Friday, December 16, 2011

[Play-Thru] Claustrophobia

In 2009, I owned a lot of board games - mostly because I was working at a game store, and I have "ooh, shiny" syndrome. (I've since paired my collection down to about 1/3 it's former glory.) One of the games I picked up at the time was Asmodee's Claustrophobia, a two-player dungeon crawl, based in Hell Dorado, the setting of a minis game. A little over two years later, I finally got to play it.

One player controls the Redeemer (essentially a Paladin or Cleric) and his condemned warriors, a group of thugs and and murderers with nothing to live for but their redemption. The other player controls the demon and his troglodytes. It amounts to 17 beautifully pre-painted plastic minis. One may think this is a limited selection in the grand scheme of things, but read on.

The board is modular, a series of square tiles, which get turned over as you explore the catacombs. Many of the boards have special rules, including movement-affecting terrain and game events, such as card drawing or treasure collecting. The tiles are sturdy, the art gorgeous, and the random aspect of the catacombs really increases the re-playability of the game, while adding to the immersion of "where the hell am I" for the Redeemer player.

Speaking of re-playability, there is quite a bit in Claustrophobia to keep you playing. The Redeemer can start the game with a number of different spells and abilities. While the game is scenario-based - there are several in the book and more at the designer's website - the random abilities and the random board seem to provide plenty of fresh play. The condemned are outfitted with different weapons and abilities as well.

While the demon figure doesn't change (duh!), the demon the figure represents does. Basically you have a card that explains the stats and abilities of the demon you're using. There's some nice variance here; I can't wait to try more out.

I mentioned I have "ooh, shiny" syndrome, but if you know me, you know I wasn't necessarily referring to the beauty of the components. The big draw for me was actually the mechanics.

Each good guy character has an interesting take on a character sheet. The character card is dropped into a raised plastic tray, similar to those found in my favorite racing game, Formula D. You use pegs to show damage on these, and there's a spot for a six-sided die. The die you put in that spot determines your stats for the round.

At the beginning of the turn, the Redeemer player rolls a number d6s equal to the number of active characters in play. The dice are then assigned to the character cards, and the numbers correspond to a line of stats. The Redeemer's abilities also tend to correspond to a die number, so you only get them when the right die is used on his card. I mentioned peg holes for damage. These also correspond to lines of stats. If a line is marked by a peg, you can't use that line any longer. If you're forced to put a die in a card that matches a canceled line, that character is out for the round, for the most part.

On the demon side, as I mentioned before, the demon's stats and abilities are determined by which demon you're playing. The troglodytes have their own board. Here dice are rolled to give the troglodytes modified stats or to give the demon player access to more monsters or special events that generally make things hard on the good guys.

Both sides get to make fun - and tough - choices. It makes for an enjoyable tactical experience, as you react to your opponent and deal with the "hand you're dealt" throughout the game.

The rules recommend you begin with a scenario where the Redeemer and his condemned are trying to escape the catacombs, and the demons are pretty much trying to eat the good guys. My friend Robert and I went with this scenario. I played evil (indeed!), and Robert played the Redeemer and his condemned.

At the start of the scenario, it seemed like the good guys were going to run away with it. A d10 was used to show how close the Redeemer was getting to the exit, and it was ticking up fast! Evil eventually got some control and stomped the good guys. Our first play went pretty fast, considering we had the book in hand. I absolutely believe the 45-minute play time on the box.

Combat in the game is simple. Roll a number of d6s equal to the attacker's Combat stat. Each die that beats the defender's Defense causes a wound. Simple and efficient.

Claustrophobia is aptly named. The Redeemer starts out confident; then the game starts to really close in on him. This was exacerbated by the fact that I had two rules wrong, both of which favored my side (not deliberate, I swear!). While we initially thought the game was too skewed toward the bad guys, it turns out it's much more balanced when you play the game correctly!

It's a good sign when the loser of the game wants to play again, and once we determined my rules flub, Robert was ready to play again.

My one complaint about Claustrophobia is the dice. The d6s are OK, but the d10 is very obviously cheap. At the very least, I will be replacing the d10. I may replace the 6s if I can match the size right.

Overall I recommend checking out Claustrophobia. It's a great two-player game - one of my new favorites (despite it being on my shelf two years).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

[Read-Thru] The Flux

Are you one of those GMs who get Shiny New Game Syndrome? Does it cause you to constantly switch games on your usually-reeling players? Have your players held an intervention to make you commit to running the same game for more than, say, 90 days?

If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions (I may have), then John Wick's The Flux might be just the ticket for you and your group!

The Flux is one of the many little games to be found in John Wick's Big Book of Little Games. The PDF was provided to me, gratis, by the fine folks at DriveThruRPG.

You might be playing The Flux in your current game, and you don't even know it - yet. Because The Flux happens to your character, to your group's whole party, and usually when they least expect it.

Imagine playing a sorceress in a Pathfinder game, and she's in the midst of a climactic battle. Suddenly, your GM describes a humming in your character's ears. She can't place where it comes from - it's everywhere and nowhere. Then there's a flash and BAM! She's no longer a sorceress in Golarion, but a mad scientist in Hollow Earth Expedition. Later in the Hollow Earth, she has been captured by Nazis and left without any gadgets. As the player you try to help the mad scientist recall a memory - a skill or ability - from a previous world or existence, and suddenly she makes a gesture, speaks an incantation, and throws a fireball at her captors, clearing a path for escape!

In The Flux, you can totally do that. Seriously.

So if you're running a game, say RunePunk for Savage Worlds - you love it; you really do - and you discover you can finally read Earthdawn Third Edition on your iPad (totally not your fault!), there's an easy way to transition, using The Flux and making it easy on your players:
  • Grab your players' RunePunk characters
  • Make new Earthdawn characters for them, based generally on their RunePunk characters
  • One session, in a tense moment, have The Flux kick in
  • You're now running Earthdawn
Your players don't have to make new characters or come up with new personalities - you're remaking their characters in a different world. Your players don't have to know about the new world right away - your players' characters are supposed to be hazy on the new setting.

