Sunday, March 25, 2012

Man Enough To Admit I'm Wrong: DC Nation Shows (3-25-12)

It's no secret that I'm a fan of the Young Justice animated series.  To my way of thinking, despite the changes to people's ages and how exactly certain things have come about, the core concept of each character is still recognizable as that character, while still allowing for some new stories and some twists and turns that even long term fans won't see coming.

In fact, the show has done a few interesting double head fakes to make you think they might not be following something that they then ended up following.  Which might sound confusing, but I don't want to give examples, because it's been a fun ride.

Just imagine how much more momentum this might have had if Cartoon Network had actually shown major chunks of the series consecutively instead of breaking it up into the tiny isolated chunks that they have so far.

Ah well.

But where I have to make a few apologies is the Green Lantern Animated Series.  Up front, I will say I'm still not a fan of the animation.  It's such rudimentary outdated CGI that I'm really not sure why we started out with it to begin with.  Still, the producers have said in interviews that if the show sticks around, they get more time and money to develop more detailed models.  It's just strange that they even seem to acknowledge the sub-par animation with the caveat that they are gambling that they can make it better if they can convince people to stick around.

Now, after the pilot episode, I wasn't sure if I would stick around.  I wanted to see a good Green Lantern series, but this thing had 80/early-90s formula written all over it.  Narrowed theme  (Hal and Kilowog are stuck in the middle of nowhere and thus won't be interacting with the normal DCU)?  Check.  One constant, recurring villain, even if that makes them look incompetent and burns the audience out on the bad guy  (Red Lanterns)?  Check.

Now, why did I assume the above was true?  Maybe because in the interviews from all of the comic book conventions the line was "Hal and Kilowog are going to be trapped in an isolated part of the universe fighting Red Lanterns the first season."  I guess this sounded like a positive thing to the DC executives.  And the pilot really made this look like the direction the series was going.

However, this week's episode already reestablishes that the Guardians are in contact with Hal and Kilowog  (no spoilers here, it happens almost at the beginning of the episode), and our intrepid Green Lanterns run into the Spider Guild  (again, it happens pretty quickly into the episode).  Sure, there is still a Red Lantern  (they have one as a prisoner), but they even establish that it only takes "a few months" for travel back and forth to this part of the universe.

So we have more traditional, pre-rainbow lantern corps Green Lantern extended characters showing up, a connection to the more traditional DCU space stomping grounds, and even some hints at another major development down the road.  I wasn't blown away by this episode, but it has kind of restored my faith that GL might develop into one of the "good" DC animated series, if it can get past it's initial set up and it's "cutting edge" animation.

Sorry I was skeptical.  I may be wrong on this one yet.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Scenes From a Ethnically Non-Specific Bookstore

My wife and I spend a lovely day together, the first time we've gotten to spend a lot of time together on a weekend in quite a while.  However, in between all of the places we got to go together, and all of that quality time, there was this little side trip to a certain bookstore, where there were these books, which ties into this blog, which is about gaming.

I posted last weekend about some of my internal monologue about Pathfinder and it's quirks and how I feel about the whole she-bang.  While I was at the bookstore, I looked through the Bestiary 3.  Oddly, I've not looked at it much at the FLGS.  Possibly because I don't want anyone to start in on the "hey, are you going to start buying Pathfinder books again after you sold off your copies?"

The answer would be no.  Rogue Trader is expansive enough, and right now, I don't have room in the limited space I have to store gaming material to host a massive physical library such as Pathfinder currently enjoys.  That having been said, I've still got my PDFs on my laptop.  Digression/explanation over for now.

Anyway, for anything else I might have been able to complain about Paizo before I gave up the Pathfinder GMing Ghost, I have to say, they really know story element style content better than the other guys in the FRPG market.  I didn't get a chance to look at stats too deeply, but the monsters all looked evocative.  None of the monsters looked like "we want to make an ogre again, but better," or "we want a monster that facilitates using a certain rule in an encounter."  These guys all look like myths, legends, and pop culture inspirations that would make for a good creature to show up in a story, first and foremost.

I can't vouch for any mechanics, but the critters themselves look like they want to be used in a story, and none of them have names like "Mega-Ogre" or "Spellwarped Phaseshifter Goblin."

I also looked at the compilations of IDW's Dungeons and Dragons comic book.  Nice hardcovers of the first two story arcs.  I had read most of the first arc when it came out, and John Rogers  (he of Leverage/Blue Beetle fame) does a really good job writing this crew.  He walks a really masterful line between taking the subject material a little too seriously, and lampooning said material.

These guys are adventurers, and adventurers are a known quantity in "D&D land."  Some level of weird stuff happening doesn't phase them and is great fodder for quips, but there is a level of weird, bad luck and bizarre happenings and creatures that becomes noteworthy.

