Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Duty. Honour. Nourishment.

(Thank you Games Workshop!)

Tuesday, March 31, 2020


This is not a new book but I finally got around to reading it the past few weeks - so here are my thoughts ...

A few background points:

  • Titans have a soft spot with me as just a few years after I started playing 40K I discovered the epic scale version of the game and the release of the second edition of the game coincided with my graduation from college. I finally had some money to spend on my hobby interests so i dove into "Space Marine" in a big way and had a ridiculous pile of titans - mostly painted! - for most of the armies. I still have most of them even though we haven;t played in a while.
  • Dan Abnett is a really good writer, particularly action/intrigue/thriller type stuff. He's written a bunch for Marvel and DC and he's written a lot of the better 40K fiction as well over the last 10-15 years. 
  • It was published in 2008 so some things have changed a bit with the setting. The descriptions of Skitarii in this book as barbarically ornamented techno-warriors is notably different than how they are presented now but it's not a huge problem for the story.
Short Version: 
If you are interested in Titan operations in 40K it's definitely worth a read. If you like military campaign stories set in the 40K universe in general you will probably like this book. If you like mixing in how "normal" people act and react in the 40K universe when a storm hits this one should be on your list.

The Good:
The action is great and world-spanning. One minute it's a titan ripping down void shields and blowing a gun arm off of another titan, then it's Adeptus Mechanicus Skitarii ground troops rampaging in a ferocious melee, then it's a few scrappy Planetary Defense Force remnants retreating though a desert just trying to stay alive. It's strong and there are interesting characters put in interesting situations. I think my favorite is the head of one titan legion, centuries old and mostly artificial, trying to retain his identity as the imprint of all the past Princeps of his titan (10,000 years worth) and the titan itself threaten to absorb his personality into their own. It's an interesting struggle as he forgets names and has flashbacks to prior battles while in the middle of leading the current campaign. The view of the "bridge crew" operating each titan is interesting to explore and does get significant time in the novel.

 The Not-As-Good:
It's a 600 page novel and there are a lot of plot threads and a lot of characters. Some of them fade out part way through the story and have little to no resolution or pay off. One character that gets a fair amount of first-person time early on ends up being killed off-screen in sort of a throwaway resolution late in the book. A major political/religious schism gets resolved incredibly neatly. One minor character keeps showing up, does nothing but wonder what's going on, and by the end of the book I was wondering why he was included at all.

It feels like the book was written in chunks, likely with significant gaps in between some of those chunks. Some plotlines are totally coherent and satisfying, many of them come together nicely at the climax, but some of them just wander, to no conclusion or to what feels like a rushed conclusion. Not enough to derail my enjoyment of the book but it's not 100% satisfying in the end.

Wrapping Up:
So, it was a good, interesting, and mostly satisfying read. It's a good 40k yarn. Another note: here's a 40K battle action story with no marines! So if you're looking for a fight without the Adeptus Astartes  jumping in to save the day here's a good candidate for you. It's not the best ever 40k novel and it's not Abnett's best work but it is pretty good and enough to keep me entertained for a few days.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Catching Up - RPG Burnout

There are a variety of reasons for the blog going silent last year. I wasn't playing as much tabletop gaming and I wasn't playing as much online either (I burned out on City of Heroes after about 4 months) so I did not have as much to say. The single biggest reason though was that for the first time in 40 years of playing RPGs I ... burned out.

This was a new experience. I've never gone more than a few months without playing or running something, and I've usually also worked in some prep work or some board or miniatures gaming even in those gaps. This time I let almost all of it go for roughly six months.

The last couple of years I've mostly been running 5th Edition D&D and playing in a Pathfinder campaign and a Savage Worlds 50 Fathoms campaign. There have been some smaller runs and one-offs with other games mixed in there but those 3 have been the core.

The 50 Fathoms game has been steady but hits bumps sometimes. We aim for weekly and sustain that for a bit and then hit stretches where we're lucky to play once a month. It's a weeknight game so it's especially vulnerable to schedule issues. It was frustrating at times but it's been a lot of fun and we should wrap that one up later this year.

