Saturday, December 27, 2014

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 different dice when you do things in tandem with other PC's reflecting how well you get along with that person.  I was binge-watching Revenge at the time and was thinking that the ever-fluid inter-personal relationships of soap-operas like that one matched what J was trying to do with his relationship dice.  Isaac, J's son, came into the group at that point too.

In August I also did the RPGaDay blog-a-thon, answering 31 questions about my gaming preferences. I also did a one-shot of FATE, "The Legion of Extraordinary Dudes" which was a pretty comical outing.

In September and October I started a Firefly RPG campaign, but I felt the campaign had two problems.  One, the group was too large for both the genre and the ruleset, neither of which have much in the way of internal differentiation to make large groups really viable.  Two, Fifth Edition D&D came out, and the group wanted to take it for a spin.

In November and December I ran the group through a small pre-published adventure using the 5E rules.  Reviews were generally positive but admittedly mixed.  Two new players, Tony and his daughter Emma, joined the group.

In terms of blog traffic, the best month was August, clocking in an all-time high of 2,069 page hits for the month.  My top post of the year was my response to the post I did for The Initiative: Superhero RPG Appendix N Blog Challenge (trivia bit: it's the sixth most popular of all time.  My top three are a post I did about modular dungeon tiles that I linked to on The Miniatures Page, my review of the Primeval RPG, and a meandering post about Grognardia.)

What was good about 2014?  My group got together pretty consistently throughout the year and had a great time gaming.  We added three new people to the gaming community, two of whom are children and will hopefully become part of a future generation of tabletop RPG gamers.  As to what will happen next year?  That will be the topic of a different post.

This is also my 300th post, which is pretty cool.  Thank you, loyal readers, for making this blog still a joy to write.  I hope reading it is as much for you as it is for me to write it!


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Friday Recap and a Question about timing

Two of my younger players enjoy dinner before the game.
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 could have padded it out with more rooms or restocked the upper levels or something. As it was I wasn't as invested in this trial run of 5E and gave the players the option to choose. They wanted to move onto other things, including their own PC's rather than the pre-gens, so that was that. The players asked what was in the last room, so I told them, and then they were disappointed because it sounded cool to them, which kind of made me unhappy as well.

So, comments welcome about how you handle timing, especially hanging loose ends to a story arc.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

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 see who loses.

I did an introductory skirmish to see how powerful orcs are.  Three orcs knocked two out of seven PC's to 0 hit points in the fight, which informed me a lot.  After that much of the session was spent with the PC's wandering about the town of Fairhill, where the adventure takes place.  After the crucible was stolen in an orc raid, the PC's chased the orc raiders down, killed them (taking advantage of a surprise round), and brought the crucible back.  At that point we had hit the end of the gaming session, and so decided to postpone raiding the orcs' lair until the next session.

There's a whole different feel to combat in 5E for players who were used to playing level 12-15 PC's in 4E.  Before people could just jump into combat willy-nilly figuring they were tough enough to take whatever was dished out (or at least could coordinate with the group without difficulty).  Now the group is being forced to be careful, scout enemies, etc.  That feels more reminiscent of earlier editions, and I like the edgy feeling of concern (if not terror) that it brings with it.

More on what I'll do with ten players later.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

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...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

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 a bunch of alternative universe versions of the half-man, half-ferret superhero including, but not limited to "90's Iron Age Ferret," "Steampunk Ferret," and "Man-Ferret, the ferret who gained the powers of human beings."

Got his costume right here.
My other child, the player of teen superhero Bubblegum and Batman-esque heroine Ghost Raven has been also interested in the "Batman Family" series of comic books out there.  They are often a little adult for her, but she likes the smart female characters of the series, like Batgirl and the Huntress.

That got me thinking about what it would be like to do a superhero RPG campaign with a group of non-powered but related characters, like the various Batman-related titles such as Batman International.  Superhero RPG groups tend towards your Avengers or Justice League: mid- to high-powered superheroes with widely divergent concepts.  This would be the opposite.  I don't think I could use MHR to do it: their non-superpower rules tend to be highly abstracted.  Everyone would just have "Combat Master" and "Weapon d8" and the like.  I feel like a little more detail would help differentiate everyone, including the villains.

This is me just spitballing ideas right before the holidays.  I was glad to write up something fun.   Thanks for reading!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday game night recap, featuring the Black Orchid!

Yoshi's player gets into character.

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?

After the session, the players jot down what they think was the coolest thing another player did during the game.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

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 an NPC attempt to pull a fast one over on a PC and resolve it through a die roll.  I've had players roll "insight" or "detect motive" or some such thing to try to ascertain if their GM is lying his ass off to them, but generally an NPC has to rely on my own roleplaying chops and not on random chance.

I'm trying to imagine a scene where I, as the GM, tell someone "Baron von Shnorkel glowers at you imperiously and demands you tell him the truth. (die roll) He succeeds and you tell him everything you know."  I can imagine the howling that would occur.

