Thursday, July 28, 2016

Impulse Buying, RPG edition

So, I was in the mood for some retail therapy the last week for a lot of reasons, none of which have real bearing for the purposes of this post, but for me retail therapy often has a big impact on my gaming collection.
Most of what I purchased were second-hand, used wargames (including All Quiet on the Martian Front, In Her Majesty's Service, and Field of Glory) but I also bought two RPG's, one used on eBay and another new.
The used one was the most recent edition of Traveller.

I bought this on the spur of the moment because of a comment one of my players had made recently to me about how the group rarely roleplays, and by that she meant do anything that wasn't a combat action.  And she's right--fight scenes are the bread and butter of my gaming group, although that's slowly changing.  But my thought at the time was that combat in Traveller isn't quite as common, is more dangerous, and isn't the core theme of the game (being a merchant marine and exploring weird planets might be, though).
Why a new rules set and not the previous Mongoose edition, which appears to be similar?  According to this reviewer, there's been some helpful and important changes which I will need to explore, but all sound pretty positive.  There's a sci-fi game going on in the gaming group now, but maybe this one could step in should it end.

The other game I purchased was Champions Complete.

So it turns out you can't buy this book at your local gaming store, because Hero Games isn't doing bricks-and-mortar retail, but just direct selling to the customer.  Which also means I couldn't find a second-hand copy easily either.  I've talked about Champions before, and like many love the "Big Blue Book" that was 4th Edition and played the holy bejeezus out of it in college.  5th Edition was off-putting for me, not the least of which because the book literally can stop a bullet.  I barely glanced at the 5th Edition corrective edition or the two-volume-plus 6th edition.

But Champions Complete is apparently a whittled-down version focused on superhero gaming (versus being a universal system), is under 300 pages in length, and costs a relatively light $40.  I got a glimpse of the rules in the new Strike Force book since they have write-ups for the Strike Force PC's and NPC's using the current system.  While I noticed the subtle differences between those write-ups and the 4th edition rules I knew and loved, they looked enough alike to consider picking up the rules.  They are on the way in the mail, so I'll let you know what I think when they arrive.

Both rules stand a good chance of making it to the table.  I'm a little meh on licensed sci-fi RPG's right now, finding them too beholden to the source material, including stat write-ups for major characters, for my liking.  Traveller has a rich background, but one with enough space (no pun intended) for me to do my own thing.  And having spent a long time running a low-crunch supers game, with all the highs and lows of that experience, I'm interested to see how a high-crunch supers game fares.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Planning the "Seasons" of your Campaign

I supported the Kickstarter for the new sourcebook detailing the history of Aaron Allston's Strike Force campaign.  This is an update and expansion upon the 96-page classic tome Aaron Allston's Strike Force which came out in the early 1990's, and like the first book essentially outlines not only the major plots and characters of the eponymous Champions RPG campaign (which continued past the early 90's for another decade).  The campaign became a world in which multiple campaigns were spun off and included an estimated 48 players.  The core Strike Force campaign had over 260 sessions to its name.
And that sounds epic, literally and figuratively.  And in that regard, while it seems highly unlikely that I could ever come close to that, there's no harm in trying to get even a fraction of that.  My longest campaign probably had about a tenth of that number of sessions.  Why not try again?
It's worth noting that Allston apparently played many years twice a week, Tuesdays and Saturdays, with the Tuesday game being often a short-term, varied genre (often using the HERO system) while the Saturday game was usually Strike Force or one of the ancillary teams that made up the Strike Force Universe.  For example there was a splinter group set in DC, New York, the Bahamas, and eventually in space.  As an example of a Tuesday game there was also a "soap opera" style superhero campaign called Twilight Falls than apparently ran for 120 sessions, but no details about it are in the books.
In order to help with the longevity of the game, Allston would organize his Strike Force campaign into "seasons."  The season for the Tuesday game would be six months long (likely the whole span of the campaign), while the Strike Force season would be three months, or about twelve gaming sessions.   At the beginning of each season, Allston would fill out his own outline of what he wanted to have happen in the season, often looking at the disadvantages of the PC's for likely Hunters, DNPC's, etc. (This was called the "What Do I Want to Do" sheet.)  He would then send out a form to each players asking them the following:

  • Which PC they planned on using this season, since most have multiple PC's
  • Character Homes and Communities
  • Long Term Goals for the PC
  • Short Term Goals for the PC
  • Relationships with other characters (professional, romantic, etc.)
  • Personal training and grown (including XP spent)
  • Plots you'd like to see your PC experience
I like this for so many reasons, the biggest two being the incorporation of player input and the notion of planning things out 12 sessions or so at a pop.  It follows a TV-style format where you have a season of an ongoing series with its own plot, villains, etc.
It's worth noting Allston didn't launch his campaign with this format.  In fact the campaign began as a playtest for Champions II.  Allston in the original works mentions coyly that the first session had all the narrative grace of having fantasy RPG characters all meet in a tavern.  So, he says semi-hypothetically, if I were to run a Champions or supers RPG campaign myself, how would I handle this?  Most of the players wouldn't have a solid handle of their characters, or the world around them.  They would need some sort of introduction, a settling-in period.  My thought would be to do the first season as a mini-series of sorts, like six gaming sessions rather than 12.  That would be a enough time to introduce a major villain for the six-session run, maybe a minor villain or villain group to reappear in a later season, work in some major NPC's, and let the players get a handle on both the rules and their characters.  Then the first regular series could begin using the Strike Force format.
Just musing, thinking, and planning...

Monday, July 11, 2016

The "Youth" game draws to a close

The PC's battle the final boss in a semi-active volcano
A while back one of the younger members of my group, part of the "second generation" tier of players, decided to run a D&D game for the other young members using Fourth Edition rules.  His choice, I suspect, is based on the fact that Fourth Edition is pretty easy to run insofar as you can just use their XP guidelines and roughly "one encounter=one hour of play" ratio to come up with sessions fairly easily.

You'll not hear a single critical note from me about this campaign, merely an observation that it suffered from the fact that since it was not the regular "house" game (or games, since there are currently two) then it wasn't really part of the schedule in the minds of the players.  That made attendance spotty and eventually a couple of parents would sit in to round out the group.  I was one of those parents, and so I got a chance to play an RPG that I had not for many years.

The good part was that I got to play an action-packed game with lots of tactical decision making and flashy powers.  The bad part was that I got to play a game that focuses on action, tactical gameplay, and powers.  Oh, and goes pretty slowly.  The novice GM a good job, especially when trying to wrangle a bunch of teen players.

But after whacking the major villain (a dragon, no less) this campaign is now in the history books.  There's some discussion about replacing it with another campaign run by a young person, so we'll see.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Some player-made illustrations from Prowlers and Paragons

In my last post, I mentioned how I've been encouraging players to sketch what they are imagining.  Yesterday my kids wanted me to run our on-and-off Prowlers and Paragons game with a couple of their friends, so I had them wrap up a short plot line from the last time we did this.  We tried out the sketching-as-postlude, and it was a big hit.  Here's some examples:

Clockwise from top left: Whiplash, Blowtorch, Kroxigor (a PC), and Xenoist (the big bad guy of the story)
In the story the PC's are trying to rescue a police detective who was investigating the Secret Empire, a shadowy organization that has been a frequent antagonist of the PC's.  The heroes infiltrate ReVision, Inc, where they suspect the Secret Empire has been operating.  There they find and battle three henchmen supervillains--Blowtorch, Jackhammer, and Whiplash--and meet one of the Secret Empire's chief mad scientists, Xenoist.  Xenoist tries to pump the detective full of his own version of the chemical agents that transformed the passengers of Flight 246 (the shared origin story of the heroes), but the detective is saved when Nightshade is able to extract the chemicals using his plant enzymes.  That last act was done when the player succeeded in a truly superheroic skill roll and completely circumvented the final fight scene with the horribly mutated police detective.  Instead Det. Joe Patochik will live to fight crime another day and Player Agency wins again!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Improving the post-game experience

One thing I introduced to my gaming group (and they continue it even as others have taken over as GM) is that at the end of each session they all fill out index cards with the answers to three questions:
  1. What was the coolest thing that happened in this gaming session?
  2. What was the coolest thing another player did?
  3. If you were casting this campaign as a TV series/movie, who would you cast as [name of NPC]?
It's a nice way to figure out what players like, and often the answer to question 2 results in some XP bonuses.  But recently my friend Adam suggested that instead of the usual question for number 3, that instead I try to find another way to see what an NPC looked like.  Many of my players are artists, especially the younger ones, so I decided to add an optional fourth question, namely by handing out cards early and letting them sketch a picture of a PC or NPC on the back during game play.  That has the added bonus of keeping idle hands busy during slow combat rounds.

Here's an example, a picture of the D&D gaming group as children, drawn by my daughter.  That's my barbarian in the top right corner with the top-knot and no shirt.

So far it's a big hit, and I'll post scans/photos of drawings as I get them!  Thanks for watching!

Over at Strange Vistas