Saturday, December 28, 2013

An International Incident (gaming recap)

So we finally get to have another session of our homegrown Marvel Heroic Roleplaying campaign.  In our last episode, the heroes (the Ultimate Posse) discover a supervillain organization called the Zodiac that has been responsible for insuring that villains that are captured are released, provided they are "franchisees" of the Zodiac for a measly 15-20% of their gains.  Members of the Posse adopt supervillain identities in an attempt to become franchise members and discover more about the Zodiac's organization, only to discover  that the Ferret, posing as the superninja Deathstriker, has actually been inducted into the Zodiac proper as Libra!

In this episode, the Posse ponder how to take down the Zodiac.  There are several suggestions, including teaming up with the mystical supervillain team the Pact in order to even the odds.  But Control, the director of the superspy organization UNTIL, wants the Posse to learn more about the Zodiac.  There's just one problem: two of the active members on duty don't have supervillain identities.  The first is cowboy with alien technology Union Galactic, who disguises himself as the cyborg samurai Strongarm.  The second is a new superhero, a young teenage superheroine Bubblegum.  She poses as a burglar-villain called the Black Spider, but is worried that her bubblegum-related powers might give her away.

The group is contacted by the Zodiac's leader, Taurus, and given an assignment to prove their worth as franchise members.  Bialya, a rogue state in the Middle East, is arranging to buy a WMD from VIPER, an international terrorist organization.  Taurus wants the WMD for himself.  Abrasax (in his guise as Baron Von Bloodlust), Strongarm, and Black Spider go to Bialya.  They are accompanied by Sagittarius, formerly Arrowhead, who is monitoring their activities for the Zodiac.  The Ferret secretly follows them, unbeknownst to Sagittarius.

After "stealing" the Posse's aircraft, the heroes go to Bialya and insert themselves into the presidential palace under the guise of catering staff for the nation's independence day celebration.  They manage to overhear plans for the transfer of the WMD between VIPER and Colonel Rustam, director of Bialya's Post-Human Resources Division.  The heroes head out to the off-shore oil rig where the trade will take place and rig it with several traps.  Rustam shows up with his two post-human bodyguards, Manticore and Sirocco.  VIPER appears in a mini-sub bearing several crates of weapons and one "special package."  The heroes trigger explosions and gum-traps on the platform, causing mass confusion.  Rustam and his agents begin to battle VIPER, and the heroes grab Rustam's payment, hijack the sub, grab the weapons and the package, and get back to their plane.

On the way back, the Ferret opens the special container to find a small, human baby.  He switches the baby for some technobabble material that Patchwork and Mr. Eternity had created (as NPC's), and the baby is secretly handed over mid-air to Dr. Mind (again, an NPC at the time) while Sagittarius is distracted by the awkward advances of Union Galactic.

The fake package and 15% of Rustam's money is turned over to Taurus, and the heroes quickly head back to the Posse's base to figure out what to do about the baby.

GM's note: One of the real pleasures of this adventure was that through complete coincidence the PC's that would have been truly effective--Samkhara or Ghost Raven, who had Covert abilities and Criminal contacts; Dr. Mind and his mental powers; or Patchwork and Mr. Eternity with their technical abilities--were all absent.  Instead the group had to work with their limited talents to try to be superspies instead.  The switch-out at the end, which they had planned from the beginning, had a great "Leverage" feel to it, and the stress of trying to pull the wool of Sagitarrius' eyes the entire time finally created a sense of tension often missing in the campaign.  What's more, the group managed to avoid combat for the most part, which is really more a success than a failure in my mind.

Comments always welcome!

Friday, December 13, 2013

More looking ahead to 2014

Distractions, great and small

One of the factors gumming up the gaming works in Q42013 has been, in addition to the work and family I mentioned last time, some unexpected problems that came up.  For one thing, I got hurt to the point of needing medical attention.  Twice.  First, I sprained the MCL in my right leg in an accident in mid-October, which was a painful injury that had me limping around for several weeks with a knee brace.  Then, just as the MCL was feeling better, I had a second injury.  I severely sprained my left ankle in an accident, resulting in an avulsion fracture in the ankle (that's when the tendon is pulled so hard it rips off the tip of the bone where it is attached) and broke my fibula clean through.  I've been in a cast for four weeks and will hopefully be moved to a walking boot today, God willing.

The other thing is more personal, and I've learned the hard way that a public blog is not really the place to air private matters. There has been a lot of stuff going on, some long term and some that has just cropped up in the last few weeks.  Again not really needing or wanting to go into detail, but if did not already have a good physical reason to lie around on the couch with my feet elevated, I would have had to fight hard to overcome the emotional drive to do just that.

So what now?

I have been thinking a lot about what is really the right fit, both for me and for the group. The factors involved in the group are that there are many players involved, and many of them can not commit to regular attendance. In fact looking ahead it would be safe to assume that the group will be less regular because of things like starting families.  So I need a game that can be flexible about the "party," both in terms of the size of the group each session and can cycle people in and out easily. 

For me, I have to be honest about my biggest shortcoming: my scattered attention. Sometimes I want do something with fantasy, sometimes science fiction. I get bored when stories go too long but also like doing more than single adventure sessions. 

Now, this isn't the first time I've thought about this, and frankly I know the answer already: superheroes. It's flexible, I love the genre, and hey, I'm already doing it. What's more the group likes it and this whole thing falls under the "if it is not broke, don't fix it" category.   What I'm really wondering about is the system.  I've considered investing in Hero Lab as a way to help the creation of Mutants & Masterminds characters easier.  Maybe for Christmas...

One blog to rule them all

One old idea that I am kicking around is the notion of colsolidating the three blogs into one. For one thing, I don't consistently do one blog concept consistently but jump around a lot. There is also some stuff I find interesting that doesn't fit into the RPG or wargaming or zombie blog easily. So I could update a single blog more often, on a broader range of topics, but risk alienating some readers. I'm continually stunned that the zombie blog gets more traffic than this one, which is updated a lot more often.  That being said, I'm not exactly generating massive traffic to begin with, so it really doesn't matter too much.  If I change, I'll let everyone know.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Looking ahead to 2014

A Long, Hard Season
I had an uncomfortable moment when I looked at my calendar and realized that the last time I played my MHR campaign was in mid-October.  There's been one gathering of my group since then, but we were very short-handed and tried out the FATE character/campaign creation rules instead.
The reason is simple: work, family, and the holidays.  And since my job is deeply connected to the observance of Christmas, it doesn't get any easier.  We schedule our games consistently every other week.  In November I had work on the 1st, gamed on the 15th, and then the 29th was Thanksgiving weekend.
In December, the 13th is when my son is celebrating his birthday (by catching the new Hobbit movie), and the 27th is two days after Christmas.  I'll be free because I will likely not be traveling, but I suspect I'll be the only one.  That means December will be a complete bust.
Going Forward
One of the biggest problems I have is that I will get into the bad habit of screwing with the format of my game.  It's probably something related to an un-diagnosed attention-related disorder, but it also happens when things aren't going quite right.  For example, when the gaming schedule isn't working out, or players' attendance gets iffy, or when we have a bad gaming session.  There's an inclination to start throwing spaghetti against the wall and hoping that something will manifest itself that works.  (As a side note, this tends to happen in real life now and then.)
There's a wise voice inside my head that is suggesting that this cycle tends to crop up around December anyways, as indicated by a lot of memories of spending time hanging around my in-laws' house making notes about gaming campaigns.  That same voice suggests that I should just build this into a regular creative cycle: build a campaign that runs January to October, then take two months to re-energize, plan, and build.  It would be like how television series are written and shot mostly during the off-season.  If there's any weekend that miraculously comes up as free in those two months, play board games or something similar.
I also can look more at the calendar and try to find the problem dates.  One of the March dates has a problem with my kids' school schedule. April 18 is Good Friday.  If I know there's going to be a gap in game play, I can try to structure scenarios around it.

This seems like a good line of reasoning.  Your feedback is appreciated.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I saw the new Thor movie and am ready to do supers again

Let me say, first off, that I think that aside from the somewhat-disconnected Hulk movie(s), I think that Thor is the weakest character in the Avengers franchise (the new casting for the Hulk in the Avengers movie pretty much resurrected that character from the "worst" slot).  My son loves Thor, and loves both the movies, but Hemsworth is so leaden as the lead character that it is no wonder they gave Hiddleston as much rope as he could handle.