"Kneel before Zod!"  "Sigh, okay."
(Is that Bill Cosby in the background?  Now that's damned awkward.)
This is actually a tension I feel about RPG's in general. I get why we stat out physical abilities, because that's how we resolve combat and similar challenges.  I even get intellectual skills, since I can barely jump my car's battery, much less fix an engine.  But social attributes I've always found a little hinky, because at that point you've take a lot of roleplaying out and swapped in a die roll.  I get nonathletic people playing strapping heroes, or liberal arts majors playing starship engineers, but socially inept people playing suave con artists starts to make me wonder why we play the game.

I've gone a little far afield here.  Do you allow NPC's to dictate social or emotional responses in PC's based on die rolls?  Can a group of PC's be conned simply by luck?  How do you, if you're the GM, work that out in your own game?

Monday, November 17, 2014

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 games for years until about a year-and-a-half ago when we switched to superheroes, and now science fiction.  So getting back to fantasy was going to go over well with this group.

That having been said, the “old school” vibe didn’t necessarily set well with them.  Many of them came in at third or fourth edition, and 5E has a lot fewer options when it comes to gameplay, not to mention a slimmed-down tactical element of play.  We used miniatures, but it wasn’t as hard and fast as 4E, and at one point the players started trying to flank their opponents in expectation of a bonus, but there wasn’t one because 5E doesn’t have one (at least not one in the PHB).

The overall lethality troubled the players as well.  In the final combat the seven PC’s faced five skeletons, five zombies, two half-orcs, and a human sorcerer.  In their 4E-trained brains the skeletons, and maybe the zombies should be “mooks,” one-hit point opponents.  They were dismayed to discover that the skeletons had 13 each, and the zombies over twenty, making them more than equal to the PC’s in terms of durability.  I myself found this to be a bit steep in play, and held back on the half-orcs and sorcerer in the final battle, but still had two PC’s drop below zero hit points (they were revived in play).  That’s a big difference from 4E, where an N or N+1 encounter might only cost you 25% of your hit points.  And that didn’t sit too well with some of the players.

Not quite the pushover I used to be, eh?

A couple of players commented that, after almost two years of Cortex+ games (Marvel Heroic, the homemade Mass Effect RPG, and Firefly), the Boolean yes/no of the d20 mechanic wasn’t as interesting.  As one player put it, it sucks when it’s your turn and you roll one die and fail, then wait fifteen minutes for your turn to roll around again, only to again roll badly.  In 5E there isn’t the “fail forward” notion that’s in a lot of games now, including 13th Age, a close game to 5E. (Ed. Note: “Fail forward” is when players can opt when failing on a die roll to instead succeed but with negative consequences, or have the failure have some future benefit down the line.)  I would quickly consider throwing that idea, 13th Age’s “contact, near, far” range options, and their “three unique things” into a 5E game if I ever ran one.

With a one-shot with pre-gens there’s not going to be a lot of character development, and I did have some people say it wasn’t the deepest of plots, to which I could only suggest it was an introduction to the rules, not the kick-off of a longer game session.  That's less of a commentary on the rules than the adventure.

There's a lot of interest in some parts of the group for continuing to do a fantasy game.  Now if I can just find it in myself to find it interesting as well...

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 I understand how this works and why this works.  I understand that comic books like Astro City played around with a lot of "wink wink nudge nudge" stuff when it came to creating ersatz versions of other companies' characters. (Authority and Planetary and a host of other post-modern third party comic books did it too.)

But lately I've been thinking a lot about reversing some common tropes.  Take the robot villain, for example.  Most robot villains generally a) are Frankenstein-esque creations that are rebelling against their creator, b) despise humans for their inherent inferiority, and c) lack emotions, which usually works out in the heroes favor, thus proving that humans (and meta-humans) still have something on robots.

Here's how I'm thinking about flipping that trope.  What if the robot villain in my game was actually doing exactly what it was supposed to do by its creator, and even had a good relationship with (or at least fondness for) its creator?  And what if, instead of viewing humanity with disdain, instead that feeling of superiority created an elevated, dangerously distorted view of responsibility?  And instead of shunning emotions, sought to achieve its goals through them?

So here's my concept: a brilliant but paranoid computer programmer is convinced that humanity is hell-bent on destroying itself, and that humanity's only possible successful legacy is the creation of artificial intelligence.  Eventually the programmer succeeds, creating an AI whose sole purpose is the preservation of humanity, but adopts the persona of a sort of Robot Messiah whose methodology is the paternalistic control of human society.  If I was creating this NPC in Marvel Heroic, its Distinctions might look like

  • The Apocalypse is Coming
  • Only the Machine is Eternal
  • All Humanity Should Worship the Machine
The Robot Messiah would do things like thwart scientific advancements on the grounds that they are dangerous, unilaterally disarm nations, or start religious cults.  Imagine Annie Wilkes from Misery with Ultron's powers.

For Affiliations, we'll go with Solo first (I don't see much teaming up with this guy), Team second (reflecting the use of cultists, etc.), and Buddy third.

