Thursday, December 7, 2017

Not-so-super villains

The Red Hood's gang of re-furbished C-listers
The general consensus among my kids is that they want me to continue to run a superhero campaign, but are getting a little sick of the rules-light system Bash! (always with the exclamation point in the title).  So I'm considering re-tooling the campaign with new rules, if not resetting the entire story.  Because Bash! was supposed to be a "beer and pretzels" game to get me by until the next big thing, I hadn't bothered going too deep, plot-wise.

So right now, I'm thinking about the foundation for a new supers game, and what's on my mind is Brian Michael Bendis' run on The New Avengers and the several iterations that followed, up through the "Siege" storyline.  This isn't too surprising since it is Bendis' work that formed the core of the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game, which I ran for a long while.

Bendis began his arc with the "Breakout" event in which Electro is hired to bust Sauron out of the Marvel version of Supermax called the Raft, an island off the coast of New York City (because that's where you ought to keep all your supervillains).  Containing the subsequent chaos is what brings most of the heroes together who will form the core of the new Avengers roster: Captain America, Luke Cage, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, etc.

But the Breakout event also established a group of supervillains who would become the core of the antagonists throughout his run, individuals who had successfully escaped.  Over the next many years, very few new villains would actually be introduced, but instead Bendis would rely on using and re-using the same characters.  Most of the time the villains would be under the command of a smarter, more powerful chief antagonist such as the Red Hood or Norman Osborn.  There were some heavy hitters like the Living Laser and Count Nefaria, some mid-tier threats like the Mandrill and the U-Foes, and some that barely qualified as mooks like Crossfire or Razor Fist.  Eventually the Red Hood would resurrect most of the downright D-listers that were casually killed by the Scourge at the "Bar with No Name" massacre.  You can find a complete list of the Red Hood's gang (and hence most of Bendis' roster) here.

Bendis had decades of material to sort through and pick out some pretty lackluster character concepts to overhaul.  But it did get me thinking about world-building for superhero RPG's.  One could get by with a pretty decent campaign with really only about a dozen low- to mid-tier villains, and two or three major archvillains.  Like in the case of the Bendis Avengers, the lower-level villains could show up with some regularity as henchmen for the arch-villains or as convenient in media res sub-plots for sessions.

So time to crank out a bunch of new villains, much like I did ages ago with the "25 Villains of Christmas."  Those 25 villains were the flesh and bone of the MHR campaign.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Boldly going where we maybe shouldn't

Good gravy, it's been forever since I made a blog post about gaming.

So, I'm currently playing in a Star Trek RPG using the Last Unicorn Games iteration (my friend Adam's favorite).  I'm not sure if the game has hit its stride yet, mostly because there are a whole slew of pitfalls, and we seem to be stumbling into a lot of them.

  • Complex narratives and sporadic attendance.  Sometimes OSR people have the right idea when it comes to dungeon crawling campaigns.  A complicated multi-session storyline is a bear to maintain when different people show up for each session.  I missed a big one and hadn't a clue what was going on the last time we played.
  • Psionics.  I seem to remember there being a TNG episode about the ethical murkiness of someone using a Betazed as an interrogator, but I could be wrong.  We have two Betazed PC's--mine and someone else's, and it is hard not to ask the GM if the NPC is lying or not every time we talk to someone.  I've yet to play an RPG where telepathy didn't ruin everything.
  • Superpseudoscience.  I will confess to this pitfall myself.  I nearly wrecked most of the plot by suggesting a ridiculous pseudoscience option.  We are trying to help negotiate a deal with a planetary authority to get dilithium for the Federation.  It wasn't going well, and I posed the question of whether a Galaxy-class starship could, using the ST:TNG-level technology, made the planet's supply of dilithium worthless.  The panicked look on the GM's face told me a lot.
In the meantime, I need to get serious about my own game, which mostly involves me picking something and making a commitment to it, which is always difficult for me.  I'm always looking for that perfect game that will suit me and my legion of players, be easy to learn but complex enough to keep intelligence people engaged, with just the right level of crunch and flexibility.  

Which is ridiculous, but it keeps me from making the decision between options like Dungeons & Dragons, Blood and Treasure, and Shadow of the Demon Lord, all of which offer essentially the same genre using different rules.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Not Even Pretending

First of all, I'd like to share a quick video about a guy who has been running D&D (or technically, AD&D First Edition, from the look of the rulebook) for 35 years straight.

For someone who has never run a single campaign longer than about two years, I have appreciate that level of commitment, and the collection that has sprung out of it.

I, on the other hand, have not posted in two months.  Mostly that's because I haven't been running anything, and more often than not tend to post gaming recaps these days of games that I am actually running, rather than playing.  But the games in which I have been playing haven't been running much either the last two months.  Baker Street, I fear, has succumbed to the weight of the number of players.  The last session was enjoyable, but only about half the players really engaged, at the raw number of players ensured that someone in the group had the maxed-out skill for whatever task was required.

