Monday, December 31, 2012

Looking back at 2012

Apocalypse Prediction FAIL!
Also, Shadowrun: where are my elves and dragons?

I've been enjoying time away from the keyboard during the holiday off-time but I'm trying to get back in the swing of things now. Let's start with something easy - the year-end wrapup!

2012 in Books
I read a lot of crap. I read less of it this year. That alone is an improvement. The 40k books I read were decent and I read far fewer D&D novels. Next year I plan to dig into the Horus Heresy books for 40K and the Dresden Files books because people keep telling me they're good. I also pretty much ignored new comics in 2012, though that is likely to change in 2013 as well.

The movie I had been waiting for since I was 6

2012 in Movies
For me I would say it was Avengers - Dark Knight Rises - Hobbit for the top. That's a pretty strong year in the "stuff I like" category and the fact that they all did really well makes it even better. We live in the golden age of superhero movies. Sure, we had Superman in the 70's - 80's and Batman in the 90's, but beginning in 2000 with the first X-Men movie we have had a series of amazing superhero movies, pretty much at least one every year, and the majority of them do not suck! They even seem to be getting better! Kids today have it so good ... how awesome would it be to be about 6-9 right now and have all of this going on?

Next year? It already looks ridiculous, from Man of Steel, Star Trek New 2, Iron Man 3 - heck, even Lone Ranger looks interesting. Also: Pacific Rim - wow! It's going to be another good year.

Not exactly the Avengers, but OK

2012 in TV 
Unlike my out-there movie tastes our big show of 2012 was Mad Men - all 5 seasons of it. Who knew a show about work and family could be so great? A close second was Walking Dead which has a more interesting/exotic premise but far less interesting characters. We covered all 3 seasons of this one this year too. Game of Thrones was good, True Blood was good, Boardwalk Empire was good. Most of these don;t have much crossover with my gaming tastes but Lady Blacksteel is constantly amazed/annoyed by my strong opinions on the actions of the Walking Dead crew - look, I've played Twilight 2000 and Gamma World for a long time, I KNOW when people are making bad decisions in a post-apocalyptic environment, and they make a lot of bad decisions on that show. 

For next year, well, we've just started watching Homeland during this break and we're liking it so far. More of that and more of the shows we really like.

Been a long time since I spent money on cards

2012 in Board & Card Games
We didn't hit a lot of new ground here - a few sessions of Munchkin, Memoir 44, Command and Colors, held over from last year. We did play more Battletech and the boys got pretty interested so I expect we will play more. Heroscape was a big player this year as the boys all like it and even though the game is out of production now they still somehow get expansion sets every Xmas. The other thing that made a strong finish was Magic - Apprentice Red has been interested for a few years now but he got into it this year and dragged Blaster with him. The opening of a new LGS near us and a shiny new drivers license meant that they could go play with buddies at a store whenever they wanted for the last couple of months and they have done exactly that. I'm sure we will see more MtG next year too.

Look! - More Expensive books for 40k!
2012 in Miniatures
I added some D&D mini's here and there (thanks Garage Sale Jeremy!) but it really centers around one game: Warhammer 40,000 6th edition. After letting it lie for a lot of 2011, the anticipation and the release of the new edition fired things back up for us and it's right up there with D&D as far as time spent planning, if not quite as much with time spent playing. Red and Blaster each started on a second army, having a fair amount of paint on their first armies, and Who started making noise about wanting his own army. We played enough to keep the interest up and I am planning to try a once-a-month in-house campaign for 2013 - more on that later.

MHR is easily my favorite new RPG of 2012
2012 in RPG's
I ran around 25 sessions of D&D 4E this year - not bad, though it was split between two groups. I ran about 5 sessions of ICONS. I ran a few sessions of Mutants and Masterminds, Star Wars Saga, new Marvel, a session or two of D&D Next,, and Savage Worlds, and a session of Warhammer FRP. Our move in August really killed things for a solid month plus, and ICONS really suffered there. With D&D I started up a new main campaign while continuing the Apprentice game we started in 2011.

My goal for 2013 is to have less single-session gaming and try to have a short arc/dungeon planned out for any new game we start up so that we can play a complete "run" even if we let it go after that. Even the typical starter adventures found in the backs of core rulebooks would suffice. I just need to plan it better. The outline is pretty much 1) D&D, 2) Supers, 3)Whatever else I can fit in

Motivational Monday

Wrapping the year up right:

Monday, December 24, 2012

Holiday Action

Just a short update here as despite a week-plus of off time I had way too much last minute shopping to do. Now that's all handled it's time for the relative obligations, then other prep ... when did this "holiday" turn into so much work?

So when I did finally get some free time I asked the Apprentices what they wanted to play ...

