Monday, August 21, 2017

Now THAT's F---ing D&D

All right, this is a TV post. And it's going to be about that damn Game of Thrones show. And, yes, it's going to have *SPOILERS* If that matters to you, you've been warned.

[yes, I'm still watching The Defenders on Netflix, and I have a LOT to say about it. Unfortunately, I keep falling asleep while watching it, mainly because I'm doing it late at night after looong days of heavy manual labor. I'm tempted to post a picture of the home project, but it probably won't do justice to how labor intensive it is. POINT IS: I'll get to The Defenders. Just probably not in a timely matter]

There's a lot of "good TV" on HBO these days, by which I mean "quality entertainment." It comes in a variety of forms. I enjoy Veep because I've worked in government and while it may seem (to the private sector) like House of Cards ("hello, conspiracy theorists") there's a lot of it that's just absurdist dumb-fuckery and political aggrandizing (which Veep pokes fun at). There's Ballers, which is similar to the crack that was Sex in the City, except for football fans; most of it depicts fairly awful people, but Dwayne Johnson may have the most powerful charisma of anyone living in America today...he's just so damn watchable, everything he touches turns to gold (he's like Tom Cruise in that way). There's John Oliver's watered-down version of The Daily Show (and I haven't watched much Daily Show for about a decade now for, well, *reasons*) which is great because, with the state of the news, once a week is about the extent of which I can stomach a close examination of what's going on in my nation. And then there's Insecure, the creation of writer/director/actor Issa Rae, an incredibly talented individual. Her show is one of the best things on television at the moment...it's like the newest iteration of awesome comedy (like what Arrested Development was, except that it's on HBO instead of FOX, so it won't be f'd over and preempted for the lowest common denominator).

[I'm sure some would crucify me for saying this, BUT even though I'm a white dude in Seattle, there's a lot in Insecure I can relate to. Except, of course, being black in America (and dealing with all that means). Fact of the matter is, Rae is smashing many "accepted stereotypes," both within the drama of her show (and its portrait of black lives) and in Hollywood itself (what can be accomplished by an individual who is outside the regular norms). Plus, she's funny as hell...Issa Rae is a 21st century friggin' Lucille Ball]

But whatever...yes, yes, there's mucho good TV shows on the "boob-tube" these days; plenty of shows that are ready to suck your precious, precious time and interest and keep you from doing something constructive with you lives. Most of you already know that...I won't insult your intelligence or anything. But can I just say a few words about Game of Thrones? Please?

How frigging awesome is this show?

Sure. There are a lot of neat things in it. Fantasy tropes. Special effects. Good acting. Big battle scenes. Drama. Violence. T&A. Pick your fancy, Tolkien geeks. Martin's stuff is a lot better than Robert Jordan (or so I gather...I haven't actually read Jordan, but my brother gave me a scathing review of The Eye of the World, and I value his opinion)...but we already knew that. That's not what I wanted to gush about. Certainly, not about George R. R. Martin.

For those who don't know, the GoT television series was originally based on Martin's multi-book saga; now, however, it has surpassed the novels he's written, and the show's creators are writing episodes based on his "notes" and using their own continuity (they started going "off-book" early on, due to the constraints inherent in the television media). They...the creators...have taken those notes and run with it, outdoing themselves again and again, both in terms of spectacle and drama. It's wonderful to watch...and even more so because it's soooo "D&D."

Last week's episode..."oh, we're going on a quest"...was about as D&D as it gets. But THIS week, we actually got to see the "quest:" a bunch of frigging miscreants trudging across a snowy wasteland, snarking at each other, really doing something epic'ly stupid, plus guys getting mauled by an undead cave bear...all that is frigging D&D. Old school D&D...the oldest, really.

Sandor Clegane ("the Hound") reminds me of so many D&D players characters I have known. So, so many.

And Melodrama. Most of us (including me) use the term fast and loose, rather than its original, theatrical definition. Just high drama inspiring high emotion. Oh boy. This is melodrama. Peter Dinklage (damn the camera loves that guy...his charisma is on par with the Rock) entreating, begging the Dragon Queen not to fly off to the rescue? So good...so good.

And Daenerys herself. Again, I've known (in game) platinum haired demigoddesses like her...not dragon riders, no, but characters just as magnificent in their power, trying to do the right thing, torn between their heart and their "duty." And, no, never with anything so serious as a kingdom or continent at stake...nothing so bad as a zombie apocalypse on the horizon. But when you're playing The Game...when you're really playing it hard...you create those stakes in your mind. In the shared imagination of the players.

Let me say this: in last week's episode, when the principal characters are standing around the table in the war room coming up with some incredibly half-assed plan to go north and hijack a fucking wight? THAT is D&D, my friends. That is the kind of bullshit ideas players are always coming up with. This week? Getting trapped on an f'ing island of ice, surrounded by a multitude of undead? THAT is the kind of predicament PCs are always getting their sorry asses into, trying to follow some half-assed bullshit plan. It is soooo D&D, because (just like real life) we often fuck ourselves into some stupid problem that we shouldn't have. All the frigging time.

I love it.

I love watching it. It's fun. These days, it's not all T&A and lingering camera shots (as in earlier seasons). It reminds me of some of my best D&D sessions (both as a player and a DM). Half-assed and melodramatic. Inciting the zombies to attack by throwing stones. Ordering your hirelings around. Watching the cleric die and wondering who's going to raise you now (since the dead cleric obviously can't raise himself). Negotiating who gets the magic sword, and justifying the decision with in-game fluff.

If this were D&D,
I'd be a dwarf.
I love it. It pokes my "D&D nostalgia" buttons as hard as anything does. Not that I haven't been on the edge of tears lately anyway. The kids have been gone for more than a week. I've been doing a lot of heavy labor around the house. I'm stressed the fam will come back and the work won't be done, plus the school year's starting up soon and I have that to think about. I'm half-shattered at the moment...the escapism of Game of Thrones is something incredibly valuable to me at this particular moment. Damn, it's good...if only for reasons that appeal to me. And right now, that's just fine and dandy.

[I also want to say this: cool as Jon Snow is (and who doesn't think he's cool?) I've never run a character like him (PC or NPC). While I admire the brooding, Saturnian dude with twenty pounds of honor in a ten pound bag, that was never my shtick. I was usually the one-eyed guy who'd been resurrected six or seven times. And usually blondish in hair color]

So many D&Disms (this week's episode is playing on my TV for the second time while I type this). I find myself trying to pick out alignments for the various characters. Jon is obviously Lawful Good. Arya Stark is pretty clearly Neutral Evil. Cannot get a read on Sansa to save my life at the moment. Daenerys is Neutral Good. Jeez...it makes me want to pull out the old DMG and read Gygax's descriptions and fit them to all the characters. That would actually be fun (for me anyway).

Maybe tomorrow.
: )

Sunday, August 20, 2017

RPGaDay 2017 #20

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

What is the best source for out-of-print RPGs?

In PDF? The internet. For a singular particular source? DriveThruRPG.com. Of course, I prefer books in print (even out-of-print books) and rather than using eBay or Amazon, I prefer to shop in person. Now that I don't make it out to Missoula as often as in my childhood, the best place to pick up  old books is my local game shop...same one I wrote about in my Day 10 post.

Huh. That one was pretty easy. Perhaps I should write about something else.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #19

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[well, well, well...finally, FINALLY caught up; you can find Day 9 here, and Day 18 here. Sorry for the lack of posts yesterday; I had a looong day of hauling rock. And it appears the rock-hauling will be going on at least two more days (unless by some miracle I finish tomorrow). Hopefully, I'll get some writing in, despite my poor, demolished fingers!]

Which RPG features the best writing?

Huh. Depends on what you mean.