The Pathfinder campaign had been running for over 5 years, theoretically once a month, but had gotten really spotty over the past year and 2019 was not really going any better. We had 5 players and it seemed as though it just was not a priority for any of them. After months of rescheduling without actually playing a couple of us finally told the DM it was time to let it go and he eventually agreed. It was not the way any of us wanted it to go, but that's just how it worked out. Regardless, I felt bad about how that went.

My campaign ... let's talk about that. I had been running Keep on the Borderlands intermittently with several players as our intro to 5th Edition. I've run it in every edition of the game so why not keep that going? A few years back with some variation in player availability I started running Storm King's Thunder as the "other" 5E campaign and scheduling sort of depended on who was available on any particular weekend. The SKT game was eventually sidelined as we regrouped and everyone decided to focus on the Old School game. I picked up Goodman Games "Into the Borderlands" super-version of B2 and used some of that material and then we moved into Isle of Dread - also guided by Goodman Games new-at-the-time-super-hardback-edition.

Things went well at first - enthusiasm and attendance were high and it felt like we were really accomplishing something. Then in the second half of 2019 it felt like we hit a wall. We were playing every other Friday, I had six players in the campaign, and vowed to run as long as 4 of them were available. Well ... pretty soon we were regularly having 3 or more unavailable. This jammed up the schedule, frustration grew for all of us, and I finally threw up my hands and said I was done even trying to run thru the end of the year. This was one big reason for the burnout - running a campaign as an adult means facing schedule conflicts and I've been doing it for years but last year it just exploded and all of our games were getting kneecapped by scheduling issues.

The other major thing was that some of the shine came off of 5th Edition D&D for me. I've been a fan of simpler rulesets for RPGs for a long time now but 5E is maybe too simple. After 20 years of 3E, 4E, and Pathfinder I've come to expect a certain level of crunch in my fantasy RPGs. While it does play faster than those other versions it is ... really really simple. I know it's super popular and tons of people have come back to the game this edition and I've not been a system mastery snob for a very long time but ... there's just not a whole lot there mechanically.

Character progression is really simple - you have a lot of choices those first 3 levels but once you've chosen your sub-class at 3rd most of your choices have been made. About the only customization you have left is the option to pick a feat at 4-8-12-16-19 but the game recommends you just stay with the stat boosts - how boring is that?

Monsters are mostly bags of hit points with 1 or 2 ways of doing damage and that's it - there are very few interesting monsters in the published book. In interesting here meaning they give the DM something to do besides roll a d20 and tell you how much damage you took. After 4E and Pathfinder I expect more - inflicting various conditions ... forced movement ... team-up abilities ... there are so many ways to challenge players in interesting ways beyond "The ogre hits you for 10 points". I'm pondering a post to illustrate this in more detail but for now most of the 5E monsters feel like a let step down from what we've seen before.

Bonus negative thing: I realized I am tired of running other people's material. My 4E stuff was almost all loose homebrew conversions of older material and I was very happy with it. My Pathfinder and 5E campaigns have all been published stuff and it is time to get back to writing up my own adventures.

So yes, the combination of disrupted schedules in all of our games, to the point of permanently ending one, plus the lowered enthusiasm about the main game, plus just a general frustration with the whole thing led me to "cancel the season" last fall and set the whole RPG hobby aside for months. I've gotten better since then, played some more, and even run a few sessions of  Pathfinder Second Edition to see if that satisfies that mechanical need - and so far it does seem promising. Now of course we have Ultimate Virus Lockdown as a worldwide status effect and that is this year's schedule killer.

Despite that, I'm planning to get some things moving. Interest has returned and as the year moves along I expect a return to at least one regularly scheduled campaign. I will also be getting back to keeping up the blog on some kind of regular schedule as well.

It's time to get back to work ...

