Tuesday, April 30, 2013

W is for What I talk about at lunch today

One of the small joys of my life is being able to occasionally have lunch with friends (instead of the frequent work-related lunch) when I can talk about things I like, such as gaming.  So it was today when the member of my gaming group who also runs his own game on the side and I had lunch at the Japanese ricebowl diner near my house.
Side note: having places like Japanese ricebowl diners and Vietnamese diners and Indian takeout curry places is one of the true treasures of my Midwestern oasis.
As I said, we were talking gaming.  He's in the midst of a fairly ambitious D&D campaign, not your typical D&D fare but a "sword and sandal" epic set in ancient times.  Less Tolkein, more Harryhausen.  He's a good six months or so into it and it starting to encounter those challenges that all GM's face at a certain point, but that's for his own blog post if he wishes.
On my end, we talked about Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and its pending demise as an actively supported game, and how mechanically it seems ill-suited for long-term play.  My friend, I'll call him Evan, suggested that the lack of really detailed build-your-own-PC rules might have been part of the contract between Marvel and Margaret Weis Productions, a rumor that some at MWP have been sort of hand-waving a bit rather than openly admit or deny.
Evan also discussed why he's actually not that big a fan of the OSR, and why he likes the Fourth Edition of D&D.  It's a rare argument to here these days among gamers, but he states that 4E seemed to try to free itself from some of the hidebound qualities of game concepts that the previous editions seemed unwilling to let go of.  I believe, because he wasn't quite clear on this, that notions of specific PC races were one of the things he was talking about, but I wasn't sure.  I certainly think that there's a "if Gary said it, it must be good" quality about certain proponents of old school gaming.
Let me give an example.  I would love to see someone explain the relative value of hit points to me.  Specifically, a system by which people take a set amount of damage, related to their character's experience, in which there is no transition between being fully functional and unconscious (or in some cases, dead).  I'm not saying the idea is bad, I just want to know what the value is of it over a host of other "stages of woundedness" mechanics out there that WotC refuses to consider.
Anyways, Evan is pushing Dungeon World, which I should at least take a look at.  I like fantasy games, I'm just interested in seeing what is out there part the D&D family tree.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

V is for Very Large Piece of Taskboard

This is a 30" by 40" piece of taskboard that I bought yesterday.  Taskboard is a fibrous kind of matte board made from recycled wood pulp favored by architecture students for making models.  It is flexible, cuts and sands easily, and isn't exactly cheap.  It comes in 1/32" to 1/8" widths.  This board is 1/8" thick, and I use it sometimes for basing Hirst Arts constructs like modular dungeons or buildings.
Between creating stuff for RPG's, painting miniatures, or building plaster terrain, what I'm interested in has a lot to do with my mindset.  If I'm fired up and creative, then I'm using doing RPG material.  If I'm centered and focused, then I'm painting miniatures.  If I'm just needing mindless drudgery, then I'm casting molds of plaster, which doesn't take a ton of energy and focus but will keep me occupied.  Given how I felt back at the "T" entry, I'm obviously in a terrain-building mood.  So I bought a ton of basing material.  We'll see how that goes.

Friday, April 26, 2013

U is for Underperforming Supers RPG's

All right, I can do this.  Back on the "A-to-Z" thing.
I just saw some news over at The Other Side blog that Margaret Weis Productions will no longer be making books for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.  Tim, the blogger at The Other Side, speculated that it was because you needed the right group to make it work.   I've been playing it a few times with my group, and he might be right.
I'll also go one further and say that the game's lack of rules for building your own character and advancing that character, both staples of most RPG's, probably didn't help.
I own the core rulebook and the Civil War supplement in hardback. (I'm not a fan of pdf's for reasons I'll go into on another day.)  But I pre-ordered The Initiative through my FLGS, and now they won't be releasing the book.  Here's the news release, by the way.
Naturally, not having a game in print doesn't mean you can't play it, and I'll probably continue on with MHR for a while, at least until its novelty wears off.  I have noticed a bit of fan backlash about this, by the way, mostly on the grounds of the pre-orders that won't be fulfilled and that MWP got in bed with Marvel, which hasn't really had a successful RPG license since FASERIP, and whose expectations may have been ridiculously high.
In other, non-supers related news, I've been hanging around today working an a fantasy RPG project that'll probably keep me occupied for a few weeks, in anticipation of getting both my Blade Raiders game and my Reaper Kickstarter package.  I'll post some news about it if I can make a little headway on it first. I wouldn't want to start something without being able to finish it... Oh wait, it's still April and I'm only on "U."

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

T is for This is the End of This

When I started this A-to-Z blog thing, I had serious reservations about taking this challenge on.  I was very busy in April, and lot of things were going on.

Well, now lots of more things are going on, and frankly I'm not going to be blogging much over the next week or so at a minimum, much less getting a daily entry in.  I'm sorry, but I have some other, more urgent things that require my attention.  My thanks to the faithful handful of people who have hung in there with me.  Hopefully sometime soon I can get back to at least posting something here.