If we're talking the clearest writing, easily communicating how the RPG is to be played, it's objectives of play, etc. then we have several candidates for "winner," including Tom Modvay's edition of Dungeons & Dragons (the "B" in "B/X") which was able to teach this blog author (i.e. "me") how to play an RPG from pretty much start to finish. A lot of indie games (especially those of the "story" variety) have pretty solid instructions (I like Ben Lehman's Polaris quite a bit).

However, if you're talking about "stylistically" or "fun" or even "which has the best fiction" or "humor," I'll have to hem and haw a lot, as there're quite a few to choose from. Fourth edition Ars Magica is pretty darn good...certainly, it's my favorite edition of that particular game. Mike Pondsmith's Castle Falkenstein is pretty darn good. I'm a big fan of Ron Edwards's Sorcerer game (and the three supplements he wrote to accompany the game), though I realize he's not everyone's cup o' tea.

Ken Hites's Wild Talents has some great stuff. So does Over the Edge (by Jonathan Tweet and Robin Laws) though a lot of the setting material is fairly derivative. John Wick's Orkworld is a helluva' good read, too. But the best writing, the most interesting may be Maelstrom by Christian Aldridge. The game is clear and concise, the fiction is interesting without being overdone, and the setting is the best parts of fantasy...the kind of Neverending Story shit you loved as a child. With crab men and flying pirate ships and clockwork cities where people engage in duels of honor in dark alleys and amnesiac travelers from other dimensions. I love Maelstrom (and its Story Engine system is the best I've found for PBEM games).

Yeah, there's a lot of good writing out there (a lot of poor and mediocre writing, as well), but I'll give Maelstrom the nod on this one.


Friday, August 18, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #18

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which RPG have you played the most in your life?

And this one's super easy: Dungeons & Dragons.

If you ask me for a specific edition, I'd probably have to say "B/X." This wasn't always the cast...I played AD&D (first edition) for years, even after the publication of 2nd edition (though my D&D play was pretty spotty in the 90s, and I even went through a stint playing only BECMI/RC).

However, since starting this blog in 2009...wow, more than eight years ago...it's been B/X more often than any other edition. And that gives B/X the advantage over AD&D.

'Nuff said.

In Other News...

It's shortly after midnight (12:05am, my time) and though I spent the day lifting and carrying 1000 pounds of paving stones (and 300 pounds of sand) I am watching The Defenders on Netflix. Yes, addiction to superhero shows is a bit of a sickness, I admit it. But it's not like I have a lot to do tomorrow (besides move the other 6000 pounds of paving stones).

Sure beats watching the news.

Step off, haters...I've been waiting four months for this.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #17

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played?

This is a tough one.

Over the years I've gone from "RPG player" to "RPG designer," I have collected an incredible number of games...more than I could ever play in a lifetime. At least, in any meaningful way. Heck, "RPG collector" might be a better term for my gaming life and, sad as that is, I'm willing to wear it until such time as that changes.

[by the way, I've just had a loooong day of hauling 50 pound paving stones and 60 pound bags of sand and I am on my second pint, so my typing...and my train of thought...might be a little shaky. Sorry about that]

Even in my youth, once I found a way to acquire some spending money, I purchased a lot of games (usually at a used bookstore). But every game I would play. Take it out for a "test drive," you know? Back in the day, I had lots of friends clamoring to game and I had lots of free time (ah, sweet youth...cherish your free time while you can, kids!), so it wasn't an issue to try every game. One session or a dozen, who cares? It gave us as much enjoyment as going to the movies (if not more) for roughly the same price.

But the older I've gotten, the fewer gaming friends seem to be around, and my free time has dwindled to a trickle due to my other responsibilities. Yes, I could make it a priority of my life. I don't have to be the president of the parents club and the first grade soccer coach and the dutiful son who visits his mother and the dutiful brother who tries to comfort an ailing brother and the dutiful husband and father and homeowner moving three f'ing tons of rock to build a patio. Hell, I could get rid of the beagles and not worry about feeding and walking and caring for them (the younger is prone to ear infections). I don't think it's possible to exercise less than I already do, or write less than I already do or...well, you get the point. We all have our priorities and while I'd like gaming to be one of mine, I can't seem to fit it in as often as would seem to be appropriate for a dude who's devoted so many internet words to the subject.

*ahem*

ANYway, even so, it wasn't till the last ten years or so that I really started collecting games with little, if any, intention to play. Some are appropriate for research, some represent pieces of history, some are pretty to look at, some I've purchased based on reviews thinking I'd play them (but for some reason found them wanting) and some I fully intend to play one of these day, when I have the chance, and the right group of people.  But, sad to say, there are a LOT of unplayed games that sit on my shelf.

To find the oldest, however, required me to really scratch my head and dig deep. I was having a hard time considering if Werewolf: the Apocalypse counted...certainly, I've never run a saga in that game, though I've been asked to before (back in college...the game fell through before the first session due to some man-woman stuff), but parts of that game was incorporated into other Vampire games, and I'm sure I've used it to make at least one or two characters. Then there's another game from 1992 called Dreampark (based on the Larry Nivens novel) from R. Talsorian. I actually really dug that as a potential "universal" RPG system (in a simpler fashion than GURPS)...but I think I might have run a game for my brother at some point.

And anyway, I have an older game that I'm sure I haven't played: Guardians by James Perhan from Starchilde Publications. This game was published in 1988, though I believe I picked up my copy circa 1990 (and possibly from a used bookstore). Guardians has a simple system, some nice interior art, and some fairly cool fluff. Plus I loved the "flourish" skill that allowed a character to execute cool moves without tripping over his/her cape (and failing a flourish roll could have embarrassing, if not dangerous, consequences).

It's pretty crappy. Sorry.
However, Guardians lost all credibility with me when I read the sample adventure it contained. It didn't bother me that it was hokey, with an evil dentist and his robotic, drill-armed henchman. No, it was when I was researching the bad guys' powers (in anticipation of running the game) and realized the robot's suite of invulnerability powers made it completely impervious to anything the pre-gens (or anyone else) could throw at it. A bad oversight of game design, and one bad enough that I chucked the whole book without ever running a game.

But I didn't chuck it into the trash, just a dusty corner of the shelf. I found it a while back when I was reading Age of Ravens History of Superhero RPGs posts and realized he'd left it off the list. It's still a shitty game with decent artwork, and for some reason I've allowed it to stick around...it's pretty thin, after all (doesn't take up that much shelf space).

I'm about 99% sure it's the game I've owned the longest without once having played it. Going on 27+ years.

[holy mole! Only one more day of double-posting to do! You can read my Day 8 post by going to this link. Tomorrow I'll do Day 9 and then I'll be all caught up]

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #16

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?

In general, I prefer to use most games "as is." Rules As Written. RAW. Even "back in the day," when we played AD&D as our game of choice, we tried to incorporate every rule in the game (speed factor, weapon speed, segments, spell components, chance to hit helmet, encumbrance, weapon vs. armor type, etc.). We got so proficient at it, that it take all that much time...though certainly rules might be forgotten and "fall through the cracks" in the heat of the moment. We were so damn pleased when the Unearthed Arcana was released and provided a simplified unarmed combat system that worked so much easier than the pummeling/grappling rules found in the DMG.

I've never been a fan of modifying rules. Even with all the mods and tweaks found in the multitude of posts on this blog, more often than not when actually playing a game of B/X I fall back on my default RAW assumptions (or I try out a "house rule" for a session before reverting to RAW). Most of my wildest deviations from B/X are really new games...games I've created using a B/X base as a "chassis" to build upon. Whether I'm talking about space vikings or The Goblin Wars or some sort of space/Jedi game, I'm building a game to fill a need that isn't met by another game or system.

