Tuesday, January 31, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 31

#31: How would your life be different if you'd never gotten into gaming?

Everything would be different. I have a gamer wife (and now a gamer daughter), most of my friends game, I podcast about games, I'm designing three games... See the point here?

I might have more money. I don't even want to think about how much money I have spent on games since that fateful day in 1984 when my friend Tony showed me AD&D. Of course is the money spent indicative to gaming or just part of my personality? Would I own a couple muscle cars or a dozen high-end radio controlled cars if those hobbies had stuck? Who knows?

I don't think I'd be as socially comfortable as I am. I think I became a gamer because I'm social, but I think I've excelled at the art of talking to people because I'm a gamer.

These "what if" questions are always so weird...

Would I go back and change it if I could? Oh, hell no!

Monday, January 30, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 30

#30: What lessons have you taken from gaming that you can apply to your real life?

I think this question is worded poorly, so I am going to have to answer it twice.

Is the question meant to be: "What lessons have you learned in-game that you've applied to real life?"

To answer it this way, which is the way I think it's meant, I'd have to say sort of. Roleplaying is a very social activity for me. So I've learned how to be more social. I've learned to take chances. And as a GM, I've been semi-forced into looking closely at why people do things and how do different people think. These are all useful things in "real life".

Is the question meant to imply that people who game are not experiencing "real life" when they do so?

I hope this is just a poorly-worded question because otherwise it would be a little insulting. To imply gaming isn't part of real life would be wrong-headed and ignorant. Roleplaying is a part of my life. I roleplay with friends, typically. When I roleplay in public--stores and cons--I make friends. So for me--at least partially--gaming is an activity I take part in as a vehicle for hanging out with my friends. It's very much real life. Have I learned things about "real life" while doing it? Sure. Because I'm talking with people.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

@ReverGamers Master List Number 29

#29: What does the word "gamer" mean to you? Is that different than what other people seem to think it means?

I'll answer the second question first. The meaning of the word has changed within my lifetime. So I'll give the progression here.

When I was a kid, the word typically meant a person who plays RPGs and/or, to a lesser extent in the '80s, wargames (in the '70s there was a lot more overlap, I'm told). It was used to self-identify by gamers, and it was used in a derogatory way by non-gamers. "Oh, he's a gamer." I think it was derogatory, mostly to people who didn't understand it.

Today, the word has been co-opted by video games. If you self-identify as a gamer, people typically assume you play a lot of video games. I don't think being labeled a gamer is as negative as it used to be (geek chic and all).

I've taken to calling myself a tabletop gamer or pen and paper gamer or roleplayer. Then I have to explain it. I've also found people who play primarily board games use the term among each other. So essentially, if you are a gamer, and you're not a video gamer, you probably have to explain yourself--that is assuming it matters enough to you to explain.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 28

#28: Do you have any house rules when you game? What are they, and why do you use them? If not, why not?

There are two house rules. The first one is pretty common. I believe the second one is becoming common.

1) Floor dice don't count. If the dice hit the floor they get re-rolled. This rule is an old one for me. I think it comes from worrying about people cheating when they pick up their die. I'm not so much worried about that today--if cheating is what floats your boat, and it's not negatively affecting the other players, go for it. These days, this rule is just tradition.

2) This rule is completely non-negotiable. Those who play in my house must be kid friendly. This rule is about eight years old at the time of this writing. My wife and I have a daughter. She can be loud and obnoxious. She's been known to interrupt the game on occasion. And we don't apologize for her. If this is a problem for you, you may game elsewhere. Our current weekly game consists of mostly parents and one kid friendly non-parent. The other parents bring their kids too. The reason for this is pretty simple. We want to game. And we would like for our daughter to look at gaming positively. To encourage this, we don't ship her off to a relative or babysitter when we game. It's just something that happens in our house.

Heck, these days, we game with out daughter on occasion.

Friday, January 27, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 27

#27: If you were an Ent, what kind of Ent would you be? Or, what other NPC creature would you be? Why?

If I could be a creature it would be a dragon, only I wouldn't have a compulsion for gold. I'd rule a large swath of land with benevolence. I'd fight off armies and protect my people.

And that is all.

[Fuse Friday] System and Magic Duels

Fuse is a game setting I plan to publish. I’ll be talking about it most Fridays.

I recently mentioned I haven’t committed to making Fuse a Savage Worlds setting. The reason I haven’t cemented my system choice is twofold: 1) the setting is more important to me than the rules, so I want to make sure I’m not giving anything up when designing the system; and 2) I have concerns regarding the value of having Fuse with rules included, which I can’t do with Savage Worlds. That said, I will be presenting a lot of Fuse stuff with Savage Worlds in mind, since I’ve been heavily entrenched in the system for almost nine years. It’s what I know these days.

And speaking of which...

Kristian Serrano and I were chatting about magic duels the other day. It turned into a brainstorm session. Kristian is a Savage like me, so the rules we discussed were in that context.

I’m of two minds about duels at this point. On one hand, I think a magic duel could happen in the blink of an eye. Two practitioners lock eyes, they match wills, and one of them relents or falls. It would all happen in an instant--a single action in a combat round. On the other hand, it could be a multi-round thing that could be interrupted by the environment or other combatants. Let’s take my ideas in turn...

