Friday, October 30, 2015


More experimentation for my fantasy cartography skills, this time a forest.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Experimenting with mountains

I've been starting on learning to hand draw fantasy cartography.

I'm starting with mountains and hills.  It's just a start, but I like it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What I want in my supers game pt. 1: Diversity

I think that Tumblr is the Wild West of the blogosphere, but there's a couple of tumblr blogs I really like, one of which is Superheroes In Full Color.  It's a blog that focuses on superheroes and comic book creators of various ethnicity.  There's been a lot of movement in Marvel to increase diversity among their roster of superheroes, both in terms of race, gender, and culture, and I think it's a good thing even if it is at the expense of some long-established characters (and honestly, it really isn't at their expense, since the original Captain America, Thor, and Captain Marvel are still in circulation).

A long time ago I read an article (perhaps in Dragon Magazine in their old Ares section, I'm not sure) about diversifying your superhero campaign.  It mentioned, among other things, that if you had about a 1:1,000,000 of superbeings to normal people, there would be over a hundred superheroes or supervillains from Mexico.  (I have read, believe it or not, the defense of the overwhelmingly tendency to have superheroes from "first world" countries to be because of the prevalence of nuclear energy in those countries, because most superpowers come from radiation.  Whatever.)

So, in my superhero campaign of the future, one of the things I am going to have in my campaign is a healthy but not forced bit of diversity among the characters.  What's really great is that Superheroes in Full Color often has pics from small-run indie superhero comics whose images I can "borrow" to represent my own characters and not have them recognized by players.  Let me just throw some of those pics up here so you can get a feel for what I'm talking about.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A quick note to the world

I want my Star Trek to be about solving problems not by jumping around a lot but by being an intelligent, principled human being, I want my Star Wars not to be about emo superheroes but about underdogs becoming swashbuckling heroes.  And for God's sake I want my superheroes not to be a bunch of post-modern crypto-fascist BS but contemporary myths about heroism.

End thought.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Mid-break thoughts: Heroism and Wonder

I decided to take a break from running RPG's through October, not the least of which because my schedule is jam-packed with work that precluded me from running anything if I wanted to.

During this break I've been thinking a lot of running a superhero RPG again.  There are many reasons for this, like the Flash TV series cropping up on Netflix so I can watch it with my kids (we are a Netflix-only household).  DC and Marvel both had universe-shaking summer events, although for the life of my I can not figure out what changed at DC, and can only begin to see the changes at Marvel, which appears to be mostly incorporating Ultimate characters into their main universe.  But in the mix was several really good stories.

I also picked up the rarely-mentioned Silver Age Sentinels, the Tri-stat version not the OGL version.

 SAS has a lot of Champions in it, including a two-page spread outlining the "if you're looking for this Champions power or ability, it is this in SAS."  Like Champions it is front-end loaded, which is to say that making a PC or an NPC will take some time, but the gameplay seems lighter than you might think.  I'm a little vexed by the fact that combat is not a X vs. Y contested die roll, but has both attacker and defender both rolling on their own, independent target numbers, so that in order to hit someone you have to have both the attack succeed and the defender fail, which seems to be a 1:4 outcome of possibilities, all things being equal (if you need me to expand on that, let me know in the comment field).

What I like about SAS is its ethos more than anything.  You can sometimes get a feel for what kind of supers game the creators want you to play, and the Tri-Stat people put that concept in the title itself.  It doesn't hurt that they also have an ersatz Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman in the NPC hero section.  Their villains are a little more off the beaten path, although there is a clear Doctor Doom and a archtypical Batman villain in there.

As I have said many times, superhero RPG's have a lot going for them in my mind.  Aside from my love of the genre (which is immense), supers RPG are also fairly episodic and have rotating party members as a staple.  That works for my group, whether it would be the entire group or just my kids at home.

In addition, I like games where heroism is a theme.  I like characters who are essentially positive, virtuous people, even if they are trying to make a living being a starship crew or something.  Maybe it is just my own reaction to all the brutality and violence out there in the world, and the fact that I game with my children, but I am yearning for a game that seeks to enjoy the nobility in humanity, not wallow in its excesses.

