Friday, February 27, 2015

40K Friday: Building Phase

Well this has gone in a slightly different direction than I intended. I am having "burst focus" where I am actively building one army for a week or two, then going to a different army, then going to a different army. I am making progress, it's just divided between 3 different forces.

There are a lot of those little bags lying around the workbench right now. It started with the Dark Angels and the need for some combi-weapons for my tactical squads. While I was waiting on those bits I worked on the vehicles and made a lot of progress in painting them.

After that I sketched out my desired Blood Angels force and started ordering the parts I would need - a tac squad here, a drop pod there, some Blood Angel bits to convert an existing unaligned tac squad I had laying around. I order them (right-handed infernus pistols? Why yes we do have those...) and now it's going to take a week for them to arrive.

It is a really nice kit though ...
While I'm waiting for those parts I started working on the chaos marines again. I've been playing them lately, so it's easy enough. Then I order some bargain plague marines to finish out that section of my force. They arrive, I sit down to put them all together and get them primed and I realize I don't have enough arms! This happened to me once before and I picked up enough that  I thought I was good - I was not. So, have to wait for the chaos arms to arrive to finish this step.

I go back to working on the Blood Angels and realize that with the new set having 32mm bases instead of the 25mm we've had as the standard for 28 years now I cannot mix and match the old and the new in the same squad - at least not without it looking really stupid. (More info on the base change here.) Looking around online the 32mm bases are fairly high but there are some people offering a collar type thing that will expand a 25mm base to 32mm. Alright. I suppose it's the price of being a little OCD about these things but I am building it as a completely new army right now - why not do it right? I count up all the power armored figures in my coming-together BA army and figure out I need about 40 of these things. Ordered! Now they're on their way - from Spain! So it may take 3 weeks for them to arrive.


Oh look - the chaos marine arms are here! Back to building plague marines!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Breaking Bad, Characters, and RPG's

Lady Blacksteel and I finished watching Breaking Bad from beginning to end this week. We skipped it when it was on because we were watching other stuff and because I wasn't that interested in the concept. I was wrong on that count. That was a great show, with some great characters, and a great finale. Landing the dismount is something a lot of shows fail at completely, and those that don't often do a mediocre job at best. Breaking Bad is in my top 3 for finales - not just the episode, but the whole final season was so well done.

While watching it the gamer point of view popped up a couple of times - mainly flashbacks to some similar escapade in a game. That happens a ton with The Walking Dead, mainly flashing back to old Twilight 2000 or Gamma World campaigns. With this show it was less frequent but it was mainly Shadowrun and Traveller that linked in at various points.

Some games have Advantages and Disadvantages or Edges and Flaws or Qualities or some other way to add interesting traits to a character. Some of those games have a "dying" or "terminally ill" choice among those downside options. I always wondered how that would play out - Breaking Bad gives us a great example of what that would look like with Walt. Addiction is another fairly common option in such systems and Jesse deals with that through much of the show as well. Both are central to the premise of the show, and both have their ups and downs, but we don't have to feature them in every episode - just often enough to keep it in view.

Another thing I see looking back on the show: It illustrates the difference between a character with a bunch of pre-game written background vs. a character who is almost totally developed in play. Consider this:

  • Walter White starts out with a regular job, a family, a definite area of expertise, a past event that involved a falling out with some fellow science types and possibly a failed romance, and in the first episode finds out that he has cancer.
  • Jesse Pinkman enters episode 1 as basically "just a guy" with no defined skillset, no real job, no close family, no notes about his past. At most I'd say he starts with a low level of  streetwise skill and some kind of high charisma. Everything significant to his character happens during the show - we have no real Jesse flashbacks and there is nothing notable about him at the beginning. 
This is so extreme it almost feels like Walt is a character created for an entirely different campaign than what actually happens. His chemistry skills could be damned useful in the Walking Dead or a cop or superhero show. His complete lack of streetwise, lockpick, hacking, or combat ability seems to make him a liability in a show or campaign about criminal activity - but he is not. 

One other thing I noticed is that the show really only revolves around 2 main characters - they would likely be the two PC's, and everyone else is an NPC - some great NPC's. Mike, Saul, Hank, Gus - there are some very memorable characters there. To me it serves as a reminder that quality can trump quantity even at this level. You don't need a cast of thousands with different voices or mannerisms for every town your player characters visit. You just need a few that stand out.