Instant Duel, Just Add Eye Contact

Both characters agree they’re dueling; neither duelist may move nor take any other action this round. The character with initiative holds his action till the slower practitioner is up, and then they begin the duel. There may be a +1 bonus on the first roll-off for the practitioner with a higher initiative card. This is an opposed Spirit contest. The loser takes a level of Fatigue, two if the winner got a raise. Repeat this roll until one practitioner falls. Incapacitation does not kill the loser, unless the winner calls for a Finishing Move. All this happens and resolves during a single round. No one in the combat sees anything, but the eerie eye contact of the practitioners.

Another possibility is an opposed Dramatic Task, first to five successes wins. Character death would still be a choice for the winner.

Protracted Duels for the Nosy Onlooker

These could work like the above two methods mentioned, but it would occur over multiple rounds. This would allow for more complications in terms of environment and the other combatants.

Edges and Hindrances

In either of the above cases, Edges and Hindrances would be created to allow players and GMs to create expert duelists.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 26

#26: Who or what was the most memorable NPC you've ever encountered? Why?

That'd be my version of "One-Eyed" Hank Ketchum. Again, I'm going back to my classic Deadlands campaign. He ended up being in Veronica's character, "Black Widow" Beth's, background as the guy who recruited her. I brought him in as a one-off to kick off the campaign. He was well-liked by the group, so I ended up making him recurring.

He wasn't one of those GM characters that stayed with the group or anything, but he did show up now and then to give the group a mission or nudge them in one direction or another. I never had him saving the day or anything--that's never fun for a group when a GM character has to bail them out all the time.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 25

#25: If you game enough, you're bound to run into someone being an ass. What's the most asinine thing someone's done in a game with you? How did you react? Did that experience change the way you game?

A long time ago my wife (who was then my girlfriend) and I were playing in a roleplaying game (you'll see why I don't even want to name it here in a moment) with another couple we knew. The game master had a habit of doing really bad crap to his wife's character at every turn. His wife hated it, but he continued. It was kind of dickish and made my wife and I really uncomfortable, but we continued to play because we were friends. One week, this guy had his wife's character beaten and raped. After that session, we just kind of stopped playing. It was too uncomfortable and shocking to even say anything at the time. (These days I'd likely call him on it and walk away on the spot, but I care a lot less what people like that think of me.) We maybe saw the couple one or two times after that--having worked really hard to avoid them--before we moved out of state. To this day, Veronica has an unreasonable hatred for that game.

That situation was more than asinine--it was kind of sick--but there ya go.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 24

#24: Have you ever been to a game convention? What was it like to be surrounded by so many other gamers? If not, would you like to go to one? Why or why not?

I've definitely been to conventions. Here in Denver, I've been to Genghis Con and TactiCon. In Arizona I've been to the late, greats, RinCon and RandomCon. In North Carolina, I've been to MACE. And I've been to Origins.

I simply love it. Games are my favorite pastime and gamers are my favorite people. Conventions give me the opportunity to try new games and meet new people, either through playing or GMing.

I began attending game conventions after I started The Game's the Thing, so cons also give me the opportunity to meet friends I've made through the show, be they listeners or gaming professionals or both.

The bottom line is, there's no better atmosphere for me than to be surrounded by gamers. It's electric, and if I could, I'd go on a convention tour every year.

Monday, January 23, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 23

#23: Have you ever experienced Total Party Kill (TPK), or been close to it? What effect did that have on you personally? On your group of players? Have you ever used retroactive continuity (retcon) to save yourself? Why or why not?

I'm not counting convention/demo games or games where that was the point (tournament modules) because there's really no emotional investment in it for me. It's just a fun time where stuff happens. I've never been on the player side of a TPK. I've always been the GM when it comes up.

In the first instance it was during my long-running Deadlands classic campaign I've often discussed. The protagonists were going up against a Native American cult who were using artifacts to drain people of their blood for power. The party split up and ran smack dab into two different encounters, each of which were designed for all of them. I decided to try them out, as is. It was pretty epic, as I  was running two combats, simultaneously. I quickly figured out they weren't going to survive either one, so I ramped up the crazy. One player was left hanging upside down from a rafter, about to be drained. Another player had his arm ripped off and was beaten with it. Finally, as they were all in the process of dying, I used one of the characters killer hindrance combo of Heavy Sleeper and Night Terrors to keep the party alive. My last sentence of the night was, "And that, my friends, is why you don't split the party."

I don't actually believe that advice anymore, but it was still an epic moment in gaming. Once everyone realized their character wasn't dead, they started laughing and admitted to having a good time. It's still talked about, semi-regularly, to this day.

The rest of my TPKs have been related to a combination of overpowered enemies and bad party planning.

There was a Deadlands classic game where I underestimated the toughness of the walkin' dead. Shane Hensley takes his zombies very seriously.

Then in Savage Worlds, the first three times I ran it resulted in a TPK. This was mainly from the players not understanding tactics mattered in Savage Worlds. They weren't using cover well or ganging up, things like that. At one point, Veronica announced she'd never play Savage Worlds again. These days it's work getting her to play anything else.

As far as the effect of a TPK... it depends on the person. For me, I'm disappointed when it happens because I feel like I've done something wrong (and sometimes I have). Other players at my table react in different ways. Some get very emotionally invested in their characters and want to protect them; others couldn't care less because they like changing characters.