And now we have a semi-fresh take on a familiar villain concept.  Still a villain, still evil, but just a few degrees off from what is expected.  Fishing around for some possibilities, I like the name "The Conservator" because it has a sinister sound to it, but also underlying the notion of a pseudo-beneficent controller.

I can work out powers on my own, likely the typical giant-powerful robot body as one power set and the AI-software-body-jumper in a second power set.  Tech, Psych, and Menace Specialties (plus the almost ubiquitous Combat) and we're done!

"Rejoice, humanity, for your true god has come."

Saturday, November 8, 2014

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 group to understand what is going on, but my players (used for 4E) were asking about flanking, etc. which isn't in the rules anymore.  Everyone like the Advantage/Disadvantage rule as an easy way to reflect situational modifiers.

The problem?  I'm already running Firefly, and that group is already too big for that system, IMHO.  D&D handles a larger group better (because of the PC role differentiation) but nine is way too many even for it.  I'm back to my considering an open-world two-group model for gaming again, or as I call it Mi Gran Sueno.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

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

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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's popularity with public--a major trope in comic books, and a helpful way for players to anticipate how eager the police might be to help them, for example.
  3. It can introduce storylines.  There's an exhibit of a rare diamond at the museum.  The leader of a foreign nation is coming to visit.  The new particle accelerator is coming online tomorrow.  All of these obvious "MacGuffins" can be introduced to the players without seeming heavy-handed.
  4. It is a way to work NPC's into the campaign.  J. Jonah Jameson, Perry White, Lois Lane, and Eddie Brock were all side-characters to the two biggest reporter/superheroes out there.  Like so much about Marvel and DC, the distinctions between the interactions of the side-characters and the main character reflected the ethos of the comic book publishers.  Clark Kent is a star reporter while Peter Parker peddles photographs for rent money.  Maybe the "newspaper" is a blog written by an opponent of masked vigilantes, or to flip the hackneyed plot device, a superhero groupie who enthusiasm will eventually end up placing them in harm (and if the PC's rebuff the blogger, an eventual villain ala The Incredibles).  In a superhero campaign, it can also be the background for a hero's secret identity: reporter, technician, corporate honcho, etc.
So if you're planning on running a superhero campaign (or any other kind of campaign for that matter), a media outlet can serve a lot of functions at once with little work.  You can create a fake blog using existing free blog outlets (like the one this blog is using) or simple word processing software to make up a newspaper.  You can go as complex as doing columns and photos, or just have the headlines typed up.

Easy and simple, and a good way to do something right.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

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 superheroes, the Bionic Six.
The primary antagonist of the series is a mad scientist known as Doctor Scarab, along with his gang of henchmen – Glove, Madam-O, Chopper, Mechanic, and Klunk – accompanied by Scarab's legion of drone robots called Cyphrons. Ironically, Scarab is Professor Sharp's brother. Obsessed with obtaining immortality and ruling the world, Scarab believes that the key to both goals lies in the secret bionic technology invented by his brother, ever plotting to possess it
 The Bionic Six are Jack Bennett, "Bionic One," his wife Helen "Mother One," their two biological children Eric "Sport One" and Meg "Rock One," their adopted son J.D. "IQ," and their foster son Bunjiro "Karate One."  All of them seem to possess a certain baseline of superheroic abilities (strength, reflexes, and durability) with their own area of specialty.  Bionic One had optic blasts, Mother One had ESP, Sport One could reflect missile attacks with his bat, Rock One had sonic blasts and super speed, IQ was particularly strong, and Karate One had enhanced reflexes and fighting ability.

They did the whole ring-to-bracelet thing when they changed into costumes.

The Bennetts were sort of saccharine-sweet when it came to their personalities, possess an almost Brady Bunch-like quality of sibling squabbles, etc.  As such, they tended to be boring.  The plots almost always seemed to hang off the villains: Doctor Scarab and his cronies.  Frank Welker's talents, best known as Freddy and Scooby from Scooby Doo, can't be underestimated here (he did no less than three of the villains in the show), although Jim MacGeorge doing a a George C. Scott impersonation for Doctor Scarab was also a great touch.  While the Bionic Six always got along, the villains hated each other and were perpetually scheming to get the upper hand.  As such, they remain more memorable and interesting then the eponymous heroes.

The only downside to these guys is their lamentable names, which are vaguely reminiscent of what players name their PC's. 
Which brings me to an interesting thought about superhero RPG's: unlike its source material, very little "screen time" is spent on the villains in a superhero campaign.  While comic books frequently have the "Meanwhile, at Doctor Death's secret lair..." moments, villains usually only come into the scene with their plots fully hatched (or hatching) and little opportunity for inter-villain byplay.

