Sunday, June 24, 2012

My Spider-Movie Senses are Tinglings . . .

It occurs to me that I never blogged about the Avengers.  Insert this into your personal time stream the day after the movie released:

Wow!  Go see this movie!  Often!  It's amazingly awesome!

Okay, now that that's out of the way, I was thinking today about Spider-Man movies past, what was done right, and what was done wrong.  I really hope Amazing Spider-Man is . . . well, amazing.  Spidey is one of my favorites, and I want this to give me the same kind of grown up comic book geek fuzzy feeling I got watching Avengers.

So, in my pointless yet still oft expressed opinion, what was right and what was wrong about previous Spider-Man offerings?

Spider-Man


The Good:  The origin was spot on, including the awesome sequence with Randy Savage in the wrestling ring.  Well, it was spot on, except for one thing  (see below).  Willem Dafoe was an awesome Norman Osborn.  J.K. Simmons should have been voted J. Jonah Jameson for life.

The Bad:  Organic web shooters  (not a deal breaker, just took away from Pete being a science geek and took away a complication, i.e. running out of web fluid), Kirsten Dunst as MJ  (I'm an MJ fan that didn't like the marriage being erased, but not only was Dunst wrong for the part, they way overplayed MJ being the center of Pete's universe), Green Goblin's costume, restaging the Goblin/Spidey fight where Gwen Stacy died and robbing it of it's emotional effect by inserting MJ and having her survive.

Overall:  It was a win.  There were mistakes made, but overall the movie seemed to "get" Spider-Man, even if they make standard Hollywood mistakes with the script  ("yeah, Pete's got a million things going on, but we have to shove the love story into all of it now!").



Spider-Man 2


The Good:  Doctor Octopus looks a thousand times better on screen that Green Goblin did.  When he's actually being a villain, Alfred Molina is a great Otto Octavius  (more on that later).  JK Simmons is still Jonah.  The overall theme of Pete's life going to crap and him still fighting on, even after some doubts,  is spot on from the comics.  From the perspective of just this movie and the potential for the future, the foreshadowing of Harry finding his father's gear and Doc Conners making an appearance could have been great, and not overplayed.

The Bad:  Yes, make Otto a nice guy that goes nuts.  Don't go overboard on making him sympathetic, especially not with a love interest.  And don't give his vicious villain turn an on off switch.  You want to make him tragic, make his personality switch permanent!  Dunst continues to be bad as MJ, and then gets worse.  On top of that, the sub-plot with her marrying JJJ's son is pointless and only serves to make her seem like a flighty girl with no personality.

Overall:  No too bad.  The fights between Spidey and Doc Ock are a lot stronger overall than Spidey versus Green Goblin.  Ock holds up as a great villain right up to the end where they have to make him into an innocent victim again.  The film holds up, but there is every more standard Hollywood crap creeping in, most of it personified by Kirsten Dunst.



Spider-Man 3


The Good:  I didn't go see this in theaters and waited until it was on cable.  I didn't have a stroke watching it.  I'm having a really hard time here.

The Bad:  First, and admonition.  If you don't want to do something the way your bosses want you to do it, don't do it for the express purpose of screwing up.  Just let someone else do it that actually can do the job.  Seriously.  If you have Venom and Sandman in a movie, you don't make Sandman your lead villain.  You never, ever, cast Topher Grace to play someone that is suppose to be intimidating.  Creepy maybe, but not intimidating  (oddly, I could see him playing Cletus Cassidy/Carnage).  You don't introduce Gwen Stacy once the seminal scene that she should have been in has come and gone.  You don't waste a future villain like the next Green Goblin the way they did in this movie.  And you don't have a magic butler that suddenly fixes everything that he could have fixed back at the end of the first movie.

Overall:  I'm still looking for a Kickstarter for a time travel project that is aimed at specifically stopping this movie from ever being made.


I'm not expecting Amazing Spider-Man to be a Batman Begins, I'm just hoping that it is at least an Incredible Hulk.

Post Mortem: DC Adventures (Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition Game Engine)

If you have been following my blog, you might have noticed that:

A.  I have been running a DC Adventures campaign for a while now, and

B.  it recently ended.

After running my Star Wars Saga campaign and my Pathfinder campaigns, I wrote post-mortem posts for those games, detailing how well the game system worked over time. Its only fair to apply that same treatment to DC Adventures.

