Saturday, April 22, 2017

40K Friday (Saturday Edition): 8th Edition Announced!

An email came through this morning:

The new Warhammer 40,000 is coming soon

This is the game you have been asking for. The Warhammer 40,000 game you know and love, but better. Get ready for the best edition of Warhammer 40,000 ever.

With a link! (it's that "new edition coming soon" part near the bottom)

The most interesting part is the New Edition FAQ!

The site seems to be having trouble loading so here's the text:

Is my army still valid?
Yes, it certainly is! You’ll still be able to use your army in the new edition of Warhammer 40,000. All current armies will be supported with new rules.

Can I still use all my models?
Yes. Every Warhammer 40,000 miniature we sell today will be usable in the new edition of Warhammer 40,000. What’s more, they’ll be supported with new rules, which will be available from the get go in handy, low-cost books.

Even Forge World models?
Yes, even all of your Warhammer 40,000 Forge World models.

Wait, did you guys blow up the universe?
Nope. This is very much still the Warhammer 40,000 setting you know and love. Now, that’s not to say we won’t see the story advance - there’s some pretty epic stuff ahead! You can certainly expect to see the story arcs that began in the recent Gathering Storm campaign books continue to unfold with plenty of exciting developments to look forward to…

How can I get the rules?
We’re going to make it easier than ever to get your hands on the rules and start playing. The core rules for the game will be free, and you’ll have several options on how you get your hands on the full rulebook. Watch this space for more.

Have you dumbed down 40K?
Not at all. We’ve made it easier for new people to enter and get to grips with the basics. At the same time, we’ve made sure you can add as much depth and complexity as you like - there’s some fantastic new gameplay elements coming. What we’ve done is reexamine every aspect of the game, and made plenty of improvements, many based on the gaming community’s feedback and suggestions. If you play today, this game is recognisably still Warhammer 40,000.

What happens to my codexes?
The rules in our current range of Warhammer 40,000 codexes aren’t compatible with the new edition of Warhammer 40,000. These books will be going off sale very soon. If you do want to pick any up, now’s the time - as all of the great hobby content and background information will be as valid as ever.

What's in the new starter box?
A new starter box? That’d be exciting! I guess we’d fill it with some awesome new miniatures…
(come on, we can’t spoil all the surprises for you!)

Are you getting rid of points?
Not at all. There will be a full points system, for use in matched play - one of three ways to play covered in the rulebook.

What do you mean “3 ways to play”?
We realise that people like to play Warhammer 40,000 in different ways. 3 broad systems are covered in the new edition: 1) Open play is the most flexible, and easiest to get started with, allowing you to use any miniatures you like. 2) Narrative play is where you can refight the iconic battles of the 41st Millennium, or create your own campaigns and sagas. 3) Matched play is designed for more balanced and competitive games, ideal for gaming clubs, leagues and
tournaments. However you want to enjoy playing Warhammer 40,000, there will be rules for that.

Why should I not just stick with current Warhammer 40,000?
This is the version of Warhammer 40,000 you've been asking for. We've listened to your feedback, and we really believe that this is the best Warhammer 40,000 has ever been.

Will the rules be updated annually (ala, the General's Handbook)?
What a great idea! We've had such a fantastic response to our community-led approach with the Warhammer Age of Sigmar rules updates that we're committed to doing the same for Warhammer 40,000. You’ll be able to submit your questions and queries on the Warhammer
40,000 Facebook page and we'll make sure we continue to evolve the game as feedback rolls in.

I haven’t played 40K in a while...
Welcome back! The new Warhammer 40,000 is easier to learn and quicker to play, but still has all the tactical, strategic and narrative depth you could want from a game set in the incredibly
rich setting of the 41st Millennium. It’s going to be easier than ever to get started, and more fun than ever to master.

Why should I trust you?
Come on! This is New Games Workshop™

Seriously though, everything we're talking about now is just an extension of all the community engagement work we've been doing over this last year and a half. We've learned a lot from you guys and gals, and we've tried really hard to make sure everything you've asked for is included. And if we've missed something? Drop us a line on the Warhammer 40,000 Facebook page and let us know. We'll make sure your requests are given proper consideration.

Where can I find out more?
We’ll be running daily articles on the run up to release on Every aspect of the new edition will be covered, from rules, to new miniatures and advancements in
the setting.

I love it. I want it. When can I have it!
Really soon. You’ll be playing the new Warhammer 40,000 this year.

We’ll let you know when we have more news on an exact release date. Stay posted. For the latest news, follow us on the Warhammer 40,000 Facebook page , or subscribe to our newsletter .

What do I do now?
Now's the time to start getting your army ready.

With the addition of 3 ways to play, there are now more ways to build your collection than ever before. Open play frees you from all constraints, so now's the time to just pick a model you've always wanted and paint it up. For you narrative players, why not start theming your collection around your favourite battle? Just like many of you, we want our armies to be fighting fit for matched play in the new edition. That's why you'll be able to read daily articles on the Warhammer Community site that will tell you all about the new rules, great units to include and tactics for every army.

OK, funniest entry; Why should I trust you - that's funny and hopefully a good sign they really are changing their approach.

Best news: Rules will be available free. I assume that may be only the most basic of rules and that there will be several levels of printed rules available too for not-free. I also assume that means we get free pdf codex entries for each unit like we did for Age of Sigmar back when it launched. If so I am on-board big time.

Worst news: Your codexes are obsolete! Even the ones we released less than a year ago! Yay!

Actually this is not as bad as it could be as a truly new edition would pretty much require that the existing codexes go away. I'm not thrilled about it, and I'll probably go ahead and finish picking up the two or three books I was planning to get just in case the new thing ain't that great, but I'll be bargain-hunting even more than I was planning to do.

So there we go, big news for a big game!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Steve Jackson Games - Part 2

Steve Jackson Games recently put out their annual report to stakeholders and I saw some things I think are problems. Yesterday I talked about the problems I see with GURPS. Today let's talk about Kickstarters. From the report:

The 2012 Ogre Kickstarter project is still not completed. We made big steps forward on all of the various commitments, but we're coming up on five years after the project closed, and we are still sinking time into the project. The good news, though, is that we're seeing real progress; several outstanding pieces of the project are finally coming to a close. Whew.

Wait, what? Five years on and they still haven't finished this thing? Damn! This is the kind of mistake that hurts a company's reputation, especially when they plan to keep doing other kickstarters! Clearly that project was beyond their capabilities to handle. I would add "at that time" but they are still struggling to get it done from what I see there. I'm glad they didn't just walk away like some other problematic Kickstarters have seen but this is still not a good situation.