There's no need to remember the rules from the old game. To access their previous characters' abilities, the players keep their characters in a stack - newest on top, oldest on the bottom. They roll some d6s - the difficulty based on how old the previous character is - and if they succeed, they automatically succeed with the best possible outcome: Fireball? Max damage. Shooting? The target is dead, if that was the goal.

On the surface it may seem broken. You may think players will abuse the abilities. But there is a price. The world knows someone is breaking the rules, and it fights back. Every time you use an ability from a previous character, there's a chance for Whiplash, where your character may get really hurt - or worse.

The Flux is very cool. I will be trying it at some point. And to my players: trust me, there were no spoilers in this post...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Freedom From JPEG2000 Tyranny On iPad

If you’re an iPad user and a roleplayer who likes PDFs, one term has likely been the bane of your existence: JPEG2000 compression. As awesome as the iPad is for viewing PDFs, especially with GoodReader, any PDFs using JPEG2000 compression are at least buggy and sometimes unreadable.

There have always been tricks to make them work, but some PDFs are unfixable. Worse, due to many publishers locking their PDFs, there’s nothing you can do but appeal to the publisher for a fix. The problem is you have to spend your hard-earned money or do some research to even find out if a PDF will work on your iPad.

Publisher’s have gotten better about testing their PDFs before release, but for many publishers, there is a lack of skill and/or resources (and sometimes desire, sadly) to do such a thing.  And since my iPad has become my primary reading device, I have taken to just not using those books I can’t read on my iPad. I tend to read on my breaks, and lugging around a 300-page hardcover tome just isn’t convenient. This was an especially tough decision for me recently, when I had to veto my beloved Earthdawn (3rd Ed.) as a candidate for game night, since those books are epically unreadable in GoodReader, despite my efforts.

Then the other morning I had guests, one of which had a new Kindle Fire. I’ve been thinking about the Fire for my wife since she wants a tablet. I’d tried it in the store and liked it. But one thing I’ve considered is making sure there was a PDF reader that will utilize the built-in bookmarks like those added in Acrobat. Sadly many PDF readers (including Adobe’s on Android) don’t.

A quick search led us to ezPDF Reader. For $2.99 it seemed to have what Android users needed. My buddy went ahead and downloaded it. Success! So if my wife gets a Fire, or any other Android tablet, she’ll be good to go.

It’s a great app, and I liked the interface so much I wanted to see what it looked like on iPad. A quick trip to the App Store, and I was dumbstruck. It lists as a feature that it can read JPEG2000 compression! I downloaded it immediately.

It turns out it works as advertised. I can now read my beloved Earthdawn on the iPad. Pages turn a little slow when the app is set so it can read JPEG2000 (GoodReader just builds on features native to iOS - which is why its fast and JPEG2000 doesn’t work on it),  but it’s absolutely beautifully displayed.

The interface seems clunky, but it might just be that it’s different, since I’m so used to GoodReader. I haven’t even made the time to check out all the features, so I won’t call it a GoodReader “killer” just yet (though it will read those bookmarks). But at $2.99, it’s well worth the price of admission even if I only ever use it to read those pesky JPEG2000-plagued PDFs.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Family Game

Recently, we've started a family roleplaying game on Sunday afternoons.

I am GMing the game, and the players are my wife (Veronica), my brother (Cliff), my brother-in-law (Scott), and my daughter (CaLeigh), who's nearly eight. While my wife and I have quite a bit of experience, everyone else at the table has little to no experience with pen and paper RPGs.

To keep it simple and free-flowing, I've decided to run ICONS. Veronica put aside her prejudice against random character creation, and we went all in with it. To say the least, character creation was quite a bit of fun. Despite the ability to throw together a character in minutes, we decided to do it as a group; and I walked them through each step. We ended up with:
  • Lady Flux (CaLeigh): A shape changer who can grow and shrink, usually into animals - think Beast Boy.
  • Knight Shade (Cliff): A crime fighter with elemental power over darkness.
  • Force (Scott): A mutant with the power of telekinesis.
  • SwitchBack (Veronica): An ex-cat burglar with a transmutation gun.
After a quick discussion, Cliff and Veronica decided Knight Shade convinced SwitchBack to become a hero (in Knight Shade #42!), so there was at least one connection in the group. We decided the team would get together after a chance meeting, so we're running the first adventure, Sins of the Past by Theron Bretz, before doing Team Creation.

I did make one small mechanical change to the rules. Veronica is not a fan of the d6-d6 dice mechanic, and I thought the ladder concept, in general, might cause some confusion with CaLeigh. So I'm just having everyone roll up and add, and on the back end, I'm simply adding 7 to the difficulty. Shedding the plus/minus concept doesn't change any probabilities, and it seemed to make the game run just a bit faster. It may not be technically faster, but I for one have been rolling 2d6 for a very long time (going back to Monopoly when I was younger than CaLeigh). It just feels really natural.

We started late for our first play session, and Cliff and Scott had plans after our scheduled stop time; so we only got through the first two chapters of the story. There were still some highlights. Lady Flux turned into a huge ape and belly-flopped an armored bad gal. SwitchBack used her transmutaion gun to turn the same bad gal's armor to pudding (it'll turn back in 10 pages). Knight Shade overconfidently raised a wall of darkness, only to have it shut down by a villain with probability control. Force used his telekinesis to throw a metal desk through the darkness, only to find the armored villain holding it when Knight Shade's wall came down.

Fun was had by all.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

[Read-Thru] Agents of Oblivion

Recently my friend, Sean Preston of Reality Blurs, sent me an early copy of Agents of Oblivion (AoO), an upcoming Horror/Espionage setting for Savage Worlds. The copy was sent simply for my amusement, but I offered to provide my thoughts on this Savage setting for this site, and he agreed.

The copy I received is text only, but it is the final text (barring any last-minute proof-reading) of the game, laid out and waiting for art.

Forgive the length of this post, but I’ve seriously waited several years for this setting…

The Read-Thru:
Savage Worlds veterans should be careful to read this section, as there are a couple tweaks, to include the bonus for being human, starting and available Skills, Hindrances, and Defining Interests. Speaking of Defining Interests, this is one of my favorite features common in Savage settings from Reality Blurs—essentially you choose a set of hobbies and other interests not necessarily covered by Skills, and these get you bonuses to your Common Knowledge rolls. This is a great way to help flesh out your character.

