Monday, May 30, 2011

Games In Review, May 30th, 2011

This week we'll be recapping my Council of Thieves Pathfinder game.  I went back on a previous ruling and allowed Ultimate Magic with a few banned items, mainly because I decided in the time between sessions that Council of Thieves will be my last Pathfinder RPG campaign for a while.  Honestly, the system is really burning me out.





So, we start this session with Urguk, the half-orc sorcerer and Elsbeth, the half-elf rogue quite dead.  Also, Darien the Oracle is about to go MIA for a while because Jeff needs some time off.  Thus, after everyone was up to speed and looked around the room, the group headed back out of the Nessian Spiral to get their friends raised and perhaps sell a few items.



Once the party was hale and healthy again, and explained to the Children of Westcrown how everything is proceeding, the group returned to the Nessian Spiral.  In order to raise the characters, my players used the Prestige Points that they had gained from the Children of Westcrown to pay for the raise dead and one of the restorations, and I let them buy off their other negative level with a Hero Point because they have limited time and would have to wait for a week to get another restoration cast.

The group returns to the Nessian Spiral, investigates some of the locations they visited earlier, and Chesterfield manages to cast suggestion on the Cerberus yet again.  Poor Cerberus.  The group also found a grubby thief that was a member of the Council of Thieves that agreed to work as an informant for the group.


The new informant explained to the group that the Council of Thieves is split between factions, and that one of their old contacts is a member of the Council of Thieves.  He also tells the PCs that the cleric they killed was a diabolist that had summoned the Cerberus and was planning on trying to get the pit fiend under control of the "young" faction of the Council of Thieves.

After some exploration, the group finds where the tieflings that are suppose to maintain the site live, and realize that they are all dominated.  Chesterfield wants as many of them alive as possible, because according to the contract they work for him if they can snap them out of their stupor.  He calms emotion on them, but that doesn't keep the tieflings from alerting their mistress.

The mistress of the tieflings was a poorly summoned succubus that has been teleporting in and out of the Spiral to cause problems around town.  She has a hard time harming the paladin, so she dominates the Hellknight, and sends him after the paladin.


After some illusions and some combat, and the dwarf taking some chunks out of the paladin's rear end, the paladin and the rest of the party finish off the succubus  (who took a few magic missiles full on as well), and the group finds another of their old contacts held hostage.

They drop her back at her home, come back to the Spiral, use the newly found Keyrod to shut down three of the cooling towers  (and thus shutting down three of the pillars of Hellfire), and we called it a night.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Familiarity Breeds Contempt, or Something

When you get to the point at which you start to point out that you must publish X by a certain date and that because you don't hit certain marks you didn't maximize sales on a certain product or that you have to choose to produce one product over another not because one product will make money and another will not, but but because one product will obviously be a better seller than another product, I think you have lost the right to appeal to fellow gamers that are doing what you do for a love of the game.



Or at the very least, you loose the right to say, "hey, what's a few mistakes in a product between gamers," or "you can tell what the intent of the rule was," or even, "you can't judge what kind of editing job we did because you didn't see what state the original manuscript was in."



 Sorry, if you "have" to put out product on certain dates for maximum profitability, and you point out that  you've been in the business for long enough now that you can't take suggestions from the fanbase because you know what works, I think its a little late to beg off by having your hearts in the right place.

And honestly, if your freelancers are turning over material in such bad shape that its threatening to knock you off your publishing schedule if you do what to silly, untrained, unwashed masses of consumers seems like a bad job of editing, maybe you either shouldn't be counting on those freelancers, or you should reconsider just how professional you think your operation is.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Games in Review, May 23rd, 2011

Last week I got to GM my DC Adventures game as well as play in my friend's Pathfinder Shackled City Adventure Path conversion.  Without further ado, let's see what those crazy government sponsored super heroes are up to in my Earth 52 campaign, shall we?






When last we left our heroes, they were a bit . . . at odds.  Myrmidon had stormed off after throwing the Bat Signal at Marathon, Fahrenheit slunk off through the Gotham City police department because of all of the attention he was garnering, and the rest of the team had teleported back to Belle Reve due to a message from Amanda Waller.


Waller drops the bomb on the group that Mongul has gone off the grid and her means of control isn't working the way she had hoped, and due to that failure, she's loathe to use Task Force X to bring him back under control  (even though Top totally would have had it under control).



Even though Myrmidon doesn't want to come back at first, a news report of Mongul entering Central City and threatening to tear it down brings him back around, and Necromancer gets a workout teleporting to and fro to gather Myrmidon, Fahrenheit, and the rest of the team.


To add insult to injury, or, um . . . to add mortality to injury, Mongul has Daemona pinned up to the famous billboard with various pointy objects.  Necromancer and Paradox jump to Daemona to see if she is alive, and when Necromancer fails to bring her back to life, Paradox takes care to pull her down so that she doesn't need to be displayed for all of the news crews below.  Of course, when Necromancer summons some ghosts, Daemona shows up to be one of the crew to attack Mongul.


