Saturday, August 16, 2014

RPGaDAY - Day 16 - Game you Wish You Owned (Reversed)

This is another strange one for me. I tend to hang on to games then interest me even marginally. If a new one comes out I pick it up. Not necessarily the day it comes out, but eventually. (Hey, it's good to have a job, right?) So there aren't really games that I want that I don't have or couldn't go get from Amazon/Ebay/DTRPG. I suppose there might be some rare printing of something that is pricey, but that's more about having a particular version of a game than the game itself.

Let's turn this around. How about games I used to have but don't own anymore?

  • Babylon 5 RPG (the d20 Mongoose Version) - I had all of the books, and it was a lot of books. No one ever wanted to play it. The system was kind of plain as well. I hung onto it for a while as a sort of connection to the setting, a nice encyclopedia style resource. A whole lot of the background info was made up by the game writers and was not a part of the show. Unlike some of the early Star Wars RPG material I don't believe this was ever accepted as canon of any kind. I eventually lost my taste for it and sold it off. No real regrets here.

  • Conan d20 RPG (also from Mongoose) - I love the Conan stories and anything that let's me consider playing a game in them is at least worth a look. I was not a huge fan of TSR's standalone game in the 80's but I did like GURPS take on it. Mongoose's version is a pretty set of books but the first printing was a disaster and damaged the line. I realized d20 was not something I was likely to use for running a Conan game and I bailed out pretty early on.

  •  Deadlands d20 and Hell on Earth d20 - I used to own every book for every version, but once Deadlands Reloaded came out I realized there was no way I would ever run the d20 version over either original recipe or  Savage Worlds. I kept the GURPS version because it was interesting but the d20 version went bye-bye several years back.
I think it's interesting that all of these are from the d20 glut era of the early 2000's. I'm sure there's someone out there that has run a completely satisfying multi-year campaign with them but they didn't work for me. 

The only other one like this that was not d20 was 7th Sea - I wanted to like it, I thought the mechanics had potential, but the setting ... the setting was supposed to be a strength but was the biggest weakness to me. It's a swashbuckling sailing 1700's - ish era but it's not Earth, so there are no historical ties. However, the Not-Earth setting was just not fantastic enough to make up for that loss. It felt as if the change was made only because they were worried about offending someone with real history (religion? slavery? who knows) but it was so mundane that there was nothing special about it. Maybe a supplement added something to it but after reading the main book I hung onto it for a while but decided against jumping on the supplement treadmill they were cranking out. Eventually I decided to bail out entirely.

A game I never owned but came close to picking up:

I was interested but never picked up Hollow Earth Expedition. It looks like a ton of fun, but I can't help thinking this should be a Savage Worlds or GURPS sourcebook and not a standalone system. I think of it as part of that failed wave of post-d20 glut non-d20 games, if that makes any sense. This, Secret of Zir'an, and a few others that came out with an interesting concept or setting and big plans for supplements but fizzled after a couple of books. I'd say it falls into the "if I ever found it for $5" category of nice-to-have games I will likely never play or run.

 A game I used to own that's been calling to me again:

 I owned a full set of Mekton Zeta at one point, after being fascinated by the earlier versions in the Dragon ads or flipping through them at the store. Zeta was the current version when I finally took the plunge ( and still is, apparently). The only kind of anime I can really get interested in tends to feature spaceships and robots and this is THE system for playing that kind of thing.

The problem is that no one else here is interested. Battletech dominates our big robot gaming history and apparently there's only room for one game in that space. A time came when I was moving and needed to shed a few shelves, and this was one of those games I knew I would never run, so away it went. Lately though it's come up a few times in conversation. I like it enough, and have enough shelves now, that I could spare a little space for this one. I probably will.

Friday, August 15, 2014

RPGaDAY - Day 15 - Favorite Convention Game

Compared to yesterday this one is easy. Last year at Animefest I got to play through a Pathfinder adventure with one of my kids. On the same side of the table! For the first time! Details are here.

Animefest 2014 is this weekend and we're hoping to do the same thing this year too.

Runner up: A local con in the late 80's where we fought Godzilla with Battlemechs. It was a bigtime miniature battle and it was a lot of fun. This was very early in the Battletech game's life so the miniatures were all of the plastic model-kit type mini's, not the metal ones everyone knows today.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

RPGaDAY - Day 14 - Best Convention Purchase

I don't really have anything for this one as I don't buy much at cons. I don;t go to a ton of them anyway, and as a kid I didn't have a ton of cash and as an adult I just don't see it as a shopping trip so much.