Putting it into practice:  Sure, Breaking Bad was a cool show and all, but it doesn't seem to have much that translates to a D&D game does it? Ah, but it does! What if "adventuring" as portrayed in most D&D type games was outlawed? Maybe it's for a good reason - last time we barely managed to push those monsters back underground and we don't want anyone down there stirring them up again Maybe it's a religious thing - the local temple of Kelemvor/Morr/The Emperor teaches that disturbing tombs is wrong, or the main religion forbids disturbing old places of worship, especially of the evil gods that seem to have so many lost shrines in D&D worlds. Maybe it's an economic thing - the local merchants know there's gold buried in those holes and don;t want someone else getting without them. Maybe it's political - we have a peace treaty with the elves as long as none of their old ruins are disturbed, but if the ruins are disrupted the elves will kill everyone here.

Suddenly the "trip back to town" becomes a much more significant part of the adventure than it typically is because it must be kept secret. In fact, one session might be typical dungeon delving then the next is getting into town and stashing/fencing the loot without being discovered. 

Character example: Whit the Alchemist had a lot of skill when he was young but circumstances conspired to keep him in the dull job of making love potions and herbal remedies for the local townsfolk. One day he finds out he has a terrible wasting disease but can't afford the magical cure to get rid of it. Desperate for some options, he remembers the legends of the old tombs in the hills being filled to the brim with gold and decides that might be a way out.  He can't tell his family because they're all loyal followers of the local religion that forbids disturbing the resting places of the dead, and his brother by marriage happens to be part of the church hierarchy. Add in the local kid who has managed to develop some woodcraft despite his laziness who also has a need for some gold and things could take a very familiar path. How do they get in and out of the tombs without being seen? How do they disperse the gold and loot from the tombs once they're in and out? How do they recruit help for the bigger tasks? What happens when even after acquiring enough funds they realize they enjoy the lifestyle? 

It doesn't have to be an exact mimic of the show but there are a lot of elements there that could change things up in any game, even an otherwise traditional D&D game. It works really well in a superhero game too, and Shadowrun and Traveller of course. Themes could include:
  • A normal average person slowly drawn into a life of unapproved activity through desperate circumstances
  • What will a man do to provide for his family when pushed to his limits?
  • Family vs. work
  • Maintaining normal relationships and appearances in a very abnormal life
  • Secrets, lies, and useful truths
  • What is the real self and what is just a persona?
That last one especially fits the show and can be carried over into other games. I'd say Walter White/Heisenberg is the best opposite of Bruce Wayne/Batman I've ever seen. Both are forced into a different kind of life by fate but that's where it ends:
  • One is wealthy, one is just barely getting by
  • One is young when fate intervenes, one is older
  • One loses their family right off and tries to gain one over time, one begins with a family and slowly loses it over time
  • One chooses to fight crime, one chooses to become a criminal
  • One is driven by justice, one is driven by greed
About the only other similarity between them is that both have a hard time pulling out of their secret life, even when it would be the prudent thing to do. They're also both smarter than most of the people around them and both develop a sort of heir/sidekick as well. 

Anyway I just wanted to share some of these thoughts and I'll see what I can do with them over time myself.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Non-Pathfinder Update

It's funny in a way - there was a time when I was known for "changing games" more often than my players liked. From what I see online it happens to a lot of DMs.  Despite running multiple campaigns for at least a year or more the side games rotated with some frequency. That has died off in the last ten years or so for two reasons. One - I've had less time to run that side game alongside a regular ongoing main campaign. Two - I've embraced the concept of the limited campaign, a game with a specific end goal or stopping point. Once that fixed point is reached that run is over and it's time to do something new. It was a pretty strange concept for someone who grew up when the highest form of RPG was the never-ending campaign set in a single world but after decades of seeing that model fail, both as a player and a DM, I have come around on it. I ran 3rd edition almost continuously since it came out until 2010 or so then switched over to 4th edition as the main game for a few years after that. Then Pathfinder somehow became our main game about a year ago and it's been rolling ever since.

However, even with Pathfinder humming along, I have a wandering eye when it comes to games. Having a stable base makes it easier to justify experimenting with other games. Maybe it's just an intro session - make characters and run one adventure. Maybe it's a game we know and like and running one adventure is all we need. Maybe it's a fixed length campaign - 3 sessions, 6 sessions, 12 sessions. In my experience it's tough to keep everyone's attention when we have multiple open-ended campaigns running simultaneously so the "limited" campaign helps everyone focus, including me. Plus if I know this one has a definite end point, I can start thinking about what I want to do when it's finished, which helps with the old gamer ADD.

Now we have the Necessary Evil campaign up and running with an intro session and the first big session done. I have an outline of where I see it going and the players are on board and having a good time. One of these days I'll start posting some session summaries but for now "it's going well" will have to do. It's a continuation of a game we put on pause in 2010 and I have the same players using the same characters they were playing then regardless of the setting adjustment. Heck, they all made up their characters in CoH anyway so we would all have a visual reference so we've come full circle.

