Friday, November 2, 2018


For the time being, I've moved my blogging here:

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Managing time

So far, my decision to use Waterdeep: Dragon Heist appears to be a wise one.  The group is enjoying the rich tapestry of personages the book has to offer, and I find myself freed up from stressing about what to do next.  Without getting into any spoilers, the group is in the second chapter of the adventure, a curiously low-key exploration phase before beginning ratcheted back up in chapter three to a pace that will continue for the rest of the book.  The long-time GM in me is mildly disappointed that I'm not creating my own material, but this has given me the time to focus on a lot of other projects, including renovating the game room.  I will have to see if I transition from Dragon Heist to Dungeon of the Mad Mage.  In November two of my players will have a baby, while after Christmas break another player's schedule changes so he is no longer available on my game night.  That leaves me with three players, all youth rather than adults.  At that point I either run with the three I have, try to recruit new players, or switch games.  The game night will likely stay the same--it is too convenient for me not to.

Oddly enough, I'm not sure how hard recruiting new players will be.  Dungeons & Dragons appears to be everywhere in this town right now.  A week or so ago I was at the grocery store and ran into a college student I know from church, a young woman who I knew to be a gamer, and I mentioned that I might have an opening in the gaming group soon.  The young man at the register immediately said, "you're running a game?  Do you have more than one spot open?"

In another incident I was taking my wife's piccolo to be repaired at a small shop and I happened to notice that on her desk were a couple of D&D miniatures.  This prompted a conversation about the game and what her group was doing.  Even at my son's small university he reported the D&D club has "thirty to forty members" and the biggest issue is finding people to run games so they can break the club up into smaller groups.  For a game that doesn't release all that much in the way of new material every year, they seem to be doing okay.

Finally, I read a good blog post over at Monsters and Manuals about his decision to abandon smart phones and limit time spent in front of screens.  I spend most of my day in front of a computer, not always because I must but because it is there.  When I got home, I would succumb frequently to the temptation of checking Facebook, or email, or whatever.  Even trying to put it away at the dining room table was sort of a trial.

So, taking a page from Noism's book, I decided that at 7:00 PM the phone goes away.  I can't switch to a "dumb phone": there's a couple of apps that I have on there that help me manage my daughter's health.  But I can put the phone in my bedroom with the ringer on in case people have to call me (I'm on call almost all the time) but otherwise it's gone.  It is already making an impact, although I'm acutely aware now, as he is, of how much the people around me are on their phones, even in the comfort of their own homes.  We will see if my productivity picks up.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Heist Begins

This post may contain spoilers to the D&D Adventure "Waterdeep: Dragon Heist"

I think the last time I used a pre-generated adventure was the prior time I ran D&D a couple of years ago, and that was an old Goodman Games module for 3E that I updated for 5E (which wasn't without its challenges).  But with several of our regular GM's in my gaming group unavailable, but my still having a lot on my own plate, I thought I would consider doing it again, only this time trying out one of WotC's up-to-date publications.

After doing some research, I decided on their most recent product, Waterdeep: Dragon's Heist.  I'm a big fan of "caper" movies and the whole premise seemed to be a nice change from your typical murder-hoboing.  The whole adventure takes place in a city, there's a ton of investigation and roleplaying, and it serves as the prequel to their release of the latest iteration of the Undermountain megadungeon, which is being released in November.

We will be playing our third session tonight, having gotten our way through the first chapter of five in two sessions.  Each chapter is supposed to roughly correspond to a level advancement, so the PC's are supposed to be second level at the start of chapter two, etc.  The first chapter introduces the PC's to some major characters, introduces the main plot, and gives the PC's a chance to both do some investigating and dungeon crawling, albeit in a lead-you-by-the-nose sort of way.  One of the dungeon encounter areas, for example, has one clearly identifiable entrance (the others are much harder to locate) and doesn't truly fork, leading the PC's eventually to the boss fight of the level.  For an old school guy like me, that seems heavy-handed, but I'm not sure the players even noticed.

The second chapter is the most unusual for me, because it actually lacks any kind of crawling, dungeon or otherwise.  The entire chapter covers the PC's wandering around a neighborhood in Waterdeep, meeting people on the street, and being elicited to complete certain quests.  The quests themselves are not combat related, but based on skills, e.g. "Make three DC 12 Intimidation checks to succeed."  Many of these are roleplaying-related, making me once again question the relationship between players acting out what is happening versus just rolling dice.  Almost all the combat encounters are strictly the consequence of players actively seeking them, and are rarely advantageous given that they are basically living in a fantasy suburb at the time (the law is nothing to mess around with in Waterdeep).  For some players this will be a welcome change of pace to a D&D game, but others may find this to be a weird slow-down in the pace of the game, especially given that chapter two is supposed to cover over a month of time in the campaign world.

I'll keep you updated on how the campaign progresses without giving away too much of the plot.  Thanks for reading, and comments always welcome!

The End of the World 2018

It has been years since I joined my Ohio friends for their annual three-day RPG micro-con called "End of the World" or EOW.  They have literally been doing this event for 29 years, and have it down to a science.  This past weekend was EOW, and I was able to make it out to Ohio to join them for three days of gaming one-shots all featuring their homegrown (and somewhat suspect) system.

One of the cool things about EOW is that you can end up with a pretty wide variety of scenarios, each run by a different member of the group.  The first one was a post-apocalyptic adventure where a group of villagers have to travel beyond the valley into the greater, scarier world to try to find a cure for a plague killing off their tribe.  The second was set in 1959, with the PC's being a combination of FBI and CIA agents and the staff of a powerful congressman trying to prevent an attack by satanic Nazis on Nikita Kruschev's visit to Disneyland in California (a visit which nearly happened, but was called off for security reasons back then--Google it).  The third was a more wargame-ish scenario where the PC's played a team of Morrow Project agents sent back in time to prevent another faction from changing the history of Europe's colonization of the Americas (we can debate the ethics of this story later, but I found it a little troubling given that we were doing it on Columbus/Indigenous People's Day).