One of the bigger ones was that I finally picked up the rules for General Quarters at a con around 2000 or so. I'd been looking for them for years, but they aren't RPG-related.

I bought a complete run of Devil Dinosaur (don;t be too impressed  - it only lasted 9 issues) at one con, but that's not RPG-related either:

Around 8 years ago at a local con there was a big star wars miniatures battle between clone troopers, Jedi, and battle droids, including a 40K Razorback used as a transport vehicle. As the con was closing down the guy who ran the fight was complaining about cleaning it all up so I offered to buy it and I did. That bulked up my Star Wars mini's considerably and the Razorback (repainted) is now a staple in Apprentice Blaster's Space Wolf army. We always use mini's when we play Star Wars so let's call that my best purchase.

Penny Dreadful

Penny Dreadful is a Showtime series. There are 8 episodes in Season 1 which came out earlier this year. It is part of their on-demand library as well which makes it pretty easy to view if you have that option.

The setting is 1890's London. The central character is Sir Malcom Murray, played by Timothy Dalton. From the Wiki "...a hardened African explorer on a deeply personal quest to find his kidnapped daughter Mina." I'm sure many of you can see where this is going.

Soon enough we have a young doctor named Victor, a gentleman named Dorian, and a whole sort of alternate take on a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen type of situation. It is smaller scale  than that, and there are no submarines, but there are similarities in the concept. Sembene is the African who came back with Sir Malcolm, Josh Hartnett plays Chandler, the American gunslinger who is clearly running from something, Billie Piper is a street girl with some health issues, and Eva Green plays Miss Ives, like-a-daughter to Sir Malcolm and who has a connection to the spirit world. I could assign D&D type classes and roles to them but I'll leave that as an entertaining exercise for you while you watch the show.

It's a horror series and a lot of bad things happen but there are two main questions I see as themes:
  • What do you do when your past comes back to haunt you?
  • How far will you go to make things right?
We've watched the whole series once and both Lady Blacksteel and I liked it. If you like Victorian era shows and/or supernatural stuff it's worth watching. With only 8 episodes it's pretty tight so there's no filler here. Backstories are revealed very efficiently. Plots unfold and quite a few are resolved by the end of the season, with a few of them left open nicely for Season 2.

Melee fighter, mage, ranged fighter, paladin (OK I lied)

The show follows a Call of Cthulu/Shadowrun -esque pattern of research, planning, individual drama/relationships, then an expedition that results in some violence and new questions to be checked out before another expedition. When they go into the field they look very much like a PC adventuring party.

Every episode made us want to watch the next one rightnow! We didn't always, but we did watch some back to back. We both thought it was pretty well done. The acting is very strong and it's a show that takes a serious tone almost all of the time. There's not a lot of comedy here, but it's interesting. Both the characters and the things that happen around them are interesting enough to keep your attention, at least for us. It's a pay cable series so there is some language, some naked, and some violence - I'm not planning to watch it with the kids anytime soon.

If you're at all interested in the time period or a fairly serious approach to supernatural horror stories, take a look.

DM Notes: I can see the character creation session in my head: OK you're a British nobleman, you're an ... African tribesman? And you're playing a psychic girl? And you're a ... cowboy?! He's a doctor ... and his hunted is an intelligent flesh golem? What about you - "I want to play an Elf" - there aren't any elves. "Well then I'm a very pretty immortal human.". Sigh.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

RPGaDAY - Day 13 - Most Memorbale Character Death

 I've seen a lot of character deaths from the DM side of things but I will try and share a rare player character moment of my own for this one.

Circa 1981, we had a high-level group where all of us had multiple characters in double-digit levels. We each had a stable of characters and over time each had been in enough adventures to hit "name level" and above. We all had personal retinues of henchmen, followers, golems, and hirelings as well so we didn't need more than 2 or 3 players to mobilize a pretty formidable force and lately it felt like we had been steamrollering everything in our path. So we got the bright idea to gather all of our characters and invade Hell. Specifically, the first layer of the Nine Hells.

This would be our "Justice League" moment. I knew I was moving to Texas pretty soon so this was going to be my last big hurrah with this group.We would get all of the players in our group together, each taking one character (minimum 10th level) plus henchman/sidekicks/troops, and assault that first level. The planes were not as detailed in those days but we knew Tiamat was there and we were pretty sure we could take her.

I took Felarof, my 15th level magic-user, and my second-highest level character. He had a tower and followers and big pile of magic items. He had also crafted a flesh golem and a homonculous (hey, the rules are right there in the monster manual) and I thought he was pretty awesome.