Their KS profile shows 5 projects (oldest to newest):

  • Ogre
  • Car Wars Arenas
  • GURPS Dungeon Fantasy
  • Ogre Miniatures - Set One
  • Munchkin Shakespeare

(note: I did not back any of these)

From the GDF "Risks" section:

Risks and challenges

The greatest risk of all is completing the artwork, layout, and manufacturing of the game. The text for the box set is 100% complete, and artwork and layout have started, but there are always opportunities for things to go sideways during a creative project.

None of the stretch goal PDFs have been written yet, because whether we even get to do them depends on you! However, we've produced high-quality PDFs every month for years, and we feel confident in our ability to deliver on our stretch-goal promises in a timely manner.

We believe we have taken all of the steps necessary to bring the game to completion and ship on schedule. Our last Kickstarter project -- Car Wars Arenas in 2015 -- delivered on schedule, and we think this game will also ship on time. As always, we will update backers throughout the entire process and deliver as close to on time as possible.

First paragraph, fine.

Second paragraph - that was a red flag to me because the KS projects that seem to do the best are the ones where the material is written and basically what it needs is editing and art. Once you make those stretch goals that stuff becomes a commitment  just like the core stuff and stretch goals are where a lot of KS efforts hit the rocks.

Third paragraph - I think there's a fine line between "Marketing" and "Deception" when you mention that your last project went great even as you're still trying to finish the one from before that - three years before that! I don't like that at all.

Now from the report:

Ogre Miniatures Set One - This expansion to the new Ogre Sixth Edition game was another Kickstarter project last year, and we've again caused delays that have pushed the release back later than we had planned. The problems here are less disruptive to our schedule than Dungeon Fantasy's ongoing "Destroy all deadlines" crawl to the finish line, but the lateness of the project is a source of frustration and many sleepless nights. Lesson learned: Finish all CAD work and miniatures tooling before launching any more Kickstarter projects involving minis. This is risky -- what if a project fails to fund? -- but it is worth taking the risk.

Really? There's more:

Dungeon Fantasy - Our Kickstarter project to create a GURPS introductory box set has run into more troubles and derailments than we would like. A game that was meant to go to the printer before the end of 2016 is still clogging our pipeline and causing constant distractions. The project was not as far along in the process as it should have been, and miscommunication regarding the game components ballooned our costs. At the moment, barring a miracle, what would have been a profitable project is rapidly turning into a loss. This is becoming an ongoing problem for GURPS projects (see Discworld and Mars Attacks, below, under Failures).

Sheesh. I like these guys. I've bought a lot of games from them. Besides all of my Car Wars, Ogre, and GURPS stuff there are at least 7 different Munchkin games floating around the house. That said this is not a great place to be. Out of your first 4 Kickstarter projects (over a span of 4 years) three of them have had problems and you are still working to complete them! How is that smart? Why do you keep doing it? Why are you making these same mistakes? How much is this impacting your non-crowdfunded projects? And what about that "the core text is 100% complete" yet somehow "the project was not as far along in the process as it should have been". That's not good.

They keep talking about doing a Kickstarter for the new edition of Car Wars when it's ready and I would normally be an hour one backer on that but now after looking thru all of this ... I don't know if I can. I think my first question will be "are you done with the Ogre Kickstarter from 2012 yet?" and the answer will have a big impact on what I do.

I've been worried about other companies biting off more than they could chew with multiple open Kickstarters, mainly Pinnacle. They like to run several Kickstarters a year but they haven't fallen behind on any that I've been a part of or that I have heard of and they seem to have the whole thing figured out.  That said I think it is a huge risk for a small company to have multiple simultaneous unfinished Kickstarters in play. The failure of one could cascade into the others as your talent is exhausted and it could impact cash flow severely, not to mention your reputation.

Business-wise a Kickstarter is an unusual situation in that you're getting paid for the product before creating, printing, and shipping it. That helps with cash flow but it does mean you have a fixed pile of money associated with the project. If costs go up, you're eating into the margins and you have zero recourse like you would with a more traditional project - say, raising the price or just cancelling it altogether because it's not economically viable given the costs. No, once you've funded, you have committed and you have to produce it or else face the lovely scenario of refunding 100% of what people paid with only 90% of the funding - KS keeps their cut regardless of your ability to produce.

So I am worried about one of my favorite game companies. One reason they might keep doing the KS thing is that their structure has become dependent on it. I hope that's not the case but I wonder about it. That would be bad, because if they keep overloading themselves and running into delays and ongoing problems then at some point people are going to stop spending money on them and the whole thing will fail. I hope that doesn't happen. I also hope they don't start any more KS efforts until the ones they have are complete.

They do end the report on what I think is an appropriately somber note:

  A Brutal Year

We expect 2017 to be a difficult time for our team. We must complete our Kickstarter commitments; every day that the Dungeon Fantasy and Ogre projects run late is another day of stress for all of us in the office. (Fortunately, our team has the Munchkin Shakespeare project humming along wonderfully, and there's a strong chance that the project will deliver on schedule.) We will get through the year, we will complete the projects that are weighing us down, and we will do all we can to close 2017 on a high note and set everything up to make 2018 a year that makes us proud.

I hope they do, I hope 2017 is the year this sh*t stops, they clean things up, and set the company up for a solid 2018. We don't want to lose you, and we don't want to see your name tarnished! Please set things in order and lets move on.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Steve Jackson Games Stakeholder Report for 2016

I'm a little worried about SJG. The latest Report to Stakeholders covering 2016 is not all that great and has a few specific things that concern me. They're a Texas game company, they've been around a long time, and they've made a lot of things I like so I take an interest in how they are doing.

  • In the 80's they were Car Wars and Ogre
  • In the 90's they were GURPS
  • In the 2000's they've been mostly Munchkin
Lots of people have been touched by those games. 

They have always seemed to have a handle on cash flow, which is the thing that tends to kill game companies. That part still seems to be OK, largely due to Munchkin I would guess. They're selling Munchkin at Walgreen's now - Walgreen's!

Today I'll talk about the first issue I see, then tomorrow we will hit the second. 