The most recent session of Star Trek went very well in my opinion, but was also likely helped by the small number of players (three) all of whom had a lot of experience gaming.  But it also struggles from my gaming group's other big problem--inconsistent attendance.  If you limit the group to six players, you are likely to maybe get four any given date.

All of which I have talked about ad nauseum on this blog.  So I'm stopping.

So, my gaming stuff.  A while back I talked about the possibility of running an urban hex-crawl, an idea that was picked up and taken to new heights by Fr. Dave over at Blood of Prokopius.  But his addition added not only a level of complexity, but also exploded the size of the task.  To wit, if you do five locations (rolling a d6 with one option being "lost" to determine what random place the PC's encounter, and you have, say, 20 hexes, you now need 100 locations for your city.

Which is overwhelming, to say the least.

And completely stalled me out. I was already dithering on a rules set, and then my brain seized up as well.  Therefore I need to ratchet everything down a notch of two, because I'm losing time gaming with my son, who leaves for college next year.

I do so want to run one more game with him.  He's been playing in my group since he was 10 or 11, and I know he'll be doing his own thing once he leaves.  So I need to set aside the enemy of the good--perfect--and find some time to be with him.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Getting caught up on things

First of all, I switched out the "new" fancy theme of the blog, because I wasn't really caring for it.  Back to the classic layout, I say!

Second, I haven't posted in almost a month.  I'm in the thick of the roller derby season, which means making lots of practices, etc.  I am still running Bash, the superhero RPG.  We had a session last Friday, one that focused on my son's character, the Samoan superhero Haka.  Bash has been a fun game to run, and I feel like there are a lot of plot lines to be explored, especially ones connected to the PC's backstory.  But...

We also returned back to my basement, which was a welcome change

Two members of my gaming group have indicated their desire to run a game: Rachel wants to run Star Trek using the Last Unicorn Games; Tony wants to do a Victorian-era Sherlock Holmes game using Baker Street.  Now, I'm leaving it to them to schedule these games, but that makes for a crowded landscape.

Also in July I went to KantCon and once again ran into the fine folk at Paragon Notion, who are still working on their sci-fi/superhero game The Ultimate Hero.  I was flattered that they remembered me, especially as the blogger who cranked out a ton of NPC's for their game as a monthly challenge a while back.  They told me one of those NPC's got worked into some of their material, so that's very cool (as was the softcover copy of the most recent edition of their rules that they gave me).

I always end up playing some random game I never have played before at KantCon, in this case the FFG version of Star Wars, which I own but have never played. The kids and I all got a chance to play, and we had a pretty good time.  I still feel like the symbol-dice resolution is very subjective: what does having one failure but three advantages feel like versus two failures and two advantages, for example.  But I can sit comfortably with a lot of GM control over such things as long as it feels vaguely fair, and it was nice to see how all that worked in real play.

At KantCon
Finally, I've been benched from my athletic league because of a concussion,which is freeing up a bunch of time for me.  But the concussion doesn't lend itself to staring through magnifying lenses or fine motor coordination for painting miniatures.  That means it is time to cast plaster. I've made a sizeable gothic modular dungeon, and a small cavern-themed modular dungeon, so I figured it was time to do the Hirst Arts fieldstone version.  It'll take a long time, but I have already made some headway on the floors.

Hopefully I can get back on the wagon when it comes to writing regularly.  Thanks for reading and comments always welcome!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Friday Gaming Report: Subplots galore

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my last session of Bash had not gone as well as I liked because my single story, which I had hoped to fill the entire session, had ended prematurely.  So this time I decided on a slew of smaller subplots and just adjust accordingly.

It was a good thing, too, because I ended up having a full boat: all nine players in the campaign showed up for this session.  Of note (to me, at least) was that this was the first session in a very long time where we played back in the basement game room of my house.  I'm not sure I've been down there since I separated from my wife six months ago.  For that matter I also made my classic pulled pork for dinner, so the whole thing felt like Old Home Week for me, and that's a good thing.  Now how did the gaming session go?

Prologue: Quick, to the Bat-Fax!

The New Defenders have defeated Stardust, but are frustrated to find a groundswell of support for the murderous alien, especially from a SuperPAC called "Americans for Humanity" who advocate the unrestrained killing of supervillains.  Also, the heroes still have located the Miscreants, teen subjects of horrible, mutating experiments by Kort Technologies.

Volt's internet research has revealed that Americans for Humanity is actually a front for the neo-Nazi group "The Fourth Reich."  He posts this information to Wikileaks and calls it day.

Act One: Re-enter Scaramanga!

The mysterious Scaramanga (an homage not just to James Bond, but Adam Dickstein) showed back up at the Lioness' pet store/coffee shop ("Paws and Reflect") looking for the "man-bird" that had been seen in the area.  Ironically he talks to Blackhawk in his civilian identity, who is naturally quite intimidated by Scaramanga's Old World suave and his apparent superhuman ability to have Spanish guitar music play every time he enters or exits a scene.  The New Defenders realize they need to do something to protect their feathered teammate, and hatch a plan.

