Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas

To all my blog readers and countless Russian spambots who think I'm a gambling site for some reason, Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Why I'm afraid the Arrowverse may be jumping the shark

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.

The show that I'm feeling the most dread about is The Flash, which used to be my favorite.  Barry Allen was a delightfully retro superhero just as DC was cramming darker versions of their iconic characters in the New 52 and the gawdawful movies.  But there's several problems I see developing.  First, the arch-villains are getting tired.  Originally there was the Reverse Flash, and he's a threat because he's deadly and a faster speedster than the Flash.  Then there's Zoom, and he's even faster and more scary.  And now there's (help us) Savitar, and he's even faster and scarier and he looks like someone took the Michael Bay version of Ravage and made him a Flash villain.

And while each sort of has their own agenda, in the end they are all basically the same kind of villain--a malicious speedster.  Lackluster villains are a problem with the Flash mythos in general; they tend to be gimmicky mooks who really don't stand a chance against the Flash, or evil speedsters.  The show needs to find a way to create a compellingly threatening villain cast from a different mold.

They have also managed to give superpowers to every single character except Joe and Iris.  When Wally starts whining about not having powers, I actually thought he was being irrational until I realized that he was virtually the last one who didn't.  It's like the Flash is contagious.

And finally, and I realize that I might be in the minority about this, but I totally dislike Iris West.  It's a perfect storm of poor acting, zero chemistry, and lame storytelling. She's the poor man's Lois Lane, but not the cool Lois Lane, but the simpering Silver Age one.  I just keep thinking to myself, "how have the writers conveyed why Barry should be with her?"  Lois Lane is, in so many ways, Superman's equal.  Not in power, but in personality and conviction.  Clark Kent respects her.  The writers of Flash just figure because she's cute and they can do lots of close-ups of her wide-eyed stare that it'll all make sense.  But she spends most of the time harping, worrying, or getting into trouble.  Bleh.  Bring back Patty.

And finally, Flashpoint.  Flashpoint was a big deal in the DC universe, including a chance to trot out and explore some alternate-reality versions of classic DC characters.  If the TV show it was a two-episode wash to build a lot of dramatic tension about "how dare Barry muck about the time stream!"  The hardest part was having people give Barry grief for changing the lives that they have only known their whole lives.  Actually the really hardest part was watching the Legends give Barry grief about changing the time stream right after they crashed through the Reagan White House.  Pot, kettle.  More on them later.  Instead of having the chance to freshen up some things, or at least explore some off-track plotlines, Flashpoint instead became the cause of a lot of really overblown emotional drama that sometimes didn't ring true.

How to fix The Flash?  Build a villain with a real backstory who is not a speedster.  Give him or her three dimensions.  Introduce a new love interest.  Don't give Joe powers.

And finally, the Legends of Tomorrow (I'll write about Supergirl later).  A lot of people thought they would become the Justice League or the Justice Society, but they are not.  They are the Doom Patrol.  Crossed with Doctor Who.

Did someone say "Doctor Doom"?  No?  Okay I'll leave...
Low powered, oft-beligerent misfits of the superhero world?  That's the Doom Patrol.  I would love to see the Doom Patrol in the Arrowverse, as a side note.  But anyways, what I can not figure out is why they whittled out Hawkgirl and Captain Cold (although the latter appears to be an issue with the availability of the actor) and put in another chipper, naive, square-jawed white guy.  Who, by the way, is substantially more powerful than the rest of the team.  And has the dorkiest costume of the Arrowverse, which is saying a lot.  We already had Ray Palmer (and the show has already highlighted their similarities).  Even weirder, Steel appears to be the "tentpole" character, the one that the audience is supposed to identify with.  I never got into Rip Hunter, mostly because he felt a little too much like a bitter, snarky Doctor Who (not helped by having the actor they did, and constantly calling Heatwave "Rory") but there are plenty of other ways to have a historian on the team.  And as the "contrast" character to the hoodlums on the team, well you already had that).

(And can I just say that I actually liked the DC Comics version of Steel.  The dorky mohawk headgear made sense when you realized he was a totally pre-packaged farce of a patriotic hero, forced into the role by a domineering father.)