Until then, positive thoughts always appreciated.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

S is for Something

I spent pretty much the entire day traveling back from the conference center.  Well, that's not entirely true, I spent 14 hours door-to-door traveling from the conference center back to my home, and I somewhat foolishly decided to jump right back into work today.  The conference center material actually suggested that after eight days of intense introspection and planning, I should give myself a day to transition back into my regular life, but I had a hard time convincing myself that I could say with a straight face "hey I've been gone eight days to a place that cooked all my meals, catered to my every whim, forced me to spend hours lounging about thinking, and now I really need to pamper myself a bit before I tackle my regular job."

So I didn't, and I should have, because I'm fatigued.  Travel, jet lag, and yes the difficult process of placing my shoulder to the plow once more have left me wiped out.

And this, and this is petty, but there were 21 people at the conference and we all bonded and become good friends and told each other we'd link up on Facebook.  Last twenty-four hours?  Nothing.  I sent a friend request to one person, who did accept it.  But out of 21 not a one.  It's like summer camp or something.  It sounds petulant, but I'm going to wait a few days to see what happens.  I'm tired and grouchy, but I'l guessing I won't get a single request.  And that's depressing.  The WQRobb in the Devil Suit on My Shoulder is laughing and telling me that twenty people are typing this exact same blog post.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

R is for Really Not Very Good Book

One of the most disappointing things about this week was that I brought two not particularly good books with me to read.  The first was Dan Abnett's very Abnett-esque Ravenor Returns, and the other is the similarly licensed-product novel Edge of Destiny by J. Robert King, a novel written in the universe of the MMORPG Guild Wars.
So, where to begin.  Cardboard characters.  A detailed and even somewhat interesting first half that degenerates into a rushed second half where each chapter features the group of multi-racial, multi-class adventurers facing one uninspired Big Bad Evil Monster after another.  And then to cap it all off, an ending that basically leaves you, the reader, terribly betrayed and let down for any vestige of sentiment you might have towards any of the characters in the book.  A truly pointless ending, leaving me wonder if the idea was to open the door for a sequel, or a misbegotten attempt at pathos and tragedy by the author.
Thankfully I was sent two books by a friend while I was at the conference center, and I read one of them which was excellent (and my be saved for a later review) while I haven't cracked the other yet because it looks pretty heavy.
Hey, I'm caught back up!  Go me!

Q is for Quiet

I've been spending a lot of the past week in "quiet time."  Now some of it has been "quiet while you're brainstorming/praying/thinking/writing time" but some of it is out-and-out time just spent being quiet.

Much like novelty, this isn't what I'm used to.  I'm a "constant background noise" kind of person.  Actually I'm a "can hardly sit still" kind of person for that matter.  As it is I would sometimes plant myself in a lawn chair and sit quietly for fifteen minutes or so before I had to get up and walk again.  Thankfully walking the loop at the conference center was an acceptable way to spend quiet time.

As I said, much of what happened over the back half of the conference involved making plans for your own life informed by the lectures and workshops of the first half combined with some preliminary work I did back home and the work done during the contemplative time.  Yesterday I completed three major goals, each of which had four individual components to them.  I won't bore you with the details of most of the goals since they are largely personal and professional, both things that don't tend to appear on this blog, but one component was unplugging more often, especially when I'm at work and on my day off.  That's not to say I'm abandoning the internet, but my job doesn't require me to be online constantly.  Furthermore it's all too easy to get sucked into the vast, often negative, wasteland of the internet on my day off.

What does that mean for my own personally blogging?  Well, a good and an arguably bad thing.  I often try to post regularly, sometimes posting things just to get the post on the blog.  Not surfing the internet as much means I'll be doing more interesting things, including hobby-related things.  That means that what you see might actually become much, much more interesting, just maybe not quiet as frequent.  Since the frequent stuff wasn't always good, that in itself might be a positive.

Today is the last day of the conference, the last day of being completely coddled by staff and allowed to lounge around in the Arizona sun all day long (okay, that really didn't happen).  Tomorrow I'm heading back home, a trip that will take all day, and then Tuesday I'm back in the office.  That's probably a mistake and I should have given myself a transition day in there, but I just don't think it would have worked out.  So again, I'm probably going silent for a few days, and then I'll think about what the "R" word might be.

Friday, April 19, 2013

P is for Peculiar Books for Little Girls

KlawBerry: Good Girl. Bad World.
I spotted this book looking for a present for my kids while I'm away.  Klawberry is a modern folk-tale with an artistic style reminiscent of the old Samurai Jack cartoons.  The main character is a good spirit whose eye is stolen by a demon who uses it to take over the world.  Klawberry, obviously, needs to get it back.

In addition to the book, I also picked up the plush Klawberry doll, complete with eyepatch as well.  My daughter is a little old for the book, but she'll like the weird monsters and superpowered heroine.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

O is for Outdoor Chapel

The internet is very, very spotty where I am this week, so I'm having to try to create blog posts in those brief windows when it is working.  In addition I've been fairly busy attending the conference but I do love this outdoor chapel, called someone unimaginatively Rock Chapel (the conference center is, in turn, Chapel Rock, which I believe is a reference to C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). 