Act Two: The Man with the Golden Armor

Blackhawk calls Scaramanga at the swanky hotel, telling him to meet him on the roof of the building.  The rest of the Defenders conceal themselves there, ready to jump the cosmopolitan big-game hunter when he arrives.  Only he doesn't show up with the latest European fashion, but instead in a golden suit of power armor!

Imagine if Christopher Lee was playing an evil Tony Stark, and you get the picture.
Despite the powerful battlesuit, the Defenders use their "ground and pound" technique and make short work of the man.  Interrogating him, they find out that he was hired by the Penumbra Institute to capture Blackhawk for study.

Act Three: All we are is Stardust in the wind...

The New Defenders drop off Scaramanga at the federal supervillain prison, apparently oblivious of the fact that Scaramanga has not actually committed any crimes since they actually jumped him at his place of residence before he could actually do anything.  We will have to see how that plays out in the long run.  While there they check up on Stardust, the interstellar vigilante with a penchant for just killing villains he doesn't like.  Oh, and Polk's home planet (Polk is an alien gadgeteer PC).

While talking to Stardust, the alien reveals that he is but one of a legion of similar beings, all charged with wiping out evil with impunity ("sort of a dickish Green Lantern Corps" one player muses).  While the Defenders digest this information, the lights begin to flicker...

In the confusion of the breakout, the Defenders are divided into three random groups to face off against three groups of opponents composed of members of previous villain teams they have faced: the Ravagers, Kort's agents, and The Vicious Circle.  Through a combination of guile, intimidation, and brute force, the New Defenders manage to retrieve almost all of the villains and return them to their cells.

But at least two villains have escaped: Riptide of the Ravagers (who just oozed away), and a mysterious figure who apparently was the target of the jailbreak all along...

Epilogue One

Since the prison officials won't say who escaped, Volt hacks their computers to discover that the missing villain is the Ubermensch, the WW2-era superman from the introductory scenario from the campaign.  Volt is surprised to discover that Ubermensch is still alive after all these years.

Epilogue Two

Haka returns home to find his cat familiar surprisingly meek.  That's because he is jumped from behind by his cousin Teuila, who is clearly unhappy to see him....

GM's notes

A lot of things really clicked in this gaming session.  There is something about introducing an NPC to the players who is cooler and better looking than you and then getting to beat the holy bejeezus out of him.  Scaramanga provided a little like comedy into what has been a fairly grim campaign so far.

Dividing the group up for combat also really worked.  I would run each sub-group for two turns, then switch.  That was about a fifteen minute block each time, and it seemed to work.  Hopefully I won't be having the full group again for a while, since I'm planning on having multiple sessions each month.

The multiple plots and angles really made the session feel like a comic book, in addition to keeping the players interested.  It also didn't hurt that I made all the players put their cell phones into a tray at the center of the table, and told them they could have the phone during regular breaks in play or in the case of emergencies.  I noticed a huge improvement in engagement in gameplay as a result.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Too Many New RPG's

So what happens when a couple of things you Kickstarted come to fruition around the same time that the FLGS in town has a fire sale and closes?  You get way too many new RPG's all at once.  Right now my nightstand is crowded with them, and I haven't even cracked open some of them yet.  What's on the reading pile?

Evil Hat did a Dresden Files RPG using a proto-version of their FATE rules, and have now circled back to do another using their Fate Accelerated rules.  I got this one as a pdf and hardcover via Kickstarter, and it's a good looking book (although one page was crunched and torn when I received it, it wasn't hard to repair).  I know the source material, loved the TV show even more, and know FATE, so this one might be interesting to get into.

Another Kickstarter come to fruition, Ninja High School uses the old d6 West End Games system (best known for their 1st and 2nd Edition Star Wars rules) to portray the American manga series from Antarctic Press.  I will confess to being more familiar with Antarctic Press' other major series, Gold Digger by Fred Perry, which I had hoped would be referenced in this or a future supplement, since I think it would make a better background for an RPG.

I have read this one, and it is heavy on the background of the manga, which is fine.  But my trained eye realized the game was more similar to 1st Ed Star Wars than 2nd, insofar as all the archtypes have the same skills to start with, just different stats, rather than have different skills in their repertoire.  Also the archtypes just mirror the major characters from the manga, rather than offering some different ideas.

On the whole, I'd likely eschew the high school background and try to distill out some sort of generic manga d6 system, if I'd try to use this.

This is one I picked up at the fire sale at the FLGS.  I'd had my eye on it for a while, just because I have a soft spot for fantasy heartbreakers.  I haven't had a chance to read this except a cursory glance that reveals a very different core system than D&D, a flair for Erol Otus-style art, and goblins as a PC race.

