Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ponderings on a Gameless Sunday

Normally, missing my weekly gaming fix causes me to fall into an episode slightly reminiscent of the withdrawal scene in Trainspotting...well, minus the dead baby hallucinations.

On this gameless Sunday, however, I have eased the pain with a Bioware game (which act in much the same fashion as Renton's opium suppositories when I can't play the "real thing"), and I've been paging gingerly through the Alternity Player's Handbook, making mental comparisons between the two systems. I will say that Alternity seems to have a lot more complexity, which is a strike against it, but it also seems to have a lot more flavor. It also seems to have less bookkeeping and less rules for what happens when you fail to pay off your mortgage, so we'll see... at any rate, I need to make my decision soon.

Now, I do have a legit question for you lads and ladies out there in blogland. I understand there is some commonality between Chaosium's Basic Role-playing and Newt Newport's OpenQuest. If anyone out there is familiar enough to know, please tell me: is OpenQuest similar enough to stand in for BRP? I ask only because I have a (mostly theoretical) interest in Chaosium's new "Chronicles of Future Earth" setting, but the interest is not strong enough to push me to buy both the BRP corebook and Chronicles. I need another gaming corebook like I need a fourth nipple, but I'm always down for new settings to refresh my imagination (read: steal from.) Please to be answering question.

In other news, a fellow with whom I have occasionally gamed (he was present for about half my AD&D game) has informed me of his intention to run Palladium Fantasy 2nd edition. I wonder if I can fit any more gaming into my schedule...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

I've recently come back into contact with some of the folks from my college sci-fi club, folks with whom I gamed for several years. Hearing about what they are gaming really reminds me of how much my style of doing things has changed since I departed my hometown some six years ago. Back then, my gaming was all about characterization and the telling of fictional stories with lots of narrative and layers. Now, my gaming is predominately about exploring a fictional world and doing whatever you want in said world.

I remember a Mage game with this particular crew, and it was full of pathos and catharsis and all sorts of narrative stuff like that... and I'm not sure I'd even be into that type of thing anymore, although the Shadowrun game I am currently playing in does have a lot of characterization and what I guess you would call "immersion." I know that I've thought a lot more about the life, background, and personality of Count Hackula than I have about any character since perhaps my wife's last World of Darkness game (which she ran in 2008.)

It will be interesting to see where 2011 takes me, gaming-wise. I wonder if my two play styles are really as mutually exclusive as I have convinced myself.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fingers Crossed

My Shadowrun GM is in the hospital. He'll be okay, and they'll probably let him out tomorrow, but he needs to take it easy for awhile. I'm glad he's going to be all right.

Normally, the group plays Talisman when we can't play the current campaign, but I am a bit behind on grading and my lesson plans for this week could use some extra work, so we're not meeting. This is also the off-week for Traveller.

Bleh.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Priorities

I have mentioned that I had backup systems in case Traveller proves to be too tedious and full of bookkeeping and mortgage woes. I was talking over the systems the other night with the missus, and I briefly explained Alternity and Stars Without Number. I explained that those games started all characters off relatively inexperienced, similar to D&D.

"Wait," she interjected, "you don't have to be thirty or forty at the start of the game?"

"No," I replied, "You-"

"Let's switch!"

...guess you had to be there.

In all seriousness, if we change, I think we'll probably go with Alternity. The Traveller group consists of players who have experience with, and possibly even a preference for, d20. From what I see, many elements in Alternity were precursors to the d20 system. It's the stepping stone between 2nd edition and 3rd edition. Personally, Stars Without Number is a bit more appealing to me, because of it's older edition foundations, but I can roll with Alternity. I actually bought the Star*Drive campaign guide, which I have read good things about.

...and like about 40% of all second-hand TSR material I purchase, it smells like old ganja.

I think we'll roll another session of Mongoose Traveller where I try to feature more elements of the system, as many as I can in fact. Then I will run a demo one-shot of Alternity, and we'll see what the group likes better.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Runnin' them Shadows

Sunday's session of Shadowrun 4 was great. I had a blast.

It had nothing whatsoever to do with it being Shadowrun 4.
The session had lots of great character interaction, world immersion, investigation, and players being free to do their own thing and motivated enough to actually do so.

I still don't like having to chuck nine or ten goddamn dice every single time I do anything.

The rules for wireless/AR are still simultaneously complicated and vague. Often the GM just gives me an on the spot ruling, but oft-times I feel like I am "talking him into things" with technobabble. He has started planning wireless nodes as parts of the adventure, however, which is good for me.