It's really a great book and the characters are all likable and engaging.  If WOTC had this comic going at the start of 4e to illustrate their new setting and it's quirks, I think it might have worked wonders for people being able to "get" what they were shooting for.  I also think these comics make a really good introduction to what a general high fantasy adventurer based RPG setting is like for anyone that isn't familiar with the tropes.

I didn't get a chance to look at the Dark Sun comic that was also present in compilation form, but based on the Rogers D&D book, I really hope that the upcoming Pathfinder comic from Dynamite is up to the quality of Dungeons and Dragons.

Victory is Ours! (Sentinels of the Multiverse Rook City Expansion)

Tuesday I picked up the Sentinels of the Multiverse expansion set Rook City.  Having arrived at the store hours before I had to run my DC Adventures game, I had plenty of time to play the game and multiple friends to play it with.

Except that somehow I forgot to bring the core game with me.  

Hanged Fool even tried to buy a copy, but Armored Gopher has been busy selling this game.  Thus, no copy to buy.

Thus we come to Thursday night.  I arrive early enough before the Pathfinder game to play a game of Sentinels, and we have four people ready to go when we break out the cards.  Woo hoo!  Four heroes . . . we might win!

We picked the titular city as the environment, and Spite as our bad guy.  Spite is a drug enhanced serial killer.  If you took Szasz, Bane, and Casey Jones, put them in a blender, then taped them back together and magically got them to breathe again, the result would be kind of like Spite.

Hanged Fool took Expatriate, a new character in the expansion that gets guns and ammunition cards for equipment.

HollowerFollower took Mister Fixer, an unorthodox martial artist type that has a bunch of tools that he uses as weapons and thus equipment cards.

Our other friend  (Shale the Druid's player) took Visionary, the psychic that totally doesn't look like Moondragon, from the original set.  I took good old dependable Legacy, the all around paragon booster but sometimes damage producer from the first set.

Spite doesn't get minions or drones or anything like Voss or Citizen Dawn or Omnitron.  He gets victims and drugs.  You put out victims, and if you don't save them, he kills them and gets back hit points. His drugs make him harder to kill and start damaging the players more.

And the environment, Rook City, had some interesting effects, but it wasn't quite as gonzo as Atlantis or as actively hostile as Mars.  Sometimes side criminals would pop up, but we tended to take them out fairly effectively before they did much to us.

Twice we saved one victim, then drew the top card of Spite's deck, to see all of the other poor victims in the safe house run out and get killed anyway.  Twice.  It was like the guy we saved kept going into the safe house and telling everyone it was okay, and then wondering why no one came back in again.

Long story short, Legacy died, but he's got useful "incapacitated" abilities, most of the team was in single digits, but in the end, we took out Spite.  Our second victory!

So, the scorecard so far is:

1st game  (my daughter and me):  Beat by Warlord Voss

2nd game  (two friends and me):  Beat by Omnitron

3rd game  (four friends and me):  Beat Baron Blade

4th game  (three friends and me):  Called the game due to time, draw against Citizen Dawn

5th game  (three friends and me):  Beat by Warlord Voss

6th game  (three friends and me):  Beat Spite

And despite having my rear handed to me often, I'm still quite enjoying this game.  Here's to another expansion!

Game Night: Pathfinder Shackled City . . . How Many Characters Have You Been Through (3-24-12)

Our intrepid Pathfinder adventurers continued their trials and tribulations in a Pathfinderized version of the Shackled City AP set in the Forgotten Realms.  It took us a bit to remember where we were, especially since we had our special guest GM and a site trip to another reality where our characters did else before returning home.

But eventually we remembered that the aasimar rogue was holed up trying to convince giants not to show up and attack, and we caught up with him.  We were in the dungeon complex at the end of our journey, looking for a lost paladin, and we keep right on keeping on.

Eventually we found a magical fountain that made those of us that drank stronger, but unwise.  I was completely okay with this.  The only wise adventurers are clerical types.  My theory on this is that low wisdom is what drives the adventuring industry, and the reason the wisdom dependent divine types have a stake in adventuring at all is because they might have wisdom, but they get guild thrown into the mix since they have a divine basis for their powers, so it all works out in the end.

Anyway, with further reduced wisdom, we find a room with three angels.  For some strange reason, the rest of the party swore they were hags, but clearly they were angels, and they told Darkboon  (our rogue) and myself to kill the cavalier's horse and stop the bard, respectively.  Despite being fairly certain that I've never wanted to kill Chesterfield  (our bard) before, it really did seem like a good idea at the time.

I only got one hit on Chesterfield before he went invisible and our druid  (a goliath that has been in bear for for the last . . . oh . . . six months or so) grabbed me for my own good.  I wasn't in the mood for a cuddle, so I decided that cutting an arm off of the bear might make it harder for him to hang onto me.

Darkboon managed to use his handy kukri to not only sneak attack the cavalier's horse, but to cause it bleed damage as well.  That horse was bleeding like a stuck pig . . . horse.

