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2014 in Review (300th Post!)

Was this a good year for gaming at the home of W.Q. Robb?  Let's take a look at the year in review

From January to March I concluded the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying campaign featuring the Ultimate Posse.  As far as I can tell looking around the blogosphere, I might be the only person to play this game a) with scratchbuilt PC's and b) more than three times.  The Ultimate Posse campaign was a hell of a lot of fun for everyone, but I started feeling like the decisions the players were making didn't have a huge impact on the effect of die rolls.  I've been pondering that a lot lately, but it was still a good run for this group on a single RPG.  My daughter, Macy, joined the gaming group as an on-off player.

April to August had J Evans taking over as GM and running a home-brewed RPG based on the video game franchise Mass Effect using the Cortex Plus system as its core.  There were a lot of things I liked about this campaign and the rules J came up with, including having differ…

Merry Christmas!

-WQRobb

Friday Recap and a Question about timing

So, here's the situation.  I'm running a module, The Crucible of Freya.  The group has, over two sessions, literally completely cleared out the entire "dungeon."  Through an amazing amount of luck and guile they have defeated all three of the major "above ground" villains and are down to just the two underground rooms.  The first underground room takes longer than expected and we are a half hour past our usual stop time. One couple has to get their infant some home and to bed.

Here's the crux of the problem: this is the end of this adventure. Once the module us done, we are starting something new with new PC's, stories, etc.  What do you do, if you have to stop gaming at this point?  Do a one-encounter session next time, then switch once it is done, or just quit and not bother with the final villain?
It's conundrums like this which is why I don't like railroads or story arcs or whatever. I suppose if I had been really invested in the game I…

Friday Night Gaming Recap, or "I only have seven hit points?"

We decided to add a game night to this month so we could try another go-around with Fifth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons.  We've got two new players in the group, two who played in the first trial session of D&D Next (I hate that name).  That raises the pool of potential players to ten.

For Friday, however, we had seven people show up to play.  I don't have any photographs, but we began the module The Crucible of Freya by Goodman Games, converted to 5E.  Goodman had released a 5E version of the mini-prequel to The Crucible, called The Wizard's Amulet, which we had done the last time I ran 5E.  Converting the module isn't too hard, except that orcs have changed a lot in two editions.  I think they might be a little undervalued at a CR 1/2 monster, given that when they hit with their greataxes, they are doing 1d12+4 damage, which is usually enough to drop a first-level PC.  With 15 hit points themselves, fighting an orc is usually a matter of who hit whom first to…

Friday Game Night Recap, Fallout Edition

We didn't expect much of a group the day after Thankgiving, so my son Mac asked if he could run a scratch built Fallout RPG encounter using the d6 Space rules (better known as the old West End Games Star Wars rules minus the branding).
He did a good job, although managing the roller coaster of the d6 rules and the wackiness of ethically murky PC's would challenge anyone.   He came up with a gray, morally ambiguous story involving settlers encroaching on ghoul territory that was meant to make us squirm. Admittedly our response was to pretty much burn everything to the ground and run away, KoDT style...

The Ferretverse, or Ferret International

So if you've been reading Spider-Man lately, you know that there has been this whole "Spider-verse" storyline going on.  For those who aren't reading it, a family of interdimensional vampires has been roaming around feeding on the spider-essences of various spider-men (or women, or pigs, or monkeys) from different alternative dimensions.  Twigged to the situation, a bunch of the different Spider-men have teamed up to stop them, with the Doc-Ock "Superior Spider-Man" in the lead.


Now while I think that Marvel has been dragging this event out for a very long time, and may be using it as a way to test-market new Spider-Man concepts (like the Gwen Stacy Spider-Girl, which appears to be a huge hit), my kids are loving the gazillion different Spider-Men.  One of kids, readers may remember, is the player of "The Ferret" from my Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game last year and now he is on me to create a "Ferretverse" storyline where he can stat up …

Friday game night recap, featuring the Black Orchid!

We are back to Firefly, with the crew getting their strangest job yet. A wealthy bored socialite hires the crew to be part of a sort of live-action roleplaying game. They are essentially characters for her to interact with in her guise as the adventuress "The Black Orchid."
The players surprised me by hatching a plot to use the Black Orchid theatrics to cover an actual casino heist. The best part was watching the players roleplay people roleplaying other characters!
In the end the heist worked but now the PC's have the casino's owners, law enforcement, and the Black Orchid's real life husband (the fifth wealthiest man in the planet) after them!  And who were those "extras" in that one scene shooting real bullets?