Another thing AoO provides is archetypes, nearly ready for play. Essentially the Attributes, and Skills are filled in, and you need only choose your Edges, Hindrances, and Defining Interests (though the latter can be chosen in play). These archetypes are a nice compromise between designing a character and having a pre-gen—your work is nearly done, but the archetypes are customizable so you can still feel like the character is yours.

There are a few additional skills—not the typical Knowledge (Whatever), but real new skills. I’m not a huge fan of the new Skills. All these skills could be covered by existing skills, and while they make things a little better defined, I’m personally a “fewer is better” thinker. On the bright side, Agents get four free Skills at d4, so this should make up for the extra Skills you have to choose from.

There are several new Edges and one new Hindrance. My favorite addition here is Power Mods. These edges modify existing powers in a way you might expect to do in a supers setting. For example, there’s one called Selective, which allows you to choose who is hit with an area effect power. Very cool! In addition there are Technological Edges, which deal directly with cybernetic implants.

In the Setting Rules section there are rules for Extended Trait Checks (or ETCs), as originally found in Reality Blurs’ Iron Dynasty: Way of the Ronin. These cover a similar roll to the new Dramatic Tasks rules found in the new Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition (SWD). I’m glad these are here, though. They’re well written and more detailed, which allows for greater flexibility. I can see using both ETCs and Dramatic Tasks in the same campaign, depending on the situation. Also, it may be awhile before many players convert to SWD, and I think this type of rule is essential to the genre.

AoO provides some great guidance on different ways to use skills for certain situations you don’t want to roleplay out, such as manhunts and hacking. There’s some good stuff here. I think other licensees—and for that matter, designers of all systems—should take note of this. This type of guidance can be invaluable to a gaming group.

Now for my favorite rules bit of AoO—Using Powers. Reality Blurs has devised another way to go Power Point-less in Savage Worlds. I am aware of three other ways it’s done, including Savage Worlds of Solomon Kane, Hellfrost, and the new SWD. This version is my personal favorite. Basically you just ignore Power Points, and power maintenance begins immediately. Blast and bolt were re-written and broken down into separate powers to take care of the stickiness these rules would cause with those Powers as written. While I don’t have a problem with Power Points, some Savages do, so this is a Good Thing.

Special Ops teams are typically provided their gear, and AoO has a great day to simulate this. Agents are given Resource Points to spend on mission loadouts—package deals for equipment. Players take a few moments to make their gear picks, and off they go. There are also rules for that equipment an Agent may need when already in the field. This seems to work very well and can actually be used right alongside the standard money system if your campaign concentrates at all on your Agents’ real lives.

You can also use your Resource Points to purchase Perks—special benefits you may need for a mission, like calling in an air strike or arranging an escape from a bad situation—and Spytech & Special Training (which I would hope I don’t need to describe). These are a nice idea and necessary to the genre for sure. Well handled.

The final section of the players’ portion of AoO is a lexicon of terms used in this setting and the special ops genre in general. I find this sort of thing very useful for immersion, and it’s great for newbies not already familiar with the lingo.

The Eyes Only!—or GM section—of AoO is chock full of great setting info and GM tools. As is pretty common in Savage Settings, it comprises much more of the book than the player section.

The Hidden Histories section gives you the setting history and info you need on Oblivion and its evil counterpart, Pandora. I love that Reality Blurs went with the G.I. Joe/Cobra format for their bad guy. It’s nice to have someone for the players to be paranoid about and blame for everything—makes a GM’s job easier!

The campaign section gives a lot of great advice on the genre and provides some clear direction for the GM. In addition it provides guidance on tweaking the setting elements, including, aliens, conspiracies, magic, horror, and tech. It really allows you to run anything from the default Mission: Impossible meets X-Files, all the way to G.I. Joe versus Cobra—no kidding!

The campaign advice section rounds out with campaign archetypes, which are generally frameworks for your campaign’s direction. This section covers a huge swath of campaign types—really anything I could think of while reading the book.

The next section, Agency World View, gives you an idea of what’s going on around the world, and it’s designed to work alongside the campaign archetypes. There are a ton of story seeds to be found in these pages. You could seriously run several campaigns out of this book with very little prep!

Speaking of little prep, AoO includes the now-obligatory adventure generator found in so many Savage settings. The Mission Generator, as it’s called, is much more detailed than the typical adventure generator, though. It’s chock full of great options for when you have one hour till the game session starts and you seem to have failed to prep (that may happen to me sometimes).

In addition to the Mission Generator, there’s a Creature Generator, for those times when your mission consists of “just what the hell is this thing killing people?!” I love this tool and could spend days just making creatures.

This is where we get into the “But wait, there’s more!” section of the book.

As if there wasn’t enough campaign goodness in this book, AoO includes sample story arcs, one for each of the Campaign Archetypes from earlier in the book. These are basically outlines for Plot Point Campaigns. Combine these story arcs with generated missions, creature hunts, and stories of your own devising, and voila! The story arcs are reminiscent of what Ken Hite called Savage Skeletons in The Day After Ragnarok, but they’re more detailed, including stats for each story arc’s major players later in the book.

The final section details some useful NPCs and organizations, including those from the aforementioned sample story arcs. The NPCs cover nearly any other character you may need for a game, certainly any character with little tweaking.

The Conclusion:
Agents of Oblivion may be Reality Blurs’ best effort to date. With enough information to support seven complete and varied campaigns packed into the book, the full edition of AoO can’t make it into my hot, rather large hands fast enough.  Awesome setting aside, this may have been called the Horror/Espionage Companion, were it a Pinnacle product.

If you enjoy horror, espionage, modern action/adventure, or any other modern gaming, this book is a “can’t miss” for you. Don’t bother with the book if you are not into any of those things or detest fun in general.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

[Read-Thru] Masks: 1,000 Memorable NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game

Awhile back, I posted my thoughts about Eureka, a system-neutral, plot-assistance book for Game Masters by the fine folks at Gnome Stew. I was pretty excited about the book, as it was the most useful book of its type I'd come across in 25 years of GMing. UPDATE: I still use it. I used it a couple weeks ago. No one's changed my opinion of its status as the best RPG plot book ever.