I have lots of reasons for preferring to run games as they're written:

  • It's easier to run a game when you abide by an accepted set of rules. Having a rule book as the ultimate "authority" settles a lot of disagreements.
  • I've come to find over the years, that a lot of designers had very specific ideas about their RPG concept, and failing to utilize the rules they've provided can drift the game into something different from what the designer intended.
  • Some might consider me otherwise, but I don't really think of myself as a "tinkerer" by nature. I like to deconstruct rules, try to figure out how/why they're in there, but I'm not one of those guys who opens the box (or book) and immediately sets about modifying things to taste. Maybe I'm lazy that way.
  • But I'm also prideful and arrogant. I consider myself pretty sharp, and I enjoy mastering a new set of rules, finding ways to make them work in interesting ways for my own benefit. That's not to say I'm interested in min-maxing things...working for "my own benefit" often means using the rules creatively to manifest my own vision. Like using 3rd Edition D&D to model Gandalf from The Hobbit (the novel), even though such a character isn't necessarily an "optimal build" for that particular game.

It is unfortunate (in my mind) that many folks can't or won't take the time to learn and run games as they're written. One of my many frustrations with 3rd Edition D&D was that no one besides myself seemed willing or able to play the game "by the book." I famously remember one DM who wanted to run a "high level" campaign and had us all create 15th level characters. During our first round of combat, he literally threw up his hands and said, "I give up," because the damn thing was too complex for HIM to run and manage with all the fiddly bits and rules that come from such massive stat blocks.

[and by "give up" I mean he ended the game and campaign right then and there]

And he was but one of many folks I encountered who failed, failed, failed as a 3rd edition DM...and not even the worst of them.

My copy is actually pink, not sepia.
But I digress. I suppose the word to emphasize in the question is "enjoy." Well, I enjoy running most, if not all games, as is. But if you mean "Which games do I most enjoy," I think I'd say Ken St. Andre's Stormbringer (1st edition) has provided me a ton of enjoyment, as is, straight out of the box, without any modification or changes whatsoever. It almost perfectly captures Michael Moorcock's world, as well as its themes and dark humor (you still have to inject your own tragedy, should you care for that kind of thing), and player characters are almost certainly doomed...but the ones that survive, even for a little while, always feel like they've really accomplished something. Which is cool and fun and enjoyable...if a little masochistic.
; )

[folks interested in my Day 7 post, should check out this link; only two more back-dated posts]

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #15

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

All right, there's no going off-book with such an easy question. B/X. Hands down. The easiest, most readily adaptable system I've come across...at least as far as fantasy adventure gaming is concerned. I've used it to model space Vikings and Dark Sun-style gladiators and horror hunters and faerie wars and Shadowrun and and Star Wars and 40K-style chaos war bands and subaquatic science-horror.

Easy-shmeezy.

And I'm sure there are plenty more uses for the B/X chassis. I know lots of people have used it to kit-bash systems for their favorite settings...folks much smarter and more creative than myself.

It's not ENDLESSLY adaptable, of course. It's not the best system for investigative/mystery-style role-playing (that would be something like GUMSHOE). And it doesn't really do light-hearted stuff or romance (probably RISUS is an easier fit). Vehicle-stuff is pretty tough to write, except in the most superficial manner (so settings that FEATURE a lot of in-vehicle action is difficult with B/X). And, no, there's not a whole lot of character development that occurs in B/X-style play, save for the kind that occurs from recording the experiences of you character over time (in your memory, if not necessarily on your character sheet).

But even so: I love it. I enjoy fantasy adventure gaming. That particular brand of escapism is my cup o tea. And the B/X edition of D&D is the system I enjoy adapting more than any other.

[folks interested in my Day 6 post, should check out this link; nearly caught up!]

Monday, August 14, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #14

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

Tempting as it is to do yet another Vampire post, despite its scope (start your game in ancient Babylon! Stop off at the middle ages, run a few sessions through various eras and decades of the 20th century!), the game tends to collapse under its own weight. Not to mention, if you continue the immortal being timeline you can't help but end up with Vam-Pires In Spaaaaaaaace! Which is a simply awful idea. Listen, people, THIS is what a space vampire should look like:

Nightmares for years...thanks, Thundarr.

NOT this:

Come on, Wilma...Nosferatu has nothing on Buck!

So, no...Vampire always needs an end...generally once every player character has met a much-deserved, fiery death, or has become stuck in a thousand year torpor.

Other games suggest themselves for long-term, "open-ended" campaign play, but which is best? Somewhat surprisingly, I find myself considering AD&D as the best of the bunch. Even better than B/X, if we are going to limit ourselves to using the Rules As Written...and I think that's only fair with regard to this question. Otherwise, you could modify most games for long-term play.

But AD&D (first edition) provides a lot of structure for long-term play, including options for high level play and exploration...monsters and magic that can still appeal to jaded player characters even after years of play (presuming you don't dole out too much, too fast), while providing so many optional options ('porting in Boot Hill and/or Gamma World) that there's little chance of getting bored with the game. Mainly, though, I like that AD&D has built-in decrepitude...rules for aging that will (eventually) force most characters to retire and "pass on the torch" to trusted henchmen and/or progeny.  And unlike Vampire and other "generational" games (Pendragon, Ars Magica, Chivalry & Sorcery), being set in a mythic/fantasy realm, there's little chance that your campaign will last into some age of anachronism, even through successive generations of adventurers. Generally, most AD&D settings take place in a magical realm that never develops past a pseudo-16th century tech level.

So, yeah...AD&D. Even though I've been more a proponent of B/X and its simple elegance, taken RAW the AD&D game provides more tools for long-term play than the un-modified B/X game.

Just thinking about the possibilities almost makes me want to play the old thing. Almost.
: )

[folks interested in my "Day 5" post for the #RPGaDAY, can check out this link]

Sunday, August 13, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #13

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

Hmm...that's yet another tough question. I suppose they're designed that way, to promote thoughtful responses.
; )

Welp, it's hard to single out an instance of a game experience "changing" how I play. All the experiences I've had over the years, both at and away from the table, have gone into creating my "gaming acumen." Other than growing older and more mature (and perhaps a bit smarter, if not wiser), the way I play these days isn't much different from how I played 30-some years ago. I'm probably less self-conscious than I was in the past, more willing to "step up to the plate" when playing (as opposed to hanging back with a wait-and-see attitude). I'm more "proactive" when gaming, both in stance and action...but that comes with confidence from growing up and knowing yourself and not worrying terribly about what kind of an ass you make of yourself.

Now, as far as running games, there HAVE been ways I've distinctly changed my gaming style over the years. However, most of the ways in which I've changed have come about from things that occurred outside of play. However, looking back I can see at least one instance where an in-game occurrence prompted me to reconsider my approach to running games.

This was circa 1990 or '91 and I was running Vampire: the Masquerade for several high school buddies. It was my last year of high school proper, and these guys: Michael, Mike, and Ben had been my main gaming partners for the last couple years. Usually, I was a player in our games (they ran a lot of Palladium: mostly Heroes Unlimited or Robotech) though I had run a couple one-off games (Stormbringer and Rifts). Mostly, though, I'd been burned out on GMing after years of being a Dungeon Master (I'd likewise burned out on D&D, quitting play around the same time 2nd Edition came out), and was content to simply "ride along" as a passenger in someone else's world. That is, until I found Vampire and was inspired to take up the mantle of "Storyteller." There was a lot in VtM that appealed to an angsty 90's teenager like myself. Plus, I'd been a vampire fan since I was a very, very small child.