I get that Hemsworth looks like Thor should look, and that Thor the comic book character is pretty wooden on his own.  But setting him aside, Natalie Portman continues to such the wind out of every scene she's in to the point where you really are rooting for Thor to hook up with Sif instead.  Stellan Skarsgard is played strictly for slapstick laughs.  Kat Dennings is also a comic relief reprisal, but I think she should have been cast as Hel rather than jokey-sidekick to the sidekick.  And Christopher Eccleston has the double ignominy of being covered in enough makeup to be unrecognizable aside from his nose, and then having his voice tampered with to sound less human and more sinister.  Making matters worse, he's a two-dimensional villain with zero personality who is just trying to wipe out the universe.

So, them's the bad points.  The thing that isn't quite such a negative as much as a weird quality to this movie is that, much like the first one, it really isn't much of a superhero movie, at least not in the traditional sense.  There's no plot element involving secret or alternate identities, no real theme involving a hero rising up to overcome some challenge.  Malekith shows up, trashes Asgard in search of the Ultimate Power McGuffin, does some damage, Thor and Loki team up to stop him, and the final battle ends up on Earth, in England of all places (still no reason why they set the story there, and not in America, except to possibly explain why Captain America and Iron Man didn't show up to help).  There's really nothing in terms of character growth going on here, just mostly a lot of CGI-heavy combat, which is visually fun.

Okay, I've ragged on this movie enough. It's better than the first Thor movie.  There's lot of cool explosions, and it is part of the Avengers franchise.  There's the part that is clearly working its way up to the next movie, especially after the credits.

On the upside, seeing the new Captain America trailer was cool, and the whole thing got me thinking about supers RPG's again, which I had been a little off of lately.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

First thoughts about Edge of Empire

I've actually been on a bit of a RPG-buying kick lately, a sure sign that I'm either a bit depressed or just suffering from the wandering foot of my hobby tendencies. Edge of Empire is the latest iteration of a Star Wars RPG, this one by Fantasy Flight Games.

I own every Star Wars RPG out there, from the first edition by West End Games to FFG's new stop-a-high-caliber-bullet tome, and I may like this one the least, which is saying a lot since I'm including Wizards of the Coast's d20 version in there.  Why?  I'll tell you.

It's not, as it turns out, because of their dice that are game-specific and damned expensive ($18 for a set), although that does cheese me off.  It's even not the way that they reduce all social interaction to a die roll, with little in the way of in-character roleplaying affecting the outcome.

No, it's the way they chose to settle into the Star Wars universe.  In EoE, the PC's are all smugglers, soldiers, bounty hunters, etc. existing in the gritty fringe of the galaxy and struggling to raise money to hold off various creditors and bulk up their inevitable tramp freighter to bigger and better things.  At best, the PC's are picaresque.  At worst, they are "murder hobos."

What they really are is indistinguishable from every other boring merchant marine campaign this side of Traveller.  The real joy of Star Wars is its conflict between good and evil played out on a mythic level against a science fiction (or more correctly, science fantasy) landscape.  Han Solo isn't appealing because he's the world's coolest rogue, he is because he transcends his self interest to not only find love but also become a hero.  How would the story look if, at the end of Episode IV the big climax is that Han takes the payment from the Rebellion for rescuing the princess and uses it to pay off Jabba the Hutt or upgrade the Millenium Falcon's turbolasers into something better?

I say that because that's the direction the game is geared.  Oh, I hear you cry that a good GM could piece together a meaningful story of heroism out of the grist of Edge of Empire, but I have said many times that it really isn't worth the trouble to go that much against the grain of a game sometimes when there are others that are going in the right direction.

And my God, how many pages of equipment, weapons, and gear does a lightweight science fantasy game need anyways?  I'm at the point now that having to get the players up to speed on 20+ pages of gear is one of those pains in my backside that I have no interest in getting into any more.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

First thoughts about Fate

You know that something is amiss when even my wife can figure out the problem with an RPG...

I bought the Fate Core System book (Evil Hat Productions) not too before heading off to EOW and have been reading it intently every since.  It is not a complicated game per se, just one that take a lot of things that are relatively unspoken or hand-waved in RPG's and builds the rules around them.

I don't want to get too deep into the rules in this post, but rather just look at the pivotal one: Aspects.  Aspects are akin to the Distinctions in Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.  Actually given the timeline, MHR ripped off FUDGE/Fate.  But since I knew MHR first, I have to work from what I know.  In MHR, if you do something that dovetails with one of your Distinctions, you can either get an additional d8 (if it is positive) or a d4 and a Plot Point if it suggests a negative occurrence.  So for example if you use "Highly confident" to do something smoothly because, well, you think you can, you get a d8.  If you say "Doctor Mind is doing something foolish he shouldn't because he's overconfident," you get a d4+PP.

Onto Fate.  Aspects are also descriptors of your PC, his background, personality, or nature.  But you can't invoke them anytime the story makes sense, you have to use a Fate point, and then you get a noteworthy bonus or a re-roll, either of which likely will mean success for the die roll.  You have a limited supply of Fate points, but can garner more by invoking your Aspect in a negative manner (called a "compel") which essentially means you are tanking the roll or generally doing something stupid or foolish or just plain badly that will create drama for the storyline.  In the above example about Doctor Mind, if he was in Fate instead of MHR, he wouldn't even roll in the latter case, he would just automatically screw it up because he was over his head.

This works, I think, when you have players who don't mind having their PC's fail from time to time.  That means that you can't use this with a group of players indulging in adolescent power fantasies who complain vocally every time they get hit or fail to damage something.  (I'm not saying that's my group, I'm saying that's a lot of people's groups, however.)

Also possible, and what my wife twigged to (after I had done the same) is that obstinate players could deliberately tank inconsequential moments (negotiating for the cost of new armor, etc.), rank up on Fate points, then use them in critical moments.  A GM would have to be on guard about those kinds of shenanigans.

It also seems to me to be a game intended for four or fewer players.  I could see people continuing throwing points around ensuring that everything that must happen does.  That'd be frustrating.  Of course, I've yet to find a game that actually works well with a large number of players...

More later, although I do have a thought: Gamma World Fate.

Monday, November 4, 2013

What does November look like?

If you read my miniatures blog (and some day I will integrate the two) you can see that my miniatures and wargaming hobby pursuits tanked horribly in October.  On the other hand, I had three solid days of RPG goodness and squeezed in a home game session that went very well in the pumpkin month.

Now all that gets flipped in November.  I already had to cancel the gaming session on November 1, and will likely cancel the one on November 29, the day after Thanksgiving.  That leaves one session for the home game for November, and after one session the previous month it is feeling pretty neglected.  Compounding this is the fact that there will likely be only one session in December, since I don't think we'll be gaming on the 27th of December.

Having things taper off during the holiday months isn't anything new, nor I suspect is unique to me and my gaming group.  It is a good time to recharge the batteries creatively and come back with some big story ideas to unfold for the rest of the year.  It's also a time when I tend to be tempted by other RPG's, rather than the one I'm currently using (this is my "hobby ADD" at work).

So we'll see.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Home Campaign Interlude

I haven't bothered writing up the third session, my own, mostly because I felt it was the weakest of the three.  But last night I finally pulled the trigger on one of the bigger meta-plots of my Marvel Heroic Roleplaying campaign.

It began with four members of the Ultimate Posse--Samkhara, Abrasax, Dr. Mind, and novice hero Patchwork--chasing down five villains who had stolen some radioactive isotopes.  The villains were Gale Force, Crowdsource, Feral, Arrowhead, and Headstrong.  Arrowhead and Headstrong had appeared near the beginning of the campaign as a duo, while the other three had previously worked with Empyrean.

It turned out to be a tighter fight than anyone expected.  Arrowhead and Crowdsource could hit the PC's with complications, then have their opponents get hammered by the other heroes.  Eventually the Posse turned the tide, although Samkhara had been badly injured by Crowdsource.

A few days later, the heroes are coming back from patrol when they discover their headquarters have been broken into by a fellow named Control, claiming to represent an international intelligence agency called UNTIL.  He told them the villains they had just defeated before had been broken out, and that there had been an ongoing series of supervillain breakouts going on for some time.  Rather than ask the heroes to provide security for the law enforcement transports, Control had a better idea.

