Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Holidays Suck For Gaming/Getting Stuff in the Mail Does Not Suck

The holidays have started to take their toll on gaming. My Savage Worlds game is officially on hiatus for the remainder of 2011. Sad face.

The good news... I got a copy of Loviatar #5 in the mail yesterday.

Been toying around with G+. It seems to take me an inordinate amount of time to actually get a hangout up and running. My camera doesn't want to show video until I start and stop a few times. If I can get this perfected, I'd like to run a pilot game for an old friend of mine who is not going to be back for Christmas this year.

Gah. Is it Sunday yet?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Verdant Expanse (The Anti-Wasteland)

I started drawing a campaign map a few weeks ago. I have no plans for an actual campaign, but just felt the need to do so. I draw a new map for every campaign I run, and one bad habit I get into is the compulsion to put some kind of blasted wasteland to the north or west of the land in which the characters will begin the game. Wastelands aren't bad in and of themselves, but drawing one on most of my maps is a crutch I need to get past.

So, on this map, I decided to have an anti-wasteland...instead of a place that has been rendered barren or blasted or uninhabitable by a disaster, I have added a place that is overly verdant. You could almost call it virulently fertile. The fauna and flora are mostly hostile to demihumankind, and they are unlike any of the flora or fauna found anywhere else in the campaign world...although this is a fantasy setting, the lifeforms in this verdant expanse still seem "unnatural" to this world's ecologies. Plants might have animal characteristics, be mobile, be covered in eyes, etc. Animals are bizarre hybridizations of mammal and insect, land and sea life, or simply take some shape completely unfamiliar to the campaign world.

The PCs can get involved in numerous ways: they might have to cross through the Verdant Expanse to reach an otherwise unreachable place. (Or perhaps they are pressed for time and do not have the luxury of a lengthier course that bypasses this area) Alchemists, wizards, and sages might pay handsomely for specimens (living or dead) from within.

There is also, of course, the possibility that the Verdant Expanse is growing, swallowing up the land around it in its alien fronds. If something is not found to stem the growth, civilized lands may be in danger in a few years...or months...
For that matter, the Expanse might have grown over some important structure the PCs need to enter or retrieve something from.

Druids and rangers find that the lifeforms from within the Expanse are resistant, perhaps immune, to their usual abilities to control/soothe/influence/command/summon plants and animals. Perhaps the Verdant expanse is home to alien druids of some unknown species, or simply human or demihuman druids who seem to have gone mad or feral.

The DM may wish to assign some kind of good qualities to the otherwise exceedingly dangerous swath of otherworldly growth. Maybe fruits or other edible objects from within can sustain a normal man far longer than ordinary food. Maybe any natural healing done within the Expanse is doubled. Perhaps the plants can be used to make potent medicines or poisons, curing that which previously could not be cured by anything short of magic.

This was equal parts inspired by the Chtorr books, which I have never actually read but intend to one day, the last level of the SNES game Xardion, a dream I once had about my garden getting monstrously out of control, and my desire to do something opposite of my usual Obligatory Fantasy Wasteland.

All Gaming Weekend

Yes, last night was one of *those* sessions. The offered job or quest doesn't hook the PCs. The PCs don't get along with the NPCs and do not want to cooperate with them. Random encounters go badly and drag on.

As one of the participating players, I feel bad for the GM. At the same time, I was ready to rip my own hair out with how frustrated I was.

Luckily, the GM came up with a different idea mid-session and the rest of the game was actually pretty fun, minus a series of die rolls that lead me to believe I must have been a puppy-stomping orphanage-arsonist in a past life, and my karma bill had come due.

I've had my share of rough sessions as a GM. They happen to everyone. She stuck with it and made an admirable recovery.

One interesting thing about this game is that the players have gone into a complete role-reversal with respect to the characters they made. Josh, who is usually our death dealing combat guru, made an AI who is an expert in many computer and technical fields, but barely knows which way to point the laser pistol. He spent most of the session's big combat hiding, after having hacked the station security systems to preclude interference from the authorities. (Odd, sounds like the character I ought to be playing. The other two players made death dealing warrior characters (well, I dealt death when I could actually hit, that is.) Instead of my usual good guy or cynical-bastard-with-a-heart-of-gold, I am playing a shameless, whimsical, debauched libertine who just happens to be a professional killer. This will shake our group out of its usual dynamic of play.

Today we play Josh's Deadlands. Yeeee-hawwww.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Play What You Roll

Mindy is starting up a game of Stars Without Number, as Mike may need to take a hiatus from running his Viking game. (And even if he doesn't, it will be handy to have a back up game for when neither of the main games can run)

Man, I rolled some crap-ass stats.