The first thing I see that might be a problem is GURPS. From the report:

Discworld and Mars Attacks - We published two new GURPS hardcover books late last year. GURPS fans celebrated, and the books turned out well, but their disappointing performance further supported the unfortunate realization that sales are no longer strong enough to make traditional distribution work for GURPS hardcovers. Today's cluttered market, combined with our insistence on getting it right, made both books expensive experiments that tell us one thing: Do not produce more GURPS hardcovers until we have guaranteed that the sales are there. Does this mean more crowdfunding for GURPS? Maybe! But until we see the retail sales of Dungeon Fantasy, we're holding off on any more printed GURPS releases. PDFs will continue, and we'll revisit the question of "print GURPS?" later this year.

OK, I'm sure some of the rest of you can see a potential problem here. After the big Kickstarter (which we will get to in a bit) the two big "kickoff" books were Discworld and Mars Attacks?! Seriously? 

I love the Discworld books - I've been reading them for 30+ years and I own most of them but I would never try to use it as an RPG setting because it's just not going to work. It's the same reason there's not a Hitchhikers Guild to the Galaxy RPG - a huge part of it is the wit, and your players are not going to be able to do that on the fly while playing the game. As a Big Book of Stuff About Discworld I'm sure it's great but for a roleplaying game it's a niche of a niche at best and the people who wanted one got it with the third edition books.

Then there's Mars Attacks. I don't even know where to start, really. I know Mantic put out a miniatures game of it in 2015 and it looks as though it's already being discontinued.  Who do you know that's really passionate about MA? What's the fanbase? It would not surprise me if the total number of people in North America saying "I can't wait to run a Mars Attacks RPG!" is in the single digits.  What else is going on with the universe? A new movie? There was a movie 20 years ago that was not all that big a hit even then. I'm sure the license is cheap because NO ONE CARES ABOUT MARS ATTACKS! It's not something to build or reboot a game line on!

I know, I know, but it had to be said

GURPS has always had a problem in that while it inspired some system loyalty, it has no marquee setting, and settings are what keep people interested over the decades. Consider:
  • D&D has gone thru a ton of changes from the 80's to now but there's a core group of Forgotten Realms fans that stay with it and provide a big chunk of the energy around the game. They're the ones buying the novels and other product tie-ins. They're the ones recruiting new players  talking about all of those overpowered NPCs, arguing the history of fictional countries, and all of the things that come with a deep setting. Greyhawk has fans too, as do the other D&D worlds. Regardless of the rules particulars, they keep coming back.
  • Why does any edition of Runequest that ditches Glorantha struggle? Because for that game the Gloranth-philes are the biggest mass of players. That's where the energy is! 
  • What was the early core of Savage Worlds players? Deadlands players! It's probably still the biggest single setting but now they have Rifts, Lankmahr, and they're working on Flash Gordon! They have a strong mix of original IP and licensees that draw people in. 
I've talked about this before, back when the Dungeon Fantasy Kickstarter was going. It baffles me that GURPS still has no well-known setting of its own. Would you play 1920's Call of Cthulu without the Mythos elements? Well, that's GURPS. Sure, it's a great toolkit for making your own game but the core books have been out since 2004! If you want to draw new players in, get people excited, and most of all have people spend money on it then you need something people care about beyond mechanics! That would be "setting" and they just do not have one.

So no, I don't expect a big resurgence for the GURPS line, particularly when they are making decisions like this. I expect Dungeon Fantasy will hit the shelves and barley make a ripple as it sinks under, much like these other two have. The window for this to be a big deal was probably 2011-2014, while D&D was at a low ebb and people were looking for alternatives. Now, with 5E booming in popularity, Pathfinder still a strong second, and a bunch of OSR stuff taking up the rest there just isn't that much room left for something else. 

There might have been room for a sci-fi game in there too for the last few years but over the last 5 or so years we've had FFG's 40K universe games, their new Star Wars game, a new edition of Traveller, a new edition of Mutant Chronicles, Savage Worlds Last Parsec, and later this year we get Starfinder and a new Star Trek game! There's probably not a ton of room there either!

This is pretty clearly something that could happen in an RPG
"Remember that time we took out a tank with some muscle cars?"
To show I'm not just slagging them, how about some ideas of what they could do? OK:
  • GURPS Fast and Furious - You want to bring in some new people? Want to stretch the creative muscles a bit? Want to get some attention? Strike now! I think the company that's been doing a game called "Car Wars" for almost 40 years and that has a back catalog of GURPS books on thrillers, vehicles, espionage, and tech could do pretty well at something like this. Sure, it's a license but it's not one we've seen in RPG's before and they plan to make at least two more movies over the next 4 years. For a game that's "realistic" with some cinematic options this seems perfect. (If you think it's a bad RPG license then first, take a look up there at their last two licenses. Second, look at how many people have gone to see these movies in the last 5-10 years. It's a big number and getting bigger, at or beyond Star Wars and Marvel. It's also a heckuva lot more relevant than Mars Attacks.)
  • GURPS Big Superhero World - I think we all know superhero movies are big right now. There's room for another Superhero RPG if it's good. This takes two things:
    • One, put out a single-volume book combining the GURPS rules and the powers book. It can be a big book, but it really helps if you can point players to one book to play this game, not 3 or more. Champions did it and has done it again. M&M has always done it. It's time to make that change. 
    • Two, create an original setting that has some specific flavor, some likable, interesting iconic heroes and some detestable iconic villains and put out a setting book! Support the game with something beyond more rulebooks! It should look as good as Freedom City and Emerald City but with its own take on a superhero world. 
  • GURPS Munchkin - Start with GURPS Lite. Add maximum cinematic rules. Put in all of the monsters from the card game. Make it something like Dungeon Crawl Classics in tone, add a little Hackmaster, add a little Paranoia. Make it "The First RPG You Can Win". Make it playable in less than 2 hours - maybe everybody who's still alive levels up every ten minutes of real time. It's an IP you own and there's a ton of stuff to mine from it so why not explore it in RPG form?
So there's my thinking on the whole GURPS side of the problem. Tomorrow - the other stuff!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Kickstart Something Fun - Sentinels of Earth Prime

Take one good thing: Sentinels of the Multiverse

Take another good thing: Freedom City for Mutants and Masterminds

Now mix them together via Kickstarter and you get a cooperative superhero card game using characters and locations from the Freedom City setting! I already like SOTM and we have a good time whenever we play it. To now have the lore of Freedom City's universe presented in a similar way, something I am already running an RPG in, well, that;s just too damn cool.