He suggested the heroes adopt alternate, supervillain identities, then stage a fight with some heroes, get captured, and then hopefully get broken out.  While undercover they could find out who or what was responsible.  The four heroes agreed.  Samkhara become Trauma, a flashy and scantily-dressed vixen.  Abrasax used magic to transform his appearance into a vampire.  Dr. Mind became Mentallo (he lost points for not coming up with an original name) and adopted a new costume.  Patchwork created a sleek, aerodynamic armor, took on a Russian accent, and claimed to be a robot called Black Box.

The four new "supervillains" then battled Mr. Eternity, Ghost Raven, and Union Galactic (all of whose players were absent) and feigned losing in battle.  While being transported to the Vault, their transport was attacked by an armored individual calling himself Metalurge.  He led to them a high-tech jet with no windows, and the group was transported to an unknown location.  There they met Taurus, a massive minotaur claiming to be descended from the god Zeus.  Taurus said he had gathered together a supervillain coalition called the Zodiac.  The Zodiac would attack superhero teams en masse, and also provide support for "franchise" villain teams who would in turn pay them a portion of whatever financial gains they made.  The Zodiac are:

Taurus: Taurus
Cancer: King Crab
Virgo: Gale Force
Leo: Feral
Gemini: Crowdsource
Libra: Deathstriker
Sagittarius: Arrowhead
Ares: Headstrong
Capricorn: Empyrean
Aquarius: unknown
Pisces: unknown
Scorpio: Metallurge

Taurus and the team haggled over what percentage they would have to pay, and then the team was returned to the jet, this time accompanied by Libra/Deathstriker.  Once on the ground, Libra revealed himself to be the Ferret!  He had already infiltrated the Zodiac in deep cover, and told them the Zodiac's headquarters was in space!

The group decides to try to continue extracting information about the Zodiac while in their "supervillain" identities.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

End of the World 2013, Day Two

Continuing my coverage of the 2013 End of the World gaming weekend...

The second scenario also took place in the ongoing campaign's “Traveller” universe, but in a very different way. In this game, the king of a Tech 1 world of medieval culture is brought into the Empire of Man. The king arranges to have eight of his elderly and loyal royal knights retrofitted as cyborgs, a process taking about 18 months. When the knights return, having been restored to youthful vigor, they discover the king dead, his son imprisoned, and usurper aspiring to the throne. This, obviously, can not stand.

One of the big factors in the system that is used at EOW is first that it is heavily geared towards shooting combat (mostly firearms) rather than melee combat, and second that the game is so lethal.  You can die in one hit.  Not only that but if you are shot, you're likely to die or at least be no longer able to fight.  That's the "realism" of the system, and it has a big factor on how quick people are to pull a gun in a bar fight or kick a door in and start shooting everything in sight.

This game removed both of those qualities.  It used the melee system I helped introduce a couple of years ago, and the PC's cyborg bodies could be rendered inert as easily as a non-cyborg PC, but the caveat was they could come back in a couple of hours.  Since the PC's were on a tight timetable to rescue the prince before the evil Duke could claim the throne, sitting out a scene or two of play was a palpable hit.

The judge also went all out on props: miniatures, detailed maps of a castle and its keep, interesting PC backgrounds, etc.  What's more impressive is he pulled it all together in a matter of weeks, since the judge who was supposed to be running the second day's session bailed at the last minute.  The game was full of cinematic swashbuckling and loads of flashing blades, all of which was unusual for this system and setting.

Final note: in the end, the group failed, so to speak.  After killing the major bad guy (who was only the usurper's lieutenant) and freeing the prince, the prince was killed by a minor flunkie while the group struggled to lower the drawbridge and allow the loyalist troops to make their way into the castle.  The good guys won, but the prince is now dead as well, and the usurper is still poised to claim the throne.  Stopping him and finding someone else to rule could have made for a great campaign.

Monday, October 14, 2013

End of the World 2013, Day One

For those who have been reading this blog for less than a year, or just don't bother following the minutiae of my life, a little background. Five or six years ago I joined this gaming group that has been in existence for the last 25 years or so. You read that right—25 years of consistent gaming. Now, some caveats about the group. They only gather four times a year. Three of those times they spend the entire day (traditionally a Saturday) gaming. The fourth time, they spend three days gaming with each day being a different adventure led by a different GM. One of those sessions is the “campaign” session, the quarterly game that's run the other times of the year. The other two are one-shots. The first three-day event was held in November of 1989, on the date that the little-known RPG Morrow Project said would be the beginning of World War Three. As a result, the gaming mini-convention would be known as “End of the World,” or EOW.

A little more background. These guys have been using the same game system for the last quarter century, a homegrown pastiche of Traveller, Morrow Project, and the FASA Star Trek RPG. Imagine Traveller's PC creation structure (buildings your PC up year-by-year) and Star Trek's stats and skills with a homegrown gun combat system bolted on top of it that they cobbled together using FBI statistics for real life shootings and you've got the idea. Now, I should also mention that this group has slowly grown over time. Like I said, I only came in about six years ago, and I'm the new guy. A typical EOW has eight or nine people, with one serving as the GM (or as they call it, in their time-capsule antiquated way, a “Judge”). That's a big group, but it works, not by accident but by deliberate thought, which I'll get into in a later post.

For the next three posts, I'd like to re-cap the three-day event, just to share how it all works. Most of the participants gathered together Thursday night for dinner. Some stay in their own homes at night, others stay at the house of the host, while others (like me, who was coming in from out of state) stay in a hotel.

Friday was the “campaign” session. The campaign is a “Traveller” campaign, but only in the loosest sense of the term since they use their own rules and a fairly heavily modified universe. Actually I've read this is pretty typical; many Traveller campaigns tend to take the original universe and head off in some direction. In this campaign, for example, Josef Kafka's consciousness inhabits an ultra-high AI the size of a planet who maintains the order of the Empire as a virtual god. In addition, the running of the campaign sessions revolves between three Judges, who basically collaborate on a shared universe, each making their own changes before handing it off to the next guy. Since their campaign has been going over for several years, it has really moved past the “a few merchants and marines in a Free Trader” to something much bigger. The PC's are the crew of a 800 ton merchant ship (the “Beowulf 2”) with two smaller ship's boats (“Eagle 1” or “Eagle 2”). The players at this point each have two PC's, usually a ranking officer on the ship and a lesser crew member. This allows the person playing the navigator to have someone who might go down to the surface of the planet. Playing more than one PC isn't all that common, especially when you're playing two in the same gaming session, but they have it down to a science and it really is quite effective when gaming a larger spaceship. I just have one PC, since I only can make one out of four session for this campaign. Her name is Natalya, and she was a spy who signed on board as a cargo hand before her mission went sideways and now she's stuck on the ship. I'm basically a red-shirt who is much more competent than she should be at things.

The plot was relatively straightforward: the crew of the Beowulf 2 are hired by a Count and his family to travel deep into unknown space to track down a lost family heirloom. In the process they uncover a long-lost secret about the origins of the Empire, a planet of super-soldiers who have been training in solitude for centuries, and are attacked by pirates. By the end the campaign had taken a major shift from a high-end freightliner to a small mercenary company/space fleet. It's rare to see a sci-fi RPG game go “big” that way; usually most campaigns just end up being the crew of the Millenium Falcon and leave it at that. You don't see too many campaigns revolving around the management of a multi-million credit corporation. In the post-game discussion the Judges discussed the possibility of scaling the campaign down a little bit to focus on specific ships doing specific missions, with a revolving crew of players (even introducing new hires for the Beowulf staff). Again, you don't see this kind of gameplay too often, and it was really, really interesting to take in.

While the session started off a little slowly with some fairly unrelated plot, it definitely picked up and the finale of a large starship desperately trying to hold off a pirate fleet was sci-fi fun.

Next: another Traveller game of a totally different color.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Gift Boxes I Made

So, in addition to everything else, I get on a craft kick every now and then.  The benefit to doing craft stuff is that you can usually make it fairly cheap, have fun, and then give it away so it isn't taking up room in your house.

With Halloween coming up, I decided to make some craft boxes in which I could later put candy and give to my office staff. Here's a pic.

They are basically cheap paper mache' boxes from the hobby store painted black, then the lids have Halloween scrapbook paper decoupaged onto the top.  Easy peasy.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Playing 13th Age and other things

Last Friday my original gaming group was supposed to gather for another session of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying but it turned out only two players could make it, and since it was last minute I was only able to bring in one person from Group Two.