"We just watched Avengers, I wanna play superheroes"

"We just saw The Hobbit, I wanna play D&D"*

"I just watched a bunch of Clone Wars I wanna play Star Wars"

So, yeah - they could not agree on anything so I left them alone to sort it out. Eventually they did agree to pick up our Star Wars Saga game we last played about a year ago where I was running the old Star Frontiers adventures. Not ICONS, not D&D, but something we haven't even talked about for months - somehow that was the compromise. So we did and it was a blast and I will write more about it later this week when I have more time.

Also: Jeremy - I'm working on the old session reports, but they aren't ready yet - patience!

Anyway, Merry Xmas everybody and try to enjoy the holiday!

*"What version? How about Pathfinder? No I don't want to play Pathfinder, how about 4th? No I don;t like 4th, how about Basic? You know how I feel about Basic, so no" This continued for at least 30 minutes.

Motivational Monday

Hey, I'm off this week so I don't need much motivation but here's one anyway:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The 7 Games You've Run the Most

This article over at Gnome Stew got me to thinking about this, and I thought it was interesting enough to do myself. Anyone who has been reading the blog for any length of time can probably figure out most of them but I wanted to go through it myself and see if there were any surprises. I did the played yesterday so today is "DM'd"

The 7 Games I've Run the Most: 

1 - D&D 3rd Edition - There's no doubt about this one. I started running it in late 2000 and barring a few short gaps over the years I ran it almost continuously until the end of 2009. It's easily my longest urn as a DM and the greatest number of hours spent on any one game. It was during this time that I shifted into being pretty much a full-time DM, playing a lot less than I had in the past. Most of his was one large group that stayed together for the entire time. Settings included Greyhawk (return to the Temple of Elemental Evil), Kalamar (various published adventures), and the Scarred Lands (lots of Necromancer Games and Goodman Games adventures) as interests came and went and various TPK's occurred. It was a good long run and it's been long enough now that I could probably enjoy running it again.

2 - D&D 4th Edition - The most recent edition didn't get rolling until late 2009 for me as I initially disliked it a lot. Once it got going though, I've been running it for most of the last 3 years with a few gaps here and there for two different groups. I really like it but I and skeptical that it will dethrone the one above as the all-time most-run. I've talked about these on the blog but I've been doing a lot of conversions of older material to the new game and it's been a lot of fun.

3 - Rifts - Yeah, this surprised me a bit too. I've run about 2 years worth of Rifts, most of it in one 18-month campaign back in the 90's. Somewhere between "Masochist" and "Most awesome DM ever" lies the guy who says "I'll run Rifts" and sticks with it for more than a year. That was me. Not sure I would do it again but you never know. This is all homebrew stuff,  and the majority centered around a quest across a ruined America.

4 - AD&D 2nd Edition - I ran some of this but I played more. Most of my game was set in Greyhawk, partly because I like it and partly to distinguish it from my friend's Realms campaign. We spent a lot of time around the Nyr Dyv moving between the City of Greyhawk and Dyvers, from capturing a dragon to intervening in a gang war. This covered about 2 years of sessions, though somewhat spread out.

5 - Shadowrun - Including 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Edition I have run multiple short campaigns since the game came out, the longest lasting about 6 months. These were always set in Seattle to take advantage of the numerous resources published for that city. I ran a few published adventure, I think DNA/DOA was the first thing I ran in the game after Food Fight, and it's always been fun. I'm not sure I'm in much of cyberpunk mood these days but lord knows I have enough material for it. 

6 - Star Wars (d20) - one several month campaign, one short follow-up, then a couple of short Saga edition games and that's all I've run for Star Wars, but some of the moments were pretty memorable. I've detailed most of them on the blog.

7 - Savage Worlds - I've only run a few different games in this system but I think it still adds up to more time than some of my other candidates. Most of it was Necessary Evil, but I've done some Deadlands and some 50 Fathoms as well. 

After this we get into a lot of games where I've run one medium-length campaign or a few short runs over the years: Fantasy Hero, Champions, Deadlands, Deadlands HOE, AD&D, B/X D&D, Traveller, Warhammer, FRP, Babylon 5, Twilight 2000, Dark Conspiracy, and probably others I am forgetting.  As I noted yesterday, this batch is even more evidence that there is always a D&D game, and then there are the other games. Fortunately I now get to run more stuff than I used to. Having a captive audience helps.

ICONS and M&M are the two candidates likely to overtake the lower elements of this list. Icons I've only had ICONS for about a year and a half and though we've played it quite a bit the sessions tend to be shorter than other games. M&M has only recently become part of the rotation but I expect we will play more of it over the next year too. I'm happy that the top items in this list are the thing I run now and the thing I ran before what I run now, with some newer stuff moving into the lower ranks. I think that's a pretty good mix.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The 7 Games You've Played the Most

This article over at Gnome Stew got me to thinking about this, and I thought it was interesting enough to do myself. Anyone who has been reading the blog for any length of time can probably figure out most of them but I wanted to go through it myself and see if there were any surprises. I'll do the "played" today and the "GM'd" tomorrow.