Now, I will for years to come feel guilty over the level of amusement I felt over the situation that my friend's character found himself in.  Sir Albert, our cavalier, not only had a horse that was bleeding out, but the hags that my character swore were angels case a forcecage on him.  We immediately got an image of Sir Albert trapped in a cage, and him eventually drowning on his own mounts blood, and for some reason, that was hilarious to most of us.  We are all sick bastards.  We need help.  We really do.

Back in character, the other adventurers managed to permanently hamper the ongoing breathing ability of two of the hags, so Darkboon and Linderath returned to the land of the (relatively) sensible adventurer.  We all chased after the last member of the coven, but then we lost her behind a door that she barred behind her.  One player had a theory that she went to Mexico.  I'm not sure about that myself.  All I know is that we didn't catch up to her the rest of the night.

In another room, Darkboon and I were holding the door shut after Darkboon found a mob of skeletons, and eventually Enoch, our handy cleric of Helm, showed up and between a vigorous chopping motion initiated by most of the party and the warm fuzzy bursts of religious affirmation that Enoch let out, the skeletons went down.

As fate would have it, eventually we found a room with a strange series of magical portals and Chesterfield eventually went through them the right way and we all eventually followed.  We found a big hidden magical room with pillars and other stuff, and the door would slam shut behind all of us as we arrived.  Albert nearly lost a hand trying to keep it open.

In the end, we found the paladin we were looking for, a sacred staff that was used to banish some grand demonic entity in years gone by, and, quite unfortunately, a grand demonic entity of the glabrezu variety.  Eventually we had tea, set down some guidelines, and negotiated the paladin's release from demonic custody with only minor concessions.

No, wait, that's not what happened.  The glabrezu started ripping us limb from limb, and the cleric was bursting and specifically healing me to keep me alive.  Eventually poor Darkboon was ripped in half and took enough hit point damaged that the final total would have to make a perception check to see the tail end of his constitution score.

I kept burning true strike charges and hitting as hard as I could  (nothing I could channel would do damage to the beast, and I didn't want to risk a round without at least hitting it for damage).  Oh, we took turns holding the staff, but apparently holding the staff was the trigger for getting a claw to the abdomen, so eventually we handed it down to Chesterfield and he ran with it.

So the bear  (Shale), the cavalier  (Albert), my magus  (Linderath), and the cleric  (Enoch) were all surrounding the demon, doing "some" damage to it with each hit, and eventually Albert went down as well.  I nearly did, but Enoch did a fine job of convincing my wounds not to split open any further.

In theory, the did enough damage to the demon that it was afraid for it's life and teleported away.  My own personal theory is that the demon has the attention span of a hyperactive kitten and some cosmic yarn that none of us could perceive just dangled in front of his face, causing him to go check it out for a few moments.  Whatever the case, we got the deathbed exposition of the paladin and hightailed it out of the room.

I had a lot of fun, but two things jump out at me.

1.  As a GM, I really liked the fun and variety of the Critical Hit deck.  After being in a life or death situation with a demon and having that bright, shinning moment of getting a critical hit, and then having that hit only do normal damage and make one of the demon's claws not function for a while . . . I'm less enamored of the deck.  I would certainly think twice about investing feats, spells, or magic item properties with the deck in play, because the effects aren't always demonstrably as valuable as a damage multiplier.

It's funny how your opinion can change on the other side of the screen.  That having been said, random chance can still be fun and by no means do I fault our GM for liking to use the accessory.

2.  Once again the AP goes out of its way to say "hey, sure, you are the champions of Cauldron, but you can't adventure there."  The paladin's dying admonition was to not go back to the city because it would bring ruin.  Really?  Again with the "save the city by going anywhere but there?"

It's just kind of grating.  They seem to spend a lot of time creating backstory for a city that they won't let you enjoy.  Plus, when you are in the city, they spend a lot of time making you think you will be doing urban things before yanking the rug out from under you, usually to plop you into another dungeon.

I enjoy it, for the most part, but it's hard to suppress that part of my brain that keeps saying, "this was their first AP, and it wasn't completely designed to be an AP . . . there is a lot of duct tape holding these things together."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Game Night: DC Adventures . . . A Savage Beating

Our DC Adventures game wrapped up a fairly major long running plot point last night.  The group had been tracking down clues about the Immortal Prophet, someone that was consolidating the various DCU secret societies and cults, and finding Lazarus Pits that have been modified by the "Kobra Method" of causing anyone raised by the pit to worship . . . someone.

The opening scene had the group called to the penitentiary where Kobra was being held, with Kobra volunteering information about his organization, since he can feel his twin brother and can feel that his followers have brought him back to life to take over as "Kobra."

The group got their information, essentially to head to Markovia ASAP, and then a prison riot breaks out among the Kobra converts in the prison.  The group got a chance to rescue some prison guards and generate some hero points, which immediately made one of players paranoid, since he figured if I had scenes to generate hero points, they would need them later.