I'm in. Figured I should post it here in case anyone else that might be interested had not yet heard about it. It's already reached its goal so it's really just a question of "how high can we go?" at this point.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Filling in Some Gaps - Bard's Gate

When we were playing 3rd edition I was not a huge fan of most of the published WOTC adventures but I did find some greatness in 3 places: Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures, Sword and Sorcery's own Scarred Lands setting, and Necromancer Games' adventures. For coming from three different companies and lots of individual authors I found they fit together really well. For my Scarred Lands campaign the backbone was DCC's shorter adventures + Necromancer's longer adventures and material of my own. I doubt I was the only one, and I was very happy with the way it worked out.

While the DCC adventures were purposefully independent from one another the Necromancer material as produced as if it was all part of the same setting and there were notes in many of the individual adventures on how they fit into this shared world in relation to one another. This was a lot like the early D&D adventures with their notes on where they were set in Greyhawk. SOme of the major pieces were:
  • The Wizard's Amulet + Crucible of Freya which was one of the early 3E starter adventures and is great. My players had a really good time with it and it was our starting adventure for the campaign.
  • Vault of Larin Karr which was an area the campaign could have gone to but ended up not using in that game.
  • Demons and Devils which is a collection of short adventures involving those creatures. I was going to use one of them as the end of the paladin's quest for a holy sword but we didn't quite get there. 
  •  Hall of the Rainbow Mage was another adventure where I dropped some hints and connections and we ended up not using it. 
  • Lost City of Barakus - also hinted and rumored in the game but never actually used. 
  • Rappan Athuk which I did not use after playing through part of it. It could always have come up later if I needed to abuse my player characters.
  • Tomb of Abysthor which we spent around a year playing and had a lot of fun in the dungeon and back in the city they used as a base for exploring the dungeon.
I think that's how a lot of campaigns go - there's a lot of material gathered/prepped/written that never gets used but you can't know that until your players wander somewhere else. This is just the Necromancer stuff too - there were 4 or 5 DCC adventures and a couple of the Scarred Lands adventures in there too. 

So how does Bard's Gate fit into all of this? Well it's the city that is mentioned in all of these things, a reference point, and a possible home base while playing through some of them. I didn't own the book so I used my own city ideas while we played through Abysthor but I always wanted to pick it up and find a place to add it in to the campaign. Once that game ended the priority dropped quite a bit but it's been in the back of my mind in the "one of these days" file for years. I finally picked it up and I am not disappointed. 

One of the best parts of a campaign I have run

The short version: It's a guide to a D&D style fantasy city. The signature 'thing" about the place is that it's home to a Bardic College so there are a lot of those types in the city and a player who wants to run one has a ton of hooks readily available. You could drop it into almost any campaign anywhere you need a city on a river and it would fit just fine. Each chapter in the book covers a district of the city in some, though not ridiculous, detail. You won't find stats for every bartender and patron or notes on every single structure in each area - it's mainly the high points and notable locations in each one with a general sense of the district. There's a sidebar for each that covers character, Businesses, prices, gold piece limits, building type, and note on the guards (number, timing, and size of patrols). It looks very usable for the DM - practical stuff like that goes a long way with me. There are roughly 15 chapters like this covering the city. It also comes with a roughly 3'x2' poster map of the city which is a nice touch.

Towards the back are some additional sections:
  • One covers the area around the city and notes various adventure locations
  • In the local area is a gnoll fortress and an abbey, boith of which receive their own chapters
  • There's a chapter on new magic, one on NPCs, and one on new monsters - these are all fairly 3E-specific and so not super uiseful 
  • There is also a chapter on the gods of the setting and they are somewhat different from the usual generic deities. It's a mix of Norse, Celtic, and some D&D demons along with some new - or renamed at least - non-human powers. This fleshes out some of the names mentioned in other adventures by Necromancer and is a nice touch. It would not be terribly hard to ignore this if you were dropping it into another setting. 
Downside? Well, there really are not many that I can see at this point. It's from 2006 and it's black and white so it's not as pretty as a lot of the books that we get today. Compared to something like Ptolus it's definitely a step down in presentation but that aside it's a completely usable fantasy city supplement. There was a Kickstarter last year to redo the book for 5E and Pathfinder in full color so there are updated and nicely presented versions out there but at $100 for a print copy I abstained from that one. I paid a tenth of that for my older version and I think it does what I want it to do just fine. There are PDFs of the original version available as well. 

When will I use it? I'm not sure. It's one of the major missing pieces of that Necromancer series so I would probably drop them in to a game as a whole set.  I liked the way they fit into the Scarred lands and wit hthat being redone for 5th Edition D&D I'd say there's some chance we go there again if we ever do a real 5E campaign. Pathfinder is an easy fit as well. Regardless of the system I will be happy when I finally do get to return to these adventures again.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Call of Cthulu - Back on the Shelf

I have an unusual relationship with Call of Cthulhu. I think it's an important game, but I haven't played it or run it very much and I don't really feel driven to do much more of either. I don't hate it but it's a different style of play to what I usually do and that probably explains the whole thing.

I think it's important because it was roughly the first game to push character advancement to the side - it's not particularly critical to the typical game, and odds are it's not going to matter in a few sessions anyway. Besides the initial rush of fantasy games after D&D we had some Sci-Fi games that were still mostly about breaking and entering and combat, and we had superheroes, but CoC was the first "investigation" type RPG and the first one where the expectation was that characters were not on a path to greater power - survival with enough sanity left to function was a major goal.

I've played a few games, a long time ago. It was interesting, and I would probably play if someone I knew decided they wanted to run a game. I don't particularly want to run it. Maybe one adventure for the Apprentices and some friends just so we could say we've played it and to expose them to that other style of play.

I think my biggest issue with it is that you're not likely to hear about that epic CoC campaign that's been running for 20 years and a lot of the current PC's are the kids and grandkids of the original PC's expanding their kingdom, etc. The very nature of the game cuts off that kind of long term saga. It's more like a typical horror movie series - the common thread isn't the protagonist of each movie - it's the  bad guy, like Jason from the Friday 13th movies. CoC isn't about building a legacy, it's about thwarting the Mythos over and over and the cast is likely to be significantly different for each "movie". I'm all about the "doomed hero" when it comes to a book or a movie, but I am less interested in playing that hero in a game.

That said my favorite Cthulhu story (one I consider to be a great adventure story regardless of the Mythos connections) is At the Mountains of Madness. I know they turned it into an epic adventure for CoC and one day I will own it. It's the one CoC book I know I could turn into an awesome campaign and the one that would be worth setting aside the time to play. I'm a sucker for the Lost City adventure anyway and this is yet another example of that. Other than a short one off adventure to try things out with my current players this is what is most likely to get me to play. Heck I could turn that into an epic D&D adventure, but I'd like to run it in it's native game if possible.

