Saturday, May 11, 2013

Super Saturday: Comic Book Stuff for May

I've been reading a lot of older stuff via the magic of the iPad.

In March I went back and read the entire Civil War event.

In April I went back and read Planet Hulk. I skipped it when it was new, but I really liked it after reading the whole thing. Watched the animated version with the Apprentices too. It's alright but it leaves out a lot.

For May I decided that I needed to work in some DC so I started back with Crisis on Infinite Earths, Death of Superman, then Reign of the Supermen. I'm working on Knightfall and Zero Hour.

What other, newer, DC stuff are the high points of say the last 20 years? Down the road I want to read some longer runs of individual books but there are a lot of the "Event" type things I missed and I want to fill in the gaps. Any suggestions?

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Atomic City Campaign: 2013 Update

Background and Approach
I started writing up Atomic City in late 2010 as a new setting for my supers games. It's come in bursts of creativity followed by gaps of several months but I have a fairly good writeup of the city, an overview map, some neighborhoods, organizations, and a few heroes and villains associated with it.

I don't like to spend a lot of time writing up massive bunches of words that will never be used so I tend to write up a general outline, then fill in more background/history/names as our games move into areas where I need to work out a little history or figure out which gang lives in a certain area or come up with the name of an oil company. Then I write that up and it becomes a part of the lore. This minimizes the potential for wasted effort, keeps it tied to the actual game, and avoids the situation where I'm trying to force in some bit of lore that I fell in love with that is completely wrong for the current game. Inspiration from real game sessions tends to fit better than random musings do.

I've kept the legacy heroes to a minimum as I really only have two:

  • The Cat-Man, a Batman homage with all of the bat-stuff replaced by cat-stuff. He appears in the 60's when it's all new and cool, gets a little grim in the 70's, then has a final confrontation and disappears/retires in the 80's. In the current day he would be mainly a mentor figure or a source of information on some older villains and some secret stuff about the city and its past. He was a very public figure and is still remembered well by those who were around back then.
  • The Guardian,  a mystic/psionic hero who came to the city in the 50's after the war and stands watch over it to the current day. He is very much a Kenobi-figure, young and adventurous then, in semi-retirement now but still aware of almost everything. He waged a secret war for the most part and is largely unknown to the public and is known but not familiar even to the "magic underground" community. I came up with an adventure idea that would introduce him, some history, the mystical parts of Atomic City, and then involve him getting killed - all very much Star Wars Kenobi, yes - and then have him possibly hanging around as a force ghost type spiritual advisor for the future.

I limited the number of "name" heroes from the city's past to give the players plenty of room to make their own mark on things. They aren't the first heroes here, but they are the first in a long time to be be this active and involved. These guys are painted in pretty broad strokes right now but if they actually start showing up then the game sessions will bring them into focus. In my head right now the Cat might be played by Clint Eastwood and The Guardian would be played by (of course) Alec Guinness.

Yep, they fought one.
Actual Play
Now the "main" time spent in AC has been with Mutants and Masterminds. We've had several sessions over the last few years but struggled to get real momentum but it has picked up this year. The Apprentices have taken up the roles of several new heroes in town. Their main thread is that they keep encountering robots - man sized, huge-sized, and all built with old 50s-60's technology. Clearly something is going on but they are not sure what or why just yet.

Also, in the past week Baron Zero has finally been released from his icy prison! He was released by criminals from the Sorvino crime family - to their doom - but was then subdued by Jaden Marek, Star-Ranger (basically powers of a Jedi Knight with a background more like the Green Lantern Corps) and Gadget Boy, young genius inventor. The basement of the Atomic City Museum of History is a little worse off  and the Sorvinos lost about a dozen men but the greater threat was stopped.

The other main game for AC has been ICONS. We've played all or parts of Skeletron Key, Aquazombies (the Guardian actually made an appearance here), Museum Mayhem, and Gangbusters, plus some homebrew stuff with several different sets of characters over the past year plus. I set all of them in the City to allow for easy character drop-ins and outs but I feel like I should keep the ICONS and the M&M games separate, making the M&M game a little more serious and the ICONS game more cartoony.