(By the way, I got my slick Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition GM Screen this last week)


Early on, it didn't look good for our heroes.  Some of them had a hard time hitting Mongul at all, and the first few shots, Mongul laughed off, including the police car that Myrmidon threw at Mongul, which Mongul essentially just took in the face and shrugged off.  It looked even worse when he closed on Myrmidon, hit him hard, then grabbed him.  But then the tables turned.

Paradox turned Myrmidon intangible, but his power is subtle, so Mongul was still convinced that he was holding onto Myrmidon.  Mongul wasted a turn figuring out he was wrong . . . Beorn charged into Mongul repeatedly, Fahrenheit hit him with a heat blast, Necromancer's ghost swarmed him, but despite taking a few wounds, Mongul was still standing.  Marathon even managed to suffocate him . . . except that the space tyrant can hold his breath for months at a time.

So Mongul has taken tons of wounds, getting ready to try out his ground strike ability for everyone standing on the ground, and Paradox and Myrmidon manage to time a team attack to punch Mongul at the same time and knock him flat.  Best moment Mongul could have possibly fallen.

From a metagame perspective, this encounter does show the importance of action economy over power level.  Mongul was built as a PL 14 monster, but a team of PL 10 characters beat him.  Then again, six characters acting against one character does tend to add up on.

The rest of the evening consisted of Myrmidon's date with Vicki Vale and, oh yeah, some more super villains tracking down Fahrenheit and the team being reconstituted directly under the Department of Metahuman Affairs under Steve Trevor   (psyche evaluations next sessions).  Oh, and Fahrenheit tried to convince Vicki Vale that he was Myrmidon "powered down," and that he had to say a magic Greek word to transform, then spoke Latin about the time that Myrmidon showed up.


On Thursday, out group met for the next session of our Shackled City game.  This was to be our last session with our drow alchemist, but before we get to that particular exit, we ran into our rival adventuring company, the Stormblades, in the tavern we were in.  Oh, and I successfully defended someone charged with murder and ran into the Tiefling paladin in my "other life" and he recognized me.  Hm.

Anyway, originally our nemesis in the Stormblades was going to goad us into action and call the watch, again, rinse, repeat.  What ended up happening was that several of use got in some really vicious zingers and we spent a massive amount of gold buying rounds for the tavern.

We went to the Rainy Season Festival or what it might have been called  (sorry to forget the proper holiday), and we found out that apparently the locals depend on the churches in town to control the lake with wands, and the priest bringing in the wands got waylaid at the Lucky Monkey outside of town.  This looks like a job for the Company of Whispering Madness!


After a nightmarish ride to the country inn which saw me take a lot of damage from repeatedly falling off my horse  (hey, who knew, I'm not a contender to be a cavalier), we showed up outside of the Lucky Monkey, and planned our assault.  Oddly, our half-drow alchemist slipped away from us as we were trying to figure out how to storm in the front door.



As has happened in the past, our drow wandered off on his own, and decided to go to the back out the inn.  We went in the front, and battered the doors down.  As the half-drow was climbing up the back of the building, apparently a rather large supernatural primate reached out the window and pulled him in.



Our front door assault team ran into a pair of raptors, which we made quick work of.  So quick that I think I pretty much just ran up to them and then watched them die close up.  Then our elderly cleric heard screams of agony that might just have been uttered by a half-drow alchemist, so we attempted to get to the back of the building.



The werebaboon that grabbed the drow was joined by several more apes, or monkeys, or whatever  (I've no ranks in zoology).  Nathaniel made to to the threshold, cast calm emotion to slow down the impending doom bearing down on the half-drow, but it didn't seem to work on the werebaboon.



We finally get to the back of the building just in time to watch the half-drow get slaughtered and his tongue eaten  (hence our foe's nickname, "Tongue-eater").  Eventually, the rest of the party moved in, and we managed to completely kill the opponents, find a half-drow female affiliated with the cleric bringing in the wands, as well as a lot of corpses.

Upon returning home, we found out that a rogue watch captain that is apparently hiding in the lava tubes outside the city has something to do with this nefarious plot, so after briefly mourning our half-drow alchemist  (and crossing him off my list of people likely to kill my character), we decided that next session was a good time to net us a renegade watch member.

This week, I get to GM my Council of Thieves game.  See you next Monday!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's All Geek To Me: Geek Culture as a Language

I remember when the first Lord of the Rings movie came out, and it really caught fire.  One of the first things that occurred to me upon seeing the public reaction to the movie was that now, if I ever mentioned an orc, there was a much greater chance that people would know what I was talking about.  The movie introduced concepts to the wider public that up until that time had been the purview of a select group of people knowledgeable on the subject.



Recently I've been thinking about idiomatic knowledge that is native to a given subset of the population and how it functions as a sort of language for that subset.  It also has occurred to me that how this languages is used sheds some light on how different people view pop culture offerings.  Language, as a whole, can be used to communicate and strengthen bonds, but it can also be used as a means of signifying membership in a closed culture, and depending on which function of language you favor, this could alter how you view mass market translations of your favorite hobbies.