The reason for the post is that I finally picked up a copy of the game again this month. I had a copy for years but since we never played it I got rid of it prior to the last move a few years back. Sliding over towards 'collector" once again I decided I needed a copy on the shelf. Not 3 copies, not one of each edition, just one that  I could reference if it came up in conversation and one I could run if someone came over and said "I think we should play that." No, it's not tough to justify these things at all. It's one of my projects for this year - filling in a few gaps in the library, mainly games in the "why don't I have that?" class. This is one more checked off the list.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Experiments in RPG: Wrath of the Righteous 4E?

It's been a few months since We called the Wrath of the Righteous campaign. Some of it was the system as Maximum Pathfinder is something I find myself a little less interested in these days. A lot of it was the campaign itself as it really gets tangled up in itself in the latter half of the campaign. I think it's a downside to having multiple authors writing each of the six adventures as they get locked in on something they think is cool even when it doesn't really fit with the rest of the campaign. The single biggest example of this problem is that at a certain point the party pretty much has to work out a deal with one demon lord to help them against another demon lord and I mean it is assumed for the rest of the path that this is how things are. To me this is a ridiculous assumption for a few reasons:
  • Chaotic Evil - They're demons! You can't trust them to keep their word by their very nature as the embodiment of chaotic evil in D&D (and Pathfinder)! Devils, sure, that's one of their signature things, that you can make a deal with them because they are Lawful Evil. This assumes/requires that the players are stupid or it assumes demons have a different nature than I see them having based on every prior portrayal of them in D&D.
  • The Prior Campaign - It's all about killing demons! Not negotiating, not making accommodations, not mutual neutrality, but raising an army and destroying their major foothold on the world! Now suddenly we're going to the Abyss and making deals with them?
  • Lawful Good - This whole adventure path was touted as the one for the paladins and clerics and anyone else that wanted to be on the side of Right. It was an AP that would let your LG's unleash their full potential. Paladins don't make deals with demons in my eyes. Neither does a cleric of the lawful good fighting god. Making that a key point in the AP means that either someone didn't get the memo and the editors didn't catch the lapse or that everyone thought it was a good idea - it was not. 
That said I hate leaving a campaign unfinished. I have done some work re-figuring how the campaign ought to go to be more to my liking. Then I had an idea - if I am going to have to rework the whole thing anyway before I would even consider finishing it, why not fix the mechanical issues to? This kind of epic level play is exactly what 4th Edition D&D was made for! I looked at some potential encounters and how it might work and it looked completely do-able.

So I asked my players how they felt about it and they were not instantly opposed to it. We talked through some points and I'd say there is a chance this will actually happen some day. I'm not stopping my Deadlands game or my M&M game for it, but it may find a home on the schedule down the road. The characters translate fairly well and would be about 11 - 13th level. The one glaring issue is the Cavalier as there is not really a class in 4E that is all about mounted combat. That's the one part that does not yet have an easy answer but I suspect we could find something he would be happy playing that's still a big tough guy in heavy armor. 

So that's how that's going. More when it actually becomes a game. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Surprise! A New Twilight 2000 Supplement!

So this came thru over the weekend:

NEW For Twilight: 2000.

The East Africa Sourcebook. On DriveThruRPG.

From the deserts of Somalia to the Serengeti of northern Tanzania, the waters of the Indian Ocean to the jungles of the Congo, the East African/Kenya Sourcebook, the first new canon work for Twilight 2000 since 1995, shines a light on an area hinted at in previous works but never before detailed, where what is left of civilization in Africa struggles against the Somali Islamists, the PARA, the LRA and desperate pirates whose only mission is to take what they can from what still stands.

The Sourcebook contains a detailed order of battle for the American, French and Rwandan forces in the area as well as for their foes. A timeline is provided that shows how WWIII came to Africa, including the nuclear strikes that devastated much of the refinery production in Africa, leaving the refinery in Mombasa as the only hope for the Americans to provide the fuel the that keeps CENTCOM supplied in their continuing fight with the Soviets in Iran. The continuing struggle of the French to build a new Empire from the ruins of Africa come alive in the Sourcebook,  detailing their triumphs and missteps, including how they assisted the LRA to power in Uganda.

For those looking for new challenges and new adventures, the East African/Kenya Sourcebook provides them in spades offering everything from fighting a military campaign against the PARA and the Somalis, to convoy escort duty against pirates, to deep patrols trying to destroy terrorist bases or to find useable aircraft and supplies to keep AFRICOM going now that no more will be forthcoming from the United States.  For those who wish to be mercenaries, either in the employ of others or building their own “kingdoms” in the ruins of Africa, there are opportunities a plenty. 

Here's a link to the DTRPG page.

"... the first new canon work for Twilight 2000 since 1995 ..."

Well, it has been a while. How many people still care enough to make this worth doing. There are multiple comments on the page above so clearly at least a few people are paying attention. I have to wonder though - how many T2K campaigns are happening right now around the world? Say meeting once a month or more? Ten? For all editions together I suspect it's a really small number.

I don't say that as a slam. Twilight was one of my favorite games of the late 80's and I have almost all of the books for both 1st and 2nd edition. That said it's a hard sell these days - not many players are interested in a realistic retro take on a war that never actually happened. If you look up "simulationist" in the gamer dictionary this might be exhibit A and those do not seem to be anywhere close to popular today. Neither do "crunchy" as in rules nor "alternate history" other than steampunk or modern + magic type settings. Twilight doesn't do magic, unless it's the magic of letting your M214 portable minigun saw through a humvee and all of the raiders inside in a single combat round. 

If I was trying to get a game going today I'd probably pitch it as "like The Walking Dead but without zombies". It might sound odd but it's the closest thing I've ever seen to a T2K campaign and covers a lot of the same scenarios and situations. 

I don't know if I will ever run (or play in for that matter) a sustained T2K campaign. Finding enough players to do it right now is damn near impossible and I don't see how the passage of time will make that any better. Maybe at some point the retrogaming thing will sweep these kinds of games up into a popular movement once again but I suspect it won't be anytime soon.