Friday, March 20, 2020

Looks like it's time to dust this place off and light the beacons!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Monday, September 9, 2019

Super Stuff - Umbrella Academy

Feels like I should catch up on some things after so many gaps this year so I'll be doing that this month. One big thing - lots of super-activity this summer!

Several independent super-shows came along earlier this year and I feel very differently about each of them so let's start with Umbrella Academy. I have not read the comic books or any other version of the story so I was coming in cold. It seems like it was fairly popular on Netflix but I have to say I was ... underwhelmed.

What happens at a reunion years after a kid superhero team splits up? Well ... they all hate each other so they spend a lot of time bickering and not a lot of time doing super stuff. I mean, I get the "dark", the "modern take" - or is it "postmodern" now? I forget. I kept feeling like the stuff they were doing in the flashbacks would have been more interesting than what they were doing in the "now" of the show.

First up - the Attitude:
  • They mostly seem to hate each other
  • They all hate their father
  • They almost all hate that they used to be superheroes
  • There's a fair amount of self-hate on the team too
I don't mind having one or two "dark" characters on a team show but when the whole team is that way ... it's a lot. 

Second - the Bounty Hunters:

Was this originally a completely different story? Was it just grafted on to this one? Because there's nothing terribly original or interesting about it and it really doesn't add that much to the main plot. maybe it was supposed to be the lighter or funny element of the show but it's just not that much. 

Third - the Padding:

Even with only ten episodes it feels like there was not that much story here. Trim out the 90% of the Hunters story line that was unneeded and you could have cut this down to 8 episodes, maybe less. I mean you have a team of 7 super characters, a stern father figure running them, a chimpanzee major domo, a robot mother, and time-travelling assassins and yet it somehow feels like you didn't have enough to fill out ten hour-long episodes of a TV show.

I did stick with it through the end though I considered dropping it multiple times as I was watching. I was curious how they would resolve the big plot ... and even that was a disappointment! Get to the last episode, things are unfolding, and  - welp - see you next season??!! It's cheap and artificial. I'm still debating whether I will even watch the next season after that.

The thing I liked most:

 Mr. I-see-dead-people #4 triggers a device and finds himself in the Vietnam War. We don't see much of it in real-time, mostly it happens in flashbacks throughout the following episodes but he spends a year there, develops a significant relationship, and lives through some pretty rough stuff before he finds his way back. In one episode he goes into a VFW post and starts crying over some old pictures -which he is in- and then gets into a fight with the older members who are inside and think he's being disrespectful. It's funny, touching, and wrong on some level and to me it was by far the best scene in the whole show.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Updates for Early August

Activity continues even if the blog has not been keeping up - here's an attempt to improve that situation:
  • PLAYING: I've started a new M&M campaign for the 50 Fathoms group. It's a "limited" campaign and will only run probably ten sessions or less but I'm hoping it will set up interest and momentum for a regular ongoing campaign.
  • NOT PLAYING: The ongoing old-school 5E Isle of Dread Campaign is in a holding pattern while the Con Crew handles their business
  • READING: Pathfinder Second Edition - i like what I see so far and I am of course considering what I might run for an initial tryout of the new system
  • MINIATURES: Working on some new army lists for 40K and I will probably try one of them out with Blaster this weekend.
  • ONLINE: City of Heroes Homecoming - maybe not every day but multiple days each week sees the Amazing Aluminum Man and friends adventuring in Paragon City once again!
The Supersonic Man investigates a disturbance beneath the city streets!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Monday, June 3, 2019

Mutants & Masterminds Basic Hero's Handbook

The short version: this is a lot like the recent "Beginner Box" products from some other RPGs without the box but with a little more long-term utility.

M&M 3E started with the DC RPG released in 2010 so we're at 9 years now for this edition, more than 1E and 2E combined. It's a nice change from the typical RPG life cycle and I assume that with the release of this book that Green Ronin is committed to continuing this edition for at least a few more years to come.