But I think great superhero stories rely not just on great heroes, but possibly more on great villains.  Trying to find ways to make sure that villains get their moment, whether than is by "monologing" or getting in a few hard hits beforehand, would be critical in a genre where villains need to be more than just the BBEG at the end of the dungeon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

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's Avengers and the Busiek/Perez era up to Avengers: Disassembled)
The Justice League (esp. the late 70's to early 80's "satellite years")
The New Teen Titans
The X-Men (the Wein/Cockrum and Byrne/Claremont era of 1975-late 1980's,  Feel free to stop when the X-Books exploded everywhere)
The Crusaders (The Red Circle comics relaunch that was too, too brief)
The Outsiders (vol. 2)
The Legion of Super Heroes (as BA said, the Levitz era is the best)

Non-comic book medium source material
Batman: The Animated Series
Superman: The Animated Series
Justice League/Justice League Unlimited
Young Justice (TV series--surprised BA didn't have this one)
The Incredibles
Galaxy Rangers
Bionic Six

What didn't make the list?

  • Most of the 1990's.  That includes the "Iron Age" stuff that I read extensively but has aged so badly and the post-modern comic book movement that just doesn't suit me for the RPG medium.
  • The early DC-comics based TV shows (aka "The Superfriends") which I liked as a kid and the most recent DC-comics based TV shows (aka "Arrow") that I like as an adult.
  • The Marvel Studios movies, which I enjoy a great deal but apart from the Avengers don't reflect the team dynamic.  I considered putting in the Avengers movie but it's kind of a mess, plot-wise.

Monday, October 13, 2014

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 vampire community.  Meanwhile as a GM I had to figure out why on earth the NPC Vampire lords wouldn't just load up a bunch of silver weapons and place a huge bounty on this guy's head.  Thankfully the player didn't get what he wanted out of the game and dropped out.

But beyond people who intentionally work outside the boundaries of the genre, there are people who for whatever reason don't understand the usual tropes associated with that medium.  One of the most vulnerable to this intentional or unintentional "coloring outside the lines" is the superhero genre.

Over the past twenty years the superhero genre has been deconstructed ad nauseum, often within its own medium.  Sometimes it has been done very well.  Other times it has been done by self-indulgent authors looking to create violent rape fantasies to the point where I suspect they might deep down loathe superhero stories (I'm looking at you, Mark Millar).

And in one case, gloriously reconstructed...

Too bad DC Comics didn't get the message
Here's what I'm trying to say.  If you are trying to recreate the feel of a classic superhero comic book, then the participants have to accept that a person who creates gauntlets that can lift and manipulate tons of metal using "magnetic fields" is not going to use them to revolutionize the transportation industry and become a billionaire but will, in fact, use them to rob a bank where they will likely get punched repeatedly in the face by someone dressed up as a ferret.  And then do it again at the first opportunity.  Not because it is logical but because deep down superhero stories are about larger-than-life characters behaving in mythic battles of good and evil that do, in their own way, explore what it means to be a real human being even as they wield powers beyond mortal men.

You know what does a good job of explaining this?  The Valiant Universe roleplaying game.  I know I banged it around in my review, but there is a great sidebar in the rulebook called "Superheroes: Accepting the Premise."  It's not about certain genre conventions about superhero/villain identies (since Valiant is a little soft on those) but about the physics of superpowers and how that translates into game rules.
"From the moment the first superhero comic book stories began to unfold, writers had a conundrum.  They had some characters seemingly as powerful as gods fighting alongside (or against) characters with extremely limited abilities, if not downright mundane attributes.  How does a villain with only genius-level intelligence stand up to a being that can annihilate planets?" --Valiant Universe: the Roleplaying Game, pg. 43
Their answer involved an ambiguous, story-oriented system that relied less on rigidly-defined abilities and more on imagination and flexibility.  How many tons can Bloodshot lift?  As much as the story demands and the dice allow.  Why can Spider-Man lift tons but get overwhelmed by handful of regular men in the New Avengers episode "Breakout"?  Because the story.  It is why it, and other "narrative" RPG's do a better job of emulating the comic book genre rather than just creating a superhuman RPG.

Great story moment, but none of the three people pummeling Spidey have super-strength.  Also--yikes, no mask!
But beyond rules it is also about buying into the premise.  In my Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game the player who struggled with this the most was Rachel, who played Samkhara.  Samkhara didn't have a costume but wore street clothes and and wielded emotional-based powers.  Her whole idea was to have Samkhara constantly hide in crowds of onlookers and sniper villains with work-around powers.  Which is smart.  Snipers are smart, and realistic.  Camouflage is smart, and realistic.  And in so many superhero RPG's I have had players who built smart and realistic PC's because their roleplaying ethos was to build PC's that could thrive and survive and win. That's not what superheroes are about.  It might be what superhumans might do, but not superheroes.  At least not in the classical sense.

Which means explaining things and probably spending more time having a literary discussion about your game than you might in other games.  Especially if you are a "Genre Fiend" to use Aaron Allston's terminology from his Strike Force supplement and have to have the feeling just right.

Thoughts?  Comments welcome.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday night recap, hoodie edition

It's Friday and we are playing Mass Effect. 

Rachel always gets her man. 

The young bloods are ready to attack. 

The old bloods show the kids how it is done.

One of the many combats that night.  Black Widow looks on approvingly.