Regardless, I admire GDW for keeping some of the non-Traveller stuff alive. In a world where there's Yet Another Version of tiny-booklets D&D every month I am glad some of the other classic RPG's are still available in some way.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Star Trek: Vanguard - 5 Years After

Here's a blog post by one of the authors on what is easily my favorite set of Star Trek books so far. It's a nice little read even if you haven't read the books as a lot of it is about what they are not going to do. Vanguard is a series that covers the characters and happenings around a new starbase in a new sector of space around the time of the original series. The authors position is that story is done - there will be no direct sequels and no follow-ups on the major characters in particular. Now some of the lesser characters do show up in other books, particularly the "Seekers" series but the Vanguard story is complete and will not be opened up again.

I really like that stance - "here is a complete work, it needs nothing further" is a rare thing these days where the brand and the franchise are king.

As a final take, if you're ever thinking about running a Star Trek RPG campaign, the series is worth a look just from that angle. Set it in a particular area of space with a recurring cast of ships, characters, enemies, colonies, and mysteries that they can get to know in detail. The traditional Trek campaign tends to be episodic and not very connected session to session but there are other ways to approach it and this series is a good example of what that looks like.

Friday, March 31, 2017

40k Friday - Iron Warriors Chaos Spawn

The last piece of this current round of Iron Warrior additions is my "Chaos Spawn".  The GW chaos spawn mini is basically a mass of tentacles or insect parts with legs. It's fine for general "chaos" but it seems out of place for this particular legion. The IW's are builders and make quite a few of the Daemon Engines that show up in chaos armies. While they have the chaos mindset, they do not have a ton of the physical chaos expressions. Why not take a theme of "spawn" as minor daemon engines? It sounded more interesting to me and that's how I ended up here. Those are Pathfinder miniatures Gorgons. They come already painted silver and washed in black (and have tiny red eyes!) so all I did was add the IW contrast colors of copper/brass - in a different pattern for each one - do the snow bases, then clearcoat the finished beastie.

In the game spawn are a cheap and expendable unit that is fast, tough, unpredictable, and fairly dangerous if they get into close combat. I think raging metal demon-bulls fit that perfectly. I like the rules and the look of these guys enough I may build another unit or two - a whole herd to unleash!

Technical Note: Current GW spawn base size is a 50mm round base for 40K. These bases are 50.1 mm. In my world that means "perfect match". In a tournament someone might complain, but I've rarely found a bigger base to be an issue - usually people whine about old mini's on smaller bases if things go that way. Regardless, I'll be darned if I'm going to grind down a circular base by .1mm!

Quick, easy, inexpensive, and looks good. Plus they can still be gorgons in a D&D game if needed!

The next unit on the table for the Iron Warriors is (finally!) the chaos biker squad! originally intended for my Death Guard army, I changed my mind as I was reviewing both forces and decided they were a better fit for the silver guys. They are gathered, partly built, and basecoated black at the moment so I may be able to show them off next week! That will finish out the Fast Attack element of the army so I am looking forward to that milestone.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

40K Friday - Thursday Edition - Havocs!

Another entry in the 'Finishing up the Iron Warriors" list - a squad of havocs with autocannons. These are the old 3rd edition metal guys but I like the shoulder-mounted look just fine. For most battles they will be parked in a ruin somewhere dumping Str 7 death onto the enemy from 48" away. That's the plan at least. Autocannon havocs are one of the best heavy support options for a Chaos Marine army and one of the few options that the loyalists do not have so I am pretty happy to have them finished.

The paint here is another round of my quick and dirty IW scheme: black basecoat, drybrush silver, pick out details in bronze/brass/copper, then do the snow base and wrap it all up with a clear coat spray.  It's not going to win big tournament painting contests but it's consistent across the army, looks how it's supposed to look, and is pretty quick to execute. This squad came out a little grungier than some but I'm OK with it.

I added a piece of hazard stripe decal to the squad leader as that's another Iron Warriors thing. I think when it comes to that look that less is more so here only the squad leader is getting that kind of extra detail. They did all get the IW "skull" decal but considering that it's silver and on a silver background it's hard to spot unless your fairly close to them.

The squad leader is giving a "come at me bro/kung fu challenge" type wave. It gives him a tiny bit more character and fits considering that a) he's almost always going to be the first guy in the squad to buy the farm and b) if he doesn't this is still a long-ranged squad and the path to ascension involves beating people in melee challenges so if he's not dead by the end of then fight he's damn frustrated.

While putting this squad together I picked up the Traitor Legions book and discovered the IW havoc squads get some nice bonuses. I had one missile launcher in a regular CSM squad (which I was going to swap for a plasma gun anyway) and one more in a box. Why not pick up another pair and make a missile-havoc squad? So that's the next project.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Campaign Concept: Rogue Trader as Guardians of the Galaxy. Also: Starfinder

A few weeks back I described my inspiration for a Rogue Trader campaign driven by Black Sails, Starz amazing pirate series. Over the weekend we watched Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time in a long time and I think I have found the inspiration for the opposite of that other campaign concept.

Black Sails is serious, gritty, full of scheming, betrayals, and violence.

Guardians is far less serious, not nearly as gritty, does have some betrayals, and does have violence. The movie does involve dealing with powerful artifacts and overly powerful opponents so it's a better fit than I thought at first glance.

Rogue traders do have less chance of being put in jail ...
So there are some common elements, enough to make a good game for sure, but the tone would be completely different. I think "grim and serious pirate" Rogue Trader would be significantly different from "comic book movie" Rogue Trader, to the point they might not even feel like the same game.

It's OK Captain Flint, let's talk through this.

Key elements of a GotG Rogue Trader campaign in my mind:

  • Characters are in slightly over their heads, despite being basically competent. Maybe they just recently fell into their positions and the campaign starts on "Day 1" of this new life.
  • Less concern about details, technology, and "realism", looser style
  • Action over plotting and scheming
  • Focus on organizations
    • name
    • goal
    • leader as recognizable NPC
    • one or two lower level members as recognizable NPC's to put a face on things
      (example of what this means: Guardians RT would probably be more "that's Zolo's ship!" than "that's the Red Fury!" when identifying a new arrival)
  • More emphasis on "doing the right thing", even reluctantly and less on "personal gain", comparatively
  • Humor - this would be accepted and encouraged as part of the feel of the game. The closes "other thing" to this kind of feel is probably Firefly - there are serious consequences to actions of the PC's but that's no reason we can't be funny in getting to them.
Organization + recognizable member NPC

There are some differences in the scenarios. A Rogue Trader has a massive crew - they would probably have to stay mostly in the background. It's a massive ship but it's still smaller than serious warships so there are still things you will need to run from. Just think if the Black Sails crew was put in charge of the Enterprise or a Battlestar vs. the Guardians crew - how would those two stories be different? 