In a lot of ways, I'm thrilled when people go to see Iron Man or Batman Begins, as I can actually make references to Stark Industries or Ra's al Ghul that people that have never picked up a comic book before in their lives will now understand.  I think, to a degree, this also has a lot to do with how people might view any shift in focus from the original work.  I can discuss that Ra's al Ghul is a Batman villain with a massive network of assassins working for him just fine.  If I talk about Lazarus Pits, though, the "vocabulary" of the discussion ends.



So, in some ways, among those of us that have less mainstream interests, it is actually comforting to be able to have a common frame of reference with those not of our own "clan."  We may not expect people to sit down at a table with dice and roll up a character, or pick up a trade paperback of Year One, but we can expect that the people we talk to understand us when we think that shooting orcs with bows is awe inspiring or that Obadiah Stane is a big jerk.

But there also exists the other function of language, the function that shows that you "belong," and I think this is also instructive in how some people view pop culture offerings.  While I fully agree that some adaptations are horrible, to the point that they actually do not expand "vocabulary" at all (try talking to someone about Wanted when you know it from the comics and they saw the movie), other times its very obvious that no work based on a "geeky" hobby like comic books or table top games will ever please a given person.

The reason for this is that the person in question may not want anyone else in on the conversation.  The language is a means of knowing who is and isn't "with you," and the person in question does not want someone to become conversant enough to "infiltrate" the community.  It's not nearly as paranoid as I make it sound, however.  There is a certain comfort to knowing who is and isn't likely to get a foot in the door of your discussions of something that you treasure.

I'm not really sure what all of this means, other than that this sheds a bit of a different light on discussions I've had with people over pop culture offerings that delving into the more obscure hobbies that I've participated in.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Happy Birthday Green Lantern!

The original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, is 71 years old today.  Or this is the 71st anniversary of his first appearance, if you want to put it that way.

Alan has it fairly good this year.  If Green Lantern does well, people will say, "Green Lantern is awesome," and he can bask in the warm glow of popular media buzz.  If Green Lantern sucks, he can say, "it was that darn young whippersnapper Hal Jordan that ruined it all," and then the rest of us can say, "I know, right?"

Friday, May 20, 2011

What I Have Learned in Almost Three Decades of d20 Based Fantasy

For a lot of roleplayers, the first game that those players had contact with was Dungeons and Dragons.  You roll a d20 to resolve a lot of the big conflicts in the game, roll other dice for other functions, and your abilities in game are greatly defined by a choice of class and race.



You get levels, you get more powerful, and you get progressively harder to kill as your hit points go up.  If you find some treasure, you might end up with some interesting magic items that make your life easier.  You become more powerful by killing monsters and achieving other goals and gaining experience points.



Over the years, a lot of good things have happened to the d20 fantasy scene.  There is a lot more customization within character classes while still maintaining distinct abilities.  The ways that rolls work have been consolidated and made a bit more logical  (i.e. most d20 rolls have a bonus added to them and are compared to a difficulty class).



Classes and races once were balanced by what level they could achieve in various classes and how many experience points the class needed to gain a level.  In order to standardize things, over the years, classes have been streamlined and, in theory, are suppose to be balanced at each level against one another.

Tangent:  One thing that has been an annoyance to be over the years is that people tend to misinterpret what balance means in this context.  A fighter is "balanced" by being the meat shield, and should serve a similar function as a barbarian or a paladin, as part of a team.  Not that a fighter and a wizard at every level, fighting each other one on one, should each win 50% of the time.  Still, it is a pitfall of the class based system.

One other development has to do with the standard assumption of gear, and the adoption of the Challenge Rating system.  As a major break from previous editions, characters were expected to have a certain amount of gear, which translates to magic items of a given degree of power, by certain levels.  If a character had this amount of gear at the appropriate level, he should have a reasonable chance to defeat an encounter of a given Challenge Rating.

While this made it easier for Dungeon Masters to know if they were throwing an unfair encounter at their players, it also tending to introduce some changes in the overall assumptions of the game.  In previous editions of the game, adventurers were expected to run into something beyond their abilities to handle from time to time.  Adventurers that lived a long time probably learned to be a bit more cautious over time.



The other paradigm shift that this created had to do with the assumption of magic item availability.  While you can argue that the Forgotten Realms had a higher assumed level of magic than, say, Greyhawk, even in the Forgotten Realms magic items weren't really available for open sale.  You may not find as many magic swords in Greyhawk, but in the Realms you probably weren't going to "casually" get a magic sword unless you did a favor for the Harpers, a major church, the Lord's Alliance, etc.



But with the advent of 3rd edition, the game was built to assume that PCs with enough gold could get a magic item of a certain price in a settlement of a certain size, and if they didn't get it that way, they could take a feat and spend a little time and get the magic item through their own efforts.