With only three, we decided to not bother with the pre-arranged MHR adventure but instead to try out 13th Age, using the pre-written mini-adventure in the back of the rulebook.  Their impression of the game is about the same as mine: it's a fine lightweight version of 4th Edition, with some clever narrative/story elements in PC creation to help get a handle on the background of your character.

At the end, the question was "how does it compare with other similar games?"  I was surprised to hear that while everybody thought the "icon relationships" and "one unique thing" was pretty cool, the lighter rules didn't necessarily impress people.  The players liked having a greater variety of options available when it came to combat, rather than the handle of often "flexible" maneuvers that could be done in 13th Age.  Apparently the hybrid of what I think of as "traditional" RPG mechanics and more novel storytelling games mechanics hit one player funny.  "I think that if you're going to go with a storytelling style game, you might as well go all the way and do dice pools, etc." he said.

A few other things:

  • I got my first repayment from the second Kiva loan I did.  That's cool, and I'm putting the money back into the hobby budget.
  • This week is Group Two, which hasn't had the best track record so far.  I'm wondering if it will work out.
  • I'm also finding gaming weekly to be a challenge, and dedicating that much time to the RPG hobby has had an impact of my miniatures painting.  I'm not obligated to keep that hobby steadily going, but I'm thinking some sort of re-alignment of some kind is in order.
  • I'm still wondering if I could change game systems out of MHR.  The group seems to like it, but it feels stale to me.
  • EOW is coming up soon.  More on that later.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

PC vs. PC conflict and the Magic War begins

We're back with Group 1 for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, although since most of Group 1 showed up last weekend, it really just feels like we are picking it up from there...

Scene One
We begin with the various PC's going about their business, attending their regular jobs or lounging about the HQ.  Argent, the NPC hero whose secret identity was publicly revealed in the last session, continues to rail against Randall Parker, the TV personality who aired footage of Argent  transforming in a back alley.
Returning from a pilates class, Union Galactic witnesses an explosion at the hospital where the three victims of the Project: Sunburst nuclear facility meltdown are being treated.  He rushes over and finds the three are now embued with superhuman abilities.  The former head of the facility is now calling himself Helios, and claims to be sent to return humanity to worshiping the Sun.  With him are Radium and Ray, and the three beat down Union Galactic into unconsciousness.
Thankfully, word gets to the rest of the team, who show up and after a tense battle subdue the trio, who are returned to hospitalization, only now under a lot more security.

Scene Two
The team heads back to HQ for some recovery (especially for the now traumatized Union Galactic) only to find that Argent has left the premises.  Samkhara puts the word out through her underworld contacts but it is nothing so complicated as that: Argent has gone to the television studios of Randall Parker to confront (and assault) him.  The Posse rushes over and instead of attacking Argent talks him down and gets him to agree to leave the studio.  Randall Parker threatens to expose even more information about Argent on his program, but Doctor Mind uses his mental control powers to cause Parker to cease televising information about Argent.
Then it gets interesting.  Union Galactic realizes that Dr. Mind has mentally controlled Parker, who isn't a supervillain, alien, or other kind of physical threat.  He confronts Dr. Mind in the studio, accusing him of wrongly robbing someone of their free will.  Words are exchanged, and Union Galactic pulls his gun on Dr. Mind.  The Ferret and Mr. Eternity tell Union Galactic that they won't let him harm Dr. Mind, while Abrasax and Samkhara quietly wait by the sidlines.  Realizing he is outnumbers, Union Galactic relents and leaves the studio, but a wedge has been driven into the team.

Scene Three
Later that night, Abrasax is meditating in his Crystal Vault.  Suddenly, he hears a voice telling directing him to a railroad freight station on the outskirts of town.  He summons the rest of the team, and they quietly make their way to the train depot.  There they see demons, the same kind as they battled a year ago battling members of the Pact, a team of mystically-powered supervillains.  After a quick discussion, the Ultimate Posse decides to support the Pact and the two teams drive off the demons and their leader, Hellknight.
The Pact is suspicious of their former adversaries, but reveal that they have been continually battling the demonic invaders for the past year in secret.  What began as revenge for their theft of a magic crystal from Lady Moloch has accelerated into a secret war between the two groups.  Abrasax asks if Lady Moloch was the person who contacted him, but the Pact claims to know no knowledge of any summons.  A quick telepathic scan from Samkhara does confirm what the Ferret had suspected, however: every member of the Pact gained their powers from a deal made with a powerful demon named Glencannagh.  With the demon Glencannagh on one side and Tyrannon on the side of the extra-dimensional invaders, the Earth is in the middle of a dangerous conflict.

Most PC vs. PC conflict tends to just be a projection of player vs. player antagonism, but in this case it was two guys who just decided that their characters would react in very different ways.  Union Galactic has traditionally been the "comic relief" character, so playing him as a serious figure was also a neat change of pace.
The best part?  With the two-team approach, everyone agreed it made sense that UG would probably shift to the other team in order to avoid Dr. Mind.  I'm thinking we're about to see two superhero teams battle it out in the future!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ultimate Posse Unlimited

Two Fridays ago we tried out the first of the "two parties/one gaming universe" model by having a session for "Group 2."  Unfortunately only two members of Group 2 were able to make it, so five members of Group 1 showed up to round out the anemic team.  Seven is way too many for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, but I hit what will likely be the first of many snags with the 2P/1GU model.  I had posted on Facebook that I had space in Friday's game, and every single person in Group 1 immediately piped up to say they could play.  My son graciously stepped aside, knowing that I would now owe him a favor, but I didn't want to ask any of the other players to do the same.  I may have to go with a first come, first served policy or some kind of "credit" system where if a player has missed a session in his own game he gets first crack at the other team.

Anyways, the two new members of the Ultimate Posse are Ghost Raven, my daughter's somewhat lighter-hearted Batman clone, and Patchwork, a reality-bending mutant whose powers grant his mechanical inventions the capacity to work, even though they shouldn't.  He owns a junkyard and is walking around in "power armor" made from old automobiles, etc. that can still fly, shoot lasers, and lift tons.  Cool PC concept, I have to say.

Scene One

The new heroes are introduced to each other when they get word that a new ultra-tech nuclear reactor facility named "Project: Sunburst" is being attacked by Terror, Inc.  The Posse arrive and make pretty short work of the villains and their henchmen, with a little help from a new hero named Argent (an NPC).  Unfortunately the facility goes into meltdown mode, and even the combined technical expertise of Patchwork and Mr. Eternity has trouble stopping it before several of the plant workers are seriously injured from radiation.  Abrasax's player snarkily says, "we'll see those guys later, with super powers," making me realize how hard it is to be a GM for comic book games.

Scene Two

In what isn't a comic book trope, when the heroes get back home they see a news report that Argent was spotted in an alley changing back into his secret identity, university professor Marc Rosen.  The video was purchased by Randall Parker, TV pundit and host of "Parker's Points," who promptly exposes Rosen and begins a tirade against super-vigilantes, etc.  The team realizes that Rosen could be in a lot of trouble.

Scene Three

They're not wrong, for when they get to Rosen's apartment complex they find the place is being trashed by members of the Vicious Circle, a gang of B- and C-rate supervillains composed of Eye Strike, Bola, Krag, Mandlebrot, Tarantula, and Brawl.  While the six villains could make quick work of Argent, they were completely unable to threaten the Posse, who mowed through them.  Argent was taken back to the base to recover from his injuries.

Game Session Thoughts

This game session was played well, although I'm still struggling to find ways to challenge large groups of PC within the confines of the MHR rules.  I'm hoping that we can see more of the second group develop over time.  I'll post last Friday's adventures soon.

As always, comments welcome.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Large modular dungeon tiles

I made five 4" by 4" dungeon tiles, which is 80 square inches, almost twice my usual batch of tiles.  When added to what I've done already, this is how big a single room I can make:

14 by 14 squares, with four squares to spare.  That's a pretty big room (70 feet to a side).  If I wanted to mix it up, I could build something like this:

I'm probably going to take a little break from this project.  It has turned out well, but until I'm closer to doing a fantasy game I'm going to focus on the games I'm actually doing.

Speaking of which, it's game night tonight...

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

But what about MY story?

I picked up 13th Age last week and have been perusing it since then.  I had played the game at KantCon and had been reading a bit about it on the internet.  When the game finally showed up at my FLGS, I picked up a copy and got a free pdf version for good measure.