It's a beautiful place just to see, much less pray at, so I thought I'd share it today.  I will freely admit that I did have a voice in my head thinking I should work it into some fantasy game at some point, though.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

N is for New

Today I met someone who's personal philosophy was essentially "what the hell."  He was, and is a guy who dives into everything head first.

I, however, am not that guy.  I'm a hobbit.  I like my hobbit hole and I like things that are familiar.  I can handle crises, mind you, I just tend to find something I like on the menu and then order it the next half dozen times I'm there.  I get this makes me boring and probably stunts some kind of development, but I'm someone who approaches novelty with a bit of trepidation.

Which is why I am way out of my comfort zone right now.  I'm at a work conference (which I've never done before) in Arizona (where I've never been before) where I know no one and I'm staying here for a week.

And I'm having a good time.  It doesn't hurt that Arizona is beautiful and the retreat center is posh and there is someone whose sole job it is to make sure you have everything you want and work paid for all of it.  So I'm not exactly Stanley Livingstone here.

But it's still going great, and my aversion to this very unfamiliar experience is being ameliorated.  Maybe I'll get a pic up if I can.

Monday, April 15, 2013

M is for Moving

No, I'm not relocating to another job.  I did that a little under three years ago, and it was traumatic enough to convince to me stick my current job, even if they start burning me in effigy.

I'm talking about just moving around.  I'm one of those people who really doesn't like sitting for long stretches of time.  There's a direct connection between my ability to think critically and be creative and being in motion.  Go for a walk, have brainstorms.  Sit down, and some part of my brain shuts off.  My office staff has, I think, gotten used to my just grabbing my coat, saying "I'll be back in five mintues," and then leaving the office.  I've even noticed that when I'm really, really depressed I walk like I'm in slow-motion.

Despite this, I'm distinctly a guy who could use a little more exercise.  If should just simply schedule regular walks during my work days, and maybe do a good long one on my days off.

I'm also moving today is so far as that I'm traveling to a work-related conference.  This conference was the main argument against my doing the April "A to Z" Challenge: eight days with a pretty packed schedule.  I wasn't even sure I'd have wifi, since I'm going to be at some sort of campground/conference center, not a hotel/conference center.  Needless to say, if these blog posts drop off tomorrow, you'll know why.

There's another thing I've got going on related to "moving" but I may be saving that until later.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

L is for Losing

For those who are new to the blog, I regularly do a little wargaming with miniature soldiers.  My current time period is the Viking age, using a game called Saga.  Today I played with Bill from Wargaming From An Armchair, my Vikings versus his Scots.  In the first game his shooting and my lousy die rolling caused my army to be wiped out before I could cross the two bridges into his territory.  In the second game my rolling was nothing less than amazing and I took a commanding lead early in the "hold the sacred ground" scenario for the win.

So here's some pics of today's game:

Friday, April 12, 2013

K is for Killing

It is an inconvenient truth that roleplaying games are, almost universally, violent in nature.  In fact, I would guess that by pure percentages RPG's are more violent thematically than video games, since video games feature arcade-like themes, sports, etc. while RPG's do not.  I think this would be more of an issue in society (parts of whom are taking a baleful look at video games) if it were not for the fact that playing tabletop roleplaying games has diminished into outright obscurity.

The violence themes in RPG's are often ameliorated by making our usual opponents monsters--orcs, aliens, vampires, etc. and by posing the conflicts in terms of good versus evil, but I'll freely admit that I have my moments of wondering how good it is for my son and I do engage in a hobby that frequently revolves around pretending to kill other things.

It is one of the reasons why I have been enjoying playing a superhero RPG, since outside of the Iron Age the general philosophy of comic book characters is that killing opponents was often the line that heroes wouldn't cross.

Side note: the obvious exception is Wolverine, who I think was and is a more compelling character when he is the moral outlier and not the norm.

It is also why I have been considering Star Trek and Doctor Who as possible games as well.  It's been difficult at times to go to work and promote things like Jesus, Bombs, and Ice Cream Study Guide with DVD: Building a More Peaceful World and then come home and wargame Vikings.

And RPG enthusiasts and wargamers are notoriously touchy about the subject when it comes up.  Just look at what happens on The Miniatures Page when people raise questions about playing the Nazi side in WW2 wargaming.