Which is why I also am thinking about science fiction.  It's been a long time (not counting the two- or three-session foray into Firefly) since I did a science fiction campaign.  I would not mind trying to create a campaign where the focus was on wonder and discovery.

by Andree Wallin

This genre is more difficult on many levels. It's more complex, it is harder to swap people in and out.  It is also, as I said before, a genre I have not done in a long time, which makes it challenging.  Which also makes it interesting for me, just for the opportunity to grow as a GM.

Anyways, I'll have to figure out what to do next (if anything).  More later.

Monday, October 12, 2015

EOW 2015 Recap (with helpful GM notes) Part Three

So, I've been gradually getting around to writing about my three-day gaming weekend, with particular interest in what went wrong and right with each session. And now the final entry.

Session Three
Genre: Traveller, or more correctly "Traveller" since their game universe has gotten pretty far afield
What went right: a tense, exciting plot
What needs work: There might be too many vorpal swords lying around

This was the "campaign" session, the latest installment in a Traveller game that has gone on for years, but only four sessions a year.  It's important to know the campaign revolves between three GM's, each taking a single session then passing it on.  Over the years the campaign has expanded from a merchant free trader to a fleet of ships belonging to a corporation headed up by the PC's.  In the previous session, the GM of the day decided to take the campaign in a new direction and pare down the scale by having a single ship of the fleet try out an experimental "phase drive" engine which turned out to not move ships through jump space but instead have them move through parallel dimensions.  Now the crew is basically "Lost in Space" moving from dimension to dimension randomly trying to get to home (or as I suggested, as close as possible, thinking of the Simpson's Halloween episode of the same vein).

In this session, the wandering ship encounters a planet where a millennium ago another starship drifted in and the crew, abandoning the ship, tried to survive on the planet.  Turns out this was easy, because there is a microbiotic organism that reverses aging, so there are some of the original crew left, along with their descendants.  It sounded a whole lot like a Star Trek original series episode in a lot of ways, but the upshot was that pirates showed up to pose a threat, and the PC's used the ship of the superannuated crew to bluff their way out.

But in the process, the PC's got a) a huge spaceship (given to them by the shipwrecked crew), b) a fountain of youth that can be cultured and grown in-house, and c) tacit approval to begin trying to develop a torpedo is a phase drive engine mounted on the end of it that they could arm, launch at a ship, and then trigger when it comes into contact, shifting the target into another dimension.  When the GM sounded enthusiastic about the last one, I had to say "what do you do when there are no more dragons to slay?"

I not going to knock this too hard.  They clearly have their style and like gaming it, and I appeared to be the only one complaining about the possibility of having a party driving around with a battleship full of insta-kill missiles and immortal PC's, so what do I know?

So that was the whole roster of games.  Each one was enjoyable in its own right, and for a guy who doesn't get a chance to do much sci-fi gaming, not to mention just being a player, a real treat.  Thanks for reading, and don't forget that comments are welcome.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

EOW 2015 Recap (with helpful GM notes) Part Two

Author's Note: Part One can be found here.

Session Two
Setting: Star Trek, Deep Space Nine era
What Went Right: Some great roleplaying by the GM (if I do say so myself)
What Needs Work: Overestimating player knowledge

So this was my session, and happened on Saturday, which is always the best attended session for the weekend (in this case, nine players).  I had been hankering for running science fiction and Star Trek in general, so I figured the best way to ensure that everyone was relevant was to have the party split into two crews: Federation and Klingon.  With the help of some friends, we put together a DS9-era story rich with the classic elements of DS9: religious and cultural conflict, murky morality, and some Dominion ass-kicking.  I was pretty pleased with the scenario, but I also knew that the group was composed of a lot of die-hard Trekkies, so I crammed the last couple of months for this session watching old episodes, reading articles from online DS9 wikias, and talking to my friends who know Star Trek much, much better than I do.