I've seen TPKs kill campaigns. One of the three Savage Worlds incidents killed an Evernight campaign we were starting--a campaign I never got to restart or go back to. These days, unless I'm running a tournament module or a crazy campaign game, I avoid them as a GM.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 22

#22: Describe the worst game you've ever played in. What made it so bad? Did your fellow players help, or make it worse?

I was playing in a Witchcraft game several years ago. A good friend was running the game. He wasn't an experienced GM, but he was not the reason the game was so bad. I was.

I'm a really convincing guy. I could sell Bill Gates an iMac if I needed to. Seriously. And my friend running the game is a really nice guy, and kind of a pushover.

Basically, I ran roughshod over him and the game with my ideas. I got him to say yes a lot, and the game stopped being a game. The other players joined in, and they ran all over him too. I felt really bad about it. The game didn't last long, and I've never seen him GM since.

Heck, I've never run or played Witchcraft since. Suckage.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 21

#21: What's the best bribe you've ever given (or received as) a GM? What did you get (give) for it?

Wow, I'm not proud of the answer coming, but it's the truth. As recently as the late nineties, I would give players extra XP or special items for their characters if they bought me supplements for the game I was running. The sad part of it is I had many takers.

Bribery isn't the sort of behavior I'd engage in anymore, but it sure was easier on my gaming budget in my younger days.

Friday, January 20, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 20

#20: What was the most memorable character death you've ever experienced? What makes it stick with you?

There was a regular Mage: The Ascension game I was playing in at a coffee shop. I played a Euthanatos mage who had the delusion flaw. He thought he was an action hero. It was a lot of fun playing this guy because I had to figure out how to use Entropy in ways that I could reason would make my character look like an action hero.

Anyway, there was this huge battle with the Technocracy. All the marbles were on the line. My character used his power to essentially save the day, and to hell with the Paradox in doing it. Basically, he kind of exploded. It was spectacular--skin bulging and pulsing until BOOM!

It was one of those "holy crap!" moments in gaming I'll never forget. Best. Suicide. Ever.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 19

#19: What's the weirdest character you've ever played? How did you end up with him/her/it?

In a previous post, I mentioned my wife took a stab at GMing Deadlands. Soon after that stint it was time for a new campaign, and she agreed to back me up by sharing the GM role. One of the goals we had was to have a story reason for us to switch off. Enter "Black" Jack and "Red Hand" Jill.

Jack and Jill were huckster twins who lost a deal with the devil (heh... that even reads like a sick nursery rhyme). The result was they were both forced to occupy the same space--only one of them could exist at a time. When one was in the world, the other was off being tortured in some other dimension. The whole thing made for some interesting storytelling and allowed us to switch off when necessary. Also, the group always had a huckster.

We didn't get to play them long. The campaign died due to the curse of Canyon o' Doom--an adventure which, every time we started it, it killed our campaign. It was no fault of the adventures content; it was just cursed. Seriously.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 18

#18: Have you ever "cheated" on a die roll/random chance outcome, or looked up a quest solution on a fan site? Why or why not? If yes, was it worth it?

As a player, I'd love to say no, but it isn't technically true. When I was a teen, and into my early 20s, I did fudge the occasional die roll when the GM wasn't looking. I had a need to "win" at the time, as it was long before I understood the value of falling forward in a game or the growth that comes from failure. I also think it was at least partly a result of the "whiff factor" prevalent in so many games. It's hard to take when you're facing down the "big bad" only to roll a "2" on your d20. I don't do it any more. I let the dice fall where they may.

As a GM, I used to fudge rolls all the time, all in the name of "story." In recent years, I've taken a "roll in front of the screen" mentality. It's improved my games because my players know there's real danger when I roll the dice. That said, I don't typically let a die roll be the sole arbiter of character death--I always involve the player when that comes up.

Since I've learned failure can have more to do with intent than the listed action, I take some liberty with that, as well. Hanging off a cliff and botch your climb roll? Rather than fall to your death, I may beat you up a bit on your way down. And if you want to get to the top of that cliff, you won't be climbing there. Find another way. This beats the heck out of: "You die. Here's a new character sheet."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 17

#17: What was the best reward you've ever gotten in a game? What made it so great? How much do you need tangible rewards (loot, leveling, etc.) to enjoy a game?

Probably the best in-game reward was in a D&D 3.x game. Our whole party received custom magic items that leveled with us. Basically new powers and abilities were added as the game went on. The DM gave us a little control (in the form of requests) as to how they changed over time. Mine was a cloak, which was fitting for a rogue. Aside from the leveling aspect, what made it so great was these items tied in to adventurers from history, and their spirits were eventually there to help us beat the "big bad" of the campaign. So having a story tie-in was the main thing.

In general, I like characters that upgrade--new levels, abilities, etc.--but I think that has more to do with conditioning than any sort of need. I played in a FATE campaign, where it turned out I was just as happy being able to swap skills around and modifying aspects was just as gratifying. My character never actually got better. I think this means I'm less about the trappings of change and more about the change itself.

Hmm... There's something to this revelation. I think I will delve into it in a future post.

Monday, January 16, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 16

#16: Who was the most memorable foe you've ever come up against in a game? How did you beat him/her/it? Or did you?

All my players. OK. Just kidding--sort of.

As a player, that would have to be the Knights of the Golden Circle.