DC Adventures is a separate game that uses the same engine  (but is completely compatible with) as Mutants and Masterminds 3e.  Some of what I'm saying has to do with DC Adventures as a stand alone game, and some of it focuses on the official builds of the characters in the game. Other commentary relates to the core mechanics, common to both DC Adventures and Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition.

First off, I really enjoyed the game.  Unlike my Star Wars and Pathfinder games, this game actually pretty much ran a natural "beginning, middle, and end" arc that told a story.  Great players, interesting characters.



The Good

The d20 resolution mechanic for the game is familiar to d20 RPG players, but is much more flexible. More of the game's resolution is defined by the core d20 mechanic than in other d20 games.  For example, you don't track hit points separately, you track a penalty to your toughness check, which determines if you are still up and kicking.

Hero points are fun to hand out. They give the players some control over their own fate, especially when using options like editing scenes and the stunting powers to do things not on their character sheet.  It is also nice for the GM to have an official "rule breaker" meta rule that lets him hand out a hero point to to those affected when he breaks the rules to move the story forward.

Power Stunts, Artiface, Invention, and Rituals allow for a lot of effects and powers to be used in the game that don't require the player to buy powers they hardly ever use, and allow for the characters to do those "once in million" tricks that super heroes often pull out of their hats.

Challenges are a quickly resolved version of what other games try to do with complex skill checks or Skill Challenges, but with the degrees of success and failure rules, it's much easier and more logical to determine how these play out.

The effects based powers are very flexible building blocks that can be used to assemble more complex rules that might otherwise be difficult to model. Afflictions, in particular, a great way to model powers that hinder opponents without directly harming them, in a number of ways.



The Bad

The range of the d20 means that you can have a tough, heavy hitter go down fairly quickly if you roll really low right off the bat.

Without more detailed guidelines on how to use the "hero point payoff" to let the GM bend the rules, it can feel very arbitrary when you decide to invoke your "right" to do this as a GM.  If you have players that are very trusting of their GM, it works okay, but even if they trust the GM, players that are used to game systems with more detailed rules for GM "rule breaking" might not feel as if the hero point payout is a satisfying mechanic.

While the "building block" approach to building powers from effects is great, it means that people trying to take advantage of Power Stunts, Inventions, etc. might be reluctant to do so, or even slow down the game trying to build "on the fly powers." There aren't many example "pre-built" powers, outside of the hero and villain builds  (and more about that later).

Challenges are mentioned very briefly and without much in the way of examples. If you blink, you probably might miss them, and if you only have the DCA books, you may never end up using Challenges in your game.

For a game that is moving towards a "trust your GM" and "tell a good story over mechanics" approach, several rules are needlessly complicated, like a throwback to the more "nitpicky" d20 rules that the game was based on.  Environmental adaptions, immunities, and senses are all examples of rules that have finicky minutia involved.

It really seems like if you want to play a speedster that isn't immune to friction, or an aquatic character that isn't immune to deep sea pressure, you would take that as a complication, rather than buying those adaptions for your character.  There are so many tacked on extras for senses that I continually forgot what they meant, and I don't think once in a year of playing any of them ever came up.

Abilities scores are a little superfluous.  You can buy most of the what they do separately, and they don't evenly effect game stats, yet all cost the same to advance.  Another pass on the rules and the will to do so could have eliminated ability scores from the game altogether.



The Official Problem

I'm creating a separate section to talk about the official builds because, while some are great, some aren't, but I don't want to bounce around and give the impression that my complaints about the official builds have anything to do with "X has ranks of this obscure power he hasn't used in 10 years."

Most of the builds in the Heroes and Villains books are great.  Some of them are not.  However, what is most jarring is that there is a lack of editorial discipline on the project.  Not about typos or game rules mistakes, but in the overall feel of the book.

I know that there are a lot of freelancers working on the book.  I also know that there are a lot of ways to express the same powers with the tools provided.  That having been said, the format for different characters and teams are all over the place.

I don't care if one character that can blast people and create objects doesn't have his powers built like another character, but if you are going to put the stats for an item that defines a lantern corp in one entry, you should probably do the same for all of the lantern corps.

If you have a character that has had multiple incarnations, and one entry has a sidebar about their Bronze, Silver, or Golden Age versions, you should probably have something similar for any character that has other version.  I know some versions are really obscure, but in some cases, the omission is glaring.