It is somewhat tempting though to roll them all into one "continuity" and just seeing where it goes. It's not like comics were all that consistent anyway, from events to characters relative power level, so why sweat it in a comic-style RPG setting? The games thus far haven't created any conflicts yet so I can still retcon it either way. For now there is "Stories" and "The Animated Series" and for now they are separate. I suspect this may become our game when Red and Who are available so hopefully we will have some new adventures with it soon.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Random Female Bystander Generator

Not a bystander!

Sooner or later it happens: The characters save the day, pause to catch their breath, look around, a crowd has gathered ...

Player: "A crowd huh? Are there any girls hanging around?"

DM: "Sure"

Player:"I walk over to the nearest one"

DM: "OK"

Player:"Is she hot?"

DM: -sigh-

This leads into a stressful and often unpleasant side plot as the player attempts to make a love connection for his character and the DM, having spent tons of effort detailing the villains and scenes and plots for the evening has nothing left to make this poor potential DNPC stand out from the crowd. The roleplaying fiend soon loses interest and an opportunity is lost. It mostly seems to happen in Superhero and Modern games but I've seen it happen in almost every genre at one time or another.

Now I can't fix everything, but I can offer help with the dull drudgery of coming up with a description for a random bystander. Much like a rock concert, the female bystanders seem to generate the most interest from the band players so I present to you the Random Female Bystander Generator: Next time this comes up, grab an index card, a d6, and a pen, make some rolls, and record the results of the tables below:

PDF link is here

The Random Female Bystander Generator  v1.1- A tool for the busy Superhero RPG GM

Is she hot?
1-2 Not Hot
3-4 Not Bad
5 Hot
6 Super Hot

First question on the sheet because it it's always the first one to be asked

How is she dressed?
1 Workout Look
2 Professional Look
3 Casual / Student Look
4 Club Look
5 Disheveled/Just Ran Out for a minute Look
6 Technical - Lab Coat/Scrubs/Hard Hat/Uniform

Maybe they care, maybe they don't, but it helps your description at least

How old is she? (apparent age)
1-2 Looks younger than your character
3-4 Looks older than your character
5-6 Looks about the same age as your character

Even if a hero is 1000 years old he probably looks 30 so let's go with that. Modify as necessary

How tall is she? (assumes heroes tend to be taller than average)
1-4 Shorter than your character
5 About the same height as your character
6 Taller than your character

Again, sometimes they don't think to ask but it can be a memorable feature

What catches your eye about her? (accessories)
1 Cool Shoes (super-high? Bright color? Don't fit with rest of outfit?)
2 Nice Top (bright color? Low cut? High collar? Picture/logo?)
3 Tight Pants/Short Skirt (Ahem)
4 Glasses (cool shades? Some kind of data display? Old fashioned?)
5 Unusual Hair (really short? really long? Odd style? Weird color?)
6 Wild makeup (eye makeup? Colorful lipstick? Visible Tattoo?)

I have included some suggestions but if you have a picture in mind from the other table results then go with it!

Is she available? (probably have to talk to discover, barring rings)
1-2 Married
3-4 Has a Boyfriend
5-6 Single

Now we get into personality, attitude, and reactions. They're going to have to talk to her (or have telepathy) to learn this kind of thing

Is she Interested? (Again, likely conversation-based)
1 She's frightened!
2 Nope, in fact she's visibly angry or annoyed
3 She's just not that interested in you
4-5 She's friendly, so maybe!
6 She's clearly very interested!

A visual clue for the insightful, possibly leading to some conversation - or an initiative roll

How is she doing? (apparent socioeconomic status)
1-2 Economically challenged
3-4 Middle class
5 Well off
6 Local celebrity

This helps with the "what part of town does she live in" question that may arise too

Ethnicty (may vary based on location but here's one based on my location)
1-2 White
3 Black
4 Latino
5 Asian
6 Unusual (unusual ethnicity for the city or nation - or planet)

Adjust to taste and circumstances. If your Great American City campaign is suddenly fighting in Polynesia you're going to need to modify this a bit.

Accessories (besides money, keys and a phone on a 1-4 she is also carrying a ...)
1 Purse/Handbag
2 Briefcase/Backpack
3 Laptop Bag/Satchel
4 Food/Shopping bags
5 Camera/Videocamera
6 Something unusual (survey gear, a small child, a huge stuffed animal, a potted plant,)

Something unusual to help her stand out and it could drive the conversation as well.