We started looking at things and decided to make it two characters apiece, just to be safe. This meant we were looking at a "party" of 20+ high-level characters plus followers.

So Thelegarn, my 12th level illusionist and Dip the psionic chicken joined the assault. Dip was sort of a familiar and somewhere along the way turned out to have psionics. Things were looser back then. My illusionist had psionics (another reason he was going as we figured this would be useful against the devils that were sure to attack us.

Planing was akin to a raid in Warcraft - Fighters, clerics, paladins, mages - everyone had a role and a plan. Spells were prepared and a casting order was written down. Magic items were carefully distributed. Many of potions and scrolls were acquired. For a bunch of elementary/junior high kids it was pretty involved.This was going to be amazing.

Our DM was a kid too, but I know he consulted with some other DM's he knew to prepare for this one as he wanted to make sure it was truly Hell.

The day came, we Wished open a portal to the first plane of Hell and in we went, spells up, swords out. We started getting our bearings and headed for a giant mountain we assumed was Tiamat's lair.

First wave of devils comes in - Lemures and other weak ones - slaughtered, no problem.

Another wave, again, no problem other than some damage here and there. We were feeling pretty good.

The third wave had a bunch of Erinyes and they were soon joined by a pack of Bone Devils  - I hate bone devils to this day, at least in part because of this expedition. Erinyes seem relatively weak but they are flying monsters that can turn invisible, have an unconsciousness attack, and every one of them carries a rope of entanglement. They went for the clerics, and that's when we started to take casualties. Mostly from the stupid bone devils who could also fly, cause fear, and turn invisible. They could also drain strength with their poison attack and losing a few points of strength was huge for fighter types back then. Dropping from say 18/00 to a 15 or 16 was devastating. We made it through this and several subsequent encounters but the confidence was shaken, if not gone outright.

Now this was a long time ago and a lot of the details are fuzzy, plus it was a marathon session anyway, but we were making progress until Tiamat's bodyguard of dragons hit. Something we had prepared for, but the intervening devil assaults had worn us down. They laid into us and it got really ugly. I know we killed some of them, but we lost some characters too, too many after more devils swarmed in. An AD&D fighter is tough, but you make them roll enough saves and they're going to fail one sooner or later. There were enough breath weapons going off that everyone was losing a lot of hit points. Even with "save for half" 20 or 30 points here and there adds up quick.

Once Tiamat herself came in, it was over and we knew it. I decided to preserve at least one character so Felarof used a Wish to open another portal, shoved the illusionist (and his chicken) through it, and then broke his staff of power, killing a lot of stuff and himself. It's the only time I've seen a retributive strike in play and I was the guy who did it. Only two other characters survived, both through similar means. All of those characters and experience points and magic items lost ... we were not happy at the time, but looking back it was an epic adventure.

I assumed Felarof was dead though the DM later told me he rolled and my M-U ended up on another plane. It's a 50/50 chance when you break the staff. There would have been another adventure to rescue him if I had stayed - and if anyone had been willing to risk our much-reduced party of high-level characters after this fiasco. Regardless, I moved away less than a month later and unlike kids in today's Facebook-connected world I never saw any of those guys again. 

 Later in Texas I just had him resurrected. I explained it to my new DM and we didn't want to work up a planar expedition so we hand waved it with that. I never used him much again, we tended to play somewhat lower level stuff than that, but he was there if I needed him. I still have his character sheet and his ridiculous list of magic items - less one staff of power.

Iron Gods Supplemental

If I'm going to plan to run this, might as well get the regional sourcebook too, right? I see a lot of potential. More to come on the book as a supplement on its own once I finish reading it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

RPGaDay - Day 12 - Old RPG I stil play/read

How old is "old"? See yesterday's post for the oldest game I reread most recently.

I suppose it would have to be Moldvay Basic as I have run it several times over the last 5-6 years for friends and kids both.

Heck, Apprentice Blaster was running Apprentice Who through the Haunted Keep just a week or two back - summer vacation you know! It's a little weird to walk into a room and find my battlemat laid out on a table with a detailed map drawn on it and a bunch of mini's and character sheets scattered on and around it and realize that this happened without any involvement from me. It did make me smile though.

Honorable Mentions from the last few weeks:
  • FASA Star Trek (80's) - research
  • LUG Star Trek (90's) - planning, we might actually play this in the near future
  • Deadlands (original flavor - 90's) - research as we are playing Reloaded now

Iron Gods Begins

Well look at what arrived on my doorstep last night ...

