Friday, March 27, 2015

My Group

For the last few months my gaming group has been meeting in smaller sub-groups, but last night they all wanted to be there. So I ran a session with all ten players plus one additional guest. It went pretty well, although we had some pretty stringent rules about quickly taking your turn. 

Anyways, we took this chance to get a rare group photo. I have to tell you, I feel like the luckiest gamemaster in the world. I love these guys. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Friday Night Gaming Recap: the Ride of the Demon Frogs!

(L-R) Thief, Monk, Monk, Bard, Paladin, Warlock
It's another game night, and after having fled from confronting the Basilisk on level three of the Tomb of Abysthor, the group decides to spend this session clearing out the top level.  Since the monsters are generally worse the farther you go down, this meant a lot of easy, low-XP encounters.  However, the group did manage to find no less than two different treasure hoards, so they are feeling pretty flush with cash right now.

At one point they did come across a large, underground lake, which turned out to be the home of a half dozen Giant Poisonous Dire Frogs!  Flaria the bard managed to charm one with a spell, while the others were slowly killed by the PC's.  At one point, however, Alaric the monk was dragged into the lake by a giant frog, and so Durton the half-orc paladin had only option: ride the charmed Giant Poisonous Dire Frog into battle!

Sadly, D&D minis never made a Giant Poisonous Dire Frog miniature.
The group has, however, managed to find an entrance to one of the lowest levels in the dungeon.  With some heavy-hitting guys on that level, and the Easter season about to slow things down, I think it might be time to bring together all ten players and do a WoW-style raid on level 5!

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Menace of the Joker, Part Two

Having vented my spleen about the whole Batgirl/Joker/DC Comics fiasco out of this week, I would now like to return to my regularly scheduled discourse on superhero RPG's.

A while back I mentioned that I was interested in learning more about the DC Heroes RPG, if only because it seemed to be this oddly forgotten RPG from days of yore.  I owned a bunch of sourcebooks, but not the game itself, and could only glean some sense of the game's mechanics.

Well, over Spring Break with the kids I happened to be traveling out of state to see my parents, and on the visit hit a FLGS in the area which turned out to be the Holy Motherlode of out-of-print RPG's to the point where I could have blown $200 there easily, if I was so inclined.

I wasn't, but I did pick up one book:

Superman had just died when this edition was published, otherwise I'm sure he would have made his way into the cover.  By the way, nice gratuitous cleavage.
I haven't had a chance to work my way through the entire book yet, but I did glance at the stat-ups for the various DC heroes and villains, including the Joker.

From an RPG standpoint, he seems pretty underwhelming.  Roughly human stats in most areas.  Hawkman-level intelligence.  His only really outstanding stats are Influence and Willpower.  He gets high ranks in the Charisma and Gadgetry department, but is actually a little underwhelming in Weaponry and has no close-combat fighting ability whatsoever.  Under Advantages he has Arkham Asylum (low) and Organized Crime (high), and that's it.  Arkham Asylum is "low"?

At 120 Hero points, he's between Aquaman (100) and Batman (120).  I'm not sure if that really does anything for him, however.

I do get it.  He's a Batman villain.  He has no superpowers.  The fact that he is "easily the Batman's most persistent and deadly foe" is grounded largely in the weird Batman-universe mythological explore-the-human-psyche elements, not raw power.  He's a pushover in a lot of ways, but not in others.  Just look at Kingdom Come or Injustice to understand that.  Any B-level superhero can level him in a fight, but he is great at messing with people's minds.

Now, how to handle that in an RPG?  This is the case where I think there's a gap sometimes between "superhero RPG's" and "comic book RPG's," and where Marvel Heroic Roleplaying may actually shine.  If I had to do a quick stat-up for the Joker for MHR, it would probably look like this:

Solo d8  Buddy d6  Team d4

Clown Prince of Crime
Homicidal Maniac
Obsessed with the Batman

Weapon d8
SFX: Joker venom.  When inflicting a "Hideously Disfigured" complication on an opponent, add a d6 to the dice pool and step up the effect die.
Limit: Gear, see MHR

Crime Master
Combat Expert
Menace Master
Psych Master
Tech Expert

So, not the most formidable guy in terms of power, but turn him loose to create an Asset, or to make an Emotion-based attack on someone and he's rocking a 3d8 or 4d8 and a d10.  Now he's a serious threat in game-terms.  You might throw in some Thug d6's in there if you really want the climactic fight scene.

That's why I really think MHR is more the "comic book RPG" than the "superhero RPG" in a lot of ways, warts and all.

The Menace of the Joker, Part One

If you follow comic-book news, you know this week's hullabaloo has been about the variant cover to Batgirl 41 by Rafael Albuquerque.