I actually bought this one while traveling on vacation.  Symbaroum was a Kickstarted RPG, and this beautiful hardcover book was the culmination.  Another fantasy heartbreaker, this one might actually not break your heart too much because it features a lavish campaign world complete with factions, religions, and a massive, spooky, dangerous forest.  Weirdly enough, it also features goblin PC's.  On top of that you don't get to play elves, who instead are antagonistic NPC's.  It also sets aside Hermetic-style wizardry (by that I mean scholastic mages pouring over tomes) and instead features matriarchal witches, nature-oriented spellcasters with bizarre rituals and crude but hauntingly beautiful masks.

Of all the ones on the list, this one has the most potential to end up at the table, if I had to guess.  If anything, I could use the background and swap in D&D or Fantasy AGE.

Ah guilt, my favorite emotion.  A couple of years ago Catalyst featured a micro-rulebook for Battletech: A Time of War for Free RPG day and I thought it looked interesting and mentioned this to the store's owner, who was also an old Mechwarrior fan.  So he bought a copy for the store, and I never purchased it, mostly because by then I had read some not-so-flattering reviews.  To add insult to injury, the binding on the book was horrible and fell apart while it was on the shelves at the store.

So it sat there, unloved and unwanted, until the store closed, and I ended up picking it up for 20% of the cover price.  I haven't even cracked this one open (not the least of which because I would like to see if I can get the binding repaired) but a super-complicated military RPG isn't likely to get much traction with my gaming group.

So that's the pile.  I really need to a) stop buying stuff for a while, and b) focus on the game I'm actually running, Bash.  Oh, and I got invited to look at the 2nd Edition of Prowlers and Paragons, which my kids are demanding I run for them on the side.  So there's that too.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Hexcrawling a City, an early look

One thing I've been slowly working on for the last year is another fantasy sandbox campaign.  My prior one was generally map-based, although a city featured prominently in it.  As time went by, it lost a lot of its "sandbox" quality and became more directed on my part.  In the process, I think it lost something.

So, after being away from fantasy for a solid year, it's time to get back to it.  I spent some of that last year thinking about cities.   Some fantasy RPG treat cities on a very detailed level, with maps of streets, etc.  But while that's fun "map porn" for GM's, how often would the players actually be seeing or using a map like that?  And how long would it take for them to just accrue that knowledge by exploring the city.  I've lived in my current city seven years, with a car, and I don't know how all the cities line up.  What I know are areas, neighborhoods, etc. some intimately, others not so much.  And if I was going to a new city, I would get to know it on a fairly abstract level at first as well.

All of which is the long way of my saying that I'm experimenting with the idea of creating a "city hexcrawl."  Unlike a wilderness hexcrawl, the hexes aren't necessarily exact discrete units of distance but represent distinct regions of the city: e.g. "Common temples" or "The Wizard's College."  You'll have to go through certain parts of town to get to others, but I'll understand that while the actually pathways are abstracted,  the time to travel will be a pretty standard rate (with the understanding that hexes that represent larger areas, like the Artisan's Market, will be easier to traverse than The Guardhouse.

So my yet-unnamed city has 22 hexes (that the PC's can knowingly identify) in a city that is stratified by class.  Areas 1-13 are the lower class. common areas.  Areas 14-19 are the artisan class where professionals, lesser nobles, and other specialists reside.  Areas 20-22 are the section for the elite, including the castle in Hex 22.

Movement is not free from region to region.  Low-level PC's will likely not be allowed into the upper two regions unless accompanying some patron.  That will mean that sections of the city will remain a mystery to the PC's as the campaign evolves.  The blue lines represent the walls, interior and exterior, that block off the sections of the city.

Each hex will have its own "character," its own style, with random or established encounters, NPC's, etc. for each of them.  Since whole sections are blocked off, I don't need to do the whole area at once; just the first 13 hexes, really.  Plus there's the possibility of areas outside, or under, the city as well.

That's the current state of my project.  Thoughts are welcome.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Summertime Gaming, Part Two

There are times when I think to myself, "you know, you could have done a better job being a GM that time."  Last Friday was one of those times.

In my defense, after literally having no one show up for the previous June session, I went from having four, to three, to two, then back up to four people signed up for last Friday's session.  When it was down to two, I scuttled the whole thing and stopped planning.  Then, literally the day of the gaming session, two people pop up as planning to attend, and I'm scrambling for content.

And with a game whose dice mechanic can be as jammy as Bash can be, that meant that we were done way earlier than I thought, and I didn't have much in the way of fallback material.  Like I said, a less-than-superlative job there.

It reminded me why I dislike doing "story" style gaming, because there is always the issue of timing: sometimes you get four-fifths of the way through the story and you've gone way long in the session, meaning that you either press onward or save the one-fifth for the next session, which won't take up the whole time.  Or you speed your way through and end up with nothing to do, like this time.  Rarely are you so on-track that you finish a story at the end of the session at exactly the right time.

Dragging a single story over multiple sessions also has the huge handicap of my inconsistent group.  You start the adventure with one party, end it with another, many of whom don't have the background or emotional investment.

