star Trek RPG using the Last Unicorn Games iteration (my friend Adam's favorite).  I'm not sure if the game has hit its stride yet, mostly because there are a whole slew of pitfalls, and we seem to be stumbling into a lot of them.

  • Complex narratives and sporadic attendance.  Sometimes OSR people have the right idea when it comes to dungeon crawling campaigns.  A complicated multi-session storyline is a bear to maintain when different people show up for each session.  I missed a big one and hadn't a clue what was going on the last time we played.
  • Psionics.  I seem to remember there being a TNG episode about the ethical murkiness of someone using a Betazed as an interrogator, but I could be wrong.  We have two Betazed PC's--mine and someone else's, and it is hard not to ask the GM if the NPC is lying or not every time we talk to someone.  I've yet to play an RPG where telepathy didn't ruin everything.
  • Superpseudoscience.  I will confess to this pitfall myself.  I nearly wrecked most of the plot by suggesting a ridiculous pseudoscience option.  We are trying to help negotiate a deal with a planetary authority to get dilithium for the Federation.  It wasn't going well, and I posed the question of whether a Galaxy-class starship could, using the ST:TNG-level technology, made the planet's supply of dilithium worthless.  The panicked look on the GM's face told me a lot.
In the meantime, I need to get serious about my own game, which mostly involves me picking something and making a commitment to it, which is always difficult for me.  I'm always looking for that perfect game that will suit me and my legion of players, be easy to learn but complex enough to keep intelligence people engaged, with just the right level of crunch and flexibility.  

Which is ridiculous, but it keeps me from making the decision between options like Dungeons & Dragons, Blood and Treasure, and Shadow of the Demon Lord, all of which offer essentially the same genre using different rules.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Not Even Pretending

First of all, I'd like to share a quick video about a guy who has been running D&D (or technically, AD&D First Edition, from the look of the rulebook) for 35 years straight.

For someone who has never run a single campaign longer than about two years, I have appreciate that level of commitment, and the collection that has sprung out of it.

I, on the other hand, have not posted in two months.  Mostly that's because I haven't been running anything, and more often than not tend to post gaming recaps these days of games that I am actually running, rather than playing.  But the games in which I have been playing haven't been running much either the last two months.  Baker Street, I fear, has succumbed to the weight of the number of players.  The last session was enjoyable, but only about half the players really engaged, at the raw number of players ensured that someone in the group had the maxed-out skill for whatever task was required.

The most recent session of Star Trek went very well in my opinion, but was also likely helped by the small number of players (three) all of whom had a lot of experience gaming.  But it also struggles from my gaming group's other big problem--inconsistent attendance.  If you limit the group to six players, you are likely to maybe get four any given date.

All of which I have talked about ad nauseum on this blog.  So I'm stopping.

So, my gaming stuff.  A while back I talked about the possibility of running an urban hex-crawl, an idea that was picked up and taken to new heights by Fr. Dave over at Blood of Prokopius.  But his addition added not only a level of complexity, but also exploded the size of the task.  To wit, if you do five locations (rolling a d6 with one option being "lost" to determine what random place the PC's encounter, and you have, say, 20 hexes, you now need 100 locations for your city.

Which is overwhelming, to say the least.

And completely stalled me out. I was already dithering on a rules set, and then my brain seized up as well.  Therefore I need to ratchet everything down a notch of two, because I'm losing time gaming with my son, who leaves for college next year.

I do so want to run one more game with him.  He's been playing in my group since he was 10 or 11, and I know he'll be doing his own thing once he leaves.  So I need to set aside the enemy of the good--perfect--and find some time to be with him.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Getting caught up on things

First of all, I switched out the "new" fancy theme of the blog, because I wasn't really caring for it.  Back to the classic layout, I say!

Second, I haven't posted in almost a month.  I'm in the thick of the roller derby season, which means making lots of practices, etc.  I am still running Bash, the superhero RPG.  We had a session last Friday, one that focused on my son's character, the Samoan superhero Haka.  Bash has been a fun game to run, and I feel like there are a lot of plot lines to be explored, especially ones connected to the PC's backstory.  But...

