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Showing posts from January, 2013

Lost Girl (TV show review)

Lost Girl is a Canadian television crime/supernatural drama show featuring Anna Silk as Bo, a succubus who is introduced to a hidden world of creatures called the Fae who appear human (for the most part) but who are much more.  Bo was raised by humans, unaware of her nature and suffering from the fact that anyone she is intimate with would be drained of their life.  After rescuing Kenzi, a Russian transient con artist, Bo is discovered by two Fae who work for the local police department.  Surprised that she was raised apart from the Fae, the two detectives Dylan and Hale bring her into the Fae community.  The Fae are divided between Light and Dark, not necessarily Good and Evil, but more Lawful and Chaotic.  All Fae feed directly or indirectly on humans, but as one Light Fae put it, "we're like Native Americans.  We respect our prey."

Bo refuses to become part of either society, since both are bound by strict codes of conduct, but instead becomes a rare neutral figure.  …

Basic Fantasy Role Playing Appreciation

Tenkar of Tenkar's Tavern recently suggested that fans of Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game should set aside January 31st as "Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Appreciation Day."  I'm a big fan of BFRPG, and I can why in one sentence:

Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game combines the ethos of Old School Dungeons & Dragons without the slavish devotion to antiquated and unhelpful rules, and its free.

Retro-clones of D&D often fall along a certain spectrum in terms of where in the D&D chronology they are attempting to emulate.  BFRPG falls somewhere between "Basic/Expert" and "1st Ed. AD&D" but also goes ahead and ditches things like descending Armor Class that regardless of how you might bend over backwards to justify, is counter-intuitive to most people.

What does it have?  Four races (human, elf, dwarf, and halfling) and four classes (fighter, magic-user, thief, and cleric).  It has the standard battery of D&D monsters and spells.  It feels l…

The Wilds of Sandbox Games

So what are the fundamental themes or elements of a sandbox game?

Travel and Exploration.  The PC's have to in some way, shape, or form, move around a region, be it a wilderness, a mega-dungeon, or a distant galaxy.  It's the sense of not knowing what's out there that compels the players to do things with their PC's.  This is in comparison to the notion that the PC's will be handed a plot, through which they will move to their conclusion.

Risk and Reward.  At some level, exploration has a dimension of peril. It wouldn't be much of a game if people just wandered their local neighborhood, chatting up their neighbors and side-stepping dog walkers.  Most sandboxes have the written or unwritten rule that the wilderness is dangerous, often contrasted with the notion of some sort of civilized, safe harbor.

Complimenting that risk, however, is the concept that taking those risks may result in some sort of reward for the players.  Sometimes it is the direct reward of loot…

I don't want to know the ending

Included above is a diagram of most of my D&D games.  Three encounters, one of which follows the other fairly inexorably.  It's the "Dungeon Delve" design from WotC, but I could also make an argument that it goes back to some of the earliest D&D module designs, notably the "Slavers" series that were initially used in tournaments.  It made sense for tournament play, because you were often scoring groups playing against each other on how well they would manage in the adventure.  That meant everyone got the same treatment.

But it is not only here.  Marvel Heroic Roleplaying's Breakout or Civil War follow just as direct a layout, even to the point of having the adventure's designers strongly suggest you kill off a major character in a particular Act.  You see it in adventure design all over the place: Primeval has a multi-act adventure as its sample of play, pretty much any adventure that uses "acts" or "scenes" has this model. …

Stealing a Ship (Actual Gaming Recap)

Well, as part of my hope of being a better gaming blogger, I thought I'd share my own real-life experiences running a game, which for those of you who read this blog know is Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition.  You'll also know that it isn't my favorite game, but it is a good game and my group loves it and we have fun, and as I say in the tag line, that's what it is about.

So, who's the cast?