Then there's the whole time-travel thing.  I find time-travel problematic as a plot device in any genre, and the Arrowverse is saturated in it.  With a new time-frame for every episode, it is starting to feel gimmicky and as a way to pad-out what is often a pretty thin plot.  Plus you're going to run out of options after a while.  Just on the American side you've already had the 1860's, the 1880's, the 1920's, the 1940's, the 1950's, the 1970's, the 1980's, and the dystopic future.  Actually there are several of those.  So what's left?  The American Revolutionary War.  The Victorian era (doubtless with either a gothic horror or steampunk twist).  The Great Depression.  The show already did the archtypical cultural indicator (aka stereotype) episodes of non-American venues with the Russian gulag and Japanese samurai.

My answer?  Ditch the time-traveling gimmick and rename the team.  The Outsiders is available.  Put them on the weird pseudo-science fringe of the Arrowverse, rather than the front-and-center superhero team.  Start bringing in the bizarre wing of the DC Universe.  Not campy (at least, not much), but there is plenty to work with out there. In their second season they have been relying too much on retread villains and time travel, and it isn't working.

And bring Captain Cold back.

Okay, that's plenty of ranting for now.  Comments welcome.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

My RPG Cookbooks, and when enough is enough

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's were a way for me to continue to indulge while still justifying the expense.  When it closed, the only venue was the small used rack at my FLGS, which was anemic, really.

3. A steady game.  I bought a lot more RPG's when I wasn't running anything.  I bought more when I was running short games.  When I started running the same RPG for two years straight, month in and month out, rationalizing why a game that had nothing to do with what I was playing became more hard.  It made more sense to buy miniatures, or plaster molds, or just save the money.

4. Other diminishing returns.  Honestly, I'm just not getting as much out of those "cookbooks" as I used to.  I realized this when I was pondering buying Blood and Treasure, another Fantasy Heartbreaker.  I've got fantasy heartbreakers.  Also, there is so much material out there now on the internet: NPC's, monsters, gear, story ideas, GM advice.  All the things that I used to read about in books is now readily available on the internet.  Unless the game has something really interesting going on, really innovative, then I'm not that interested.

The last three RPG's I've purchased illustrate my points.  I bought Ninja Crusade, which I had previously bought as a pdf but later as a hardcover because it was a totally different kind of fantasy RPG with interesting dynamics when it comes to PC creation.  I bought Iron Falcon, a tight little OSR retro-clone by the same guy who created Basic Fantasy, because I found a softcover copy of the book cheap at a used book store.  I thought a long time about buying Heroes Against Darkness, another fantasy heartbreaker, because it closely resembled D&D Fourth Edition without all the bells and whistles.  What really put it over the edge was the monster-building rules (which you don't often see in fantasy RPG's, either because there's no real system or the creators aren't interested in sharing).  I had a lot of fun playing 4E with my gaming group, and I'm sure that part of my interest was in trying to reclaim some of that fun.

But in the meantime there are countless RPG's I've looked at, thought about, and passed.  Games like Oz Dark and Terrible, Mutant Zero, and Iron Kingdoms.  Not bad games, just so unlikely to be played and so expensive that they just were not worth getting (at this time).

And so I find myself thinking less and less about what to buy, and more and more about how to play.  Less money spent on books and more effort put into building up rich campaigns.  I stopped trying to buy my way into doing something fun and creative, and more time actually getting there.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Heroes Against Darkness review

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, Dexterity, etc.) and the archtypical fantasy races (human, dwarf, elf, etc.) with the usual add-ons like half-elf and half-orc.  Add to that an ersatz tiefling race and you have the idea.  The eleven PC classes mostly involve expansions of the core D&D classes.  There's a warrior, barbarian, and berzerker (separate from barbarian) as the martial classes.   Rogue and hunter for the stealthy guys.  Five different magic-wielding classes to reflect the typical schools of magic: necromancy, healing, blasting stuff, enchantment, and protection.  And finally one cross-over martial/healer that's not called "cleric" but "hospitaler."  That's not a bad breakout.  The magic classes are by design specialized, which is good because you can't really specialize in a class itself.  What makes this feel a little older-edition while still like 4E is that as your PC advances in his or her class, new abilities are unlocked (like 4E), but you don't get any choices about what those abilities are.  All berzerkers get the same tricks at 3rd level, or 6th, or whatever.  That will likely be a turn-off to players who like to game the class system to come up with whatever "character build" they are seeking, but lately that's been my biggest turn-off in recent D&D editions.