A few things of real note about this group.  As I mentioned before, this group has been gathering once a year for the past 29 years, which is remarkable in my mind.  They also have always been a much larger group than normal: each of the sessions at EOW had nine or ten players.  Keeping a group together that long and with those kinds of numbers is a testimony to both commitment and intention when it comes to maintaining a gaming group.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Dark Matter, by Phil Cho

I've featured Phil Cho's work on my blog before.  I'm a big fan, and frequently am inspired by his work to create superheroes or villains for my own campaigns. I thought it was only right, and a great way to make a present for my daughter, to commission him to draw her character in our Champions Now campaign. 

So, presenting, Dark Matter!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Champions Now Ep. 5: Villain Team Up!

As the days pass at Waterford College, Jackie begins to develop the idea of her heroic identity, "Ultraviolet" and how she might use it to further her own agenda.  But before that can get too far, Professor Richter introduces a guest to the Guided Studies class: a supervillain named the White Flame.  The White Flame is part of Raven, an elitist group of European nobility committed to reestablishing monarchies throughout the continent "since it appears democratic rule as failed."  Richter explains that while most of the students already are affiliated with supervillain organizations, part of the what the Guided Studies program does is help young supervillains build networks with other factions.  As such, the students will be proving themselves to the While Flame by stealing the most impressive object they can find within 24 hours.

The White Flame, art by Phil Cho
Jackie is surprised when she is approached after class by her old classmate/rival Bronze Behemoth, who suggests that they team up and do something truly reckless: steal from the White Flame himself!

Their plan is simple: follow the White Flame to wherever he is staying in the area.  Bronze Behemoth will engage the flame in some fanboy/networking conversation while Dark Matter tries to get into his room to steal something of worth.  The next day, they give it back.

It's a good plan, until an UNTIL strike team surreptitiously approaching the hotel where the White Flame is staying.  Bronze Behemoth hustles the White Flame out of the hotel bar, then holds off the UNTIL agents until he can get away.  Dark Matter, on the other hand, is confronted in the White Flame's hotel room by Starburst, an UNTIL-linked superhero.

Bronze Behemoth is able to handle the UNTIL agents, but Dark Matter finds herself in a desperate flight across the city, finally shaking Starburst and making her escape.

The next day, the students present their "homework."  Dark Elf has managed to steal some precious gems from a local jeweler.  The Face used his emotion control abilities to easily steal some priceless artwork.  Bedlam turns over a bizarre collection of toenail clippings she stole from someone she found on the internet.  Bronze Behemoth and Dark Matter give the White Flame back his briefcase, but the White Flame's admiration is largely given to Behemoth for rescuing him from capture.

The big surprise comes from Ronin, however.  He turns over the electro-shock gun of Captain Hollywood, whom Ronin says was defeated by him in single combat.  The superhero, Ronin smugly states, has been beaten soundly and left to die in a car destined for the crusher in a junkyard.  Jackie is left pondering if she should intervene on behalf of the luckless superhero.

GM's notes:

First, I was interviewed by Ron Edwards, the creator of Champions Now, about the Dark Matter campaign I'm doing with my daughter.  You can see the interview here.

Second, this session has a special "guest star."  My son was visiting from college and sat in on the session, playing the character Bronze Behemoth.  My children have gamed together a lot over the  years, and my daughter misses having him around, so this was a real treat.  My son played the normally oafish Bronze Behemoth with a little more savvy than is typical for the character, making him a more complex and sinister figure as a result.  Behemoth is one of the few characters that transferred from my daughter's "canon" of previous Dark Matter stories, mostly to serve as a familiar and annoying foil.

Finally, since I may be getting more than the typical trickle of traffic here, I should given credit to the artist Phil Cho, whose deviantart page can be found here.  I found him looking for pictures I could use for my various superhero games and really liked his colorful, clean, youthful style.  I've shamelessly printed off pictures to show my daughter of various NPC's, even cribbed the interesting name now and then, strictly for personal use.   He does a lot of commission work, and I finally decided to ask him to do a commission of Dark Matter for me as a gift for my daughter.  Once it is done, I'll post it here.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Champions Now Ep. 4: Enter Ultraviolet

My daughter and I played our fourth session of the solo Champions Now campaign set in my daughter's "Dark Matter Universe" featuring the novice super-villain/unwilling superhero Dark Matter.  In the last session Dark Matter had ended up fighting alongside local superhero to fight a monster threatening her college campus.  In the process, she's being touted as a new superhero in the community.

In this session, Jackie (Dark Matter's secret identity) finds herself being asked out on a date by fellow supervillain-in-training Joseph Kane, aka Ronin.  Later Kane calls to say he hasn't seen his roommate, another supervillain called The Face.  Jackie, who has always had a bit of a soft spot for The Face, scours the campus, eventually finding him in conversation with two mysterious figures who are clearly bullying him into being part of a job.

Ronin, by Phil Cho

After doing some research and talking to some other people, Jackie finds out that The Face is part of a Mexican gang of assassins called the Asesinos, who are led by a vampire called Stalker.  She talks The Face and discovers he is supposed to be part of an assassination attempt on a visiting dignitary from the Middle East, along with two members of the Asesinos, Tombstone Kid and The Maine.  The Face, however, has been forced into a life of crime since his childhood, and worries for his life should the job go badly.

The Face, by Phil Cho

Jackie decides to formalize her "fake" superhero identity, calling herself "Ultraviolet" and getting a new costume.  She surveys the public arrival of the dignitary, drawing the attention of Captain Hollywood, who welcome the new "hero."  The two of them spot Tombstone Kid and the Maine, and leap into action to foil the plan.  Both heroes take a lot of damage from the Tombstone Kid (while The Maine turns out to be a complete failure).

In the end, Captain Hollywood suggests that Ultraviolet make herself scarce while he handles the authorities.  Back at Waterford College The Face thanks Jackie for helping him out of a bad situation.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Champions Now Ep. 3: Plague

Between the last gaming session of Champions Now with my daughter and this one, she hatched a pretty inventive plan to help Dark Matter out of her mistaken identity problem.  Because the mysterious attacker on Waterford College's campus had similar powers to a character from her graphic novel, a young man named Plague, she decided to ask that character (as basically an NPC) to help her out.