A quick breakdown - the first 3 chapters and about half of the page count is dedicated to making characters - stats, skills, powers, archetypes. Then you get about 30 pages (2 chapters) on playing and running the game, covering the basic mechanics and an intro to running superhero games. The last 30 pages or so is dedicated to 4 adventure scenarios and stats for some supervillians and teams.

As a veteran GM and Player, this book doesn't add much to the game for me directly but it is nice to be able to point a new player to this as a resource. the adventures are great droop-ins to any campaign and the bad guys are totally usable as printed though I am pretty sure I've seen some of them before.

For anyone new to M&M I'd say this is the book to get because:

  • 1) as a new player you can build a starting character and advance them a fair degree just using this book
  • 2) as a new GM you can see how the game works, build some characters, and you have several sessions worth of adventures and opposition that you could play through with a group of players
  • 3) it gives you a good dose of how the game works and that's important because it deviates in several important ways from what a typical "d20" game does. The way damage works in particular, with no hit point system, is a huge thing for some people, and I would say it's important to get a feel for that before diving in to a full buy in of the game system.
The picture up above is an example of how the archetypes work  in the book. You have the general type, and then several sub-type options to choose from within that archetype. To me it looks a lot like a class layout for D&D 5E - Class + sub-class options- and I assume that's deliberate to make it easier to grok for new players. It seems plenty smart to me and I have no issue with it. 

However, if you already know M&M 3E and look closely at that you'll see what was the biggest surprise to me: No points!

And the second biggest surprise: No Power Levels!

Ok points are mentioned late in the book as an award for adventuring but nowhere in the book are they discussed as an element of character creation. For longtime players this is a shocking change, at least it was for me: "How can you put out a rulebook for M&M character creation and not include points?!"

Well, you can and they did. It is a limited set of options to choose from in this book, not the totally open-ended version found in the main book and at first I thought this was a fatal flaw. I mean, that's a huge part of the system right?

The more I thought about it though, the more I agreed with this choice for an intro product. In my experience new players to a superhero game do tend to follow some common superhero types. They may not want to play Batman directly, but the stealthy martial artist guy is a pretty common character and this book can accommodate that kind of approach within its "Crimefighter" archetype. This is a great way to get started and -GET PLAYING- without needing a week to "build" a character while still allowing for some customization. The best way to get your game going, and keep it going, in my experience. is to get people playing it, not just playing with it!

They started experimenting with this kind of thing in the GM Screen package years ago by including a random character generation system. it was refined in a later book and I assume this system is an evolution of that. once you have a set of interchangeable packages at PL10, well, if they work for random generation you can certainly make them work for a "controlled" generation system, and make them fit together even better. I'm glad to see the designers continuing to experiment and explore these options.

Power level is mentioned in the GM section but mainly as a tool for rating enemies. Changing up character power level is not really discussed other than "hey it's a thing and you can read more about it in the big book". It does mention that all of the characters created in this book are PL10 and all of the power limits presented are based on that level.

So ... if you have an established group playing M&M I'll say this book probably does not have much to offer you. The GM should get it because we get everything, right? Also it's great for bringing in a new player.

If you are new to the game and want to run it or play it or even start a new campaign for your group then I'd say this is definitely the place to start. It's a one-stop product that gives you enough to make characters, learn the system, and play through 2-3 sessions I would guess, possibly more if you start getting creative.

 It's a 30$ book so it's not no investment but it's not bad compared to a lot of the big books pout there now and it's comparable to most of the Beginner Boxes out there today. The PDF is close to half that which makes it ridiculously easy even for the thrifty gamer.

As a follow up I'll  post up some thoughts on the rest of the M&M game line as it's been a while since I've touched on it and I have Superheroes on the brain right now - stay tuned as the blog staggers back to life!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Obsession of the Moment: Paragon City Returns

So many heroes reborn ...

Adamantium Man returns!

Phurious Pharoah returns!

Draco Rex returns!

Not all of my time has been sent with old friends - some new ones have turned up too - more on that later.

Just getting to use that "City of heroes" post tag again has made me smile so it's been an amazing few weeks.