Hard Luck Table (On a 1 there's a complication - this may not be readily apparent)
1 She prefers the opposite sex - from your character
2 She's a robot
3 She's an alien
4 She's a magical spirit or construct
5 She's a disguised villain or one in their secret identity
6 That's a man, baby

Lots of fun here. This is really here to give them GM a reason for some mysterious snickering. If the character in question has the bad luck, weirdness magnet, or unlucky in love complications/disadvantages then skip the roll - just give him one of these automatically. At least the first time.

Also not a bystander!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Looking Forward

So, there's been a lot of superhero stuff on the blog lately, and not much D&D or 40K or any of that other stuff. What the heck is going on? Well, I write here mainly for myself, so even though the blog has kind of a D&D look to it it's not always about D&D.

The theme I chose for the April A to Z thing pretty much forced me to live in my ICONS, M&M, and Marvel rule books for the month and that tends to focus my "gaming head" in to that space. With another summer of superhero movies coming and new Marvel and M&M campaigns kicked off with the Apprentices the superhero thing will continue to be a major player here.

There are still several D&D campaigns going on around the house - 4E and Labyrinth Lord. I am still working on session recaps for the main game and I will post them up as I get them done. Still not terribly interested in Next either other than following the design columns - and crossing my fingers and hoping that it ends up somewhere I like more than what I see right now.

The Warhammer side of things has been ... quiet. I'm not hearing much from the boys about it at all and there has not been a whole lot of painting either. I really thought with the new edition last summer we would be digging in deep by now but we really have not and I blame two things: Magic and Battletech.
  • Magic has become "their" thing for Red and Blaster. They constantly talk about their decks, they've been to a couple of local release events and some local tournaments and it's their fill-in game at home when they have a few minutes to spare.
  • Battletech is mainly Blaster's thing but he's dragging Red along with him too. Mechwarrior Online is really feeding this as it's even pulled him away from XBox Live more than I expected. The only painting I've seen in a month was Blaster working on his Battlemaster mini. It's feeding their whole miniatures/robots/tech thing better than 40K at the moment.

So I'm no sure where 40K stands now. If a new Codex came out for any of their armies I'm sure it would jump start our scene but it's been a whole lot of "don't care" here lately.

With Red I'm also fighting the triple threat of job-girlfriend-driver's license and he was a pretty involved kid before all that. He was free exactly zero nights this weekend, which is perfectly normal for a teenage boy but does interfere with our games. Fortunately Apprentice Who is getting more interested in them and he has a few more years before any of this stuff will be a problem.

So to work around this (here's the practical part), I came up with a rotation that seems to be working for us now: When I have Blaster and Red available we play Stonehell (with 4E ToEE as a backup). When I have Blaster and Who available we play M&M (with old-school Marvel as a backup). When I have all 3 available we play New Marvel. Not sure about Red & Who because that doesn't come up a lot, but while writing this I asked them to figure out what they would like to play. Much discussion but no firm answers yet. One new wrinkle is that I picked up BESM a while back and gave it to him since it covers some ground he likes and he's talked about possibly running a game of some kind. We shall see.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Revelations from a Month of Character Building - Marvel Heroic

Making characters in Marvel is actually pretty easy once you start trying it:
  • Affiliations: Easy enough, especially with an existing character of some kind
  • Distinctions: Also pretty easy when you're working on an existing character, maybe less so for something with no history
  • Powers/SFX/Limits: These are more mechanical than the parts above. It really affects how you want this character to work mechanics-wise, especially in combat. Some rely on plot points, some modify the doom pool, some let you use multiple powers at the same time - there are a lot of options in print and it's pretty easy to modify them to fit another hero, taking parts form here and there.
  • Specializations: Pretty easy, comparable to skills in other games.
  • Milestones: One of the most flavorful parts of a character. They directly encourage certain behavi or (ideally in-character behavior). Many of them have nothing to do with die rolls and quite a few have nothing to do with combat, possibly coming up any time.

More than some RPG's, Marvel really comes together in play rather than in-book. D&D 4E had the same problem. Maybe that had something to do with both games somewhat disappointing reception. Both suffer from a weird effect where you can read them several times and not "get" them, but one play session clears things up darn near instantaneously. Listening to an actual-play podcast can help here too. Building Pools, spending Plot Points, choosing what kind of Stress to inflict or whether to create an Asset or a Complication as the Doom Pool escalates reads like a confusing mess of terms but one session brings it all to life in a real "Oh" moment - at least it did for us.