The plan was this: Plague would show up, shoot a video claiming that the attacks on the campus were the work of a rival, and that he had attacked Captain Hollywood in an attempt to hunt down the monster.  Furthermore, he would state he was giving up on the chase and leaving town (hopefully getting Hollywood to stop looking for Dark Matter).  In turn, Dark Matter would continue looking for the monster.

Things, however, did not go as planned.  Plague was captured by Captain Hollywood leaving town.  And when Dark Matter freed Plague from UNTIL custody, Captain Hollywood managed to find the monster but ultimately lost to him, getting most of his strength drained away.  Now the monster was on a rampage against the police, and Dark Matter and Plague teamed up to stop him (mostly from wrecking the college and ultimately exposing the Guided Studies program).  They were able to defeat him, and he was revealed to be a transformed Professor Throckmorton, Dark Matter's mythology professor.

In the epilogue, Plague thanked Dark Matter for helping build his reputation, and alluded to a big plan in the future being hatched by his brothers.  Dark Elf bragged at the next class session that she was responsible for transforming Throckmorton as punishment for embarrassing her in class, and in the closing scene Dark Matter was surprised to see a news report about a new superhero in the city, namely herself...
Ashley Mason, aka Dark Elf, in her human form.  Art by Phil Cho

Dark Elf in her supernatural form.  Art by Phil Cho

Friday, July 20, 2018

Champions Now Ep. 2: Mistaken Identity

My one-on-one Champions Now campaign with my daughter had its second adventure.  It began with her PC, Jackie "Dark Matter" Lee having the usual college experience: suffering through boring classes with her frenemy Ashley "Dark Elf" Mason, awkwardly talking to a boy she likes (Ben "the Face" Rodriguez), and fending off the unwanted advances of another supervillain classmate (Joseph "Ronin" Kane).

But all the teen drama is interrupted when several students at Waterford College are found suffering from a mysterious malady that leaves them weak and sickly.  Jackie suspects her friend Plaque from her old school, but discovers a strange, tentacled monster is stalking the campus instead.  Unfortunately Jackie, in her Dark Matter costume, is spotted near one of the victims by Captain Hollywood, a minor local superhero.  Now she is a prime suspect in the attacks and dangerously close to having the Guided Studies program exposed.

Captain Hollywood, by Phil Cho
I'm still enjoying the rules-light approach.  A handful of skills manage to cover most of what you come across in a superhero campaign.  There are still a few things about the rules that I am getting used to, like only have one kind of Multipower slot (for those who know the game--it's the flexible kind) and not being able to adjust Endurance or Stun with points, just the base characteristics.

Anyways, this game is picking up steam. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Champions Now: Ep. 1 Welcome to Waterford

Macy and I had our first Champions Now session, featuring her supervillain/heroine Dark Matter.

The story was that Jackie Lee, scion of an Asian supervillain crime cartel, has been forced by her parents to miss a summer vacation and instead spend the semester at Waterford College where she will take several classes including her "Guided Studies" program in villainy.  Waterford is a small, liberal arts college in New England, a long way from her home in California.

Jackie is introduced to many new people, including her dorm resident assistant Kirk and one of her roommates Indu.  Her villainy class is taught by the strict but helpful Professor Monique Richter.  Her fellow students are

  • Bedlam, a female telekinetic who appears unstable
  • Dark Elf, a feral supernatural creature and snobby girl who hates that she and Jackie have similar names
  • Bronze Behemoth, another student from her old university and obnoxious frat bro
  • Ronin, a handsome martial artist and gadgeteer, but also an unwelcome flirt
  • Face, a shy empath and frequent victim of bullying by Bronze Behemoth
The intro session had the students working their way through an obstacle course (to teach Macy how skills and attribute checks work), tearing through barriers (to teach the damage rules), and sparring against each other (to teach combat).

By the end of the first session, Dark Matter was feeling a long way from home.  It didn't help that she discovered that she'd be sharing a quad dorm room with Bedlam, as well as Indu.  Professor Richter had warned her that if Indu or any other student found out about the secret behind the "Guided Studies" program, they would be killed.  But Bedlam doesn't seem to share Jackie's concerns for her roommate's well being.  Add to that antagonistic rivals, irritating suitors, and mysterious acquaintances, and Dark Matter is in for a very long summer...

Jackie's roommate Indu, illustration by Phil Cho on Deviantart

In which I run a teen superhero soap opera

My daughter Macy agreed to help me playtest the new Champions Now rules.  We decided to set the campaign in the fictional superhero universe of the graphic novel she's writing, an untitled work featuring the main character, Dark Matter (I may end up calling the setting "the Dark Matter Universe" or DMU).

The premise of Macy's graphic novel is that powerful and wealthy supervillains have arranged with universities and college across the country to educate their offspring in the ways of supervillainy secretly in concealed elective classes.  Thus Dark Matter, in her secret identity of Jackie Lee, is a regular Asian-American college student with a dorm room, roommates, dating drama, etc. but on the side is trained to be a supervillain along with several other students including Bronze Behemoth, Plague, and several others.

So my campaign doesn't interfere with her graphic novel in terms of continuity, we decided to set the Champions Now game during a "semester abroad" where Jackie leaves Golden Bay University (a large West Coast state university) and attends Waterford College, a small New England liberal arts school.  She will still be in the "Guided Studies" program, but now will have new teachers, new roommates, and new fellow supervillains-in-training.

I have to say, I don't know if it is because the material is so close to my heart, both in terms of being a superhero fan and gaming with my daughter, but the whole campaign has coalesced quickly and beautifully.  I already have nine NPC's worked out, multiple sub-plots in the making, and am really jazzed about making this happen.

To help me out, I once again skimmed the great DeviantArt gallery of artist Phil Cho, whose clean and youth-centric superhero art was perfect for this campaign. He has a whole section called "Supporting characters" in his "Earth 27" art gallery that could easily populate Waterford College for years.  That's not even including his original concept work.