Another Fourth Edition quality that HAD has that I like is its use of creating encounters using a budget of XP that is spread over multiple monsters who have different roles, like Brutes or Casters.  I liked the "monster ensemble" quality of 4E encounters because they gave mobs of orcs, et al diversity instead of being eight carbon clones of each other.  They also helped negate the advantage PC groups tended to have in their strength of numbers.  Where Halliway really shines in this edition, and arguably his best game feature, is that he provides an extensive framework for building your own custom monsters, including scaling them up by encounter level and monster type.  The process seems much more organic than Pathfinder's system of adding PC levels.  If you have any craving to create your own monsters but weren't sure how to build them using a ruleset, HAD is right for you.

The magic system is the biggest break from D&D, insofar as they eschew the Vancian "fire and forget" spell structure and instead use a system of "amina points" which are burned to cast spells.  That follows a lot of non-D&D fantasy systems,

Finally, it's worth reading the introduction.  Most of the time I skip these, but this one is brief (a quality exhibited throughout the book).  In it Halliway gives probably the best argument for the existence of "fantasy heartbreakers."  I was thinking about this essay of his just a few days ago when I read a blogger engaging in some pretty blatant "badwrongfun" ranting about how other gamers get it wrong because they don't like what he likes.  I won't re-phrase it here--it's worth the time it takes to download a free game and read it for yourself.  But the bottom line is that Heroes Against Darkness hits a lot of my sweet spots when it comes to heartbreakers, and for a great price, .pdf or hardcover.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The role of the GM in resolving player conflict

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 had my own answer, but what do you think?

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Friday Night Recap: The D&D Postlude

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.

A drawing of the angel descending.  There's a lot going on in this picture.
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 running the fantasy genre (and why I should get back to it soon).

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The 500th Post

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 making sure she sees her story to its end.
It may be the  influence of Doctor Strange, but the first three PC's for the Champions game all have mystical origins: a straight-up sorcerer, a half-demon luchadore wrestler, and a person wearing a magical garb that has various powers (similar to Ragman from the television series Arrow).  That's a big shift from the alien/pseudoscience themes dominant in earlier supers campaigns I have run, and helps me find a direction.
Thanks for hanging with me for 500 posts.  I hope I make your reading experience worthwhile.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween gaming session

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!

Mummy dogs and spider-infested Mac & Cheese

The gaming group in all its glory
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.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Season Seven of The Walking Dead and what it has to do with my game

Hey, there's a bunch of plot spoilers to the episode of The Walking Dead from 10/23/16 here!  After the break, I mean.

Oh, and I do talk about a fictional character in an RPG who engages in abhorrent behavior most will find disturbing.  A gentle forewarning.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

When the Villain Wins

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, hand poised on the level ready to throw, until the PC's finally show up and then he can do his "hands milking the giant cow" monologue?  Or do you have him win?

Adam said that early on he learned a game-mastering lesson from a mentor that basically said this: at first the villains don't know about the heroes and don't care about the heroes--the campaign is about how that changes.  But if the players don't interject themselves into the way of the villains, then the villain's plans progress accordingly.

That means that as a GM, in Adam's playbook, you have to be willing to let the villains win, and I think that's a bold step for a lot of people.  We are so caught up with "RPG as story" that we can't envision a tragic ending, so we do everything we can to ensure that we get the ending we want, or feel like is appropriate.  Maybe I'm wrong here, but even in pre-generated adventures I've seen where the final boss fight is a challenging one, the text often says something along the lines of "this encounter is extremely challenging for the players, and one or two player characters might die."

Right, because having a tragic death to highlight the momentous nature of the final conflict is acceptable, even expected.  But I don't see a lot of "adventure paths" (whose name make me die a little inside) end with the notation "there's a good chance everyone is going to die here."

