Friday, July 31, 2015

KantCon 2015 review and The Ultimate Hero

This will be a pretty short review, since I only made one afternoon session for this year's KantCon, a locally organized gaming convention in Kansas City.

One thing I like about KantCon is that you get a chance to meet some local gaming designers and some little-known games like the year I met the guys from Silver Gryphon Games and bought Ingenium and Aether.  This year I managed to get a spot at a table where two guys from Paragon Notion were running a demo of their game, The Ultimate Hero.

By the games' own description it "combines aspects of comic book heroes and science fiction."  On the comic book side it has mutations, psionics, and even magic.  On the science fiction side you have space travel, power armor, and cybernetics.  The PC's work for an organization called DOSHI (Department of Super Human Investigations), a para-military agency dedicated to policing superhuman threats.

The rules are pretty straightforward, generally a contested 2d6 roll modified by attribute and skill bonuses with damage handled by again rolling 2d6 and comparing the total on a chart to the damage step of the attack.  For example, rolling a 6 for a DS 2 weapon gets you 3 points of damage, while rolling an 11 would get you 6.  Rolling a 12 means you get a value plus an additional roll for more damage.

I don't want to get too into the review of the game given I've only played one playtest and skimmed the rulebook, but I will say this.  The game is fun.  It has that combination of gonzo sci-fi and genuine fondness for the game on the part of the game's creators that reminds me a lot of Rifts.  If you want to play a half-demon in power armor, or a vampire with cybernetics, or a bug-eyed alien with psionic abilities, you can do that.  While it isn't rules heavy per se, there is a lot in the way of crunch in the form of a gazillion powers, equipment options, and even extensive rules for vehicles.  I suspect that out there is some rules lawyer that could quickly ruin this game with optimal options for PC creation, but let's not even think about that guy and just enjoy the game for what it is.

I will say one critical thing: the game needs a new name.  It's too similar to the sourcebooks put out by HERO games (makers of Champions, Fantasy Hero, etc.) and I noticed a couple of people on DriveThruRPG being confused about that.  Plus the name doesn't really capture the feel of the game--it's too generic.  But that's a really small qualm, and it the creators like the name, they should go with it.  The whole game has that "we're doing what we like" feel anyways.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

In which I finally get a fantasy campaign I like

Okay, that's a little harsh.  I don't dislike running fantasy campaigns (that would be Adam from Barking Alien), I just have had a hard time getting really enthusiastic about fantasy campaigns because they all have fairly similar qualities for the most part: slaying monsters (sometimes for a reason), accumulating wealth, growing in personal power and ability.

I call it, using a phrase from the Order of the Stick webcomic, "kobolds and copper pieces."  It is an easy, straightforward concept, one that looks a lot like what a lot of people think D&D should look like.  It's also really boring.

Since January, I've been moving from one fantasy campaign style after another.  The Tomb of Abysthor, for example, was an old-school dungeon crawl.  Well, after the "Negative Crisis" I had some things to think about.  During that multi-universe adventure the tarrasque that forms the center of the D&D campaign city Grimfest made an appearance and was last seen floating through space above the city of Sigil.  Now in a comic book, a big cross-over event often ends up not doing much to the story continuity.  I had a decision to make--do I return the tarrasque to Grimfest and pick up where I left off, or do I have the tarrasque stay gone and extrapolate what happened?

So I decided to shake things up.  The tarrasque has gone, and now the Levirate Sublimity has lost their source of their power, magic, and longevity.  In the months that followed, the nobility of Grimfest would descend into chaos and factionalism.  Cabals would form, groups that are based around mutual self-interest that would attempt to steal others' tarrasque flesh while protecting their own.  Each group would attempt to boost their own power in different ways, trying to gain an edge over the others.  So far the PC's have met members of two factions.  The first is the Parliament of Bone, who reputedly are necromancers.  The second is the Children of the Third House, a group of diabolists.  They have heard of two others, the Puppeteers and the Ragpickers, but they know little about them.