Based on the original style of the Dark Matter graphic novel, this will be a pretty light-hearted affair with plenty of action, comedy, and teen drama (will Jackie's new roommate Indu discover her secret identity?  Who is Professor Monique Richter actually working for?)  The DMU is definitely a "CW" kind of place.

So the first session will introduce the main characters and give Jackie a "danger room" scenario where she can learn the rules.  I'll  post a after-action report to let you all know how it went.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Champions Now: a first look and the first PC

While the final product is theoretically about five months away, those of us who Kickstarted the quasi-retro-clone of Champions 3rd Edition called Champions Now got the files of the old editions of the game plus the playtesting document.  Champions 3rd Edition was the first edition of Champions I owned and had a major impact on my high school gaming until I went to college and discovered the famous 4th Edition/Hero Games "Big Blue Book," which became the core of my roleplaying experiences for years.

Taking another look at the third edition, I was filled with a huge sense of sentimentality, as well as a bit of appreciation for the much more simplistic rules in comparison to 4th Edition.  Gone are all the perks, talents, contacts, etc. that allowed Hero Games to be used for non-supers games (or detail supers ones).  Back was the steep Endurance cost that could leave a hero gasping for air after going full-bore for a couple of actions.

But this is a time for playtesting, so I recruited by daughter, who has been writing her own superhero graphic novel/ongoing series to stat up her main character, Dark Matter.  Dark Matter is actually a villain who finds herself constantly being compelled to do the right thing.  She's got several villain acquaintances, including the supervillain frat bro named Bronze Behemoth, whom I went ahead and built on a slim and tiny 250 points.

Both character creation exercises were fun and easy, and I'm thinking this will be both a great way to do a little side-campaigning and also spend some quality time with my daughter.  More on Dark Matter (including some of my daughter's illustrations) hopefully to come.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Blades in the Dark: A Piece of the Action

As I become more familiar with the rules for Blades in the Dark, a gloompunk fantasy RPG where the PC's play a starting gang of scoundrels, I have begun to really appreciate how much gameplay is taken up with more than just immediate actions.

Basically, in addition to just doing the heists, capers, assassinations, or other immediate criminal activities, the PC group also has to target other groups to increase their reputation, manage a cohort of NPC's lackeys, maintain and expand a hideout, and move into neighboring territories to increase opportunities.  This is on top of doing some abstract bookkeeping of resources, including deciding what you want to keep in liquid assets and what you want to sock away for your PC's eventual retirement.  Oh, and while you're at it, make sure that each PC spends some time engaging in whatever their vice-like activity might be in order to help relieve stress.

A typical BitD character managing their gang.  Also what you get when you Google "steampunk accountant"
That's a lot of non-combat, non-roleplaying activity, representing a kind of world-building gameplay the group is unaccustomed to.  It will be interesting to see how they react, and who in the group will find that portion of the gaming as interesting as scaling wall or punching it out with the police.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Blades in the Dark: Someone Else's Opus

My gaming group decided to give Evil Hat's Blades in the Dark a quick try.  The first session was last Friday, mostly spent introducing the group to the rules and the PC and gang creation system.  The initial PC's include

  • A Leech specializing in pseudo-science technology
  • A Whisper who can influence the weather
  • A Cutter who is a former merchant marine
  • A Lurk who can briefly enter the ghost realm
  • And a Slide who is a professional con artist
For a gang, they decided to be Smugglers, which I thought of as being a fairly "safe" choice and easiest to stay on the morally unobjectionable side (versus say, a Cult or Hawkers, who are vice peddlers).  Some of the younger players also picked fairly "soft" vices, like being obligated to their family instead of gamblers or drug addicts.

Photograph by Orla on Deviant Art.  There is no shortage of possible group photos online for this game.

I suspect that the game will likely be more of a "Han Solo" kind of campaign versus a more gritty, ethically murky affair, but that's okay given the disposition of my group.  What's interesting for me is that it is the first game I'm tried in a while where most of the campaign background, NPC's, etc. are already made up.  There's a huge trove of detailed information in the book that it in and of itself an incredibly impressive corpus of work, but I'm been more likely in the past to do most of the creative work myself on top of a skeleton of rules.

I have mixed feelings about this.  On one hand, I suspect I'll be able to do this game with less prep, which means it will be likely to run longer than some other campaigns have.  On the other hand, it'll never feel like my game. It's someone else's opus, and I'll just be massaging it into something that looks more like me.  Plus I like to engage in the creative process, so it will be interesting to see how much room I have within the construct of the RPG.

How do you feel about super-detailed RPG's?  Love 'em or hate 'em?

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The 11th Hour for Champions Now

I would hate to see someone's pet project almost make it to the finish line but suddenly falter.  Hero Games' retro-clone of the Champions RPG called "Champions Now" is (at the moment of the writing of this blog post) at $18,459 of a $20,000 goal.  For $30 you get a physical and digital copy of the rules, which is a pretty good deal.  I'm personally interested in this project because I thought that later iterations of the Hero System/Champions have become a larger, more complex mess.  For example, in the most current version of Champions you build starter PC's on a 400 point base, rather than 250.

With a little over two days left, why not take a look?  You can find out more here.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Father's Day recap

Happy belated Father's Day to all the fathers, step-fathers, teachers, mentors, and other people who identify as male and have chosen to take on the role of caring and nurturing children.

My own children were very sweet and generous this year.  My son bought me Teen Titans: The Silver Age Vol. 1 which I'm enjoying reading for all the campy, hip teen drama.

Speaking of superhero nostalgia, I also decided over the weekend to back the Hero Games Kickstarter for Champions Now, which basically looks to be a "Champions Ed. 3.5" where they update the game but don't take it all the way to being the universal system that was the Big Blue Book.  Unfortunately with just a few days to go and only barely past the halfway mark, I'm not sure this one is going to come to pass.  I've super-curious about it looks should it make it.  I liked the earlier editions of Champions, and there were whole swaths of the Hero System that largely went untouched in most Champions games.

What is a solid lock though is Goblin Games' Advanced Labyrinth Lord Kickstarter.  It's a good price for a hardcover book (or books, which are even cheaper) and a classic OSR game.  Plus it is already funded.