The 7 Games I've Played the Most: (this assumes "DMing" doesn't count as "playing")

1 - AD&D  - I spent a LOT of time on this one, getting my DMG about 1980 and the rest of the books  the next year and a regular set playing group the year after that - one that stuck around for decades. This was THE game for me in the 80's, all others were secondary, and I obsessed over it like nothing since.

2 -AD&D Second Edition - Yeah this kind of surprised me, but we had a full 11 year run on this as we started the day it came out in 1989 and played it regularly until the 3rd edition launch in 2000. The center of this time was a nice long ongoing campaign set in the Forgotten Realms that a friend of mine ran pretty much this entire run, which was basically "the 90's".

3 - Gamma World  - I'm cheating a bit by lumping all editions together here but it was really one ongoing campaign that started in 2nd edition with one set of characters about 1983 and continued through 3rd edition (convert and move on!) and 4th edition into the 1990's. Run by the same friend, this was set from the ruins of Louisiana up to the Great Lakes over the years.Part D&D, part Western, part Superheroes, we had a lot of fun with this game.

4 - D&D 3rd Edition - I'm going by hours here, as over the years I played this quite a bit but never in a good long sustained campaign. Added up it's probably the fourth most-played game but it tended to be in very small chunks here and there. The biggest problem here is that I was running so much I didn't have time to play 

5 - Mechwarrior - I am again lumping all editions together here. This game came out in 1986 and we jumped on it immediately, having a fondness for the giant robot war story campaign that never really went away. Again, a friend of mine ran it, and a group of about 4 of us played it in sustained bursts for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd editions, through the original succession wars, and into the clan invasion. We painted the mini's, read the novels, and waged war on a planetary scale at times. Most of our Battletech games were tied in to our Mechwarrior campaign, wherever it happened to be at the time. It's a whole different way to play the game as having to consider "what happens next" gives one a different perspective on combat, from character fates to repairs, to transportation - it was a lot of fun.

6 - Twilight 2000 - I was pulled into a campaign of this in the late 80's run by one friend and it became a regular part of the rotation with another friend running campaigns of it as well. It's a fairly realistic game - there are no magical healers, radiation kills you instead of granting superpowers, and there are no giant robots, zombies, ninjas, or wizards.It's just a group of relatively normal humans trying to make their way in a broken world. Overcoming those challenges makes for a fun game though not  everyone likes that kind of thing. We played 1st edition, 2nd edition, 2.2 all back forth from about 1987 into the 90's and even had a short run of 1st edition just a few years ago.

7 - Star Trek - Fasa edition. Besides the various D&D's this is the only entry that covers only one edition of a game but it was a lot of fun. Creating a single character and running him over most of a decade (on and off) is something I have not done before or since. There have been other Trek games but this is the only one I experienced as a player.

After this we get into a long tail of Traveller, Boot Hill, Marvel Super Heroes, Champions, Shadowrun, Warhammer FRP, Rifts, Gurps, B/X D&D, Star Wars, 4E D&D etc. I've played a lot of games but the ones listed above form the core of my playing experience. One thing should be clear from the above: There is always a D&D game, then are the side games or temporary diversions. I don;t expect that will change anytime soon.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Overreaction Tuesday

  • There's a little EN World retrospective here with some comments from both the originator and the current keeper of the site. I remember finding it in 1999 and soaking up every tidbit of information on the coming edition. That makes it about the same age as one of my kids, which simultaneously feels like a long time ago and yesterday.
  • State of the Mongoose for 2012 - I really like these articles as they are straight from the source - not a rumor, not a press release, but a status report from the guy running the company. Mongoose has had its ups and downs but as a fan of Traveller and Victory at Sea I'm glad to see things are going alright. He does mention that the RPG print market ain't great. I don't think that's a surprise to most of us but it's somewhat sobering to hear from a guy with real skin in the game.
  •  New D&D Playtest packet is out. Might have to give this one a chance over the break.
  • New article on D&D: Moving Target Edition specifically covering Prestige Classes and stating basically the same goals for them that 3E originally stated for them, which lasted until about the first supplement, if that long. As stated, I like the concept - but I liked it in 2000 too and I saw where it went and didn't like that much at all. Maybe it will be different Next time  - but that's a tall order. As long as I get my Frenzied Berserker then I will give them a chance ...
  • Obligatory national article on D&D coinciding with The Hobbit. Sure, I expect D&D to go mainstream any day now. 
  • And if you missed it here is the Paizo 2011 retrospective. The main item of interest for me was the tale of the Beginner Box. I think it's a big deal and I liked reading the backstory on how it came about.

