Friday, February 21, 2014

Dr. Mind and Samkhara are having a baby

Or, well, their player's are.  Today, even as we speak.

Some day I may write a little monograph on the interactions of married (or non-married) couples at the gaming table, but for the last 8.5 months our group has been excitedly awaiting the birth of Samkhara and Dr. Mind's players' first child.  This morning about 5.45 AM I got a phone call from Rob (aka "the other Rob") saying that Rachel had gone into labor, and could I both pray for them and go take their dog to the kennel to be boarded.  Rachel insisted on being handed the phone and through an epidural-induced haze said to me, "I'm so sorry this happened on game night!"

I assured her this was more than all right, but she went on to say, "bring the group over and we will play here!" but I told her that really wasn't necessary and that we would just await the inevitable defeat of the the Zodiac when they return to the table.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A few thoughts about the games I own but never played

So after taking a brief moment to consider most, if not all, the RPG's I own, and which ones I have played and which ones I haven't, I have come to several conclusions.

Somebody out there hates Palladium.  For a long time, I bought most of my gaming books second-hand from a used book store around the corner from my apartment.  I was pretty poor at the time, and buying interesting-looking but used items was the best way to go.  It's during that time that I acquired most of my Palladium books, of which I have many.  I know there's a lot to be critical about in Palladium games, but I've always enjoyed the gonzo quality of Palladium games, the sense of geeky fun that the authors always seem to have.  That doesn't mean I could get people to play any of them, aside from my much-revered Robotech game that my friend Tallis ran throughout his entire tenure in college.

The early 90's were good for anime.  There's definitely a strong sense of my interest in the genre during that time, since almost all of the anime-inspired games were purchased in a very narrow window.

Actually worth a look if you are ever thinking about a vehicle-centered sci-fi game.  With cat-people.
I like RPG's that are like things I like.  I hadn't realized how many licensed RPG's I had purchased.  Star Wars and Star Trek are clearly big representatives of this genre, but that's also because there's been very few sci-fi games that were not licensed (more on that another day).  What I particularly interesting to me is that I often bought licensed games not with the idea of running a game set in that universe, but one similar.  I bought Buffy and Angel because I was thinking of running a Lost Girl campaign.  I bought Leverage because I wanted to run Burn Notice.

My D&D heart has been repeatedly broken.  I have been thinking about this a lot lately, but it came into crystal clarity when I realized how many "Fantasy Heartbreakers" I have purchased over the years.  I even found a few more on my shelves that didn't make the list.  I have issues with the three hit-point, fifteen-minute adventuring day of early edition D&D, but didn't like the ridiculously high-crunch, superheroes-with-swords that D&D morphed into over the years.  Somewhere in there is a sweet spot that I haven't found yet (although 13th Age got very, very close).

How the hell have I gone this long without playing Traveller?  The grand-daddy of sci-fi RPG's, and I've never played it.  I've owned it since the small paperback book days, and still have my hardcover omnibus of the original rules.  The EOW campaign is a pseudo-Traveller game using different rules, but I've never actually played this, which feels like a grievous oversight.

So what do you think?  Why do you buy games that you have never played?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Big List of Games Played and Games Left on the Shelves

I had a nice chat with Barking Alien last night about games we own that we haven't played.  BA plays pretty much every thing he has ever owned, while on the other hand I own a gazillion games but have only played a handful of them.  That got me thinking about trying to come with a doubtlessly incomplete list of what I've played and not played.  Here's the list.

Played or Run more than Once
  • D&D (all iterations, including retro-clones) 
  • Cyberpunk (multiple editions) 
  • Champions (multiple editions) 
  • Vampire, the Masquerade 
  • Star Wars (West End Games) 
  • Star Trek (FASA) 
  • EOW's mash of Traveller, Star Trek, and Morrow Project 
  • Marvel Heroic Roleplaying 
  • Marvel RPG, SAGA Edition 

Games I've played in but haven't run
  • Robotech 
  • Toon 
One Night Stands (games run or played only for one session)
  • Call of Chthulu 
  • Rifts 
  • Shadowrun 
  • FATE 
  • 13th Age 
  • Ingenium 
Games I own but have never played
  • The Palladium Games 
  • Beyond the Supernatural 
  • TMNT 
  • Ninjas and Superspies 
  • Heroes Unlimited 

The "licensed games of things I like"
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer 
  • Angel 
  • Leverage 
  • Primeval 
  • Serenity 
  • Star Wars (d20 and SAGA editions, and Edge of Empire) 
  • Babylon 5 
  • Hercules and Xena 

Fantasy Heartbreakers
  • Dungeon World 
  • Dragon Warriors 
  • HackMaster 
  • Rolemaster 
  • Middle Earth RPG
  • Sovereign Stone
  • World of Warcraft 
  • Blade Raiders

Japanese Anime RPG's
  • Mekton 
  • Jovian Chronicles 
  • Big Eyes, Small Mouth 
  • Demon City Shinjuku 
  • Dominion Tank Police 

Horror Games
  • Chill 
  • The Whispering Vault 


This is interesting--I'll have to think about this, even from a "understanding my own history" theory.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Ultimate Posse makes its move!