Veronica likes to pretend it never happened, but for a brief time, she took the reigns of our long-running Deadlands (classic) game. For our campaign, I mostly ignored the canon and built the game around the characters' backgrounds. But at one point, I needed a break, and Vern volunteered (she may have been voluntold here--who remembers these things?) to take the game for a bit.

Unlike me, Veronica has not only love, but skill, when it comes to history. She came up with a fictionalized version of a real secret society, which was the Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC). She spun a killer yarn around them, from which sprang my character, Ethan, whom I would be playing for her run. Further, her character, "Black Widow" Beth Hickson--a Texas Ranger of some regard--was captured by these folk.

Ethan started out as a mole inside the KGC--he was actually there to destroy it. Beth accidentally foiled his plan by almost getting killed. Ethan made his turn early and saved her life, but stayed undercover in order to get Beth back to her band.

The scene where Beth was returned was pretty cool. I didn't initially have a character, so Veronica had me play my favorite NPC, "One Eye" Hank Ketchum, The Texas Ranger. In the scene, we were faced off with members of the KGC holding Beth. Vern had me make Ethan, but she didn't tell me when he'd be coming in. Well, during the exchange, it started to go pear-shaped, and I was handed his sheet. Veronica said "go," and I was playing Ethan, who happened to be standing over Beth. We took out the KGC goons and we had Beth.

While Beth was back, she didn't fare well in the conflict. And, after convincing Beth's band he wasn't really with the KGC, Ethan took the lead of the band to take on and destroy the KGC's foothold in the Great Maze.

I guess the reason they were so memorable is because Vern is damn good at coming up with these back stories. If she ever sheds her "natural" fear of improvising at the table--the root of her GM phobia--I may get more play time in the future.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 15

#15: People often talk about the divide between what happens "in game" and "in real life." Do you maintain that divide in your own play, or do you tend to take what happens to your character personally? Why?

I maintain a pretty stark divide between real life and game life. That said, I'm really invested in my characters. I don't get mad when things go badly for them--hell, that's half the fun--but I do take a strong interest in what happens and the characters' development.

The "why" is pretty simple. I'm a creative person. I care about story and development. So the story and characters have to make sense to me.

The 800lb. gorilla in the room--and really what I think this question is about--is character death. I am OK with a character dying--any character--but I am not OK with random, pointless death. You know the kind--a goblin aces multiple times on his damage roll, and your Legendary paladin dies on his way to the final battle. Remember when I said the story and characters have to make sense? Here's an example of it--random death may be "real-life" realistic, but it makes for a crappy story if the guy in the opening montage credits gets hit by a bus and dies when he stops for coffee. In a story, when a protagonist dies, it's got to be important. Period.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 14

#14: What kinds of adventures do you enjoy most? Dungeon crawls, mysteries, freeform roleplaying, or something else? What do you think that says about you?

Really, it depends--on the group, the GM, my mood, etc.

I know GMs who run killer dungeon crawls, and that's always a pleasure. I do not like vanilla dungeon crawls--"you approach a random ruin..." I'm a fan of dungeons with a strong story or at least a unique setup.

With the right group, freeform roleplaying can be a blast, but I find--more often than not--groups want at least a little leadership at the table, a semi-obvious route to take. When freeforming happens on it's own, though--not planned--it can be pretty freakin' special.

I personally love running mysteries. I come up with a problem--a setup--and I let the group go for it. Sometimes it's all improv after that. Sometimes I have an end in mind. That depends on my time and my whims, to be honest.

Once in awhile, I just love pure actionfests. Four hours of ass-kicking can be rewarding after a hard week's work.

Friday, January 13, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 13

#13: Who's the best GM/storyteller/party leader you've ever had? What made him/her so great?

Jason Corley, the self-proclaimed best GM in Tucson, is the best GM/Storyteller I've had (don't tell him I said this--he's got a huge head). One thing that makes him so great is he's the first person I've met to be as good as me at improvisational GMing--and I'm pretty friggin' good. But Jason has more he brings to the table, particularly in the area of organization.

Jason doesn't organize his game like normal, human GMs, he does it by character. In his trusty GM book, Jason puts a page aside for each character. Whenever anything--anything--happens in game, he goes through the pages of characters and decides how the event effects them, and what their reactions are.

Jason runs a lot of public games throughout Tucson; look him up through the Tucson RPG Guild. I promise playing at his table will be a treat.

I should close by saying all the above may not be true. I might just be filling blog space. See that, Corley! You'll never really know!!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Numbers 10 & 12

So I'm either crazy or Blogger ate my answer to number 10. I remember reading the question; I remember writing the question. So below is my second draft of number 10, followed by the as-scheduled number 12.

#10: Have you ever played a character originally from a book/TV/movie?
How did the character change from the original as you played? If not, who would you most like to

I played a TV character, for the first time ever, at last year's TactiCon, here in Colorado. I was the 10th Doctor in Cubicle 7's Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. I even got to give one of those classic David Tennant speeches wherein he stares down a foe, outmatched and outnumbered, and explains to them that he's the Doctor, dammit! And they backed down. It was made of awesome!!

This was a convention one-shot, so there wasn't much time for change. I worked really hard to stay dead-on with the character. Table consensus seemed to point to my success.

As fun as it was, I have to say I would not want to play a character like that for any length of time--maybe a one-shot or limited series, but that's it. Too much pressure.