Many of us in the group agree that our tastes have drifted away from games that are overly complex. I would call Shadowrun somewhat beyond my complexity threshold, but I have endured thus far and will continue to do so because the group, the GM, and the campaign are all highly satisfying.

Oddly enough, I do find that I miss M's RIFTS game a little and hope we actually do return to it one day. Man, these glasses must be seriously fucking rose-colored. (Actually, the campaign itself was a blast, even though we had to sort of keep the rules system in check to keep it from giving us all brain aneurysms.)

We have lost a few people, and potential new players have failed to materialize, leaving the group at five people. I certainly hope we don't lose anymore, though I think we have found the "core" of this group, and I'm comfortable with that.

Long Live Sunday Gaming!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Odd...

One single character out of place in my blog's URL will take you to some Biblical prophesy website. Said website's tendency to capitalize everything and use multiple exclamation marks only compounds the site's credibility.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Launch!

My Traveller game started last night. The setting was nowhere near where I had wanted it to be, but thanks to Christian's recent post on his old buddy's setting, I've decided that less is more and I'm done with mapping and plotting. There is something to be said for letting things develop naturally... which I guess is a way of saying that I was flying by the seat of my pants, and will continue to do so.

I will also say immediately that the money/cargo/passenger/ship operations stuff in Traveller is fucking boring. Roll to see how many passengers get on your ship. Roll to see how many tons of freight are available. Roll to see if you can deliver mail for 25k. Calculate how many runs you have to make this month to pay ship mortgage, fuel, supplies/life support, crew salaries, maintenance, blah blah blah.

One possible solution is that the player who owns the ship and I will do the run stuff prior to the start of each game session, and the adventures will take place during down time. (Unless something notable happens during the run, like a pirate attack, etc.) The accounting thing is an immediate turn off, though.

We had one combat, which I threw in mostly to give players a brief demo of the combat system. I also threw in a plot hook, which runs kind of contrary to how I ran AD&D, but I haven't actually GMed anything since July and haven't had a campaign up since May... so I had to throw myself a frickin' bone.

I like the player characters and I like the NPCs I've created so far, including the NPC steward who is of a hermaphromorphic race that I just sort of made up on the spot.

Oh, I also decided to go with the Kreesh for the vampiric race I generated on Seventh Sanctum. (I posted my Kreesh dilemma a few days ago) I'm glad I put this race into the setting, because my mere description of them gave my players the willies. I think it was my proudest moment last night.

I do consider Traveller to be "on probation." If I cannot find a way to make the tedious bits less tedious, and if the game system itself gives me the blahs, I might have to switch the game to Alernity or Stars Without Number.

I am excited to be running my own game, and excited to have the missus back at the table for the first time in nearly two years.

The original plan was to play once every other week, but I might have to do some schedule adjustment for February...I want to make sure I don't lose momentum while the campaign is still in this nascent stage.

Monday, January 17, 2011

My Mind Wanders to the Frozen North

I'm in a very Nordic mood when I think of fantasy games these days.

I blame it on Beowulf. At the beginning of each new semester, I teach a very annotated version to my seniors. We first read each section, then I use a projector to show them that section as depicted in the excellent graphic novel adaptation by Gareth Hinds. (Loook it up...seriously. it has my favorite depiction of Grendel ever.) After that, we watch a very small part of the CG Beowulf movie (yes, the one with Angelina Jolie as Grendel's mom.) The opening scene in Herot is really well done, with bawdy atmosphere, drunken boasting, roaring fires, and busty wenches... it really gets my D&D motor running. (This is, of course, prior to the arrival of Grendel, who is depicted as a giant Smeagol-looking bastard with Down Syndrome, but that's another rant for another time...) I actually can't really stand the rest of the movie, but that first bit at Herot... yes.

I kind of want my next fantasy outing (likely to be some form of D&D, but who knows...) to be somewhat Celtic/Nordic/Viking-ish. By no means do I want to do anything historical, but I want mead-halls and boasting and scops. I want trolls and giants. I want frosty mountains and perilous sea-voyages.

I like the idea of treasure and glory, which, if you see treasure as spoils won from battle, that really clicks with the old D&D experience system. Yeah, you killed the giant, and the scops will be singing your praises all the way to Iceland, but where are the spoils of war?!