[fortunately I went to college before the whole "goth" thing started happening, so I never got swept up in that]

[*sigh* I should probably write a series of posts on Vampire and vampires one of these days]

ANYway...I was running Vampire for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the idea of the types of stories the game wanted to tell. World o Darkness games are all about storytelling, don'tcha' know...they just expect the players to do the work of creating the stories (rather than providing tools/systems to facilitate this *ahem*). So, here I was trying to tell stories of grim tragedy and dark romance and lost humanity in an intimate style that I was used to from my experiences back in the day with my prior AD&D group...and I was doing it with dudes who were, well, not all that into it.

As Ben told me during one session, "Look, man, I'm really not comfortable with this."

Ah, blood bonds. Yeah, they REALLY
weren't into this kind of thing!
My friend Michael was into it...but Michael, like myself, was interested in stage and theater and role-playing and character exploration. Ben and Mike? Ben would have rather been playing Steve Jackson's Toon. And Mike once told me, after I'd taken him to see some Oscar-nominated British drama, "Well, Jon, it didn't have any action, and it really wasn't funny, so I don't get why you think it's so great." Yeah, they collected comic books and they enjoyed a space opera anime liked Robotech (loved it, in fact...owned the whole series on VHS and had watched it multiple times), but they couldn't give a shit about anything other than super-powered punch-ups and giant robots exploding...melodramatic love triangles and mutant angst be damned!

So, I learned that sometimes you can have friends, even gamer friends, who aren't on the same page with you. Like, at all. And when you're running a game for them, you have to take this into account and accept it...or else move on. My Vampire games with those guys mostly involved shoot-outs with cops or discipline-powered duels and diablerie, and that's fine...I was a big fan of Near Dark long before VtM was a game. And eventually I moved on, and found other folks at university who had more of my mind-set when it came to role-playing.

You can't please everyone all the time. Not even yourself.

[folks interested in my "Day 4" post for the #RPGaDAY, can check out this link]

Saturday, August 12, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #12

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

Oh, boy. There are plenty of RPGs with good, excellent, or downright amazing artwork. But inspiring?

Mm.

Actually, I don't need to draw this out...one RPG springs immediately to mind, and is the hands-down, no brainer answer to the question. But I suppose I should describe what I think of as "inspiring RPG artwork." To me, I consider artwork in an RPG to be inspiring when it tightly fits the theme of the game, reinforcing it, and inspiring me to take part in the actual play of the game...in a way that coincides with the art being depicted.

Games can include good, even great or amazing artwork, but it's not always "inspiring" in this way. Spirit of 77 has some good art but, while it conjures to mind ideas about the concept of the game, it doesn't "move" me (and some of its "good" art actually detracts from the 70s movie vibe, feeling too much like a 90s comic book). Cadillacs and Dinosaurs had great interior art because it used Mark Schultz's wonderful drawings, but it only made me want to read more Schultz, not play its boring, boring game.

But there are many games with inspiring art: if the artwork in Moldvay's basic book hadn't been so inspiring, would I have fell into role-playing as passionately as I did? And I find Larry Elmore's work in the Mentzer Expert set is exceptionally inspiring for the scale and scope of that book. Hollow Earth Expedition has some great interior art, Stormbringer (1st) has some plates that convey the rather hopelessness of the setting (everyone dies, all the time), and FFG's recent line of WH40K based books (Deathwatch, Only War, etc.) have absolutely incredible interiors unified around their themes.

But for me, the most inspiring interior artwork I've come across has been the interior artwork of Vampire the Masquerade, 1st edition. Tim Bradstreet's black-and-white drawings perfectly capture the spirit and theme of "Gothic Punk," making that an actual thing, where no such term previously existed (to my knowledge, anyway). Along with his gorgeous chapter plates, the opening comic strip detailing a vampire's birth and journey over long centuries perfectly conveyed the scope and scale of the game. The second edition of the game was hardcover with shiny, magazine-like pages that failed to convey the same feeling of the 1st edition printing. The original was like opening some old tome found in an upstairs attic and discovering a mysterious world you never knew existed.  It made me a fan and player of the game for many years.

Yeah, Vampire. Hands down the best when it comes to inspiring interior artwork.

[folks interested in my "Day 2" post for the #RPGaDAY, can check out this link. "Day 3" is posted here. Sorry, I'll be caught up soon]

Friday, August 11, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #11

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which 'dead game' would you like to see reborn?

This is an easy one, and I'll keep this short since it's nearly August 12th as I write this.

Twilight 2000 is a game I've written about in the past. It's quite well done, and as far as "speculative fiction," well...come one, folks. It's not that hard to imagine similar scenarios given our current political climate.

All it needs is a little update...call it Twilight 2019. Put together some stats for our currently military gear, vehicles, drones, etc. Update the tech and unit types for our potential enemigos. And bam...instant revival.

Wouldn't even change the (first edition) rules as written. Just bring it back to life. I'd play it.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #10

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Where do you go for RPG reviews?

Well, in this case it really depends on the game. The easy answer is "Google;" I run a search with the name of the game and "review" and see what the Google-machine returns.

However, that's usually not enough for me. I enjoy reading multiple reviews on a product, attempting to get different perspectives. A lot of reviews these days (unfortunately) spend a bunch of time discussing "production values," something I could care less about. Yes, a nice looking game looks good on the shelf, but (in theory) I'm buying these things to play.

RPG.net used to be my go-to for RPG and reviews...and still is when it comes to older games. But older reviews tend to disappear off the site and the things that actually get reviewed tend towards only the most popular or buzz-worthy games and supplements. It's become kind of a wasteland over there (I never bother reading the comments on reviews).

Furthermore, while I do purchase things off DriveThruRPG (and its sister sites) I pay little attention to the reviews posted to products. Usually, I'm going there to pick up something I've already decided to purchase (same with products on LuLu), so it doesn't matter to me whether some anonymous user posted they like or dislike something. When I want a review I prefer something a bit more "in depth," hopefully with some actual experience playing the thing.

To this end, blogs are probably the most informative places to find on-line reviews...hence the necessity of Google (as different blogs have different systems and genres on which they focus).

However, Google is the EASY answer...the one I can give you, dear readers, if you're looking for an easy way to get reviews (and it is easy, and I do utilize it). But my best answer is to get actual word-of-mouth reviews from people with direct exposure to a game. And in my case, that means talking to the folks at my favorite local game shop, Around the Table Game Pub in Lynnwood. When I'm browsing the shelves and come across an interesting, unfamiliar game, it's the folks behind the counter who I'm first to talk to: usually Tim (Morgan) the co-owner/manager, but Nick, Josh, etc. are usually pretty knowledgable. They're generally pretty knowledgable, able to tell me about the system, the setting, the designers (especially if they're local), and the gameplay. They can tell me if a game is selling, if it's popular, if they see people playing/enjoying the thing, because the game pub is open to folks gaming all week long. And even if they don't have any info on a game, they can sometimes direct me to someone else who knows more about it (even if it's one of their colleagues who's not in the shop that particular day).

These "interactive reviews" are often more helpful than anything I read on-line, if only because I can ask questions (and follow-up questions) specifically pointed at the issues that meet MY needs as a potential customer. I should mention I do this in other shops as well, but the folks at Around the Table are the best.

Plus they serve beer.
; )

Just what it says.

[for folks interested in my "Day 1" post for the #RPGaDAY, check out this link]

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #9

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?

Ten sessions? That's a tough one. And it depends on a lot of factors: how long are these sessions we're talking about? Short, two hour sessions? Or those eight hour marathons sessions we used to play on the weekends in our youth?

Do the ten sessions include prep between sessions? Are we allowed pre- and post-game maintenance phases a la Ars Magica or Pendragon? Are players familiar with the system that's being played? Is this one of those games where you have to kill an entire session just to create characters for the game?

