I don't usually critique TV shows on this blog, but I talk about about comic books and superheroes so I thought that it might be fun to jot down my thoughts (and concerns) about the foursome of superhero shows on the CW.
Of the four, I'm least concerned about Arrow, which is funny because if you had asked me last season I'd have said it was about done. The hero/villain constellation of Damien Darhk and Oliver/Felicity just didn't do it for me and the show seemed poised to lose its edge. Much like the old sitcom News Radio and Moonlighting, the fans might want to see the romantic tension resolved, but it's not what is best for the show.
Wiping that slate clean and introducing a slew of new characters, both heroic and villainous, brought a lot of new life to Arrow. The new proteges deserve more time to develop, but they really helped put Arrow back on its feet. Plus I'm kind of a sucker for non-Batman non-super DC characters.
So Adam and Blacksteel have been talking a lot about why we buy new games. I noticed about two years ago that my RPG purchases were diminishing in number fairly steeply. To understand why, let me explain why I buy most RPG's. I buy them like cookbooks, where I'm not going to cook every recipe out of them, or even any of them, but I get ideas about how to cook. I take little snippets here and there and throw them into whatever game (or meal) I'm making.
Several factors have contributed to the decline of RPG purchasing.
1. The price. The cost of a hardcover RPG has risen from around $30 to $50 for a hardcover. Some run to $70 is they are particular large or have a color interior. Somewhere in there the price went from "sure, I can buy this a look at it and never run it and that's okay" to "um, no."
2. The closure of the used book store in my town. Beats me why Half Price Books couldn't make it here, but they couldn't, and discount RPG&…
For my birthday I picked up a print copy of Heroes Against Darkness by Justin Halliday. Why, might you ask, would I spent hard currency on a book that is offered as a .pdf for free?
First, I like real books. I read them better, and can do so in places other than in front of a computer monitor.
Second, it's worth it. Beats me if Halliday makes any money off the sale or not, but I hope he did, because offering this game for free was a very generous gift to the gaming world. Heroes Against Darkness is worth owning. (At least if you are me. Your mileage may vary.)
Heroes Against Darkness is, by its own admission, a "fantasy heartbreaker," which is the usually derogatory term used by someone's homegrown version of Dungeons & Dragons. If I had to summarize HAD's genetic heritage, I'd call it an early edition of D&D done using Fourth Edition mechanics. If that early edition had 11 character classes.
HAD has the standard D&D stat layout (Strength, D…
On the drive to school today I had a really good conversation with my two kids about gamemastering (which is a sign I'm raising them right). The question was, if a player is having a legitimate problem with another player at the gaming table, should the GM intervene? My kids had two very different responses.
One said yes, because as the GM you have made a social contract with the players that they will have a good experience and be treated with respect. If one player is giving the other a hard time, it's your job to say something to the offending player about how that isn't acceptable behavior.
The other one said no, because that's triangulation, which isn't healthy, mature social behavior. If the offended player comes to you complaining about the behavior of another player, you should tell them to take it up with the player one-on-one.
I felt it would be good and fair to run one more session of the Grimfest D&D campaign (aka "The Bad News Bears") in order to resolve a loose thread of a plot point: the fact that the group had never managed to find the missing fiance' of their elven druid, Calidis. So I dusted off my GM screen and ran one more session for the Bears.
The PC's managed to trace a clue indicating that Calidis' fiance' was being held by an efreet in his palace on the Prime Material plane. After clashing with fire giants, fire elementals, and even young red dragons, the PC's were able to rescue him (and possible his "love the one you're with" girlfriend).
I don't would to sound like I'm tooting my own horn, but the adventure had lots of madcap action, problem-solving, and dramatic tension. Oh, and a cleric who had an 11% chance of having their goddess intervene rolled an 09, hence the angel reinforcement depicted above. It reminded me of why I love…
A bit of a benchmark for the blog--500 posts about RPG's and associated topics. It's good timing, because I'm about to retake the GM screen in my group and kick off a new campaign, namely Champions.
It's been a long time since I ran this game, and a big change for the group. My plan is to commit to doing a six-session "mini-series" as a test run for the game. At that point I will take stock, talk to the group, and then begin to either plot out a larger campaign or change gears and go with something else.
Before that, however, I'm doing a "victory lap" with the 5E campaign by running one more session of that game. For awhile now it's been run by the other Rob, but when he wrapped up his adventure arc there was still a PC plot thread left dangling. In the past I haven't sweated those too much, but this was a big deal for this young player (the first PC she's ever made) so I'm coming back to D&D for the sole purpose of mak…
The D&D gaming group decided to combine both the last session of The Other Rob's D&D campaign and our annual Halloween party on Sunday. Click on the pic for a bigger version!
