Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Obligatory 2015 Review in Gaming

The year started off with me running my Deadlands Denver game, a sort of "Old West Sopranos With Magic." We wrapped up in April when the PCs suddenly and unexpectedly wiped out/subjugated their various enemies and rivals while inadvertently rendering Denver a magical dead zone. 

The Friday group floundered with what to do next. We tried to build a Fate Core game, but I just couldn't grok it and gave up. We did some scattered one shots after that...and then after July we really didn't play anything anymore. While I still hang out frequently with the folks from the Friday group, it's really not a gaming group anymore. 

In March, I joined a game of Engines & Empires, being run by the author himself, at the local game shop. I met some new players that I hang out with outside of the game from time to time. Sadly, I ended up falling off the wagon. 

I ran a continuation of my RIFTS Madhaven campaign from May until August. While I have since dropped off the face of the map as far as my Thursday game goes, I hope to go back... I love playing Simon in Beyond the Supernatural 2nd edition. I'm also interested in continuing the Madhaven saga this summer and perhaps bringing it to a conclusion of some kind. 

In July, I attended my favorite convention, KantCon, in Kansas City. (Well technically Overland Park, but whatever.) I ran Starships and Spacemen 2nd edition and I ended up pulling surprise substitute DM duty for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. In fact, that seems to be the two games I run there every year. 

July also saw me introducing two people from the E&E game to D&D 5th edition. I ended up starting a campaign set in the Keep on the Borderlands, including a Tuesday night spinoff game.  We've changed venues three times and added three new players (all new to D&D) since we started. Of my 2015 endeavors, this is the only one that survives and runs every week.

I added games to my collection, including a brief and fruitless affair with the Cypher system (which I've been selling off) and my aforementioned attempt at Fate Core. I also discovered the OneDice system, though after reading through several of the books, the only one that really holds my interest is OneDice Urban Fantasy. 

My quest to replace White Wolf/World of Darkness continues to flounder fruitlessly. I thought OneDice would be the solution, but I've yet to drum up any interest in it. 

I blogged more in 2015 than I did 2013 and 2014 I guess I got all wordy again. (Or maybe it's because I finished grad school back in May.) 

All in all, I feel like 2015 was an average year for gaming. I think Deadlands remains my finest accomplishment for the year. I'm still on the fence about 5th edition, though I was happy to introduce two players to 5e and three to the hobby. I have decided the Cypher system gets a polite "Thanks but no thanks," and Fate Core gets a "Why can't  you be more like your older brothers?" (I'm referring to FUDGE, and FATE 2nd edition, if you didn't catch that.) 

As the year ends, I find I have a "mental wishlist" of things I want to start in 2016. Some of them have been rattling around in my noodle for some time, others are recent wants. 

*A game of Swords & Wizardry, set either in my Albadia/mythic Persia setting or a pseudo-Dark Ages Europe setting. (Or was really just the Dark Ages for Europe, after all)
*A game of OpenQuest set in a pseudo-Celtic/Irish/Scottish/British type world. 
*An urban fantasy/horror game set in a creepy-ass small town. 
*A game of trippy-ass 70's style Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls.
*A resurrection of my "steampunk ghostbusters/X-files" game using Savage Worlds. 

So that's my want list. In all likelihood, I'm going to end up running between 0 and 0 things on the want list and just soldiering on with D&D 5e. (It's really not a bad edition, per se, but I still pine for an older, simpler D&D...especially a version without the moonbeam spell. Seriously, fuck you, moonbeam.

And so we march onward into 2016. Happy holidays and continued gaming to you all. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hit Point Idea

Half a character's hit points is Vigor. This represents fighting prowess, spirit, hardiness, and generally the ability to persevere. Losing Vigor represents exhaustion, parries, near-misses, etc.
All Vigor returns if characters have a moment to catch their breath at the end of a battle or hazardous situation. Vigor cannot be restored by cure wounds spells.