My custom Geth Prime stalks the team.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

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 him to a game: the greatest hero teams of the two universes will compete to find twelve uber-powerful objects.  Krona agrees, but with one condition: he gets the Grandmaster's team, the Avengers, and the Grandmaster gets the Justice League.

Both teams then end up hopping back and forth between the two dimensions, first opposing one another and then eventually teaming up.  There are lots of little bits to make comic book fans happy.  Dream contests occur (Superman versus Thor, Captain America versus Batman).  Jokes are made about overly similar characters like Hawkeye and Green Arrow.  Hercules mentions his dalliance with Hippolyta to Wonder Woman.  And Batman takes a small side-trip to kick the Punisher's backside.  Off-panel.  Because the Punisher is a jerk.

But the part that makes this really interesting is the way they explore the real differences between the two core ethoi of the comic book universes.  It can best be summed up in one exchange, in which Batman meets the Thing briefly.

[Batman]: "He has a...rough edged charm."
[Captain America]: "Was that a knock?  Ben Grimm may not be sleek and elegant, like the heroes of here, Mister.  But he's one of the finest men I know--and he gets the job done."
 DC heroes?  They are wonderfully iconic with their capes and symbols.  Marvel heroes have rough, human edges.  When the two teams first visit each other's worlds, the League is aghast at a world where there is a Latveria, a Genosha, and even the Hulk.  The Avengers, especially Captain America, are suspicious of the adulation of the populace towards their heroes and suggest they are crypto-fascists.

That contrast is, among many other reasons, why I suspect Marvel characters look better in movies while DC characters have done so well in cartoon animation.  Broad shoulders, spandex, and capes work in cartoons in way they just can't be carried off in real life.  (Plus, the animated series respected the decades-long traditions of the characters and were marketed to comic book fans, while the DC movies always tried to re-invent the characters and target people unfamiliar with the legends.  But I digress...)

When it comes to creating your own superhero RPG campaign, I think there is some question about what kind of heroes the PC's will be: iconic or marginal?  And, what if those roles were changed?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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 Armstrong).  There were others too, like the mystical Shadowman and the weird science Doctor Mirage.  The whole thing faded away only to be completely re-launched a couple of years ago.  The characters were freshened up a bit for the modern times, with a real focus on somewhat gritty, realistic storytelling (as much as having a Visigoth wearing alien armor in modern times could be "realistic.")

Catalyst games (known for Shadowrun these days, among other RPG's) snagged the license and promptly cranked out a game using the "Cue System."  (Editor's note: in the original post I said the Cue system came from the "genetic root stock" of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying' system.  A commenter below pointed out that another RPG from Catalyst used the Cue system in 2010, two years before MHR.  I've corrected the statement.) Cues are descriptors of PC's, NPC's, or encounter elements to help players roleplay the pre-generated characters from the comic book correctly.  Unlike an RPG from the big two comic book companies, most people haven't read anything from Valiant, so at some level this makes sense.

What doesn't make sense is why you have not only "Cues" but also "Tags," which also describe PC's, and "Action Cues" which also describe PC's when they are fighting.  What's even more strange is that there is no tangible rules benefit to the tags, unlike Distinctions for MHR or Aspects from FATE.  The Cues and Tags are just there to help you play the PC right, or give you ideas how to run a scene (we'll get around to a subtle problem with that later).  Half a PC's character sheet is made up of little quotes and two-word descriptions of the person, but there's nothing to be gained by a player using them except for genre emulation.  Maybe that's enough, but why not add some carrot of gameplay?

Now for the dice part of the rules.  PC's have five stats: Might, Intellect, Charisma, Action, and Luck.  The first four are rated by dice, so you might have a Might of D6 or an Intellect of D10.  Action is generally how good you are in combat (like the "Fighting" stat from M&M, but now for all kinds of combat).  Generally most PC's run between a d6 and a d10.  Luck is just a number, usually between 1 and 6.

When you want to try to do something that isn't in combat, the formula is a D12+your stat die vs. a d20.  If either of your dice come up with your Luck number, you automatically do it (which is why I suspect most people will want their Luck number to be 1).  When you do something in combat, it's (Action Die + stat die) vs. (Opponent's Action Die + stat die).

Powers are essentially extra stat dice that can either be swapped in for the stat, added to the stat die, or have the higher of the two die rolls used.  There's the odd +1 or -1 to reflect situation modifiers too, but there not a lot of hard-and-fast rules about how that works.  All told the rules are pretty straightforward and easy to understand.

They are also prone to flukey dice rolling, which I complained about in MHR and may do so again, except that Catalyst claims this isn't a bug, it's a feature.  That inherent flukey quality, combined with the very limited spectrum of abilities when you only have five levels (D4, D6, D8, D10, and D12) is meant to reflect the genre that has low-powered heroes go up against high-powered villains and win.  Toyo Harada, the archvillain of the Valiant Universe (imagine if Professor X had Magneto's ideology), would, said the rulebook's explicit text on this very issue, have a "D1000" in power abilities, but that would not work from a gaming perspective or reflect what happens in the comic books.