Especially amusing was Beorn running to one side of the prison, realizing the guards were safe, bounding off the wall, and diving into another hallway to tackle more prisoners.  Especially since Myrmidon just saw his giant bear team mate run one direction, then the other, from the hallway he was guarding.

The group heads to Markovia, fights "other" Kobra and his Bestowed, the cult sorcerers, and oddly, the cult sorcerers were more of a challenge.  Slight side note . . . I like the DCA line, but some characters really seem to fall through the cracks.  Kobra is a bit disappointing as a fairly ineffectual PL 10 character in charge of one of the most feared terrorist organizations in the DCU.  Partially my fault because I should have tweaked him a bit before using him.

The information they gather in Markovia shows them that all of the Immortal Prophet's organizations are geared towards digging up old Nazi research and raiding the Fourth Reich.  The team heads back to Washington, talks to Steve Trevor, and actually decides to use their contacts to get hits on cell phones that might be referring to Ra's al Ghul.

Interesting side note here:  Ra's was essentially the Red Herring, since he could be considered the "Immortal Prophet" and the plot has to do with Lazarus Pits.  However, instead of taking the bait and following the trail to Zandia and . . . doing what I had planned there, the group used their resources to track down Ra's.

As a GM, you might get frustrated when your PCs cut out a part of your adventure.  When they have a good idea, you shouldn't.  Your world just became a little more "real," because your PCs figured out the short cut.  Revel in their ingenuity, and roll with it.

As it stands, Zandia would point to the Corto Maltese, which is where Ra's was.  But instead of Ra's being the ultimate villain, the party runs into Vandal Savage cementing his hold on the League of Shadows as one of his last cult/organization to control.

Vandal didn't have much use for the Fourth Reich as minions, but did want to capture Captain Nazi and use some ancient rituals to infuse an amulet sacred to Ares with Captain Nazi's power, thus boosting Vandal to a PL 16 powerhouse.  See, Vandal isn't quite Aryan enough to be a valid Captain Nazi, and Vandal had an insider imp aiding him with stealing artifacts from the Aereopagus.

Poor Myrmidon.  Skreej, the helpful Imp of War, was actually a double agent working for Vandal.  Vandal then proceeds to explain that he was keeping the world save by gambling with it . . . he was the one moving the Reckoning Device around the globe, keeping various villains chasing it.  He convinced Black Adam to stash the second tier heroes "just in case."  Savage was the one that convinced Cheetah to form her own Legion of Doom and pointed her towards a grandiose goal that would keep the Justice League New Guard busy.

Thankfully I handed out a lot of hero points.  Vandal beat several team members pretty severely, and would have done more damage without those hero points.  The nice thing is, once again, my players didn't disappoint me.  It's fine for the bad guys to get beat into submission sometimes, but as the wise Steve Kenson has said on his blog, linear wins are very much a tradition in comic books.

Before I go any further . . . Beorn, in giant bear form, ran up a wall to reach Vandal when Vandal got slammed into the wall.  How cool is it for a giant dire bear to run up a wall to slap a Nazi powered immortal cave man?

Paradox went tiny and sneaky, and then intangible, and grabbed the amulet.  The power of Captain Nazi began to fade from Savage, and pretty soon he was out cold.  Then Marathon flew him up into the stratosphere, warned him never to try anything like his plan ever again, and dropped him in the ocean from way up there.

Fuzzy comic book morality here . . . while it's true you have your anti-heroes that don't care, normally killing a bad guy would leave a bad taste in a "standard" super hero team's mouth.  So far, the group has two kills.  However, I think there really are comic book based mitigating factors involved.

Myrmidon killed Circe, who is part god.  For some reason, gods in comic books seem to be a little beyond the standard "no killing rules."  Plus it fit the character.  Marathon killed Vandal Savage, but he killed a man that he knows, pretty much for a fact, will come back to life not too long after his broken body hits the ocean.  It's weird, but knowing a bad guy doesn't really die the same way other people die, creates a different paradigm.  Marathon knows he's not dead dead, and he fought down the urge to put him somewhere that would continually kill him in a torturous manner.

Philosophizing aside, it was a fun session and it was nice to tie up a lot of the campaign loose ends.  Onto the next phase of the campaign!

Monday, March 19, 2012

One More For The Road: Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

One more blog post, and then it's time for some sleep and a return to the World of Work.

I was agonizing a bit over if I should even post about this, since I wasn't planning on purchasing the product, but it occurred to me, if I was turned off by the resources at hand, that's probably a valid thing to post about as well as if I just had to buy the game.

What am I talking about?  The Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game  from Margaret Weis Productions.

While I'm a huge DC Comics fan, it's hard not to have a soft spot for characters from both companies, spending as much time as I have buried in comic books over the years.  Spider-Man is nearly as dear to my heart as Batman, and I had a subscription to the Avengers and the West Coast Avengers for years.