In the last gaming session of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, the PC hero team "The Ultimate Posse" had raided a Viper base and uncovered the origins of a meta human baby who was returned to his parents.

This week had the heroes gathering together for a planning session to strike at the heart of the villainous organization called the Zodiac. After a lengthy discussion a four-fold plan was hatched. First, Samkhara the emotion-manipulating archer would, in her guise as the super villain Trauma apply to the Zodiac as a replacement for Sagittarius, whom Taurus had killed for her failure to acquire the baby. Abrasax the Guardian Garoyle, in his guise as the vampire Baron Von Blood, would then apply to be Scorpio, a seat vacant on the roster. With the Ferret already ensconced as Libra, the three Posse members would then be able (along with Scrapheap, posing as the robotic villain Blackbox) to disable the defenses of the space station used as headquarters for the Zodiac. 

Then, the rest of the Posse (Dr. Mind, Bubblegum, Union Galactic, and Mr. Eternity) would lead an assault team of UNTIL agents via spacecraft and take the base.  The undercover agents would attempt to remain close to Taurus and either ensure they escaped the base with him or, if the opportunity presented itself, take him out, possibly permanently. 

"Trauma" and "the Baron" were both welcomed as applicants by Taurus, but first they had to pass an initiation: win single combat against another member of the Zodiac determined at random (literally a die roll by the GM). Samkhara found herself battling Virgo, formerly Gale Force, while Abrasax had to fight Libra, aka the Ferret!

Samkhara surprised everyone by sticking to her archery rather than using her psionic abilities, and thus barely defeated Virgo. Abrasax was able to quickly subdue the Ferret with spells, however, and the Zodiac had two new members.

Collecting the newly reconstituted Zodiac together, Taurus reveals the developments of his latest plan: using the technology from Cancer/King Crab's ship, he has contacted the homeworld of the Celestial, one of the original three Wonders, and discovered that the Celestial was a prince in exile.  Now a delegation from the Prax Empire is coming to Earth, and Taurus plans on manipulating him or her into joining the Zodiac, since the Earth's governments are currently seeking the Celestial to stop him (admittedly the Celestial was resuscitated from the dead by Capricorn/Empyrean and went a little crazy). The delegation should arrive on Earth in two days.

Pressed for time, the Posse makes its move.  Scrapheap accesses the Zodiac's computer mainframe using his techno-manipulative powers and drops their defenses.  The assault team (Bubblegum, Dr. Mind, and Union Galactic and Mr. Eternity (the latter two NPC's because their players were absent) board the station with UNTIL troops.  Bubblegum defeats Gemini/Crowdsource in single combat, but Dr. Mind is shockingly defeated by Headstrong/Ares in the control room of the base.

The Ferret and Samkhara find Taurus, and tell him that the base has been lost (exaggerating the actual battle situation and using Samkhara's fear-based powers for effect).  Ares and Cancer show up with Dr. Mind, and Taurus teleports them away to avoid capture.

So as it stands now, the Ultimate Posse control the Zodiac's space station headquarters.  Gemini, Leo, Virgo, and Capricorn are all captured (as well as Abrasax/Scorpio who is still undercover).  Taurus, Ares, and Cancer are all still at large, although being shadowed by the undercover Samkhara and Ferret.  Plus, Dr. Mind is now their captive.

And meanwhile, the Praxian delegation draws closer....

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Snowy Day Board Games and New Players

Like most people in the Midwestern United States, we've been snowed in pretty badly and the kids have been out of school the last two days, and will be out of school the rest of the week.  Today the roads were relatively clear so I made my way to the FLGS, which just happened to be open.  While there, I bought the kids a new board game.

If you don't know the game, it is loads of fun and plays off a lot of classic gamer-nerd memes like pirates, ninjas, steampunk, and dinosaurs.  Since this was the first chance for me to talk face-to-face with an adult and not one of my children, I hung out at the store for a bit talking to the owner.  It is always interesting to learn about the hobby from the empirical evidence of a gaming store owner.  For example, most of the profit for his store comes from card games, then board games, followed by miniatures and then finally RPG's.  Miniatures in particular seems to be in decline, with RPG's sort of plateaued at the bottom.

That being said, gamers appear to be popping out of the woodwork for me.  One of my players in my regular group said he had a couple who was interested in joining a game.  I had a couple approach me two weeks ago about joining a game they were hosting (although I'm not sure it is getting off the ground), and just today had another acquaintance "out" himself as a lapsed gamer looking to dust off his dice.  That last sentence sounded a little dirty.

Moreover, the gentleman I talked to today mentioned yet another mutual acquaintance who has also a gamer and had the added benefit of actually living in the same city as me, not the big metropolis that the couple that had approached me or he lived in.  When you have to drive an hour to a gaming session, it seems to be less likely that you'd want to commit.