On one hand, I don't think that this assumption is automatically devastating to introduce into a setting, but on the other hand, I don't think that any game publisher, to date, has really explored how this works in a manner that feels comfortable "on the ground," or in other words, in a way that the characters, in a non-metagame manner, can assimilate.  I think the closest any setting really got to that kind of comfortable explanation was Eberron.  But then, that was undermined a bit by the fact that high level magic items need to be available for high level characters, but Eberron was not suppose to have many high level established NPCs.

The magic item assumption also may have had an inadvertent effect on "wondrous items" as well.  In the past, if your group found a magical campsite that made itself and provided you with food, it was awesome.  However, when your wealth and gear are so important to making sure your character is up to the assumed power level of the game, suddenly you aren't amazed at the neat magical campsite.  You want to know how much its worth so you can get an item that increases your ability to hit, damage, resist damage, or augment your attributes or class abilities.



Again, nothing keeps people from roleplaying the way they wish, but at the same time, having sat on both sides of the screen, the temptation to sell that magical "wonder" for something more practical is very strong.  So, while whimsical items that do honest to goodness fantasy magical stuff still existed in the rules, those items were often the first ones to go to the magical recycling center for more combat oriented gear.  Interestingly, these items were often really expensive as well, meaning that whimsical magic items were almost another way of saying "art object worth 5,000 gp."

Because of the assumption of wealth per level, PCs end up having as much as the king of Imaginaryland has in his treasury, because its an entirely metagame difference.  It also means that because of NPC gear assumptions, the Emperor of Imperial Land, no matter how rich, should never have a +5 dancing sword of flame or +5 plate armor of etherialness since he's only a 5th level aristocrat.

Tangent:  One could argue that D&D was never a deep immersion style of roleplaying game.  It has always been, at its heart, a game about killing monsters and getting more powerful so that you can kill more powerful monsters, so you could savor those "sweet spots" where your character felt just beat up enough that ripping the head off the giant/dragon/demon made you feel like a bad ass.  Sometimes even the most hard core of roleplayers still enjoy that buzz, when it works just right.  And I think that people still wish that D&D could provide more than just the introductory level of "kill the monster, take its stuff, get more powerful" because its the granddaddy of all RPGs and because its the introduction that many, many people get to roleplaying.

There have been a few shifts in focus in D&D and its descendants over the years as well.  In the beginning, any setting information was for the express purpose of putting some context to adventures.  In 2nd edition, adventures became much less important, and settings were all the rage.



Another shift that happened came from the massive mix of all sorts of fantasy that comprised the game in the beginning, heavily skewing towards the pulpish side of things.  Second edition seemed to expunge much of the pulpishness and push the Tolkien aspects to the forefront.  Third edition seemed to try and reincorporate pulp "a little," but also attempted to make D&D more of "middle ages technology with magic and modern sensibilities."  Characters, "in setting," were much more likely to decry serfdom and nobility and indentured servitude and to question authority, and, actually, the magic item economy was someone fitting in this modern hybrid re-imagining  (although it seemed to be more of an accidental synergy than anything planned).

Third edition attempted to revive the adventure for adventure's sake, but by 3.5, adventures had largely given up the ghost.  Instead, 3.5 reached back to another 2nd edition tradition, that of expanding the rules that the players get to use.

Back in 2nd edition, there was a line of books called the "Complete" series, eventually having one for every class and race in the game, introducing specialized rules as well as "kits" to modify the base class involved.  Eventually AD&D also saw the Player's Option books, books that redefined how a character was built, not just using point buy for ability scores, but also for class features as well.



While 3.0 had its own player's focused books, in 3.5 these books became larger hardcover affairs, and they started to come out more often.  On top of that, WOTC began to question if even campaign setting books were worth the effort, because books that everyone at the table bought brought in more money than books that only the DM was buying would bring home.  The campaign setting books that survived this marketing theory had to become multi-purpose affairs.  Campaign setting books had some campaign information in them, but they also had to have spells, feats, and prestige classes taking up lots of page count as well.



Tangent:  I like rules.  I think sometimes situations come up over and over in a game and those situations make you think, "there should be a rule for this."  In this modern age, this would, in theory, be a great thing to communicate to a company for a product.  Unfortunately, companies that have become successful tend to "need" to put out rules.  So before you know you need a rule to help smooth out something in a campaign, you have a rule, some modifications to that rule, and rules that build on those rules.  Sometimes you have rules voids that should be filled.  Other times you have small rules divits that are filled with 15 pounds of rules spackle.



Now, what this means is that a lot of the rules space of the game is now taken up with player options.  If there were a way to be sure that ability X that replaces ability Y is exactly the same value, this would be great.  Unfortunately, the game tends to be a bit more complex than to do a quick, simple analysis like this.  Often times it takes a truly evil genius to work out the ins and outs of how to combine these new options before you realize where some loop holes might have been closed.

Tangent:  See the above for why I think large rules focused RPG products need to be rare.  Turn some number crunching optimizers loose on your rules and let them do an honest to goodness well run, focused playtest, and then tweak the results accordingly.  While many RPG companies will do a major playtest of the core rules, often rules expansions that are nearly as large as the core rules don't get the same level of playtesting.