Incidentally, I have seen two film versions of the tale of Beowulf, and both of them are equally atrocious, though both of them had some promise. (One had Gerard Butler as Beowulf, for chrissakes) I'm aware of a third version, a sci-fi adaptation from the 90's starring Christopher Lambert, but today Josh from my gaming group informed me that it is ill-advised to watch it without alcohol nearby.

Ah, but I digress... this is a blog about gaming, not my amateur movie reviews. I'm thinking Trollsmith's infamous "Shields Will Be Splintered" will need to be in full effect, as might some of the materials from Rob Conley's Majestic Wilderness. (In particular the Berserker class) Horned Helmets. Ships with curved prows. Funeral pyres.

I have tomorrow off from work...perhaps I should scribble a few notes on paper.



...hot damn, an entry that isn't entirely about Traveller and/or Shadowrun!

Traveller Race 3- the Kreesh (or the Visaan, I haven't decided...)

One of the random races I generated is an all-female race of blood drinkers. Appropriately enough, one of their random traits is that they derive great pleasure from the taking of sustenance and are, in fact, addicted to it. (Though I think that's kind of dumb; aren't all living creatures essentially addicted to eating?) They have an advanced sense of touch. They come from a world known for exotic life. They are also shell-covered, move around on many legs, and are the result of inter- special breeding.

Well, now. My mind went two places for this race.

The first race, which I'm calling the Kreesh, are insectoid. They actually resemble the "roly-poly" bugs, but with dark colored shells, chitin in the red-blue-purple spectrum of colors, with lots of legs and tiny, hook-like arms. They would be about the size of a large dog, coming up the the waist on an average human male. I imagine their society based on hives and similar in structure to ants or termites, with most members being technically female but really genderless aside from a queen. I had also imagined them as an offshoot of the Hivers, though I'm not sure I'm going to use any original Traveller races so that would be out the window.

Another place I went in my mind is the Visaan. take away the shells (or make them have the standard Star Trek-ish bony head structure) and make them resemble humanoids and be more like mammals. Essentially, turn them into the Hot Green/Hot Blue Chick Race (from my list of Essential Cliched Alien Races posted awhile back) but make them the Hot Red/Blue/Purple race. Option on changing the blood to bio-energy or something similar.

I'm kind of leaning toward the first option, if only because my wife frowns on the idea of a race of hot vampire chicks. (She does, however, think there needs to be a Hot Blue/Hot Green chick race; she's rooting for Blue if only because the likes the asari from Mass Effect so much.) I also like the idea of having my universe populated with some major races who aren't basically humanoid. (That's one of the reasons I almost kept the Hivers, in fact.)

In game terms, the Kreesh have Natural Armor at 2. They have Weak Social Standing (-2) because they tend to be feared and mistrusted by other major races. (It's that whole blood-drinking-and-loving it thing) They also come from a strictly structured society in which workers and drones are far more common than the higher functioning breeders/nobles.

The Visaan, on the other hand, have the penalty to Social Standing, but are also psionic. I'm thinking their powers are limited to something like an energy drain. (I'd have to look it up, as I'm not all that familiar with Trav's psionics system)

Thoughts, dear readers? Which iteration of the race should I go with?

I'm going to finish up one or two more "major" races and then just kind of fill the minor ones in as necessary. I need to flesh out the galactic landscape with a few major players.

Traveller Race 2: The T'ziri

The T'ziri are roughly the size of humans, though they tend to be perhaps one or two inches taller on average. They are covered in bony plates the color of ash, with lighter and darker variations possible. Most T'ziri have heads shaped similar to that of hammerhead sharks, though other head configurations do exist (and among T'ziri, this constitutes one's "race," much the way humans with different skin tones and facial features do) Other head shapes can resemble other types of Earth sea-life such as anglers or cat-fish. Despite these appearances, T'ziri are not aquatic.
T'ziri often carve elaborate runes and symbols into their bone plates, much the way humans modify their bodies with piercings.

Recently, a strange disease has been manifesting among the T'ziri, the cause of which has baffled the galactic community. The T'ziri seem to have incredibly low fertility, along with an alarming increase in degenerative nerve disorders. If these problems are not soon solved, the T'ziri could be extinct in a century or two.

T'ziri are a highly religious, mystical people. Their religion involves finding one's place in the universe.

All T'ziri are psionic to some degree.