The other half of a character's hit points is Health. This represents actual capacity to withstand wounds. A character recovers 10% of their max health per day of rest, doubled if they do nothing but rest and have access to medical care.

Damage that a character receives is first subtracted from Vigor. When Vigor is exhausted, damage comes off of Health. At 0 Health, a character is mortally wounded and will die in 1d6 rounds unless medical aid is rendered. Furthermore, a character cannot have more Vigor points than he has Health points, so a character who has lost all but 3 of his Health cannot have more than 3 Vigor unless he heals up.

Option: In combat, any attack that scores a natural 20 is subtracted directly from Health, bypassing Vigor.

Option 2: Missile weapons subtract directly from Health.

Option 3: Energy drain and other life-draining spells and effects come directly from Health.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Deck the (Dungeon) Halls

The mostly-theoretical Friday night game group is slated to meet this week. Given that the following Friday is that strange tree-worshiping holiday that seems to be popular around these parts, we likely won't be meeting again until at least January 2nd, which itself could prove to be futile. I'm going to go ahead and say January 7th. (Oddly enough, the 5 year anniversary of my abortive Traveller campaign) To that end, rather than starting a new campaign, I'm going to be running one or more holiday-themed one shots. While I wanted to run one of the Goodman holiday scenarios for Dungeon Crawl Classics (adapted to B/X or maybe LotFP, they want $6.99 a pop for them. Pinnacle, meanwhile, has several holiday-themed "one sheets" for free-ninety-nine. I downloaded all of them. One is for Weird Wars II, one is for Deadlands, and one is for the horror companion but would slot nicely into East Texas University. Two of the players already know how to play Savage Worlds from the Deadlands campaign I ran in 2013-2014, and I have no doubt the other two will learn it quickly.

Man, Pinnacle really deserves more love than they get. On the real.

Monday, December 14, 2015

5e and Me Part II: Cutting Words

Earlier this morning, I posted a rant about last night's 5e session. The rant was angry and kind of mean, so I pulled it. (I have players who read this blog) Let me boil it down:

Bards in 5e have an ability called "Cutting Words," a reaction ability that lets a bard reduce an opponent's attack roll. When I ruled that "cutting words" would have no effect on an opponent with no ability to comprehend said words, one of the players got upset. She quoted the rulebook at me and I said "I give zero fucks what the book says."  I could've been more adult about it, but arguing with players over the minutiae of spells and abilities grinds my patience down very, very quickly.

With 5e, there's a lot of minutiae. It's not as bad as 4e, and it doesn't seem to be as bad as I remember 3.5, but nonetheless, the mechanics have prompted more arguments and negotiations than any of the older editions I've played.

5e is functional and I have a ready supply of players. It isn't horrible the way 4e was horrible and it aggravates me less than 3.5 or 3.0...

...but I know now that it will never take the place of the older editions for me. This edition is one that I can live with, but that's about as far as it's going for me.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Being a Misunderstood Antihero With a Skull Helmet

This morning's tongue-in-cheek gaming thoughts...

Palladium is releasing a couple of upcoming sourcebooks that attempt to add a different dimension to the Coalition States, casting them in a more sympathetic light, or at least trying to depict them as shades of gray rather than out-and-out bad guys...

...yet they still look like the bad guys from an 80's cartoon/toy line, what with the all encompassing skull motif. I mean, they have vehicles that look like motherfucking skulls. That is some seriously metal shit.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

5e and Me

As I read through my blogroll today, I happened upon JB's anti-5e rant. As a rule, I don't jump into discussions like that; it's his blog, it's his opinion, etc. However, it did get me thinking on my own present 5e game. 

To review, this game started out as Keep on the Borderlands, though I threw in Tower of the Stargazer, Wizard's Challenge, In Search of the Unknown, and a couple of dungeons of my own design as well. I run it sandbox style. 

My players are all new to D&D. For two of them, I am their second DM and this is their second campaign. (Though their first D&D5e/modern D&D experience) For the other three, I am their first DM and this is their first experience with D&D in any incarnation. 