A Superhero Nugget

City of Heroes Nugget: Titan Networks has published a means to unlock the CoH character creator - YES! Check it out here.

Motivational Monday

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Easy Saturday Scattershooting

  • I may have written more at Barking Alien's blog this week than I did on my own. He has some good stuff on sandbox vs. story vs. both so check it out here.
  • Nothing directly to do with gaming but big stuff for Lady Blacksteel and I on TV recently has been Mad Men, Walking Dead, and Boardwalk Empire. we finally caught all of Season 5 for Mad Men last month, we caught up on Walking Dead in time for the "midseason finale", and watched Boardwalk in real time, which ended a week or two ago ... and it feels like I'm out of TV now! There's nothing I feel compelled to watch on Netflix or DVR. We try to always have a show we watch together and right now we really don't.
  • Paizo is working on a Pathfinder Megadungeon and the writing line-up looks pretty strong. It's certainly another reason to consider putting a little bit into the Pathfinder Online Kickstarter. Have to think about that one.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Hobbit Friday

Beyond Sinbad movies, Robin Hood & Three Musketeers movies, Greek and Norse myths, and various fairy tales, the animated Hobbit is what got me really fired up about fantasy in general. After I saw it, and found out there was a longer sequel in the works, I sought out the books (all 4 of them) and acquired them thanks to an encouraging aunt of mine and that was pretty much what started the whole thing. It was the spark that lit the smoldering mass into a full-on flame. For years afterwards I read the whole thing over again every year. Within a few more years I had discovered D&D, then later Conan and Fafhrd and the Mouser and Sanctuary and a whole bunch of other books and games and all those same bad movies we all watched back then. It also led to Warhammer and that whole miniatures addiction thing that takes up an interesting amount of space around the house to this day. A few years ago I discovered it all over again when I started reading it to my kids as a bedtime story, one chapter per night.

What makes it so good? Enough has been written that I'll keep it short: For me it starts with a low key hero (no special bloodline, prophecy, power, or skill) who is dragged into an adventure where it seems like everyone else knows more about what's going on than he does, which is not a bad metaphor for several stages of life in my experience. Once in this situation, while he doesn't seek danger he doesn't automatically run from it either. Instead he deals with it as it comes, to the best of his abilities, and in the end he makes it through with some new friends and some good stories to tell - who doesn't want that?

As far as movies go, while I'm sure some hate it, the animated version all over this post pretty much defined the look of a lot of fantasy creatures for me. From Gandalf, to the dwarves, to those goblins (!) and Smaug, I still find myself picturing things in this style from time to time even now. It's very distinct and one that's never left my head or been totally overwritten. I had the animated movie eventually but before that I had the book & cassette and saw the filmstrip - remember those, kids?- in school more than once. So it was around a lot.

 I'm sure the new movie will be good, and it will be a nice way to introduce people to the book with a modern look. I loved the LOTR movies and trust Peter Jackson to handle it well. I am concerned about the decision to make it into 3 movies - even with the appendices and all I think that may be stretching the material a bit thin. We'll just have to see. I am looking forward to the big release today. I probably will see it later in the weekend but I will be there, ready for the latest version of a story I have been following for a long long time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Local D&D Update for December

  • With Apprentice Red getting his first job this week* and being remarkably busy with theater and other school activities, the ToEE campaign has slowed way down. This is somewhat frustrating for Apprentice Blaster - and for me too - but it's just how things work. If we're lucky we will get some time in during the holiday break but how much remains to be seen.
  • In contrast the Impiltur campaign as been zooming onward with the speed of regular weekly sessions - yes "weekly", not "bi-weekly", or "monthly" or "hey when are we going to play again?" - This means we're up to around 16 sessions now and about halfway through the Red Hand of Doom. Everyone seems to be having a good time with it and hopefully that continues. Additionally, somewhat to my surprise, the players were wondering where their recaps had gone. I noted that they rarely read them, and were even less likely to comment on them, so I stopped doing them. Apparently at least some of them think it's a big deal, so look for some catch-up summaries on the Savage Swords of Impiltur campaign this month.
  • Apprentice Who has inquired about playing more D&D, perhaps even wanting his own books, but that may be premature yet. I'm considering going back to Basic to keep the speed of play up, as Who hated 4E when he tried it but loved Basic when Apprentice Blaster ran it for him a while back. I'm hoping his renewed interest helps offset the loss of time with Red.
  • I'm also considering giving Next another go as the alternative game for the Blaster-Who team when Red is not available. It seems like a reasonable compromise if I can convince Blaster to give it another try after rendering his verdict a few months ago.
  • Apprentice Blaster prefers 4E and wants to continue the Temple campaign, but failing that he might be up for Basic. He's also been asking about giving 3rd Edition a try since he's looked at my wall of stuff for it and concluded it might be worth a look. If I can get a decent character generator up and running then he and Apprentice Who may be giving that one a try as well. I figure a few one-off sessions of various editions of D&D  should help us find a sweet spot. I may even work in a D&D-flavored Savage Worlds game, just to mix things up.