The same group is back with a system-neutral NPC book, and, given my adoration for Eureka, I couldn't resist digging in. I should disclose, unlike with Eureka, I received a PDF of the new book, Masks: 1,000 Memorable NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game, free of charge, for review purposes. Further, while my opinion has been solicited, it has in no way been guided.

Masks starts out on familiar ground. Like Eureka there's an explanation of why the book exists and how to use it. The why is obvious, I hope--make it easier for a GM to provide awesome NPCs to her players. The how is much more detailed.

The NPC's are broken down (nearly) equally into three broad genres: fantasy, sci-fi, and modern. They are further organized into enemies, allies, and neutrals. Each character takes up a quarter page. The design goal was to provide enough information without being too much, so the entries were kept to a tight word count budget. This goal was definitely met.

Each numbered, character entry is written sparsely, but manages to provide everything you need to know about the character in question, including everything but stats.  The NPCs include an entry number, a name, a quote, and a two-word description, containing an adjective and a noun (the first entry is a "Possessed Cleric"). These are followed by tips on appearance, roleplaying, personality, and background. Like Eureka, each Masks entry includes traits, by which NPCs can be searched in the book.

The most important thing about the NPCs in the book is they're very well written. I haven't read all 1,000, but I can tell you I've read a lot of them. From the very start, the NPCs are interesting and thoughtfully designed, especially compared to what most GMs get when they truly have to make up an NPC on the fly. I found myself wanting to know more about these people--always a good sign.

One final thing about the uniformity of the NPC entries: the authors suggest the template they've created for these characters will help you write your own characters. I tend to agree. And I look forward to using the template myself.

The authors believe you can use these NPCs on-the-fly or with some planning, and I tend to agree. You can just grab a name; or the two-word descriptor and the traits maybe. You can read them all the way through if you have time. There is a simple list of names that starts at the beginning of the first NPC page and ends on the last. I'm terrible at taking notes during play, so I plan on grabbing a couple key words and jotting down the entry number so I can return later to flesh out my find.

On the advice front, there is a section on how to modify the NPCs to fit any roleplaying game, by giving a twist here or a quarter-turn there. For instance, all the NPCs are humans, as this is the easiest twist of all, since any race a game designer can create will have intrinsic human qualities. Simply focus in on those to find your race. A gruff carpenter? Dwarf. A beautiful sorceress? Elf. There are definitely more than 1,000 NPCs in this book when you consider these simple changes you can make.

The other advice in the Masks is a collection of excellent points on playing NPCs, from the GM's standpoint. This advice has been delivered elsewhere by many people, but I've never seen it all together in one convenient place in a book designed for roleplaying. Players should take note of this section, as it serves as a great set of tips for PCs as well.

Like Eureka, Masks is a super reference. There are indexes in the book to help you find characters by trait, by name, by author, and by group (think Tavern Staff or Bandit Gang), so as a GM, you have lots of ways to find what you're looking for. The pdf is superbly bookmarked. My only gripe is I believe the entry numbers should have been used in the bookmarks with the character names (yes, all 1,000 characters are bookmarked), as one more awesome way to reference this book.

I plan to have Masks close to me for every game I run, and if you're a GM, you should too.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

ICONS Revisited

Awhile back, I put ICONS back on the shelf. Having run it twice, I wanted to love it, but I couldn't bring myself to. There were a couple reasons, but the principle one was in play. I couldn't get past the Invulnerability power.

Basically a character with Invulnerability can never be physically harmed by a character with Strength two or more points below that Invulnerability. From a genre standpoint, it makes total sense--Batman can smack the heck out of Superman for days and it wouldn't do anything but annoy Superman. But from a game standpoint, it felt wrong. In my experience there should always be a way to hurt the bad guy.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with Chuck Rice, who writes a lot of support material for ICONS. I decided to bring up this flaw to maybe get some house rules from a subject matter expert. It didn't go the way I'd planned. Chuck made some pretty good arguments for why this was OK. So I resolved myself to run the game one more time, looking at it from his standpoint--it is a genre convention; it forces the players to thing outside the box; this is a Good Thing.

This week my Friday group was down a player, and since we're just starting a campaign, I didn't want to go on without him. I took the opportunity to run Steve Kenson's excellent adventure, The Skeletron Key, using the official freebie characters given out to promote the release of ICONS. Justin played the Hangman, Ed played the Mighty Saguaro (brilliantly, I might add), Veronica played Miss Tikal (that name still cracks me up a year later), and our guest player, Matt, played All-Star.

I warned the players in advance about the inability to damage some things--they wouldn't necessarily be able to smash their way to victory. I told them to think outside the box when this issue came up. The group really thought on their feet. They used Stunts and Retcons to defeat the physically tough opponents. All-Star was equipped to hurt anything in the story, but that didn't stop the other players from doing their part. 

I was impressed. Not only did the players get around my perceived flaw in the game, they had a blast doing it. And it felt more like reading a comic or watching a cartoon. The result is ICONS does a great job of providing an authentic-feeling, super-powered experience.

Another thing I learned about the game is I'll be running it exclusively from my iPad. As a physical book it's beautiful, but I have some organization issues with it. There is no index and the table of contents is anemic. The powers section is not organized in a way that lends itself to quick reference. Powers are broken down alphabetically by type, rather than just alphabetically. Further, there's no alphabetical page number reference to make things easier to find, and the table of contents doesn't tell you what page the sections for power type start. It makes for a very frustrating experience when you're new to the game and need information now. On the iPad, I just bookmarked this stuff, and I can now reference the book very quickly.

Overall, ICONS is a great game, and as long as you warn the players of the genre conventions and keep your copy on a laptop or iPad, you should enjoy it too.