Which I kind of get.  But what frustrates me a little is the way the rules suggest you actually jack up the villains' abilities at the beginning of story arcs and downgrade them later to make sure the heroes win.  Because, you know, genre emulation.  Which starts to sound like railroading.  Which is the game's biggest flaw.

You see, one major rules tweak the game is super-excited about is the notion that the "Lead Narrator" (their terminology for the Gamemaster) switches between players after each scene.  That's right.  Everybody gets to play, everybody gets to GM.  But how do you keep the game from just running off the rails?  By pre-generating every encounter beforehand.  You know, that's what the Cues are for--to make sure your "Lead Narrator" doesn't go off track.  And of course the game features several story arcs based on popular storylines from Valiant comics.  Which is the same damn thing MHR did and which I thought so very little of then.  What is the point of re-creating existing plotlines?  Honestly, explain that to me.  I ground my teeth when MHR suggested I kill off an NPC in their "Civil War" story arc at a certain point so that it could mirror when Black Goliath (or whatever he was called at that point) died in the comics.  Um, no.  I'll kill a person off when I feel like, which is usually when the dice and player agency suggest it.

Moving on, damage is flat.  Hit a guy, he takes 1 or 2 or 4 points of damage.  Attacks with random damage are rare, and everybody has enough "armor points" followed by a pool of "health points" that you can get hit or shot or whatever quite a few times before you have to start worrying about it.  What's weird for a comic book universe that features a lot of psionic characters is that there really isn't any special rules about psionic attacks, except a few circumvent armor points.  The rules for mind control are downright vague and feature a lot of hand-waving.  So you don't see the one-hit KO's that you might see in other games, which could be a good thing in some people's minds.  I kind of appreciate it from a "keep players from grumbling when a flukey die roll takes their PC out of the game early and they spent the next hour sitting around" perspective.

Finally on the subject of rules there are Plot Points, which are basically handed out when players do something neat (subjectively in the opinion of the Lead Narrator) which are then cashed in to create plot twists in the story, or heal your PC a few points, etc.  The plot twist thing seems prone to abuse, but a good Lead Narrator can handle that, assuming you have one this scene.

There's a point-buy system for building your own superheroes, which is more than MHR had to offer.  There's no list of powers, however.  You just pick out whatever you want and slap a die value on it (which costs points based on the die value).  Some powers aren't even powers.  You can purchase what would be called skills or strong personality traits in other game systems.  Zephyr, for example, has "Pop Culture" at a D6 in her powers which the game swears can be helpful.  There's no real guidelines about what powers do or even how they are used--that's the more freeform gaming style in play here.  I'm not sure, for example, when I'm attacked if I use my attack power to suggest I'm attacking back, or my force field as defense, and why if I get to do damage as well as avoid it in the former why I'd ever pick the latter.  There's also no real in-game notion that certain powers are more efficacious than others, so superhuman vision is just as expensive as cosmic energy control.  Which really makes you wonder why you have a point-buy system at all and just not go with the "whatever is allowed" model of MHR.  I know there are mature players out there who will deliberately pick powers based on character concept, even if that concept is limited, but why not reward that in some way?

It sounds like I'm being pretty consistently negative, but I suppose that is because I keep hoping to find a solid system for superheroes with the right balance of crunch and flexibility for me.  What the Valiant Universe RPG turned out to be was a game with all the looseness of MHR without some of the clever tweaks like Emotional and Mental damage or Assets or Complications. I could see trying to port over their point-buy system to MHR, not to mention doing some pretty straightforward conversions of the Valiant characters (it helps that the stat values of d4 to d12 are virtually identical).

What I don't understand is why, if the Valiant license was available, Margaret Weis Productions didn't snap it up, or why Catalyst Games, if they were just going to almost a straight up copy of the Cortex system, didn't try to cross-market that aspect of the game on their end.  I can't honestly suggest people buy this game--too much of the product is available for free from DriveThruRPG, unless you happen to be a big fan of the Valiant comics (like me) and want to see how all your favorite characters are depicted, which for $40 is still a lot.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

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 the blocky, World of Warcraft-inspired look.  Gone too is the eight hundred leather straps.  The monsters seem more plain, less topical and more timeless.  They aren't as in-your-face cartoony either.

Other Stuff
The book is incredibly self-referential.  By that I mean it mentions a lot of the literary legacy of D&D.  Strahd von Zarovich from Ravenloft appears, as does Acherak the demi-lich from the Tomb of Horrors.

This brings me to perhaps my biggest nagging sense about D&D 5E, namely that when you play, you're playing Dungeons & Dragons.  You're not playing a fantasy game, or even your fantasy game.  The game is so branded, in its own right.

And this isn't necessarily a crime.  When you play 13th Age, you're playing the in the 13th Age universe with its thirteen all-powerful NPC's.  When you play Shadowrun, you're playing in the Shadowrun universe.  I've often felt like the impact of D&D on the genre of fantasy can not be underestimated.  It is like weird literary ouroboros: D&D stole flagrantly from fantasy novels, and then in turn become the genetic code for much of the fantasy literature you see today.