*His first day of his first job ever is working at a movie theater the day The Hobbit opens. I told him that at least he will have a nice little story to tell down the road.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Not So Recent Gaming Innovations: Presence Attack!

I could cite Champions for a lot of innovations: First effect-based system, first appearance of advantages/disadvantages, the concepts of Hunteds and Dependent NPC's, the separation of lethal and non-lethal damage as a core part of the game, and hey, the first point-based character generation system. Sure, those were all pretty important, but the one thing I think is overlooked and underrated is the Presence Attack.

What is a Presence Attack? Why it's simply a mechanical system for frightening, intimidating, charming, commanding, or otherwise imposing your will on an NPC without making an actual, physical* attack on them. Presence is a stat that all characters possess (it defaults to 10 for a normal human) and the mechanic is this: Roll 1d6 per 5 points of Presence, compare your total to the target's Presence, then based on how much your roll has exceeded their score various effects can happen, from losing an action as they hesitate to total surrender or obedience. There are situational modifiers - things like being outnumbered can lessen your chances while doing something impressive like bending a steel bar can improve them.

Yes, that's right - a game system known for number-crunching tactical combat has a system that allows a character to walk in a room and tell everyone "get out" - one that works, is fairly simple to resolve, but has rich options that reward player creativity in play - wow that sounds kind of modern! When was that published? 1981?!

I've seen this used in Champions of course, but I've also seen it work in Fantasy Hero, a sort of Rifts-Hero**, a Traveller Hero campaign, and a Mechwarrior Hero. It seems that if you give players a system for doing this kind of thing, at least some of them will try it out! Nothing makes a player feel like a badass more than having their character walk in to a room full of ninjas, say "Leave" and then watching as they do so, clearing the area for the big confrontation with the Overninja. No powers needed, no magic items needed, no special intimidate skill or feat needed - just the character's innate badassery.

There are those who claim this should be strictly a role-playing thing. I disagree. A mechanical framework for interpersonal interaction is not a straitjacket. Sometimes it's what makes certain things possible. I can tell you that without some kind of mechanical yardstick the scenario above would rarely happen in my games - I tend to play my ninjas as overconfident bad guys. I cannot tell you the lengths a player would have to go to in order to overawe a whole group of them like that. With the Presence Attack though, it's not just an arbitrary call by me - it's something a player can investigate, work towards, and invoke on their own initiative with a pretty good chance to evaluate when it's a good idea and when it is not - and those things are what make this system great.

Now I've tended to focus on the fear aspect of Presence Attacks but that is not the only option. There are other ways to use the system too ...

Yeah - that one doesn't come up as much when it's just the guys playing, but Lady Blacksteel has a tendency towards the lesser forms of mind control when it comes to her characters, which adds an interesting angle for the DM. Don't get me wrong, she likes to play badasses too, hers just have more of a curveball to them than most male characters.

Now the thing that is a little disappointing is that more games haven't included a mechanic like this one. D20 games often have some kind of Bluff mechanic, but what if it's not a bluff? What if you are that good? Some of them have an Intimidate skill as well and it can work in a similar way, but few have the non-fear aspect built in as well. Sure, they have Diplomacy or Streetwise, but those have a different flavor to them than having a 30 or 40 Presence would in Hero.

To sum up: More games should have something like this! In level based games it would be really easy to do - something like level + Charisma bonus + a Feat bonus if you take the "Presence" feat, roll that vs. the target's willpower equivalent and resolve. Other games would require a more specific solution but the concept works in almost any game, and almost every game would be better for it.

*or energy - Champions humor!

** It was harmless college experimentation, I swear!

Friday, December 7, 2012

ICONS: State of the Game at the End of 2012

I've been a little quiet on this one lately but there is a lot happening now with ICONS. After a decent 2012 it looks like things are really ramping up for 2013. With Steve Kenson taking the game back under his control, and to successful kickstarters for a rules supplement (see above) and a setting supplement (Stark City!) it looks like a game that has a solid upside.

Note: All this is from the perspective of someone who plays the game (well, runs it but you get my point). I don't have any affiliation with  the people or the company who publish it, I just like it a lot.