In comparison Mutants and Masterminds is easy to "get": d20 roll + mods vs. a target number. That's nothing uncommon, and only Hero Points come in to change things up.

ICONS has a similar mechanic but the rolls tend to cancel out leading to a fairly predictable  stat vs. stat comparison a lot of the time but it does have Determination to mix things up some of the time.

Compared to the simplicity of those two games, there are a lot more decisions to make with each action in Marvel. Building the pool is one set of decisions, then whether to use any SFX to modify it, then whether to spend any of those plot points, then whether to do anything that triggers an XP from a milestone - each action uses this process, so while it's a narrative game, and fairly rules-light, it's not mechanics-light and that keeps it fun for those of us who like some crunch. For this game, the crunch happens during your turn, not when you were reading the book before the session and updating your character sheet.

I think Marvel and ICONS share this characteristic as well - there's really no "build" game for either one of them. ICONS base assumption is random generation and Marvel's is "Make it up!" with a random option. We really didn't have much of it in older versions of D&D but once 3rd Edition came out boy it moved in and set up camp and has yet to leave, even with 4E and Pathfinder. This makes "builds" a basic assumption for a lot of more recent players. So much energy is expended nowadays on "builds" that I think it blows some peoples' minds that there are RPG's where you really don't have optimization, or point-hunting, DPS, feat chains, or all of those other things that fill up charop or build forums. This used to be a thing with Champions, and still is to a degree, but M&M 3E/DCA  de-emphasized it as did ICONS. I wonder if this is a negative for a certain section of the RPG population.

The Best Parts to Steal for Other Games:
  • Affiliations - I really like having a simple, mechanical way to show a character's preferences when it comes to being alone or with a group. I also like that it's effectively a bonus, with the preferred scenario getting a bigger bonus instead of the traditional bonus for good, no-change for median, and penalty for worst. In this system Wolverine doesn't get a penalty for being on a team, he just gets a smaller bonus than when he is solo. It's a subtle thing but it matters For ICONS maybe the least-favored one is a Challenge and the most favored is a Quality, allowing a character to soak up some Determination when it's bad then spend it when it's good. Now that I read that, maybe it should be the other way around ...
  • Physical, Mental, and Emotional Stress - other games have tried to model this kind of thing but I can't recall one that builds it into the system as seamlessly as this one does. The mechanics are the same whether you're punching someone, confusing them, or frightening them - there's no special mechanic needed, no special ability or power, you just declare what you're doing and describe how you achieve it, then roll the dice. I'll have a lot more on this in another post but it opens up a lot of options for players in an encounter. Think about Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi - he is physically down and has no hope of defeating the Emperor in combat, so he begins screaming at Vader, who suddenly turns on his master and ends the fight. How would your favorite game model this? A single skill roll doesn't seem adequate as it takes several minutes for this to happen. Does the DM have to whip up a skill challenge on the fly? That's tricky to do in the middle of what is otherwise a combat encounter. Plus, what skill is being used here? It's not intimidate, and persuasion doesn't seem like one of Luke's strong suits. Marvel has this kind of thing built in to the main mechanics and it's a pretty big win.
  • Milestones - ICONS handles some of this with Qualities and Challenges, especially with things like Catchphrases and Epithets. M&M has a little of it with Complications but they don't work in quite the same way. I need to look at this more myself and see how I can adapt it to other games.
  • Assets, Resources, and Complications: being able to make an attack that boosts someone else's chances rather than just doing damage is another big win. M&M can do this with the various Conditions fairly well, especially if your character has an Affliction as an Alternate Effect or can stunt into one with a Hero Point. The main lack is that there's not a good way to boost an ally - conditions are bad and meant to be inflicted on an enemy. They are debuffs, not buffs, to use MMO language. I'll have more about this in another post too as there's a lot to think about.

Monday, May 6, 2013


I don't spend much time pondering the "stuff" that goes along with our hobby but I have been dealing with dice a lot lately and figured I would share.