I would consider dropping the whole thing in favor of a more open, exploration-themed campaign, but a lot of people like Bash and their characters, despite how the campaign sometimes plays out. As a solution, I'm considering trying to run multiple sub-plots instead of a single story.  If I stockpile those plots, I can toss them in whenever is convenient.  I also want to do more with the PC's backstories--I rarely ever explore them in the context of the campaign, and plenty of the players have put some work into them.

Hopefully that means that I can continue to keep this campaign humming throughout the summer and into the Fall.  Thanks for reading, and comments welcome.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Summertime Gaming, Part One

Wow, it has been six weeks since my last post.  Well, a lot has been going on.  A ton of person transitions, some vacation time, etc.  But that's not what this blog is about.

Over the last six weeks, my friend John wrapped up his West End Games Star Wars campaign.  I'll admit that I wasn't in as many sessions as I might have liked--another consequence of my many responsibilities these days.  This campaign started as a closed game with a limited number of players but slowly creeped up to around seven or eight.  That's on the high side, and a lot of overlap between certain characters started to show (e.g. who flew the ship).

In the final episode the GM decided to split the party.  This is always a gamble, and I'm not sure if it paid off.  This wasn't the fault of the GM, but rather the fickle hand of fate (and some decision making on the part of the players).  The first half managed to handle their scenario in a very brief period of time, but the second half took a long time--almost an hour.  That was a long lag time for the first group, who ended up getting restless, looking at their phones, wandering off, etc.  As a person in the first, group I can say that I felt for everyone involved, including the GM who was clearly trying to move the second group along as best he could.

But now that campaign is over and one--another one in the books.  I really enjoyed the way that the GM used the stunt system from Fantasy AGE as an alternative to just boosting the success on the Wild Die.  I also just love the old WEG system.  It's relative elegance and ease of play reminded me of why the game was so important in the development of RPG's.  I do know that it is breakable by people intent to break it (and being a Wookie with a vibroaxe certainly had its advantages).

In the meantime, I'm trying to get my Bash game back on track.  I can see it going at least four more sessions, which at this rate will take us well into the end of summer.  I have to say that Bash continues to be a game I like but don't love.  The system is sort of just there, not really adding anything to my enjoyment of the game.  It certainly doesn't inspire me.  And I'm not exactly sure if the game has a clear sense in-and-of-itself sometimes about how it is played.  By that I mean it isn't always clear if the game should be played with miniatures, without them, etc.

Finally, my local gaming store is closing this summer.  After 25 years, the store was struggling to make ends meet.  If I had to hazard a guess, the expansion of a local popular comic book store getting into games and gaming was the death knell.  But I did manage to pick up in the fire sale a fun stuffed owlbear who currently needs a name.  So feel free to make suggestions in the comments below.

More later, and thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Vicious Circle [Bash gaming recap]

I was looking over my blog posts and thought, "I haven't written since March?  Did I even run something this month?"  And sure enough, I had, but had not written a gaming recap.

I suspect part of that was because it was a brief gaming session that didn't move the needle a lot except introduce the group to the archtypical Evil Billionaire Genius Supervillain and throw down with a bunch of supervillain flunkies (the eponymous Vicious Circle).  What was good about the session was some solid roleplaying with the villain and some very clever group tactics in the combat.  That's to be celebrated.

I'll confess to a certain amount of ennui regarding the campaign, however.  Maybe it's all the other stuff going on right now, but I'm not really fired up.  I can tell when things are bad when I end up just recycling plots and swiping NPC's from the back of the book.  Bash! was always meant to be sort of a pick-up, get-me-through-the-divorce kind of RPG campaign, and it's doing that well.  The players like the rules and the game, but I'm not connecting with the game in a way that I like to feel myself, when I'm excited about the characters and it bangs around my brain while I'm walking the dog or driving long distances.  It is more like "well, let's cobble some villains together to throw at the PC's."

I'm sure what is not helping is the fact that I'm only really gaming three hours a month in a single session.  With a larger group slowing down combat, that means we are lucky to get one combat encounter and one solid roleplaying/procedural scene into a single session.  I've been trying to wrangle a second session each month, but with another campaign in the gaming group, it has not been easy.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Flute of Ymir [gaming recap]

My daughter wanted me to run a Bash! session just for the younger members of the group.  She likes her PC, the Lioness, who happens to be a trained martial artist tasked with hunting a group of supernatural villains (similar to Daredevil or Iron Fist from the MCU, or Sara Lance from Legends of Tomorrow).  So, what fun high-stakes adventure with mystical overtones can I possible reconfigure for a superhero episode?

I went with arguably the greatest episode of The Real Ghostbusters animated television show, "Ragnarok and Roll."