So, what if someone was looking for a new superhero game to try out? One that handled all the things such a game is expected to handle, but isn't too complicated or too pricey to pick up - what's a good option? Let's take a look at what ICONS has:

  • The ICONS rulebook - it's 9.95 at DTRPG. That's a pretty good deal for a complete Superhero RPG
  • Need more? The Villianomicon is also $9.95 at DTRPG. It has some rules discussions, notes on things like natural diasaters, and about 100 pages of new villains. It's a solid choice to bulk up a campaign.
  • Interested in even more? TEAM-UP is ... well it's the black sheep of ICONS right now as it was supposed to release roughly a year ago and has not appeared. 

Speaking of not yet available, there are two more major supplements mentioned above:
  • Great Power is the forthcoming book on powers powers powers. I've looked at the playtest copy and it's a thorough treatment and examination of all of the powers in the game, plus some new ones, with recommendations on how to implement specific concepts within the broad framework of ICONS' mechanics.Get in on the Kickstarter and $10 gets you the PDF - that's a very good deal! 
  • Stark City is the forthcoming book (or series of books) on an original city setting for ICONS

Maybe there's an era you prefer, and want to know if there's any support out there for it:
  • Golden Age - Vigilance Press has a series of short adventures priced at $1 - one dollar! We've played several of them and they are easily an evening's worth of fun.
  • Silver Age - Fainting Goat Games has a series of adventures that are definitely Silver Age in spirit. They run from $1.99 to $3 or so. 
  • Modern Age - Ad Infinitum (taking over from Adamant this year) has a series of modern adventures that run from Silver-Ageish to Bronze Age. They run about $5 but tend to be a little longer than the others so they include more material at that price.

What else?
  • Well if you like vehicle-oriented characters Fainting Goat has the Justice Wheels line that features a character, their vehicle, and some alternate vehicle and chase rules, usually for a buck or three.
  • If you need more characters there are the Hero Packs from Ad Infinitum, which give stats, an illustration, and (most of the time) a background as well. Instant characters can be handy sometimes
  • If you're looking for archetypes, a discussion of those archetypes, and some sample characters for each one the Field Guide to Superheroes is a very cool set of books from Vigilance Press. 
  • Also, of course, there is the character bilker, er, "folio" from Ad Infinitum as well. generate a character in seconds!

So why am I plugging all of these things? Because:

1) It's a great superhero RPG, covering all of the elements in just enough detail to make it interesting, but lightly enough to keep it fast moving and understandable to new players, and younger players. This also makes it the greatest pick-up game I have ever seen.

2) It's a "light" game beyond just the rules - you don't need miniatures or a battlemat or a screen or even a printed rulebook as all of it is available as a PDF.

3) It's economical - You can pick up the rulebook and multiple adventures for less than $20 and be running a game within a day.

Side Benefit: If you have a lot of old Marvel Super Heroes stuff lying around, it is extremely easy to convert.

So many RPG lines require multiple books, certain trappings, and a fairly large outlay of cash to pick up and run. This one doesn't. If you're at all interested in the supers genre but were maybe put off by the complications of something like Champions or Mutants and Masterminds, this is the one! Risk that $10 and give it a try! Play it with your kids! Play it with your regular group on a night when not everyone shows up. It's a good game, and a fun game and it's definitely worth a look.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Overreaction Wednesday

With EN World still under some kind of hacker attack there's a little less community out there this week. A couple of D&D-related tidbits:

  • With the coming hardback compilation of S1-4 I went back and looked over my copy of Realms of Horror, the older S1-4 compilation, and there was no effort at all in that to link the 4 adventures together. I believe the A1-4 compilation made some effort at this (I don't have a copy of it) and I was wondering if either hardback would contain any of that extra material. In the case of the S modules, clearly not as it does not exist. For the A modules, I'm guessing "no" because people may prefer the original text.
  • Dungeon 209 (the December issue) apparently will include a 4E version of Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan - might have to look at that one.
  • Dragon 417 (also December) will have a couple of articles on the tarrasque - this interests me also. I've never used it, but I used Godzilla in a Champions campaign once and as a fan of the giant monster genre I am always interested in more material on that kind of thing.
  • Update on the class mechanics for D&D Next here. My lack of playtesting this round limits what I can say here, but it's good to see that the effort continues.
Final Note: As I was writing this Lady Blacksteel commented on the cover pic up above. Looking at that cover again I know where the skull, the armor*, and the dracolisk come from but I don't think there's a female vampire in S2. There is a vampire, but Ctenmiir is a boy vampire and even for an 80's product she definitely appears to be a girl. It wouldn't be a bad idea to mix it up considering the majority-male parties I see but I've never noticed this apparent gap before.