My character's stats don't really jibe with what I wanted to do, but I am a big believer in playing what you roll. There will be other games and other characters.

Luckily, SWN has pretty muted ability bonuses/penalties, so this character is pretty playable. I was also able to massage the stats into two workable characters:

1. Grolag, a hochog warrior. Having just left his nomadic clan to see the galaxy, he's hoping to find something worth fighting for besides credits. His clan leaders know he will eventually grow out of this youthful enthusiasm and rejoin the clan... or he'll wind up dead over some lost cause.

2. Feen Yisoo, a qotah warrior. Feen's flock served as a secretive guild of assassins and spies. Being headstrong and sometimes not very bright, Feen killed the wrong alien dignitary and was exiled by his flock. He wanders across the galaxy, selling his services. He's a carefree, happy-go-lucky libertine who just happens to be a merciless professional killer.

Even when I have character creation hiccups like this, (I had initially envisioned playing a human engineering expert with a naval background) I always find some way to make it work. Truth be told, I prefer random character creation to point buy. When I have to build a character, especially in an open point buy like GURPS or Shadowrun 4th edition, I spin my tires endlessly and usually end up making a character that I like on paper but am miserable playing in the game. With random character creation, my chronic "character creation indecision" is partially taken out of the equation. I have a lot more fun filling in the holes with my imagination than having every single point allocated for maximum efficiency.

I look forward to a fun weekend of gaming.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Gaming, et al.

Today we ran Josh's Deadlands with a bit of a skeleton crew. Savage Worlds seems to be a feast or famine system...it seems that your character is either kicking serious ass or is failing miserably and eating dust. It also seems that you can go from one to the other pretty much at random. In a way, it kind of reminds me of playing Talisman in how quickly your fortunes can reverse. Still, I do like Savage Worlds and I like our Deadlands game.

Mindy got herself a copy of Stars Without Number "deluxe" edition (the hard cover from Mongoose0 and I find myself green with envy. Mindy has decided to do a hybrid of Stars Without Number and her own Rebel Worlds setting. (SWN for the rules, with all the flavor stuff converted from RW... of course, RW itself is a bizarre mishmash of Traveller and a a bunch of other stuff, but I digress...) I had originally wanted to play an AI using the new rules, but I think Josh has his heart set on it, so I think my ambitions move to playing a Qotah. (Which Mindy apparently totally guessed that I would. Am I that transparent?) I will probably play an Expert, as straight up combat characters really aren't my style.

***
I was paging through my True20 book last night out of curiosity. I picked the book up for a song some time back and always thought my wife might like it, since she likes d20. Looking it up online, I was surprised to learn that Green Ronin has discontinued the line and is currently selling all their remaining T20 books at clearance prices.

...on second thought, I guess that isn't really all that surprising. The d20 craze is long over, and it seems that Pathfinder has firmly claimed that throne. I think T20 came too late to a greatly divided field.

***
My wife has been asking me to run a one-off Little Fears game for her and her best friend. They have suggested that I do this on Black Friday, since our only shopping destination will likely be the used book store. The Sunday group is considering an extra session that weekend as well, so I could be looking at gaming up to four times during the course of my break. Holler.

***

I need to stop looking at the traffice sources to this blog. Sometimes I get a little creeped out by where my traffic is coming from. Online paranoia is the reason I nuked my fb account. I already pulled my photo off of this blog; some days I want to change my display name to Slappy McGillacuddy or something.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No Level Up?

After fiddling around with Traveller on Sunday, a few blogs I frequent coincidentally mentioned the game in the past couple of days. Over at Lamentations, Crazy Jim considers axing the level advancement system from his game in the distant future. He considers classic Traveller's approach to character advancement: none.

You made your character. Your character is done. All that remains is to play the game. Your character might amass fortune, ships, equipment, and all that... but his skills aren't going to increase incrementally, nor are his stats going to gradually increase.

Part of Traveller's approach, I think, stems from the fact that starting characters have already completed one or more careers. Compare this to the default starting ages of AD&D 1st edition, where most characters were little more than teenagers who were just beginning their careers.

Ah, but I digress. Here's my question: is playing the game rewarding enough that you would do it without explicit advancement? If you didn't have little xp awards dangled on every little thing, if you didn't have the prospect of someday being able to fight a giant in single combat and win on the volume of your hit points and your hti probability, if you didn't get skill points and feats and spells at predetermined intervals, would you still find the game rewarding?

Think about it... advancement in the games, as they are often played, means relatively little except for scale. Your first level fighter is going to be swinging a normal longsword and fighting goblins and rats while dodging arrow traps. An ogre is a truly frightening encounter.
Your fifth level fighter has a sword +1 and fights bugbears and ogres, maybe some dire rats. He dodges falling rock traps. A hill giant is a frightening encounter.
Your fifteenth level fighter has a sword +4 and he fights hill giants all the time. He only worries when the purple worms and ancient red dragons show up. He dodges disintegration ray traps.
In almost every game I've ever played in, the bad guys and the world scale up with the players. The number gets bigger, even if game play stays fundamentally the same.