I've been looking forward to this since they announced it.

I have no idea if it will be great, but Paizo knows their stuff pretty well at this point. This is the "science fantasy" AP and that's something that I have liked for a long time. The synopsis:

A strange violet bonfire burns atop the town of Torch’s central hill, its flames hot enough to allow smiths to work with the hardest of exotic metals harvested from the enormous crashed starship at Numeria’s heart. When the fire is suddently extinguished, the heroes must delve a previously unknown set of caves below the town that lead to a strange buried metallic ruin. Will the heroes survive the technological dungeon, or will they fall in a hail of robotic foes and laser fire?

 Just flipping through there are bits of everything from Barrier Peaks to Thundarr mixed in to this one and it's going to be a lot of fun. It may be a while before I get to run it - Wrath of the Righteous is still just in Part 2 of 6 right now - but it is next in the batting order. The Mummy's Mask, now complete, looks like plenty of fun too, but this one could be a notch above. It's the same way I felt about WOTR and it hasn't let me down yet.

Monday, August 11, 2014

RPGaDAY - Day 11 - Weirdest RPG: Lords of Creation

What is Lords of Creation? It's an early take on the multi-dimensional RPG published by Avalon Hill in 1984 and written by Tom Moldvay. It's cool to me, but it is pretty strange. The assumption is a group of characters that start of in modern times but in short order are encountering magic, alien technology, other dimensions, and time travel and taking it head-on. There are different skills and powers that characters can learn along the way, equipment from bronze age to Star Trek type weaponry. This is "weird" in the sense of "what kinds of RPG's get published" rather than in having a really abstract concept or setting.

 I've run LOC all of about three times over the years. I've never made it to a 3rd session.Back when I think the concept was just too weird for most players to really get into it, and maybe I didn't do a good job of presenting it , I don't know. Nowadays I suspect it might get a better reception although I wonder if "cooler" settings and mechanics might have passed it by. Despite this disappointing reception I can never bring myself to get rid of it as it just has so much potential.

I really need to write up a full rundown of this game but I can share some high points here. 

Character stats are Muscle, Speed, Stamina, Mental, and Luck. Players roll 2d10 for each. The modifier for each stat is the score /10 rounded up, so most will be a +1 or +2. There are no classes or races - the assumption is that everyone starts off as a human from modern times.

There are 21 sets of skills, sort of like a skill tree as each is ranked from 1-5 and each rank covers a specific area of that skill. For example, "Mechanic" is 1 - land vehicle, 2 - water vehicles, 3 - air vehicles, 4- futuristic/magical*, and 5- special ships*. That 5th one covers thing like fixing the TARDIS - dimensional/time traveling ships. The "*" means they require special circumstances to learn, like being in an environment where such vehicles are present. Among the skills are some interesting choices like Commando, Stage Magician, and Theatrical. There is a Futuristic and a Magical set to allow characters to pick up some useful abilities in those kinds of settings. There are also skills for particular weapons, but only half of a character's starting skill points can be spent on them. Quite a few of the level 4-5 skills are futuristic/magical and so would not be an option for starting characters, but most PC's could get to levels 2-3 in an area or two and pick up a weapon skill as well.

Skill adjudication takes two approaches. First the recommendation is to assume that skill level indicates general competence and that many tasks should be assumed to succeed if they make sense compared to the description of the skill. If there is doubt, the base chance for success is 20% per level. It's a far more modern approach than most of the percentile systems of the day where the general tendency was to roll for everything. Here it's explicitly stated that the assumed success approach saves a lot of time and die rolling and puts it on the GM to make the call on when to use each approach.

Combat is similar to D&D. Roll a d20, add and subtract modifiers for skill, armor, and conditions like range or darkness. It's a roll low system, so a 20 is an automatic miss here.

There is a sort of experience table. Experience adds to "Personal Force" and as it increases, characters gain certain set powers like Dimensional Sight and Dimensional Travel, and can also choose from a list of powers such as Sorcerer, Clairvoyant, or Cyborg. These are set up with a 1-5 progression like skills. The set powers basically facilitate further adventures as it's much easier to set these things up if the players can see ghosts - or talk to ghosts with Dimensional Language! The selectable powers give another layer of customization and while not quite super powers do give the characters options that normal people would not have.

One other interesting item: The final preset power is "Construction" which allows the character to create a pocket dimension or other location which they can shape according to whatever physical laws they desire. This could be any thing - a new elemental plane, the death star, a layer of hell, or a Lego universe. The idea, which is even stated with the power, is to guide players into becoming GM's as they begin creating their own settings and adventures for other players. I don't know how well it would work in practice, but it's a very cool idea and I think it's the only time I have seen a mechanical approach to this in a game.