In game terms, the T'ziri have 1 point of natural armor. They are always psionic and roll for Psionic strength as a normal attribute. They have Weak Endurance (-2) due to the strange degenerative condition that seems to be plaguing their people.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My semi-random Traveller Races part 1: The Eldreth

Using Seventh Sanctum, which I mentioned in a recent post, I generated a gaggle of random alien races. I am currently sifting through them to find the ones I'd like to use. Some of them require modification, but a couple of them tuned out good enough to use right off the page. The names are of my own creation, as are a lot of the deeper details regarding description.

*The Eldreth- An enigmatic race of bio-mechanical humanoids. Eldreth stand between 6-7 feet tall, with thin, elongated limbs. They have vaguely insectoid features and their mottled flesh can be nearly any shade of gray or black, with darker, charcoal gray colored Eldreth being the most common. Their eyes are multi-faceted and bio-luminescent, with just about any hue represented.
Being bio-mechanical, each Eldreth is born with a series of circular plugs running up both arms, both legs, and the spine. Their chests sport three larger plug interfaces.(Think The Matrix) On their home world, Eldreth make heavy use of bio-mechanical tools and weapons that plug in to their bodies and are powered by the bio-electricity of the Eldreth anatomy.
Each Eldreth receives, at the time of adulthood, a biomechanical suit of armor, similar to a TL12 Vacc-Suit that can only be used by the individual Eldreth. (It plugs into his bio-mechanical ports.) The suits are usually blue in color, often with insignias indicating the Eldreth's clan, occupation, organizations to which he belongs, etc. Eldreth do not need the suit to survive in most standard environments, but they do have some cultural taboos about being seen unarmored by non-Eldreth races.
As a culture, Eldreth value games of cerebral skill over those of a physical nature. This is likely due to the physically awkward nature of the Eldreth. Of all the races, they seem to harbor the least amount of xenophobia; in fact, most Eldreth seem to have a propensity for learning about new ideas and new civilizations. (Even if they don't agree)
In game terms:
*Eldreth have Weak Dexterity (-2 to rolls, racial maximum is 10)
*Eldreth, being bio-mechanical, require high technology medical care. (TL 12+) For every TL below 11, the equipment, treatment, or medic has a -1 DM to the roll.
*Eldreth receive Vacc-Suit 0 and Diplomat 0 for free at character creation.
*Eldreth begin play with a customized TL12 Vacc-Suit.
*Eldreth have a stat called Charisma that replaces Social Standing when dealing with non-Eldreth races. This stat rolls at +1 and racial maximum is 16. (In increases whenever an increase to Social Standing is indicated.)
*Eldreth are never psionic and cannot become psionic in any way.


Up next: the T'ziri, a bony-plated race of mystics.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Shadowrun Sunday

We played Shadowrun again today. I'm still not in love with SR4. For the most part, I find the system to be clunky and inelegant (which is actually a conclusion I am arriving at for all systems where I have to roll more than two or three dice on a regular basis). I have to roll nine dice for initiative. One player rolls something like a dozen or so dice to make his attack rolls, and he uses two guns and gets three initiative passes per round. Combat is sloooo-oooow, though this is a problem that SR3 had as well. I don't remember 2 well enough to say if combat was slow, but I'm betting that this is a problem that SR has had since the beginning.

The GM and I both still have problems with the way the Matrix works. While I understand the concepts in the chapter, (AR, AROs, DOTs, PANs, and other assorted acronyms) I'm not sure what it takes to actually do anything. The GM agrees that it is vague to him as well. What, precisely, is the procedure for opening a door via hacking? Well, we're sort of sure. I feel that the Matrix was dealt with more specifically in SR3, although we found deckers unplayable because of the time lag between their Matrix runs and the actual, physical run. While SR4 has done a great job with the whole AR thing (giving hackers the ability to act in real time with the rest of the players), we feel that the hacking is a little vague and open-ended.

I do love my actual character himself, and find playing him is enjoyable, though mostly the parts of him that are not on a character sheet. I also like the other characters for very similar reasons, as well as the NPCs and the GM's version of the Redmond Barrens. I am having vastly more fun roleplaying than actually playing the mechanical game of Shadowrun.

Honestly, system-wise, I'd rather be playing this using Savage Worlds/Interface Zero or Daring Tales of the Sprawl. However, I am enjoying the campaign setting itself and can tolerate the system for the moment. Part of me wants to keep reading and studying the book until I feel that I better understand the Matrix rules, but another part of me thinks that there isn't a whole lot more there to understand, and that it's really up to the GM's interpretation. I also sort of balk at the idea of having to study so much for a tabletop game. I am willing to study, and even study something difficult, but I feel the enjoyment I get out of SR4's mechanics isn't worth the effort it would take to study the game system.