Intimidating your Players (or at least their Characters)

So I'm gearing up for another session of Firefly tomorrow and was reading the rules regarding PC vs. NPC interaction when the rules showed as an example an NPC trying to intimidate a PC.  In the example the attempt failed, because the example was meant to illustrate how a player could jack their die roll total up, but it left me wondering what would have happened in the game if the NPC had successfully intimidated the PC.

Players often intimidate NPC's.  For that matter they also frequently bluff, trick, seduce, haggle, or otherwise bamboozle NPC's in a generally social/intellectual manner.  Sometimes this is done strictly through roleplaying but over the last, oh, fifteen years or so it has been resolved through skills.  Roll high enough and they will believe that the sound was a reactor malfunction but that everything is under control and how are you.

What I don't see a lot of is the flow going in the other direction.  In fact I can't think of the last time I had…

My Players Talk About Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons

I thought I would jot down some general impressions from myself and some of the players in my group, following our first try at D&D Fifth Edition.  As a bit of backdrop, I ran the free mini-adventure from Goodman Games “The Wizard’s Amulet,” which I remember running back in the days of the third edition of D&D, but has now been renovated for the latest iteration.  The adventure features about ten pre-generated PC’s, with the optimal group size of six (I had seven), all at first level.  There is an introductory battle (almost a skirmish), a somewhat pointless exploration encounter that is more of an homage to the early days of D&D, and a final ambush that presents a steep challenge to a 1st-level group.  It’s possible in the final battle for at least one PC to die. In terms of how the game went over with my group, most everyone (even the new players) like fantasy as a genre.  It was the first style of game the group played when they came together, and we’ve done fantasy ga…

Flipping Superhero Tropes: the Robot Villain

Even as I'm running Firefly (and I've told myself I'm going to run that game X number of times before I stop, just to justify buying it), and even as I'm doing little D&D games here and there to try out the new rules, I'm always thinking superheroes.

By that, I mean I'm always thinking about running a superhero RPG, always coming up with villain NPC's and jotting down plot ideas, etc.  Most of these don't show up on the blog for loads of reasons (not the least of which is because at least one of the players in my game reads this blog), but I did want to externally process one idea.  And that is flipping tropes.

In Mutants & Masterminds they did a GM's book where they outlined a bunch of stereotypical villains.  M&M actually uses this archetype notion a lot, given they did the same for hero concepts as well.  In the villains there is the mad scientist, the elemental-wielding guy (pick one: ice, darkness, fire, etc.), the robot, etc.  And …

Friday Game Night, Fifth Edition Style!

It's an off-week for the group but we still decided to try to get a game in, not the least of reasons being that next week's regular game night is a bust.  Since it was an off week and two of our regulars couldn't make it, we decided to try out the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons for a brief one-shot.  I also invited two new people who had expressed an interest in playing: Tony and his daughter.  Tony had played D&D years before but hadn't been able to find a group, and he especially wanted to introduce his daughter to gaming.  I'm a big supporter in getting new people into the hobby, so I was happy to help out.
I can see why the OSR grognards like Fifth Edition.  It has a lot of early edition elements to it--low hit points, limited healing, no more "just make an Arcana check" stuff--while at the same time having some "modern" game aspects, including ascending Armor Class.  We used miniatures because I find it helpful with a big gr…

Happy Halloween!

With the Royals losing, I felt I needed some baseball cheer in my spooky Halloween decorations!

Things GM's Do Right: Newspapers

Okay, I'm totally poking at the "Things GM's Do Wrong" meme by instead talking about things that many GM's do (including myself on occasion) that work well and make sense.  Let's start with an easy one: newspapers.



Or television reports, or blog posts, or Newsnet feeds, or whatever your genre wants to call them.  Having a media outlet in your game is a great way to accomplish several things at once.