As much as I enjoy Mutants and Masterminds, I wanted to like this thing too.  Liking one game doesn't mean you can't find room for something else in that same genre, right?

The more I read about this game, however, and the more I researched it, the less I wanted the game.  A lot of the suspicions I had about the game were essentially realized when I listed to the Vigilance Press podcast of actual play for the game.

I'm not expecting anyone else to have the same gaming tastes that I do.  Obviously Smallville and Leverage have their fans, so a Marvel game with similar sensibilities will probably find it's fans as well.  But it's not for me.


1.  While you can create your own characters, the game really does lean on playing existing Marvel comics characters.  So much so that part of the advancement scheme for the game has to do with how well you play the character the "right" way.

2.  Much of the support of the game is going to be to provide "adventures" based on following Marvel mega events.  So if you are someone that has hated most mega events and just wants to come up with their own things?  I guess you can, but the point is, the game is, again, geared towards running existing characters through existing events.

Marvel seems to be pretty certain that everyone that plays a Marvel RPG wants to play an existing character and wants to play through their mega events.

3.  Too much player side control of when to do what.  Yeah, I know, I'm a mean jerk of a GM, but it just seems pointless to have all of these die pool excuses, and then to tell the GM that he shouldn't tell the players that they are wrong when they say that their excuse for adding a die pool is wrong.

In theory, it seems like it's suppose to support story telling, but at the same time, as one reviewer said, it kind of boils down to having a die pool called "I'm awesome," and then saying "I'm being awesome right now, so I'm adding this in."

4.  The whole thing is so meta that it's hard for me not to see the moving parts underneath the skin.  You are working against the Plot.  At different times, the Plot is named Carnage or Galactus or a Nuclear Bomb, but the Plot is the thing you keep rolling your die pools against until the GM says "enough, the Plot is done!"

5.  For a game that is very "meta" about presenting a story and having the players tell their story and give their reasons for adding in this or that, there still seems to be a lot of fiddly rules about where this die shows up or where it goes and how many die this takes from where.

I guess I wish this were either all in or not.  Either you are an abstract storytelling game with a few rules to reinforce comic book tropes, or you are a game that has concrete stats and times and places that you can use those stats.

Having abstract conceptual storytelling based stats that still have to do with shifting dice here and there seems to be the worst of both words.  It's not a true storytelling game or a true stat based game. It's a game about justifying throwing die pools together and then applying other rules that shift die in other directions until you finally find out how many you are suppose to roll.

As I said above, I'm sure there are fans.  Not everyone will wrap their brain around this game the way I do. But for me, between all of the interviews, reviews, and actual play that I have taken in, I'm going to have to add in my "Cynical Gamer that Has been Burned" die pool to my "I Only Have So Many Gaming Dollars To Spend" pool to resist the "Shiny New Game" attack that has been enhanced with "Emotional Attachment to IP" pool, and I think I rolled enough of a success to pass on this one.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Roller Coaster Ride: Me and Pathfinder

The first thing I will say on this topic is this.  I was introduced to RPGs through Dungeons and Dragons.  Class and level-based fantasy roleplaying are always going to have a special place in my heart, which is why it is always going to be hard to move on, and why there will always be a certain attraction to the concept.

Some games make a much more "logical" sense, even from an internal consistency point of view.  Some games flow much more quickly and have much better pacing than D&D and its various children over the years.  That has nothing to do with the emotional attachment that comes from years of playing the game.

The other strange thing is that one of D&D's biggest problems is also one of its biggest assets.  There are a million different moving parts.  Class features, feats, racial abilities, spells, and magic items are all a nightmare to track.  There are so many more elegant ways to represent the exact same thing.  For example, in Savage Worlds you don't need a separate spell for each type of damage, you pick a spell that damages and describe it's effect.

But despite the inherent illogical basis of D&D and it's children, something is exciting about being told you can't so something completely logical, but if you wait a level or two, you might be able to do that very thing.  It builds anticipation.  It also creates a million new toys to play with.  As counter-intuitive as it is, every time you think of something you want to do, and can't do it, it creates a new toy in the game that lets you do something you could probably do in another system without thinking about it.

It is completely and totally emotion-based.  It makes any arguments about "reality" pointless when viewed through the spectrum of the game.  It also means that since the game is about delayed gratification and having a million toys to fulfill those desires, the rules that tell you what you can do and what you can't do, and the rules that tell you what your various and sundry toys do, must be very clear.

The main point I'm trying to get across is that d20 level-based RPGs aren't logical.  They are not the height of the art form.  They are not the most logical extension, nor the best expression to use for many genres.  On the other hand, playing with the rules, themselves, and waiting until you can earn your various d20 merit badges in the form of class abilities, spells, and the like, has a very strong emotional appeal.