Friday, July 8, 2011

(Not So) Hostile Takeover

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog post for a word from…me! Hello everyone! This is Veronica, also known as Ron’s lovely wife, The Dread Pirate Vern, and Ron’s better 1/3. Yes, this is still Ron’s blog. However, since I am too lazy to maintain my own blog, and according to the state of Colorado, I already own half of this one, I thought I might borrow it for a moment. I hope nobody minds.

The other day Ron and I took our daughter, CaLeigh, to see the new Green Lantern movie (which I liked, but that’s a topic for another blog post). As we were settling in, they played a trailer for the new Cowboys and Aliens movie. The first thing I thought was not “wow, I want to go see that” (which I do, but that’s beside the point). No. The first thing I thought was “I would TOTALLY play that.” This makes perfect sense, when you think about it, because as a self professed Gamer Geek, I tend to view the world through RPG-colored glasses. Comments like: “Oh! I want to make a character like that!” and “Sorry, I completely failed my notice roll!,” can be heard from me on an almost daily basis. This trailer in particular started an idea rattling around in my head. There are all kinds of movies, books, TV shows, and fun ideas in general which should totally be made into table top roll playing games. As a proud and mentally competent gamer, it seems rather selfish of me to expect someone else to just guess which sort of settings I’d like to see written.

So I thought I’d make a list, just to help people out.

1. Cowboys and Aliens: Maybe as a Deadlands supplement? Are you reading this Matt?
2. Buckaroo Banzai: Here’s your chance to join the Hong Kong Cavaliers. I’m rather surprised this one hasn’t already been done. I mean really? Who wouldn’t want to play rock star/scientists who save the world on a daily basis?
3. Gargoyles: Based on the animated Disney series. A rich world with lots of details that were tossed out there but never explored. What would your clan be like?
4. Avatar: The Last Airbender: We’re talking kids with elemental powers here, not blue folks with tails. Set your game generations into the past, future, or half way across the world.
5. Torchwood: Save the world from aliens as the new staff of Torchwood Four. The 21st century is when everything changes. Are you ready?

There are more, but that should be enough to get you all started. Let me know if you need help play-testing.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

UPDATE: Bulldogs! Not Cursed

Our group got together last night and successfully completed characters.

We ended up with a psychotic, pink teddy bear, a warrior-race black sheep who just wants to do science, a manipulative purple guy, and a robot avatar for the ship's artificial intelligence. Should be fun!

Given the characters, this is shaping up to be a more gonzo game than I expected. In my experience that won't exactly make for a long campaign, but I believe a good time will be had for whatever the duration turns out to be.

In addition to finishing characters, I managed to explain conflicts, including the confusing-for-some damage and maneuvers. We also ran a quick, in media res combat to nail down the basics.

Overall the group seems to be looking forward to the campaign. No curse here. Move along.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Is Bulldogs! Cursed?

So I have to confess I came late to the show when it comes to Kickstarter. I got involved in time to back a couple cool projects after Eloy Lasanta asked me to check out his presentation of Part-Time Gods. One of those projects was Bulldogs!.

I  was aware of Bulldogs! in its d20 iteration. I'd heard "Good Things." Unfortunately, I was already too disenchanted with d20 to really look into it. But a FATE version? I was in...

When I got my PDF copy of the new Bulldogs!, I poured over it. It was Thursday evening, and I had a new gaming group, poised to try a new science fiction (preferably FATE) game the very next night. We were going to use Diaspora, but there were some concerns about the hard SF leanings of the game. We wanted to kick ass, and I'd heard Bulldogs! was in fact "Sci-Fi That Kicks Ass."

I'd loved nearly everything I'd read in Bulldogs!, and the next night I presented it to the group. They gleefully agreed it would be the way to go. We started with the Ship Aspects and completed those. Halfway through the Captain Aspects, though (technically it was two-thirds--we had two of the three Aspects), three children came up from the basement and asked who was smoking.

There were no smokers in the house.

After a frantic search we determined there was smoke and an electrical burning smell. I called the fire department, and we got out of the house.

The house didn't burn down, but needless to say, the gaming mood had been killed. There were crying children and freaked-out adults. We decided we'd finish creation the following week.

The next week we set about finishing character creation. The house was warm because we've been trying to conserve AC costs, but with guests coming we shut the windows and turned on the AC! About an hour later, the house went from 80 degrees to... 82. The AC was broken (and as it turns out, the culprit of the previous week's fire scare).

With two big guys (myself included) and a colicky baby on the premises, the heat was too much for our group and we only made it about halfway through our characters.

So I'm wondering... is Bulldogs! cursed?

There's an adventure from my Deadlands Classic days called Canyon o' Doom. It was guaranteed to stop a campaign in its tracks. In fact, Canyon o' Doom was involved with the death of three campaigns (not because it was a bad adventure--I loved the story). It was just... unlucky.

I sincerely hope Bulldogs! isn't my new Canyon o' Doom...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Con Report: Genghis Con XXXII

February 17-20 was GenghisCon here in the Denver area. I had a blast with Vern and CaLeigh there. I will break it down by day then talk about Con Jr.


I went solo Thursday, and I decided to beat traffic and get to the hotel early--about 3:00, I think. There was nothing going on yet. I saw a guy sitting, looking like a gamer. (I don't know exactly what that means. It's certainly profiling, but I was dead on.) I asked him where everything was, and he told me I couldn't really do anything till 5:00. I then ran into Leif Olson, the con organizer, and he basically said the same thing.

Then I saw a guy who was walking by, and he looked vaguely familiar. It turned out to be Ross Watson, of Fantasy Flight Games, whom I've never met in person, but I'd seen his picture. He's been on TGTT a couple times, so I introduced myself. Then I realized Ross was on his way to meet the gamer guy I asked for directions. It turns out he was Michael Surbrook, Hero Games contributor and author of the excellent Kazei 5, an unabashedly '80s-inspired, Anime Cyberpunk setting for Hero. Michael has never been on the show, but he almost was twice. So we had at least emailed before. Soon, we were joined by Bill Keyes, who's done layout work for Hero and BlackWyrm Publishing. Several local friends came by over the next couple hours--Lee "Gobbo" Langston, Richard Wetmore, and some other folks whose name I unfortunately forget. We ended up having some great, pre-con gaming discussion. Fun was had by at least most.