Yes, it's pretend.  Yes, I'm a mature, mentally stable adult who can distinguish between fantasy and reality.  But I also game with children, and I tend to think of myself as someone who abhors violence in reality. So I'd love to have a discussion on this, whether you are an active roleplaying game enthusiast or not.  Does it bother you?  What's your take on this?  Comments welcome.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

J is for Just Another Fantasy RPG

Recently a friend told me to take a look at Dungeon World, a more Cortex-esque fantasy RPG.  Ironically enough, I've been wondering about the latest edition of Castles & Crusades, which I ran a few years back.  It's on its fifth edition, which frankly seems a little ridiculous to me, especially because I understand the changes are minimal, but since I skipped the previous four, I'm wondering if enough shifts might back the game worthwhile.
But here's the thing.  I own a lot of fantasy RPG's.  A lot.  For D&D alone I own Basic, Expert, the all-in-one compendium, 1st and 2nd editions of D&D, 3rd and 3.5 Edition, Fourth, Essentials, and now the trial D&D Next.  I also own Hackmaster, Swords & WizardryLabyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy, OSRIC, Pathfinder, and the aforementioned Castles & Crusades.  Outside the D&D family tree I own Palladium Fantasy, Dragon Warriors, Rolemaster, Ingenium, and if it counts, two different editions of Ars Magica (including the original, which I like the best).  At some point in the hopefully near future, I'll be getting my copy of Blade Raiders.
So there's a point where I (and certainly if not I, then the real life Irene) might ask myself, "do I really need another fantasy RPG, especially given that I'm running a superhero game right now?"
And well, it's a good point.  Frankly it keeps me from rushing out and buying Dungeon Crawl Classics (that and the whole weird dice thing).  But at this point I'm having an introspective conversation with myself about what kind of campaign I want to play, and then which game might be the best fit.  Or rather, if I ran another fantasy campaign, what kind I would like to play.  Here's my general prospectus:

  • A sandbox campaign, much like the Westward Marches, where the PC's basically go out in little forays into the unknown
  • The unknown is a combination of random wilderness encounters and pre-established multi-encounter locations
  • A game where people have a reasonable number of options for character creation (what constitutes a reasonable number?  Good question.  More than four?)
  • A game that plays well with as little as three, as much as eight, and on average five or six players.
  • A game that an intelligent but inexperienced newcomer to RPG's could pick up after a couple of sessions
So part of me looks at that and goes, "well, that could be most fantasy RPG's, right?"  Except I don't think Rolemaster is all that easy.  Ingenium has some rules issues (although hopefully they are being dealt with).  B/E D&D, and its immediate clones, have race-as-class, which I'm unsure about for the way it restricts character creation, although I've seen some good arguments.  I put up with the six page character sheet for 4th Edition for years, and watched gameplay degenerate into a push-button process of selecting which move you want to do in combat.
I do realize that the fourth bullet point is probably the most difficult.  I have six players on average, but honestly would like to invite some new people into the group.  We're also almost entirely adults who have jobs and in some cases families, so there's a little rotation in the line-up.  I'd like a game where the group feels like they could go out even if they are short the tank, or the striker, or whatever and at least make a good go of it.  But I know from personal experience that six players in 4E means a single combat takes an hour.
So I'm constantly looking for the sweet spot, the combination of crunch and flexibility, flavor and generality, that I want in a game.  Somewhere hovering around Castles & Crusades, Basic Fantasy, and D&D Next is where I think I want it to fall, but I don't know.
Your thoughts or experiences?  Comments welcome.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

I is for It's Not Very Good

I was thinking about doing something like "I is for Internet" and talking about the impact the internet has had on the RPG hobby, but it didn't sound that interesting and honestly aside from saying it has had a lot of impact.

But, I did finish a book (or more correctly, a book on CD) called The Games by Ted Kosmatka

Short version: Jurassic Park meets The Hunger Games.  In a dystopic future where advanced in genetic manipulation have been reached, the various countries of the world have added a new event to the Olympics--a gladiator death match featured engineered creatures whose only rule is "no human DNA."  Facing their first loss since the beginning of the games, the Olympic Committee of the US decides to forego its usual practice of designing custom DNA and instead ask the greatest supercomputer in existence (built and controlled by an autistic savant) to create the DNA code instead.  The creature, superior to any previous design and part of a greater secretive plan by the computer and its creator, of course escapes and wrecks havoc.

So, what are the plot holes of this book?

  1. Why would the ability to create whole new cross-phylum species of creatures (and the millions of dollars necessary to do it) we wasted on a creature that would die for little purpose in a deathmatch?
  2. Are we to believe that American culture, which has little stomach for cockfighting or dogfighting, would overwhelmingly support an Olympic match involving creatures killing each other?
  3. Or that such an event would feature no sensible security measures in the case of a creature getting loose?  Even zoos have guards.
  4. And how on earth can Olympic testers be able to detect "human DNA"?  Primate DNA is overwhelmingly similar to our own, and primate hybrids are shown in the games)
  5. After a big buildup about how bizarre the US gladiator is, how people are horrified and entranced by it, in its actual description its a jet-black humanoid with bat wings on its back, bat-like ears, and large, gray eyes.  It's only halfway through the book that a truly minor character notes to himself that the creature looks like the devil.  But honestly, that's what's so scary?  There are croco-tigers and kangaroos with six inch claws in the games, but a big black creature looking like the monster from "Fantasia" is supposed to take the cake.
Because this guy is the terror of DC Comics.
Plot--predictable and almost dripping with foreshadowing (Hey, the main character likes archery!  Think that'll matter later?)  The main characters come across as people that most individuals, if they met them in real life, wouldn't really like very much.