Finally, I'm taking a long, hard look at Evil Hat Productions Blades In The Dark Tabletop Roleplaying Game which looks to be a Ocean's 11/Dishonored/FATE mashup of an RPG that is getting great reviews, but also looks to be a serious disconnect in playing style from my current group.  At less than thirty dollars for over 300 pages of game material, including a super-detailed campaign location, it might just be good to read for the articles, as they say.

So many games, so little time...

Thursday, May 17, 2018


What do you do when you tell yourself you should dedicate more time to blogging right when you're not doing much in regards to the subject of the blog?

Just write stuff, I guess.

Yesterday I saw on Facebook that the local high school had a D&D club who was doing a fundraiser by selling shirts, so I went over and bought three for myself and the kids.  The young people I met were really friendly, and I think a little surprised.  In my work clothes I am the most ordinary looking person: middle aged, average height, nondescript dress and appearance.  But get me talking about D&D and my gaming group, etc. and I'm definitely a gaming geek through and through.  As I said the kids seemed really friendly and I wish I had met more people like that thirty years ago when I got into this pasttime.  Plus the shirts were cool and for a good cause.

My current campaign is taking a few weeks off.  May is always a busy month here, and this year my son is graduating from high school.  He's going to college less than an hour away, but we will see if he continues to show up for D&D next year.  Right now, though, the campaign seems to be in a bit of a crossroads.  I could move the campaign in the direction of courtly politics and intrigue.  Or I could continue the mega-dungeon format, since there are levels yet to be explored.  Or I could move the campaign outdoors to a hex-crawl format.  I plan on getting some input from the group, but I'm anticipating a mixed response.  In the end, I suspect the issue will come down to a combination of convenience and enjoyment on my part.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Allergic Reactions

I've been trying to get back into the swing of writing more, which of course means I need to find things to write about.

A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with a core member of my gaming group, not to mention the father of another member of my gaming group, over the issue of his having increasingly allergic reactions to being in my house.  He's got issues with pet dander, and I recently added a second pet to my house.  He is especially allergic to cats, and very soon I'll be adding those to my house as well.  The upshot is that in a matter of months, he and his son will no longer be able to game about my house.

This isn't a huge deal--there is another venue where we can gather to game--but I've gotten used to having access to all my gaming supplies when I run a game, such as miniatures, terrain, etc. not to mention a kitchen where I usually make dinner.  When my friend isn't coming to a session, I can still play at home, but it has me thinking about styles of play.  I tend to be pretty prop-heavy when it comes to gaming.  Having a layout depicting everything is particularly helpful when it comes to players who struggle to focus and follow gameplay.  I have spent a huge chunk of time building a modular dungeon which could prove downright unwieldy when it comes to gaming someplace other than my home.

All of this will, I suspect affect the culture of the gaming group.  It will become less tabletop-wargamey/boardgamey and more "theater of the mind."  This will prove a challenge to those who are used to doing their action, whipping out their phone, and then checking back in when they are reminded it is their turn.

Thoughts?  Your own experiences with low-weight gaming?

Friday, May 4, 2018

Fieldstone Modular Dungeon Phase Two built

I finished the second part of my fieldstone modular dungeon, made with Hirst Arts blocks.  The second part includes

  • four 15' hallways (one square=five feet)
  • six 10' hallways
  • four doorways
  • three pillars
  • two 30' by 30' rooms
  • two 20' by 20' rooms with two entrances--one with the entrances on opposite walls, the other on adjacent walls
The idea behind the second phase was to obviously add some much-needed variety to the first part of the dungeon, and some larger rooms that accommodate a normal-sized adventuring party better.  Next up is the three layers of painting.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Ergon Game Map and Gaming Recap

Click from a larger pic

Recently my gaming group has had to change the venue of our sessions because I am getting several cats in the near future and have two players who are very, very allergic.  This is kind of a bummer for me, because I like gaming in my own house and have been building a very cumbersome modular dungeon to use in my games that I do no want to lug around from place to place.

So to resolve my immediate issues regarding having a more mobile gaming set-up, I invested in an Ergon Gaming Mat that I spotted on an ad from Amazon.  I have a Chessex game mat, the kind that folds up and takes all kind of punishment, but I was curious about what a more flexible silicone mat might be able to do.  In addition to having the normal grid on one side, it also had hexes on the other (which suited my constant dreams of running Champions again).  The mat showed the dry-erase marker clearly and could be rolled up, even squished with no signs of damage.  Using a dry paper towel didn't remove the marks, however, but left ghost images behind.  A wet towel, on the other hand, left the mat completely pristine.

Unlike the Chessex mat, you can't use permanent marker on the Ergon mat (but why would you, unless by accident).  On the plus side, with no creases or folds and the ability to unroll the mat as the group goes along, I think that this will become my travel mat of choice.

Speaking of the gaming session, the group continued their alliance with the coven of witches they discovered in the Whispering Elms Forest (an ethically murky decision given the coven's affiliation with local bugbear tribes) and managed to acquire a monster to replace the guard of the coven's previous layer, which they had slain in the last session.  At this point, the campaign is a bit of a crossroads in terms of direction.  Initially it had been a mega-dungeon crawl, but the group seems to be getting bored with that and may want to shift to more of an wilderness hexcrawl format.  Other players seem to be interested in doing more "worldbuilding" by getting involved in local politics, etc.  For my own sense of campaign design, I need to talk to the group about what they want to do, lest I end up preparing for one thing and watching them wander off in another direction.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay

I tried to avoid spoilers to this movie, but if you think I didn't, my apologies in advance.

It's been a while since I've reviewed something, so I thought I'd give my handful of readers my take on the new DC animated movie Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay For those familiar with the earlier animated Suicide Squad movie Assault on Arkham, I should tell you that this is not a sequel to that movie but rather follows the DC animated movie Flashpoint, a fact which isn't revealed until pretty late in the movie.  That's too bad, because I thought Assault on Arkham was a great movie and vastly superior to the live-action film.  The real giveaway that the two are not related is that Killer Frost, theoretically killed in Assault on Arkham, appears in Hell to Pay but with a different secret identity and costume (for those keeping track, the AoA version is Louise Lincoln, the HtP version is Crystal Frost).