Also as I started to think through this I wonder if GotG might be better 'adapted" to a Starfinder campaign. We don't know much about the game yet but a lot of Pathfinder and D&D games start with "out for gold" and end up "doing the right thing" not far into the campaign. 

Yep, that looks about right for a "First Contact" for a lot of my games ...

So I may have talked myself into thinking through a Rogue Trader-like campaign that may end up using Starfinder instead of RT rules to help keep the right tone. I suppose we will just have to see how they fit together when the rules come out.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Skill Checks, Degrees of Success, and Savage Worlds

Since skill systems became a near-universal thing in RPG's, most of them have been pass/fail. From Runequest, Star Trek,  and Hero through GURPS on into the d20 games, most games are only concerned with whether you succeeded or not. Some have a critical success or failure element, but most of the time that's tied more to combat than typical skill checks. A lot of the time, that's enough.

There are outliers.
  • The One-Roll engine covers both the "height" and "width" of each roll and those mean different things depending on the circumstances.  
  • FFG's Star Wars game adds various other factors in with their own dice so that interpreting a dice pool for that game is something of an art all on its own. The knock on it is that it's sometimes more information than you need on the routine stuff.  
  • Dice pool games form White Wolf to Shadowrun often include rules for multiple successes that indicate relative success or failure. This is definitely something to build on.
  • The old TSR Marvel Super Heroes had one of the cleanest systems: One roll gave you a white (failure) green, yellow, or red to indicate increasing levels of success. 
My interest in this springs from my current immersion in getting the Deadlands game off of the ground. Savage Worlds task rolls are dice vs. a target number of 4, and for every increment of 4 over that it's a "raise".  Now this most directly applies in combat but the mechanic is the same for everything.  In reading through the published adventures though there are a lot of handy notes like "on a success the characters find X, with a raise they also find Y".  

Given that you have, effectively, 3 levels of result from a skill or stat check: Failure, Success, Raise. Because of this I've been trying to think of results in terms of these three levels. Some typical examples where this comes in:
  • Perception Checks - probably the most overused skill in every game I've played, most of the time it's "you see the bad guys" or "you don't see the bad guys/trap/etc."   So what does a raise or an extra success get me here? 
    • Maybe a normal success is "you hear something" while a raise is "you see something". Especially in a night encounter or inside a dark cave. Maybe some kind of nightvision makes that "see" result possible with just a normal success.
    • Maybe a normal is "you see 5-6 guys standing around the campfire" while a raise is "let me put their miniatures out on the map in their exact positions. 
    • A lot of times these are opposed rolls vs. someone else's Stealth type skill so sometimes a higher result is its own reward. 
    • If the idea is to make it more interesting maybe a success is "you see these guys" while a raise is "you hear them talking about x". It might give your players a reason to listen a little longer before the inevitable gunfire or charge.
    • My 3 degrees here go like this (typical sneaking up on a camp scenario)
      • Failure = smells a campfire and that they're cooking something, maybe hear some voices
      • Success = There are several guys around the fire talking about how bad the food is and how they can't wait to get back to a real town
      • Raise = There are 4 guys around the fire, all wearing gunbelts and a 5th guy standing over by the horses with a shotgun

  • Knowledge checks - this is where I've seen some effort made in a lot of different games. 
    • Pathfinder sometimes has a little table: DC10 = some minimal knowledge about a topic, DC15=  more, and DC20 = all that plus more even more details. That's a toally playable system. 
    • This is an area where even failure should probably yield some knowledge. If nothing else I like to give the party a name of someone or something that could help. It's kind of a sideways local knowledge check too - "no, you can't recall anything in particular but you do recall there's a local mage/ranger/dog groomer who's supposed to know all about elven magic swords/the red eye orcs/ dire poodles. it's more interesting than a dead end and might give other characters a chance to contribute too. This could also be an organization or a location (like a temple) or an object, say a book.
    • My 3 degrees here go like this: 
      • Failure = don't know myself but I know how we can find out
      • Success = know enough to be useful, could go ask someone else given time and enough concern
      • Raise = know all that's useful or relevant to our situation, all someone else is going to do is confirm what we already know. 
  • Crafting checks - this doesn't come up as often as the others but when it does it's relatively easy to adjudicate
    • Failure = you're not done yet - needs more time. Critical failure  = you are done, you just broke it/ruined it/have to start over
    • Success = you made the bare minimum quality and/or amount that is supposed to come from the check. 
    • Raise/additional successes = it took less time or you made more of it than expected (or it has more charges if that's how it works)
    • Another option: A lot of computer games use quality levels for gear, typically something like White for basic, then Green, then Blue, then Purple, then Gold for increasing levels of quality. That's fairly simple to incorporate if you think it's worth the trouble. For something like a D&D potion, maybe it lasts one additional round for each quality level, or bumps the die type up for say a healing potion. Permanent gear gets a little trickier but there's usually some way to account for a really good roll. 
  • Physical checks - Sometimes these are the hardest to judge as far as extra success. "I want to leap from this balcony to that chandelier" is a fairly straightforward task.
    • Failure - A simple "you fell" on a failure isn't all that exciting. For a game like Savage Worlds I'd say this means you do it but you're hanging on by one arm, dangling in space and off balance. A critical failure or botch type result  = "you fell and looked clumsy doing it". 
    • Success = you made it, looked like you knew what you were doing, and it only took your normal move - what else are you doing this round?
    • Raise - you made it and swung it just enough to be in reach of the object you want to handle in a single impressive move. That might be a stab, a grab, or a drop to a slab.

Now I did not do nearly enough of this with Pathfinder, so I feel good that the new game is spurring me to pay more attention to this. I also am a big believer in that not everything needs a roll, and one roll should be enough. You shouldn't need a perception check to see non-invisible creatures moving around a well-lit area, and I don't care what the movement rules say you don't need 5 stealth checks to sneak up on the guards at the front door. Make one roll and get on with it!

Wrapping up - as a DM it's good to have something in mind/up your sleeve/in your notes beyond simple success or failure. I tend to prefer the "failure  = partial success" option, with a critical failure meaning no success and a negative impact as well, to the traditional pass/fail result. I'll try to point out some more examples as we play our way through The Flood. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Something New (-ish) for Monday: Old D&D Adventures from Goodman Games and WOTC

I'm a little surprised they're being this direct. Goodman Games is going to be doing "collector's edition" reprints of B1 and B2 (at least) with all of the original material plus 5E stats and some other additional material.