And the ending?  Oy.  Pointless swerve, followed by underwhelming climax.  Even my son, when he heard about how the monster was eventually dealt with, said, "that's it?"

What's funny is that one of the dust jacket blurbs said, "it's obviously destined for the big screen," which is funny, because it is likely true.  Not because it is all that great, but because it is so painfully derivative and filled with low-brow pseudo-science that some producer will think it's a winner.

H is for Humor

Either the delight or the bane of a GM's existence, humor seems to be almost omnipresent in roleplaying games, or at least in their implementation.  I've played "serious" games before, games where the plot was grim, the tone dark, etc.  But it is hard to sustain, particularly over time.  At some point, someone cracks a joke or does something wacky and everyone is laughing.
For some GM's, this is extremely frustrating. I saw a Call of Cthulhu game at a convention get wrecked because two of the players were complete clowns.  I've seen tense moments get ruined by people who rely on humor to manage discomfort.  That's some of the difficulty of the craft there.  (It's also a good reason to get the social dimension diffused by eating dinner first, as I mentioned in my last post.)
But I for the most part just roll with it.  I tend to run fairly light-hearted games without a lot of adult or serious themes.  For one thing, my son is in the game, and he is still a little young.  I also just like to laugh myself, probably more than I want to tell a gritty story.  It's a great payoff when you can do a serious game that really sucks people in, but I don't find such games a joy to run long-term.
By the other side, I'm not a huge fan of silly games like Toon or Paranoia.  Those likewise seem to have little long-term appeal to me.  For me, the sweet spot is something akin to the television show Burn Notice--serious plot, mixed humor/serious action, humorous interpersonal dialog.

Monday, April 8, 2013

G is for Gastronomy

I've said before that I think that hospitality is an important part of roleplaying games.  A nice, welcoming place to play is vitally important, and snacks are a great idea.  But I take it one step further in my own game by providing dinner one hour before the game begins with dinner at 6:00 PM, gaming at 7:00 PM, and usually finishing around 11:00 PM.

Offering dinner allows the group to not worry about rushing home to make something to eat.  It also gives the group about an hour (which is more time than you realize) to visit and catch up with the other players about what's going on in their real lives.  Last Friday night, we spent the hour hearing about how one player had been accepted into a PhD program, how another had a new job but that it wasn't going well, how another's kids were doing, and what our plans for the weekend might be.  In addition to just helping friends be friends, it also allows us to get conversation out of the way and focus on gaming for the rest of the evening (although that doesn't always work).

While we are just as guilty as the next gaming group in ordering pizza regularly, I make a point of trying to actually cook something if I can.  Earlier in this blog I mentioned my pulled pork recipe, but here's one I just tried out Friday: Beer Cheese Fondue.  You can make it in a saucepan over a stove, but it is more fun to use a fondue pot so you can move it onto a stand with a warmer and eat it around a table, rather than over a stove.

Eating before the game

12 oz. beer (about one bottle)
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
8 oz  swiss, shredded (it usually isn't sold this way--you'll have to do it yourself)
2 tsp flour
salt and pepper
a couple of dashes of Worcestershire Sauce

Over a medium-high heat, simmer the beer in the saucepan or fondue pot for about five minutes until warm.  Then gradually add the cheese and the flour (which provides consistency).  When it has melted to a viscous consistency, add the salt, pepper, and Worcestershire Sauce for flavor.

Using fondue forks (ask someone who got married in the late 1960's or early 1970's--they got a set for their wedding, or go to Goodwill) dip vegetables like broccoli, carrots, peppers, or mushrooms, or fruit like apples into the cheese and eat.  Make sure you keep the saucepan warm, otherwise the cheese will congeal and become difficult to manage.

A while back I saw a Kickstarter about a Gamer's Cookbook.  I may continue to publish my recipes for game night here, if people are interested.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

F is for Fantasy

A few nights ago the real Irene and I are having a walk around our neighborhood with the kids, and we're talking RPG's (this to counterbalance her tendency to talk a lot about roller derby).  One of the things that we got off onto was the preponderance of fantasy RPG's out there on the market.  Irene's theory was that this was because Dungeons & Dragons was really the first successful RPG, and essentially its genetic core has been dominant in all the offspring that came later.  While I think there's something to that argument, I respectfully disagreed.  First, there were science fiction and other genres represented in RPG's not long after D&D came out, but none of them really succeeded, despite the massive popular culture support that should have been there.  D&D may have had The Lord of the Rings on its side, but Traveller should have had Star Wars and Star Trek.