Hell to Pay is a pretty standard Suicide Squad plotline: the (sometimes) superhuman villains in Belle Reeve Penitentiary are sent by Amanda Waller (now also the skinny version and not voiced by the late, missed CCH Pounder but by Vanessa Williams) to find a missing person and recover a "card" that the person has on him.  The rules of the Suicide Squad have already been made clear in the prelude with the neck-bomb detonation of some C-list characters to show how ruthless Amanda Waller can be when handling the Squad members.  Joining the regular crew is Bronze Tiger (a regular from the comic series), the aforementioned Killer Frost, and Copperhead.

Unlike the previous animated movie, the plot revolves around a supernatural element which emphasizes the natures of good and evil and the incongruity of a team of anti-heroes in that dynamic.  The "card" in question guarantees its bearer gets into Heaven rather than Hell when that person dies, which at some level is so corny that it actually distracts from the rest of the film.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but there is the expected constant stream of action, double-crosses, snarky banter, and the odd bit of humor.  What was surprising was how little Harley Quinn was in the movie, which could be either a good or bad thing depending on your feelings about the character.  Deadshot, like the earlier films, remains the tentpole, sympathetic character.  The ultimate villain is Vandal Savage, who also appeared in Justice League: Doom, making me idly wonder if they are in the same canon.

Flashpoint squeaked by with a PG-13 rating, despite its graphic violence.  Hell to Pay rocks the full-on R rating for some surprisingly graphic violence, language, and the most ridiculously gratuitous one-second-long flash of female nudity.  Despite featuring both a hedonistic villain's pleasure pad and a strip club, the film decides to slip the nudity into the most pointless moment possible in the film for the briefest of moments.  Regardless, it isn't Justice League Unlimited.

I can see the interest in doing a movie that is more in line with the comic book version of the Suicide Squad in hopes of drawing new readers to that title, or getting readers to buy the movie.  If you don't compare it to Assault on Arkham, Hell to Pay measures up as a solid Suicide Squad story with familiar characters and team dynamics.  My biggest critique is the somewhat wacky plot device, which not only seemed to engage in bad theology but also a cosmology that is a little out of place in the DC canon.

Rating: rent, buy if you're a big fan

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Mighty Crusaders

I've really let my writing slow down, so I thought I'd expound upon some things that I like that are on my mind lately.  One of these is The Mighty Crusaders.

My interest in the comic book team The Mighty Crusaders goes back not to the original team, but to the brief period when DC Comics re-envisioned the former Archie Comics characters as part of their Impact Comics line from 1991 to 1993.  Despite DC's goal of reading younger views with more kid-friendly story-lines and direct-to-newstand sales, as a college student I liked the Impact line for several reasons. (Side note: DC Comics also took another property they owned outright, Charleston Comics, and used those characters as the basis for the Watchmen.)

First, it was fun getting into an entire comic book universe on the ground floor, one which appeared to have little-to-no backstory and every character was just having its start.  Second, with the Iron Age in full swing, I appreciated the more Silver Age-style stories.  Even their "gun and claw" characters, the Black Hood and Jaguar, were decided toned down from the Punisher and Wolverine (and countless knock-offs) that were dominating the market.

Impact Comics suffered a lot of problems, from losing writing and art talent to other companies and projects, lackluster sales, and lukewarm support from new editorial direction at DC Comics (you can read more about Impact's woes here).  But I always enjoyed the titles I kept up with, including the excellent Black Hood comic up to its ending with the sudden universe-ending mini-series The Crucible.

A quick word about The Crucible.  Initially it was intended to allow DC Comics to overhaul the Impact characters in hopes of revitalizing sales.  The Crusaders were supposed to be launched into space, only to return to a new world with new challenges, etc. while a handful of heroes remained behind.  Instead, the Crusaders went to another dimension, and the six-issue series became the swan song of the entire publishing line.

But what a song it was.  The Comet, the most powerful of the Impact superheroes, was slowly going crazy and the Black Hood, a normal guy with limited skills aside from what he gained by wearing the eponymous black hood, had to try to keep him under control to avoid a major catastrophe that he had seen in a vision of the future.  A lot of focus was put on the stress and despair that the Black Hood faced until his final, inevitable confrontation with the Comet in a story that spanned years of narrative time.  While Batman vs. Superman stories are pretty common these days, The Crucible was a great take on the concept going back to 1993.

Anyways, I liked the Impact characters so much I actually wrote up several using the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying rules a while back.

In 2012, Archie Comics (now Red Circle Comics) decided to try to use the old Crusader characters in a new, similarly kid-friendly title called The New Crusaders.  The core story idea was that the original Crusaders--the Shield, the Fly, Steel Sterling, etc.--had all gone into retirement in the present day.  After being kidnapped by the Brain Emperor (a villain from the original pre-Impact period), their children were organized by the original Shield to help find them and defeat other supervillains.

I liked The New Crusaders a lot because it felt a lot like older teen superhero books like Teen Titans where you had a collection of heroes with different backgrounds and origins for their powers.  To get with modern day sentiments they also added an African-American character (the Comet, adopted by the original Comet) and retained the Impact idea of a female Hispanic Jaguar (also taken in by the Caucasian original superhero).  The Shield provided the role of the stereotypical grizzled veteran trying to make the teens grow into heroes.

Unfortunately the curse of the Crusaders continued, with older fans of the series wanting more realism and action.  The authors shockingly killed off Fireball, one of the most developed characters in the series, as a way to up the drama and maturity of the title, but it continued to struggle until finally it was cancelled in early 2013 on a cliffhanger ending.  The final battle was devastating for the team as it also killed off the teenage hero Steel Sterling and crippled both the Shield and the Jaguar.