There are a lot of games that can be adapted to this kind of "mini-series" format, but they won't always provide satisfying gameplay. Some RPGs, like Dungeons & Dragons, only show their true strengths over long-term play. Some RPGs, like Ron Edward's Sorcerer, can't be drawn out past three or four sessions without feeling contrived and over-long. Even Call of Cthulhu begs for a shorter time period...if half the group isn't insane after five or six sessions, your GM isn't doing it right.

However, tough as it is, JB does have an answer that satisfies...at least if it was ME that had to run a ten (and only ten) game session. And that answer is The Hunters Hunted from White Wolf.

No, I don't mean that big orange monstrosity they put out in 1999; that was Hunter: the Reckoning, and it helped make a game line (World of Darkness) that was already a little too super heroic even more so (to my chagrin as a fan). In fact, even though I stopped insanely collecting every WW book and supplement about the time of the original Wraith ("the Oblivion") it was the publication of Hunter: the Reckoning which caused me to turn my back on the whole WoD game line (I had still been picking up the occasional Black Dog imprint for Vampire). Ugly.

Nope, I'm talking about the original VtM supplement written by Bill Bridges and published in 1992. At under 90 pages it provided pretty much everything you needed to create and run a Hunter campaign, in the classic vampire horror story style (think Fright Night, Salem's Lot, Bram Stoker, etc.). It's quite good, for what it is, and it's absolutely perfect for a short-term series, whether you want to play over-the-top (Buffy, Blade) or something darker and more grim. Ten sessions is plenty of time for a group of would-be hunters to chase down the handful of vamps (or coterie of mages or clan of werewolves...whatever) inhabiting a medium-sized city.

THIS one! Yes, it's scary...scary fun!
And ten sessions is great for the type of development that occurs in the standard Vampire game (characters start out relatively proficient, and won't grow to super heroic proportions in ten sessions...especially mortals who lack vampiric disciplines). Unlike other systems (Palladium, D20 Modern) there's no pressure to "level up," as there are no levels. Yeah, the short time frame of the saga won't be a hindrance to character advancement in HH.

I've only had the opportunity to run a Hunters Hunted saga once...and (if I remember correctly) it was the last time I ran any World of Darkness game (I ran WW games through the end of high school and all through college...a good five or six years, at least). My main player wanted to try a WoD game, but "didn't want to play a monster;" a Hunters game seemed like the obvious choice. While we had a great time, he decided he wanted to switch to a standard vampire after the first couple of sessions...the overall vibe of playing a mortal had been a little too freaky/scary for him. Too bad, really (especially as we never got back to VtM, switching instead to 3rd Edition D&D), because I had really been grooving on the whole thing. Unleashed my inner Crypt Keeper or something.
; )

I've often thought of dusting off Ye Old Hunters Hunted and rewriting it with a B/X chassis (perhaps using elements of Beyond the Supernatural), but I just haven't had the heart to do so. Bridges wrote a fine little supplement for Vampire. It's one White Wolf game I wouldn't mind running again.

Orcs and Dragons

All apologies for dropping off the face of the Earth (and not yet writing a single #RPGaDay post). Until a few days ago, I thought my August was going to continue much the same as my July. Instead, my wife's work plans changed and, as a result, my entire family got bundled off to Paraguay for three weeks, leaving me all on my lonesome. Just dropped 'em off at the airport yesterday.

So I spent the last few days spending quality time with the wife and kids prior to their departure. 

Yesterday would have been my first chance to write, but instead I spent most of my free time catching up on my reading or boozing...a lot of the latter actually. It takes me a little time to adjust to being single (it doesn't happen all that often) and I get a bit of separation anxiety. Plus, with no one to come home to (besides the beagles), I have a penchant for staying out waaay too late. And then even after I come home I stay up later. It's like I'm afraid to sleep or something.

Anyway, that's my baggage (and hangover) to bear. Today, I am all set to get back on track. A little breakfast at the Baranof, a bit of black coffee, and a lot of rehydration (via water), and I'll be fit as a fiddle. I still have a lot of things to do around the house, but I should also have plenty of time to blog the next few days. Heck, I may even get in some gaming. Hung out with my old college buddy Joel last night, and talked a lot of gaming stuff. Mostly, Star Wars (he's been running the Fantasy Flight edition lately), but also Spirit of 77, which I just picked up at Around the Table yesterday. Turns out his friend wants to run a short campaign of funky action thrills, and I might show up for that. I mean, my evenings are free for the next couple weeks, right?

In D&Dish news, I'd direct your attention once again to Jeff's blog where he's followed up last month's random class advancement tables with a killer version of the half-orc for B/X. Over the years, plenty of folks have tried their hand at writing up a half-orc class for the basic editions of the game (i.e. any edition that treats player species as a class). Vaults of Pandius (the old BECMI repository) had two or three versions, if I remember right. But Jeff's solution is both simple and elegant: it basically assumes you're human (i.e. pick a human class) but allows you to roll on a special "orky" advancement table (instead of your normal class table), provided your charisma score is low enough. In this case, 12 or less.

This is really great, for a number of reasons. It adds flavor to the game without wrecking the whole species as class dynamic (it's the human half that allows the character to become an adventurer). It provides a "perk" to a character that rolled a low stat (charisma in B/X is very helpful, both in negotiating encounters and in determining the number and morale of retainers). It feeds into the classic orc trope of creatures with low morale and untrustworthy followers (I'm not a fan of orcs with "honor" or "warrior traditions"). It adds choice for the player rather than "buffing" an existing class (for example, adding infravision, languages, and orcish bonuses to an existing class).

Anyway. really well done, definitely worth stealing (or deconstructing for my own design purposes). 

The other thing on my mind is Sunday's Game of Thrones episode. Again I was struck by how many "D&Disms" are part of the show's makeup...a lot of it really feels like an OD&D game (one that is drawing heavily from Chainmail for its combat system). I won't drop any "spoilers" here, but I will say that the handling of dragons in the series is the best I've seen since Dragonslayer, the film I hold in highest regard when it comes to portrayals of the legendary creature. Well done, folks!

It is a little sad (well, not really but whatever) that the intellectual property of Martin's work isn't "OGL;" it would be a lot of fun to adapt the series as a setting supplement for S&W, or even B/X. Yes, yes...I know I've written (more than once) that D&D isn't a great fit for the Game of Throne's setting; that's why I spent a bunch of word count writing up a version for Pendragon. But Martin's world isn't one that features characters venturing into supernatural underworlds, looking for ancient treasures...and folks who see a wight (or a giant or a dragon) are generally running for the hills, not blasting it with magic missiles. Still, while some rewriting of the basic rules would be necessary (changing the advancement system), it could be possible...

But that's not something I plan on working on right now.
; )

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #8

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2hrs or less?

If you have time to prep, B/X is a game that runs fairly good in a short session. It depends a bit on how familiar your players are with gaming and the over all concept.

Anyone can grok this one.
But if you don't have time to prep or you're dealing with complete newbies? Jason Morningstar's Fiasco is pretty awesome game that gives you a very cool gaming experience in a very short time. Prep/set-up is part of the play that occurs at table, chargen is a snap, there's no GM, and everyone gets vested in the creation of the story at hand because they're all part of the set-up.

I've only had the chance to play Fiasco on one occasion, but it was quite easy and quite fun. I heartily recommend it. Other games run fast (including both InSpectres and Capes) but few games have the same bite, delivering excellence in such a short period of time. It's a good one to have on the shelf.
: )

Monday, August 7, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #7

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

What was your most impactful RPG session?