I've learned my lesson from my attempt to start a second gaming group and get all excited about the possibility of adding a whole bunch of new players, but it did remind me of what I'm hoping for out of Mi Gran Sueno, namely a game where I can cycle large numbers of players in and out without too much difficulty.  As I mentioned back in my post about surveying gamers, I have eight semi-regular players now, and I really can't manage all of them at once.  Thankfully that rarely happens.  But I know that some games work better than others.

WQRob's Discussion Question: What RPG's have you found that handle larger groups?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Surveying the Gaming Group

As I may have mentioned earlier (many recent posts just ended up in draft format, and then were deleted on the grounds that they didn't pass my Quotidian Acid Test) the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying campaign I've been running for almost a year appears to be wrapping up.  I say "appears" because it seems to me that the enthusiasm is either plateaued or on the wane, both among the players and myself.  We still have fun gaming, and hopefully always will, but I don't sense that fervor about it.  More on the "why" later.

At the last gaming session we discussed what might come next, and interestingly the conversation that I heard was at variance with what another player heard when I discussed it with him later.  To put it another way, I thought I heard the group say something, while he heard something different.  It is an interesting conundrum, and to resolve it I decided to bust out some business tools and survey the gaming group using Survey Monkey.

Now, for those who don't follow the minute details of my gaming group, I have eight players, ranging in age from mid-40's to pre-teen, with six adults, one teenager, and one child.  We game every other week and while initially I floated the idea of two group that would alternate weekly, that idea fell apart and instead we have one group whose attendance fluctuates wildly from three to the full eight without a pattern.  At the discussion, I thought I heard there being a lot of interest in a science-fiction game, but one of the players with whom I was chatting about this said he thought he heard people say they wanted to do fantasy again.  What is the answer?

So, here are the survey results for your consideration and input.  Of the eight players, seven responded (one of the adult members has not filled out the survey yet).

Question One: how would you rate your interest in a fantasy campaign, from 1-10 (1="not at all interested," 10="very interested").  Average answer: 7.43.  Five people answered between 8 and 10, one answered 3, another 4.

Question Two: how would you rate your itnerest in a science fiction campaign, from 1-10 (same scale).  Average answer: 7.86.  Six people answered 7-10, one person put down 3.

Question Three: which of the following licensed properties would you be interested in playing?

  • Star Wars 72%
  • Star Trek 72%
  • Firefly/Serenity 100%
  • Farscape 29%
  • Doctor Who 29%
  • Battlestar Galactica 57%
  • No interesting in licensed games 0%
Other games mentioned: Babylon 5, Amber

Question Four: How gritty and mature do you like RPG storylines to be, from 1-5  Average answer: 3.57.  All respondents were either 3 or 4.

Question Five: How "crunchy" do you like RPG rules to be, from 1-5.  ("Crunchy" was defined in the question as detail in gameplay and PC rules).  Average answer: 3.  Three people answered 2, one person answered 3, and three people said 4.

Question Six: What do you like best about the MHR campaign we have been playing? This was on open-ended question.  Several answered that they liked the "sandbox" feel of the camapaign, which is funny because I feel like it has been fairly directed.  Most people said they liked the relative balance between characters and the more narrative element to player actions (contrasted with the rather rigid D&D 4E player/PC actions).

Question Seven> Whad do you like least about the MHR campaign?  This was interesting because everyone said something different: poor roleplaying in the group, complicated die mechanics, the superhero genre, and the lack of PC growth.  It is interesting because I think I would have cited all of these myself.

So what to take away from all of this?  Well, for one thing, it's clear that most of the group is okay with either a fantasy for sci-fi game, except the one or two players who wouldn't be.  Most licensed products appear to be fine, should I go with them.  I think that it is interesting that Firefly got the big nod, given that it seems to me to be the most "gamey" of sci-fi shows, with its "tramp freighter" concept and picaresque characters (not to mention the whole Joss Whedon thing).  I don't half wonder if I could run a tramp freighter Star Wars or Traveller game and still hit the sweet spot there.  What's weird about Firefly for me was always the complete lack of aliens or alien culture, which seems a sci-fi staple.  I did have a follow-up conversation with several players who said they were unfamiliar with Farscape, which was interesting because I tend to think of it as being rather "gamey" too.

It's interesting that people are interested in more serious storylines, given how much clowning around seems to happen during gameplay.  I set that tenor as much as anyone, but it might be worth a conversation about how that might work.  The one result that made me really laugh is the one regarding "crunch" which averaged out in the middle but actually was composed of people either liking low-crunch or high-crunch.  "Crunchiness" is such a subjective concept, however, that I'm really not going to worry about this too much.  What I do conclude about rules from the comments is that my players like choices, or as many gaming bloggers would say, agency.  They want to be able to say "my PC tries to do X," and let the dice and me adjudicate that rather than say, "my PC is going to activate this particular moveset, which will mean I can only do the following."  Since the latter is largely a function of games like 4E and is not typical of RPG's, it shouldn't be hard to please the players with most rulesets.

But anyways, thoughts?  Conclusions?  Have you ever done a survey of your players, and how did that go? 

Over at Strange Vistas