It creates a fun "recap"of previous adventures.  My experience is that players are often fuzzy on what happened even in their own campaign.  An accounting of last session's activities helps get players, especially those who were absent last time, onto the same page without taking up game time.It provides an outsider's perspective.  Since a newspaper isn't a strict campaign chronicle, the players get a glimpse of how their activities are viewed by the outside world.  Villains & Vigilantes had a great mechanism for tracking a superhero PC…

Appendix N for Superheroes: Bionic Six

I thought I'd explain some of my choices for my entries into my "Appendix N for Superhero RPG's," starting with one of my most obscure choices, the brief TV series Bionic Six.

From Wikipedia:
In the near future (some unspecified decades after 1999), Professor Dr. Amadeus Sharp Ph.D., head of the Special Projects Labs (SPL), creates a new form of technology to augment humans through bionics. His first subject was Jack Bennett, a test pilot who secretly acted as Sharp's field agent, Bionic-1. On a family ski vacation in the Himalayas, an alien spacecraft triggers an avalanche that buries the entire family, exposing them to the unusual radiation of a mysterious buried object. Jack frees himself but discovers his family in a comatose state. Theorizing that Jack's bionics protected him from the radiation, Professor Sharp implants bionic technology in the others, awakening them. Afterward, the family operates incognito as a publicly lauded team of adventuring super…

The Initivative: Superhero RPG Appendix N Blog Challenge

Spawned from an off-handed comment I made in my own blog, Barking Alien has kicked off The Initiative: Superhero RPG Appendix N Blog Challenge.

And since it was my idea, I accept.

Background: "Appendix N" is the list of recommended source material from 1st Edition AD&D.  It contained a bunch of fantasy and sci-fi novels that influence the creators of the game and included people like Clark Ashton Smith and Jack Vance.

In BA's original post and follow-up challenge, the issue was how to inform potential players about your own style of GMing when it comes to superhero RPG's.  Are they gritty or light-hearted?  Realistic or fantastic?

You need five to ten comic books, and five to ten other sources (movies, TV, video games, etc.)

Now the real challenge is that BA is my RPG brother from another mother, so it would be easy to just copy his list whole, but what's the fun of that.  I will say that there are a lot of crossovers.



Comic books
The Avengers (esp. the 1970&#…

The Curse of the Genre Fiend

Let me share with you a story from the annals of my roleplaying game experience.  Back in 1991 or 1992, my gaming group in college purchased the first edition of a new RPG, Vampire: the Masquerade.  This was a watershed moment in a lot of ways, both for the group and the RPG community in general.  I was tasked with running the game and basically used the pre-generated community of Gary, Indiana as a core fro the campaign.  Members of the gaming group dutifully built various low-level courtiers in the vampire court, pathos-laden tragedies, etc.  Except for one player.  He built a werewolf.

There's always that guy in a gaming group.  The one who just wants to buck the system and play something so outside the concept that he'll always stand out, always have to have some plot line revolve around him.  A werewolf PC was also completely free of the three strictures places upon the other PC's: a dependence on blood, a vulnerability to daylight, and the strict social castes of the…

Friday night recap, hoodie edition

It's Friday and we are playing Mass Effect. 












JLA/Avengers (or Avengers/JLA)

I had the chance to read the most recent DC/Marvel crossover recently.  By "recent" I mean "2003-4," since there have been other crossovers, such as the X-Men/Teen Titans crossover and the Amalgam Universe titles.  If you haven't read this series, or the collected edition that I found in my public library, it's worth a look, especially if you're running a superhero game.

For one thing, it's Busiek and Perez, two top names in the industry.  I loved the Busiek/Perez run on the Avengers at the time, and frankly feel like it was the last time the team really felt like the Avengers to me, although the "Heroic Age" came awfully close.

The plot is pretty straightforward.  Krona, an exiled Oan, comes to the Marvel Universe looking for the truth of creation, in the process destroying several alternative universes, including the "Earth 2" of the Crime Syndicate of America.  When he gets to the Marvel Universe, the Grandmaster challenges h…

Review: the Valiant Universe Roleplaying Game

Capsule: A near-clone of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying that throws out the good while keeping the bad.  Useful if you're a fan of the Valiant Universe.



I've been looking forwards to this game ever since Free RPG Day this year, although with some trepidation.  The rules were sketchy, and the free booklet promised more detail when the main rulebook came out.  I also snagged most of the additional free material Catalyst Games had put out as PDFs on DriveThurRPG, which gave me most of the major characters from the Valiant Universe.