For those who don't know, 13th Age is a pared-down version of 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.  Fewer class-related powers, fewer feats, no grid-based tactical movement.  There's a few odd additions like a d6 die whose number goes up each turn of combat in an encounter, triggering various effects in the PC's and the monsters to accelerate the action.

I've mentioned this before, but there are two aspects of PC creation that bear a bit more detail.  The first is the pre-generated epic-level NPC's who make up the power factions of the world: some good, some bad, some neither.  They are deliberately vague (e.g. the high priestess of the temple of light, the ruler of all the orcs in the land, etc.) so you could easily port them into your own world without too much hassle.  But the PC's get to establish a relationship with up to three of them, and the rules are designed to engage those relationships on odd occasions within the story of the game.  I'm reminded, in a way, of the old "Hunted" disadvantage in Champions, where you, the GM, could suddenly find yourself having to work one or two villainous organizations into the night's plot despite your own plans if you followed the roll of the dice.  That the relationships might be contrary between one PC or another is part of the design, intended to build a little drama into the group dynamic.  In my own playtest of the game, one player found himself instructed to steal the object that the rest of us had been hired to guard.  I can't imagine that working in a campaign setting.

The second is the "One Unique Thing" rule for character creation.  Basically, you can make up one thing about your gnome fighter or half-elf ranger that sets him or her apart from another similar race/class combination.  The unique aspect can not have implications that give him or her a combat advantage, but they can have a dramatic impact on the campaign.  There's a little internal tension within the two game designers about how gonzo these one unique things can be, but notions like "I'm the reincarnation of a fourteenth Icon (the name of the thirteen NPC demi-gods)" or "with my death, the universe ends" all appear to be in-bounds, since they were mentioned as examples.

There's a gaming meme about "snowflakes" out there, mostly about how much leeway you can give to player's when it comes to them nudging into the campaign's story.  The way I see it, the two rules mentioned above do pose some serious challenges to one type of campaign: the sandbox.  When you know who all the major players are, there's less sense of mystery when it comes to exploring your world.  Moreover, players who are clever, greedy, or needing to be the center of attention could easily hijack a campaign with their "one unique thing."  For at least one of the designers, this is no problem.  It helps that he has a "play off the cuff" style with a strong storytelling emphasis.  But I could see this being one of those battlegrounds that exist between players and GM's from time to time.

What's funny is that I read somewhere that 13th Age was to 4th Edition what Castles & Crusades was to 3rd Edition.  Insofar as both are simpler than their comparable editions of D&D, I agree.  But where C&C represented an attempt to bring an edition backwards to an older style of play, 13th Age draws in from the newer aspects of the gaming hobby--call them "narrativist" or "storytelling" or what have you.  It's got more to do with Burning Wheel or Marvel Heroic Roleplaying than BECMI or the like.

What are you feelings about "snowflakes" or players having more control over the campaign's backstory?  Comments welcome.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Something better than Frugality

I'm cross-blog posting about this both here and over at my other blog, The Army Collector.

Right now, I'm reading the book The International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a Time  It's about a travel writer who gets involved with the microfinancing organization Kiva (which also happened to win a Nobel Peace Prize) after seeing the gross disparity of wealth and poverty around the world.  With $25 loans to individuals who are seeking to improve their lives and build local industry, it got me thinking about the fact that I can drop $60 on a copy of the new Star Wars RPG without difficulty, and what that means.

So here's what I decided to do.  I took the remainder of my hobby budget for this month and gathered my two children around the computer.  They each got to pick a single $25 loan to make to an individual.  Kiva loans have a very high rate of repayment, so I will actually get the money back within the next year or so.  After talking a bit with them about this and letting them look around at various individuals who were looking for loans, they each picked their person.

Christopher is a farmer in Kenya who is looking to add a dairy cow to his farm to increase his revenue stream.  Ruth Mery is wanting to build pens for her pigs that she raises to support her family.  Between the two loans and processing fees, I'm out $57, which again I'll probably get back.

So no more games or miniatures for the month, but two people are a little closer to having their lives better, not through charity but locally-organized loans.

I don't get a lot of traffic on this site, but I thought it might be a neat idea to see if others who maintain a gaming budget might be interested in dedicating a portion to Christopher or someone else on the Kiva website.  Since making my loan, Ruth got all the funding she needed, which is pretty exciting.

If you do so, let me know.  And thanks in advance for considering this.


Friday, August 16, 2013

Third round of dungeon tiles

I continue to plug along on this project, in hopes of one day having a pretty flexible dungeon layout.  Here's the third round of tiles and what I can make with them.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Epilogue on Friday's Game

After the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying session, we had a little chat about where we wanted to go with the campaign, which rules we wanted to use, and the possibility of a second team.  As it turns out I have four players teed up for the second team: another couple, a fellow from my church, and my daughter, who is young but the same age my son was when he began.

Interestingly enough, despite several of the players being at least familiar, if not having played Mutants & Masterminds, the group was happier with Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.  I had thought, given how much they had played D&D 4E, they would want a "crunchier" game, but the group seemed to agree that the more fluid, imagination-driven rules of MHR.  I suppose it makes sense--there were a couple of moments in the M&M game where a player attempted what would be considered in MHR terms a "stunt" only to be told there would be some sort of penalty.  In addition, as I mentioned previously, there was at least one, if not two, high attack bonus/low damage PC's who couldn't seem to affect the villain in the piece.  Unintentional, but informative.

Even more surprising was the announcement from one of my players what he'd like to jump to the other group for schedule reasons.  That means having five on each side, which is a very good number.  It also means I have two players who know the game (my daughter and I have done some playing of MHR on the side) and the switching player's PC is a nice, solid jack-of-all-trades PC with lots of solid options.

More to come...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Robot Duplicate Disaster!

My regular gaming group got back together Friday to once again play the Ultimate Posse with Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.  I'll freely admit I lifted much of the adventure from "The Protean Plot" by Green Ronin Games.

The game began with a bit of a transition scene where the team was contacted by the Ferret, who had escaped the demonic invaders.  He was able to tell them that the home dimension of the demons was Stygia, which Abrasax said he would research.

Suddenly, the Posse gets a call from the police chief that a group of metahumans is breaking into Genesis Technologies (home of Lancelot, a rival "hero").  The group of metahumans is the Multipower Gang, and the Posse (wondering where Lancelot might be) heads over and mixes it up with the power-shifting thieves.  The Multipower Gang proves to be a bit of a challenge for the group, stressing out Dr. Mind and injuring others, and right before they are overcome one of the Gang attacked the group with an area gas cloud which makes many of the group feel woozy.  But ulimately (see what I did there) the heroes prevail and head home.

That night the heroes all have a dream that they are breaking into Genesis Technologies to steal their new armor, codenamed "Galahad."  When they wake up in the various homes, many of them get together and discover they have all had the dream.  What's worse, now the police have surrounded the headquarters, and with them is the missing Lancelot...

Watcher's Note: I had the players roleplay out the theft, which they thought was because they were under the control of the gas cloud, which is fine, but not exactly true.

The group breaks down into disagreement about what to do.  Dr. Mind is at his home with his family, and is laying low.  Abrasax, the Ferret, Mr. Eternity, and Union Galactic all want to flee and try to get back their good name.  Samkhara, on the other hand, wants to surrender to the police and make their case to the authorities.  She heads out to talk to the police chief (who arrests her) and the other four make their escape.  Lancelot pursues, but Abrasax, the Ferret, and Mr. Eternity defeat him.  Union Galactic has headed off on his own, determined not to get caught.

While in police custody, Samkhara pleads her innocence, but the door opens and another Samkhara enters, claiming she's an imposter!  Meanwhile, the fleeing members of the Posse are similarly approached by their counterparts, while Dr. Mind, who had decided to go support Samkhara, is attacked outside the police station by a second Dr. Mind.


The real Ultimate Posse awaken to find themselves captured by none other than their old foe/rejected paramour Interface!  She monologues for a while about how they were teleported here by nanites in the gas cloud, and how her robot duplicates have taken their places.  The robots fully believe themselves to be the real Posse, but obey her orders to steal the new Galahad armor (which they did).  Plus, in revenge for Mr. Eternity's rejection of her offer to join her in ruling the world, she has branded them as villains!