I think that Fantasy, as a genre, has had several inherent advantages over other genres that have generally lent themselves to being the predominant format of RPG's.  Here's my argument:

  1. It's accessible.  Aside from the whole LotR thing, the notion of knights and wizards is pretty embedded into Western culture.  You say dragon, people get what a dragon is.  You say Andorian, and you'll get a blank stare.
  2. No specific licensing.  I'm of the belief that licensed RPG's are a mixed blessing.  Sure, you appeal to the fan base and have a ready, pre-made introduction to the world, but you're usually hindered by both trying to reproduce the "feel" of a movie or a book in a gaming context, and that is not easy to do.  Not to mention that you'll have to figure out how the PC's are relevant in the over-arching plot and not spear-carriers for the licensed story (I'm looking at you, Star Wars).  Yes, there are licensed LotR games out there, and historically they haven't done well.  I just think that a generic fantasy setting is more accessible than a generic sci-fi one, mostly for the reasons in the first argument.
  3. Technology is a pain in the butt.  This is complex issue, but let me see if I can break it down.  The old slogan about the gun being the great equalizer is generally true, and the issue facing a lot of modern- to futuristic-games is that you someone have to maintain a semblance of that realism--the notion that anyone could be shot once and killed--with the scaling effect generally in place in RPG's.  By that I mean that you want big, bad guns who require more effort and present a greater danger as part of  your story, but a big gun can generally negate that greater threat.  In fantasy games, where opponents tend to be often non-human and weapons tend to be more of the "it'll take you eighteen cuts before you kill the guy" it is easier to structure games where the BBEG at the end really will take a while to take down.
  4. Then there's the transportation issue.  On fantasy, you're largely on foot--you're or some animal's.  Having a rough idea of how far the PC's can travel give the GM is a little bit of not just control but necessary foresight.  Barring some pretty high-powered spells (that you would know your PC's have) you can say to yourself, "okay, they could go to that ruin, that temple, or that den.  That's what I need to stat out."  Contrast that with say, an RPG based on my life, WQRobb, regular human being.  You think I'm just going to kick around my home town all day writing on my blog.  Forget that, I'm scraping together all my savings, buying a plane ticket, and flying to Aruba.  Highly unlikely?  Absolutely.  But possible.  And players are always doing things you don't expect.  Restricting travel by dint of genre helps rein that in, even in a small way.
  5. Classes.  Call them "Occupations," call them "Archtypes," call them whatever you will, but most fantasy RPG's have fairly delineated character concepts, each of which perform a fairly vital role on the team.  Everybody's got a job, and there's not a whole lot of overlap between them, even if you're running 4+ players.  Modern and futuristic games tend to be skill based, less delineated, and prone to overlap.  It is my general impression that most sci-fi games who try to avoid this problem end up doing so by introducing elements that are often associated with fantasy--psychic powers, weird alien stuff, etc.  And highly-delineated character concepts aren't necessary given the right group of players, but they do help in making every player feel valuable, which means they are having a better time at the game.

Well, that's more than enough for now.  Let me know what you think, even if it is that I'm totally off-base here.  

Friday, April 5, 2013

Tales of Robot Romance!

So, we had our second session of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.  The PC's who were present were the Ferret, Mr. Eternity, Samkhara, and Abrasax the Gargoyle.

The story begins with the Ferret (in his secret identity as Max Collins) taking a day off for a drive up the coastline.  He's accompanied by Samkhara, who just wanted a chance to get away and have some fun.

While stopping to get fuel and a soda, the Ferret and Samkhara notice people running in terror down the street.  Samkhara uses her fear-based telepathy to ascertain that a robot is destroying the center of the small community.  The Ferret drives to the downtown area, only to have a statue crash into his car, destroying it and hurting both him and his companion.  The robot is going berzerk, tearing up everything in the area.

The Ferret quickly changes costumes, calls Mr. Eternity on his cell phone, and he and Samkhara engage the robot, who as it turns out as a human brain (albeit one consumed with fear and confusion).  Mr. Eternity and Abrasax show up together and help dismantle the robot before it does more damage.

Samkhara is able to talk the robot into a more calm state and discovers that her name is Sandy Perkins, an elderly woman who apparently had her brain placed into the robot body by a strange half-human, half-robot woman.  She managed to escape, although in hysterical state so she can't remember where the facility where she was held is.

The Ferret manages to use Mrs. Perkins' trail of destruction back up the coastline towards the secret facility, but along the way they are attacked by six robotic duplicates of Mr. Eternity.  The heroes manage to destroy two of them, but not before the other four fly off with Mr. Eternity as their prisoner (the result of a 2d12 on the Doom Pool).

While Abrasax follows the exhaust trail of the robots through the air, Mr. Eternity meets his captor, the cyborg supervillainess Interface.  As it turns out, Interface had seem Mr. Eternity on television and realized that, like her, he was a fusion of humanity and technology, and she hoped he would join her in transforming all of humanity into cyborgs (Mrs. Perkins was an early attempt at a prototype, having been kidnapped from a retirement home).

At that moment, the other heroes burst in and began battling Interface and her robotic minions.  Mr. Eternity hatched a plan, however, and began to try to convince Interface that he genuinely was interested in joining her, and with Samkhara's telepathic assistance, convinced her to stop fighting.  (In game terms, he and Samkhara emotionally stressed her out.)   The heroes then deposited her at the supervillain detention facility. No doubt Interface will be back to avenger herself on the hero that broke her (half human) heart!