I think in many ways this is why certain universes play better than others.  Most D&D games, for example, already have the villains having won. They're already set up in their subterranean lairs hanging out on their treasure piles and feasting on the local populace as they will.  The heroes' actions move the dial from "all the way bad" to "it's a little better" with every tunnel they invade.  Star Wars has a similar set-up: the Empire is running the galaxy.  Note that this is one of my problems with The Force Awakens. I could never figure out if the First Order was some kind of lunatic fringe that just happened to have the manpower and resources and time to convert a planet into a space station that somehow could shoot a laser across solar systems and not have it take years for the beam to get there or if they were a re-skinned Empire still running most of the cosmos because taking out Palpatine didn't really upset the apple cart too much.

I would love to see a campaign where the players actually face the risk of failure and end up spending the next six months to a year of gaming time trying to fix their mistake.  I just wonder how comfortable people would be with the change to the status quo.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Caliburn (Cold Steel Wardens conversion)

Caliburn (Adam Sinclair)

Magnetism 2
Accuracy 3
Force 5
Intellect 4
Agility 5
Nerve 5
Awareness 4
Psyche 4

Physical Skills
Armed Melee 4D+5 (Batons), Armed Ranged 3D+3 (Pistols), Athletics 4D+5 (Long Jump), Stealth 4D+5 (Silent Takedown), Unarmed Combat  5D+5

Investigative Skills
Canvass  4D+2 (High Society), Examination 3D+4 (Microscope Usage), Investigation 4D+4 (Quick-Analysis), Notice 3D+4 (Keen Hearing), Research 3D+4 (Books/Library)

Social Skills
Deception 2D+2, Intimidation 4D+5 (Threats), Intuition 4D+4 , Persuasion 3D+2 (Negotiation), Reputation 4D+2 (Aristocracy)

Knowledge Skills
Criminal 4D+4 (Serial Killers), Cultural 2D+4, Esoteric 3D+4 (Myths and Legends), Historical 4D+4 (Medieval History), Scientific 2D+4

Technical Skills
Driving 3D+4 (Car), Fine Manipulation 3D+4 (Lockpicking), Mechanics 2D+4, Piloting 0D+4, Vehicle Combat 2D+4

Masteries: Boxing Combat Style, Hardened

Equipment: Escrima sticks, two smoke grenades

Memories: Gaining his powers from “The Lady of the Lake,” his girlfriend being murdered
Motivations: Bringing Janus to justice, Restoring the status of masked heroes
Stances: “Janus must pay,” “Seek justice in the present, not the past,” and “We are meant to be something better”

Flaws: Horribly scarred, Obsessed with vengeance

Background: Adam Sinclair was an archaeology student who was studying ancient  British mythology.  He became friends with Jennifer Randall, a detective for Scotland Yard investigating a series of murders emulating Jack the Ripper.  Sinclair began to see visions of Randall being stalked by the killer, a wealthy dilettante named Zachary King.  Finally in one of the visions he came across a lake, and drinking from the lake heard a female voice which said, "Why do you seek justice in the past?"  He awoke back at his camp possessed by a purpose: to become a new knight for this era.  He called himself Caliburn (a variation on Excalibur) and helped Randall pursue and eventually capture King, who know had evolved into a killer of masked heroes named Janus.

Janus escaped prison, and after several clashes with Caliburn Janus killed Jennifer Randall and horribly scarred Sinclair.  Now Caliburn has tracked Janus to New Corinth, and the scarred knight will not rest until he has written the final chapter in his conflict with the serial killer.

Author's Note: Caliburn is Silver Age Sentinel's "Batman," a low-powered skill-based hero (clocking in at 125 points instead of the recommended 175 for PC's).  As such he didn't need much tweaking concept-wise, except I didn't have the construction points to give him either his shadow-based invisibility or Sixth Sense.  Like Alice, Queen of Hearts, I built Caliburn using the same construction guidelines as normal PC's to show what Cold Steel Wardens Players Characters would look like. But if I were to use him as an NPC I could always add the two powers back in, although they really aren't necessary for the kind of superhero he is supposed to be.