For example, from the DCA books you would never know there was ever another Tattooed Man, but you have details on everyone that has ever been called Starman.  You have sidebars on the silver age versions of Pied Piper and the Top, but Mongul's entry doesn't even touch on his bronze age appearances, and handwaves "Mongul" as more or less a family of aliens that have been a pain to Superman and the lantern corps.

There isn't a uniformity of style or format, and this creates a disconnect when viewing similar characters that may have been written by different creators.



Meta-Issues

I don't want to point fingers, but this game is a nightmare from a publishing standpoint.  Originally a product line that was going to support DC Comics 75th Anniversary in 2010, the line was still not complete as of 2012.

DC Comics, before this line was even finished, rebooted the entire universe.

I don't know who is responsible for what, though I have my theories.  What is in evidence is that this line of books seems to be taking much longer to publish than originally planned.  This seems to have the effect of not only dragging out how long it takes of DC Adventures to be completed, as a line of products, but seems to be causing issues for the main Mutants and Masterminds line as well.

I think, the lack of an editorial template is at least partially related to the fact that this project has taken so much extra time, so that even more delays to create a better feel of uniformity would have seriously hurt sales.

Whatever the case, it's a problem.  No matter how big a fan you are of DC Comics, taking this long to put out four books, missing the 75th Anniversary by two years, and publishing this material after the entire universe has been rebooted has to take some of the wind out of the sails (and sales).



Overview

I really do like the core system that powers DC Adventures.  However, DCA by itself is not as robust as I would like in order to run a campaign.  If it weren't for the additional M&M releases such as the Gamemaster's Guide and some of the examples given in the Power Profiles and Threat Reports, I would have been more frustrated as a GM.

I really wish that the Heroes and Villains books had been supplements to Mutants and Masterminds instead of a separate line, and that more of the M&M products would have gotten out the door at this point.  I wish there was more uniformity in the builds and presentation.

Like the DC Universe itself, I love so many of the elements that I can't help but buy this stuff, and give it a whirl for a campaign, but there is so much potential that wasn't realized that it's frustrating.  Great elements, great material, not tied together as well as it could have been.

Game Night: Pathfinder Undead Apocalypse with Godlings (June 24th, 2012)

I'm a little late with this particular post, but our Thursday Pathfinder game, which was playing the Shackled City AP, then was a series of one shots while we were transitioning to a new GM, has settled into the new campaign.

Originally, I had intended to take over and run the Way of the Wicked AP by Fire Mountain Games, but at the time, I was still running two other games  (DC Adventures and Rogue Trader).  My DC Adventures game has come to an end, but I still wasn't quite ready to jump back into the Pathfinder GM seat, so HangedFool stepped up with an idea that he had wanted to run for a while.

Originally, the game was suppose to start out with the world  (Golarion, in this case) having suffered a demonic incursion and an undead apocalypse 1000 years ago, and the group would be clerics just setting out to secure the world for what's left of the population.

Genius Guide to the Godling


For various and sundry reasons, this idea morphed into everyone starting out as a Godling  (from Super Genius Games), as the gods have had children specifically so that they could fix the problems and get to the bottom of the demon-undead issues.

Genius Guide to the Mystic Godling


For some inexplicable reason, I had it firmly affixed in my head that I needed to make a character based on Randy Savage, complete with doing the voice all night long.  His name is Mario, and he's the son of Kurgess, the god of strength and competition.  Mario is big on pushing himself past his bounds to learn what he is capable of, and a big believer in "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."



Thus far, we have be lauded as city heroes, we were thrown into a gladiatorial style area as our final test before heading out into the wide world, got attacked by a ton of increasingly powerful undead, then found out that "something went wrong" and rushed out of the arena while angels covered our retreat from a nasty fiendish thingy that was way too powerful for us to take.

We ended up in a monastery filled with books about our destiny, and filled with monks that are suppose to help prep us to go out into the world and save it.  We managed to zip right to 2nd level, and I chose to stay a Godling for level two.

Genius Guide to the Godling Ascendant


Notable developments:  One member of the party is a goblin that doesn't speak common.  Everything I have said to him has been mistranslated by our vicious psycho of a halfling, thus giving the goblin a very different view of our relationship than I have.