My players are all veteran PC gamers. All of them played or play World of Warcraft and League of Legends. I'm not sure how or if this colors their approach to tabletop gaming. Having never played either of those games, and being interested primarily in games of an older style, I haven't much perspective on the issue, and I feel like anything I say must be taken with an old-man-shaking-his-fist grain of salt. (And yes, I am aware that I'm one of the younger bloggers in the OSR at the age of 34, but I am also the oldest in this group, with age differences ranging from 6-11 years younger.)

The game itself seems to be driven by the acquisition of experience points. The players want to get xp. They do things that will net them xp. They do it because they get xp for it, not due to any particular character goal or motivation...aside from, I suppose, the acquisition of personal wealth and power. (You could argue that this goal was a strong part of older editions, as well) 

In terms of immersion, this campaign has to be one of my weakest performances as a DM. I feel like I describe the dungeons well enough, but the NPCs have little in the way of personality or flavor, which is something previous gaming groups have lauded in me. In fact, there seems to be very little in the way of RP at the table. The players are in a state of quasi-OOC at all times, and their characters' personalities are essentially just their own real life personalities. I don't know why any of them came to the Keep, nor what their purpose is aside from accumulating treasure and experience. Actually, this isn't 100% true; the party's necromancer has aspirations of rising within the Mage's Guild of the Keep. 

While I enjoy the game, I feel like it has none of my usual...pizzazz. I don't think this has anything to do with 5e necessarily, nor the players' background as WoW players. It might have something to do with the fact that all but one session have been played in one of two public venues.

Part of me is curious as to how this game would roll differently (if at all) if we were running, say, Swords & Wizardry or some B/X. Then again, two of the players play in a Cyclopedic D&D game... (albeit a heavily house ruled version) 

It's no secret that there are versions of the game I'd rather run, but at the end of the day, I prefer 5e to 3.5 or 4. 

...I could get down on some florid-ass 1e, tho. Terraxian forever. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls! Thanks, Ken!

Earlier this evening, I was pining over the fact that OBS only has Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls on PDF. I messaged Ken St. Andre via Twitter and he offered to sell me an autographed copy of the book for $40 with free priority mail shipping. I'm pretty stoked. I thought I'd give him a shout out. You should holler at him if you're interested in a copy and you didn't get in on the Kickstarter.


My Cypher System book and DCC book have both sold and shipped off. I kept the modules for it, because I can (and have) run them with old-ass D&D.

Gamma World and TMNT are also on the chopping block, and I'm thinking about losing Star Frontiers and BattleSystem as well.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Fate 2nd Edition, Risus, and Fudge

About 11 years ago, I came across the 2nd edition of Fate (back when it stood for Fantastic Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment, a moniker that I'm not sure Evil Hat still uses.) The rules are pretty similar, but the game's Fudge influence is more pronounced and Aspects are slightly different- and more to my liking.

The Aspects in Fate2e actually remind me much of the Cliches in Risus. The text lists "Knight" as an example of an Aspect. The current iteration of Fate would pooh-pooh such a simplistic Aspect, instead opting for something like "Disgraced Knight of the Cross" or "Sworn Duty to the Kingdom of Alecar" or something florid like that. Aspects also had a rating that determined how many times you could use them in a session. If you have Knight at 3, you can invoke it for a benefit up to three times per session. While I find it better than an arbitrary and oft-murky Fate Point economy, it still feels fairly inorganic; why would my being a Knight only come up a maximum of three times per interesting thing that happens in my life?

I feel like I understand this older edition of Fate better...perhaps "understand" isn't exactly the word I'm looking for, but I find the edition much easier to wrap my brain around. I find that it starts to look very Risus-y in addition to being Fudge's bastard child.

Suppose we take my ever-nagging WoD rewrite idea and combine it with the above concepts.