Now my campaign feels like The Godfather or playing in Mordheim, or like the movie Yojimbo.  The group is now trying to figure out how to navigate the various groups, making and breaking alliances and trying to stay safe.  Plus, of course, three of the members know the most valuable secret in the city--the location of the tarrasque.

Finally, this campaign feels like something memorable, something different, and something I could keep playing for a while, and man does that feel good.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Midsummer Check In

So we are halfway through the summer vacation, and at a good spot to ponder about where my current RPG is going.  There's a couple of things to consider, but I'm going to take them in reverse chronological order.

Last Friday I finished a two-session run through of the module Song of Storms.  It was originally written for D&D 3.0, so it required an almost complete purging of NPC and monster write-ups to be replaced with D&D 5E versions (and a good reminder of whole damnably clunky 3.0 could be).  Song of Storms is a great little adventure, mostly because it is not so much a hack-and-slash kill-and-take fantasy locale but rather a quest that relies heavily upon effective roleplaying for the PC's to be successful.  Or not successful, should the players try to intimidate their way through the encounters....

Intentionally or unintentionally, I've been switching up the gaming style of my D&D game since I started back at the beginning of the year.  I've done small little exploration encounters and big ones.  Plot driven stories and ones with almost no plot at all (but just wandering around killing stuff).  With the roleplaying-oriented Song of Storms done, I have to figure out the next direction for the campaign.

One thing I've been thinking about a lot is what happened over the Negative Crisis mega-event.  I'm critical of big "summer crossover" comic book events that, when completed, have very little impact on the main universe.  One thing that happened in Negative Crisis was that the tarrasque was taken out of Grimfest by the main villains to use as a heavy in that adventure.  He was last seen drifting through the phlogoston over the city of Sigil.

Now, I can restore the tarrasque to Grimfest, the central location of the campaign, or I can have him continue to be absent and explore what happens to that dark and creepy city when the core of its economy and culture is removed.  I had been kind of burned out on the campaign these days, but heading off in a very different direction has really got me brainstorming again.

For example, he could come back.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Four Hour Gaming Sessions? Seems Decadent

It seems like lately all I do is write responses to Adam's posts at Barking Alien, but sometimes he says stuff that begs a response.

Like this.
Some years back (and I know I mentioned it on this blog before) a friend of mine named Lee had the idea that a game session should only last four hours, or so. Around the same time, Zak Smith, and some other bloggers made mention that their sessions lasted about that long. 
Then, as now, I would have to ask HOW? How is that even possible? Why is it so even if it is possible? It takes me about forty-five minutes to my Traveller games now that we run them at one of the player's homes. Round trip I'm spending $5.50, and it's taking me an hour, and a half to travel to, and from (45 minutes each way). If I'm not getting at least six good hours of gaming out of the that, I'm staying home. 
 Why is it so?  Short answer?  Kids.  Work.  Stuff.  I'm not knocking Adam, I'm really not.  As someone who works on Sundays, getting "a good six hours of gaming" means I either game until after midnight on a Friday, or during the day on a Saturday.  Now I might be able to justify to myself spending a good chunk of a Saturday gaming now and then, but if I tried to do it regularly there's a lot of other things that wouldn't happen.

So instead I game four hours three Friday nights out of four.  And sometimes the game bogs down because of out-of-game conversations or crying toddlers not going to sleep like they are supposed to or my dog getting sprayed by a skunk.  I actually open the doors of my house an hour before the game starts to have dinner and visit and generally attempt to get a lot of the non-gaming socialization out of the way.  And it helps.

I have gamed the long gaming session.  Back in Ohio I would get together every three months and game for about ten hours straight over a Saturday.  It feels different, I get that.

With a short (four hour session) you can get a lot done.  In the last gaming session the group had a roleplaying encounter than kicked off the plot, another with the head of the docks and still another with the Jarl of the town.  They had a combat encounter in their inn, another on a boat, and still another in a cave on the island.  They explored about six or seven rooms in a castle on the island.