The long and the short of this is, I tried moving completely on from Pathfinder at one point in time.  It is not the most logical, fun, or fast-moving system out there.  But it's hard to get completely out of your system.  I played in my friend's game because I missed playing with my friend and the others in the game.  But eventually, it starts to gnaw at you that you want to get one more level so you can do X.

This path got me looking at things on the GM side of things once again, and finding some really, really nice products that would be a lot of fun to use from the other side of the screen.  Fire Mountain Games' Way of the Wicked evil adventure path has been a blast to read so far.  I missed looking at the excellent toys for the Pathfinder game that Super Genius Games releases consistently.

Now, this kind of emotional separation and return isn't new for me.  I go through it with Star Wars and superheroes all of the time.  There comes a time when you have to sit down and figure out what your emotional attachment to something springs from, focus on what you really get out of that attachment, and then not worry about the other stuff that gets on your nerves, or at least gets to the heart of that consternation and move on.

Pathfinder is never going to be the "be all end all" of my RPG experience as it was for a while.  I'll always be annoyed that people put Paizo on a pedestal and think that the only way to express their appreciation of a product is to tell everyone at the company that they can do no wrong.  I'll shake my head when I read about edition wars, since every form of D&D and its children are inherently flawed and illogical, and their appeal is almost completely emotion-based.

Understand what you love, and why, but don't be afraid to tell people when you think they have made a mistake, or when their products or directions don't serve your needs.  If you don't, you only have yourself to blame when you realize that the idols of game design that you worship aren't really making a game just for you.  You are a consumer, not a buddy or a pal, and if you don't maintain that distance, eventually you will be reminded of that reality.

Be a fan of an individual product, of an idea.  Not a company or a person.  Companies need to do what they need to do to survive.  People make mistakes.  Once a product is out the door, you know what it is.  Once an idea is out there, it is what it is.  Figure out what you really care about, and cut away the rest.  I'll try to do that myself, but it's not always easy.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

John Carter and the Marketing from Hell

My wife and I both went to see John Carter last weekend.  My wife had no interest in seeing it initially, but I talked her into going to see it with me.  Her impressions were based on:

1.  The name  ("What is it even about?")

2.  The trailers  ("What is it even about?")

Now, I know that my wife has a strong geek streak.  Our first conversation when we met ended up drifting into Dune  (ha!  Dune . . . drift . . . eh, nevermind).  I had a very strong feeling that if I could get her in the theater she would enjoy the movie.

She really enjoyed it.  I really enjoyed it.

So why is this movie doing badly?

There are all sorts of theories out there, many of which have to do with the marketing of the movie, which I tend to agree is quite lacking.  But why would Disney spend all of that money making the movie and kill it with bad marketing?

Because the suits don't get pulp.  Pulp is about action and and keeping the story movie.  Yes, there are places where the story slows down, but nothing is perfect.

In pulp, if you want to show depth, you do it quick and symbolically.  If you can't explain someone's emotional state with an expression or a glance or a very quick cut, then you aren't doing it right.

While the movie has some brilliant special effects, they are part of telling the story.  The actors are in the foreground doing stuff and moving the plot forward, so sometimes you take the neat special effects for granted, not because they aren't cool, but because they are doing their job as background.

You don't have the ponderous look around the CGI landscape like you have in the Star Wars prequels or Avatar, where the point of some scenes really is just to paint the entire scene digitally.  I'm not criticizing those movies for having those scenes, just point out that CGI isn't a genre, it's a tool.

On top of that, John Carter is a pulp man of action.  He can be a jerk  (an entertaining jerk though), and at times he just does what he needs to do.  There is much talking about feelings, and the steps of romance are not carefully delineated by "symbolic," as I mentioned above.

So the marketing guys don't have a long ponderous scene where they can do "Marvel at the amazing CGI landscapes and aliens slowly walking through them so you can see the textures."  They don't have a scene where they can say, "Sigh as the hero gazes longingly into the heroine's eyes and professes his love for her and his complex, conflicted feelings about his deep emotional state."

There is some of both of that in the movie, and the pacing isn't always as breakneck as it should be for a pulp story, but at the same time, things keep moving enough that it just seems like you should show people the action when you make your trailer, and boy do the marketing guys pick the wrong action most of the time.

Honestly, one of the most broadcast scenes in the trailers immediately brings to mind the arena fight in Star Wars Episode II, which is ironic, since I'm pretty sure the literary subject matter is what inspired that scene in Star Wars.

Plus, I have to say, the naming convention was terrible.  They really thought John Carter of Mars would turn people off?  I mean, even if people did like the trailers they saw, are they really going to remember, when they are deciding on a movie on a Saturday afternoon, that that movie with the guy and the swords and the big white apes was John Carter?

Hell, I wonder how many people went to teen comedy party gone wrong movie # 347,865,003 Project X because they thought it was the science fiction movie.