At creation, you define five Aspects:
-Previous human life (Bartender, Drifter, Corporate Drone)
-Supernatural type (Vampire, Werewolf, Mermaid)
-Specialty (Manipulator, Muscle, Scientist)
-Wild Card (Well Connected, Highly Intuitive, Breathtaking Beauty)
-Weakness (Lecherous, Fear of Heights, Entitled)  

**Note that the Weakness is meant to be a character flaw, not a supernatural weakness...those are "baked in" to the supernatural Aspect.

Characters then have five levels of "stuff" per Aspect. These will be Skills or Gifts for Previous Life, Specialty, and Wildcard, Powers for Supernatural Type, and Faults for Weakness.

Powers would be somewhat limited by Supernatural Type, whereas Skills and Gifts would be a bit more open for the other Aspects.

Putting it all together, we might have something like this:

Lorenzo "Lucky" Lozano, Merman
Previous Life: Bike Messenger -City Knowledge (San Francisco) Good, Urban Survival Fair, Alertness Good

Supernatural Type: Mermaid- Water Breathing, Lure, Luck, Unearthly Beauty, Resist Cold

Specialty: Barfly- Fast Talk Good, Carousing Good, Nightlife Contacts

Wild Card: Scrappy- Dodge Good, Brawl Fair, Athletics Good

Weakness: Overconfidence- Short Man Syndrome, Lothario, Reckless, Egotistical, Doesn't Know When to Quit

Looking back over this, it seems like I've created something similar to Five Point Fudge, and maybe I need to look at blending the two approaches. I'm also not sure I'm 100% in love with taking Skills and Gifts from the same Aspect. I would also have to figure out if some powers cost more power slots than others... after all, is breathing underwater as useful as regeneration? Is carving your weakness up into five "sub-weaknesses" too much? I have to confess like I felt I was splitting hairs when trying to come up with them.

I'll continue working on this. I think maybe it's time to take a second look at Five Point Fudge and see if that structure works a little better.

Monday, December 7, 2015

More Risus Characters

More Risus characters, just because.

Urtek the Dragonslayer

Cliches: Dragonslayer (4), Berserker (3), Fated Hero (3), Insatiable Lecher (2)

Tools of the Trade: Glory Bringer (Ancestral battle axe), Wyrm Ender (Ancestral bone harpoon), Meteorite Necklace, bottle of animal musk, horned helmet

Hook: Secretly Fatalistic

Tale: Urtek never knew his father. His mother was a camp follower to the hordes of Gorth the Mighty. On the eve of his birth, his mother died and a star fell to the earth. The shamans saw this as an omen and encouraged Gorth to adopt the boy, rather than leaving him behind with the corpse of his mother.

Gorth raised the lad as his own, training him to be a mighty warrior. The lad had inherited the gift of the berserker. On his 16th birthday, he accompanied a raiding party that was ambushed by a wyvern. The lad landed the killing blow on the serpent. Soon he was hunting young dragons with the mightiest warriors of Gorth's horde.

When the horde was finally destroyed by the Silver Legions of His Most Holy Imperial Majesty Gairan VII, Urtek was captured. Before he could be lead to the Glory Pits of the Imperial Arena, he managed to escape, killing several Legionnaires and recapturing his ancestral weapons.

Urtek wandered the land for a time, taking on odd jobs and fighting for silver until he heard the rumor that His Most Holy Imperial Majesty Gairan VII was actually descended from the Sacred Dragons of yore. While he never had much of an interest in revenge (Gorth was not a kind master), he suddenly found the prospect much more interesting when the man who destroyed his adoptive people was also the type of beast he most loved killing.

Alpha-43, aka "Gill," [Model Guillame Mk II], Robot Private Detective 

Cliches: Detective (4), Robot (3), Obsolete (2), Veteran (3)

Tools of the Trade: Beat-up trench coat, completely vestigial cigar, plasma revolver

Hook: Anachronism bugs in programming

Tale: Originally commissioned to serve as a braked-AI detective unit for the Alpha City Municipal Police Force, Samson was eventually phased out in favor of the Parker series of synthetic detectives, despite being on of the longest serving active models on the force. After the AI Rights Act had been passed by the Quorum, obsolete synthetics could no longer be legally decommissioned.  Out of a job and needing a way to afford regular maintenance, Gill (the other cops never could pronounce "Guillame," the name of the series) turned to the semi-shady world of private investigation. After all, most people who need a PI either can't afford the top-of-the-line models or don't care or don't know the difference anyway.