#12: Do [you] prefer collaborative or competitive games? What do you think that
says about you?

Assuming this is about roleplaying games like the rest of the questions (to those unaware, there are cooperative board games), my knee-jerk reaction is to say cooperative, all the way. That said, I have never played a competitive roleplaying game. One of my favorite things about roleplaying games is the group storytelling, and in my head, playing an RPG competitively seems to be at odds with what I love.

With the above in mind, I would be open to trying it. Perhaps I'd be proven wrong...

But at the end of the day, I'm a lover, not a fighter.

I'm not completely sure what it says about me. I'm fine being (fiercely) competitive in board games, so it's not a "need to win" thing. It's likely the whole thing comes down to lack of experience. I've been roleplaying cooperatively for 27 years... tough to change.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 11

#11: Have you ever played a character that was morally gray, or actually evil? Why or why not? If yes, did you enjoy it?

Again--GM--so yeah. From a player standpoint, I have played both morally gray and evil characters.

My morally gray character was already covered here.

My evil character was in a Planescape game. I was playing a psionicist named Mandrake (which, if I recall correctly, means “poison”). Mandrake was really evil. He would kill for nearly any reason. He was neutral evil, and so was capable of playing well with others, if it served his purpose. What was interesting was it was not an “evil” campaign, so Mandrake had to keep some of his activities somewhat private.

Honestly, I loved Mandrake as a character--I’ve re-purposed his personality multiple times over the years for villains in the games I’ve run--but I didn’t enjoy him as a player character. And that’s because, as a GM, I always play evil, and I’m usually the GM. So for me, a change is to play a good guy.

I do love to play morally gray characters. I think it’s because there’s a freedom in it for me. As a nice guy, there are a lot of things I’d like to do, but would never do. With a morally gray character, I can do those things. Again, see my write-up of Revenant for a good example.

Monday, January 9, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 9

#9: Have you ever played a character of the opposite sex. Why or why not? If yes, how did the other players react?

As a GM, of course I have! But I'm guessing that's not really what this question is about.

In 27 years of gaming, I have never seen anyone effectively play a character of the opposite sex. In every case I've seen, these characters end up being more caricature than anything else. I can tell you it's an area of discomfort for me as a GM (I never feel like I do women justice when I play them). When you're dealing with a game table that includes people of both sexes, people can get downright offensive. I don't completely disallow cross-gender play at my table, but I do discourage it. And when someone chooses to go that route, they're put on notice they may be asked to change.

Obviously this strong opinion is based solely on my experience. I'm sure it's been done well, somewhere. And I'd love to see it.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 8

#8: What's the one gaming accessory (lucky dice, soundtrack, etc.) you just can't do without? Why?

Aside from what's needed for the game I'm playing, there's nothing I truly can't do without. I don't suffer from any sort of gamer superstition, and I try not to get too attached to anything.

That said there are two items that come close...

My iPad contains nearly every roleplaying book I own, and it goes with me nearly everywhere. I run games with the iPad--some games I run nearly 100% with the iPad (ICONS comes to mind). The more I use it, the more I need it. That said, I draw the line at dice. I will always use real dice. Dice rolling apps just don't cover it.

I own a Pentel Twist-Erase III mechanical pencil with 0.9mm lead. It's the perfect thickness for character sheets, it writes smoothly, and it includes a killer eraser. I get seriously discombobulated when I don't have this particular pencil.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 7

#7: How do you pick names for your characters?

I have a ton of sources for names, mostly media-related. Some names come straight out of my head. For fantasy names I'll either use something "old sounding" and completely made up or start with a common name and change a couple letters--"Andrew" becomes "Andrel" or "Calvin" becomes "Colvyn."

My very favorite tool--indeed a favorite of the whole Blessing household--is Writer's Digest's Character Naming Sourcebook. It includes advice on how to name a character and names from a couple dozen nationalities around the world, past and present. Every GM and Player should own a copy.

Friday, January 6, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 6

#6: Describe your all-time favorite character to play. What was it about him/her/it that you enjoyed so much?

My favorite character... that's a tough one. Two characters immediately spring to mind, but I'll pick one...

(Much of this comes from an old Facebook note I wrote, and has been edited for content and grammar. The very last paragraph is all new.)

Revenant was a superhero with a dark past. He was once an investigative reporter, named Michael Mortis (the cheesy alliteration was a nod to comics), who learned too much about an organized crime group and got himself and his family killed. A major power player named Necromancer brought Michael back from the dead, endowing him with powers.

Before Revenant knew his true origin, he thought he was actually a revenant from mythology, a person brought back from the dead to enact revenge on those who did him wrong. Thinking it was his only ticket to dying and join his family, Michael sought out and killed his family's murderer. 

Then nothing happened.

Distraught, Michael eventually took on the Revenant persona in an effort to repent for the murder he committed, all the while searching for a way to die. Eventually he hooked up with Omega Force, a team he now leads. Since the beginning, Michael has learned that the self he knew did die, and his soul he knew went on to whatever afterlife was waiting. He was merely an imprint of the Michael he once believed he was. He changed his last name to Sinclair (his wife's name was Clair, so "no Clair"), and started his new life.

