Thursday, November 18, 2010

A old, reoccurring problem

I had lunch recently with a gamer who lives in my new hometown.  He's been running a 4E game for a while, but for many reasons is having to stop running the campaign.  I told him I'd be willing to sit behind the screen and take over running something.
One of the many reasons he stopped running the game, however, was a lack of committed players.  He described the community as "in flux" and said that having people attend with any regularity was rare.  There were also veiled references to "edition wars" and the like.
What does this mean for me?  Well, for one thing, I'm not going to rush out and buy anything for this, nor am I going to go whole-hog and plan a whole campaign.  I'm thinking just one Level 1 Quest and let's see what develops.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Stop. Hammer time.

Well I got an email today from the GM running the game at the local store. Apparently the game is off. He has had some stuff come up compounded with sporadic attendance which equals no game.
So my current plan is to see if his group might like a new GM. We will see what happens.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Go. Play.

For a few weeks, I've been wrangling over whether I should start up a game of my own in my new hometown.  I had been told by the manager of the FLGS that the gaming groups he knew of were not looking for new players, and that on the whole the RPG scene was dying off.  Thinking I lacked options, I started plans on beginning by own campaign.
Probably the biggest concern I had was time.  I'm pretty busy, and something more than a 4E Dungeon Crawl might be pushing it.
But as I was hashing this out, I thought I'd still try to find something.  I went to, which sometimes has gaming groups, and discovered that the FLGS in question had a gaming group there bi-weekly, and that yes, they were interested in new players.  So much for the intel of the manager, but I'm not complaining.
I'll let my very rare readership know how it goes.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Cmdr. Horus Mecklenburg (ret), Traveller NPC

"After I graduated from college the Navy offered me the sort of opportunities and job security I was looking for.  I know when you think of the Navy you think of the big flyboys or the starship gunners, but I was part of that organization that made everything run smoothly.  In my initial tour of duty I continued to improve on my education with a study of military history and computer programming.  By my second tour I was commissioned as an officer and soon after promoted to lieutenant.  Those were great days aboard a hospital ship.  I was learning everything I could, but did most of my work in medical records and engineering.

"I continued to serve aboard the hospital ship for my third and fourth terms, having finally convinced my superiors that I could be out in the field.  I was part of an emergency response team that would board spacecraft in distress and provide relief.  My the time I was done with my fourth term, I had risen to the rank of Commander and was leading my own teams.

"Unfortunately cuts to support personnel were implemented, and after my fourth term I was let go.  It was hard leaving space, which is why I am here now talking to you.  Word is that you need an investor, someone who can help float the expenses of operating your starship.  I've got seventy thousand credits socked away in a bank not doing me any good, and you look like a good investment.

"There's just one hitch.  I've got to come with you."

Cmdr. Horus Mecklenburg 5655B5
Four terms Navy
Admin-1, Computer-2, Jack of all Trades-1, Mechanical-1, Medical-1, Vacc Suit-2
70,000 Cr.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The End of the World, Day Three

As you might imagine, the third day of a three-day gaming stretch can be the toughest one.  Two years ago I ran the game the third day and people got pretty slap-happy during the session.  Thankfully the scenario was a little over-the-top so it really didn't matter.

This time around it was another story.  Some roleplaying games are more tactical than others, but a lot depends on the style of the judge and the scenario involved.  The third day's game was set in the near future and the PC's were part of a large military unit stranded in Iran.

Side note: one thing that comes up somewhat regularly at EOW is judges ripping off lesser-known books for story ideas.  Saturday's game was apparently set in the universe from the book "Earthfall" while this day's session was set in the book "The Last Centurion."  There are perils to doing this, as you'll see later.

The PC's unit was tasked with protecting a large stockpile of supplies with the hopes that, at some undisclosed point in the future, the unit would be relieved.  In the meantime, the unit was hassled by local refugees desperate for food and medicine as well as petty warlords looking to acquire the military material left on the base.

There were several problems with the set-up, few of which were the judge's fault.  One, by day three few people were not really thrilled with roleplaying the military/political quagmire of the modern Middle East.  Two, if we followed the plot of The Last Centurion we should have packed up our bags and marched our way across Iraq towards the Meditteranean.  But we didn't do that, we hunked down, fortified ourselves, and wondered how the hell the gaming scenario was supposed to end.