But it can be choppy.  There's little room for idle chatter or character development, hanging out bars or interacting with one another.  There's conflicts to resolve, plots to traverse, mysteries to plumb.  It is especially worse when you have an inconsistent gaming party.  Two of the characters who are currently in the basement of the castle will mysteriously disappear only to be replaced by two other characters in what I call the "Pokeball Effect" (because it feels like there's someone saying "c'mon back half-orc cleric!  Dwarf barbarian, I choose you!")

I'm not sure I'd drive over an hour for three of four hours of gaming.  I know people who do.  Ben did for a long time in our group, although he'd drop us in a New York minute if something else came along.  But I guess that my point is that some times that is the necessity of the situation, one that does create a different dynamic, maybe even a lesser one.  Half hour TV shows feel different from movies.  But short-term gaming is better than no gaming, and can be good in its own right.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Two new comic books worth reading

I have been really disappointed in DC's Convergence and Marvel's Secret Wars, mostly because both of them have been fairly random and confusing and have that sense of mining previous era's successes in hopes of reminding old readers why they used to like comic books (but maybe don't so much anymore).  I'm also fairly convinced that I can just wait out both summers and both "universes" will reset to whatever closely resembles their respective movie franchises.

So what's a comic book reader to do?  Two comic books series have come out this week, both worth a look, especially if you're a fan of sci-fi comics.

The first is Onyx, a space alien wearing a suit of starfaring armor that comes to Earth to protect them from a parasitic alien race that has already infected the planet.  If it sounds like Rom the Spaceknight, it is because the creators made Onyx as a sort of "love note" to that series.  There are some differences.  First, Onyx is female, and refreshingly is not depicted in a "lift and separate" suit of armor.  Second, it takes place in the dystopic future of an ecologically-challenged Earth.  Third, you don't have to worry about weaving in an established Comic Book Mythos into the story.

We Stand On Guard is another dystopian future story, only this time with more of a political slant.  The White House is hit by a drone strike, and correctly or incorrectly blames...Canada.  They respond with a massive missile strike that devastates Canada, leaving only a handful of resistance fighters to hold off the American invasion that (according to one of the characters in the story) is actually a ruse to claim one of Canada's most precious resources: water.

Issue one revolves around Amber, a young woman whose parents were killed in the initial strike and whose brother is a prisoner of the United States.  She meets a rag-tag group of partisans that look like the Canadian version of Red Dawn (including the Canadian shibboleth "If you are really one of us, who took home the Cup in '11?)

If you were comfortable with the US as the villains, you could easily run this as a roleplaying game, using any number of RPG's featuring near-future hi-tech weapons and giant walking robots.  Did I mention the giant walking robots?  No?  Oh they have them too.

So go check them out.  And hope to God the Big Two settle down and figure their stuff out.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Leaving the Nest

If you saw my group photo from my last blog post you know I have ten players in my group, down from eleven now that Ben has moved on to a new job.  Of those, five are under the age of fifteen.  Four of them are children of other players, including two of my own, and the fifth is a classmate of several of them.

Juggling eleven (now ten) players has always been a challenge that mostly involved me running lots of sessions each month to ensure that everyone got to game at least twice a month. But now that is about to change.  One of the young players has decided to try his hand at running a game, as the other youth players are going to move into his game.  That means we now have two campaigns: a youth one with a GM and four players, and an adult one with one GM (me) and five players.

Obviously there are some big positives to this.  For one thing, it's exciting to see another generation of gamers start their own, separate campaigns.  Second, it is a a lot easier to manage logistically.  Third, one of the subtle things I've had to massage is the PG/R rating issue to the campaign, both in terms of my stories and the player's behavior.  That's not to say there's inappropriate adult behavior, just a lot of teenage shenanigans sometimes.

Hopefully the junior campaign (or whatever we are going to call it) will go well.  I think that there are several of the youth contingent (junior league?  teen adventurers?) that are interested in running something, so maybe they could have a revolving GM Screen kind of thing if need be.

Anyways, it's big news for the group, so I'll keep you posted.

Over at Strange Vistas