Revan, a Tiefling bardRogar, a Dragonborn sorcerer/elementalistYvanna, an Eladrin wizardAukan, a Goliath wardenKomos, a Githerazi avengerSkyhawk, a pixie rangerSo, what's the story?
Previously, Yvanna was kidnapped by a lich necromancer called the Icicle King who was running a club for vampires in the PC's home town of Grimfest.  The PC's traveled to the Demi-plane of Ice to rescue her, but the Icicle King told them that he had information about a demon named Astaroth who killed off most of Yvanna's family.
Checking in with their quasi-patron the bizarre and e…

Auctioning Off Convention Spots?

For the past two years I've attended KantCon, which is a gaming convention located in Kansas City.  I've had mixed experiences at KantCon.  I don't think that they have enough planned on Friday, which is the best day for me to go.  I don't think they have much of a plan for younger children aside from letting them check out board games.  And most importantly, I simply don't think they have enough games.  Both times I've gone, there has rarely been slots available in RPG's for myself and my son (usually this meant letting my son play while I went off with a board game or wandered the handful of vendors).

This year, KantCon is facing some challenges.  Their old venue appears no long financially feasible, so a new venue had to be found.  Regardless, prices on admission have gone up.  And finally, they are doing what so many people are doing now--using Kickstarter.  What are they offering, aside from discount pre-pre-registration tickets?  They are offering yo…

Book Review: Altered Carbon

I mentioned a few days ago that I had read Altered Carbon, a cyberpunk novel by Richard K. Morgan, and for those who can't be convinced by my brief mention to go out and read it, here's my longer appeal.
Altered Carbon takes place centuries from now, when humanity has managed to settle a handful of planets in the galaxy but space travel remains prohibitively expensive.  One huge, society-changing technological innovation is that ability to transfer a person's memory into a digital state which is then stored on what is basically a hard drive implanted in the base of a person's skull.  If something happens to your body, you can digitally transfer your consciousness into a new body, a clone, or even an unoccupied body of someone else, called a "sleeve."
Takeshi Kovacs is an ex-envoy, an elite soldier of the future trained to optimally utilize "sleeves," especially modified ones, in combat.  For decades he has been essentially emailed around from venue …

One of my favorite sourcebooks of all time

Strike Force by Aaron Allston was a sourcebook for Champions that came out shortly before Champions II (which incorporated many of the "house rules" from Strike Force).  Basically, Strike Force is a journal of the campaign Allston lead using the Champions rules.  It includes sections on how to run a supers RPG, including what comic-book conventions are nearly impossible to place within an RPG format.  It also has the roster of the eponymous superhero team Strike Force and its split-off group Shadow Force, both in their initial 250-point versions and their later, post-XP award versions as well.
Why do I love this book above all others?  First, it has an extensive section on Game Mastering that is still in many ways superior to a lot that is out there.  Remember that this was a pretty early book as gaming books go, and I think may have actually coined terms like "Rules Lawyer."  The discussion isn't grounded in sophistry regarding narrativist vs. gamist philosoph…

Welcome Robot Readers

There's nothing so disheartening as discovering that over a quarter of the traffic on this site is a result of "back-link" spammers: robots that will continually hit a website in hopes that, I, the website's administrator will click on the source link and I don't know, buy something or watch pornography or whatever the spammers hope I'll do.

I get that this blog is the least popular of my blogs: my zombie blog is right now dominating readership over the others, mostly because it has the most interesting content, not to mention zombies; and my wargaming blog has a more followers on the whole, but has been mightily neglected of late as I dial down some of my miniature painting.

I think also that coming up with compelling RPG-related content is difficult.  Most RPG-related blogs that I enjoy reading tend to talk about issues that I face as a GM, have helpful suggestions about neat things to add to a campaign, or just have pictures that fire up my imagination.  I…

What's up with Cyberpunk 2020

Okay, so apparently Mike Pondsmith, the brains behind R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk RPG and its sequel, Cyberpunk 2020, has signed on to work on a new videogame project called Cyberpunk 2077.  This co-incided with my reading the excellent Altered Carbon, a cyberpunk genre novel by Richard K. Morgan.

So, I say to myself, I should see if I remember if my Cyberpunk 2020 books survived the Great Gaming Purge of 2010 (I'll talk about that another day, but over 100 books were involved).  I hadn't seen them when I was organizing the shelves, so I decided to take a quick glance at Amazon to see what it would take to buy a used copy.