I had a lot of fun, as I got to ham it up quite a bit and it's a much different set up then I've had for a Pathfinder game in a while.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Game Night: DC Adventures--The End of an Era (June 18th, 2012)

This past Tuesday marked the end of my year long DC Adventures campaign.  Given where I am in my life, that's a pretty serious investment.  The game went from PL 10 to PL 12  (after a correction I made after letting half the party go to PL 14 for a while) and we played pretty much every other week for four hours a night, with very few people ever missing the game.



After the wedding, the group met up with the Phantom Stranger, who gave them a chance to live their lives as they would have progressed if they had not been trapped behind one of the Time Trapper's artificial reality barriers set up to generate Hypertime.  After exhaustive discussions about how comic book time travel and alternate realities work  (which is to say pulling stuff out off my rear end and then trying to think of comics that supported my wonky explanations), Fahrenheit, Myrmidon, and Marathon decided to go to their alternate lives.



Thankfully, I had planned ahead so that this last event would still go off, even if some of the party moved on.  In short order, the group had recruited Mongal, Solomon Grundy, and Artemis  (formerly Wonder Woman).  They set off to Paradise Island to save the world from an escaping Chronos.

On the island, they fought a thousand or so demons and shades, using the mass combat rules from the Gamemaster's Guide.  Then they descended into Tartarus and watched Darkseid disintegrate his "dupe" Ares, revealing that the potentially escaping Titans were a ruse to bring out the people that blew up Olympus on him.



At this point, several hundred parademons attacked, again, using the mass combat rules.  The group took them out fairly quickly, and then Paradox got really big and fell on Darkseid.  Then Paradox got juggled a few times, as Paradox was lifted up so everyone could hit Darkseid, then dropped back on Darkseid, then Darkseid blasted Paradox up in the air, and let him slam down again.



Lots of team attacks on Darkseid, especially since the group had a troupe of Amazons with them  (again, using the mass combat rules).  Darkseid failed, and the group even managed to keep Kalibak from pulling his father back home through a Boom Tube.



Thus ended the campaign.  From the beginning I wanted the group to have one major "save the world moment" after the JLA returned, to make sure the party didn't feel as if they suddenly didn't matter now that the JLA was back.

What did I have planned way back when I started?  I wanted the PCs to work for Amanda Waller.  I wanted them to have to round up villains that got out due to a breakout.  I wanted them to have a Swamp Thing/Alec Holland moment and find out something shocking about themselves  (i.e. they had been dead).  I wanted them to travel through time, deal with alternate realities, and learn how people in the DCU think the multiverse works, and then I wanted to make the multiverse work the way it did before the Crisis on Infinite Earths.  I wanted the main villain to be the Time Trapper, because it made more sense than anything.  I wanted them to have to deal with Darkseid, and I wanted them to be the ones to save the JLA, et al.



The only thing I really jettisoned from my original ideas about campaign highlights had to do with finding an alternate reality version of the New Gods, where Darkseid was Good King Uxas and was the good guy and Highfather of New Genesis was Big Daddy, who would be decked out like a Jack Kirby cosmic pimp, with a wide brimmed hat and cane and the whole nine yards.  These guys were suppose to be the New Gods in the Crime Syndicate's alternate reality.  I couldn't quite make it fit organically, so I didn't use it.

Oh, and I was going to have the group fight the Royal Flush Gang, but by the time I had stats for them (I kept putting off making my own), they had appeared in Justice League:  Doom, and I didn't want to look like I was just throwing stuff into the campaign that I just saw the night before.  Given that the fight was more to establish something than actually advance the plot  ("every version of the League ends up fighting these guys"), it wasn't a big sacrifice.



We all had fun, and it was very gratifying and humbling to hear my players talk about enjoying the campaign.  I have been very blessed to have the crew that I have, and they carried me on a lot of nights when my ideas alone would not have been nearly as entertaining as the direction they pursued.

I do know I was way too clumsy in how I hammered home the multiverse and alternate realities in the last two sessions, especially knowing that the group was already a bit burned out on those elements.  As a GM, I really dropped the ball on my tactics for both the Time Trapper and Darkseid, and as a result, both major boss fights seemed less epic than I would have liked them to feel.  My last appearance of the Phantom Stranger was really just suppose to be an excuse to hand out hero points and to give the team a reason to take point in the final mission, but I should have heeded that the Phantom Stranger had already wore out his welcome, and probably telegraphed and framed the choice he gave them much better than I did.