But the game seems so much less like a toolbox than its earliest iterations and more like a pre-packaged product to be played as-is.  Yes, you can do it yourself.  You can always do it yourself.  But that implicit ethos is missing, and must be inferred on its own by creative DM's.  And while most of us are, what about the new generation of gamers out there?  I'd have loved, LOVED to have five of six blank pages in the back of this book with the heading "WRITE YOUR OWN MONSTERS HERE."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

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 held a hidden secret: a dead body with mysterious cybernetic modifications. Now mysterious forces are on the trail of the dead body, and they appear willing to do whatever it takes to get it. 

The group is pretty familiar with the core rules and the source material, so it was easy to get settled in. One noteworthy thing about the game is that most RPG's tend to drop into "bullet time " in combat; every shot, stab, or punch gets its own die roll resolution. In Firefly, an entire combat, even with multiple assailants, is resolved in a single roll. That kept the action moving very, very quickly. There's also little repeat activity. By that I mean you don't have different people attempting the same task over and over again. Everyone participating just contributes their dice to the pool. Doing so means that they share in any Complications from failures, however. 

Speaking of which, Complications come up a lot. Complications are negative conditional modifiers and PC's get them every time they roll a 1 on any of the dice in their pool. That means that, if you're rolling five dice to try to do something you're likely to get a Complication even if you succeed in your action. As a result the group seemed to be dogged with bad luck, hard knocks, and plot twists. Villains often escaped and the PC's spent a lot of time running away. For Firefly that seems to fit.  

Various complications that were inflected upon the PC's included
"Weirded out by the body"
"Person of interest"
"Screaming bystander"
"Jammed up traffic"
"Long held grudge"
"Lacerated arm"
And "May have left an online footprint"

And that wasn't all of them...

Overall the response was good, even though I'm sure I made mistakes in the rules. I've already had some inquiries from other people wanting to play, so maybe I'll have a second group after all. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

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 poor, just the haunt for a man living constantly in the trauma of the past.  In both comic book mythologies, the city itself possesses the qualities of a character unto themselves, much like how in FATE a location has Aspects like a PC.

So here's my idea.  I have two groups: a novice group of mostly pre-teens, and a veteran group of adults.  I run two supers groups in the same city, but the novice group is the flashy, four-color group.  The veteran group is the gritty group.  It's not dissimilar from what happened in Aaron Allston's Strike Force campaign (which used Champions II at the time).  The initial group had a real mix of PC supers types in terms of style and theme, and eventually several of the PC's split off to form a separate group, Shadow Force.

So again, like the sci-fi concept before, I can re-use locations, NPC's and even tie together plots, while keeping their general "style" distinct.  Maybe the Shiny Hero Team foils a bank robbery while the Shadowy Hero Team discovers that they wanted the money to fund a takeover of the city's major crime family.  This also allows for the occasional cross-over, like when Wonder Woman patrolled Gotham in the Batman's absence.

In theory the new Valiant Universe RPG is due out tomorrow, and I've got it pre-ordered on Amazon (my FLGS wasn't planning on stocking it).  But since Amazon is still telling me they really don't know when they will get it, I'm not holding my breath.  But there are loads of other supers RPG's out there.  My group ran Marvel Heroic for almost a year and liked the system a lot.  Mutants & Masterminds is a crunchier option, or I could take ICONS for a spin.  I'm half tempted to unearth Champions, which is near and dear to my heart, if only out of sentimentality (Fourth edition, none of that later stuff).

Again, thoughts? Man it sure is quiet around here these days aside from my friend Buffra (for whom I would build her dimension hopping barbarian queen for this or any of the campaigns)...

Monday, September 8, 2014

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.

Map by Daniel Swensen

So I could have one location (the space station), a single pool of NPC's (the crime boss, the nightclub owner, the local politico, the troublesome starship captain, etc.), and storylines that jump from one group to the other.  I could on occasion have a PC jump groups too: the staff of the space station are investigating a crime and need the insight of a civilian informant, or the civilians seek the help of the station's medical doctor in treating a sick crewmen.  In my mind it would have a bit of an "upstairs/downstairs" feel to it.

I could use the Star Trek: the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine RPG's by Last Unicorn Games to do this, or Traveller, or the new Firefly RPG.  Lots of possibilities there, both in licensed and unlicensed products.

What do you think?  Interesting?  Overly complicated?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

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 the first season's roster of IMF agents was fairly fluid, and could have as few as two or as many as eight (although almost all of them had Martin Landau playing Rollin Hand).

I like the idea of part-time spies, and the light-hearted, clever, relatively non-violent (especially for this day and age), and moralistically black-and-white nature of the show really appeals to me these days.  In the wake of national events I'm having a bit of introspection about hobbies that have innately violent elements, so the notion of out-thinking an opponent rather than killing them has some traction with me.  Although to be fair, a lot of the bad guys in M:I would often end up being killed by their communist or criminal overseers as a consequence of whatever hijinks had occurred.