Well, the Posse isn't going to have any of that.  Abrasax busts lose, Dr. Mind goes insubstantial, and the Ferret uses his mental-link with his Ferret to turn off the machine holding them.  Combat ensues.  Afterward the Posse heads out to intercept their robot duplicates, which is where we pick up the action again...

While Samkhara struggles to defeat her robot duplicate (since her mental powers will have limited effect on it, plus she was rolling terribly), Dr. Mind easily dispatches the robot who spent last night with his family.  Elsewhere the Ferret, Mr. Eternity, and Abrasax decide to not go with the "everyone pick their dance partner" tactic and instead team up and take out each of them, one at a time.  In a surprising twist, Union Galactic actually manages to talk his own robot duplicate into not attacking, citing their mutual anxiety regarding the return of the alien race that held him in captivity for over 100 years.  (This was a bit of great "emotional stresssing out" using the MHR rules.)  Will two robots now be living with the Posse?

The session ends with the Posse's reputation restored, Lancelot swearing revenge, and the gaming group enjoying a pretty genre-classic adventure.

After, there was a little discussion among the group that I'll write up in a later post.  Until then, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Second round of dungeon tiles and the second Bones figure

I made another round of simple Hirst Arts/Taskboard floor tiles for my "when am I ever going to use this?" modular dungeon.

It doesn't look like much since it is virtually identical to the previous batch, but when you put the two together, you can get this...

A 40' by 50' room.  Or you can make something a little more interesting like this...

Also included in that picture is the second of my Reaper Bones set that I have painted up, a harpy.

I'm continuing to make progress on a project that doesn't really seem to have a specific goals.  But I'm enjoying the work, and every now and then think about a fantasy game again.

Editor's note: to the one who will ask--I did file this post while on vacation.  I took the photos in advance and loaded them up in a draft.  So don't worry--I'm relaxing!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

First modular dungeon pieces

So in my last post I mentioned I was putting together some simple pieces to use as a modular dungeon made from Hirst Arts and Taskboard.  Here are the pieces, having been sprayed with black primer.

Now I paint the pieces using cheap house paint purchased at a local hardware store.  After the paint dries, I hit it with a coat of matte sealant, just to help prevent chipping.

Then, because I'm ridiculously anal sometimes, I cut pieces of foam sheets, the kind you can buy very inexpensively at a craft store, into small pads that will do under each floor tile section so the taskboard doesn't flake away.  Each foam pad is cut slightly smaller than the tile so it doesn't stick out.

Here's a final photo of my first batch of floor tiles, just enough to make a classic 30' by 30' room!

Friday, August 2, 2013

A little side project

I hop around a great deal from project to project.  One I've been thinking about for a while is doing yet another modular dungeon using Hirst Arts bricks and Taskboard bases.  Unlike some my previous one, I thought I would not encumber myself with walls, which both limit the use of tiles but also block player's views.  I don't really have a plan here, I thought I would just build it up and see where it goes.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

More thoughts on Longevity

Well, maybe this'll turn into some sort of cross-blog dialog, but Blacksteel followed up my response to his post on in-print and out-of-print games here.  He notes several games that he really likes that didn't make it, as well as some guidelines for what makes the cut when it comes to taking up precious space on his gaming shelf.

I'll admit to being more of a collector than Blacksteel is, although having to move all my possessions three years ago has certainly blunted it.  I gave away over 100 RPG books to the local public library as part of their youth program (some youth somewhere in Ohio might currently be playing the Hercules and Xena RPG because of me).  Nowadays the internal process for "should I buy or should I not buy this RPG" tends to go like this:

1. Am I going to run this game?
Yes: buy it.
Maybe: go to 2
No: go to 2

2. Is it something that look really interesting, like maybe I could steal something for another game?
Yes: go to 3
No: don't buy it.

3. Is it cheap?
Yes: Wait at least 24 hours, considering question 2.  If still yes, then buy it.
No: don't buy it.

So, for example, the Iron Kingdoms RPG is a game that I could run, although it's unlikely.  It is, however, very expensive, so I took a pass.  The copy of Interface Zero I found in a clearance section of my FLGS, however, is something I might run, and it was interesting looking, and it was cheap.  Thus, a purchase.  Now I will in all likelihood cull that book some time because I am starting to feel the pinch of space, and unlike Cyberpunk 2020, Interface Zero isn't exactly a classic.  Actually I've likely got a big cull coming up, just so I can free up some space and clean up the man cave, but I'll save that for another day.

What's interesting for me about Blacksteel's article is the issue of pondering whether to buy additional sourcebooks.  Aside from D&D (and the ersatz Pathfinder) I'm not aware of too many RPG's that now mandate additional books in order to play.  The GM's book for Mutants & Masterminds, third edition had lots of helpful information, but nothing critical.  Frankly I wouldn't mind seeing a few more RPG's that had a "player's handbook" that just had info the player's needed and a expanded book for the GM.  Instead of having one book that is passed around, you'd have the one book, plus the addition demi-books for the players.  I'm probably wrong about this because it isn't the primary business model of the industry, but I still think it is a good idea.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Little Different

Friday I changed up my typical RPG experience in two ways.  First, I ran Mutants & Masterminds for the first time ever. (I've never even played the game before.)  Second, there were only two players from the group, so I decided to invite one of the couples that I am hoping my compose a second group.  I then added to that mix my daughter, who has been desperate to game with a group like her older brother, and my wife (aka "The Real Irene").  So out of a group of six, only two had really gamed before.

M&M is definitely different from Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.  It didn't take long for people to figure out the rules, especially since I used the archtypes from the main rulebook which includes the quick "Offense" and "Defense" notations.  I can not figure out for the life of me why the Defense sections just don't add the 10 which is added in pretty much every combat action for which they are used.  Actually, constantly adding 15 to Damage attacks and 10 to Affliction attacks was really annoying.

Since most people were pretty new to the game, I thought we'd keep the plot simple.  After a simple bank heist to bring the group together and walk through the rules, an alien saucer shows up and a giant robot appears demanding to talk to Earth's leaders.  Apparently an object called a "Star Heart" has crashed somewhere in the area, and the robot demands it be turned over to him or he will launch a war against Earth.

At this point, my ten-year-old daughter kicks into hyperdrive.  "I check eBay for the Star Heart!" she shouts.  After I tell her that really won't work, she says "I check Google for recent reports of meteorite activity in the area!"
I pause for a second, realizing that her idea actually will work.  And since part of being a good GM involves not sabotaging good ideas that your players conceive, I give it to her.

The PC's find the pod, but of course it is empty.  A quick sweep finds an abandoned car, and the PC's head for the address of the car's owner.  There they find a middle-aged couple seriously hurt and the house torn apart.  Their teenage son, Kyle, has apparently found the Star Heart and is settling a few scores, starting with an abusive step-father.  The PC's follow the trail of destruction to the local high school, where Kyle is smashing up the place.  The heroes battle some creatures that Kyle has summoned, and then manage to remove the Star Heart from Kyle's chest (ouch).

The robot (called The Harbinger) shows up and demands the heroes give him the Star Heart, but they have realized it probably doesn't belong to him either.  Plus the robot is kind of a jerk.  So after a few rounds of fairly ineffectual combat against mechanical alien, the Mystic uses his Illusion power to simulate sending the Star Heart into space.  Again not wanting to sabotage a good idea, I have the robot pursue the illusory Star Heart off planet, and call it a night.