I can't remember the exact date, or even the specifics of what occurred in-game. But the most impactful session I've ever played occurred many, many years ago...I'd say about 32 years ago. It was the first time someone other than myself took the role of Dungeon Master at our gaming table. Prior to that session, I had ALWAYS acted as DM for my gaming group...since we'd begun gaming. And while that may have only been three to four years, you're talking about one-quarter to one-third of my entire young life.

I've told this story before, but I'll do it once more: no one taught me how to play Dungeons & Dragons...no older brother or cousins or friends. No grognard introduced me to the game down at the war gamers' local hobby shop. My introduction came from my newly opened Moldvay Basic set, purchased for me by my mother, at my request, off the shelf of the local J.C. Penny toy department (the one at Seattle's Northgate Mall if anyone's wondering...store is still there). It took me a while to digest this new type of gaming, but once I had, I started running it for my brother and our friends.

And for about four years, I continued to run the game...even as we expanded with Cook/Marsh Expert set, and (later) with the various AD&D books...first the Monster Manual, then the Dungeon Masters Guide, and finally, finally the Players Handbook. I ran games for kids my age; I ran games for kids in high school (when I was still in middle school). I wrote adventures, I ran modules, I screwed up various rules, and then (later) corrected those screw-ups as we figured them out. I wasn't interested in "world building" back then...it was all serial adventure, all the time. Some of it pretty cool, but much of a it (looking back) as pretty pedestrian fare.

Hey, we're talking about a kid here.

Still, players kept coming back. And I was enjoying myself...though it's hard to remember my exact feelings/emotions of the time. It was all still NEW and almost completely UNEXAMINED. There was nothing thoughtful or deliberate about the games I was running...except my deliberate attempts to bring new content into the game whenever we got our hands on a new book. But everyone wanted to play and no one wanted to run the game. Heck, I don't know that anyone figured they COULD run the game. I was the guy who knew all the rules, right?

Well, actually, I wasn't the only one who knew the rules. My good friend...my best friend...back in those days was a girl named Jocelyn. She was the youngest of five, but her next closest sibling (a brother) was eleven years older than her, already grown and moved out. Like me, she had a love of fantasy and mythology and folklore. Unlike me, she had a lot of discretionary income and ready access to a good book store. She was the first to acquire the Mentzer Companion and Immortal sets, she was the first one of us to purchase the Unearthed Arcana...heck, she bought me my first Monster Manual as a birthday gift. And she was the first of us to acquire a copy of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, found in a trunk of her brother's old stuff that he'd left behind.

Jocelyn had been my first player after my brother...though she had been present during the first session I ever ran. In fact, I was introduced to her for the first time while running that adventure (a castle siege with a map I'd drawn, based largely on the Keep from B2 I'm sure)...her mother, a friend of my mother, had brought her over to our house that evening, and she'd been bustled off to my room where my brother and I sat, about to embark on our first great adventure.

Anyway...

It must have been around 1985 when she decided she would like to try her hand at being the Dungeon Master. I'm guessing '85 because that's when the UA was released, and she acquired her copy before I did, and hit me with a bunch of mysterious new rules (as a DM) before I ever had a chance to read the book.

And as a DM, Jocelyn was fantastic. Unlike myself, she was interested in world building...creating maps and lands to not only explore but to live in...to escape into. We gamed in her world through two-and-a-half generations of player characters, and I had a blast as a player and even (occasionally) as a part-time Dungeon Master, subbing in for an adventure session or two. Jocelyn forced me to elevate my game...both as a player and a DM.

It was wonderful, and it never would have happened if I had continued to hold the reins of our gaming like some tight-fisted miser. I honestly can't remember the conversation that led us to me "turning over the campaign" to her...I don't remember my feelings on the matter, whether I was happy or excited or had hurt feelings that my game wasn't "good enough." I really don't remember. But probably I was at least a little bit excited at the opportunity to play the game as a player...hell, it's possible I suggested she run the game just so that I could play as a player character. You see, I'd just found this new PC class in the back of the PHB in an appendix, something no one had ever seen before in our games, some strange conglomeration of classes called a bard...

[and that led to my longest running, most powerful, most beloved, and most hated PC of all time...in any game, ever. But that's another story for another time...]

Regardless of the reasons, the most impactful session of my gaming life...and a long life it's been...has to be the first time I let go of the power of the Dungeon Master and just played. And discovered a new world of adventure.
: )

Sunday, August 6, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #6

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

You can game every day for a week. Describe what you'd do!

Game every day this week? With whom?

That's the real question. My family is out of town right now...I could game every day this week. If there was someone to game with. I mean, besides my homeless, alcoholic brother.

[maybe I should get AB to game with me...on the other hand, I already have him helping me with the landscaping project in the back yard. And we get too easily distracted from THAT as it is]

I've played with a large number of players over the years, both on-line and off (more often OFF-line, thank goodness). I miss them as much as I miss the gaming itself. Not because I miss socializing, mind you...I have lots of folks I socialize with, especially now that I'm back in the States.

But the gamers I've played with have been...well, special. Perhaps because role-playing is such an intimate experience...that sharing of an imaginary headspace with other people. Making yourself vulnerable to them, while they reciprocate. Playing imaginary games with the same wild abandon you did as a child in the company of likeminded adults.

I could game every day this week. So what? Everyone's moved away or is on vacation or is working evenings or is busy or...or whatever.

Now, if I could game with anyone I wanted for a week...now that's a question I could get into. Should I list all the folks I'd love to sit down at the table with? AB and Jason and Jocelyn and Scott and Matt and Rob and Crystal and Brandon and Manning and Michael and Mike and Ben and Mark and Mac and Joel and Andrea and Jen and Julie and Sandra (well, maybe not Sandra) and Ben and Moses and Pat and Adam and James (not his real name) and Kris (the Doctor) and Alex and Steve-O and Luke and Josh and Matthew and Matt and Randy and Heron and Vicente (maybe) and Tim and Greg and Kayce and Justin (maybe not) and Will and Red and their buddies (whose names I can't remember) and all those cats from the Story Games room at Dragonflight (Ogre and Liz and Mark and Laura and Eric, etc.).

Let's see...that's some 40+ folks. Give me five or six of 'em every night for a week. I'm sure I can figure out something to play.
; )

Saturday, August 5, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #5

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?

The "spirit of the game?"

Huh.

There are a lot, A LOT, of great covers out there. Game publishers often go "all out" for their cover art. A cover artist is often one of a game's biggest expenses. It's the thing that needs to attract the customer, first and foremost, and hopefully it communicates something about what the game is about to the uninitiated.

Hopefully. Not all publishers do this. Some err on the side of "just get the spectacular cover" and throw a blurb on the back that explains the game's concept. In my opinion, that's a wasted opportunity.

Nope. Not this one!
Even worse (in my opinion), some games offer what I consider a "bait-n-switch," presenting something on the cover of a game that makes you think you've got an idea about the concept, when you really don't. The main example that comes to mind is the old Deadlands from Pinnacle Games (back in their pre-Savage Worlds days). I loved the covers for Deadlands RPG. For many of its supplements, too. But the cover of the main book? The undead gunslinger, all badass and menacing. Somehow, I got the impression that here was a game in which you got to play such grim reapers of destruction. "Spaghetti Westerns with meat," and all that.

Of course, you don't. It's possible you might come back from the dead, but more often than not even that would make you some sort of demon-ridden, GM character. *sigh* So much for communication. Like the cover of the 2nd edition Gamma World...no one is blasting each other with hi-tech energy weapons (at least not to begin with), certainly not to start.

But this question isn't about communicating concept...it's about "capturing the spirit" of the game. The 1st edition Players Handbook for AD&D did a good bit of this, though, my games more often resembled the 1E Dungeon Masters Guide (no party ever got a respite to carefully police bodies, study maps, and gather loot...what are you thinking?). Plus, I don't want to count AD&D (for this question) as there's no single cover/book for the game...