After we registered, I was invited to grab some grub at the hotel restaurant, along with Ross, Michael, and their friends from here and New Jersey. Conversation was good--food, not so much.

That night I ran Iron Dynasty: Way of the Ronin, a Savage Setting of "heavy metal oriental action." I think everyone had fun. The table was full, and I did have to turn folks away due to only having six characters (note to self: have extras for Tacticon). I ran the game without minis or any sort of tactical map, and it didn't seem to detract from anyone's fun. That said, I think I'll start running Savage Worlds with the tactical set-up, at least in public.

After my game, I drove home. I'd be staying at the hotel for the rest of the con, but there were Friday school concerns with the little one, which made it easier to be home the first night.


Friday morning, Vern and I headed to the con. Traffic prevented us from making the first block of gaming, so we spent the time chilling out and meeting up with friends. There was a lot of wandering here. The dealers' room wasn't open till 3PM, so really our trip down to the con was kinda wasted. I was very happy to have the time with Vern, though. We get precious little with my current Real Life Job.

Driving back to Broomfield to pick CaLeigh up from school meant we would miss the second RPG block of Friday. When we returned, we were able to check out the dealers' room (pretty well stocked for a local con), and I signed myself up for a Gumshoe homebrew game, based on Esoterrorists. Friday was my "freedom" night, when Vern had CaLeigh come bedtime.

After I had my game setup, my buddy Matt Cutter, from Pinnacle Entertainment said we should get dinner and have a pickup game after the his Deadlands game was done. So I went and turned in my Gumshoe ticket for greener pastures. Shane Hensley ended up joining us for dinner, and we went off-site, to an Italian restaurant called The Bent Noodle. (If you're ever at GenghisCon, look this place up. It was awesome.) Dinner was great, and the conversation was even better. Shane graciously picked up the tab (which made for the best "you're flyin' I'm buyin' ratio ever--thanks Shane!).

When we got back to the hotel, Matt was too beat to game, and Shane went off to check out the minis. We'd missed the final block of RPGs, as well. So it turns out we did zero gaming on Friday. We dropped CaLeigh off at Con Jr., and I did end up going to the auction. Vern hung out (read: fell asleep on my shoulder) till CaLeigh's (and her) bedtime.

The reason I stayed was I noticed two copies of the 1991 revision of TSR's Marvel Super Heroes Basic Set. They looked to be in good condition, so I decided I'd pay up to $30 to get my hands on one. The first set was sold for $31. That's right, I kept to my guns. I noticed the other hands in the room dropped much earlier than mine, so I had a feeling I wasn't going to get too killed on the price of the next one if I was patient. Speaking of patience, it would be two hours before copy number two was offered up, but I won it for $13--a complete steal! All the cards and figure flats (unfolded) were included, along with the dice. The books were in great condition. One corner of the box tore, I think, under the pile of games where it lived for the several hours during the auction. No worries. Tape can fix a box corner. $13!!


Saturday morning, the family and I joined the Rocky Mountain Savages for a breakfast meeting. It turns out we're going to try for a proper Savage Saturday Night at Tacticon. Also, we're going to start organizing Savage Worlds games in game stores. Fun fact: Savage Worlds fielded more games at GenghisCon than D&D 4e!

After breakfast, I reported to the room where I was to run my Smallville game. I had only two pre-regs, but I was hopeful we'd get more. Not only did I not get more, but the pre-regs never showed, either. So no go for Smallville. Sad face ensued.

I reported my game-fail to Linda Weygant, the phenomenal RPG coordinator, and she got me squeezed into Marc "Lord Inar" Gacy's homebrew Savage Worlds game, set in a family-friendly world he called Rocknester. I got to play a female Skunk. Yep... crossplay and a furry. In the first round of the first combat, my character got shot, taking 27 damage to her Toughness 5 frame. Believe it or not (mostly thanks to Marc's pity), my character survived. The session was fun. I will be asking him some questions about Rocknester. I think I'd like to use it with CaLeigh and my nephew, William.

Saturday afternoon, Vern and I were in a couples-based Unknown Armies game. The guy running it, and his significant other (I never determined wife or girlfriend), were doing the game to celebrate their anniversary. Very cool! I own UA, but I've never played it. We had a blast. The story was centered on a couples' retreat. Vern played the creepiest character I'd ever seen her play--she did it well, too.

Saturday night was Vern's "freedom" night. She was in an invitation-only game with Shane Hensley, held for the convention staff. One member of each podcast there (more on that later) got to join in. Vern's gamer-crush on Shane dictated where I stood in that situation.

Since I didn't get to game on my night, we found out Shane's game would be done at a reasonable hour, and Vern turns into a pumpkin at 10:00, my amazing wife offered to let me stay out if I found something to do. so I set up an after-hours game with Shane, Matt, and whomever. When Shane found out about my Marvel Super Heroes find, he suggested I go remind myself how to play and run that. So I spent Vern's game learning Marvel Superheroes. I managed to learn and prep in about two hours!

The game included Shane, his sons Caden and Ronan, Matt, his friend Dave (whom I've heard "war stories" about for years--it was nice to finally meet him), and my friend (and founder of the Rocky Mountain Savages), Chris Fuchs. We had a good time, but the one planned combat dragged the game down a bit. The old Marvel game did a lot of things well, but I ended up house-ruling the damage and the strength of Wolverine's claws so everyone at the table could be effective. The nostalgia alone made it fun, though--Shane kept saying: "I'm freakin' Spider-Man!"


Sunday morning was podcast-o-rama. We recorded two episodes of TGTT and one episode of the excellent (but explicit) WombatCast. The cast included me, Vern, Andy and Justin (from WombatCast), Ross, Michael, Bill, Marc, Leif and Bill (from the Denver Gamers Association), and Linda (RPG coordinator). We had a blast recording, and it turns out I may have gotten myself into some sort of Sumo match with Justin at Tacticon--we'll see what comes of that.