What the hell?  For those of you who don't like clicking links, the cheapest Cyberpunk 2020 main rulebook on Amazon costs $995.00.  Now, that's not to say anyone is buying that rulebook at that price, merely that some person thinks they can sell it at that price.  It actually goes up all the way to $1,500, by the way.

So, I comb my shelves and find …

RPG Review: Primeval

My first exposure to the British television show Primeval actually came through my annual mini-convention EOW.  One of the GM ran a pseudo-Primeval adventure using EOW's homegrown system, then afterwards told us that he had gotten most of the plot from this tv series that was on at the time (it ran from 2007-2011).  I spotted Primeval recently on Netflix and was reminded of the EOW experience, and almost immediately afterwards spotted the Primeval RPG.  Since I was watching the series with my kids and they've been hassling me to run some kind of game for them, I spent the Amazon gift card my secretary gave me for my birthday (yes, I'm so well liked my staff gives me Christmas bonuses) on this game.

First, a word about the series.  Portals in time start opening up all over Great Britain (and I'm assuming the world, but there's little indication of this initially).  A paleontology professor, his assistant, and some young students get caught up locating and returning…

Playing Iron Kingdoms

My gaming group took the rare opportunity to bust out a different game than our usual 4E D&D last Friday. We were short three players, so we brought in a substitute to get the group up to four and then the alt-GM of the group ran Iron Kingdoms, the WarMachine-genre RPG from Privateer Press.

I will admit up front, I neither own nor have read the rules.  The GM presented us with pre-generated PC's from a Privateer Press publication (try saying that five times fast) which included annotations on abilities, PC background, and some fundamental tactics.  While the character sheet was two pages (or one page front-and-back), the background info was another two pages.  I will say that the character sheet had a lot of white-space in it, not to mention lots of room for additional equipment, etc. that wouldn't be used in a one-shot.  That's my long way of saying that IK characters are not burdened with the six pages of information we are used to dealing with for 4E D&D, but st…

A First Look at Blade Raiders (still in Beta)

I was part of the Blade Raiders Kickstarter, and thus got my "first 75 pages" preview of the game, which contains the rules for character creation, combat, and magic.  I think I'll hold off on a detailed review of the game until the final product comes out, but I wanted to touch on a couple of quick rules mechanics that caught my eye.

First, there are no stats.  None. There's four background options, from which you pick three.  You then pick three talents, which represent broad abilities and skills (e.g. "fighter" or "water magic") and then there are specific skills that are developed through play.  Use your sword often enough, you'll get points in that skill.

This is an interesting aspect of the game, because what tends to be reflected in stats ends up reflected in talents.  For example, rather than have a high Charisma or Dexterity, you have the "Charmer"  or "Quick" talent instead.  But these same types of qualities sha…

24th Villain of Christmas(ish): Interface

Interface (Erin Ghata)

Solo d8
Buddy d6
Team d4

Half Cyborg
Wronged by the World
Mad (in both uses of the word) Scientist

Power Sets

Superhuman Strength d10
Superhuman Durability d10
Enhanced Stamina d8
Optic Laser Blast d10
Machine Control d8
SFX: Multipower
Limit: Human half.  When the "Half Cyborg" option is taken as a d4, shut down CYBORG HALF BODY powers for that action and either add a d8 or step up a Doom Pool die two steps instead.

Combat Expert
Science Master
Tech Master

History and Powers
Erin Ghata was a brilliant scientist and inventor working at BioTech Laboratories when the facility was attacked by the villain Technophage.  The armored hero Genesis Knight intervened, but during the battle an experiment Ghata had been working on exploded, severely damaging the left half of her body.  Ghata's fellow scientists were able to save her only by replacing her limbs, organs, and the left half of her face with robotic …

23rd Villain of Christmas(ish): Hunter's Moon

I've told myself: no other blogging until this gets done!