There's two ways to go about re-creating a Season One-style Mission: Impossible game.  One is to use a rules-heavy modern era game like d20 Modern or Aether.  The other is to go with a game based on a modern-day M:I premise: Leverage.  It's pretty straightforward for that system: Briggs, and then later Phelps, is the Mastermind.  Barney is the Hacker (early version).  Cinnamon is the Grifter.  Rollin is the Thief (and a little Grifter).  Willy is the Fighter.  I should stat these guys out sometime.

Monday, September 1, 2014

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 including the two nights a week I drive an hour to practice roller derby, both weeknights.  That's eight more evenings.  I will say that this may be coming to an end, however.  I've gotten injured twice so far and the toll is getting too high.

So, roughly speaking, almost every other night--twelve times in four weeks--I'm doing something that qualifies as recreational.  On the other side I'm working a full time job, plus an additional side job that takes up about five hours a week.  Plus my regular job just tried to pin me with more work in the last week. Twice. 

And then I'm raising two kids.  Which is the best part of my life, but often ends up competing for my time against all the other stuff that isn't as important.

All of which is to say that every time I start thinking about starting something or taking on something, I'm beginning to question whether that is wise.  I also think I might have too much now: dropping or even cutting back on derby practices would help.  One night of board gaming (the one with my daughter's friends, since I see the other people at the home game) rather than two could be something.  Definitely keeping work under a dull roar would be good.

But playing and board games don't stoke my creative energies, which is a problem, and one I might have to address.  I have always been a dreamer, and not having something for my hyperactive brain to chew on could be a bad thing.  More later.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

#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's the home-brewed ruleset that used at EOW, which I've been a part of for the better part of the last decade, but we only play it once a year.

I loved (and still love) Champions because it was the first universal system that I had found that emulated one of my favorite genres: superheroes, and I spent a lot of time putting to paper all the superhumans of my childhood daydreams.

4E worked, quite honestly, because it was easy.  At a time when I had a lot of stuff going on in my life personally and professionally, it was simplicity itself to cobble together three encounters and know I'd have the makings for a fun evening.  The fact that it would be light on roleplaying and more closely resemble a strategic boardgame didn't always matter.

And I will say this, for all my bitching about Marvel Heroic Roleplaying on this blog, I feel like it did a better job of capturing the genre of comic books better than other superhero RPG's out there.  As I read somewhere, it was the first RPG that felt like it was a comic book RPG, not a superhero RPG.  It was also one of my first big leaps into low-crunch "narrative" RPG's, and most of the group took to it pretty well.  It's problem was that after a year, everything started feeling the same when it came to gameplay, the other side of the sword edge to its easy PC/NPC construction that also made it popular when it came to squeezing in game sessions into a busy schedule.

And frankly, I am not a huge fan of the EOW homegrown rules set.  It's clunky and outdated and doesn't always make sense.  It's very firearm-oriented, reflecting the bias of its creators and the "genetic root stock" RPG's that helped make it.  It's really the sense of playing with people who have been friends for so long and who do genuinely love getting together to game that really generates the fondness I have for EOW.

On rare occasion here I talk about "Mi Gran Sueno" (or "My Great Dream").  It's a term that actually was given to me to describe something very off-topic for this blog, but sometimes I use it to describe what I would really like to do with my RPG hobby.  I would love to run a campaign full of interesting places and characters, where the players can really get into the environment and interact.  Someday I'll make that happen.

I suppose this is the long way of saying my favorite game is the one I'm playing, the one I'm enjoying now, in the moment.  Roleplaying games are meant to be a hobby, something actively done, and any time I'm doing that, then the rules are doing their job.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

#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.

Friday, August 29, 2014

#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 example: an Entangle that absorbed Shocker's electrical Damage Field to then power up a gun that could blast the flying brick.  This guy took apart the team in seconds.  It was the first villain to whom they had ever really lost.  And after defeating them, he unmasked to show this old guy who claims to be Moon Knight from the future, there to stop Vanguard before they destroy the world.  (Futuristic versions of existing characters?  So early 1990's...)

Flying brick lady managed to escape, but before she can attack the villain Moon Knight attacks her, taking her out.  The other players are stunned, but Moon Knight's player says, "I would implicitly trust my future self that I was making the right decision to stop Vanguard."

Which was such a perfect portrayal of his super-intense PC and such a great plot twist all rolled into one.

Sadly, the group was not one that could really differentiate PC from player conflict, and the group never really came back together.  Later, the guy playing Moon Knight would again turn on the gaming group mid-session again, only this time it was because he was letting his personal life leak into the game (he had broken up with his girlfriend, also in the group, but they hadn't told us yet), which heralded the end of the group as a whole.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

#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 players (the one who make the joke) said quietly, "I don't know what you have planned for this evening, but nothing could be as scary as that."

Oh, I need a bit of artwork, maybe a Ramon Perez Rifts piece.

Over at Strange Vistas