We also returned back to my basement, which was a welcome change

Two members of my gaming group have indicated their desire to run a game: Rachel wants to run Star Trek using the Last Unicorn Games; Tony wants to do a Victorian-era Sherlock Holmes game using Baker Street.  Now, I'm leaving it to them to schedule these games, but that makes for a crowded landscape.

Also in July I went to KantCon and once again ran into the fine folk at Paragon Notion, who are still working on their sci-fi/superhero game The Ultimate Hero.  I was flattered that they remembered me, especially as the blogger who cranked out a ton of NPC's for their game as a monthly challenge a while back.  They told me one of those NPC's got worked into some of their material, so that's very cool (as was the softcover copy of the most recent edition of their rules that they gave me).

I always end up playing some random game I never have played before at KantCon, in this case the FFG version of Star Wars, which I own but have never played. The kids and I all got a chance to play, and we had a pretty good time.  I still feel like the symbol-dice resolution is very subjective: what does having one failure but three advantages feel like versus two failures and two advantages, for example.  But I can sit comfortably with a lot of GM control over such things as long as it feels vaguely fair, and it was nice to see how all that worked in real play.

At KantCon
Finally, I've been benched from my athletic league because of a concussion,which is freeing up a bunch of time for me.  But the concussion doesn't lend itself to staring through magnifying lenses or fine motor coordination for painting miniatures.  That means it is time to cast plaster. I've made a sizeable gothic modular dungeon, and a small cavern-themed modular dungeon, so I figured it was time to do the Hirst Arts fieldstone version.  It'll take a long time, but I have already made some headway on the floors.

Hopefully I can get back on the wagon when it comes to writing regularly.  Thanks for reading and comments always welcome!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Friday Gaming Report: Subplots galore

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my last session of Bash had not gone as well as I liked because my single story, which I had hoped to fill the entire session, had ended prematurely.  So this time I decided on a slew of smaller subplots and just adjust accordingly.

It was a good thing, too, because I ended up having a full boat: all nine players in the campaign showed up for this session.  Of note (to me, at least) was that this was the first session in a very long time where we played back in the basement game room of my house.  I'm not sure I've been down there since I separated from my wife six months ago.  For that matter I also made my classic pulled pork for dinner, so the whole thing felt like Old Home Week for me, and that's a good thing.  Now how did the gaming session go?

Prologue: Quick, to the Bat-Fax!

The New Defenders have defeated Stardust, but are frustrated to find a groundswell of support for the murderous alien, especially from a SuperPAC called "Americans for Humanity" who advocate the unrestrained killing of supervillains.  Also, the heroes still have located the Miscreants, teen subjects of horrible, mutating experiments by Kort Technologies.

Volt's internet research has revealed that Americans for Humanity is actually a front for the neo-Nazi group "The Fourth Reich."  He posts this information to Wikileaks and calls it day.

Act One: Re-enter Scaramanga!

The mysterious Scaramanga (an homage not just to James Bond, but Adam Dickstein) showed back up at the Lioness' pet store/coffee shop ("Paws and Reflect") looking for the "man-bird" that had been seen in the area.  Ironically he talks to Blackhawk in his civilian identity, who is naturally quite intimidated by Scaramanga's Old World suave and his apparent superhuman ability to have Spanish guitar music play every time he enters or exits a scene.  The New Defenders realize they need to do something to protect their feathered teammate, and hatch a plan.

Act Two: The Man with the Golden Armor

Blackhawk calls Scaramanga at the swanky hotel, telling him to meet him on the roof of the building.  The rest of the Defenders conceal themselves there, ready to jump the cosmopolitan big-game hunter when he arrives.  Only he doesn't show up with the latest European fashion, but instead in a golden suit of power armor!

Imagine if Christopher Lee was playing an evil Tony Stark, and you get the picture.
Despite the powerful battlesuit, the Defenders use their "ground and pound" technique and make short work of the man.  Interrogating him, they find out that he was hired by the Penumbra Institute to capture Blackhawk for study.