Quick side note about Valiant comics, for those who don't know.  Originated in the 90's during the whole big indie comics movement that spawned Malibu, Image, and a host of others small publishing companies.  The early Valiant characters included a pseudo X-Men mutant youth team (Harbingers), a archtypal "Iron Age" gun guy (Bloodshot), the high-tech alien armor guy (the bizarrely named X-0 Manowar), and a quirky no-capes duo (Archer and Ar…

My own Monster Manual review

First, read his, because it is pretty much spot on across the board.


The Monsters
All the classics, and as far as I can tell nothing really new.  You could, if you know the game well enough, probably recreate the table of contents on your own.
In order to keep things still pretty simple, major league monsters now have two new abilities: Legendary and Lair Abilities.  Legendary abilities are basically additional attacks the DM can activate out of turn order, giving them an edge.  Lair abilities are a secondary effect associated with the location but also adding additional peril to the encounter.
It's a way of working around how to give solo monsters parity with large PC groups who can dog-pile on a single monster who can only hit back once.  Like many things about the fifth edition, it is pretty simple and elegant.
There's no rules for creating your own monsters or upgrading monsters.  Common humanoids often have a "boss" version like an orc chieftain.

The Art
Gone is t…

Taking Firefly Out For A Spin

Last night we tried out the new a Firefly RPG. It uses a variation of the rules used by Marvel Heroic, Leverage, and others. It actually bears a very strong resemblance to Fate with its focus on narrative and dependence on Assets and Complications. 
I had the full complement of seven players, whom had made their PC's in relative isolation, making for a mismatched group.  Just the thing for the genre. We had the gunslinging smuggler, a burly engineer, an unemployed government bureaucrat, a brawling con artist, a brash pilot, a sullen samurai, and a secretive Alliance spy.  The group was missing a scientist/medic, which meant they were more dependent on NPC's than usual which was fine by me. 
The adventure began with the group deciding to form a loose business consortium and purchase a ship. After borrowing the money from a loan shark, they buy a ship from a dealer of used spacecraft (the discussion of which one to buy did a lot to firm up personalities). 
But the ship they bought …

Premise Beach: Metropolis/Gotham

In my continuing "what do I want to run now that I've been asked again" series (better known as "Premise Beach" from the old Kids in the Hall skit), I present another premise.
To understand it, first I want to talk about one of the bigger differences between DC and Marvel Comics.  While Marvel is set in the "real world," with most of the superheroes living in and around New York City, DC has always relied on ersatz versions of American cities, the two best known examples being Metropolis and Gotham City. There's others: Keystone City, Central City, etc. all featuring pretty generic names and looking just as generic.  But Metropolis was always Superman's city, while Gotham was the Batman's home.
Both cities have a different feel, more than just "New York by Day" and "New York at Night."  Metropolis was always modern, bright, and fairly prosperous, fitting for the Man of Tomorrow.  Gotham was always decayed, dark, and poo…

Premise Beach: the Space Station

So at the last gaming session, it was announced to the group that we will be now having two monthly games, one run by one GM, the other by myself.

I will share what I have been thinking about, which capitalizes on the fact that I have possibly two groups, not one, for my future game.  One group is my current group: mostly adults who have gamed for some time.  The other group is largely children (girls, in fact) and novices to gaming.

My idea was to put the entire campaign on a space station, sort of a much larger DS9 or Babylon 5, something more akin to a small town in space.  One group (the novices) play the staff of the station, and are responsible for its safety and operation.  They would be the Star Fleet personnel, a more directed and reactive group.  The other group (the veterans) would play a group of civilians on the same station: freighter captains, merchants, and other associated ne-er do well's.



So I could have one location (the space station), a single pool of NPC'…

Premise Beach: Gaming the first season of Mission: Impossible

I've been watching the television series Mission: Impossible from start to finish, and am now done with the first season.

For those who don't know, the first season didn't star Peter Graves as Jim Phelps, but instead the main IMF agent was Dan Briggs, played by Steven Hill (who went on decades later to plan DA Adam Schiff on Law and Order).  More trivia: Hill agreed to the role as long as they respected his orthodox Judaism.  The producers did, not realizing that meant that he wouldn't work on the Sabbath.  As a result, Hill was often unavailable and the series had to rely more heavily on other cast members, especially Martin Landau, who had not wanted that active a role on the show so he could be free to do movie roles.