Since then, Red Circle became Dark Circle, and content across the board, including the Archie titles, became more serious and mature in nature.  Dark Circle relaunched several of the Crusader characters in yet new iterations, including the Shield and the Black Mask.  Then just a few months ago, they launched the Crusaders yet again, this time under the original name The Mighty Crusaders.  Interestingly enough, the team actually bridges the three generations of the Archie Comics mythos: the original Mighty Crusaders, the New Crusaders, and the new Shield from the Dark Circle title.  Joining the new Shield is original Steel Sterling (whose wife and son, the teen Steel Sterling, were killed at the conclusion of the New Crusaders arc); and Jaguar, Comet, the Web, and the thankfully renamed Firefly from the New Crusaders.  Darkling, a character from the original Mighty Crusaders mythos, also has jonied the team.

Again providing leadership is the original Shield, now physically challenged by his injuries, making him the one constant figure in all iterations of the team.

I like the concept, not the least of which is because the team now resembles another favorite of mine, the Justice Society of America, with its sense of legacy.  They are three issues in and are already battling a villain tam from the original iteration.  Here's hoping that this version can actually make a serious go of it.

Thursday, April 5, 2018


For the past few months I have been gaming in my living room, rather than in the dedicated space in my basement.  The reasons were manifold: it is much colder in my basement, I no longer had to be mindful of a spouse who didn't participate in gaming, and the basement was a major mess from all the chaos of my ex-wife moving out.

But time has passed, Spring is here, and I'm ready to get my gaming room back to being a gaming room.  Or better yet, even a better room than before.  There's a lot of old toys the kids no longer use and other assorted junk down there as well.  So I will be unloading unwanted miniatures, manky terrain, and RPG's that will never see the light of day in the next few weeks.

What will be tricky will be figuring out what falls into that RPG category.  A few days ago I was at Half Price Books and spotted a Player's Handbook from the 3.5 Edition.  Now these are pretty rare, and there is a definite crowd who favors that edition over others.  I have a 3.5 PHB, not to mention Pathfinder, which is going through an edition change in the near future.  So I had to self-assess: what is the likelihood I'll ever run or play in a D&D 3.5 campaign in the near- to far-future?  Answer: highly unlikely.  So I passed on it, even though it was rare.

It may be time for some Marie Kondo-esque examinations of my RPG and wargaming collection.

One thing I haven't mentioned lately is some clutter I'm actually generating, namely the fieldstone modular dungeon.  I'm almost done with the building portion of Phase 2, but am currently derailed because my daughter needs Hirst Arts blocks for a diorama she is building for school.  I'll try to get some pics posted.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Into the Woods

After three straight levels of dungeon crawling, I decided I wanted to do something different with my most recent D&D session.   First, I wanted to get out of the dungeon.  Second, I wanted a little plot and less wandering monster stabbing.

The players had been asking for a place that the PC's could own, arguing that with all the gold they were getting, some place must be available in a small, rundown village.  So I decided to give them one, complete with an infestation of monsters and a yard full of trouble.

Bugbears assault the only tenant the PC's have: a charcoaler living in the forest.

Need to get rid of the owlbear squatting in their place.
All in all it wasn't too bad.  I was surprised how little actually happened--perhaps combat was going slowly, but the good news is that means I have plenty of material for next time.

In the meantime, I'm trying to figure out if I want to do the April Blog-a-thon.  When I have done it successfully, I have done a bit of work ahead of time to make sure I have enough to work with.  In teh past this has actually helped lay the groundwork for a new campaign, but since I'm barely into one now, I'm not sure if that really would be helpful, or if I should do something different.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Fieldstone Phase Two WIP rooms

Phase Two of my fieldstone modular dungeon project basically adds more rooms with more options, as well as some shorter hallway pieces and some doorways.  I've finished constructing the four rooms in Phase Two.

Two 20' by 20' rooms, with two exits, one with the exits on opposite walls, the other adjacent.

Two 30' by 30' rooms.  The recesses in the room on the right will have small pedestals in them, to be added later after painting.

I'm almost out of plaster, so I'll need to order more before I can too much farther.  Comments welcome!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Three levels down

So far the D&D mega-dungeon campaign has been running pretty smoothly.  For those who missed the earlier posts, this campaign is a fairly straightforward one featuring a dangerous, multi-level dungeon buried deep between the ruins of a destroyed manse.  The local community has suffered the deprivations of the dungeon's inhabitants for years, and now the heroes are there to clean house.

There's seven players, but I've decided to limit the table to four each gaming session.  With two sessions a month, everybody gets a chance (with one person getting two chances, a privilege I rotate around the group).

We are on the third level of the dungeon, with the group just having hit level three.  The engineer in me (I won't use the hackneyed and callous "OCD" joke) has each level having enough XP in encounters in it to advance the group a single level.  The downside is that sometimes the group has skipped encounters, etc. so the bookkeeping still has to be done.

Which way to go?

The other thing I'm doing is creating certain "themes" to each level, using along two characteristics, factions, etc.  In the first level, a small tribe of goblins had been infected by the zombie virus (yes, I know that there is no zombie virus in D&D--they are just juicy magically animated corpses, but this is my universe and I wanted Night of the Living Dead zombies).  So the party was navigating two groups--goblins and zombie goblins (zomblins, as they were called by the group.  They were led by a zombogre) which were actually fighting each other.  Level two didn't have this dynamic, partially because the XP gap between 2 and 3 is so small.  The third level has gnolls and demons, this time working together as a result of weird romance between a succubus and a divinely-gifted gnoll leader.

The two-theme paradigm allows for some diversity and character to each level without it getting overly complicated for the players.  I may have to mix it up to keep it fresh, but for now it is a nice way to structure things, and the game is, as I said before, moving very smoothly.

And yes, I'm already thinking about the next campaign...

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Fieldstone Phase One Completed

I've finished the highlight coat on the pieces of the first phase of my fieldstone modular dungeon.  The highlight layer changes the appearance pretty significantly.

I used the pieces in level one of my "Down Among the Dead Men" D&D Megadungeon campaign, and they worked pretty well.  You can't do super-elaborate layouts with the pieces, but it's only the first phase.