As always, comments welcome.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Alice, Queen of Hearts (Cold Steel Wardens conversion)

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

Magnetism 4
Accuracy 5
Force 3
Intelligence 5
Agility 5
Nerve 3
Awareness 4
Psyche 3

Pace 7
Defensive Value 8
Wealth and Status
Physical Strain 12
Mental Strain 12

Physical Skills
Armed Melee 2D+5, Armed Ranged 5D+5 (Pistol), Athletics 3D+3 (Parkour), Stealth 6D+5 (Move Silently, Stake-Out), Unarmed Combat 4D+5 (+1D Damage)

Investigative Skills
Canvass 3D+5 (Underworld), Examination 1D+4, Investigation 3D+4 (Pick out detail), Notice 4D+4 (Spot Ambush), Research 3D+5 (Internet)

Social Skills
Deception 4D+4 (Bluffing), Intimidation 3D+4 (Taunts), Intuition 2D+4, Persuasion 4D+4 (Seduction), Reputation 2D+4

Knowledge Skills
Criminal 4D+5 (Metahuman Assassins), Cultural 3D+5 (Art), Esoteric  0D+5, Historical 2D+5, Scientific 2D+5

Technical Skills
Driving 2D+5, Fine Manipulation 4D+5 (Explosives), Mechanics 3D+5 (Sabotage), Piloting 0D+5, Vehicle Combat 2D+5

Masteries: Case the Joint

Powers: Telekinesis 4D (Fine Targeting)

Flaws: Sinner (Greed), Hunted (Police), Secret (former member of British metahuman assassin group)

Memories: the day her powers first appeared, being trained by the black-ops program
Motivations: to make enough money to be safe, to have fun doing it
Stances: "Oh, I'm too smart to get caught."  "You don't know anything about me."

Equipment: Medium pistol, Kevlar-lined costume

Background: Alice was a psychic mutant born in the rough part of London whose powers manifested after being assaulted by a hoodlum.  Despite trying to keep it a secret, she was noticed by a very shadowy branch of the British intelligence community which was trying to develop metahuman assets for covert operations.  Alice was forcibly recruited and trained as an assassin.  Eventually she was able to break free of the control of her superiors and began a freelance career.

In a Cold Steel Wardens campaign Alice, Queen of Hearts could be traveling to New Corinth to branch out into a new and lucrative market as a gun-for-hire for one of the major crime families.  She is substantially less powerful than her Silver Age Sentinels iteration, lacking her force field for example.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

More corners and walls

I had a quiet evening and used the time to add a few more pieces to my modular dungeon.

So here is how it looks with a few other pieces, just set up on my small table.

A follow up to my Cold Steel Wardens Review

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 totally in keeping with the genre here.  It's almost a version of the STUN/BODY mechanic in Champions, where there is the damage you recover easily from, and the damage that takes a lot out of you.

But here's what I don't like.  Guns.  Guns in the hands of mobsters and thugs I can live with. I'm not a huge fan of guns in the hands of heroes.  I like Batman, but never saw the appeal of the Punisher (and in fact mostly saw the character as the bland ripoff of characters from "men's adventure novels" like Mack Bolan.)

Don Pendleton, I'm pretty sure at this point you owe the world a rain forest.
As a card-carrying Genre Fiend, I get that there is precedent for gun-carrying heroes: the Punisher, Cable, the Red Hood, Vigilante, the loathsome Deadpool, the Comedian, Rick Flagg, etc.  But there are a lot more guys who did it without superpowers and without guns out there, and the game doesn't reward that behavior.

In fact, and here's my biggest gripe about the game: guns are as cheap and easy as they are in real life.  Unlike most RPG's, where a hero has to pay some kind of construction point for a gadget that they use regularly, in Cold Steel Wardens PC's buy them with money.  I can see this lending itself to an "arms race" where PC's regularly take firearms or cash off of villains they defeat to turn around and use to buy bigger guns to defeat villains.  Is there a term for SuperMurderHoboing?  Because CSW could have it.