It was also, as I mentioned earlier, a more tactical gaming scenario, almost to the point of being a wargaming one.  Hours were spent discussing what kinds of weapons and vehicles were available, how many months of supplies we had that could be sent out to refugees, etc.  It also went very, very long, almost twelve hours, and by the end the judge had been forced to invent an ending (being told that we needed to secure an airfield so a commercial plane could land and fly us out) and we found ourselves being accosted by one bazooka-armed insurgent after another.

Much like the second session, the game felt like a campaign than a single session.  I could see people doing the whole world-building storyline (a staple of Morrow Project campaigns) in this universe, but when you only have a limited period of time, it is often a good idea to set a pretty distinct goal.  Also, if you want your gaming group to cross Iraq, tell them to cross Iraq, either through the stick or the carrot.  Simple as that.

I fear I'm sounding too critical.  There was a lot of problem-solving to be done in the adventure and having to do day three is like drawing the short straw.

It is also worth mentioning, just for people who wonder "how does a gaming group hold an annual gaming event for twenty one years?" that at the end of the last full day the whole group sits down and does a critique of the weekend.  This is a pretty honest evaluation of things where people really can share their likes and dislikes.  One factor that came up was that people liked eating out for meals (although it is pricey for some) because it created breaks in the gaming where people could visit and catch up, etc.  This kind of attention to people's impressions and comfort is a big clue to the group's longevity.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The End of the World, Day Two

The second EOW game was also science fiction, this time a more "hard sci fi" story. Earth has been wracked by a ecological cataclysm and abandoned in favor of colonies throughout the solar system. Two centuries later a team of scientists and soldiers are sent back to earth to locate the plans of an FTL drive which will allow humanity to leave the solar system.

This time around I was playing the corporate supervisor, and I played his low-charisma self to the hilt. Think Paul Rieser in "Aliens.". Playing someone so disagreeable was a nice change of pace.

The game got hung up in what I think are two classic RPG pitfalls. The first is what I call the "carte blanche" scenario.  When you are on a high-priority mission (save the solar system) from a high powered patron (a system-wide government), wouldn't you be given anything you wanted: gear, troops, transports, etc.?  And a sufficient amount of tactical support can allow a group to pretty much steamroll any obstacle, which is largely what happened..

The second hangup was that the game seemed to have more background than foreground.  The GM (excuse me, "judge") had an incredibly elaborate universe in which ot operate, things like timelines, a history of the cataclycsm, and so on.  But he lacked detail when it came to where the PC's were actually tromping about, like a map of the city or the building we were exploring, and so the game seemed, despite all the obvious work, to lack focus.

I am not always a fan of "Monday Morning Quarterbacking" but if I had to run this scenario again I would tackle the first problem by eliminating some of the power and scope of the patron.  Instead of the government sponsoring the project, make it an unpopular but well-intentioned government official whom everyone thinks is crazy, or make the plans be near a volcano that is going to erupt in a few days, so there isn't time to mount a big offense.  That way the players feel more threatened when natives come over the horizon and there is more drama to the story.

Second, find a way to introduce more of the backstory to the PC's.  After the game the GM presented us with a "journal" of the cataclycm.  One of the other players said, "why couldn't this be on [one of the NPC's encountered in the game]?"  This adventure felt like it wouldn't made for a better campaign than a one-shot, and a good one at that.

In other news, after each gaming session we usually have dinner and watch a movie or two.  So far we have seen "Gamers: the Dorkness Rising," "Zombieland," and "The Book of Eli."

Friday, October 8, 2010

The End of the World, Day One

The first day of the three-day gaming weekend began today with a Star Trek scenario.  Pretty standard set-up: an abandoned ship in space is discovered and the PC's crew a DS9 Runabout to investigate.  The mystery ship has lots of secrets, including strange, phantom-like figures from the long-lost crew.

One problem I've often had with Star Trek RPGs is the issue of command.  Each crew has someone to make the decisions and that person can run the direction of the adventure.  The other is that on a large ship crew has loads of "specialists" who can guarantee success for any task the PC's want to do.