In the last session the group participated in the raid of the Majestrix's castle to depose her and put her step-son on the throne. We seized control of the airship docks, sabotaged their "magic napalm" factory, and then went after the Majestrix herself. Unfortunately, when the group confronted her Sign, the assassin-turned-wizard member of the group turned on the party and sided with the Majestrix (apparently Sign's player had informed the GM that this was going to happen). So in the end the group battled the Majestrix (who turned out to be a pushover), Sign, an Archmage, and a pet basilisk, all of whom were killed in the end.
I'll have to process a bit before I write about my reflections on having a player betray a team, citing roleplaying in character.
A couple of weekends ago I had a nice long conversation with Adam over at Barking Alien and amongst the many, many things discussed was the question of how the world evolves and progresses throughout the campaign.
So let's give an example. In a superhero RPG campaign the heroes become aware that Doctor Demolisher has been assembling parts to create a weather-control device that he plans on using to blackmail the Eastern seaboard (too soon?). After a few sessions of wrangling with DD's henchmen as they gather the parts they need for the weather machine, the players suddenly decide one session that they are going to pursue a sideplot and infiltrate the notorious gangster Peppermint Ice's nightclub to foil his diamond-smuggling racket. Side note: I feel Peppermint Ice's moll sidekick should be Ice Ice Baby.
So, as a GM watching your players wander down the trundle path of a secondary plot, what do you do with Doctor Demolisher? Do you have him patiently wait around, h…
I thought I would try out the Cold Steel Wardens and begin by converting some NPC's from other supers games. My favorite from Silver Age Sentinels is Alice, Queen of Hearts. She just needed to be powered-down a little.
Alice, Queen of Hearts
Defensive Value 8
Wealth and Status
Physical Strain 12
Mental Strain 12
Last month I reviewed Cold Steel Wardens, a superhero RPG seeking to emulate the good parts of the Iron Age of comic books.
I feel like I read the game enough to write a review, but since then this game has been sitting on my nightstand, constantly drawing me in to reread it. There's a lot that is compelling about this game, and a few things I'm having a lot of trouble getting past, both of which is probably what keeps me coming back to it. (Note: I have a similar relationship with Rifts.)
One of the things I really like is the way that the rules support investigating play. There's a skill for canvassing an area for information that is different than the one you use to interrogate people or the one you use to research stuff online. The GM section of running investigations is excellent and I'll likely port it into any similar game I run.
I like how the game handles realistic combat and injuries. Not really something you'd see in most supers RPG's, but total…
So I'm doing some recovering from a medical problem right now, a recovery that is keeping my activities pretty low key, so I decided to stick to the easy and gentle work of making more pieces for my two modular dungeons (the gothic and the cavern). Click on the pics for enlargements.
More wall pieces to help delineate rooms.
Generic cavern floor pieces. I personally love the look of these once they are painted up. I think they are beautiful.
So in the latest session of our WEG Star Wars campaign the group decided to investigate the home planet of the slaves whom the now-deceased Darga the Hutt was kidnapping (and whom we had rescued). The group arrived to find three First Order Star Destroyers and a faction from the Corporate Sector parked on the planet. Using the cover of criminals moving into Darga's operation, the party landed and began exploring the First Order's operations. Apparently the Order had recruited a scion of the dead king who was willing to sell both his older brother and a good chunk of his people into slavery to guarantee the crown. While the smuggler Silac seduced one of the corporate types into some detailed information, Gar the Wookie and his "niece" Basha, along with the group's Scout went into the city to scrounge up more information.
Which mostly involved stealing a First Order AT-ST and driving it into the jail where the other prince was being held. The group rescued th…
Capsule: a horrific collision between the immovable GM preparation and the irresistible PC creation phase.
The Story: My college gaming group had been playing Champions out of the Big Blue Book like nobody's business, sometimes even two campaigns at once. But fantasy had been dying off as the 2nd Edition of D&D was really beginning to show its age and so many new games were coming onto the market. The fantasy genre still had its fans in our gaming group, and when Fantasy Hero came out Andrew saw a chance to take a popular game system and meld it to a fantasy book series he really enjoyed. And for the life of me I can not remember the series, except that it was this high fantasy that takes place in historical Europe complete with the Christian Church and this family of people with magical/psychic powers and some such thing. Andrew went all out on the planning, compiling a huge three-ring binder of material detailing the culture and background of the ca…
The company has a larger, more ornate table called the Sultan, but that's over the top.