The "Book of Foes" includes all kinds of things, from goblins to griffons to "HG's", the tripods from war of the worlds.Many entries for races (rather than unique monsters) include multiple entries like with the goblins above. There are stats for "average", "soldier", "leader", and then "Render", who is a unique individual with some different abilities and a sentence or two of background or motivation. With touches like that it feels very much like it's built to be used, not just as a work to be admired.

There are also a few pages covering historical/fictional heroes like Hercules, Lancelot, Sinbad, Doc Holliday, and Cyrano DeBergerac. Why not? With this kind of game there's a  pretty good chance they could turn up in play.

The game also covers (in a few pages each) several different settings with maps and notes. It's at least enough for a visit, maybe even an entire campaign for a motivated DM.

Most are entire worlds but some are a little smaller scale.

Some are a little larger.

Priddo is the first steampunk world I can recall seeing in a gaming product. It's described with a fairly detailed history and as having a 19th century level of technology where "scientific magic" is used, e.g. trains are pulled by steam engines but the engine is powered by a fire elemental instead of coal. Remember, this book is from 1984. I'm sure this was my first exposure to the concept, even if it is almost a cliche today.

Handouts from the first adventure
 I haven't discussed the three published adventures for it but they are excellent showcases of just how wild a campaign could get. The first one begins with a murder mystery at a game convention, and ends up with characters running for their lives from killer robots on an island in the Bermuda Triangle. There are also sailing ships, dinosaurs, and some mythological figures involved as well.

 With Tom Moldvay's involvement I'm surprised we don't see more about it in the OSR discussion universe, but it ranges pretty far from Basic D&D in concept and some mechanics, so there's not a ton of crossover utility. If you're at all interested in the branch of old school that mixes technology into its fantasy then you might like this game.

Wrapping up this introductory post, Lords of Creation is mechanically simple game with a concept that fans of Sliders, John Carter, Dr. Who, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court could all find common ground. It's not a universal game, and it's not totally a kitchen-sink game. It has a fairly specific beginning premise (people from the modern world become aware of a larger universe)but is almost wide open after that. A particular campaign could focus on magical elements, sci-fi, dimensional wandering, or time travel in particular, or jump between them all. It is "weird" compared to most RPG campaigns I see being played, but at the least it could make a fun diversion from the ongoing D&D campaign.

Motivational Monday

Sunday, August 10, 2014

RPGaDAY - Day 10 - Favorite Game Fiction

This one is a little tougher - I've read quite a bit of it and a lot of it is not that great.

I'm going to pick an author who wrote two different series of books that now have RPG's: William King. He wrote the first set of Gotrek and Felix books set in the Old World of Warhammer Fantasy, and the original set of Space Wolf novels in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. To me they felt a cut above most of what's out there in gaming-fiction-land. They have a very old school, pulp feel, more like the Conan or Fafhrd/Grey Mouser books than the newer style of setting novels. They are far more gritty than they are sweeping epic of high fantasy or space opera.

RPGaDAY - Day 9 - Favorite Dice

OK, this one is on the easier end of the scale. I have a few ...

This is my most recent big pile of dice:

That's ten sets of Chessex opaque dice, one of each color available last year or year before when I got them. I wanted a new set in bright colors for MWP's new Marvel game (instead of the old black and red dice I had been using for D&D for years) so I ordered about half of what you see above. Once we started playing I realized I needed even more dice so I ordered the rest. It worked out nicely because that game uses everything but the D20 and Mutants and Masterminds uses only the d20, so I have a big pile of dice for both games.

That big feller there in the middle is the "D20 of Judgment". I used to use it on particularly important rolls in my D&D 3E games. It's been in semi-retirement but I'm thinking if Omega ever shows up in an M&M game it's going to be his die.

Honorable Mention goes to the Star Fleet Battles dice I picked up years ago. They have actually been getting some action lately with Federation Commander. In that game rolling low is usually good so seeing these icons come up - they replace the "1" - is a good thing.

Dishonorable Mention goes to the Chaos Dice I acquired somewhere years ago thinking it would be thematic to use them with my Chaos Army for 40K and Fantasy. They have spent the last 2 years failing me repeatedly and as a result I will not share their picture on the internet. Fame is for WINNERS! Try rolling some sixes for a change and then we'll see about getting you a moment of glory. I know this is contrary to the principles of dice shaming but I'm going to try it and if it works I will let you know.