Jilted boyfriend turned supervillain Jeremy.
If you need the rationale as to why "Ragnarok and Roll" is one of the best episodes, this blog post does a good job making the case.  Fun side note: it was written by James Michael Straczynski, who would go onto do Babylon 5.  I went with the general skeleton of the plot: morbidly depressed Jeremy decides to use a magical flute to not summon Ragnarok (as in the cartoon), but Fimblevintr, the ice age that is supposed to precede Ragnarok.  I also went ahead and fleshed out the Norse mythology by having the Flute belong to Ymir the frost giant, and had Jeremy able to summon frost demons and ice trolls, rather than just ghosts and gargoyles.

The rest of the plot tracked with the episode: the heroes fight some flunky monsters, notice a pattern to their location, meet the girlfriend Jenny, and head off to stop Jeremy from plunging the Earth into frozen chaos.  Rather than just dogpile onto Jeremy, the Lioness manages with some jammy dice rolling to disarm Jeremy, knocking the flute free, and then talking him down from his plans to destroy the world.

The big bad guy reveal at the end wasn't some bodiless head, however, but rather a mysterious sorceress named Rune, who leads a group of ninja ghost warriors called the Phantom Beasts, who just happens to be the group the Lioness is tasked with fighting.  BIG emotional payoff for my daughter and the rest of the group for realizing that, for the first time in the campaign, they have saved the world.

"Sorceress Ryth" by liiga, a fair representation of Rune
One of the joys of gaming with teenagers is that they have not seen a single episode of many of the cartoons that shaped my childhood, allowing me to plunder at will!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The soundtrack of my life these days

So, a couple of months ago, everything shifted.  Some of it was well and goodly expected and some of it wasn't dreamed of.  But in a very short order practically every major relationship in my life changed: my spouse, my kids, my friends, the people with whom I work, and the people whom I serve in my work.

Now lest this seem like some kind of pathos-ridden post, a lot of those changes were positive.  The last couple of months have seen my grow and helped me discover a lot about who I am.  But it has been a huge struggle, and some things have taken a real hit, like the amount of time and mental energy I have to dedicate to my hobbies.  I moved away from my basement where I keep all my paint and miniatures and plaster and gaming books.  I'll move back there, probably in another month or two, but in the meantime all that has lain fallow.  I think it is pretty noteworthy accomplishment that I've been running three or four gaming sessions in that time, and that they have been well received.

Anyways, I read in an article a while ago someone talking about how she had created a sort of "greatest hits" list for herself during her own divorce, a go-to list of music that could help inspire her.  That seemed like an interesting idea, and over the past few months I've been compiling my own list of music that I can pop onto Youtube and listen to whenever I need it, and I thought I'd share a couple.

First, my "get rolling when things start to drag" song.

"Move" by Saint Motel

Second, my "time to be a badass" song.

"Take Me Down" by The Pretty Reckless

My "time to think about things" song.  At some point I'll run a campaign with this as its theme song.

"Sweet Dreams" by Emily Browning

My "emotional catharsis" song

"Fooled Around and Fell in Love" by Elvin Bishop

My "time to rally from your emotional catharsis" song

"Deep Dark Wells" by Joe Pugg

Finally, my "if all else fails, blow out the windows" song

"Hello" (Adele cover) by Leo Moracchioli

Monday, March 6, 2017

Enter the Miscreants!

I haven't been doing much on this blog for lots of reasons (including major life changes), but it isn't as if I am doing nothing all this time.

My gaming group played their third session of the game Bash! a few weeks ago, a game session that introduced an mysterious NPC group of metahumans (aka the Miscreants), an evil corporation (Kort Technologies, which only now I realize sounds like the Blue Beetle's Kord Technologies.  Damn.), and a handful of villains including Hot Rox, Brute, and Gunfire.

Gunfire is the latest NPC swiped from the book The League of Unfortunate Superheroes, the first entry from their modern section.  Gunfire was a DC comics character, part of the company's desperate attempt to catch up with Image and the Iron Age of comics with their "Bloodlines" event that introduced a slew of violently-named gritty "heroes."

Gunfire had the curious ability to shoot energy blasts from any object, meaning he could turn a wooden mallet (shown above), a teapot, or frankly anything but his actual body into a gun.  I'm kind of curious if the gloves of his super-spiffy disco spaceknight costume could have qualified.

Anyways, he was a fun 90's stereotype NPC villain to add to the game, and major pain for the heroes to bring down.  The players had a terrible night for dice rolling, so the villains made a much better showing of it than they should have.

Plot was pretty straightforward: a bunch of teen metahumans escape from a facility, rob a gas station for food and cash, and then head into the campaign city.  The PC's investigate the robbery (clearly the work of superpowered beings) and then split into two groups: one to follow the thieves into town, the other to backtrack to see where they came from.  This lead to a "splitting the party" situation of which I'm always a little leery, but at least it took a huge group of players and broke them into two fairly manageable sizes.

In the future I'm hoping to run multiple sessions a month and only have part of the group at each session, but that requires a bigger output of gaming than I seem capable of right now, so we'll have to see.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Fractal Dungeon: Introduction

I've been thinking about this for a very long time.  So much so that I'm sure if I looked, I'd find earlier failed starts on the blog somewhere.  But this time I'm going to see how far this can take me.