Act Three: All we are is Stardust in the wind...

The New Defenders drop off Scaramanga at the federal supervillain prison, apparently oblivious of the fact that Scaramanga has not actually committed any crimes since they actually jumped him at his place of residence before he could actually do anything.  We will have to see how that plays out in the long run.  While there they check up on Stardust, the interstellar vigilante with a penchant for just killing villains he doesn't like.  Oh, and Polk's home planet (Polk is an alien gadgeteer PC).

While talking to Stardust, the alien reveals that he is but one of a legion of similar beings, all charged with wiping out evil with impunity ("sort of a dickish Green Lantern Corps" one player muses).  While the Defenders digest this information, the lights begin to flicker...

In the confusion of the breakout, the Defenders are divided into three random groups to face off against three groups of opponents composed of members of previous villain teams they have faced: the Ravagers, Kort's agents, and The Vicious Circle.  Through a combination of guile, intimidation, and brute force, the New Defenders manage to retrieve almost all of the villains and return them to their cells.

But at least two villains have escaped: Riptide of the Ravagers (who just oozed away), and a mysterious figure who apparently was the target of the jailbreak all along...

Epilogue One

Since the prison officials won't say who escaped, Volt hacks their computers to discover that the missing villain is the Ubermensch, the WW2-era superman from the introductory scenario from the campaign.  Volt is surprised to discover that Ubermensch is still alive after all these years.

Epilogue Two

Haka returns home to find his cat familiar surprisingly meek.  That's because he is jumped from behind by his cousin Teuila, who is clearly unhappy to see him....

GM's notes

A lot of things really clicked in this gaming session.  There is something about introducing an NPC to the players who is cooler and better looking than you and then getting to beat the holy bejeezus out of him.  Scaramanga provided a little like comedy into what has been a fairly grim campaign so far.

Dividing the group up for combat also really worked.  I would run each sub-group for two turns, then switch.  That was about a fifteen minute block each time, and it seemed to work.  Hopefully I won't be having the full group again for a while, since I'm planning on having multiple sessions each month.

The multiple plots and angles really made the session feel like a comic book, in addition to keeping the players interested.  It also didn't hurt that I made all the players put their cell phones into a tray at the center of the table, and told them they could have the phone during regular breaks in play or in the case of emergencies.  I noticed a huge improvement in engagement in gameplay as a result.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Too Many New RPG's

So what happens when a couple of things you Kickstarted come to fruition around the same time that the FLGS in town has a fire sale and closes?  You get way too many new RPG's all at once.  Right now my nightstand is crowded with them, and I haven't even cracked open some of them yet.  What's on the reading pile?

Evil Hat did a Dresden Files RPG using a proto-version of their FATE rules, and have now circled back to do another using their Fate Accelerated rules.  I got this one as a pdf and hardcover via Kickstarter, and it's a good looking book (although one page was crunched and torn when I received it, it wasn't hard to repair).  I know the source material, loved the TV show even more, and know FATE, so this one might be interesting to get into.

Another Kickstarter come to fruition, Ninja High School uses the old d6 West End Games system (best known for their 1st and 2nd Edition Star Wars rules) to portray the American manga series from Antarctic Press.  I will confess to being more familiar with Antarctic Press' other major series, Gold Digger by Fred Perry, which I had hoped would be referenced in this or a future supplement, since I think it would make a better background for an RPG.

I have read this one, and it is heavy on the background of the manga, which is fine.  But my trained eye realized the game was more similar to 1st Ed Star Wars than 2nd, insofar as all the archtypes have the same skills to start with, just different stats, rather than have different skills in their repertoire.  Also the archtypes just mirror the major characters from the manga, rather than offering some different ideas.

On the whole, I'd likely eschew the high school background and try to distill out some sort of generic manga d6 system, if I'd try to use this.

This is one I picked up at the fire sale at the FLGS.  I'd had my eye on it for a while, just because I have a soft spot for fantasy heartbreakers.  I haven't had a chance to read this except a cursory glance that reveals a very different core system than D&D, a flair for Erol Otus-style art, and goblins as a PC race.

