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.

Over at Strange Vistas