One possible configuration
So what's next in Phase 2?  Primarily building up the number and variety of rooms available.  Here's the list:
  • Two 20' by 20' rooms, one with two doors on opposite sides and the other with two doors on two adjacent sides
  • Four 15' hallway pieces
  • Four additional corner pieces
  • Six 10' hallway pieces
  • Two 30' by 30' rooms
  • Six modular doors
I've already begun building the Phase 2 pieces, so updates should be forthcoming.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Fieldstone Phase One mid-tone painted

Last night I got the first phase of my fieldstone modular dungeon painted with its mid-tone color, "Gleaming Tan" by Valspar.  The lighter color really makes a difference.  There is just one more layer of paint after this one--a highlight layer of bone white.

I've already begun work building the second phase of the dungeon--mostly larger rooms with more options.

Comments welcome!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Two new campaigns: Unity and D&D

The past couple of weeks saw the gaming group launch two new games--one just in the trial period, the other for a longer haul.

My friend John ran Unity, which is still in Beta from a Kickstarter project.  The game is a techno-fantasy RPG heavily influenced by sources like Final Fantasy and RWBY.  There's a lot of anime/cinematic action with over-the-top powers and a strong reward for colorful descriptions of what your PC is doing.  We played the sample game in the world of RWBY, which is a favorite of mine and the kids.  It's a little reminiscent of 4th Ed D&D with at-will powers, powers that drain a pool of points (e.g. mana or focus) and daily abilities.  I kind of like the popcorn style of 4E and this was a good lighthearted game.  Hopefully I can provide a more in-depth review later.

I also kicked off my D&D campaign "Down Among the Dead Men," a gothic-horror megadungeon.  Looks like I have seven players, which I'll cull down to five at a time per session.  I'll have to see how to juggle that.  The first session introduced the PC's to the blighted town of Woodhaeven, the local monastery, weirdo mage, general store, and tavern.  Oh, and lots of rumors about a cursed mansion that burned to the ground mysteriously five years before.  They checked that out near the end of the session, only to find it inhabited by wolves and stirges.

It was a good first session, and I hope it continues to thrive.  More as it unfolds...

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Fieldstone Phase One basecoated

I have all the pieces from Phase One of the fieldstone modular dungeon painted with the darkest basecoat.  The pieces will have three layers: a dark layer painted over the entire thing ("Cowboy Boots" from Valspar), a terracotta-colored main layer that shows the dark color in the crevices, and a bone-colored highlight layer.

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Fieldstone Modular Dungeon

In the past, I have built a modular dungeon, which for those who don't know is a terrain collection used to depict a stereotypical dungeon layout for a fantasy roleplaying game.  I use pieces cast from Hirst Arts molds.  My previous one was primarily done with the Smooth Floor Tile and Wizard Wall molds, and was composed of small pieces that required a lot of assembling.  That almost took up too much time and stalled gameplay.

I decided that I would build another dungeon, one that was less flexible than the gothic modular one, but easier to set up during the game.  I also decided I would use a different mold series from Hirst Arts.  I went with the "fieldstone" series of molds, which are on oldie but a goodie when it comes to Hirst Arts.  The accessories are not as detailed or numerous as the gothic line, but look good and are easy to cast.

In planning the project, I went with phases of development, with the idea that I could expand the series in steps as I went along.  Throughout the back half of 2017 I slowly made progress on Phase 1.  As it stands currently, I have completed building the Phase 1 pieces.

Phase 1 includes

  • Two 20' by 20' rooms
  • Ten 20' long hallways
  • Six corner pieces
  • Four "T" shaped pieces
These will not be painted with three colors: a dark base layer, a medium main layer, and a light highlight layer.  I'll work on that step while casting the pieces for Phase 2.

Comments welcome!

Two weeks to build a campaign--GO!

The title pretty much says it all.

In my last post I was all "oh there's nothing going on and what am I going to blog about?"  Then one of the two people planning on running a game in my gaming group has decided to postpone his plans until later this year.  The other GM is running a game with a small, limited number of players, so the torch has been passed (back) to me to run something for my big, honking, inconsistent gaming group!

So the first session will be sometime in late January, which means I've got a few weeks to pull something together.  I'm pretty sure I'm ready to stop running Bash, because it is just not holding the group's attention.  Or rather, some people are into it, but many are not.

With the other game being Star Trek, I'm loathe to run science fiction, to avoid comparisons, although running a game featuring the decimated Resistance in Star Wars sounds like a lot of fun.  I've found that those games are hard to run with a large, inconsistent group, however.

As a result, I will likely run Dungeons & Dragons 5E.  It's a game everyone knows and owns.  It's been "done" insofar as we have gone from 1st to about 15th level previously, but I may do a different kind of story.  I also really want to use a project I've been working on but haven't talked about much here.  More on that next time...

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2017 in review

Eighteen posts.  Which is, to date, the most sparse amount of production I've had since the blog began.  There were literally months (e.g. May, September) when I didn't post at all.

And I can not even claim I was busy on other blogs, since my companion blog to this one, The Army Collector, had virtually no posts to speak of.

The short reason I've mentioned before: I got divorced, moved twice, had my life turn upside-down six or seven times, etc.  I did, in fact, do some gaming in there.  Ran quite a few sessions of Bash, played in an old WEG Star Wars campaign, Baker Street, and LUG's Star Trek RPG.  But I tend to write less as a player than as a GM, because I'm uncomfortable speaking about other people's games lest I appear critical of my friends.

And really, they are all doing a very good job, with their own style of play.

So what happens in 2018?

I'm continuing to work on a large modular dungeon based on the Hirst Arts fieldstone line of molds.  I'm not sure that I'll end up using it, but it is a nice project I can do in fits and spurts as the time allows.  I should get some pics up soon.

I could run my own campaign again, especially for a my son, "Ammo Grot," whose blog-nickname might have to become Ork Boy because he's now an adult and going off to college in the fall.  He's been at my gaming table since he was eleven years old, and doing one more game before he heads out might be nice.

I could always get back into wargaming again.  I've got the new Warhammer 40K rules, the skirmish-based 40K rules, or a host of other options.  With two other RPG campaigns theoretically happening in Q1 2018, there might not be room for anything else.  A wargame I could play with Ork Boy might be a better option (and would mean posts on the other blog).

We'll see...  In the meantime, thanks for sticking around!


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