*"no boys that's a suit of magical armor, it would be silly to put a robot on the cover of a D&D adventure" he said as he put the book away, trying to avoid spoiling a classic module that they will someday experience firsthand.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Reflections on the Closing of City of Heroes, the Cloud, and D&D

(This is what shows on the launcher program now for COH)
So, the MMORPG City of Heroes went offline early Saturday morning, the first time I have experienced something like that, and I thought I would share some thoughts. Relevance to non online gamers? If you like D&D 4 (especially) I get to that a little ways down the page. Also, if you have any interest in a CoH successor, there are efforts underway here and here to create one

Even the Amazing Aluminum Man can't overcome the power of Server Crash!
The situation: CoH launched in 2004, a short time before World of Warcraft launched and blew everything else out of the water. This means that it was a game with a) a smaller population and b) older technology compared to games like The Old Republic. Despite the limitations, it was, by all reports, still profitable.

We managed to crash one of the more popular servers. Twice. 
In the past online games have been shut down but it was fairly widely known by the time that action was taken that the population had dwindled to the point they could longer pay for themselves.I think most people understand that That does not appear to have been the case with this game. The word from the publisher  situation boils down to "it's too small and not worth the hassle".

I like cars, I like computer games, and even I could have told you this was going to fail
This is a terrible state of affairs, especially for a guy who likes to keep old things around and play with them from time to time. Something I like and was willing to pay for has been taken away from me - not because I stopped paying for it, not because I did something wrong, and not because it's being replaced by something newer and better, but because a corporation decided it just wasn't worth the trouble anymore. It's a new sensation and I really do not care for it, but I suspect this will become a more common occurrence for more people in the near future.

Now I work in Corporate America so you're not going to find some slam attack on that here ( plus the villain in this case was Corporate Korea so that wouldn't be right anyway). However, with "in the cloud" being the catchphrase of 2012 this scenario illustrates the dark side of turning things over to an invisible server: what happens when it goes away? I liked City of Heroes, it made money, it was well known in it's industry/genre and held by a good-sized company in that industry and run by a dedicated, passionate staff - then someone in a position of power changed their mind and it goes "poof" with 90 days notice!

Now if we're talking about a simple online storage situation you might just move your files elsewhere, but what if there was less or even no notice? What if a lawsuit was involved and froze the servers? What if it was something a little more complex than simple file storage, like, say, iTunes? What if it was an integral part of a game you play a lot, like 4th edition D&D?

Captain Transylvania awaits the end of the world in Atlas Park
That's the parallel that came to me late Friday night as I sat in front of my computer watching the announcements that the game was shutting down in 30 then 15-then minutes, realizing that I will never be able to play this game in this form, with thousands of players online, again. Unlike this online thing that soaked up a bunch of money, creativity, time, and mental processing cycles, I can go back and play the same AD&D game that I played 30 years ago. Heck, I could get some of the same players! It's the same with Traveller, Champions, Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Star Trek and a bunch of others - tabletop games never really end in any final fashion, they just peter out as we move on to to other things. Even if you ended a campaign, burned all your material, and sold off your books, a new round is only an ebay/noble knight/etc  purchase away for almost any game ever printed. I suppose that's our printed version of "the cloud".

More recent games though, are less immortal. I cite 4th Edition D&D as the main example of this trend and it's the most extreme but it's not the only one. There were ways in which 4E was MMO-like but it was not that it went to level 30, used powers with a cooldown-like structure, and had a taunt mechanic - it was that the rules were treated like a MMORPG code-base and were patched with a monthly release schedule that invalidated chunks of printed material dedicated to learning and understanding the game! There are large sections of some books that are not current because of this. Thankfully all of the current mechanics and fluff are included in the character builder and the compendium - but what if that goes away?

The original 4E character builder was a downloadable application that was replaced in 2010 by an online-only version to combat piracy and hacking of the original. The rules compendium is still online only. Ironically enough I decided to start paying for DDI to have access to this stuff about the time CoH announced that it was going away  (and about the time the last 4E books were being published) as I figured $10 a month was reasonable for that kind of support for a game when I was running two campaigns of it regularly. Having multiple CoH accounts dropping off made it a lot easier to justify too since that game went fee-less for the last 3 months.

So as of right now for something I like and find useful for a hobby of mine I am paying a monthly fee for something that is entirely cloud-based, controlled by a single corporation that has already begun working on a replacement version of the thing I like - it's sounding a little familiar. It's popular, by all accounts, but I can only see the numbers going down in the near future. Now one might argue that since there was no replacement for CoH that this is a better situation but contrary to that I think a replacement product almost demands the termination of support for earlier versions of that product. My only hope here is that the new-for-2012 statement by WOTC that they want to support all versions of the game includes the continuation of online support for 4E. If not, well, then what?

I find the character builder program essential for playing 4th Edition. I'm sure there are some out there who play without it but I would bet they are a tiny tiny minority. It is a huge benefit in understanding how characters work, how they are different (both mechanically and fluff-wise) and in just getting the math right. If that becomes unavailable then how would we play? Would we still want to play? I suspect the answer is no.