The re-opening of the Savage Worlds door with this one reminded me to take a look around and start catching up with Savage Worlds which had been kind of quiet in my mind since Weird Wars Rome in 2013. Between this and the Apprentices' interest in Deadlands I started picking up a few items, like The Flood and The Last Sons which are the two published campaigns for Deadlands Reloaded. I also backed the Kickstarter for the third. Having read through The Flood there are a few weaker points but it's my favorite part of the setting (Wild West + Undead + Kung Fu + Ironclads) so I'll definitely run it at some point. I've only skimmed Last Sons at this point so no strong opinions there. I also jumped back into the Hell on Earth Reloaded bandwagon with both the Companion and the Worm's Turn campaign book. I'm also filling in a few of the older Savage Worlds campaign books as I come across them because I like almost all of them enough to use them. I can see SW becoming a pretty consistent companion game to our ongoing D&D/Pathfinder campaigns.

Besides these I've also been working on some other limited campaigns to keep the old wandering game-eye happy. Having the Apprentices around and interested means I can run some smaller games that I like whenever we have the time:

  • I've gone back through my M&M notes and carved out a 12 session M&M Freedom City campaign that would be a lot of fun. Plus I have notes for a "second season" of a similar length if it goes over well.
  • I had an itch to run some Marvel Super Heroes a while back and picked out the time-traveling trilogy as something to run for the boys. It's just a fun system and the idea of fighting Nazis, Dinosaurs, Cowboys, and invaders form the future is a pretty great one for supers.
  • I'm going back through my notes on the Marvel Reboot campaign and I'd like to at least run this one to its conclusion. I know the boys will be on board with it if I do, it's mainly a matter of re-reading the MHR rules to be ready to run the thing. Soon.
  • I did start them on the Emerald City adventure series for M&M 3E a while back. If I can get Red back down here for a bit it's probably worth doing again. The hardest part besides the rules rust was trying to give it a DC flavor as they wanted to play a game set in the DC Universe for a change. I'm going to have some more reading to do or maybe we just give the old DC Heroes game a try for a few sessions.
  • It's been a long time since I've run anything ICONS and that just doesn't seem right. I need to pull out one of the many adventures I picked up for it and just run the thing one night.

So there's a fairly long list of options/want-to games where I actually have material to run. It leaves out the lower priority stuff like FATE, Feng Shui, Godlike, and introducing them to Champions. Also, exploring the lower cost end of the pool at DTRPG - there is some interesting stuff there. Heck I found a Numenera adventure there that has me contemplating taking a run at that game in the near future. Later this year we have Feng Shui 2E and Spirit of '77 coming along too.

So many options. It's a great time to be an RPG player.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Pathfinder Update - End of February Edition

The game I'm running:
Wrath of the Righteous just completed Session #25 over the weekend and the party is just about finished with the Book 2. I'm happy with it and the players seem happy with it so it's an ongoing win.

Mass combat played a role in this part of the campaign and my guys enjoyed running an army quite a bit. We have named most of the individuals in their army, purely for the flavor when they take damage - "Oh no Sir So-and-So has fallen!"

So far Mythic has not broken the game, but from I have read Book 3 is where it gets hairy. We shall see. For now many of the mythic powers add some 4th edition flavor in their effects but they do typically take a point and a swift action to use so there are some clear limits on the power creep. Blaster is doing his best to push the limits of the system in one way as he keeps taking "more points" as his mythic ability to enable him to keep his initial choice of "extra shots/swings" going for every round of a typical combat. It's an interesting choice - find one or two powers you like and then use other choices to fuel them.

I am also having better luck tinkering with the difficulty of the encounters as having six mythic characters in play instead of the designed-for four makes the encounters far less challenging than they are supposed to be. Plus I think the AP's in general lean towards the  I'll share some details on that process in a separate post.

The game I'm playing:
Kingmaker rolls on once per month and it's a lot of fun. We've finished Book 1, slain the Stag Lord, and founded our kingdom. Book 2 has kicked off with a whole bunch of kingdom building and that's been interesting though I admit I am ready to get back to some more personal adventuring. Sir Ivan Zhukov (Russian name, French accent - don't ask me why) is now 4th level and in charge of the fledgling realm's military forces - which consist of Sir Ivan Zhukov and his mighty charger Fesarius - for now.

Coming at it from the perspective of taming and conquering a region has made for a somewhat different game than the usual looting for personal game approach. I don;t think I've ever hung as many bad guys, even in a western, as I have in this campaign. Having a legal writ in-hand, and as a prop in my actual hand, does do interesting things.