So, what do I take away from all of this?  Well, first, let me thank anyone that isn't asleep or clicking over to another blog at this point.

I'm a little burned out at where d20 fantasy gaming is out now.  Both major producers of the D&D legacy, WOTC with 4th Edition D&D and Paizo with Pathfinder, seem to be in the same rut of producing lots of rulebooks that modify the core game and add tons of options, constantly, all the time.  (Let me just say, right now, before anyone else can, that, yes, I do consider three large hardcover player option rulebooks in one year a lot.  I don't really care if its less than what WOTC puts out)

Where do I wish the game had gone?  Honestly, I wish that the "balance assumption" had been a bit more based on PCs not having any special gear, and more monsters could be hit with more traditional "monster hunting" gear.  Monsters that can only be hit by silver?  Great!  Hell, monsters that can only be hit by adamantine?  Great!  Rare substance = good, generic magic weapon . . . not as flavorful, and requires magical gear.

I don't know if I am, in this hypothetical world, against magic item creation, or even buying magic items, but I think it needs to be a lot harder and more rare than it is.  Especially if characters are balanced for their levels independent of gear.

But I think, in the end, what I'm really burned out on is the base assumption being shifted out from under the GM.  New spells shift encounters and change environments in ways not originally foreseen when an adventure is written.  Some classes start to to the job of other classes, so that people loose track of what they are trying to do in the party.  Its just a lot to deal with.

And eventually you get to the point to where you wonder if the "problem," if there is one, is one that you should worry about fixing, or if its just indicative of the fact that you should find something that is already more in line with where your head is at now, at this phase of your gaming career.



Still, almost 30 years is a long time to be used to certain conventions, no matter how strange and infuriating the rules around those conventions may become.



And for anyone that is in my Pathfinder Council of Thieves campaign, don't worry, I've no plans to prematurely end the campaign.  I'm firmly dedicated to finishing the adventure path, because I really do enjoy the story lines of the Paizo adventure paths.  But I really am beginning to doubt that I'm going to be expanding the books allowed in the campaign.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

It's Comic Book Day #2: Cheap Stuff!

Not much profound rolling around in the old noggin tonight comic book wise, but I did think I'd share a link to a pretty cool online retailer that features special daily and weekly geek related deals, many of which, so far, have been hardcover graphic novels and compilations.


The above was the deal for today, which I snatched up pretty quickly.  The site is  thwipster, which is a pretty awesome geek name for a site if I do say so myself.  I'm still kicking myself that I didn't snag the Mark Millar collected Fantastic Four hardcover from a few days ago.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Games in Review, May 16th, 2011

Forgive any brevity on my part  (or celebrate it, depending on your point of view), but my sinuses are killing me after doing some much needed yard work.  Last week was my Council of Thieves game.


The party is in the Nessian Spiral, a fairly nasty dungeon whose theme seems to be, "let's do ability damage/drain."  The party runs into a tortured celestial turned evil, and they manage to kill it after some nasty ability damage and drain both.  They find secret passages, rooms that shoot nasty amounts of stored up energy, and rooms for cooling down the Infernal Engine.

They head back out, have a quick but amusing round of role-playing with the local church of Abadar, and head back into danger.


The first fatality of the night came from a variant lich that is all that remains of one of the previous Lord Mayors.  Dhargentu Vheed was pretty rough on Nils and Elsbeth, and everyone else sought a distance solution.  An AoO did in Elsbeth as she tried to tumble past the lich to get into flanking range.  Then Nils finished the lich off, and he turned into grave dust that . . . did Constitution damage!

Eventually they end up finding the rooms where the Council of Thieves agents have been staging their operations.  After making some noise, the party runs into a gang of thugs, a Council of Thieves diabolist, and her imp familiar.

Darien, the oracle, is Suggested by the Imp to eliminate an imposter in the midst of his adventuring party, and he color sprays Nils.  When he tries to teleport he ends up taking physical and charisma damage.  The diabolist's flame strikes cause the second fatality of the evening, killing the half-orc sorcerer Urguk.

Monty the paladin finishes off the diabolist, and Nils is out cold.

It was a fun session.  We've got some potential inter-party conflict going on between Nils and Darien  (Chaos and Law always tend to rub each other the wrong way after a while), two dead party members, and a lot of dungeon to go.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to hunt up some sinus medicine and finish packing my things for the DC Adventures game tomorrow night.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Whosoever Watches This Movie Will See The Coolness of Thor

I took  my daughter to see Thor this very day.  Yes, I know, I'm a bad comic book geek.  I didn't make it out the opening weekend.  That having been said, I did try to rectify the situation as soon as I could.  I must admit I was not disappointed by the venture.  In fact, I learned a few things watching this movie.


Before I get into the lessons learned, however, I just wanted to mention some of the things that were great about this movie that may not have been obvious to non-comic book geeks that have enjoyed the film.  I really was impressed that the film not only did a good job on Thor, Odin, and Loki, but that Thor's long standing supporting cast not only appeared, but played pretty important roles in the story.