I have owned Central Casting: Dungeons for over a decade, a rare-as-hens-teeth book that is dedicated to the creation of random dungeon maps.  See, unlike some people, I frankly struggle conceptualizing what a dungeon should look like.  But Central Casting: Dungeons is a book that gives a method for creating random dungeons with hallways and rooms.  And "random" is a pretty good word for it.  The few times I've made one-page dungeons from the book's many charts the result has been completely without sense.

But I've often wondered what a truly expansive random dungeon would look like.  Would the chaos event yield into patterns, like a fractal?  Or would it come out as some delightfully bizarre?

So, I decided to just go with it.  I would start building and stop when all the many different branches had come to their end.  Even if there were hundreds of rooms.  I decided to keep the implementation simple: Central Casting: Dungeons, a composition book, and graph paper.  Spare enough to carry around in my carrying case/clipboard I got for Christmas.

My graph paper, composition notebook, Central Casting: Dungeons, and carrying case/clipboard
I'd eventually flesh it out using one of the gazillion fantasy RPG's I have laying about on a word processing program, and dress up the maps with pens and/or colored pencils.

And so it begins
I'll update the blog with my progress.  Wish me luck, and let's see how it goes!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The superhero campaign gets going

I've been talking for a while about starting a superhero game now that the previous "home game" of D&D had wrapped up last year.  For a while I had been planning on running Champions, mostly because I thought it would be fun to run a game that meant so much to me as a college student and might promote long-term play.

But as it turns out (to the surprise of few) Champions was difficult to teach and difficult to make NPC's.  Between the holidays and a bunch of stuff at home nothing was happening and the game seemed to be stalling out.  But then I found Bash, a fairly simple supers RPG that was easy to teach and easy for me to make villains, etc.  Two weeks ago I ran a test session of Bash, using 1940's WW2 characters.

It was a big hit, and suddenly the WW2 session, the PC's the players had been trying to build for Champions, Bash, and the book The League of Regrettable Heroes all jelled together into what appears to be the first session of a campaign.

The League of Regrettable Heroes is an encyclopedia of weird, sad, or just short-running superheroes from the Golden Age to the present.  Many of the Golden Age characters are in public domain and are delightfully bizarre, and Pat Parker (War Nurse) appeared in the first session.  In the first modern session, I took another unusual Golden Age figure, "Stardust the Super Wizard."

In the session Stardust was an alien who claimed to be looking for a new home, and offered to use his great power to protect and serve humanity (proving his worth by defeating a major villain).

Meanwhile, a confluence of events brought together the following PC's:

  • Dynamo, formerly "Kid Dynamo," a child sidekick of the WW2-era hero American Wonder, and still one of strongest people on the planet at 82
  • the descendant of Haute Couture, another WW2 superhero who wears a magical shadowy garb
  • Cosmo, a third WW2 hero and robot
  • Kaos, a heroic sorceress
  • Grendel, a were-minotaur
  • The Lioness, a martial artist and hunter of the arcane
  • Blackhawk, a man/hawk hybrid
  • Haka, a Pacific islander who has magical tattoos (and an annoying talking cat named Toby)
  • Pol, an alien gadgeteer
  • and Volt, a hacker who can turn his body into electricity
Pol had come to Earth from his own planet, which had been Stardust's previous home.  He told them Stardust had inflicted his own extreme form of justice as a hero on Pol's planet until finally wiping out most of the populace in an act of moral outrage.

A few days later a B-list group of villains called Deathstrike held the campaign city for ransom by taking over an experimental power plant.  The heroes realized they needed to defuse the situation quickly before Stardust arrived, but failed and Stardust nearly killed one of the villains.  The heroes rescued the hapless villain and drove of Stardust, but in the process made a powerful and unstable enemy.

As I mentioned earlier, Stardust is a character from the Golden Age created by Fletcher Hanks, who is well known for his bizarre creations and striking artistic style.  Stardust would mete out his own extreme vengeance in the comic books, so I thought he'd made a great anti-hero in the campaign.

An actual page from the original comic
I'm thinking that adding actual but little-down comic book characters, especially from the public domain of the Golden Age might be a lot of fun.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Some more thoughts after the Bash one-shot

I had the chance to follow up with several of my players who were present for the one-shot I ran last Friday of Bash! Ultimate Edition.  Many of their insights matched my own (submitted in no particular order):