Speaking of Sultans, though, for the "we don't need a table" RPG's, let's throw in a few Sultan bean bags.
From here's it's down to details: a smartboard, a minibar with sink, and plenty of wall-mounted shelving for books, miniatures, and terrain. And decent AC/heating with airflow, because some times people have been messing around with skunks before coming to the gaming table (you know who you are...)
Blacksteel recently referenced MegaTraveller in a comment, which got me briefly reminiscing about the one time I played another Traveller offshoot, Traveller: the New Era. Which got me thinking about games I've only played once, and why. Which got my thinking about making a regular column about games I've only played once. So, here we go...
RPG: Traveller the New Era
When: I'm guessing 1994 or thereabouts.
GM: Paul, a friend of mine
Capsule: As far as I can tell, the GM was angling for a gritty, noir-esque storyline featuring criminal underworld figures, helpless ingenues, etc. I played a doctor (the medical type).
What happened: my PC decided the best way to get information from one of the aforementioned ingenues was to go full-on Rico Suave, backed up by some pretty impressive social skill rolls. The GM was very uncomfortable roleplaying this, and even after some prolific hand-waving of the action never came back to this game.
Thing you'd be most surprised a friend had not seen or read
This one is easy. A member of my gaming group in her late 20's said recently that she had not seen either The Dark Crystal or Labyrinth. I think you would need to be a hair older to have that be really shocking, but still....
Most unusual circumstance or location in which you've gamed
Wow, I must be pretty boring, because mostly I've gamed in college dorm common rooms or game stores or people's houses.
Wait, wait! I once ran a quick pick-up game of Star Wars at my brother-in-law's bachelor party because the best man had really dropped the ball on planning something. It was a bit of a thrown-together mess but WEG Star Wars is really good for that kind of thing.
What is the game you are most likely to give to others?
What's funny about this is that it made me realize that I can not recollect too many instances where I have given an RPG to another person. I gave as a gift the Player's Handbook of the most recent iteration of D&D to someone I hope will play with me. I gave a couple of Traveller sourcebooks I found on clearance to a friend that really loves that game. I gave a copy of Teenagers from Outer Space to Adam because I happened to stumble across a copy.
So perhaps if I were to answer the question, "If you were to give out an RPG to others (say in your gaming group) what RPG would you give to people?" I'd have to say Heroes Against Darkness, because I think the group would like that game as a Fantasy Heartbreaker. It has a lot of the fun stuff from 4E that my group liked with a lot of excess trimmed off.
Share one of your "world luck" stories Hard to say, mostly because I'm sort of perpetually snake-bitten when it comes to die rolling. I've had major boss monsters completely fail to hit any of the players and come across as total pushovers. I've shot into melee combat and hit friends.
Probably the worst was on one of the few times I played Traveller and I completely blew the roll to land our free trader on a planet. The GM even game me a second chance on the roll and I botched that one. I ended up wrecking the ship and the GM had to end the session early because he had no contingency plans.
Before I get into recapping the last gaming session at my house, I have to share the joy that is having one of your players custom order shirts for the entire gaming group featuring the logo of the brewery the PC's created as part of the last campaign I ran. The brew in question is "Flask o' Tarrasque," a proud product of The Bad News Bears Inn, Tavern, and Brewery. This "Legendary Fortified Brown Ale" does have the disclaimer that it may be habit-forming.
Anyways, I don't think I have ever had a campaign engender this much genuine fondness from my players in all my life.
Once most of the players had their new shirts on, we undertook the arduous task of learning how to play Champions Complete, which is a scaled-down version of Hero Games, Sixth Edition. Originally I had only about four people scheduled to show up but it exploded at the last minute to eight. Some asked if I was going to prevent latecomers from participating, but I wanted to "st…
Funniest misinterpretation of a rule in your group?
Hunh. I feel like there's one out there regarding one of my youth players misreading something, but I can't think of it. One thing that came up recently was that in the D&D game I was running, we had a wizard who constantly cast the spell fireball while twin-linking it as a metamagic ability. It was devastating, and basically one-hit-KO'ed the final boss in the last session of my part of the campaign. After the new GM took over, the player tried to cast the double fireball again only to be told rather bluntly that you can't twin-link fireball because it doesn't have a to-hit roll, only a saving throw (all the while the GM is looking a little balefully at me). The players all protested, saying hopefully sarcastically how much they liked me better as a GM...
Most challenging but rewarding system have you learned?
This question is funny for two reasons. First, I had two games immediately leap to mind, interestingly enough both superhero RPG's. Second, my rationales for those games being the answer are completely opposite one another.