While the cast would settle into the same five regular characters, the initial premise of the show had one sole full-time agent who would draw from a pool of volunteers or contract agents.  Despite having a consistent cast in the credits, in actuality …

Reality Check Ahead

After finishing Autocratik's "RPGaDAY" blogathon, I find myself with a lot to think about.
Right now, in theory I play in an RPG run by a friend every other Friday.  I say "in theory" because there are always the inevitable schedule conflicts, but on the whole this group has been my regular "home game" for the last four years or so.
I've also begun to occasionally go to a board game night at my church run by a local Meetup group.  A few members of my RPG group participate as well.  This group meets once a month on a Saturday night.
Just recently my daughter got invited to another board game group meeting at a different church, but one that a lot of her former classmates attend.  Being a part of this group means she can keep in contact with them, even though she now attends a different school.  Again this group meets monthly on a Saturday.
So, in theory, I'm playing either in an RPG or board game event four times a month.  That's not even …

#RPGaDAY Day 31: Favorite RPG of all time

So hard a question.  I talk a lot of Champions, 4th Edition, but the fact is that I probably either played or ran that game for less than four years, basically while in college.  I had the first edition of Champions and loved it, and didn't even know two more editions had come out when I hit the big blue book.  I bought Fifth Edition, revised, which I hear is pretty good, but never played it.  Even in those college years Champions was only off-and-on.

Now, in full disclosure, I ran Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons pretty consistently for almost five years straight: two years in Ohio and three years in Kansas.  When that was done I ran Marvel Heroic Roleplaying for another year.  Someone who knows me recently said that suffer from "Hobby ADHD" but that tends to be more my tendency to buy and talk about running games; in reality I've been pretty steady.

If you want to talk about what game I have really played the longest (in terms of starting and not stopping), it…

#RPGaDAY Day 30: Rarest RPG owned

Hmmmm....So I went to RPG Geek to see what the most collectible RPG's out there are.  Turns out I have several of them.

Including #1, the 7th Sea Player's Guide


#8 Central Casting: Heroes of Legend

And #13, the aforementioned first printing of Deities & Demigods

Interestingly enough, one book not on list is one that I sold for literally hundreds of dollars (I had two, so I could afford to part with one), Central Casting: Dungeons.

That last one I'm particularly fond of, because I still use it to make up the occasional random fantasy dungeon.

#RPGaDAY Day 29: most memorable encounter

So, so many to choose from....

Okay, so for a while a friend of mine ran two Champions campaigns in tandem: Vanguard and Vanguard Europe (this was during the Giffen era of Justice League, not to mention the Iron Age of comics).  I ran Vanguard Europe, while playing a character in Vanguard (the ever-lovin' Amazing Man).  Vanguard's GM ran a character in Vanguard Europe, a Batman/Moon Knight sort of guy who happened to be team leader (and damn it all, the PC's name escapes me).

Anyways, Vanguard Europe was a pretty powerful group.  There was Shocker, the electricity manipulating telepath; super-ninja guy whose coolest aspect was that he took the perk Direction Sense just so he could always leap up and have the moon behind him; there was also the female flying brick too.  Plus Moon Knight, whatever his name was.

One session this villain shows up with his super-powered female sidekick and he's packing a ton of gadgets that are home-grown to defeat the villains.  For exampl…

#RPGaDAY Day 28: Scariest Game you've played

I think horror is a really, really difficult element to pull off in RPG's, and frankly it isn't a theme I particularly enjoy for the most part.  I play a lot of heroic style games, and I'm sure there have been plenty of tense moments where a lot hinged on a single die roll.

But, I think I'll share instead a sort of scary but mostly funny tale.  After graduating college I moved away for several years, but returned briefly to live in the same state where I attended college for about six months, and got back together with two of my old gaming group to play, of all things, Rifts.  I ran the session and things were going pretty well when suddenly one of the players cracked a joke and I chuckled while at the same time eating a nacho chip.

I began choking, coughed, turned red  and then, after what seemed like an eternity for me but was probably less than three seconds, proceeded to vomit right into the snack bowl.  There was stunned silence for a moment and then one of the pl…