Revenant was fun to play because he was kind of a dick. I based his wit on Dr. Cox from Scrubs. I entertained the table, while cracking myself up on occasion, so that was cool. What I liked best about him, though, was he was going to do the right thing, no matter who he hurt in the process (especially himself). There was no compromise when he saw the "right" path. That quality led to a lot of fun conflict with villains and his teammates. If there was a dirty deed to be done, though, he kept his teammates out of it. He might kill, but he would never let his partners do the same--that was his cross to bear. This part of Revenant's personality started with Batman, but I dialed it up to 12. If the Joker encountered Revenant, there might be a second encounter, but never a third--he'd be dead.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 5

#5: Have you ever introduced a child to gaming, or played a game with a young person? How is gaming with kids different than gaming with adults?

Yes. Yes I have. There are a couple differences when playing with kids.
  • Kids have shorter attention spans. The typical game session for an adult group is about four hours (sometimes more). For kids, avoid going much past two hours--that way lies madness (and frustration).
  • Kids are more creative than adults. If you're a GM, and you think your players have messed up your master plans in the past, try GMing a seven-year-old or two. You'll stop complaining about your adult players going "off course." A kid at the table will surely keep you on your toes.
  • Kids are more honest than adults. If they're not having fun, you'll know it.
As a parent, I will close by saying nothing is cooler than watching your kid "get" roleplaying and want to do it with you.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Number 4

#4 Are you a "closet gamer?" Have you ever hidden the fact that you're a gamer from your co-workers, friends, family, or significant other? Why or why not? How did they react if they found out?

I am not a closet gamer.

I am sometimes careful about how I introduce or talk about gaming to co-workers. It's not embarrassing as much as I hate having to explain. Everyone assumes I mean video games, and for some reason that annoys me. It really annoys me to learn how much people don't listen. I can give a full description of roleplaying after I've been asked, only to have the other conversant still talking about video games.

The reactions of people who learn I'm a gamer range from legitimate interest to simple weird looks. I'm surprised often at who I learn "used to" game. It's really funny when I'm occasionally told in secret by someone who just acted like I was an alien in front of other people.

[Read-Thru] Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade

In July of 2010, my buddy Eloy Lasanta, owner of Third Eye Games, sent me a review copy of Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade. I read the book and loved it, and I had Eloy on my podcast to discuss the game several months later. But I never got around to commenting on the game here. Recently, I’ve had reason to go back and re-read the game (maybe the reason will be discussed here one day), so I figured I’d give my thoughts about it while it’s fresh in my memory.

In Wu Xing, you play a ninja who has joined the Lotus Coalition, in an effort to strike back at the Izou Empire, which has called for the destruction of all Ninja. While the Lotus Coalition means well, there is still plenty of enmity between the various Ninja clans, so there’s a lot of potential for some awesome storytelling.

Let’s take this chapter by chapter...

The book starts off with a brief introduction, which includes a look at the setting, the ninja clans, and the (very) basics of the game system. It also includes a short example of play in the “what is roleplaying” section.

Wu Xing is powered by the Dynamic Gaming System (DGS), the same system found in Apocalypse Prevention, Inc., which requires only a single d20. This is not in any way related to The d20 System--it simply uses a d20.

I think this section of the book is just about perfect. It was enough information to get my juices flowing about the setting, without setting me up to re-read too much later in the book (who has time for that?).

Chapter One: Ninja vs. The Empire
Ninja vs. Empire goes into more detail about the setting. You get the history which leads up to the Ninja Crusade. You learn a little more about the clans and what it means, in general, to be a ninja. The major players of the world are discussed, to include the Lotus Coalition, the Izou Empire, and the Five Kingdoms surrounding the Empire. (The Five Kingdoms are only given a very high-level view, as they will each be covered in source books, the first of which has been released--The Land of Seed and Blossom.) There are two beautiful maps: one for the Izou Empire, and one for the rest of the world.

There is a great deal of information in this chapter, and I feel like, once again, it’s just what a GM needs to create her own campaign. Eloy is known for amazing control of the delivery of setting information, and he didn't disappoint here.
Chapter Two: Clans
The Clans chapter goes into detail about the 10 major ninja clans of the setting. (To date I believe the number of playable clans has roughly doubled with the release of two source books and one single-clan PDF.) They are presented in what I call the classic White Wolf style--you get a quick story about a sample clan member, the history of the clan, the lifestyle of a typical clan member, clan agendas, character creation info, and the telltale Clan Impressions section, which gives a sentence or two describing, in the words of a clan member, what they think of the other clans, the Lotus Coalition, and the Empire. The clans include:

Bamboo Herbalists: Adrenaline junkie healers with a propensity for going where they’re not wanted to get their ingredients.

Blazing Dancers: Light-hearted circus performers who use performance to stay in shape for ass-kicking.

Grasping Shadows: These guys are probably what comes to mind when you think of a Ninja (deliberately capitalized here).

Hidden Strands of Fate: These ninja spend less time fighting and more time politicking and controlling things from within.

Living Chronicle: Contemplative biographers of the world, they keep their records on their skin.

Pack of the Black Moon: These are the country folk, attuned to nature--especially animals. They can grant their powers to specially-trained dogs.

Recoiling Serpents: Masters of poison, and they’re ambitious to boot. Everyone watches them closely.

Virtuous Body Gardeners: Tattooed upstarts, these guys can animate their tattoos. Since they’re a newer clan, they are constantly looking for ways to improve themselves--which usually involves taking crazy risks.