We ate lunch, and I went to the board game area next to host my game of Formula D. We ended up with six players. Two baled with only one replacement. There was one casualty in the game (the long-time leader ended up losing control of his car on turn three of the second lap). Since there was enough room for me, I played. In the end I won, due to some bold moves and one very lucky die roll. I had a good time, but I have to say I don't seem to identify with board gamers the way I do with roleplayers. I probably won't host anymore convention board games.

Con Jr.:

I have to give a shout out to the DGA for having Con Jr. It's a con-long kids event, coordinated by a teacher who either loves kids or is a masochist. CaLeigh spent the entire weekend entertained with games, arts & crafts, and movies... all for the price of a con ticket! This was brilliant, and it will serve as a great introduction for CaLeigh into the convention environment. Con Jr. is run at both GenghisCon (Presidents Day weekend) and Tacticon (Labor Day weekend). Very highly recommended.

In Closing:
Despite a couple hiccups--no gaming on Friday, my Smallville game not coming off Saturday, crappy hotel restaurant--I really had a blast at this convention. I am excited about Tacticon this September. It's smaller, but it's run by the same folks.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Genghis Con XXXII

So this weekend, I will be at Genghis Con with my lovely wife. We're excited because our friends Shane Hensley and Matt Cutter, of Pinnacle Entertainment, will be in from out of town. Also, a two-time TGTT guest, Ross Watson, the man at Fantasy Flight Games behind the Warhammer 40,000 RPGs, will be there. I'm very excited about meeting more of the Denver gaming community, overall.

Ignoring my own advice (like I do), I am running three games at the convention:
I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Oh Index, Where Art Thou?

One of the things the RPG industry is notorious for is bad or missing indexes. I've discovered over the last few years, some publishers don't know how to do them and some don't find them important. Others will drop them, supposedly, due to page count concerns. This last one I often find suspect, especially when there are ads or blank pages in the book (I have multiple publisher friends guilty of this sin).

One thing I can guess is they have to be pretty hard to do. Not necessarily the physical process of making one, so much as the decisions that go into what belongs in one. In most cases, it's not enough. You get your "lip service" indexes--the one-pagers. And sometimes you get behemoth indexes that never seem to have what you're looking for.

In the most recent episode of The Game's the Thing, I took part in a discussion about the index in Iron Dynasty, Way of the Ronin from Reality Blurs. I commented on how excellent the final of version of the book's index was. We had to cut the conversation, but I'd like to still give credit where credit is due. Apparently, the Blur's lead editor, Lyn Harm, is responsible for the index. It's six pages and includes a separate table index.

The size isn't what really hit me, it's the fact I have yet to stump the index when searching for something. According to Sean, Lyn actually kept a running list of what needed to be indexed as she edited the several versions of what became the final book. This process also apparently caught missing items, which needed to get added back in.

I am told the layout person is typically responsible for all matters reference in a RPG book--I have certainly never been asked to help in indexing when I edit--but I think the editor should certainly take part in the way Lyn did. Maybe this has been done before; maybe it's relatively common. I just know my experience, and it has never included anything involving the index.

Anyway... Well done, Lyn. And nice find, Sean.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Denver-Area Gaming Community

While I’ve lived in the Denver-area before, I wasn’t active in the gaming community back then. I really got involved in community when I started working for Game Daze in Tucson. I was meeting a lot of gamers, which led to me starting the podcast, helping to form SAGA, working with Pulp Gamer, and so on. While TGTT is still going, I don’t have that very public presence like I did working at a game store. And I honestly miss that.

My first foray into public gaming was earlier this month at MagnaCon. The folks I met there are primarily board gamers, and I’m psyched to have that venue. But it seems to me there’s a bit of a hole where there should be a more thriving RPG community. I know there are huge presences for 4E and Pathfinder here, and I hear tell the local Savage Worlds community may be organizing, but there’s not anything I can find for “everything else.” While there’s nothing wrong with any of those groups, they are a bit too narrow for my tastes.

My initial plan when I moved here was to just find a “home base” game store and go from there. Denver has several very good options for local game stores. The store closest to me, Total Escape Games, has a nice setup. The staff is decent, and the owners are cool folks. But like every other game store I’ve checked out in town, their prime in-store game slots are already taken by 4E, Pathfinder, Magic, Warhammer 40,000, and Warmachine/Hordes. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. I just don’t have any interest.

Between MagnaCon and a couple chance encounters, I have put together a small group of folks who share my interest in playing different RPGs. I’ve decided to take a page or two out of the Tucson playbook and start something of an RPG guild. I’ve begun networking with interested parties, and we are officially in the planning stages. What I can say now is the main things on the agenda are regular meet-ups, a reverence for all RPGs, bringing roleplayers out of the woodwork, and introducing new people to the hobby. There’s also some grumbling about a sort of GM support group--something we were beginning to have in Tucson when I decided to leave Arizona.

I think a thriving, public RPG group is important because, more so than board games, RPGs tend to be a private affair. The trouble is when private groups fail, or just stop, people who would like to continue playing often cannot find a group, and so they leave the hobby--sometimes temporarily, sometimes forever. I want to reach out to those folks and help keep them in the hobby, and perhaps we can grow it as well.

Friday, January 21, 2011

[GM Tools] Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters

I mentioned briefly in my last post I consulted the awesome book, Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters. It's written by the fine folks at Gnome Stew--the best GM-centric blog on the Interwebs. I've been using this book for awhile now, and it's time to give it a real shout out.

Essentially Eureka gives away its purpose in its title, but only word of mouth will sing to its utility. There have been a ton of products on this subject over the years, and they've always fallen short for me. Not so with Eureka. I bought the Print+PDF bundle because it's always nice to have a paper book, but I knew I'd want it handy on my iPad.

In Eureka, there are 167 adventure plots, each in the broad categories of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror. They're further broken down into themes. Then there is a list of genres the plot should be easily adapted to. Finally, each plot is tagged with keywords designed to give you some ideas as to what features a story may have, like dungeon crawls, intrigue, etc.

The book actually opens with detailed instructions on how to read and adapt the plots. The advice is great and is easily adaptable to just about any module or pre-written scenario. I've already used it outside the book, in fact. Even if your game's genre is not one of the listed "big three," this book is still very useful.