The controversy is roughly two-fold, maybe three.  First, the cover is is graphic departure from the general editorial direction the Batgirl comic has been going, which is to say de-aging her several years into more of an older-teenager/young adult (making her more like Marvel's popular Ms. Marvel).
It also is, by the author's own admission, a homage to the graphic novel The Killing Joke, which by pure coincidence I had checked out from the library and had re-read this week.  A lot of people love The Killing Joke and it was one of DC's most successful forays into breaking into mainstream literature with a graphic novel.  A lot of people really dislike The Killing Joke because it represented a "girls in refrigerators" moment before the term had been concocted: Barbara Gordon, a longtime Bat-sidekick, is maimed and sexually assaulted for the sole purpose of creating character development for three male characters.
So when the cover was announced, a lot of people howled for a lot of reasons, and DC announced that the cover was cancelled.  Which caused a lot of other people to howl.

Who's to blame for this?  DC Comics, obviously.  For oh so many reasons.  Their legacy of "girls in refrigerators" storylines at the forefront of this.  They attempted to salvage Barbara Gordon by making her a utility character in "Oracle," who was a voice in the ear of Batman or one of the Birds of Prey or the Justice League.  There was a lot of support for the notion of both a physically-challenged heroine in a world of superhumans and someone who could continue to reflect loss and sacrifice in a genre that tends to have legions of empty graves.

Then in the ham-handed "New 52" ret-con Barbara Gordon's mobility is restored, for no other reason except to sell comic books.  Forget there were other women in the Bat-family with their own books, or other people waiting out in the wings (except when there wasn't.  The continuity hash of the New 52 where Barbara Gordon has her entire backstory intact but the Huntress is from an alternative Earth makes my head hurt.)  But in any case, after a good run where they riff constantly about her history with the Joker, they make a radical course change for the same reason they always do--a desperate attempt to keep up with Marvel Comics.

A DC editor heard somewhere that young people take selfies.  They made the same reference in a Teen Titans cover.
And then some well-intentioned but hapless artist takes the current Batgirl and her problematic literary history and hit "Frappe'."  Chaos ensues.  Reap what you sow, DC Comics.

In what is becoming a long blog rant, I'm going to break this up into two parts: this critical excoriating of a comic book publishing house and my only semi-related RPG thoughts on the Joker.  That's in Part Two.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Ants and Slugs and Bears, Oh My!

This Friday's gaming group (spell caster heavy, but with a paladin, monk, and Druid) spent their session wandering around the third level of the Tomb of Abysthor. What was cool was that the monsters they all ran into were all pretty unusual and the group didn't just "meta game" the threat level but treated every monster like it could kill them all. 

They also decided to avoid one of the major threats of the level (a basilisk) and cone back later with a mirror!  Smart call...

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Getting Caught Up on the Home Campaign

I realized I had missed a session in there where I introduced a big dungeon.  It is not really a mega-dungeon, more like a kilo-dungeon or a hecto-dungeon, since it only have five levels and not that many rooms.  It's The Tomb of Abysthor, a 3.X adventure put together by Necromancer many years ago.

Abysthor has been sitting on my giant bookshelf of RPG stuff for a long time, probably picked up at a Half Price Books since I don't usually buy published adventures, even fantasy ones.  On the whole I don't particularly care for them.  It means internalizing a lot of data that I didn't create, meaning I have to almost translate it over into WQRobb data in the process, and stuff gets lost that way.  It also means it isn't my style of gaming, which is really the case in Abysthor.

But, the last two weeks have been eight different kinds of miserable for me, and that translated into both a lot of time and energy being spent elsewhere and just not really feeling the "come up with a fantasy adventure" mojo.  So, pre-published adventure.

Necromancer's byline is "1st Edition Feel, 3rd Edition Rules" which means that much of the adventure is a bit of a meat-grinder of traps, puzzles that are traps, monsters, and incredibly lethal boss monsters.  What's interesting to me is that several pieces of the dungeon are inaccessible unless you are a Lawful Good paladin or cleric of their home-grown deities.  But the roleplaying aspects of the dungeon are largely involving making deals with Chaotic Evil NPC's.  So you can sort of go one route or the other, I guess.

That's not to say Abysthor doesn't have its strengths.  The "cleanse the tomb of evil cultists that have set up shop there" has a sort of classic vibe that resonates well with new D&D players.  The set-up is not a "8 bit" dungeon (by that I mean the graph-paper layout of 90 degree angled hallways, etc. It does have its weakness (at least they are weaknesses in my opinion, your mileage may vary).  The puzzles, most of which come in the upper levels, are very difficult to solve and require a good working knowledge of the (third edition) rules.  Upper levels are also inhabited by such bland monsters as skeletons, giant rats, and stirges.  Yawn.  I also can't figure out if this dungeon is also just a Monty Haul of treasure or if that was a third edition thing, but I had to dial all that stuff down before it wrecked by campaign.

Now that the group is into the mid-levels, the adventure it hitting its stride.  I'm really ready for the multiple crises of my life to settle down a bit so I can again put some time into doing my kind of story, though.

Over at Strange Vistas