Sadly, Mrs. Perkins' body had been destroyed, but the plucky old lady decided that the robot body worked better than the old one, but she was worried about her ability to go back to the retirement home.  After some discussion, the heroes decided to invite her to join the team and move into her headquarters.  Sandy, now going by the name "Mrs. Robot" isn't much for fighting, however, but she will help take care of things around the base, bake brownies, etc.  (Samkhara and she have already had some differences, but Mrs. Robot is particularly fond of that kind young man calling himself "The Ferret.")

For those who are curious, here's Mrs. Robot's Datafile

Mrs. Robot (Sandy Perkins)

Illustration by Dave Johnson
Affiliations: Solo d4, Buddy d6, Team d8

Sweet Old Lady
More Machine Than Human
Making the Best of a Bad Situation

Power Sets:

Superhuman Strength d10
Enhanced Durability d10
Enhanced Senses d8
SFX: Nuts and Bolts.  Step up a Robot Body power, then increase the Doom Pool by a d6.
SFX: In the Repair Shop.  Mrs. Robot is unable to recover physical trauma normally or through medical care.  A Tech specialty roll against the starting doom pool and the trauma level will repair all damage immediately, however.
SFX: Immune to disease, poison, aging

Psych Novice (d6)

E is for Enough

Wow, one week in and I'm already bored with my own "April A to Z Concept."  I think that, rather than continue to grind my way through the whole "deCom" concept, I can simply synopsize how the campaign would work.

  • PC's are heavily armed cyborgs with possible anti-social tendencies.  In short, your typical RPG group.
  • Adventures initially revolve around killing bigger and badder robots.
  • Roleplaying opportunities exist between the RPG group and other deCom crews, government officials, and shady arms dealers.
  • The campaign really gets rolling when there's a shift in the system, e.g. the mimints turn out to be more intelligence than believed, the First Families get anxious about how they've created an uncontrolled mass of super-soldiers in their own back yard, or (SPOILER ALERT) the Martian AI satellites begin to connect with the mimints and/or deCom command heads.
  • I didn't get around to mentioning the Martian AI satellites?  Oh well, they're there.  You should read the book.
In terms of what rules to use, aside from the usual suspects of generic rules (like GURPS) I thought Eclipse Phase might be an interesting option, or (and this may cause a revocation of my GM card) Rifts.

I think that what initially appeals to me as a campaign concept is the same thing that really puts me off, namely the over-equipped cyborg idea.  I remember reading the book and going "damn, that sounds like a gaming group."  Now, after some consideration, I'm thinking "damn, that sounds like a gaming group," only in a totally different tone of voice.

I'm not a big fan of RPG's that get caught up in large amounts of gear, because as a certain point the return factor on that level of crunch almost always gets to be negative.  If there was a way to really ensure that the human factor of a deCom campaign could be maintained, then I think it might be interesting, but good luck with that.  As it was, it only took up a chapter or two of the book, which should say something.

Well, from here on out I'll try to come up with interesting RPG-related stuff to talk about.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

D is for Drava

On the coast of New Hokkaido is the city of Drava.  Originally a small fishing village on the coast, Drava became the beachhead for the military campaign to reclaim the large island.  When the Mecsek Initiative began, Drava was abandoned by most of the government military personnel and replaced with deCom.  Only a small group of logistical military personnel remain on Drava serving as military police, strategic command, housing maintenance, food services, etc.
At any given time Drava contains between 500 to 1000 deCom participants, living in plastic fabricated housing.  Twice a day large hovercraft travel between the mainland and Drava, bringing in deCom crews and taking them back to civilization where they can resupply, get major medical attention, or just go home.
For the most part, crews are housed together with separation by the sexes largely ignored or maintained just in a building-by-building level.  The military oversees most of the law enforcement, but crime is surprisingly rare given that most people living in the area are heavily armed and extremely cautious.  The most common incidences involve public drunkenness and disorderly conduct, and are usually resolved by either ejecting them from Drava and back to the mainland for a period of time, or downgrading the quality of assignment upon their next deployment.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

C is for Cyberware

In addition to cutting edge weaponry and (for those who can afford it) paramilitary vehicles, one of the most important tools for deCom is cyberware.  Cybernetic implants that improve reaction time, senses (especially sight), and auto-medicate during times of injury and common.  Others implant weaponry, or genetically modify their bodies with animal DNA or enhanced muscle tissue.  But there are two other cybernetic implants that are very important for deCom.

The first is the cortical stack, a universal cybernetic implant usually grafted onto a body shortly after birth.  A person's brain activity, their very personality, is converted to a digital format, and then downloaded onto a cortical stack and re-implanted in the body.  From then on, the cortical stack controls the body.  The stack is impact-resistant and is located at the base of the skull.  When a person is injured, the stack can be removed and the consciousness uploaded into another body, such as a clone, a synthetic body, or the body of someone whose consciousness is elsewhere, such as someone in digital incarceration.  It is not uncommon for a person to deliberately move into a new body that has been modified or enhanced, or has aged past a point of interest or usefulness.  Among the wealthiest humans in the galaxy it is not unheard of to have a person's lifespan exceed centuries as a result.  The digitalization of a person's consciousness has allowed for reasonable, if highly expensive interstellar travel as people's consciousnesses are hyper-cast through space.

