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.

Over at Strange Vistas