Well, what the hell... I ignored the crappy system of RIFTS to play in an otherwise enjoyable campaign setting (well, after La Revolucion, that is) and I can ignore the warts of SR4 to enjoy the game we're playing. Yes, I would like to play a more elegant rules system, but what can you do? I hardly expect the entire group to conform to my tastes.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Traveller Session 0

My wife and one of the other players made their characters last night. We've got three PCs, some vague back story, some half-formed alien races, a mostly mapped sub-sector... I think we're good to go. I'll put up my alien races as I finish them.

I have one possible misgiving about Traveller. I have a player who started with an unprecedented 22% ownership in a Free Trader. He also picked the stock model, getting another 10% off. Even owning nearly 1/3 of a very modest ship, he has a mortgage payment of about 103,000 credits per month. In addition, he has to pay 22k in supplies/life support and 3k in maintenance. I think it also costs about 45k to refuel the ship, which must be done twice a month. Oh, add the 2k per month to pay for an NPC steward, since they want to make money porting passengers and none of them have the skill. That puts operating costs somewhere around 220,000 credits per month.
I did a quick, back-of-the-envelope sample run where the players had a cargo hold nearly full of freight and most of the state rooms and low berths filled, and they managed to pull in about 130,000 for a two week period. This means that in four weeks, they could pull in an average of 260k, assuming luck holds out.

So... this seems a little tedious. Unless I ran the numbers wrong (a distinct possibility), the characters will be spending all their time running passengers and cargo. That seems a mite tedious. We'll give it a chance and see how it plays out. If the game really does become a budget balancing exercise, I have a few ideas in mind:

1. Let the freight and passenger stuff happen in the background. Adventures, actual play sessions, will focus on what happens when the characters take a special job/mission or have some kind of unusual encounter. This takes away from the sandbox style I have come to prefer when I run a campaign, though.

2. Ignore it, and simply say that the players must spend X% of their money on upkeep.

3. If it really is tedious, or the other two solutions don't work the way I want them to, then convert to Alternity or D6 Space (Actually West End Star Wars, but everything I need is in there) or maybe do it with Mini-Six.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

'Twas the Night Before Traveller...

Tomorrow we are making characters and deciding on a campaign style for my Traveller game. I doubt very much we'll actually get any playing time in. I've not mapped the subsector entirely, though I do have a number of planets. I have my alien races partially done, but nobody seems to want to play an alien, so I didn't want to commit the time. What I have will work for now, though. Of my five players, one of them never got back to me with a definite yea or nay, and one (who will be playing remotely via Skype) cannot start until February, leaving me with a three person party.

I think we're just going to roll with it anyway.

If I have learned anything from my profession that applies to my hobby, it is this: one can benefit only so much from preparation; there comes a time when you just have to jump in and roll with it. (Eeew...no pun intended there)

If nothing else, it will be nice to get the band back together.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Brief, Mostly Obligatory Retrospective

So, my blogging heads into its third year.

This year was a bit of a roller coaster for me, gaming wise. At year's start, I was running my beloved AD&D 1st edition campaign, which fell apart in May, much to my chagrin. After that, I ran a brief dungeon crawl game of house-rules Cyclopedia with some of the guys I train with. That only lasted a few sessions due to massive flaking out. I run some B/X D&D and Mutant Future at the local convention in July, and haven't run anything since.

Playing-wise, I joined my current Sunday group back in May. Back then it was RIFTS only. It was a goddamn disaster. The GM was the biggest douchebag I have ever gamed with. I was ready to quit when the group had La Revolucion, and he was replaced. Now we take turns running things, said DB moved away, and we aren't just RIFTS; we play Deadlands, Shadowrun, and have a number of other things on the docket (an adaptation of the Midnight d20 setting to Savage Worlds, AD&D1, Mutant Future, a homebrew based on Traveller, etc.)

As we start 2011, I am less than a week away from starting up my Traveller game. I find that I'm a little nervous... I haven't run anything since July. I've had longer breaks than this, but for some reason I feel a bit unprepared. I think maybe "underconfident" is a better term. I wish I had used more of this break to prepare for the game, but there was just so much slacking to be done.

I'm sure that I'll adapt quickly to being back in the saddle, as it were. Do you all feel out of place/off your game after a significant break?

Odd... in 2009 and 2010, I had 171 posts each year. I guess my goal for 2011 is to have exactly 171 posts...