My first thought was Champions, likely because I just ran the game for the first time in a very long time last Friday (blog post forthcoming). Over a dozen Characteristics, lots of powers compounded by an exhaustive list of modifiers which don't add or subtract from the power but multiply it by fractions, the Speed chart, and in at least the most recent iteration a dropping of distances measured in inches (representing inches on a hex map) to real life meters only to be converted back into inches so we can continue to use the hex map--the list goes on and on.
But Champions is a great game, especially if you really want to build a unique character whose ins-and-outs are known to you.
Best way to learn a new game?
Download the pdf and then read lots of posts on RPG.net. I'm kidding. I don't like reading pdf's on my computer--my eye/brain relationship just doesn't flow that way. I like getting the actual book, with pages and everything, and then just spending time reading it: first glancing through to get the layout and then reading it in depth.
Following that, I do read the odd review online, just to compare my own notes with what other people have seen. Finally, I like to run a trial run of the game with a few people just to put it through its paces.
What innovation could RPG groups benefit most from? My own tendencies towards RPG experiences are so old school, to the point that I mention graph paper in the title of the blog, that innovations aren't something for which I really see a need. And honestly, anything I imagine already exists: we have online gaming hangouts and message boards to find new players. I thought about a cookbook for gamers for when they get together to eat, but one already exists.
What fictional character would best fit in your group?
Wade Watts, the protagonist from the book Ready Player One. Nerdy pop culture fetishist teenager with a heroic streak in him? That sounds like most of the people in my group.
If you haven't read the book, do so. I'm glad it is being made into a movie by Spielberg, because it deserves the exposure.
Historical person you'd like in your group? What game?
Another interesting question. I'll go with Robin Williams, whose ability to improvise, play a wide variety of people, general intelligence, and (as far as I can tell) genial personality would make him a great gamer. Doesn't hurt that he's Episcopalian, either.
What game? Something with a little bit of a wacky factor would be fun, but I'd also be interested to see him play something with a more serious bent, because it would be a deviation from the clowny norm.
Just to get terminology straight, I'm talking about the Iron Age of comics, an era distinguished from the Gold, Silver, and whatever the current age is supposed to be called (I've heard "Modern," which is doomed to inaccuracy in a few years, and "Electrum" which might be an inside-baseball joke among nerds).
The Iron Age is roughly defined as beginning sometime in the early 1980's and ended around 1996 with the bankruptcy of Marvel Comics, although vestiges of its influence still kick around in the comic book universe today. The high points of the era are often cited as works like Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns or Alan Moore's Watchmen. The low points are often associated with names like Rob Liefield. Hand-in-hand with the Iron Age was the collectibility craze of comic books with speculators and comic book companies simultaneously engaging in a mutal delusion that comic books of that era had tremendous value apart from reading them th…
Your best source for inspiration for RPG's?
In the past I would say television series, because of their episodic nature, but that's not really the case these days. Right now it is tumblr, or rather a couple of photoblogs of fantasy or sci-fi artwork. I see a particularly evocative illustration and start building the backstory. Take this example, of a dead giant king whose remains have become the foundation of some ruin...
There's loads of them out there in the Wild West of the Internet, aka Tumblr, but here's a good example of a fantasy blog: Meanwhile Back in the Dungeon (NSFW)
For science fiction, a good example is Sci-Fi Spaceships
And just for fun, here's one composed entirely of spaceships from Star Trek, some canon, some not: Star Trek Ships
What game is your group most likely to play next, and why?
God I wish I knew.
Right now, my gaming group is playing two games: Dungeons & Dragons (run by my friend Rob who isn't me) and Star Wars. While the summer schedule wasn't fantastic, both campaigns are progressing along and wondering what will be played next seems kind of ghoulish.
But the thing is, at this moment there neither game includes the entire group. Some people aren't playing D&D, others aren't playing Star Wars. There's no one game everyone is playing together. In addition, there's also other players who want to play with our group. That feels like a gap in the landscape.
So which game? Champions, Prowkers and Paragons, Heroes Against Darkness, and Traveller have all been kicked around as possibilities. We will see.
What makes a successful campaign?
First, I'm getting a little behind in this. Time to catch up.
For me there's a moment in some campaigns when the group stops viewing the campaign as a series of adventures or challenges and actually lives in the world for a moment. If it happened in the D&D campaign I recently ran it was when the group had the PC's sitting around the Inn of the Seven Winds talking about how they might turn around the failed economy of the city of Grimfest if/when they liberated it from the gangs who were at the time running the city. In the Marvel Heroic Campaign it might have happened when the group began to converse with their live-in NPC Mrs. Robot about her post-transformation social life and ate cookies than she had made for them.