Assistance is not new - dependence is new
There is another ... the offline character builder. Yes, it was "adapted" to accept information updates by certain resourceful teams and it is just as current as the online builder and not dependent on a real-time internet connection. This is a huge thing now - whereas before it was in large part a reaction to the new approach on WOTC's part it now may become the main way to generate characters if the plug is pulled on 4E DDI support. The rebels will have become the lifeboat.

I'm not kidding - this was in Dragon in 1983
Even with that, though, time marches on. As I said above, I can pull out the Player's Handbook from 1978, roll up a character, and play in a new campaign. Will I be able to do that with 4E in 10 years? The offline character builder clearly gives a safe window independent of WOTC business decisions, but there are technical issues down the road, namely operating systems - how many of us are running an OS that is more than 10 years old? Windows XP is probably the biggest one but how much longer will it be around? With the trend towards mobile and tablets I expect the pace of change in OS releases to accelerate for a time and at some point it may be harder to find support for classic windows-style programs. This is not an insurmountable obstacle, but it is something to consider for the long haul. Will the Apprentices be able to play the version of D&D they played at 13 when they are my age the same way that I can now? Hard to say.
So was this
Why does this matter? Well, it may not to a lot of people, but I like to keep and occasionally run old games. In the last two years I've run sessions of Basic D&D, d6 Star Wars and Marvel Super Heroes and come close with DC Heroes, Villains and Vigilantes, and Twilight 2000. None of those is less than 20 years old and if any of them were dependent on a computer program of some kind I don't know that I would have been able to make them work - my Commodore 64 died in a fire years ago. Going slightly more recent, Champions 4th edition has a DOS-based character builder and even getting that to be fully functional has been challenging with current systems. Heck, it comes on a floppy and out of about 10 PC's in the house, only my oldest desktop and oldest laptop even have one of those anymore. Standards change, technology changes, and introducing any technological dependence into a tabletop game puts a clock on that element of the game.
M&M in Hero Lab
Now I've mostly used D&D 4E as the poster child here but other games are stepping down this road too. A lot of people preferred to use character builders with D&D 3E/3.5 and that has continued with Pathfinder - it's a big part of Hero Lab's business. M&M is a big player with Hero Lab as well. The Hero system has its own program for 5th & 6th editions of that game. GURPs 4th edition has one. There's also been a general move towards integration between character builders and various virtual tabletops or online play aids. It's all pretty cool, especially as long as its an extra feature and not central to the game.
ICONS character folio

How do we avoid this potential issue? Well, for one thing lighter rules decrease the need for a character builder and online support. There's a builder for ICONS of all things, but it's mainly handy for instant generation of random characters and producing a nice neat character sheet. Hero Lab has a module for Savage Worlds too, which is another one I don't really see a need for but might be handy for a DM in some way. I saw a post online somewhere wishing that the new Marvel game had a character builder, and they don't really even have rules for that in a traditional sense, why on earth would you need a builder for that game? You just need a blank sheet - "here, fill in whatever you think looks good and send it to your DM"  - it would just be a form-fillable PDF! So the less the game relies on complex interactions between elements like ability scores, skills, feats/advantages, powers, and class features the less you need a builder, and the less likely we are to hit a technological expiration date a decade or so down the road.
The future?

This is not just a factor with tabletop RPG's and MMORPG's. A lot of current Xbox games have a large online component - for every Skyrim you have several Call of Duty's - in 5 years will you be able to go back and play Modern Warfare 3 with your friends? Locally, sure, if you still have the game. Online? I wouldn't count on it, just like the original Xbox was removed from the company's proprietary network, the 360 will drop off too one day. Much like the rest of this discussion, many people won't even notice, but some will.

Well it WAS "Xbox Live Enabled" - not so much anymore
The next big thing? D&D Next - with WOTC having discovered this amazing new revenue stream with DDI I expect it to continue right on into Next. I don't know how it will be integrated into the game exactly but I'm sure there will be everything from a character builder to online tools to adventures available through it. Right now Next looks a lot less complex than 4E so it may be a nice-to-have rather than essential, but it will be interesting to see how it develops, and I will discuss it here as it comes about.

Are these iOS or Android?

I know I've rambled on a lot here, but the end of one hobby kind of spilled over into another hobby and I thought it was worth some discussion. One of the things that kept me out of MMO's for a long time was that I didn't like the idea of spending money on something I didn't own. I eventually moved past that and now I've been hit in the mouth with my own original misgivings - if you don't control it someone can take it away from you. I don't like having my toys taken away for no good reason, so I know I will be more cautious about my level of investment/involvement in these kinds of things. Hopefully it will be handled better in the future.