It would have been very easy for the film makers to say that introducing Sif and the Warriors Three was something that distracted from the main task of introducing Thor to a wider audience.  However, when you cut out supporting elements, you do run the risk of missing some of what makes the character special in the first place.


Now, for the lessons learned.  I'll admit, to a degree, you could see this in the latest Hulk movie, but this movie really brought home the fact that you can have massively powerful super hero battles and still make them look awesome.

The reason I saw that this is a lesson learned is that in good super hero movies of the past, you don't quite have the epic scope of a movie like Thor.  Sure you can have a good fight scene in a Batman movie, or an X-Men movie, or even Iron Man.  But what about guys that can fly at Mach 1 and throw battleships at each other?

Thor doesn't shy away from answering this question, and I'm hoping that Zack Snyder is taking notes when it comes to fight scenes in the next Superman movie.  I mean, seriously, it would be nice to have an actual fight scene in a Superman movie.  Slow motion bullet deflection and lifting big things really isn't a substitute for a good super hero throw down, and after seeing the Thor-Destroyer fight or Thor and Loki's tiff, I really, really want to see Superman have an all out slug fest with some one like Mongul, Doomsday, or Bizarro.

Which brings me to my next lesson learned.  Marvel Studios seems to have a handle on these things.  I really hope that DC doesn't embarrass themselves with Green Lantern.  Batman can't be the only franchise carrying DC to respectability, and we all know that even Batman movies can falter . . . horribly.

To be honest, I'm a little worried that Green Lantern toes are the new Bat-nipples.  Time will tell.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Junk Food For Thought: Ultimate Magic

I don't have the book.  Please keep that in mind.

However, I was already skeptical, and I'm reading a lot of people that are generally pretty sure of Paizo's ability to produce good material finding some issues with Ultimate Magic.

Ignoring the people that went ballistic over Paizo not fixing things that they hated since 3.0, I've not see quite so much wide ranging concern on the message boards in a while.

I won't go into some of the issues brought up, because I've not directly seen them myself, but I really do hope that this content ends up in the PRD soon so that I can evaluate it for myself.  Hopefully I'll be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It's Comic Book Day, Volume 2, Issue #1 (What, Like All the Publishers Don't do Pointless New #1 Issues)

I have nothing profound to say.

Wait, stop agreeing with me.  What I meant to say is that I'm not going to go into anything too deep in this week's comic book musings, other than to say this:  while I've said many times that Spider-Man and Batman were my favorite characters, if I had to name one actual of run of comics that was my favorite, it would have to be Walt Simonson's run on the Mighty Thor  (followed by John Byrne's run on Fantastic Four).

So my non-profound thing to say is, the following is one of the coolest things ever in all of creation:


The massive Walt Simonson Thor omnibus released by Marvel.  This thing has his entire run in it  (remember back in the day when a long run on a comic was counted in years, and not months?) and clocks in at over a thousand pages.



See Thor stave off Ragnarok!  See Thor turn into a frog!  See Thor work as a construction worker!  See Thor grow a beard!

I'm not selling this nearly as well as I could be.  It really is one of the most awesome collections of comics to be found.  One of the reasons I got hooked on Thor had to do with Simonson's Ragnarok storyline, which happened to cross over into Spider-Man and the Avengers  (two books I was reading at the time).

This was when crossovers were really a rarity, so when the whole world freezes over and demons from Muspelheim start attacking across the Marvel universe, you knew something major was up.  From that point on I was hooked on the epic scale and vision of Thor's universe.

Of course, this omnibus has an epic pricetag as well  ($125.00 retail), so if anyone needs a kidney, I have a spare.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Untapped Potential: Characters I'd Like to Play--Joshua Goodheart (Superhero Genre)

In case anyone is reading this that didn't read my old blog, or at least my old blog post that started this train of thought for me, I started posting some thoughts on RPG characters that I would like to play, but that I have never got the chance to use.

Unlike my last character concept, which was much more of a concept that would wait until an appropriate campaign to fill in the details, this one is fleshed out a bit more.  So long as the character is used in a modern super hero setting, the details work out the same.

Joshua Goodheart

Joshua Goodheart is a lawman from the southwestern United States, from a family of lawmen, reaching back to his famous great great grandfather, Solomon Goodheart, the hero of Temple Hill.  Joshua lived his life trying to live up to the legend of his ancestor, being the best law man that he could be, always wondering if he was doing his best.

Eventually, Joshua runs afoul of Lucius Morningstar, corrupt industrialist and the man that blackened the soul of Temple Hill.  Morningstar owns Temple Hill, and when Joshua tries to expose his corruption, Morningstar ruins his reputation, ends Joshua's career, and demolishes the Temple Inn, the hotel that the Goodheart family has owned since Solomon's retirement.


In the ruins of the Temple Inn, Joshua finds an antique six shooter, apparently from the time of his great great grandfather.  Not only does he find the gun, but he finds old newspapers, legal documents, business ledgers, an diaries that paint a very different image of his famous ancestor than the image seen by the world at large.