If you can transcend the challenge/achievement mindset that makes RPG's little different from board games and have them imagine themselves living in the world, even just for a moment, that's a successful campa…
Which gamer has most influenced how you play?
Can I just say first, for a moment, how much better these questions have been than years past?
My answer is my friend Scott, who tended to immerse himself in a character without being a scenery-chewing hack, was totally comfortable letting other people have their moment, and cared about other players (he's the guy with the bronze d20 in an earlier answer).
He's also a great GM, although he's such an Old School relic that he calls himself a "judge." I like that terminology because it implies that the role is one of objective reporting rather than controlling the game as a "master." His sessions were always detailed with an emphasis not on setting up a big combat, but rather leading the group into making critical decisions about the outcome. Much like his way of playing, Scott's methodology and philosophy could be described as someone who is a generous host, or guest, who sees their role at the party as…
I feel like I've told this story before, and if so I apologize. Back in college I was playing a game of Cyberpunk 2020. I was a fixer (which suited by personality at the time well), and was in a typical "heist" group composed of two Solos, a Tech, a out-of-place Rockergirl, and myself. The set-up was pretty typical: we can be hired by somebody to break into some corporate building and steal something (in case you wondered where Shadowrun came from, it was because a lot of people were playing Cyberpunk 2020 this way).
Right before the day of the big heist, I get a call from the GM telling me he wants to do a bit of in-person roleplaying on the side from the group, so I agree to have my PC meet some NPC contact of his. That contact tells him that he's gotten word that a member of the group has sold the rest of us out and will turn on us during the heist. I immediate go into meta-gaming mode and determine that it is P…
Beyond the game, what's involved in an ideal session?
A meal. My gaming group gets together on average about twice a month. Those sessions typically last from 6:00 PM to about 10:30 or 11:00 PM, so not a long session by many people's standards. But every session has the first hour being a meal that we eat together. The meal is often a group effort, with different people bring various courses, desserts, and beverages. It has always been part of our routine, and a critical part because it allows us the chance to catch up with each other's lives, share stories, give out the birthday t-shirts (another tradition I can outline if people are interested).
Pragmatically, this social time probably helps people focus during the gaming session but more importantly it reinforces the fact that we believe that gaming, at its core, is a social event. This all starts to sound a little like "friendship is magic" but seriously it is the relationships that develop vis a vis th…
Hardcover, softcover, digital? What is your preference?
The question has the order right: I prefer hardcovers, mostly for durability, then softcovers, and then finally digital. I have a few digital RPG's but I find them difficult to read. I'm old enough that my brain reads books, by that I mean that it skips around looking for highlighted and critical parts before settling on the actual text. That's harder to do when you're only seeing a fraction of a single page.
Plus I like the tangibility of a book that I can read in bed or in the bath or where ever.
I will say this: the rise of digital warehouses of RPG material like drivethrurpg or lulu has allowed a lot of games to see the light of day that wouldn't have twenty years ago. I've partaken of drivethru's Print on Demand options on more than one occasion and often it is a very affordable way to get the tangible copy of an RPG.
What aspect of RPG's has had the biggest effect on you?
That I never stopped daydreaming with friends.
As a child, my constant playmate was my sister, who was only a year younger than me. We would play with either Star Wars action figures (supplemented by action figures from G.I.Joe, Flash Gordon, the Black Hole, and the Fisher Price Adventure People) and spin long yarns playing out stories for hours.
When we got older and started having a pretty stereotypical sibling-rivalry relationship, I still keep dreaming about heroes: superheroes and action heroes and the like. I had discovered RPG's, but really hadn't found the friends with which to play them. I would often just hang out by myself in the back yard, dreaming up stories.
Eventually I found a group, and kept working at finding people with whom I could share my ideas and we could make stories together. Now it's a big way I relate to my children. It's not hard to imagine some parallel universe where I just l…
What stories does your gaming group tell about your character?
So, this post is two days late, and for good reason. I went onto FB and asked the many friends from my college days for a good story about a character I played. They didn't have any. Many cited campaigns I led (missing the point of the question), but no PC activity. When I joined that group, I was the youngest person, a novice player, but I quickly hopped to the GM position. Honestly I was a little bummed out about the silence on that one.
My current gaming group mentioned the time my science teacher in the "FATE of the Dead" campaign poisoned an entire homicidal frat house and burned the place down. So it is not a complete wash.