Gill's fortune has recently experienced an uptick: a sophisticated new hacker has been confounding the city's synthetic police force. Gill and robots of his generation are so obsolete that they can't be compromised by the most modern computer technology. Suddenly Gill finds himself consulting for the Alpha City Municipal, the very people who once booted him for being outdated...

Vindicator, Vigilante Superhero

Cliches: Powered Armor (4), Resilient (3), Mr. Fix-It (3), Cocksure (2)

Tools of the Trade: Prototype Guardian Armor, hidden lair

Hook: In over his head

Tale: Ramsey Irons was always good with his hands. While he wasn't incredibly book-smart, he studied tirelessly and had an intuitive grasp of how things work. He managed to wrangle a full-ride scholarship to Brighton University to study mechanical and electrical engineering. After finishing graduate school, he was recruited by Cromwell Technologies, Incorporated and assigned to a secret project developing the latest model of powered armor. Unfortunately, the project turned out to be not-so-secret, and the facility where Ramsey was working was attacked by a hit squad from a rival corporation. Ramsey managed to escape with his life...and a little souvenir.

Two years after the incident, Ramsey has managed to refurbish the only surviving armor prototype. Having a strong sense of justice and an ego to match, he has become Vindicator, an armored vigilante determined to take down the corrupt corporations. Unfortunately, this has earned him the ire of quite a few politicians and fellow superheroes who believe him to be nothing more than a corporate goon himself.

Natka Proyesch, Village Wise Woman 

Cliches: Village Witch (4), Legends and Lore (4), The Evil Eye (2)

Tools of the Trade: Hut full of weird herbs and components, crooked staff decorated with feathers and bones, gray cat (not actually a familiar, contrary to popular belief)

Hook: Former member of the Cauldron

Tale: Natka is the weird old crone who lives at the edges of the village of Trobov. Many villagers (especially the older ones) are afraid of her, but they still seek her out when they need advice, cures for warts, fertility treatments, and the odd love potion. The younger people of the village tend to dismiss her as a vestige of a more superstitious age.

Little does anybody know, Natka was once a witch of the Cauldron, a dark coven that visited sacrilege and terror on the land. She betrayed her coven-sisters to a group of witch-hunters, stealing their secrets and leaving them to the cleansing flames. She has since repented of her evil ways, turning to a life as a simple healer and profferer of blessings. Unfortunately for her, the Cauldron made dark pacts with entities from the twilight realms, and they recognize her as the lone inheritor of the Cauldron's debts to them.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Books I Want That I Totally Do Not Need

...aka, story of my life.

1. OpenQuest Deluxe 2, hardcover. I bought the original OpenQuest based on the cover. The cover for OQ2 is just as inspiring. Why don't I need it? I already have a ton of fantasy games, I'll probably never run it, and I've heard that the interior art is an incredibly mixed bag. I also have read that OQ and OQ2 don't have much in the way of differences between them, and the basic PDF is free.

2. Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls, print copy. Despite having three different editions of Tunnels & Trolls on PDF, and despite not having actually run T&T since the summer after I was in 8th grade (approximately 20 years ago), I have often yearned to own a hard copy of the game. To my reasoning, why not grab the big deluxe version with it's very nice cover? Of course, it's not available in POD yet. When it becomes available, I'd like to grab it in hard cove if such a thing is offered.

3. Dragon Warriors, hardcover. That cover, tho. Also the game is British and vintage. I don't need it because of the list of fantasy games I own and am unlikely to run any time ever... but then again, that complaint stands for all the books on this list.