I'd love to run a Batman-style supers RPG where the focus was on character and investigation, and less on how a PC or NPC could throw a semi truck.  I've been thinking the answer might be that the more guns you use, the less likely the police, etc. will be willing to help you out, look the other way, etc.  I wonder if I could use the "Heat track" from Primeval about how well or poorly the PC's keep the existence of time portals under wraps as a way to indicate how severe the "heat" is on them for what they are doing as vigilantes...

Like I said, a tough game to put down...

Friday, September 9, 2016

More modular terrain pieces

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.

Comments welcome!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Friday Night Recap: we steal an AT-ST

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 the prince and sneaked back into the shadows.  Now they just need to help the prince overthrow his brother, eject the First Order and the Karflo Corporation, and escape the Star Destroyers.

I've been trying to explain for WEG Star Wars rewards risk taking, and how even failures can advance the plot nicely.  Hopefully they are getting the message.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

My "One and Done" RPG List: Fantasy Hero

When: 1991
GM: Andrew
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 campaign, even composing poetry.

The gaming group, on the other hand, just went ahead and created the archtypical motley crew of random fantasy tropes: a sorceress, a barbarian with a giant axe, a waifish pickpocketing thief, etc.  We were even proud of ourselves that we concocted this elaborate backstory where we were all actually members of the same family, mostly siblings.  This backstory was completely independent of the background and tone of what the GM had created.  Disheartened, Andrew never bothered even running a single session, but gave up and moved on.

I read a lot about campaign preparation nowadays, especially the tension between having the players have so much input they are essentially co-creators, to the other side of the philosophical spectrum where GM's suggest that the players should respect and trust them enough to go with what they want to run.  It's too bad, because Andrew might have enjoyed exploring what the players had created, and vice versa, if only they had been willing to come together more, and I'd have actually seen how Fantasy Hero played.

RPGaDAY 2016 Day 30: Ideal game room

Describe the ideal game room if the budget were unlimited.

Isn't it "was unlimited"?  Whatever, let's go big!

First, the Vizier table.

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...)

Monday, August 29, 2016

My "One and Done" RPG list, Part One

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.

RPGaDAY 2016 Day 29: where would you game?

You can game anywhere on Earth, where would you choose?

Craigdarroch castle, located on Vancouver Island.

RPGaDAY 2016 Day 28: Thing you'd be most surprised a friend had not seen or read

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....

RPGaDAY 2016 Day 27: Most unusual circumstance

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.

Friday, August 26, 2016

RPGaDAY 2016 Day 26: best hobby with RPG's?

What hobbies go well with RPG's?

Wargaming with miniatures is my easy answer, what with my having a whole other blog about that.

But drawing, creative writing, cooking...there's a lot of things that can go with RPG gaming.  That's one of the things that is so cool about it.

RPGaDAY 2016 Day 24: most likely gift

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.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

RPGaDAY 2016 Day 23: worst luck stories

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.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Friday night recap: Champions gets a second, longer look

Does your gaming group have their own shirts?
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 "stress test" the system to see how it performs under a large load.  But because there wasn't enough time to build the complex Champions PC's, the latter arrivals had to use the generic "Champions" pre-gens from the book.  Interestingly enough, some of the sample pre-gens are pretty rules-lawyerish for my tastes, but there you go.

Learning the rules and have eight 400-pt PC's battle five 400-pt villains in one fight took two hours (and interesting enough, only five segments on the Speed Chart).  Despite that people liked the detail the rules offered in terms of the characters, the slow pace of gameplay perhaps turned me off worse than anyone.  I'm not sure if that is just because people are unfamiliar with the rules or if it is just the way the game tends to play.  I have memories of most Champions sessions with my friends being "get to the fight, fight, leave the fight" in terms of plot.

There are still two regular games ongoing, neither of which are being led by me, so I can take my time trying out different options on the odd Friday night when there is nothing else going on.  Looks like Champions is in the "try again later," category, at least.

RPGaDAY Day 22: Supposed random reoccurring events

Supposedly random game events that keep reoccurring?

Rolling a 1 when attempting a Daily Power in D&D Fourth Edition.  All the blasted time.