On a small crew where everyone is roughly the same rank, this isn't as much an issue.  I was also the commanding officer and made a point of being pretty collaborative.

The adventure was well run, had loads of nice details like ship diagrams, and unlike many scenarioes was pretty open-ended.  Great way to start the weekend.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Looking forward to the End of the World

Not the literal one, although according to Scripture we Christians are supposed to come out okay, in theory...

Anyways, I mean "EOW" which is short for "End of the World."  The story behind EOW is that back in Columbus over twenty years ago a bunch of friends used to game together a homegrown system that combined three RPG's: Traveller, FASA's Star Trek RPG, and Morrow Project.  Basically the game used Traveller's life path, Star Trek's skill/attribute system, and Morrow Project's universe.  Unlike most gaming groups, they kept gaming this odd gumbo of an RPG ever since, occasionally restarting the Morrow Project timeline to re-envision the campaign.  They were (and are) a pretty insular bunch, never branching out into other gaming systems or anything, they were like a gaming time capsule.

Well, I was invited to join this group by one of the GM's (they are so old fashioned they call them "judges") and played for several years while living in Ohio.  The only met four times a year, with three sessions being run by one of the three different judges in an all-day event.  But playing the same post-apocalyptic RPG can get a little boring, so for the fourth annual session they would get together and do three days of gaming straight, with each day featuring one of the three GM's running a one-shot adventure taking place in whatever genre or universe they wished, with the only caveat being it had to have an "End of the World" theme and use their home-grown system.  Two years ago I was invited to fill in for an absent judge and I put together a "pulp magazine" style adventure where the heroes were attempting to prevent a madman from destroying the world.

Anyways, long story short I leave tomorrow for EOW.  When I left Ohio I promised my fellow enthusiasts that I would return for the three-day event, this year being held in South Carolina.  I'm not running a game this year, but I will present a detailed post-mortem of the event so you can enjoy vicariously the fun of doing a big, long gaming blowout and consider doing something similar in your own gaming community.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Review: Meddling Kids

     Like many people who grew up in the halcyon era of paper-based RPG's, I know have young children.  Both of mine are school-aged, and are exposed in some way to my playing roleplaying games.  Finding a way to introduce the fun of using your imagination, as well as developing problem-solving skills, teamwork, and reading ability through RPG's has been, to date, a bit of a challenge.  Most RPG's are geared towards teenagers and my own attempts at doing some "kid-friendly" games have been disastrous.
The RPG industry seems to be waking up to this.  Wizards of the Coast created Monster Hunters, a very whittled down and almost completely peril-free version of Dungeons and Dragons.  Troll Lord Games made Harvesters, where the players play farm and woodland creatures anthropomorphizing them into furry D&D-esque characters.
     One RPG that I became aware of recently was Meddling Kids, by Pandahead Productions, which as you might expect is a RPG depicting the Saturday morning cartoon "kid mystery" shows like Scooby Doo Where are You or its many clones, e.g. Speed Buggy, Jabberjaw, Josie and the Pussycats, etc.  The game states it is for ages "7 and up" which is about right.  PC's have four stats, reflecting their strength, dexterity, intelligence, and health.  Each PC must also choose an "archtype" which corresponds broadly with one of the character types from the show: the burly person, the goofy person, the smart person, or the attractive person (which sadly gets called "Fluff," making me wince slightly).  What a player can not play is the "Wild Card" which is reserved for the GM to play as an NPC.  The Wild Card can be anything the GM imagines: an animal, alien, robot, ghost, or in the case of the sample "Clique" a primate possessed by the ghost of a 17th century pirate named "Captain Bingo."  The Wild Card is reserved as an NPC to allow the GM to nudge the players in the right direction, provide comic relief, or just to keep the plot rolling.  Conscientious GM's should be careful not to use the Wild Card to completely run the story, or to introduce annoying nephews later in the campaign.
     Which does bring me up to one interesting rule/dynamic, namely combat.  In an early episode of Scooby Doo Scooby, in a rare fit of non-snack related bravery, rushes a villain while snarling and barking.  This particular villain lacked a supernatural appearance and raises for the adult viewer a pretty obvious question: character flaws aside, why not just jump a monster with an improvised weapon and beat him down?
     In Meddling Kids, they answer this by simply saying you can't.  Period.  "Fighting never solves anything," the rules state.  Instead the players must improvise traps and make a roll to see how it works (failure almost always involves the Wild Card in the narrative).  If this seems formulaic, I think this is no mistake, given how formulaic its founding material is.  And I don't think that given the game's goal of introducing children to RPG's this will be much of a problem.  Meddling Kids is a gateway game--I can't see playing it for years but it could be a good tool to familiarize children with the concepts before moving on to fantasy or superheroes or something a little more complex.
  Now the downside.  The book, which clocks in at 96 pages, is incredibly padded.  It has large illustrations, a large font, and several pages on the history of cartoons.  This is space that could have been used to provide additional story ideas to complement the single adventure "The Dragon's Eye" which is too closely tied to the sample PC's in the book (it is even subtitled "The Origin of Captain Bingo.")  A great supplement would be half a dozen adventures that could be used by any Clique.