While Solomon did, indeed, fight evil land barons, bandits, and desperadoes far and wide, and while he did make Temple Hill safe and prosperous, in his later years, Solomon gave in to human weakness.  The Temple Inn was originally a casino and brothel, and Solomon began to take bribes to influence the direction of the city and in the appointment of citizens to political positions.

Solomon died the kind of man that Lucius Morningstar appears to be now.

It is at this time that the spirit of Solomon Goodheart appears to his descendant.  The ghost takes some time to calm down his great great grandson, and then explains that he was a weak man.  He explains that for all of the good that he did in his life, he performed an equal measure of evil, and more.  Solomon asks Joshua to take his six shooter and right the wrongs of this day and age.


When Joshua wishes to go and bring Lucius Morningstar to justice, Solomon tells him that now is not the time to stop Morningstar.  Joshua must leave Temple Hill, venture into the wide world, and balance the scales abroad before he comes home to to bring justice full circle.

The six gun can shoot ectoplasmic rounds, and never runs out of bullets.  The rounds can lay any being low, but they won't do permanent harm to anyone that the shooter wishes to leave alive.

Joshua packs up his things, heads across the USA, and looks for wrongs that need to be righted.  He is a skilled detective, but he puts on an old west affectation to help put people off their guard.

Addendum

Just for fun I threw together Joshua Goodheart in Hero Lab for Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition, although I would give him a shot in any Supers game that could accommodate the concept.

Joshua Goodheart - PL 10

Strength 2, Stamina 4, Agility 4, Dexterity 4, Fighting 4, Intellect 2, Awareness 4, Presence 4

Advantages

Accurate Attack, Assessment, Contacts, Defensive Roll, Diehard, Equipment 4, Fearless, Improved Aim, Improved Initiative, Improvised Tools, Languages 1, Luck, Move-by Action, Power Attack, Quick Draw, Well-informed

Skills

Athletics 3 (+5), Close Combat: Unarmed 5 (+9), Deception 5 (+9), Expertise: American History 5 (+7), Expertise: Law Enforcement 5 (+7), Insight 5 (+9), Intimidation 5 (+9), Investigation 5 (+7), Perception 5 (+9), Persuasion 5 (+9), Ranged Combat: Pistols 4 (+8), Sleight of Hand 5 (+9), Stealth 5 (+9), Technology 3 (+5), Treatment 3 (+5), Vehicles 5 (+9)

Powers

Solomon's Sixgun (Easily Removable, indestructible)

Blast: Blast 12 (DC 27; Affects Insubstantial: half ranks, Penetrating, Ricochet: 1 bounce)

      Haunting Shot: Blast 8 (Alternate; DC 23; Affects Insubstantial: half ranks, Penetrating, Ricochet: 1 bounce, Secondary Effect)

      The Dead Shot: Progressive Affliction 9 (Alternate; 1st degree: Dazed, 2nd degree: Stunned, 3rd degree: Incapacitated, Resisted by: Will, DC 19; Progressive)

   Solomon's Watchful Eye: Protection 5 (+5 Toughness)

Equipment


Brass Knuckles, Bulletproof Vest, Cell Phone (Smartphone), GPS Receiver, Motorcycle, Toolkit (Basic)

Offense


Initiative +8
Blast: Blast 12, +8 (DC 27)
Brass Knuckles, +4 (DC 18)
Grab, +4 (DC Spec 12)
Haunting Shot: Blast 8, +8 (DC 23)
The Dead Shot: Progressive Affliction 9, +4 (DC Will 19)
Throw, +4 (DC 17)
Unarmed, +9 (DC 17)

Complications

Haunted: Joshua is haunted, from time to time, by the ghost of his great great grandfather Solomon.

Vengence: Joshua Goodheart wants desperately to put Lucius Morningstar behind bars for what he did to the town of Temple Hill and to the Goodheart family.

Languages

English, Spanish

Defense

Dodge 8, Parry 8, Fortitude 8, Toughness 10/9, Will 9

Power Points


Abilities 56 + Powers 21 + Advantages 19 + Skills 37 (73 ranks) + Defenses 17 = 150

Monday, May 9, 2011

Games in Review, May 9th, 2011 (DC Adventures and Pathfinder RPG)

The first Games in Review on the new site!  It's a cause for celebration!  Or something.  Ah well, enough hype, let's get to the reviewing, shall we?

Last Tuesday was my DC Adventures/Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition game.  We lost one of our players, and I had some plans for her character as an NPC, but the night didn't unfold in such a way that I could play that particular card.

Just a side note on gaming, in general.  I know I finally moved to bringing my laptop with me when I GM, because I like my HeroLab and initiative trackers and, well, not carrying as many books.  I've noticed more and more players bringing their electronic toys to the table as well.

In my games, specifically, I've never had any problems with this.  In fact, it seems pretty darn helpful, because a lot of players that have laptops/tablets at the table, and even smart phones, also have lots of gadgets to help them look up rules and the like.  Despite this technological upgrade at the table, I haven't noticed the "feel" of the game changing too much.