  • It's a very easy game to pick up.  The one-rule mechanic of X times 2d6 for effect with X being an attribute or a power, usually between 1 and 5 was pretty simple to grasp.  It also made play pretty quick, even with the six players that I had.
  • The dice mechanic is jammy.  "Jammy" is a term that has somehow made into my gaming group's lexicon, meaning that there is a lot of swing in terms of results.  This is especially true because when you roll doubles of any kind, the dice "explode" and have you roll a third die to add to the total.  If it also matches the others, then it explodes again, etc. For example, if you have an Agility of 3 (low superhuman) you can get a result of 9 (two 1's would explode on the roll, so a 1 and 2 is the lowest you could get) to an unexploded 33.  That's without exploding dice, which could happen 1/6th of the time.  I actually like jammy dice mechanics when it comes to superhero RPG's (e.g. Marvel Heroic Roleplaying) because it seems to match the "beat the overwhelming odds" quality to the genre.
  • Challenging PC's isn't difficult.  I used one of the 40 pt. pre-gen PC's in the rulebook as the Big Bad Villain for six 25 pt. characters and he was a sufficient but not insurmountable challenge.  As the "Superman" knockoff, he had a maxed-out Soak number (the number you roll to resist damage, which in his case was a Brawn 5 and an Armor 3 for a total of 8) without getting into Cosmic level villainy.  That made him difficult, but not impossible to damage, thanks to that jammy exploding die mechanic noted above.  No PC was rendered unconscious, but the players clearly felt threatened.  That's a better feel than MHR, where the big bad villains are a little too easy to steamroll over, especially with a group all going after a single foe.
  • PC's are often one-trick ponies.  There's not a lot of wiggle when it comes to Bash PC's at 25 points.  One pre-gen PC had a single medium-powered burst attack, great of wiping out Nazis but useless against a high-Soak opponent.  This is where more familiarity with some of the more obscure rules would have been helpful, especially the use of "Hero Dice" where you can use power stunts.  It would be interesting to see how it would feel if people knew the rules better.
I don't have a good sense of whether or not this would make for a good game long-term.  It was fun--the main qualification for any successful RPG in my opinion--and my kids think of it as on par with Prowlers & Paragons in terms of superhero RPG's they like, which is pretty high praise.  Might be a solid "what do you want to do tonight" kind of RPG.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Bash RPG One-Shot [Game Recap]

With all the craziness going on right now, I took some good advice and set aside complicated plans for long campaigns but instead ran a one-shot of Bash, a fairly rules-light superhero RPG.

I also took a break from the norm by setting it in the Golden Era of Comics, with the PC's being a group of patriotic superheroes called The Defenders who are called on by FDR himself to battle the Third Reich.  They are led by American Wonder, with his teammates Pyre, Cosmo, Nitro, Haute Couture, and Blind Fury.  By the time the session was done they had battled Nazis, Tiger tanks, and eventually the Nazi's top-secret weapon, the supervillain Ubermensch!  Thankfully they were not alone, being joined at various times by the stubble-jawed Sgt. Brick  and Pat Parker, War Nurse (along with her Girl Commandos)!

Pat Parker, War Nurse is an actual comic book heroine from 1946, depicted here in a bit of fan art.
Bash is a pretty fun, easy system that my group picked up right away.  I have to tell you, I needed this.  I needed a light-hearted gathering of my friends at my new (temporary) digs, full of laughter and fellowship (and macaroni and cheese with bacon, although that came back to haunt me big time later that night).  Hopefully in the next few months things will settle down and I can focus on something more long-term, but until then this was great.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

2016 and the Year That Was

I'm several days late on getting some sort of end-of-year retrospective, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know, I suspect.

Way back in January 2016 I drew my D&D 5E campaign to a close.  This had been going initially as a way to try out the new rules, and lasted until then with a pretty dramatic climax.  At that point the Other Rob picked up the D&D ball and ran with it, doing his own 5E through the Fall.  That was a good game in many ways but to me illustrated the weaknesses of 5E high-level play and made me appreciate bailing out when I did.

But in addition to the regular "house" game, 2016 saw a lot of people get behind the GM screen.  Rachel ran her zombie game using the FATE system.  Emma did a one-shot of her own D&D story, and is talking about starting a club at her school.  John started up a regular game of d6 Star Wars, which had a strong start and is still going on.

a great photo of Rachel perched behind the GM screen

Somewhere wedged in there I ran a couple of off-book sessions with my kids of games like Marvel Heroic (the infamous "Deathwish Brigade") and Prowlers and Paragons.  This was partially to scratch my own GMing itch, partially to have some family fun, and partially to try out some rules.

I bought a few gaming books; Traveller, Champions Complete, Cold Steel Wardens, and Bash! to name a few.  A lot of supers games in there, but the irony is that I'm not sure I'm going to end up using any of them.

With Other Rob done last Fall, the "main game" slot has stood vacant.  Initially I proposed running Champions, inspired by some sentimentality and the release of the new Aaron Allston's Strike Force sourcebook.  This seems to be a real struggle however.  Two months, November and December, were lost educating people about rules, trying to explain PC creation, and the holidays.  Now it looks like I'm going to a brief hiatus in terms of gamemastering as personal issues take precedent.

So for now, a break, at least in terms of post-game reports.  Hopefully they will start up again soon.  In the meantime I'll consider what kind of content I can manage during this period.  Suggestions always welcome.


Over at Strange Vistas