Some quick thoughts on my first sojourn into Mutants & Masterminds:

  • high skill, low damage heroes are at a disadvantage.  Maybe it was battling a lot of high-Toughness villains, but it seems to me that it doesn't matter if you can hit every time if you can never, ever manage to damage someone.  One of the newcomers picked the Martial Artist archtype, and the poor guy struggled to do anything the entire game.  I could see, in certain situations, that PC really working (like against hordes of low-point minions) but most heavy-weights just shrug him off.
  • my group is good with low-crunch, maybe even more than they think.  Maybe it is just doing MHR for six months as the only supers game they know, or because there were four players who had never tried to shoehorn their imagination into a set of rules before, but there was a lot of "I'd like to do this" and my having to say, "well, that's going to be tricky..."  M&M doesn't have a lot of rules for "stunts," but instead relies on "Advantages" which end up looking a lot like OGL "Feats."  Case in point: one of the new players (playing "The Warrior") tells me she'd like to clothesline two minions standing next to each other.  I dinged her two points on the attack roll and gave it to her, but I'm sure it's actually an Advantage somewhere, and she didn't have it.  In MHR, I'd have just taken a Plot Point from her and allowed her to use two effect die.
  • there's a part of me that is starting to chaff at d20 die conventions.  By this I mean that essentially everything happens on a single die with the general notion being "roll better than ten, succeed.  Roll worse, fail."  While there is a "critical hit" rule that gives the attack a +5 bonus to damage on a roll of 20 (or 19-20 with Improved Critical), I'm getting more of a liking to games where there is some sense of how well things go based on how well or badly you roll.  Maybe it is because I'm reading Edge of Empire right now, but fluke positives or negatives seem to work for me more than a basic "hit them or don't" system.
  • I miss team coherency.  Bad mouth Fourth Edition D&D all you want, but everybody on the team felt like they had something unique to contribute to the game.  I only saw inklings of that in M&M.  That may, in the game's defense, have something to do with the plot.  I'm not sure.
As always, comments welcome.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Blacksteel over at Tower of Zenopus posted an in-depth review of a game I'm interested in, 13th Age.  13th Age is a self-proclaimed "love letter to D&D."  I've played the game, but haven't read the rules.  In my opinion, Blacksteel's most insightful reflection on the game came in the last paragraph:

The main thing I worry about with a game like this is that although it's getting a ton of attention now where will it be in a year or two? Castles and Crusades was a big deal when it came out as a lighter, more old school flavor of 3E and how active is out for it now beyond occasional adventures? How many groups are playing it? I loved Arcana Unearthed and later Arcana Evolved and they had a good run for maybe 4 years and now there's not much support at all. Book of Iron Might was the same way. With everything from Numenera next month to the ramping up of "next" over the next year to the ongoing Pathfinder juggernaut, I'm not sure how well or how long it's going to be supported. Maybe in the age of the kickstarter this is no longer the problem it once was but I'm leery of buying into a game that's a new flavor of D&D without actually being D&D. Sure it worked for Pathfinder but I'm not sure we're going to see the same thing here. There's a cost there, partly financial and partly not, and I may wait awhile to see if it's worth going all-in. One bright side: at least there's no licensing issue like there was with MWP and Marvel.
 Exactly.  Pathfinder had the benefit of Paizo's publishing infrastructure in place for publishing material for Dungeons & Dragons.  They also capitalized brilliantly on the negative backlash of WotC's dropping the game system into which so many people had invested so heavily.  Now, as they repeat the process years later with dropping Fourth Edition for D&D Next (good God, I continue to hate that name), there doesn't seem to be another game system out there positioned to take advantage of the disenfranchised 4E players.  Maybe there aren't that many of them.  Or maybe the lack of ability to just claim wholesale the 4E rules the way Paizo just took 3.5 and ran with it is keeping someone from creating "4DVentures" or something.

Instead, you get the odd fantasy heartbreaker like 13th Age or Blade Raiders or whatever which cranks out a couple of books.  My question is, does this matter?  I'm running the aforementioned Marvel game off of two books, and really only needed the one.  I've got two Mutants & Masterminds rulebooks, and don't feel particularly hobbled.  What is the impact of ongoing support on the fan base?

Thoughts welcome.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mi Gran Sueno, one step closer

As I've mentioned earlier, I like the idea of bringing new people into roleplaying games, or bringing people back into RPG's that had dropped away.  So I've been pretty excited that, through some conversation, that four or five people have expressed an interest in getting together and gaming with me.  That's in addition to the six I already game with in my regular game (a.k.a. "The Ultimate Posse").

So here's my idea.  Two groups, one world.  The world shows signs of the other group, everything from articles in newspapers to dead orcs in rooms with their pockets emptied.  One step forward, it would be cool to have players move from group to group, sometimes because they missed their own team's gaming session to actually re-shuffling teams now and then.

Now there are lots of ways to do this, and I spent some time weighing each of them: fantasy, science fiction, even a conspiracy/horror game ala Fringe or The X-Files.   But when I balanced what I thought would be cool (and somewhat ambitious) with what would be easy and reasonable, I realized the best genre is the one I'm in: superheroes.

What is Sersi wearing?
West Coast Avengers, Titans West, Justice League Europe, X-Factor--there's a long history of "spin off" superhero teams in comic books.  This would be, for me as the GM, an easy thing to manage since it would really mean my just using a common set of NPC's, including villains.  The occasional plot line could weave between the two groups, just for good measure.

Plus the genre appears to be popular with most, even if the rules are continuing to wear thin.  I'm strongly considering a shift to Mutants & Masterminds.

Monday, July 8, 2013

KantCon 2013

In the past couple of years, I have had mixed success with Kansas City's RPG convention KantCon.  Most of these problems revolved around the fact that a) I went on Friday, b) I didn't pre-register for games, c) I brought my kids.  Last Friday I only did a) and b), since the kids are visiting grandparents right now.  I also needed to be back by the evening, so I was really only able to participate in a morning and afternoon session.

Thankfully this year I managed to get into a game in both sessions, including one I really wanted to play, namely 13th Age.  13th Age is a fantasy RPG derived from D&D by Pelgrane Press.  It's got some big names behind it and a lot of publicity and support on the interwebs, and despite the fact that I own a dozen fantasy heartbreakers already, I was interested in giving it a try.

I'm particularly grateful that I was given a seat at the table, given that I was the ninth person to show up for the game.  With that many players and just a two-hour time window (more on that later), the game was really more of a rules demo that an adventure, but I wasn't complaining since I really wanted to get a feel for the rules more than anything else.  Without getting too much into the details of the two encounters, let me instead share my impressions of the game.

It's a lightweight version of 4E.  There are re-named encounter powers and daily powers, but they aren't the overblown superheroics of the fourth edition.  It's more like "Cleave," which allows to hit a second target after killing the first (that's once per battle for a 2nd level fighter).  My fighter only had a handful of these abilities and they all fit onto a single page character sheet, so for someone who was dealing with the six-page character sheets of 4E this feels pretty light.  OSR people may disagree.

Backgrounds.  This is 13 Age's big gimmick.  First, you conceive of one thing that makes your PC unique and sets it apart from all other half-elf fighters.  This unique quality can not create an imbalance for the game, it's more a "hook" for players to visualize their PC.  Then, instead of skills there are backgrounds which are rankings in a profession like "pirate" or "carnival acrobat" or "soldier" that are then used to adjudicate what would be generally considered skill issues.  Each profession represents a block of non-defined abstract abilities which the player asserts and the GM agrees applies to the situation.  So if you're "librarian 3" you get to add 3 points when you're doing things like researching a topic or dealing with a mentally ill homeless person (did that happen in fantasy times, or just now?)  I could see some player abuse as some people might be particularly useful or broad professions (e.g. "ninja" or "spy") that could encompass a lot of useful activities.  As always that mostly involves a GM being able to say "no."
Finally, there's the relationships that PC's have with the various thirteen for-lack-of-a-better-word "superpowers" in the campaign.  These are the big, heavy hitters--some good, some bad, some neutral--with which PC's can have either positive, negative, or conflicted relationships.  Not a big factor in a demo game but certain fodder for a longer campaign.

Abstracted movement.  Now this hits the sweet spot for me for several reasons.  I really didn't like the "am I six square or seven squares away from the orc" element of 4E, I thought it dragged the game down and that highly structured tactical movement became the cornerstone of most gameplay.  In addition, I like to build modular dungeons out of Hirst Arts blocks and trying to make one that had an exact grid that could be used in gameplay was restrictive and difficult.  Having movement be reduced down to vague range brackets would be liberated from a creative standpoint.

So all told, I was pretty taken with the game.  It's enough like 4E to appeal to my group, with the things I dislike about 4E sanded off.  I may consider this game as the replacement when I'm done with MHR.

My second game was really more of a miniatures game based on the movie Aliens.  You can see loads of pics of the action over at my wargaming blog here.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Arrius the Black, Skeletal Champion

So a while back I, like many other people, ordered the Reaper Bones Kickstarter at the Vampire level, also opting for the additional red dragon and Cthulhu miniature.  Well they arrived, and I've started interspersing my larger army projects with the occasional fantasy miniature.

Arrius the Black, Skeletal Champion
The first one I have painted was a pretty easy one--mostly armor and flowing cape.  The detail is surprisingly good given the medium, with one exception.  The sword wielded by the bearded giant is terribly bent.  I understand you can reshape the white plastic with hot water, but the sword remains very bendable and I'm not sure would retain the new shape.