Also, I've read a few people questioning if Lynn Collins was "hot" enough to be Dejah Thoris.

Lynn Collins is absolutely gorgeous.  Enthralling.  I was more than happy to just look at her in every scene she was in.

And in conclusion, if you want to do a sidekick right, make them cute and unable to speak.  I want a calot.  Woola was adorable even when he was eating people's heads.

Game Night: Rogue Trader--In the Beginning (March 17th, 2012)

Thursday night was the first night of my Rogue Trader game, marking now the 2nd campaign I'm currently running.  Thankfully I've been spinning my wheels thinking about running a Rogue Trader game for a while, so I've had a few ideas bouncing around my brain for a while.

Our intrepid Rogue Trader is the heir to House Malifaux.  With only two ships left, the Lux Invictus (the flagship) and the Gilded Scepter, the Gilded Scepter is taken by pirates and our intrepid Rogue Trader is ransomed back to his family and left on a "nearly" deserted rock.  Nearly, since there were some ork freebooterz on the rock, and the one that survived started following the "brutally cunning" Rogue Trader around.

Our crew consists of a Renegade House Navigator, an Astropath Transcendent, an Arch Militant that would be at home in a western, an Explorator, who was head of operations on the Lux Invictus before the flagship was given back to the Rogue Trader, and the aforementioned Ork Freebooter.

Given the family ship to repair the family fortune, the our Arch Militant is called out by an old rival.  Said rival is accompanied by his big Ogryn buddy.  My initial thought was that the bounty hunter and his big friend would either start a fight right out in the open, leading to a fight and some fast talking or running by the Rogue Trader and his crew, or the bounty hunter and his big friend become a recurring rival for Remington.

Instead, the Rogue Trader summons the bounty hunter to the family grounds on Port Wander, schedules a duel, and tells the Arch Militant that if he looses the duel, he's going to kill him  (yes, if he looses, which would mean he was dead . . . ).  The duel went on way too long  (in part because the bounty hunter got lucky, in part because Remington wasn't using all of his Arch Militant tricks . . . we're all still getting used to the game, and only one of us has played Rogue Trader before).

However, while the duel was a bit lackluster, the sidelines were hilarious.  The Astropath started speaking to the Ogryn on the sideline, who immediately assumed that a voice in his head must be the emperor.  Once the Astropath figured this out, he told the Ogryn that if his friend died, it means he should listen to the Rogue Trader as an agent of the Emperor's will.

The Ogryn was also in front of an ornate gate on the grounds of the estate, and as such thinks that big shiny gates are where the Emperor likes to talk to people.  After his friend died, Pat the Ogryn became the first named NPC member of the crew.

The party's navigator did a fine job navigating the Warp and finding the Astronomican, but not so great a job of finding a good exit point from the Warp.  The first exit nearly crashed the Lux Invictus into a moon, causing the Explorator to do an emergency procedure to kill on engine and restart it to allow the ship to avoid the moon.  The second exit bounced the Lux Invictus off of a Stryxis Caravan ship.  No major damage, just an interesting first impression.

The party also found out that the Ork, for all of his enthusiasm, has proven to be a good pilot whenever they let him fly the shuttle.

The party picked up Medea, a warp witch with ties to the house patriarch, and went to cut a deal to secure an artifact known as the Cauldron Annulus.  Meeting with the aforementioned Stryxis merchant, they found out that he would trade the information for a service they could perform.

All he wanted them to do is convince a garrison of Imperial Guards to leave an outpost long enough for some Eldar to retrieve an item they left behind on that world.  The Explorator, already upset by stepping down from command and having an ork and a warp witch on his ship, is a big advocate of double crossing the Eldar, the Astropath and Navigator are in talks to figure out how to fake a distress call that won't come back on the ship, and the Rogue Trader doesn't want to double cross the Eldar because he wants to keep his new contacts, including the Stryxis, in good standing.

The Arch Militant and the Ork went below decks to find a fight club, makes some bets, and further lower ship morale and population due to the orks considerable melee skills.

It seemed that everyone was having a good time.  There was lots of laughing, to the point that I thought I had killed Loquacious.  Thankfully, she survived.  I did feel bad because the Arch Militant and the Ork Freebooter are definitely built for fightin' . . . but there was a lot of talking and planning this session, especially as an opening chapter.  I shall endeavor to make sure they have more to kill and maim in the future.  As it stands, I hope everyone had as much fun playing as I did running.

Now, on the topic of the actual game . . . Fantasy Flight makes really pretty books.  They write really evocative information.  For the most part, I like how the rules work.  For a game that looks complicated, its not too hard to follow how all of the moving parts work, although things slow down a bit when you get to high damage types calculating all of that damage.  However, despite all of the pros . . . Fantasy Flight has a knack for hiding fairly important rules in strange corners of their rulebooks.  Somewhere, somehow, there has to be some way for FF to take another pass to clarify and properly connect a few rules here and there.