In the meanwhile, I have listed my copies of Dungeon Crawl Classics and the Cypher System Rulebook for sale on a certain website with a marketplace. While The Strange and Numenera are cool, I find that Cypher core leaves me feeling a bit cold when it comes to universal application; there are probably other systems I'd use. As for DCC, the adventure modules are pretty sweet, but as for the actual system... I have plenty of OSR games that can basically do the same thing. If nothing else, it will make room on my shelf and further justify purchasing books that I don't need.

The struggle is real.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Risus is an RPG that I've only tried once in a GM chatroom. For some reason, I never took it seriously. After reading John's post on it, I decided to give it another read. I find it much more palatable than I previously did.

I knocked these characters out in like 20 minutes. Weirdly, Risus has given me a better understanding of some of the concepts in Fate... maybe I just need to treat Fate like a more complex Risus....

Grinvald Van Teer
Cliches: Alchemist (4), Know-It-All (3), Grenade Lobber (3), Narcissist (2)

Tools of the Trade: Alchemy Lab in the city of Vorqvist, Bottles and Vials, Book of Alchemical Recipes

Hook: Obsessed with the Potion of Immorality

Tale: Born to a wealthy family in the commercial city of Holjar, the scrawny and bookish Grinvald was dubbed unsuitable for anything but a life of academia. Exhibiting a natural talent for chemistry at University, he went to study at the Academy of Transmutation at Vorqvist. Having become a full-fledged and guilded alchemist, Grinvald has made it his life's goal to...extend his life. Indefinitely. Vain and self-obsessed, Grinvald simply cannot imagine a world without himself in it.

Insectoid Alien Mercenary (4), Horrific Natural Weapons (4), Pilot (2), Inscrutable (2)

Tools of the Trade: Junker Spaceship, Alien Talismans

Hook: Hive-Mind Mentality

Tale: Yttk is one of the only survivors of the alien lifeform classified as Insectoid Xenomorph-234. Artificially engineered and bred by an unknown progenitor race, the IX-234 were destroyed after a prolonged war with the Galactic Collective. Once all of the Hive ships were destroyed, the surviving soldiers and drones acquired free will. While distrusted and often mistreated, some try to make their way in polite galactic society. Yttk scrapes by as a mercenary, using its armor-piercing mandibles, acidic spittle, and spike-covered exoskeleton to earn a living. Lacking even a name, Yttk is so-called by his confederates from the noise it most often makes while lost in thought.

Lita Benett
Werewolf  (3), Bartender (2), Brawler (3), Survivor (3), Cooler (1)

Tools of the Trade: Bottle of Meds, Bottle of Jack, Fringed Leather Jacket

Hook: Afraid of Intimacy

Tale: Born the youngest of five children in Woodstock, Vermont, She ran away with a no-good boy at 16, dumped him at 17, and got straight up mauled by a werewolf on a lonely stretch of highway in Michigan at 18. She'd have surely died if a semi-truck hadn't hit the creature as it was closing in to finish her off. She lived as a hermit in the woods for a few months until she was taken in by a pack of fellow werewolves  who taught her to manage her condition.
Ten years later, Lita works as a bartender in a roadside bar called Perdition. The bar is neutral ground among the supernatural community, and Lita acts as a bouncer as well as a bartender.

Alphonse Baptiste
Grizzled Savateur (3), PARKOUR! (3), Silver Tongue (2), Pickpocket (2), Criminal Connections (1)

Tools of the Trade: Winning smile, wrist/ankle wraps

Hook: Favors Owed to Shady Underworld Figures

Tale: Alphonse grew up as an orphan on the mean streets of Marseille in France. He learned how to lie, cheat, and steal in order to survive. He finally ended up as an errand boy for the Marseille underworld. Demonstrating a natural talent for athletics and fighting, Alphonse was trained by underworld muscle in the arts of Savate.
As he grew into adulthood, Alphonse grew weary of the life of a criminal and thug, earning his freedom by saving the daughter of a dangerous crime boss. He has since traveled to Thailand to fight in secretive black market tournaments, but he hasn't left his shady past behind entirely.