I'm ... impressed.

I thought we would be seeing more of the "re-interpretation" we've been seeing with their campaigns so far. It's an approach that covers both the nostalgia angle while still being "new" to a large degree. Handing it off to Goodman Games, the "retro" publisher (they print Dungeon Crawl Classics, among other games) means that WOTC isn't "wasting" their limited resources recycling old material. They're allowing and encouraging the kind of stuff some of us wanted for a long time.  It's remarkable how far we've come.

Yes, I will probably end up getting some or all of these. I've converted some of the old adventures for every single D&D campaign I've ever run and I think you could run a perfectly fine 5E campaign using nothing but converted AD&D modules.

This is a really cool development.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Challenge of an Old West Campaign

It's always been a problem with the western game - what do you do? Kind of like Traveller* it inevitably descends into one of two main types: it seems to be either bank robberies and mayhem or something "weird" like when our old Boot Hill campaigns used that section in the DM's Guide and started going into D&D modules. They may start as a Roy Rogers movie but they end up a Tarantino film.

It's a strange problem considering how much old west media is out there, until you consider a whole bunch of that deals with lawmen vs. criminals and that the criminals are usually having more fun. You'd think that the TV series would provide a decent model for a western campaign but nobody seems to want to play a location based campaign like "Bonanza" or "Gunsmoke" or even "Deadwood"- they want to play Butch and Sundance roaming about the country having adventures.

I had thought Aces and Eights would solve this by putting in actual game systems for things like running a ranch or managing a cattle drive but it has not taken off here. Maybe if I presented it more as a "Cowboy Kingmaker" campaign it would strike more of a chord with players. That's actually an idea worth some additional thought.

For now Deadlands is the best western option for us - fight monsters  and have adventures with magic and steamtech seems to be the ticket. I pondered one type of campaign years ago but never got to run it. I am going to try to keep each session as one episode though, with a clear ending, to avoid player attendance issues. The way the campaign is structured in the book makes this fairly easy to do as most of the individual "plot points" look like a session's worth of action. There are roughly 15 episodes directly related to the big story, add in some interesting side trips in the Maze and the rest of 1880's California and I easily have 20-24 sessions. If we stick to the once-a-month plan I should have 10 sessions the rest of this year so I'm looking at wrapping this up end of next year. I'm kind of hoping though that we find chances here and there to work in an extra session. Not because I want to rush through it but because we're already having a ton of fun and I'd like to get deeper into it quicker.

*in my experience Traveller games almost always go merchants, mercs, or mayhem, and even if they start as something respectable, it almost always goes criminal at some point. The published adventures almost universally promote this so it's not just a reflection on the players. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Building a Deadlands Campaign

I've wanted to run a sustained Deadlands campaign for a long time, but the opportunity never really came about. Now that it has, I had to start figuring out what I wanted it to be. Free-form, open range, sandbox type game? Could be fun, but I'd like a little more structure to the thing. There are a bunch of short adventures out for the game, and at least one town-based long adventure (Coffin Rock), but there are also four full campaign books which are similar to an adventure path for other games. Since I didn't have a specific concept in mind already I decided to go with one of those.

Which one though?

  • The Flood - California after the "big one", San Francisco, lots of steampunk tech, lots of Chinese culture
  • The Last Sons - The Dakotas, Deadwood, lots of Sioux culture and shamanic type magic
  • Stone and a Hard Place - Arizona and New Mexico, Tombstone, and it's the most "classic western" of them all, probably spaghetti western in particular. 
  • Good Intentions - Utah err, "Deseret", Mad Science, and a lot of action around Salt Lake, aka the "City of Gloom"
I have all of these (the last one was Kickstarted last year and is PDF only until the books come later this year) and they all have definite points of attraction. I was initially set on either The Flood or Stone and a Hard Place, so I re-read both of them. 

Stone and a Hard Place is really good, and while reading it I had pretty much decided to run it first. It starts with Tombstone, the Earps, the Cowboys, and yes you do get to be a part of the OK Corral situation. Being a huge fan of the "Tombstone" movie it's definitely a very attractive adventure, and it gets better from there. If you want a very "western" campaign with your party in pursuit of a single major antagonist, one where it gets very personal, this is a great campaign. 

Then I read The Flood and things started to turn. While Stone is awesome, I don't think it is as good as The Flood as an introduction to the Deadlands setting. The Flood makes a great effort, particularly early on, to give players a sense of what's going on and why with the Weird West. It's not something I had really considered before, but I've been reading and occasionally running Deadlands stuff for 20 years and never really had the chance for my players to see the big picture. There is evil in the world, but it's evil you can fight. It's a big part of the setting and there are even mechanics for what your party can do to roll back the damage. Once you understand this as a player, you can make plans for it. it and make a big difference in the world beyond just shooting monsters. It's a cool aspect of the game that I've never been able to use but I think I will get to do it now.

My concerns with the Flood are that it's a little more "out there" than say, Stone. The Maze is a great setting for a game but it means you may be spending a fair amount of time on steam-powered boats in the maze fighting Chinese pirates using martial arts weapons and not riding horses chasing bandits as you might expect in a western type RPG. There's room to add in more of the traditional elements for sure, but the backbone of the campaign involves a fair amount of deck time, martial arts, and magic. I don't want my players asking where the "western" went halfway through the game so it's something I'm going to have to keep an eye on.

The Flood also sets up some things nicely. Early on the PC's meet Dr. Darius Hellstromme, one of the big movers and shakers in the setting. He figures prominently in Good Intentions, so by doing Flood first my players will know who he is if we get the chance to play that one. They also meet some other known setting NPCs who are threatened or play another role in some of those other books.   

So I have settled on The Flood for this campaign and I am very happy with it now. Our first session is complete and went well and I am very optimistic for the future. 

Sorry guys, we're going to California - maybe next time!
Bonus: This is also good refresher training in running an ongoing Savage Worlds game which a) makes me happy anyway as I love the system and b) helps me figure things out that will make the inevitable Savage Rifts game that much better.

Mood-setting media ideas: For this campaign I'd say Tv shows The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., Kung Fu, and the classic film Big Trouble in Little China (originally conceived as a western) set the right tone. Heck, just being able to cite those as relevant to a game I am running makes me pretty happy.