I actually bought this one while traveling on vacation.  Symbaroum was a Kickstarted RPG, and this beautiful hardcover book was the culmination.  Another fantasy heartbreaker, this one might actually not break your heart too much because it features a lavish campaign world complete with factions, religions, and a massive, spooky, dangerous forest.  Weirdly enough, it also features goblin PC's.  On top of that you don't get to play elves, who instead are antagonistic NPC's.  It also sets aside Hermetic-style wizardry (by that I mean scholastic mages pouring over tomes) and instead features matriarchal witches, nature-oriented spellcasters with bizarre rituals and crude but hauntingly beautiful masks.

Of all the ones on the list, this one has the most potential to end up at the table, if I had to guess.  If anything, I could use the background and swap in D&D or Fantasy AGE.

Ah guilt, my favorite emotion.  A couple of years ago Catalyst featured a micro-rulebook for Battletech: A Time of War for Free RPG day and I thought it looked interesting and mentioned this to the store's owner, who was also an old Mechwarrior fan.  So he bought a copy for the store, and I never purchased it, mostly because by then I had read some not-so-flattering reviews.  To add insult to injury, the binding on the book was horrible and fell apart while it was on the shelves at the store.

So it sat there, unloved and unwanted, until the store closed, and I ended up picking it up for 20% of the cover price.  I haven't even cracked this one open (not the least of which because I would like to see if I can get the binding repaired) but a super-complicated military RPG isn't likely to get much traction with my gaming group.

So that's the pile.  I really need to a) stop buying stuff for a while, and b) focus on the game I'm actually running, Bash.  Oh, and I got invited to look at the 2nd Edition of Prowlers and Paragons, which my kids are demanding I run for them on the side.  So there's that too.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Hexcrawling a City, an early look

One thing I've been slowly working on for the last year is another fantasy sandbox campaign.  My prior one was generally map-based, although a city featured prominently in it.  As time went by, it lost a lot of its "sandbox" quality and became more directed on my part.  In the process, I think it lost something.

So, after being away from fantasy for a solid year, it's time to get back to it.  I spent some of that last year thinking about cities.   Some fantasy RPG treat cities on a very detailed level, with maps of streets, etc.  But while that's fun "map porn" for GM's, how often would the players actually be seeing or using a map like that?  And how long would it take for them to just accrue that knowledge by exploring the city.  I've lived in my current city seven years, with a car, and I don't know how all the cities line up.  What I know are areas, neighborhoods, etc. some intimately, others not so much.  And if I was going to a new city, I would get to know it on a fairly abstract level at first as well.

All of which is the long way of my saying that I'm experimenting with the idea of creating a "city hexcrawl."  Unlike a wilderness hexcrawl, the hexes aren't necessarily exact discrete units of distance but represent distinct regions of the city: e.g. "Common temples" or "The Wizard's College."  You'll have to go through certain parts of town to get to others, but I'll understand that while the actually pathways are abstracted,  the time to travel will be a pretty standard rate (with the understanding that hexes that represent larger areas, like the Artisan's Market, will be easier to traverse than The Guardhouse.

So my yet-unnamed city has 22 hexes (that the PC's can knowingly identify) in a city that is stratified by class.  Areas 1-13 are the lower class. common areas.  Areas 14-19 are the artisan class where professionals, lesser nobles, and other specialists reside.  Areas 20-22 are the section for the elite, including the castle in Hex 22.

Movement is not free from region to region.  Low-level PC's will likely not be allowed into the upper two regions unless accompanying some patron.  That will mean that sections of the city will remain a mystery to the PC's as the campaign evolves.  The blue lines represent the walls, interior and exterior, that block off the sections of the city.

Each hex will have its own "character," its own style, with random or established encounters, NPC's, etc. for each of them.  Since whole sections are blocked off, I don't need to do the whole area at once; just the first 13 hexes, really.  Plus there's the possibility of areas outside, or under, the city as well.

That's the current state of my project.  Thoughts are welcome.

Not-so-super villains