The "E6" and "E8" mods of d20/3.5 (originally posted on EN World) and the "Holmes basic as complete game" idea that I've seen floated around this corner of the internet present an intriguing middle ground: limited advancement. You can gain only a very limited number of experience levels. Imagine a world where 3rd or 6th level was as high as you could get. In such a world, a hill giant just isn't something a mortal man can fight in a head on combat, nor is a dragon. These foes require a cunning plan, a clever trap, or an army... mortal wizards are incapable of of higher level magic, though perhaps it could be found on scrolls. (This strikes me as especially Vancian)

In the end, a change like that might be too radical for a lot of gamers to handle. I have to admit I only like the idea in theory myself. It does make me think about playing RIFTS under Mindy, though. In RIFTS, experience levels mean very little. You get a d6 hit points (worthless in a game where Mega Damage abounds) and a few percentage points tacked on to your mostly vestigial skills. Every couple of levels you might get a +1 to hit or damage, but for the most part, everything cool you can do you do at level 1. (There are exceptions and I am oversimplifying this, but for me to say character advancement is very front-loaded in RIFTS is not an exaggeration) I loved the hell out of Mindy's game, even if my only reward was to get 3% better at cyber-surgery and to go from being instantly killable by 1 point of Mega Damage to being still instantly killable by one point of Mega-Damage... it was the advancement of the characters in non-mechanical ways that was most interesting to me, and the way we developed the world around us.

Just something to think about.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

RIFTS Gold Edition

I have this weird urge to collect gaming books... even things I'll never play. I have a copy of AEON because it was before MTV made White Wolf change the game's name to Trinity. I have a copy of Nightspawn before Todd Macfarlane kicked up a stink and made them change it to Nightbane, etc.

Now I have RIFTS Gold Edition, one of only 600 printed, and a bizarre continuation of my dysfunctional, why-do-you-make-me-hurt-you relationship I have with the game.

My very first impression is that, despite being 50 pages shorter than the current RIFTS Ultimate Edition (hereafter referred to with the strangely appropriate acronym of RUE), Gold Edition manages to be a better game book by orders of magnitude. Some highlights Gold has over RUE:

1. Better organized (well, for Palladium, anyway) Character classes follow the character creation rules, as opposed to RUE, whic has the character classes on pages 53-158 and 231-237, then starts character creation on page 279.

2. Skill List- bottom of one page and top of another; about a full page worth of skills. RUE has a full two page spread of skills, including such vital abilities as Breed Dogs, Medicinal Brewing, and Recycle.

3. Gold Edition has a bestiary. It is anemic at best, but at least it has one. Includes Coalition bad guys ready to fight, a couple of monsters, dinosaurs, and a table you can use to roll up weird monsters that might be found on RIFTS Earth.

4. Everyone tends to have fewer attacks per round, and armor seems to have less MDC. This makes combat less of an endlessly dragging morass.

...and you know, that's really all it takes. There are other things I like quite a bit in terms of game-ability and others that are purely nostalgia... but if I ever take leave of my senses entirely and run me some RIFTS, I will be using Gold Edition.

(I understand that Gold Edition is the same game as pre-RUE RIFTS, but the limited edition just gives it that holier-than-thou vibe I need to feel validated.)

Mega-Damage, bitches.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

DFD Take 2, Traveller False Start, and My Ultimate Lapse into Madness

I ran Death Frost Doom for my Sunday group. Everybody died. They did get about as good of an ending as you can get for that module, but they didn't much care for it. I am disinclined to run any Lamentations/Raggi stuff for them in the future, because they seem to prefer their D&D a bit more...I don't know...traditional? Straight-forward? I'm not exactly sure how to word what I mean, but I don't think they dig on weird, nihilistic D&D.

We also rolled up Traveller characters...well, actually...I taught Mindy how to roll up a Traveller character with an example, then I helped Elias roll up a character. I rolled stats for mine but didn't get much farther than that. Mike, who has admitted that he doesn't really like space games, really did not dig on Traveller's character generation system and decided to give character creation a pass. In the end, Mindy actually started leaning toward using Stars Without Number for when she next takes the GM seat. We ended up making Elias a SWN character, which took about a fifth of the time that the Traveller character did, and I think Elias liked his SWN character better, since he could pick his class and skills instead of having to roll for them.