Wardens of Equilibrium: All these ninja care about is balance in the world. They created the Lotus Coalition to combat the imbalance created by the Empire. Most of these guys are merchants.

Will of Iron: These metal smiths like to fight. Think of a Viking, only violent.

Another skill, at which Eloy excels, is the ability to keep you thinking about “your character” as you read through his books. In this chapter, I had to keep re-reading sections because I kept going off into my own world, thinking of “my character.” Then I’d realize I didn’t know what I just read. That’s a nice problem for a gamer to have and a nice one for a designer to create.

The Clan Impressions and the fiction in each clan write-up solved another problem for me. In the first chapter, I was thinking Eloy’s writing style might be wrong for a game about the Far East. The Clans chapter solved this conundrum for me. By the time I read the included fiction and the Clan Impressions, I got the sense Eloy was deliberately going for a looser style. The language and the sensibilities of the book are deliberately Western (the hemisphere, not the genre), and it will make Wu Xing more approachable to folks, like my wife (hint hint), who know little about Eastern cultures.

Chapter Three: Character Building

Character creation is basically a point buy system, with each part of the character having so many points to spend. There are six steps to creating a character. They’re listed in a sidebar at the beginning of the chapter. I couldn’t find step four (select Wushu) anywhere in the body of the chapter, but it’s listed again in the quick reference at the end (and Wushu is covered fully in the next chapter). The chapter is rounded out with a complete character creation walkthrough, to include a completed character sheet. More games should have this.

This chapter includes all the stats you’ll use, to include Skills, Gifts, and Drawbacks. Wu Xing has a lot of numbers to keep track of--this is seriously one of the crunchiest games I’ve liked in years--but this chapter does a decent job of conveying what needs to be done. With the exception of Clan choice, Wushu, and equipment, everything you need for your character is in here, which should minimize page flipping, at least a bit.

The skill list is short, which is a Good Thing(TM). There are a number of Fighting Styles to choose from, definitely taken from Kung-Fu styles, named after animals. There are a lot of variables in here--each style gives bonuses for different things, and there are special abilities associated with the styles. It’s great for flavor, but could create issues with keeping track of what your character’s bonuses are for which moves.

There is quite a bit in character creation that gets a player thinking about her character and provides guidance on how to play it. Eloy spends quite a bit of space on concept, including upbringing, gender issues, etc., then there are stats that provide guidance as well. Your character’s Chi levels in Yin and Yang determine much about personality. Your ninja will also have an elemental soul, which also provides more great food for thought. Put these together with Drawbacks, and even less-experienced players should walk into the first session with good ammunition for getting into their character’s head.

Character advancement is very White Wolf. Basically you get a point for showing up, a point for learning, etc. These XP can be spent to improve your character. 

Chapter Four: Wushu 
Wushu are ninja powers. Each clan has their clan-specific wushu, and there are more general wushu, which more than one type of ninja may possess. Those are usually elemental.

The powers are activated with a die roll, and Chi is spent in different ways to fuel it.

The feeling of wushu covers the gamut from spells to superpowers, and there’s a lot of variance between the different types of wushu. The chapter ends with some quick and dirty rules for making your own wushu. It gives magic  a “sky’s the limit" feel.

(Coming from a guy who plays a lot of Savage Worlds, the way powers are set up in Wu Xing is certainly refreshing for me. All the characters are spellcasters, and they all manage to feel different. It takes a lot of suspension of disbelief on my part to have multiple spellcasters in Savage Worlds--not so here.)

Chapter Five: Equipment and Combat
I’ll say right away I was taken aback by having equipment share a chapter with combat. Equipment isn’t just about weapons, so there’s more to it then fighting. I would have definitely broken these up.

In regards to equipment, your Class in life determines what you can afford to have as a character. Land-owners can buy things with Cost: 1 or less, Artisans can buy things with Cost: 2: or less, and so on. It’s really clean, and it ties nicely into the setting. As weapons and armor help in combat, other items can help with skill checks. Pretty straightforward; I like it.

Combat is pretty crunchy, but I think in a game where spells, fists, feet, and swords are flying, wuxia-style, that’s completely appropriate.

Different combat actions essentially provide a combination of modifiers to attacks, defense, and damage. These numbers are further modified by Fighting Styles, armor, and weapons. Everything you do has a Speed, which brings me to the initiative system.

Each combat round consists of 20, half-second Counts on a combat tracker. Your initiative roll determines your starting space on the tracker. Then on your turn, the action you choose determines when you’ll go next. Every character has at least two actions per round.

You may initially be thinking, “oh, crap--phases ala Champions,” and you would be wrong. Instead you have to make strategic choices every time you act or react to someone else in the combat.

Example: You act on Count 2, your opponent on Count 7. Do you take an action that does more damage and give your opponent the chance to act next, or do you go for less damage, but give yourself two actions before your opponent? For your opponent, do they try to avoid your blow, pushing them down the combat tracker and giving you another chance to attack, or do they take the hit and hope for a killer comeback?

By default, the DGS uses no battle mat, but my sense is there’s little chance of falling into “I attack, I hit, I damage” with this system. And unlike other game systems, not using a mat won’t require a ton of GM fiat either.

I haven’t played it enough to give a final verdict on this, but I’m really excited to spend some time with it.