Paladin Steve is pretty happy because it's the first campaign that he's run for more than a year and that's a pretty big milestone after decades of being a player almost exclusively. Congratulations man!

Stuff I'm not playing
The Giantslayer AP kicked off this month with the first of the six installments. I've skimmed it, I'll read it once I get some time and I may even post some thoughts on it. After the "everything to 11" AP Wrath of the Righteous, the very distinct flavor of Mummy's Mask, and the Pathfinder 40,000 of Iron Gods I think this one is going to feel like the most traditional D&D style adventure path since Rise of the Runelords. I'm fine with that. It's definitely on the "I'd like to play or run that someday" list, exact ranking to be determined later.

I also picked up the Emerald Spire superdungeon this month. After a quick run-through I like it, but those levels are relatively small. I know they were limited by the size of the flip-mats as they wanted to do one for each level, but I'm thinking some of them could have been double-sized levels and we could have used two maps side by side to create some larger levels. With 16 of them there's no lack of content, and I appreciate the challenge of working within a set of constraints. I still would have liked some bigger playgrounds here and there. I'm not sure what percentage of people picking up the book will also pick up the flip-mats but unless you're only selling them as a package it seems a little forced as far as design constraints go. Regardless of my issue here, even if you look at a flip-mat as somewhere between a quarter to a half a page of notebook-sized graph paper, that's comparable to 4-8 levels of old-school dungeon and that's fine.

I have the Thornkeep book as well which covers the surrounding region and I think a pretty decent and very traditional type of campaign could be run with those two items. Couple of "home base" type towns, a wilderness area with various sites of interest, some power groups with a web of relationships in place, and a nice big dungeon to focus on is a nice start for a more sandbox type game than most APs. There's no plot going on, just an interesting region to explore.

That's the Pathfinder rundown - more on non-Pathfinder stuff tomorrow!

Monday, February 23, 2015

First Up - The Patreon Thing

A few years ago Kickstarter really turned into a huge thing, especially for game companies. There have been hits and misses, but it does seem to have opened up some options for getting some projects done that would not have been done before this.

I think 2014-2015 marks the explosion for Patreon, as it seems like over the last few months a whole bunch of people with blogs and podcasts that I follow have felt the need to ask strangers for money - on an ongoing basis. They all are quick to note that it's only a few dollars a month/ pennies per post/ a dollar per podcast/ some other kind of awesome bargain. That's technically true, but if I throw in "only a few dollars per month" across 15-20 sites/blogs/podcasts that I like, well, it's not so minuscule an expenditure now is it?  To me this introduces an element of competition between these sites where a potential contributor is only going to contribute $X to Patreon each month. I wonder how that will work out over time?

This isn't a new thing, but it's a new way of doing this particular thing but I have to say that I haven't noticed any particular jump in quality or awesomeness in the places that do this. There are some that seem to spend a fair amount of effort setting up a walled-off set of content for those who pay, but that changes things from the "tip jar" approach to more of a subscription model and anecdotal-ly it does not seem to last all that long. I see it as changing the relationship from "hey we're all doing this for fun" to "I am a customer" and I have not seen that to be a positive change in really any case I can think of offhand.

In contrast, Evil Hat uses their Patreon program to publish new adventures and in that case it works like a sort of ongoing Kickstarter. I like that approach as there is a tangible result from their approach. I haven;t always been bowled over by the results, but I like the general idea.

I suspect the reason an optional payment approach works is because if payment was required most people would move on to another site/blog/cast. The barrier to entry is zero, and there's always another hopeful hobbyist out there. Some get noticed, some don't, but there is just so much that if you're going to charge for your stuff it better be notably better than what's out there for free.

To clarify, I am rarely against people trying to make money off of something they like to do. If you can do it, why not? I'm just not convinced this is a truly workable approach for anything other than the tip jar type of funding. Maybe that's enough in some cases, but it seems pretty limiting to me. Traditionally making money making something and then selling it for a profit. A lot of these creative efforts revolve around a game or some other property that is owned by someone else, so you can't make money directly from the effort. Patronage programs allow for an end run around that. I can't make and sell a Star Wars book or game my self, but I can make a Star Wars podcast or Warcraft YouTube channel or a Trek blog and stick a link to my Patreon page up at the top and try to make some money that way.

As for me, well, I'm not signing up for any kind of Patreon anything for now. I get the occasional fund raiser drive to get new microphones for a podcast or to upgrade a server for a site I like, and I have contributed to them in the past. Maybe it's having a specific, achievable goal that makes the difference for me. The constant year-round open-ended request for money that is Patreon though, no, I'm not a fan of that.