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!