As always, I like my visual aids.  Maybe it's a weakness in my descriptive ability, but I love having something to hand to my players to show them what they see.  I'm especially keen on this in the DC Adventures game, with comics being such a visual medium.  But if you've read the blog in the past, you know that, so I just put you to sleep.

Naptime over?  Good.  Here are a few of my visual aids from the session this time around:


One of the few redeeming factors of Frank Miller's All-Star Batman and Robin, other than the oft-repeated catch phrases, has to be Jim Lee's depiction of Vicki Vale . . . who just happens to have a date with Myrmidon!


And above, we have our villains for the evening.  "Fake Batman and Robin," David Cain  (already in custody at the beginning of the adventure), Hook, Brutale, Gunhawk, Black Spider, Merlyn, and the Body Doubles  (Bonny Hoffman and Carmen Leno).

One of my players made the mistake of having a shady background that his evil GM could exploit more than any of his complications, so the above villains have an unhealthy interest in him.  The group starts out separated, throws down with bunches of bad guys, and eventually the group reforms to finish the fight.

One thing I like about comic book style RPGs is that splitting the party isn't quite the death sentence that it is, say, in a dungeon-delving level-based RPG.  Necromancer can teleport, Marathon can fly (and carry people with his brain), and Beorn can run really fast as a bear.  So within a few rounds, the group is all together.

An interesting note for combat, at least for me, has to do with the use of hero points.  I've had a few sessions where the PCs just didn't use that many of them, and I was a bit bummed.  If they earn them, its nice if they get some use out of them.  I'm happy to say that not only did the group rack up a few wounds this time  (although no one went down for the count), they also blew through a lot of  hero points.

After fending off the bad guys, I had a few more cameos from the DC Universe lined up.  Sergent Harvey Bullock escorted the PCs to one James Gordon, but here is where the wheels came off, and I blame myself.  The group decided to set a trap for "Fake Batman" by turning on the Bat Signal, but instead of Batman, they got Talia al Ghul.

Myrmidon was very rigid about Talia being affiliated with the League of Assassins and with "Fake Batman," and didn't want to deal with her.  He became quite agitated, took a swing at her, and Marathon took her aside to gather some exposition based clues from her.  Unfortunately, I didn't quite gauge how the "philosophical" discussion was going, more punches were thrown, some TK suffocation was attempted, and it all ended with Myrmidon chucking that Bat Signal at Marathon for dealing with a known assassin.

So what was my mistake?  Was it the party conflict?  Was it handing out too much "friendly" information in the middle of a fight?  Not really.  Inter-party conflict isn't really all that alien to the super hero genre.  It was the fact that I half-assed how I handled everything.  I didn't go into initiative to handle an inter-party fight, let two conversations go on a lot longer than they should have with potential conflict going on, and then just kind of let the scene fall apart at the end instead of ending it on a cliff hanger or resolving the conflict.

Pacing can be tricky for a GM, especially in a super hero game, where there is certainly philosophical posturing, but it tends to follow the formula of "a statement is made, a counter-statement is made, and action resumes."  I fell more into standard fantasy RPG pacing methods, and it came up kind of flat.  Live and learn.  I think everyone still enjoyed the night, and I know how I want to proceed next session.

Next up on the gaming docket:  The Shackled City Adventure Path, converted for Pathfinder RPG  from D&D 3.5 rules.


The above picture is from DeviantArt from a poster named Ellundiel.  If you ever happen by this blog, thanks for the image.  It is really, really hard to find a good picture of a heavily armored fighter with a scythe.  It's almost like people think its an impractical weapon or something . . .

Our quest to find goblin graffiti artists led to smugglers sneaking in orc mercenaries to noble houses, and after quickly mourning our dead companion that we had known for almost two days, Vaerlin decided to give a rousing speech to move his comrades to action.  Turns out Vaerlin needs some work on his inspirational speeches, because he sounded more like a serial killer with a checklist than a world weary mercenary.

We ran into a tiefling paladin, which is only slightly less disturbing than an Wildren prositute, and I wanted to kill him because, well, I'm paranoid.  Well, I'm not, but I play one in this campaign.  Long story short, I was fine with him going into all of the rooms first.  We find some things to kill, including a vampire bugbear and a transforming undead throne.

I really had dreams of getting a x4 crit with my scythe and being able to describe my character decapitating a vampire.  Instead I got to spectacularly fail a will save against a goblin shaman, roll over, speak, stand back up, and hack a piece of undead furniture to death, while our ancient halfling cleric rode down the vampire and positive energy bursted him to death . . . or more death . . . with the help of the other party cleric and the paladin.

Did I mention we got treasure?  We got treasure.  Shackled City appears to be a bit light in the treasure, so our magnanimous GM adjusted the treasure a bit, and now I've got some shiny new pluses on my equipment.

This week is my next GM turn, running Council of Thieves for my Pathfinder RPG group.  Stay tuned!