Plus, man, Orks are monsters.  Rogue Trader may be between Dark Heresy and Deathwatch, but Orks are way closer to the Deathwatch side of things, it appears.

Oh, and before I forget, one of my players ordered a Battlefleet Gothic ship to represent the ship in case they got into space combat  (I feel bad, because I just had a couple of Star Trek ship minis from WizKids in case something happened).  When the ship came in  (ha!), it was in about a billion pieces . . . with no instructions.  One of the folks on the Dakka Dakka forums summed it up this way . . . "If you put it together and it looks like it's suppose to, you did it right.  If you put it together and it doesn't, then its a custom job."

Blog Directions

I'm starting to wonder if I might change up how I post a bit.  I really like my campaign pages for my games that I have up at Epic Words, but they feel strangely bare without game summaries.  That having been said, part of the point of this blog is to pretty much just catalog one gamer's journey through, well, gaming, and my game nights are the primary part of that.

I'm wondering if I can split my "personality" and talk more about the players and the general impressions, etc. on the blog, and go for a "just the facts" recap on the Epic Words site, with perhaps a link back and forth between the two sites.  I just don't want to end up writing essentially the same recap in both places, and my informal conversational tone here isn't quite what I want for a recap on the campaign site.

My DC Adventures game site has recaps in the form of headlines from various news sites without giving away the details.  I kind of like that, but in retrospect, I wouldn't mind having a more specific layout for the recaps.

That having been said, I need to at least get my awesome Rogue Trader game posted, and then I'll cogitate a bit more on the whole issue.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pre-Game Show: Rogue Trader Eve (3-14-12)

I hate being sick.  Again.  For the second time this year.

Anyway, I'm sure many people are way ahead of me, but beyond just adding stuff that my players might remember, like NPCs and places, I kept thinking that there was more that I could do with my Epic Words site.

Then it occurred to me.

I can set up wikis that only I can see.

That means I can write up my outline for an adventure and set it so that only I can see it.  As long as I have access to my Epic Words site, I can look at my outline.  Don't need to type it up separately, and I can look up the NPCs that I couldn't list yet and add them in after the session.

Yup, go ahead.  Tell me if you use Epic Words and you thought of this SOOOO long ago that it's sad that I even brought it up.

Anyway, really looking forward to tomorrow night's Rogue Trader session.  Just hoping my voice recovers a bit by the time I'm running.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Game Night: Pathfinder One Shot (3-10-12)

Our regularly scheduled GM had health issues, and asked me if I could run a one shot for our Thursday group on Tuesday night.  I agreed, and more or less bit off more than I could chew.

Long story short, one of the few adventures that I had read recently was probably best for 5th level characters.  I had  list of things to throw together and 7 pregenerated characters to make, but when I got home from work Wednesday, I found that I had no power.

I attempted to work out of McDonald's but in the end, it wasn't going to happen. I got through four of the seven pregens.

Making 5th level pregens for Pathfinder is a pain.  Pathfinder is not the easiest game to utilize for a spur of the moment one shot, but my go to games for one shots, Mutants and Masterminds and Savage Worlds, are not the game being played in the slot, and I didn't want to ask anyone to play something they weren't showing up to play.

Another one of the players had a Pathfinder Society adventure prepped from when he had already run it, so he offered to run that with our existing Shackled City 7th level characters.  We all said great, and sat down to play.

Kobold Diplomats

The set up for an adventure, and the underlying assumptions of the campaign, can shade how any adventure is presented.  Pathfinder Society modules are written assuming the PCs work for the Pathfinder Society, and they are receiving a job from someone that they have already agreed to take orders from.

Without that framing device, the adventure came across as a bit more forced upon our characters.  It's not our GMs fault, it just didn't gel the way the adventure would if we all worked for some group that we already agreed to work for.  So right from the start our characters were a bit more adversarial towards the NPCs than we might have otherwise been.

Now, we probably could have gone out of our way to be more cordial, and perhaps played our characters as if they were just a character that happened to have the exact same stats as our Shackled City characters.  Unfortunately, we are all pretty set on how our characters act and react, and we were playing our normal, jaded, lovable selves.

I won't give away any details, since its a PFS adventure, but it also doesn't help to be given a diplomatic mission where the targets of your diplomacy attack and ambush you at every turn.

Still, despite the frustration of being given orders by people we have no reason to listen too, and being attacked by the guys that we actually tried to talk to diplomatically, I really appreciate our GM stepping up to run the adventure when I failed in my prep time.  We got to sit around and act up and game with friends, which is the important thing.

I also picked up the Pathfinder Beginner Box, mainly because I wanted to check out the tokens, as I might be interested in the Bestiary Box coming out later this year.  I like the "pawns" as I guess they are termed, and I'll be interested in picking up the Bestiary Box when it comes out, despite having drastically slowed down my Pathfinder expenditures.