I gotta be honest: I would much rather play SWN, even using Traveller's setting (or Mindy's strange hybrid Rebel World setting), but I really hope Mindy runs the system that she prefers... nobody will have fun if the GM isn't running something she's excited about. I will tow the party line.

At any rate, Mindy isn't running in the immediate future...Mike is continuing his Viking AD&D game, and Josh is continuing Deadlands part III next weekend.


...and finally...

Earlier in the year, I blogged about finding a copy of RIFTS Gold Edition at the used bookstore. They put it in the rare book section, not the gaming section. They wanted fifty bucks for it. I swore I would never pay that much.
Well, then they recently marked it down to thirty.
Then, they sent me a coupon for 50% off one item, good today only.
So...I bought it. I kept my vow in that I did not pay fifty bucks for it, I think it was $16.05 with taxes.
My journey to the Dark Side is finally complete.

RIFTS Gold Edition will get its own post, but another day. I need to get to bed so I can teach some Shakespeare tomorrow.

Subbing

My Deadlands GM is out of town this weekend, and another one of our Sunday crew is also unavailable, so we have decided to suspend the regular game for this week. I offered to step in and run a one-off for the Sunday crew. I haven't run anything for them since SWN last summer, which I quit when I had my Epic Burnout.

I'm trying to decide between:
1. Death Frost Doom
2. The Spire of Iron and Crystal
3. The Temple of Zirugar (my own ongoing convention module)
4. The SWN adventure in the back of Polychrome
5. The Grinding Gear

I've got about thirteen hours to decide. I have read all these modules, but I've only run the two Raggi one and Zirugar.

In the words of Meatloaf: lemme sleep on it, I'll give ya an answer in the mornin'.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tarrying

This last week I received a copy of Loviatar #4, compliments of Christian.
Thanks, bro. I really dig on the dead-giant-as-dungeon map, and the Xplorers adventure is easily converted to Stars Without Number. I haven't had time to do much more than skim it.

I received my print copy of Darkness Visible, the latest sourcebook for Stars Without Number. I haven't had time to read that, either.

Steampunk game didn't run this Tuesday. Deadlands isn't running this Sunday, but Mike is stepping up with an extra session of his Viking AD&D game. I was secretly planning to jump in with Death Frost Doom if it looked like nobody was going to run this weekend. Nobody in the Sunday group has played DFD except for Josh, and he is out of town this weekend. (Hence the Deadlands cancellation)

The Holidaze are descending on us. They are simultaneously awesome for me (because I'm a teacher and I get a ton of time off) and also a source of frustration. (Only two of my gaming friends are also teachers...and neither of them will be in town over the breaks) Most gaming groups seem to shut down mostly, if not totally, during November and December. Luckily, the Sunday group seems determined to stay the course, and two of the three Savage Worlds players live under the same roof as I do.


I have had this nagging urge to create a new D&D campaign lately. I've doodled some things in notebooks, but I find it all vaguely unsatisfying...the urge continues to rattle around. Of course, I've got zero time and no players to run it... so perhaps it's best left as half-assed potential for now.

One of the guys at my kungfu school is starting an online Champions campaign using HERO 6th edition. I spent a chunk of my gaming time in high school playing Champions 4th edition. My kungfu homie asked me to be sort of a part-time collaborating GM for this endeavor, but... I just can't hang my brain on the HERO6 system. I have the HERO system stat block memorized like some kind of perverse mantra, despite having not played it in years. I remember the point costs for all the stats and for many of the powers. HERO6 changes all the costs and does away with a lot of the formulas. Also, the first volume of the core rulebook (yes, the first volume) is 450 goddamn pages. I will gladly give my buddy ideas and let him bounce his ideas off me.

Looking forward to getting my Viking on this weekend.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Thoughts from the Used Bookstore

Notes from the used bookstore today:

-RIFTS Gold Edition is now down to $30. I still won't pay that much for it, but in two weeks I will have a 50% off coupon...and I might just pay $15 for it.

-Those two copies of Terra Primate are now down to $7 and $5. I still think the cheaper one looks like it is in better shape. I also still can't make myself buy an rpg about talking apes, even at $5...

-The Macross II stuff all fell in price. I bought the first book of deck plans, because it was less than five bucks and the current Palladium Robotech rpg doesn't have rules for spaceship combat unless you buy the deluxe version...le sigh...

-RIFTS GM screen, which perhaps the most random assortment of info ever collected on a GM screen...but still, for less than two bucks, whaddaya want? I bought it.

-I saw Fighter's Challenge, one of a series of class-based solo adventures for 2nd edition. I was sure I had them all. I just checked and Fighter's Challenge is the only one I don't have. I guess I'll pick it up next time I'm there.

-Reverse Dungeon was there. I've always kind of wanted to play it. I might grab it when my coupons go active.