You can purchase Meddling Kids from

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Deris Michno, Traveller NPC

"Back when I entered into the merchant service, I knew I could go far, given the chance. That employee recruiter from Webber Transports was pretty quick to sign me up, and I didn't disappoint him. Engines, computers, there wasn't anything I couldn't do. I made Fourth Officer and had hoped to make Third, but my supervisor said it was only a matter of time. Shows what he knows.

"My second term I was assigned to a transport ship called Tangerine Sky. A couple of years into the term the crew of the Sky became terribly ill in the middle of a run. The chief engineer and many of the other crew died, leaving us stranded in space. Even though I was pretty sick myself, I ended up being pressed into service in the sickbay. I heard after we were rescued that the Sky had been carrying medical supplies that were somehow contaminated and leaked into the environmental systems. Webber lost a ton of money on the deal, not to mention all the bad publicity. They dissolved the ship's crew, but it was a black mark on my record, and I had a hard time finding another assignment.

"The best I could do was end up serving on an old tub called Protos as navigator. The ship was barely running, and sure enough we had a near core meltdown that almost blew up the entire ship. I started hearing stories that people were saying I was bad luck, even though I had nothing to do with the Protos' problems. And of course no promotion--not after what had happened.

"At that point hardly anyone would take me on, even though I was as good as anyone in the service. I managed to get work driving rigs to and from the spaceport, pretty sorry work for someone with my skills. But everywhere there were stories about my previous ships and supervisors who were out to get me and would write me up for having a 'bad attitude.' I wasn't surprised when I got that envelope telling me I was getting passed over for a promotion again.

"Well, I figured that I would never get a fair shake at Webber--there was just too much politicking and back-stabbers there--so I took my twenty five grand in severance as well as a low passage in uncollected vacation time. I also got this here from a friend of mine on the docks. I know that there were plenty of people who were threatened by my abilities and didn't want me getting too high up. Well, if they try to screw me over again, I'll be ready for them.

"So, what do you say? You won't find someone better for your crew, I can tell you that."

Deris Michno AA4A97
Four term Merchant
Jack-of-Trades-1, Mechanical-1, Computer-1, Medical-1, Navigation-1, Wheeled Vehicle-1, Autopistol-1
25,000 Cr., autopistol, low passage

Hello World!

Right now I have three blogs on Blogspot.  The first is my generic, "this is my life" blog, which I honestly don't update much because I've learned the hard way about putting personal stuff on the internet.  The second is my wargaming blog, The Army Collector, where I feature miniatures that I've painted, etc.  But I also have had roleplaying games as a hobby, but I find that I like keeping them separated online.  So I created this blog, Graph Paper Games, to be a repository for hopefully interesting roleplaying game-related material.
What am I thinking of putting here?  Well right now I'll admit I'm not running anything because I am in a new location and haven't established my gaming base yet.  In the meantime, I thought I'd put things like NPC's for Traveller or adventure ideas for Meddling Kids.  I'm slowly cooking up an old school megadungeon, but I'm not sure I want to put that in--after all, you might be playing in it!
Anyways, comments are the fuel that drives blogging, so feel free to say something.

Over at Strange Vistas