After much inner debate, considering the many, many games I've owned and played over the years, I'm going to have to give the nod to the first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play. Not only does it do a fantastic job of communicating EXACTLY what this game is about (a D&D-esque romp with English punk hair), it's cover quite effectively covers the spirit of the game. This is a game about gritty and grim characters having dirty, bloody adventures. This isn't about heroic posing as players face-off against some dragon (sorry Erol/Tom). No one "poses" in WFRPG. They're too busy spilling icky green blood all over their boots with a double-bitted axe, while the dude who rolled up the rat catcher laggers far behind the party (you have to see the back cover to get that). They're in immediate, mortal danger of being felled by a bunch of loathsome humanoids in some dank and dirty hole. THAT is WFRPG. It plays pretty much exactly like it looks. Except with more PCs dying.
; )


"We got spirit, yes we do!"



Friday, August 4, 2017

RPGaDAY 2017 #4

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

Which RPG have you played the most since August 2016?

Which game have I played the most? Is that a trick question?

I just got back from Paraguay in August of 2016.  Paraguay, in case you didn't know, is a gaming desert. There is no gaming in Paraguay. There's soccer. There's beef. There's poverty. There's a certain lackadaisical attitude towards sexual mores. There's good wine and fairly terrible beer. But gaming? No.

Since I got back I have spent most of my time as a "single parent;" my wife is out of the country two to three weeks out of every month. My evenings are not free for gaming as I have two small children for whom I am responsible. When my wife is in town, she wants my evenings. So gaming? No, not really.

I did play a modified version of Swords & Wizardry with GusL from Dungeon of Signs a couple weeks back. This was over the internet. My six year old would really like to play D&D, but his reading, writing, and comprehension skills aren't quite up to it. Probably in another year or so.

I had planned on going to the Dragonflight this year, but unfortunately a trip we had scheduled had to be changed due to the current heat wave in Montana (ah, yes, global warming strikes), so unfortunately I will be in Missoula the weekend of the convention.

Maybe next year will see some gaming. The last twelve months...hell, the last four years...have been a bit of a crap sandwich in this regard.

[sorry...really can't find anything positive to say on this subject. Maybe that GusL runs a swell game]

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Note of Positivity

This morning I was feeling good, then I started feeling down, then I realized how blessed my life truly was, then I heard some news that made me depressed, then I read an old email from someone whose life I'd touched with my Not So Humble blogging, then I started thinking about how damn angry and petty I've been lately and I started feeling like a shit-heel.

So I decided to write something.

Blogger has been a great boon to my life. Not only has it provided me with a creative outlet...something that I personally need desperately, and (logistically) have a hard time getting...but it has allowed me to become part of a community of folks who share my interests and give me the space to communicate. Not to mention I get plenty of great ideas and good reads from them.

Of course, there's the whole book/game writing thing that's come from writing this blog. I can't even begin to measure the amount of joy I've received from publishing my own work. It's right up there with the joy and pride I take in my own children (the main reason I'm not doing more writing is that I prioritize my kids over myself...usually). Anyway, blogger is responsible for that opportunity as well.

Long time readers know I've often used my blog to blather on about my politics, theology, socialist values, and New Age-y crazy stuff. Some of those probably wonder why I haven't mentioned anything in the last 12 months regarding the state of my country, our last general election, our sitting president, or the direction my government has taken in 2017. There's good reason for that: I decided a while back that I didn't want to discuss (i.e. "vent") any of it, when it wouldn't accomplish anything constructive. Regarding my feelings (and who cares about those?): suffice is to say that I am deeply, deeply disappointed...and mainly disappointed with my fellow Americans. 

But no one wants to hear that. It's bad enough that a man so blessed in so many aspects of his life (i.e. me) should take the time to badmouth game designers he's never met.

So, I don't blog about that and will continue to attempt to not blog about that, unless I can find a way to be constructive. However, I wonder if I should extend the same policy to blogging regarding my game and design thoughts. The "if you can't say anything nice, say nothing at all" policy. Certainly, I have done a bit of that already: there are some designers, publishers, and bloggers who are noticeably absent from the looooong list of folks I read and write about. For these people, I have taken the stance that (assuming there is "no such thing as Bad Publicity") I will not be giving them ANY publicity, of any sort. Been doing that for years.

[yes, that means that if I DO write about you...even in a "negative" way...that you are NOT on my personal black list. Take that as something!]

But maybe I should extend that policy to all my criticism. Cut the bile out of the blog. Only talk about the positive that I see -- only ADD TO the existing designs out there, not ridicule them, or tear them down, or point out "flaws" that only I perceive. 

Or maybe I should just do something "fluffy." I was reading Autokratik's blog yesterday, discussing his original reasons for starting this #RPGaDAY thing that some people do in August (I've never participated in it) and "sappy" as it might be (his word), I find that I really like the overall vibe of the thing. I'm not sure there ever was a "negative undercurrent" within the hobby itself -- perhaps I didn't frequent the correct forums -- but it's not a bad idea to shine a light on some of our positive thoughts/feelings on the hobby. Participating in such a project might be a way to try out "no negativity" for a month.

Just to see how much I can stomach.

Of course, I'm already three days behind (it's the 3rd of August as I write this). I suppose I could back date my other entries in blogger to give the illusion that I'm time traveling back to the start of the contest. Yeah, I think I'll give it a shot...it couldn't be any worse than the April A-Z Challenge. And I'll try to be as positive as possible.

Really. I promise!
: )

Not sure why this didn't show up in color.

RPGaDAY 2017 #3

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

How do you find out about new RPGs?

Ha! Usually by going to my local game store and browsing the shelves, looking for interesting items.

Back in the "good old days" we had Dragon magazine, and it was chock full of advertisements for games (and not just TSR games...at least not at first). But I stopped reading Dragon circa 1987, and through most of my high school days I would make it a point of stopping into the U-District game shop (I believe it was Games & Gizmos) on a daily basis while waiting for the bus that would take me home. That's where I picked up Rifts. That's where I picked up Vampire: the Masquerade. That's where I thumbed through dozens of GURPS world books (never actually buying any).

In the 90s I lived and partied on Capitol Hill where another Games & Gizmos would supply most of my wargaming needs (Blood Bowl, WH40K) for the decade, along with a handful of new RPGs, including Ars Magica and various World of Darkness gems (I really liked Mummy).

But both those place is long gone. In the 21st century I had Gary's Games in Greenwood where I would browse at least once a week (often more). Sadly, Gary's closed down while I was in Paraguay, and Greenlake Games shortly after my return (about eight months back). So now my options are to hit WotC's Cafe Mox in Ballard, or make the long drive to Edmonds to visit Around the Table Game Pub.

Usually I end up in Edmonds.

I wish there was a publication or newsletter or mailing list I could subscribe to that provided me with information on new and upcoming games (probably there is one, and I just don't know about it). I hate surfing publishers web sites for their "news" which is usually not all that informative and only promotes their own material. If I looked around I could probably find a blog that dedicated itself to this kind of stuff. But right now, about the only one I can think of is Tenkar's Tavern, and he tends to confine his news to Old School products. Usually.

Besides, visiting the game shop gets me on my feet and out of the house. That's a good thing!
; )

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Shhh...Top Secret!

One thing you don't see on my blog is a bunch of posts on kickstarter projects. Personally, I prefer to purchase things that already exist ("a bird in the hand" and all that jazz). And as for my own projects, I prefer NOT to crowd-source for a number of reasons:
  • I don't want to rely on others to fund my projects (i.e. I'm afraid folks won't show up for me)
  • I'm not confident enough in my organizational abilities that I could set realistic goals 
  • I tend to work in a fairly small scale...the kind I can fund out of my own pocket (or with the money I've already generated from book sales)
SO...I've never been a backer of kickstarter projects. At least, not until now.