If the cortical stack is ubiquitous, the other is extremely rare, namely the command head link.  This implant is a combination implanted computer and datacore link which allows the wielder to access the global data core, communicate with crew members via implants, and engage in cyberwarfare at the speed of thought.  Command heads, as they are generally known in deCom, are usually crew leaders and the most valuable members of their team.  A command head is capable of detecting mimint activity based on sensing their own communications via the datacore, but are also subject to hacking attempts on their own digital consciousnesses from the AI's.  Those most command heads are heavily loaded up with protective software but are also a little "off" in their personalities if they have been without a thorough anti-viral cleansing for a while.  The command head implant resembles about a eight inch flexible tentacle protruding from the back of the neck.  Command heads tend to cover this implant with long, synthetic hair.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

B is for Bounty

Forty years ago, the government of Harlan's World faced multiple crises: a downturn in the economy, growing discontent over the ruling oligarchy, burgeoning governmental budgets,planetary overpopulation, and the threat of the mimints on New Hokkaido.  To counter these problems, the First Families launched what became known as the Mecsek Initiative, which included draconian cuts to governmental infrastructure and the creation of the Bounty and deCom.

Put simply, the government would offer a cash reward for any destroyed mimint.  Rather than allocate military forces to the Uncleared zones, freelance mercenaries called deCom (for "decommissioners") would be licensed by the government.  The government provided the most basic of billeting and coordination for deCom members, who in turn would have to provide their own weapons, equipment, cyberware, and other tools of the trade.

An entire economy was created around the Bounty, as underemployed (and potentially violent) youth could seek quick fortunes by joining deCom, surrounding arms manufacturers and other service-sector businesses thrived serving the needs of the deCom community, the government's expense was greatly reduced even with the Bounty pay-outs, and a potential source of revolutionary fervor was diffused.

The amount paid by the Bounty to deCom members varies wildly from the negligible for small drones to small fortunes for massive AI tanks and mimint-factory 'bots.  For a Bounty to be claimed, individuals must first destroy a mimint and return with the AI's internal core (or major remain thereof) back to the government's main deCom headquarters in Drava.  There is a complicated algorithm that has been developed to deal with the continually varied forms the mimints take, and some disgruntled deCom often complain that over time the amount of the Bounty has lessened in comparison to risk.

But the dream of hitting the big score and leaving deCom with a pile of money and the promise of a new life continues to create a steady stream of novice deCom recruits (known as "sprogs").

Monday, April 1, 2013

A is for Artificial Intelligence

Artifical Intelligence

Three hundred years ago the rebellion against the government of Harlan's World by the Quellists was entering into its final phase.  Certain factions among the Quellists, sensing their cause against the aristocracy was doomed, hatched a plan to create a series of self-replicating robots, guided by crude artificial intelligences, which could continue to cause havoc long after their defeat.  The project was successful, and the robots, called Mimints (military machine intelligences), managed to kill or drive back most of the residents of the island of New Hokkaido.

After three hundred years, the artificial intelligences that control the mimints are far from sophisticated, usually only possessing simple patrol/kill programming.  Others bear the semblances of humanity, but are incapable of true human interaction, instead constantly pontificating on the socio-political and economic philosophies of Quellism when encountered by radio or digital communication.

Rumors among the deCom veterans of more sophisticated AI's existing in the far reaches of the Uncleared are scoffed at by both the media and Mecsek authorities.

The A-to-Z Challenge: DeCom

I've been waffling on doing this blogging challenge on the grounds that I'll be away from home for over a week, and am not sure that I'll have access to the internet or the opportunity to blog during that time.

But, I'm a sucker for a dare, and given that Adam over at Barking Alien is doing it, not to mention a few other friends, I thought I'd at least give it a try.  What I'll probably do is attempt to pre-write the blog entries for the days I'll be gone, and then schedule their uploads in advance.  That's a bit more pressure on what is already a loaded two weeks, but I think I can manage it.

Rather than do another run of supervillains again, like Adam is doing, I decided I would outline an RPG campaign called deCom based on the book Woken Furies by Richard Morgan, the third of his "Takeshi Kovacs" series.  While not based on the main plot of the book, deCom instead focuses on a side-plot of the book, the vast area of Harlan's World under the control of rogue AI's, and the plan by the government of using mercenaries to attempt to eradicate the inorganic threat.

For the month, I'll list 26 aspects of the campaign, some from the book, others extrapolated from the source material, while even more just made up from my own imagination.  Note that there is no rules-specific elements to the list--I haven't chosen what rules I would use for this, much less if I'd even try to run this for real.  But hopefully, by the end of the month you might have enough inspiration to consider your own deCom campaign.

As a side note, references to other entries will be boldfaced.

Over at Strange Vistas