The chapter is rounded out with a three-round, one-on-one combat example. It does a great job of conveying what Eloy is going for with this combat system.

Chapter Six: Antagonists
There's a thorough selection of NPCs. There are also supernatural creatures, to include Spirits, Celestial Animals, and Oni. The stat blocks presented are pretty easy to read and understand--they’re neatly organized.

Barring something very specialized, there’s no reason a GM should ever need to fully stat up NPCs with what’s presented. That said, it’s my hope there will be a supplement to expand on the supernatural creatures, especially the Oni. I just wanted more.

Chapter Seven: Storytelling
This chapter is all about GMing. There are tips on theme and mood and recommendations for animated films to watch (for the record, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Naruto, and Basilisk). Also included are story hooks, based on the different styles of story the game is meant to be played with. The chapter is rounded out with some general “don’t be a dick”-style GM tips.

Between this chapter and everything else in the book, this game deftly avoids the trap so many games fall into: “so now what?” In Wu Xing, the “what” is clear.

The book is rounded out with a glossary of terms, a series of quick reference sheets for combat and fighting styles, character sheets, and an index. The index is serviceable, but not as detailed as I’d like (to be fair, most aren't).

This is my favorite Third Eye Games setting so far, which is saying something, since I edited the bulk of Part-Time Gods. I’ve loved them all, but this one fires on all cylinders for me. One of my favorite features is there’s no metaplot, just the setup. There are no secrets, which only the game master may know--another Good Thing(TM). The end result is players can read this book, cover-to-cover, and their understanding and enjoyment of the game can only be enhanced by doing so.

While I've mentioned the crunchiness and statiness (new word) of the game, the core mechanic of the game is simple--roll d20, add modifiers, beat target number. A deft GM could easily roll in the additional mechanics as needed, to a crunch-shy group.

I have two issues with this book: 1) It seems to me a game about a war should include mass combat rules. I know ninja battles are showcased as one-on-on events in anime and manga, but larger-scale skirmishes and battles are mentioned; so they should be represented by rules. 2) The editing in this book leaves much to be desired. There are times where I laughed for all the wrong reasons when I was reading.

If you’re looking for a blow-by-blow replacement for Legend of the Five Rings, you may be disappointed by Wu Xing. Further, avoid it if you weren’t excited about my description of initiative and combat. But if you love martial arts action, and authentic Eastern culture is a tough sell at your game table, this is a must buy. Heck, if you saw Avatar: The Last Airbender and loved it, go directly to your FLGS or Third Eye Games' store or RPGNow--do not pass go; do not collect $200.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

@ReverbGamers Master List Numbers 1, 2, & 3

Due to the magic of social networking, I just found out about Atlas Games' Reverb Gamers Master List of 31 question about RPGs. Thanks to Ryan Macklin for bringing this up on Facebook (via Twitter). Like Ryan, I will do all 31 questions, and I will post each day. Since this is already day three, I will answer the first three questions today then going forward, one per day.

#1: What was your first roleplaying experience? Who introduced you to it? How did that introduction shape the gamer you've become?

My first roleplaying experience was at the age of 11. My buddy Tony had me over his house (I think it was after school) to hang out. He busted out the AD&D Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Unearthed Arcana. We made a quick character, and Tony gave me some magic items. I honestly don't remember any details as to the character or the magic items. Tony ran me through a dungeon for a couple hours and I had a great time.

I don't know how much it shaped me as a gamer, but it definitely started me off on a hobby that's lasted 27 years so far, to include podcasting, freelance editing, and game design.

#2: What is it about gaming that you enjoy the most? Why do you game? Is it the adrenaline rush, the social aspect, or something else?

This is honestly a tough one. I've been gaming so long, the whys are kind of lost on me. I'll try though. For starters, I love being around people--the social aspect is likely number one for me. Also, I love the act of playing a character and telling a story. To be completely honest, I really love "performing" for people, and roleplaying is pretty much a captive audience!

#3: What kind of gamer are you? Rules Lawyer, Munchkin/Power Gamer, Lurker, Storyteller/Method Actor, or something else? (Search "types of gamer" for more ideas!) How does this affect the kinds of games you play? For example, maybe you prefer crunchy rules-heavy systems to more theatrical rules-light ones.

I tend to agree with Macklin on this one. It's all about what the game, the situation, and the group requires of me.

I'm definitely a rules guy, but I try not to cram it down anyone's throat. I prefer rules systems that allow for lots of options in uncomplicated ways. I wouldn't say I prefer rules-light or rules heavy, just rules consistent. I like systems that are written in such a way so it's relatively obvious what you should do when you don't remember the exact rule. It doesn't matter how many rules there are, or how deep they go, as long as the make sense in the context of the other rules. It's also very important the rules evoke the setting or at least get out of the way.

The effect is, I don't play many games with pasted-on rules or too many subsystems, or games with a rule for everything.

From a role-playing perspective I tend to base my characters on personalities I've seen or read in media--or an amalgam of characters. Like Batman meets Dr. Cox from Scrubs (yep, done it). Does that make me a method actor?

I am by no means a lurker. I'm usually in the thick of the story, as a player, to the point where I actively have to monitor myself and pull away so others can shine. I've gotten pretty good at that over the years.


Well, that's it for the first three... I welcome your comments!