Bears continually attacking troublesome NPC's when no one is around?  That's just a coincidence (and you should click the link just to see the great illustrations my younger players drew for the D&D campaign)

RPGaDAY Day 21: Funniest misinterpretation of a rule

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...

RPGaDAY Day 20: most challenging system

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.

The second thought was Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, which was difficult for me to understand mostly because it is essentially the anti-Champions of RPG's.  Vague PC write-ups, getting dice for alluding to your PC's personality or identity in an action, no game balance, three kinds of damage, etc.  It was a game that took me a long time to wrap my head around (I blogged most of that process here) and I'm still not sure I'm using the healing rules right.

But it also turned out to be a great game, one that I like captures the feel of comic books better than any other supers game on the market.  I could go on at length about the difference between a comic book game and a superhero game, but perhaps for another day.  After all, I'm still behind on posts!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

RPGaDAY 2016 Day 19: best way to learn

Best way to learn a new game?

Download the pdf and then read lots of posts on  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.

RPGaDAY 2016 Day 18: needed innovations

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.

So no real answer on this one.  Moving along...

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

RPGaDAY 2016 Day 17: fictional character in your group

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.

RPGaDAY 2016 Day 16: historical figure as player

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.

Anyways, there's my answer.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Iron Age in 2016 (and a review of Cold Steel Wardens)

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 that was defined by foil-enhanced pre-bagged variable covers and the like.  Wizard magazine was the vehicle for a lot of that, a self-fulfilling prophet which would write articles about what was red-hot then post price guides that proved that they were right.

Apart from the financials of the industry, the Iron Age was often characterized by a gritty, realistic deconstruction of the genre with a frequent emphasis on violence and a critical study of the personality of the characters.  That deconstruction was largely post-modern in its blurring of the lines of traditional morality and often plumbed the crypto-fascism and the violation of the social contract inherent in the notion of a masked vigilante/superhero.  The aestete of the Iron Age frequently involved guns, leather, sex, mysticism, and pseudo-Asian orientalism (aka "ninjas").

Over the last week I encountered two artifacts of the Iron Age: the Suicide Squad movie and the roleplaying game Cold Steel Wardens.  There are a gazillion reviews for the Suicide Squad out there but I'll just say that it included practically all of the signifiers of the Iron Age I mentioned above, including a style-over-substance issue.  I liked the original Ostrander series and am currently collecting the various graphic novels, mostly to appreciate what was happened historically in that title.  It was one of the real germinating seeds of the Iron Age, especially when you consider that DC's other popular offering at the time was their hokey-jokey self-satirizing Justice League International (which I will freely admit to loathing with a passion and will expound upon another day).

For me the real intriguing Iron Age artifact is Cold Steel Wardens.  Most superhero RPG's acknowledge the Iron Age with a certain amount of embarrassment, Cold Steel Wardens (I'll call them CSW from here on out) embraces the genre with gusto, although their version of the Iron Age is narrow.  This isn't a game that will allow you to play Youngblood, Brigade, or any of the other titles best identified with massive guns and oversized shoulder pads, but rather with the low-powered, street-level superheroes like Batman or Daredevil.  In fact, while CSW has superpowers in the rules, they are extremely expensive and can not be taken to the level where a PC can throw around tanks or have bullets bounce off their chests.  The game explicitly states that powers can not negate the peril of mundane firearms or ordinary henchmen, citing both a need to maintain the genre and having the in-game suggestion that high-powered superheroes either don't exist or are quickly snapped up by secretive organizations.  The emphasis on skills and basic weapons is so prevalent that the game rightly states that you could drop the powers entirely and run the game without them as regular crime fighters.

Along with the cap of superpowers, combat is deadly.  A PC can not take on a group of armed thugs just by wading into combat--you'll need to use stealth, tactics, and maybe even a little dirty fighting to survive.  Part of the combat rules involves the use of long-term injuries, both physical and mental, that a PC can suffer as a result of grievous injury.  There's an illustration in this section of a bleary-faced masked hero gazing into a mirror as he tapes up his injuries that captures both the genre and the rules perfectly for this section.

There is an extensive section on investigation and a nice primer for GM's looking to create workable mysteries into a superhero game that even if you use nothing else from this RPG could be ported into almost any other game.