And in the process, I ended up outpacing the group.  While I had some pretty impressive roleplaying of my own, the subtle nuances of the story were missed by the group.  Nuances that were, in the end, rather important when it comes to the outcomes of their actions.  In this specific case, an artifact which allows the Skrreans to commune with the Prophets would have a major impact on the religious community of Bajor, and possible cause a public rift within the Bajoran community.  When the Skreeans find this artifact and turn it over to the Federation crew, which includes a member of Sector 51, what do they do?  That was supposed to be the real point of internal debate and conflict within the party, but instead they just turn it over to Kai Winn without being truly aware of the consequences, and then were a bit shocked as a result.

In hindsight, I should have included a Bajoran NPC in the Federation crew who would be my own mouthpiece to highlight the cultural/religious tension and help the players make an informed decision.

More to come!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

EOW 2015 Recap (with helpful GM notes) Part One

Most of my posts are gaming recaps, and overwhelmingly they get little to no feedback or comments.  This leads me to suspect that most readers are not that interested in reading about how someone else's game went.  That's cool.

But last weekend was the three-day End of the World mini-convention, and one of the few times I get to be a player, not to mention GM a genre I'm not running now, so I thought it might be interesting to look at less of what we did as a gaming session, and more of what worked and didn't work from a GMing perspective.  I'll do this in three parts, just to make it easier to read and digest.

For those who don't know, at each session we use a home-grown generic ruleset based loosely on the old FASA Star Trek system, altered to suit each session's genre.

Session One
Setting: Morrow Project (80's Post-Apocalyptic)
What Went Right: GMing on the fly
What Could Use Work: Fantasy vs. Physics

So the basic concept is that, in this go-round of the "gonna be frozen in the present so we can fight in the unknown post-apoc America" Morrow Project, the guys are going to have exo-skeleton combat suits to fight with, because that's pretty cool.

Except we spend the first "act" of the session playing the research and development guys for Morrow Project, which is kind of weird in and of itself, but made more complicated because of the tension between guys who are sort of "screw realism and let's build Iron Man" and the "Morrow Project is a realistic RPG setting and Physics happens" people.  Here's an example of a typical dialogue from the first part of the session.

Player One: Let's mount double-barreled heavy machine guns on the forearms of the suit!
Player Two: Why?
Player One: What do you mean "why?"  Because it's cool!
Player Two: No, why double barreled?
Player One: Twice as many bullets!
Player Two: There's no point.  Actually, the whole thing is stupid.  A heavy machine gun will use up 600 bullets a second.  Are you going to mount two, much less one ammo drum on the forearm as well?  That'll look ridiculous.
Player One: Fine, then let's mount twin mortars on the back!
Player Two: A mortar?  I was in the army as an artillery personnel.  Do you know how much kickback a mortar causes?  And how do you plan on loading the mortar?  Those are drop-in rounds.
Player Three (Me): Why don't we just have a shoulder mounted railgun and when it fires spikes shoot out of the feet and anchor the suit to the ground.  And then we can call it a Glitterboy.
(Complete silence because most of EOW lives in an RPG Time Capsule and has never heard of Rifts.)

Now what went right happened in Act Two, set 150 years in the future.  The players, now wielding new PC's, wake up on a critically damaged space station over the post-nuke earth.  The GM wanted the players to realize the situation was critical, abandon the station in an escape pod with their suits, land on the Earth, and fight aliens.  Instead, the PC's glommed onto the fact that there were other cryogenically frozen survivors on the station and launched a desperate attempt to keep the station together until everyone could be rescued.  Which was awesome and fun and had lots of cool heroism and science.  But all of it was pulled out of the GM's butt.  Points to him, since we didn't even know this and were thinking what a great job he was doing, especially considering how the first half went.

Ironically, the GM had a sudden affliction of laryngitis at the end of Act Two, and couldn't go on to run the combat in the final act.  So at least it ended on a high note.

Next up, my own session!

Over at Strange Vistas