Hunter's Moon (Unknown)

Solo: d8
Buddy: d4
Team: d6

Searching for a challenge
Woman of Mystery
Martial Arts Master

Power Sets

Enhanced Reflexes d8
Enhanced Stamina d8
SFX: Multiattack, as MHR

Weapon d8
SFX: Lethal precision.  Step back the highest die in your attack action pool to add a d6 and step up physical stress inflicted.
Limit: Gear, as MHR  

Acrobatics Expert
Combat Master
Covert Master
Crime Expert
Menace Expert
Psych Expert

Powers and History

Little is known about the Asian woman calling herself "Hunter's Moon," except what she has occasionally revealed to her opponents during combat.  She claims to have been trained in the martial arts by a secret sect of warrior monks, and is now traveling the world looking for suitable opponents against which to try her skill.  She has sought out both heroes and villains, and has gained t…

22nd Villain of Christmas: Keraptis the Dragon

Well, Christmas came up and took up most of my time.  But I thought I'd try to get back on the wagon and finish this out, even if it is a little late.  

Keraptis the Dragon

Solo d10
Buddy d8
Team d6

Mythic Beast
Ancient Evil
Aspiring to Godhood

Power Sets

Godlike Strength d12
Godlike Durability d12
Superhuman Stamina d10
Subsonic Flight d8
Fiery Blast d10
Mental Defense d8
SFX: Claws, as MHR
SFX: Multiattack, as MHR
SFX: Invulnerability, as MHR

Menace Master
Mystic Expert
Psych Expert

History and Powers:
Keraptis is an creature from another age, one far removed from human's remembering.  When magic returned to Earth in force, Keraptis returned as well.  The great dragon has attempted to take over the world on several occasions, but now finds itself  pitted against beings nearly as powerful as itself.

Things I do to be a better GM: Interesting NPC's

Barking Alien once mentioned on his blog that he created something like 300 NPC's to serve as a crew for his FASA Star Trek RPG campaign.  My first thought was, "does this man even have a life?"  But while that question remains unanswered, the second was, "how on earth could you do that?"

Then it hit me, and I've been trying out the solution ever since.  Here's how it works:

First, find some friend of yours who is really into Facebook.  I'm talking about the one that has 800+ friends on Facebook.  You might also want to look for the friend who has lots of friends from around the globe--that's always helpful.

Then, you just cruise their "friends" list picking out the names of interesting looking people with unusual sounding names.  Check their profile; a lot of times they will list where they are from, what kinds of things they are into, etc.

In the name of being not a total creeper, you may want to mix and match a bit.  But here's …

Things I do to be a better GM, Part 2: Voices

This is a little bit of add-on to my previous practice of reading more books, but I do listen to a lot of books on CD.  I do this while traveling in my car for great distances or when I'm just hanging around the house painting miniatures.

This isn't just a good way to multi-task the whole book-reading thing, but I also pay close attention to the narrator, especially the really good ones.  A few years ago my gaming group at the time pointed out to me in a not-so-subtle way that all my NPC's tended to have the same voice: I'd squint up one eye and start talking vaguely like a pirate.

Doing voices isn't easy, especially when you need to do a lot of them in the same campaign.  Narrators of books on tape often have to manage a whole cast of characters, male and female, young and old.  I try to listen to hear how the narrator, often a man, adopts different accents, tones, and speech patterns to distinguish people within even a single conversation.  Like I said, some are …

Things I do to help be a better GM, part one

Noisms came up with the idea, and others are following suite, of  talking not specifically about how you could be as good a GM as I am, but rather about what I do to help myself do a better job running games.  I think this is a subtle but important concept: I'm a good GM, and maybe a great GM, but I'm not some Epic Level GM where people would pay good money to sit at my table.  I also continually try to be better.  So I think there is some value in talking about what I do to try to improve the craft, that subtle combination of art and science, that is running a roleplaying game.

And here's my first, very simple thing I do to try to make myself a better GM: Read More Books.

A few years ago a friend of mine began giving to me for my birthday a stack of books to read.  These are not books I would ever pick up for myself, because honestly I don't read a lot of books.  Or rather I didn't, and what I read tended to be a very narrow corridor of tried-and-true, fairly pred…