This week, I backed my first ever kickstarter: Merle M. Rasmussen's TOP SECRET: NEW WORLD ORDER, a new edition of the Rasmussen's somewhat beloved classic.

I say "somewhat" because, while it's fairly well known to folks in this area of the blog-o-sphere...it was one of TSR's flagship games back in the day, heavily supported (especially in Dragon magazine), and was one of only a very few "secret agent" games on the market...I almost never see anyone writing about it. I'd guess that it isn't played all that much these days.

I know that I don't play it, and I like it and have quite a bit of material for it sitting on my shelf. I never bought into Top Secret/S.I. (the second edition)...all my product is for the original game. And I did play it a bit, back in the day. But it's not an easy game to run or manage. Most (all?) of the published adventures for the game are set-up much like any site-based, dungeon crawl: go to this installation and acquire [target]...said "target" being kidnapped scientists or politicians or secret plans or whatever other type of loot/McGuffin you can imagine.

In many ways (and, yes, I realize this is going to sound like bashing) Top Secret was still Dungeons & Dragons, but with a very specific, genre-enforced tone. You will be stealthing into the dungeon, not simply kicking in doors with mindless abandon. You will be looking to accomplish a specific goal. Due to time pressures you will not be wasting time on needless distractions (extraneous fighting and looting). You are required by your employer to work as a team, refraining from intra-party conflict. And, of course, any special equipment (i.e. magic items) will be provided on a "need only" basis (as determined by the GM).

Most PC equipment, in fact, is subject to the whim of the GM/administrator. For instance, if the mission calls for insertion via scuba equipment (c.f. Operation: Rapidstrike!), the PCs are probably going to be precluded from bringing the heavily modified machine guns they've been spending their earnings on. While this makes perfect genre sense, it takes away a bit of player agency. A large part of D&D is one's proper selection of equipment (trying to get maximum utility with minimal encumbrance)...but there aren't any portable holes in the spy genre.

[I suppose nanites and super-micronization could take the place of bags of holding...but I digress]

At least you get a spear-gun.
Yet despite this rather simple premise ("constrained D&D"), the game's major systems, especially combat, aren't nearly as streamlined as the classic fantasy adventure game. The firearms rules aren't nearly as chunky as Aftermath, but its still burdened with an over-abundance of stats and modifiers based on specific makes and models of weapon, as well as rules for varying damage by hit location. Melee combat is worse, requiring characters to choose specific maneuvers from large tables determined by type of hand-to-hand combat (fortunately, "martial arts" is a single table) and cross-reference them against an opponent's secretly chosen defensive moves. It's not as chunky as firearms combat, but it IS clunky, with very slow "search & handling"...though the Administrator's Screen (which I own) helps cut down on this somewhat.

I understand that it's all in the name of genre emulation, BTW, but it's a tough one to become comfortable running. And the nature of the beast is that there are specific combinations of moves and defenses that are favored over others, to the degree that the table could probably be cut-down with little detriment to the system.

There are a couple of other poor design flaws in the game (spending cash on cosmetic surgery to increase one's Charm and Deception abilities...with no max cap...which, in turn, increases one's Evasion score and, thus, Hand-to-Hand combat ability), but it has a lot of good ideas, too, especially with regard to reward systems (as I've blogged about before). But Top Secret remains one of the few old TSR RPGs that has never been retrocloned in some way, shape, or form.

Well, unless you count Haven: City of Violence.

Over the years, I've often considered doing something with Top Secret: re-writing it to my specs, or just running a game as is (regardless of clunk and chunk). Usually this happens when I see some action-packed spy thriller that carries a TS "vibe." The Man from UNCLE. Mission Impossible. Stuff like that (no, not James Bond...he belongs to his own sub-genre, one that doesn't fit the "spy team" motif). Recently, I watched one of these (Mission Impossible 2) and it got me considering the game again...but then I found the kickstarter project for the new edition. And I decided to become a backer (it was already fully funded by the time I ponied up, but I was able to ensure I'd get a copy of the hard cover edition, plus some goodies).

Anyway...the game's not supposed to arrive at my doorstep till November (hopefully in time for my birthday), but I can wait. I'm interested to see what Merle's new vision of the game looks like, how it will play, where it's focus is. My son is VERY excited...he watched the video on the kickstarter page and said, "Ooo! Papa! We have to get this game!" I'm not sure he can wait till November, but...well, patience is a trait that everyone in my family is in desperate need of developing.

Later, Gators.
: )

RPGaDAY 2017 #2

From the #RPGaDAY2017 challenge (info here):

[as I'm starting this thing a little late, I shall be doubling up on my daily posts until I catch up. Early posts will be post-dated to the date they were originally supposed to appear]

What is an RPG you would like to see published?

Again, this is a question that's easy to answer with "my own," but I'll leave aside MY various works in progress. and give you something I'll probably NEVER publish, due to licensing reasons:

XENOZOIC TALES the RPG.

I am a huge fan of Mark Schultz's work, though I admit to only knowing it as Xenozoic Tales, not Cadillacs and Dinosaurs (I never purchased the Marvel comics, nor did I watch the cartoon that shared its name). Yes, I'm fully aware that GDW put out an RPG for Cadillacs & Dinosaurs years back. I own (owned?) a copy that my younger beagle chewed the corner off. Using the same basic system as the excellent Twilight 2000, I can honestly say that GDW's Cadillacs & Dinosaurs is the most boring RPG ever published. Oh my gosh it's dull...which, if you're familiar with Shultz's setting, you've got to find pretty damn amazing.

Here's the thing: the Twilight 2000 RPG was written for a very specific setting, namely, soldiers operating on their own, wandering through a post-WWIII Europe. It's like a combo of Saving Private Ryan and Mad Max, without the gonzo mutations and monsters found in post-apoc games like Gamma World or Mutant Future. The players' concerns are with finding food, fuel, and ammunition (not necessarily in that order), and unlike more cinematic games, bullet counting is absolutely necessary...as is receiving the brass shell casings from the floor of your HumVee.

The Cadillacs & Dinosaurs RPG takes T2K's system, strips out all the military trappings (weapons, vehicles, ranks and occupations), all the setting trappings (Europe, radiation, combat stress, etc.) and adds a couple stat blocks for basic dinosaurs plus a synopsis of Mark's world setting. That's it. Fin.

I did not shed any tears for my copy's destruction. Buddy the beagle was simply putting it to better use...as a chew toy.

Come on...this deserves a cool game!
Xenozoic Tales is a fantastic setting with lots of things weird and wonderful to explore, not to mention action and adventure. It's a setting that really cries out for its own system...one that digs into the setting and facilitates exploration of the ideas and concepts it creates, not just a handful of percentile-based skill choices and a bag of hit points. Hell, even Gamma World would make a better fit as a system, if you limited the character choice to pure strain humans and added some (abbreviated) skill system to model engineering and lost science arts.  You could 'port the dinosaurs into the game from your AD&D Monster Manual using the conversion notes in the 1st edition DMG...I mean it wouldn't be that hard to do!

But my preference would be to see a new game, designed from the ground up within Mark's strange and beautiful world. A game designed with consideration for the material, rewarding the recovery of knowledge, perhaps expounding the theme of ecological preservation and natural balance that runs through the setting. Plus giant spiders, subterranean lizard folk, dinosaurs, and crawling telepathic brains.

Yeah, I'd love to see such an RPG get published. Hell, I'd settle for Schultz writing more Xenozoic Tales (where's that kickstarter?). But it probably won't be me publishing it...I sincerely doubt I could afford the license.