Dice in the Box!
Those are the heavy-hitters, the D&D dice. They get used more than any others. I used to use normal size dice, then I came across the larger black set on a business trip in San Francisco back in the 90's and later found the red set locally and they have been "the dice" for all of 3rd and now 4th edition D&D. That big one came along a few years later. The "Die of Judgement" doesn't get used a whole lot because there's rarely enough room behind the screen and it causes carnage when it rolls across the table full of mini's. That said, when it comes out you know it!

So ... why do they live in a box? Well, because it's what I had at the time, which was about 1983. I didn't have a bag and I needed a way to carry them over to a friend's house and, well, they fit in it. Not a method for he stealth-conscious, but they've been hauled all over Texas like this so it works for me. Plus it stacks up nicely on a shelf if you're need them to go there.

Next up are the D6's. I had not bought new dice in quite a few years and then the group started talking about a possible Shadowrun campaign, and maybe a Champions game on the side. I realized that I did not have a big bunch of d6's other than the little white ones that come with the Warhammer games. So I picked up the blue set and really liked the way the translucent blue looked.

A few years later we started playing ICONS and I needed some d6's for the positive and negative dice so I picked up the red and green versions of the same set. green = plus, red = minus and the Apprentices never have to think about it again, it's  almost automatic.

I keep these things in their original cages because I don't want them to get lost or mixed in with my other sets. Unlike when I was 13 I can actually manage to keep specific dice for specific games.

The 40K Tray!
Over the years the Warhammer games have used some unique dice for things and all of mine live here. Back in the 1E/2E days when it used everything from d3' s to d12's there more types in here but those have migrated out since they were removed from the rules. The red & yellow pair go with my Howling Griffon marines, the chaos dice go with my chaos army, and the rest get used indiscriminately.

So we started playing the new Marvel game and I had heard it used a lot of dice but I wasn't worried - I have tons of dice! I've bee doing this for decades! Then we actually started and I realized that after equipping the apprentices with a couple of sets each and with some attrition over the years, I did not in fact have a ton of dice any more! Especially d8's and d12's which seem to get used a lot in Marvel.

I looked around online and decided that I would need to order multiple sets to have enough. I decided to theme it too - comic book colors! None of that fancy-schmancy translucent swirly speckled stuff for this game - it needed to be solid, opaque primary type colors. As it turns out Chessex had a nice selection of these so I ordered six of them.

It wasn't enough.

As we got our latest campaign rolling I was running out of dice again - with six sets! It turns out Chessex actually makes ten different colors like this - so I ordered the remaining four and dumped them in. I now have ten full sets of dice in this little box TEN! So far it has been enough. I hope it stays that way as I don't want to compromise the theme!

A veritable pyramid of power!
Since Marvel doesn't use the d20 this had the secondary benefit of setting up a nice new pool of comic book dice for Mutants and Masterminds which only uses d20's! Synergy between rule sets!

The Leftovers
...and these are the rest. The spares. The misfits. The scrappy rag-tag bunch of extra dice. Some of them came in with eBay trades, some came from old games long tossed, some just showed up somehow and were never reclaimed. Some of them are quite ugly. They are the backups, only dragged out into the light when someone forgets their "starters". Or if we play Marvel  - the boys sometimes run low and I make them use these rather than loaning out my color dice.

Those two down in front though, are special. The blue d8 is the only survivor from my first set of polyhedral D&D dice. I don't know who made them but they showed up under the Christmas tree a long time ago and were my only set for years. Time and multiple moves and hundreds if not thousands of sessions have claimed the others but the d8 remains. The orange d4 is form one of the old Moldvay Basic sets I picked up back then. It was at best a second or third d4 so it has managed to survive with all corners intact since the early 80's. I suspect it's a fairly rare animal as those dice were not great. I like to think of those two as "retired", only coming out in times of great need.

Yeah I can be kinda funny about this stuff

Finally, just to show it's not all weird hobby games, here is my Risk set. Each army has 3 dice in matching colors. Why? Because I could. I have one of the wooden piece sets too, and one of the infantry-cavalry-cannon sets, but I like the Roman Numeral set best, and this one also has double pieces - I don't like to run out of things.

Anyway there's a hugely informative post about my dice. At some point I realized  they get used more than some of the books I have discussed, so I thought they deserved a post of their own.

Motivational Monday

A little celebration this morning