No real idea about what I'm going to do with these guys just yet, except just enjoy painting all of them for years to come.

Friday, June 28, 2013

That's a lot of stuff

I haven't posted in any of my blogs for a couple of weeks, mostly because I haven't done anything particularly hobby-related in that entire time.

But, as a way of, um, kickstarting my hobby enthusiasm, I got my Vampire-level Reaper Bones Kickstarter package, along with the red dragon and Cthulhu upgrade.

Oh yes, and the Reaper paint set too, just for good measure.

Now I need to get going and start the 100+ miniatures involved.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Nuclear Scare [Marvel Heroic Roleplaying recap]

The Doom Pool at one point: 4d12, 3d10, 2d8, and 1d6
When last we saw our heroes...
The Ferret, Abrasax, and Mr. Eternity had successfully stopped Empyrean from obtaining alien DNA from the Celestial, but only because the Celestial had mysteriously returned to life as the Dark Celestial.  Now the Dark Celestial is on the loose, and the three heroes have rounded up most of the Ultimate Posse to help.

Scene One
The Ferret, Abrasax, Mr. Eternity, Samkhara, and Dr. Mind are approached at the HQ by Gen. Niles MacCauley of the USAF, who reports that the Dark Celestial is heading for the Strategic Air Command base at El Seguro.  There's a nuclear arsenal there, and MacCauley fears the worst.  After some very un-heroic dickering over what kind of future support the USAF would give to the Ultimate Posse, they head out in their new jet, which doesn't yet have a name.
The team also sees news footage of Empyrean's trio of clone bodyguards--Crimson, Cobalt, and Viridian--attempt to intercept the Dark Celestial and fail.  Cobalt falls to earth, apparently seriously injured or dead.

Scene Two
The Ferret recommends heading for where Cobalt fell, to see if she had information regarding Empyrean's plans.  The group finds her thankfully alive and very disillusioned by being abandoned by her "sisters."  She immediately wants revenge on Empyrean and agrees to join the group.
This plot element was contrived to allow a visitor to have a PC in the group, and fit the story well.
Right after this Empyrean's other henchmen--Crowdsource, Feral, and Gale Force--show up with plans to claim Cobalt's body.  They are curiously accompanied by another figure: King Crab!  Feral accuses Cobalt of betrayal and they have a fairly quick fight that goes in the heroes' favor.
Questions remain: what is the somewhat dopey alien King Crab doing with these guys?  And hadn't they just been hauled off to jail by Lancelot?

Scene Three
Continuing towards El Seguro, the group is attacked mid-flight by Empyrean and his bodyguards, Cobalt having been replaced by yet another clone, Goldenrod.  The fight, conducted several thousand feet above the ground, proves to be a difficult one for the heroes until Samkhara uses her powers to prevent the trio of bodyguards from blocking attacks aimed at Empyrean.  When he falls to the ground unconscious, the three ladies race after him, allowing the Posse to continue to the military base.
Samkhara's player had a great idea, but it wasn't immediately clear how that would work.  There are rules for attacking powers, but nothing on how to attack a SFX or a Distinction.  So I just winged it.
Another great moment occurred when I said Empyrean was using his mutagenic gas gun on Cobalt.
"At 2000 feet!?!" said Dr. Mind's player incredulously.  I agreed to use the scene distinction at a d4, and still ended up with a substantial complication for Cobalt.
The Ferret also spent the entire flight clinging to Virdian in mid-air.  That's almost worth a complication in itself.

Scene Four
The heroes finally arrive at El Seguro, where the Dark Celestial declares his intent to have all of humanity join him in experiencing the delight of dying.  Obviously the heroes are having none of that, and immediately launch into the Dark Celestial, who proves to be not quite as tough as he looks.  It doesn't hurt that the players only rolled a single "1" on a die the entire scene!
Following their victory of the Dark Celestial, the Posse oversee his containment and transport to Supervillain Jail.

Thoughts to follow.  Comments welcome.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Not the Ultimate Posse's Finest Hour

Friday we played another game from our Marvel Heroic Roleplaying campaign.  Here's the recap:

Scene One

Mr. Eternity, the Ferret, and Abrasax the Guardian Gargoyle were alerted by the authorities to a break-in at a Genesis Technologies facility that manufactures military- and industrial-grade construction vehicles.  Accompanies by the new heroine the Huntress, they rushed over in their new jet (whose name hasn't quite been determined yet) and discover three supervillains--Feral, Gale Force, and Crowdsource--obviously trying to steal something.  The four heroes and three villains ended up fighting a highly destructive battle that left most the facility in ruins.  Shortly after defeating the villainous trio, Lancelot shows up, rebukes the heroes for causing so much damage, and hauls the villains off into custody.

The Huntress was being played by my daughter, who wanted to try out MHR and would help flesh out the group.  The players rolled incredibly badly, and the doom pool at the end of the scene had nine dice it in, including four d12's.

Scene Two

The heroes grumbled about what a jerk Lancelot is, and Mr. Eternity wondered if Lancelot might have actually been in cahoots with the three villains (since he failed to show up during the fight).  The Ferret recollected an event several sessions ago where a technician at Genesis Technologies warned him that there was something amiss about Lancelot.
An investigation of the security footage and a quick accounting of the many destroyed vehicles revealed that two vehicles had been stolen during the battle, probably by several of Crowdsource's duplicates.  The two vehicles were a massive cargo transport and a drilling machine.  There's little time to speculate what the villains want with those items because back at Freedom City...

Scene Three

It's the attack of Atomo, the Atomic Horror from Beneath the Earth!
picture included just because I drew it
Atomo rampages through the city, shrugging off the attacks of Mr. Eternity, Abrasax, and the Ferret.  Finally the Ferret begins taunting Atomo, and the radioactive monstrosity descends beneath the ground, frustrated, confused, and upset.

Scene Four

But while the heroes were dealing with Atomo, someone's been using the excavation machines to dig a massive tunnel under Ground Zero, the location of the alien invasion that killed the original Wonders--the Celestial, Mystic, and Genesis Knight!  The heroes make their way down the tunnel when they are confronted by a holographic projection of Empyrean (the 9th Villain of Christmas) who scorns them for interfering with his plans.  Atomo appears to have been a distraction concocted by the Shaper of Flesh to keep the heroes away while he pursues his goals at the location of the major battle between the greatest heroes the world has ever known and the alien invaders.  To stop them, Empyrean collapses the tunnel, and the heroes flee back to the surface.

Scene Five

Mr. Eternity re-excavates the tunnel using his repulsors, and the three heroes rush into confront Empyrean and his trio of lovely bodyguards, Crimson, Cobalt, and Viridian.  Empyrean has successfully dug up the remains of the Celestial, and seeks to extract his alien DNA to be used in his own experiments.  Battle ensues, and Mr. Eternity manages to damage some of Empyrean's equipment but is then knocked unconscious by Crimson and Cobalt.  Empyrean uses his mutagenic gas gun to transform the Ferret into a giant ferret (d12 complication).  The Ferret's ferret companion, Kodo, is unable to reach the Ferret mentally and convince him to overcome his animalistic personality.  Meanwhile Viridian dukes it out with Abrasax, who realizes the battle is going against them.

Kodo fails his attempt to bring the Ferret back into semi-humanity.

Suddenly, the Celestial's body begins to glow with energy and suddenly comes back to live, only this time filled with corrupt, dark energy.  The being, calling himself the Dark Celestial, blasts hero and villain alike and flies out of the underground cavern.  Empyrean and the chromatic trio of ladies also make their escape.

In the epilogue, Mr. Eternity and Abrasax were able to use a combination of magic and technology to restore him to his semi-ferret state.

Again the die rolling were badly for the group.  Rolling the dice out in the open means that you have to live with all the bad luck, and the group had already hit 2d12 in the doom pool, Mr. Eternity was stressed out, the Ferret was suffering a severe complication, and Abrasax had used all his plot points to trigger his invulnerability to shrug off Viridian's attacks.

In the post-game review, I pointed out that the heroes losing now and then was a typical comic book convention, and the group grudgingly accepted that luck was completely against them this week.  However the group planned on getting their missing teammates back and stopping both the new menace of the Dark Celestial and get revenge on Empyrean, who is kind of smug jerk as supervillains go.

Over at Strange Vistas