The book rounds out with four indexes, one each for genre, tag, title, and author. At first I thought the author index was a vanity thing, but then I realized I started to get a feel for each of the authors and began seeking authors out by their style. The book is super-easy to navigate, even if you have very specific needs when searching for a plot--the PDF more so, given its ample bookmarks.

Every GM who has an off-the-cuff style should have this book. Even if you're one of those heavy-prepping types, these plots are more than seeds, and many of them could actually serve as overarching campaign plots. I've personally used it in both modes, "quick, I need a plot" and "looking for inspiration."

As you can guess, this one's highly recommended.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Con Report: MagnaCon 2011

MagnaCon was a lot of fun. I ran five games (in four different systems) and met some awesome people. I'd like to especially thank Veronica Livingston for being a great host, and I'd like to thank Matthew Ward for getting me involved in the first place.

On Friday, I started out running Swords & Wizardry. I only had two players initially. They each ran two characters so we could run the adventure. Eric and Camdon were both good sports, and I think we all had a good time. Later in the session, we were joined by Matt, who managed to have two characters die on him. Finally, the last part was rounded out with the addition of my wife, Veronica.

For the Deadlands session, we had Wife Veronica, Camdon, Matt, Ed, Other Ron, and Lee. That game was a blast. I was going to go with a post-train robbery, Reservoir Dogs kinda thing, but at the last minute I decided to go with more of a From Dusk Till Dawn thing. My great friend Clint Black put that bug in my ear early last week, and by Friday morning, I'd decided he'd made a better call. It ended up being a blast.

Saturday morning, I ran Icons for Wife Veronica, Lee, and Olivia (11 years old--awesome!). It was a good time. The cheesy, in-character one-liners were hilarious.

Running two of the same story at MagnaCon turned out to be a mistake, as evidenced by the one person who showed up to re-play the S&W story I was running. So Camdon, my wife, and I put our heads together and decided to grab some Savage Worlds fantasy pregens from the Reality Blurs website and run something off the cuff. I consulted the excellent book, Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters, and had a story ready in minutes. It was relatively short, but I think we all had fun.

For the finale, I ran my Chicago, A.D. (After Dresden) story using the excellent Dresden Files RPG. We had Wife Veronica, Camdon, Ed, RP, Matt, and Chuck. Despite several factors--noise, group size, and mild food poisoning on my part--the game went pretty well. I have to say FUDGE dice hate me. I rolled multiple -4s and -3s in that game. This wasn't an isolated incident, either. It's happened every time I've played FATE. Unlike what the math fans will tell you, FUDGE dice really average -1, at least in my experience. I mean when I rolled high, the players were even celebrating.

So in my judgment, I am a little nuts for taking on as much as I did for MagnaCon. I won't put myself in quite that situation again--running so many games in so many different systems. That said I had a lot of fun.

But I have to say, "mission accomplished," on multiple levels. I ran five stories in four systems. People seemed to have fun. I had fun. Most importantly, potentially long-lasting relationships were formed in those two days. And that last thing is what this hobby is all about for me.

The only truly negative experience of the weekend (other than the mild food poisoning) was I missed my daughter terribly (as typically happens when we're separated for more than a day), so Vern and I have made the decision to take CaLeigh to Genghis Con Jr. next month. She was excited when we told her. I'm really looking forward to seeing how that goes.

Overall, MagnaCon is really a board game con, and they're trying to add RPGs. If board games are your bag, they had everything. The open library rivaled Pulp Gamer's, and Time Well Spent was there selling games at website prices.

Friday, January 14, 2011

MagnaCon 2011

Tonight and tomorrow I will be at MagnaCon in Denver, running roleplaying games. Here's what I'm running:

3:00pm - 7:00pm: Swords & Wizardry (up to 8 players)
Labyrinth Tomb of the Minotaur Lords - Enter the dungeon and discover it's treasures. Swords & Wizardry is a revival of the original fantasy roleplaying game. All materials necessary to play are provided, but feel free to bring a pencil and pad to take notes, and your own set of polyhedral dice.

8:00pm - 12:00am: Deadlands: Reloaded (up to 8 players)
Greed - Your gang has just robbed a train full of railroad payroll. The heat is on, and you're holed up in a small town, waiting out the law. But something's... wrong. This horror western uses the Savage Worlds game system. All materials necessary to play are provided, but feel free to bring a pencil and pad to take notes, and your own set of polyhedral dice, including a separate, different six-sider.

9:00am - 1:00pm: ICONS (up to 8 players)
It's Saturday morning--time for cartoons! In this super-powered game, your super team must foil the Siderial Schemes of Dr. Zodiac. All materials necessary to play are provided, but feel free to bring a pencil and pad to take notes, and two different-colored standard dice.

2:00pm - 6:00pm: Swords & Wizardry (up to 8 players)
Labyrinth Tomb of the Minotaur Lords - Enter the dungeon and discover it's treasures. Swords & Wizardry is a revival of the original fantasy roleplaying game. All materials necessary to play are provided, but feel free to bring a pencil and pad to take notes, and your own set of polyhedral dice. THIS IS A REPLAY OF THE FRIDAY EVENING GAME.

8:00pm - 12:00am: The Dresden Files (up to 8 players)
Chicago, A.D. (After Dresden) - Harry Dresden is dead or missing, and there's a power vacuum left in Chicago. Can Harry's friends stop a new player from filling the void? This FATE game is based on the popular Dresden Files novels by Jim Butcher, but no knowledge of the books is required to play. All materials necessary to play are provided, but feel free to bring a pencil and pad to take notes, and your own set of FUDGE dice.

The ICONS and S&W games are published adventures, which I'd normally avoid, except Dr. Zodiac was only made available to folks who pre-ordered ICONS, and the S&W adventure was published in a fanzine. So I feel safe running them. The other two are my creation, though Vernie helped me with the DFRPG one.

You might be saying, "Ron, that's four different systems" or "that's open to close on both days," or somesuch. You're likely thinking, "this guy's nuts." But it's a good cause.

I'll let you know if I'm nuts Monday...