CSW is also very dark in theme.  The pre-generated campaign features a grimy city wracked with crime that looks like Gotham and Detroit had a baby which was then abandoned in a dumpster.  Some of the stories presented in the biographies of villains and heroes may push the boundaries for some groups.  For example one superheroine is the victim of a gang rape, while one of the villains specifically targets children for murder (using a classically benign superpower in a particularly grisly manner).  Given the age range of my own gaming group, I'd probably dial this down a notch or two.

I've often thought that superhero RPG's really failed to allow for skill-based or low-powered superheroes that are a staple of even high-powered superhero comic books.  Many times the skill systems were so underdeveloped as to be an afterthought (aka Marvel Heroic Roleplaying).  Cold Steel Wardens has something like six skills dedicated to investigation-related tasks alone, e.g. Canvassing and Forensics.  This would be a great system to use if you were trying to replicate the feel of Detective Comics or Batman Eternal, or television shows like Arrow, Agents of SHIELD, or Alphas where superpowers are toned down.  I'm not sure this a game for every group, but it at least tries to give its audience the best of what the Iron Age had to offer without all the eye tattoos and bizarre anatomy.

Monday, August 15, 2016

RPGaDAY 2016 Day 15: best source of inspiration

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

RPGaDAY 2016 Day 14: the dream team

Your dream team of people you used to game with?

I'll take this literally as "used to" because I have a great gaming group now and I would hate to exclude them from any game I was running. So let's talk about former gamers.

From college: Jennifer, Andrew (mentioned on this blog before), and Chris
From post-college days: Daniel, Scott (also mentioned on this blog before), and Buffra

Why them?  Because they were really great players, loved gaming, and I just like being with them.

Although honestly, I'd game with just about anyone I ever gamed with in the past, even strangers I met at conventions.  Mostly because I like most people, I like gaming.

RPGaDAY 2016 Day 12: next game played

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. 

RPGaDAY 2016 Day 13: a successful campaign

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 campaign in my mind.

Friday, August 12, 2016

RPGaDAY 2016, Day 11: most influential gamer

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 ensuring that everyone else has a really good time.  And that's cool.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

RPGaDAY 2016 Day 10: biggest surprise

Largest in-game surprise you have experienced?

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 Paul's PC, because Paul is the kind of guy who would do that to his gaming group.  You know the type: he's the guy who would pocket dungeon treasure secretly because he could.  So I figure I can let the heist spool out enough until I get some clue of Paul's duplicity and then drop the hammer on him.

Our plan was to have the two solos and me go into the corporate building (I had all the lockpicking skills) while the Tech and Rockergirl wait outside in a hovering AV4.  It all goes pretty well until while we are in the bowels of the building the GM tells us that suddenly alarms start going off.  "It's him!" I screamed while pointing a squirt-gun prop at Paul, "It's all his fault!  I'm going to shoot you in the head!"

Paul looked at me with wide eyes and said, "Rob, you have lost your god damn mind."

"I know it's you!  One of my contacts said one of us betrayed us and I know it's you!  We have to get out of here!"  I turned and said to the GM "I radio [the Tech] to bring the AV4 around to the closest window so we can hop on board."

"I'm afraid I can't do that," said the Tech's player.  "[The Rockergirl] and I are long gone."

Then the Tech's player informs us that they decided to sell us out, and have left us to our fates.  In the end, the two Solos and my Fixer were all killed by security guards, and the campaign ended.  If there's a moral to this story it might be to always watch out for Genre Fiends in Cyberpunk RPG's, because for them having things go badly is just how the game should go.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

RPGaDAY 2016 Day 9: an ideal session

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 the gaming table that really matter in the long run, now how your defeated the Yellow Orc King of the Amethyst Mountain or something.

Monday, August 8, 2016

RPGaDAY 2016 Day 8: Covers

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.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

RPGaDAY Day 7: most important impact

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 laid all that aside and just became an adult who didn't dream about heroes anymore but just worked and did what he thought adult people should do.  And I'm glad I'm not that guy.

RPGaDAY 2016 Day 5: stories about me

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.

Over at Strange Vistas