Thank you to all of my players for an excellent campaign.  Thank you to anyone that has indulged me and read this campaign as it has developed.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Look, Up In The Sky . . . It's Another Superman DTV Movie! (Superman versus the Elite)

Just a quick note on Superman Versus The Elite, which I watched this weekend.  I don't think I would call it "fun," but I'd definitely skew towards saying it's "worth watching" if you like comic book geekery and have any level of affection for Kal-El.  The main reason I hold back on saying fun is, from mid-movie to the climax, it gets a bit brutal an intense.


One of the things that I liked about it was that it's pretty clear that Superman doesn't think that lethal force, in and of itself, is the problem.  It's that people that have a gift and that act as "do gooders" are active in the world, it's their responsibility to do things the "hard way" so that they set the standard.



In other words, if the supers almost never resort to lethal force, then if the "normals" fall short of this lofty goal, they use lethal force rarely and with fairly good reason.  If the supers resort to lethal force when someone "deserves it," that sets a standard and means that the "normals" might be more likely to take extreme actions based on their regard for the perpetrator, not the degree of force needed to stop the perpetrators actions.

It's very interesting to me, because, agree or not, it reinforces a discussion I had with one of my players recently about the differences between DC and Marvel characters, at least traditionally.  DC characters tend to live apart from the world.  Oh, they patrol for bad guys and save the planet, but they are, in many ways, their own separate society.

Marvel characters tend to be "in the world," not apart from it.  While there are clearly moral standards, and they are high  (just ask Spidey about that whole great power thing), Marvel heroes tend to be more likely to do something because it is right, personally, and less likely to do it because they are paragon of morality that will be scrutinized   (note, I'm saying this tends to be the case, not that it's the case for every character).



All of that aside, it's not a bad movie.  As I said, it feels very brutal from about the middle on, and I have to say, I think they could have made a stronger case for the Atomic Skull's incarceration, since he was much more of a corner case villain than your run of the mill costumed criminal.  Not to mention that it's kind of hard to picture the Atomic Skull being placed in a local prison that can't quite handle his abilities instead of Belle Reve or some other major federal super villain lock-up.

Still, that's a nit-pick that won't matter to people that are just watching this at face value without any other DC Universe lore to get in the way.

The animation was not my favorite.  While the DC Animated movies have utilized a more cartoony look before, for example, on Public Enemies, that style matched the artwork in the original comic much more than this style seemed to match the source material.  I can only assume that there was some kind of point that the producers were trying to make about the simplistic style and the overall theme of the piece, but the animation just wasn't attractive and often felt out of place as the story got progressively more brutal.



One piece of the animation, strangely, did work for me.  The Lois character model for this movie was adorable, and Pauley Perrette made for a very convincing, energetic, and sarcastic voice for Lois.  I hope she gets the gig again in the future.

I'd rank this one behind All-Star Superman as far as the solo Superman flicks go, but ahead of Doomsday.

What's Going On

My DC Adventures campaign came to an end last Tuesday.  It was a great campaign.  In my entire gaming life, there are only a handful of campaigns that I will remember as fondly.

It is amazing and very satisfying that I could actually do the write ups that I did on the characters for this blog and actually "get" the characters well enough to encapsulate them.  My players expressed them and developed them that well.

I am humbled that my players regard my GMing skills well, despite the fact that I know I had off nights, and I know I hit some notes too hard or too often.  I am often perplexed at anyone having an overly positive view of my GMing skills when I can see so many things I wish I could have done better, and the places I know could use improvement.

I had initially wished to run a Mutants and Masterminds game with this same group of players at the game store.  I came up with a few themes, and my players picked one of them.  I wrongly allowed them to get excited over this idea, given my later decision.

Last night I sent out an e-mail to my players saying that I'm not going to run this campaign.  I thought I'd go ahead and elaborate here.  There are multiple reasons, all of which play into my decision to a greater or lesser extent.

1.  Game Store Games--One of my players actually owns the game store.  I do not mean to usurp his ability to make a decision, but from my point of view, the more I look at it, the more I don't think that me running another game in this slot is the best thing for the store.

Why?  I think you allow people to run games at a game store is to attract gamers that don't have a regular group or don't have a place to run a game.  Seeing a game that is currently in print being run also gives potential customers a chance to see the game and, if they like what they see, to buy the game after the "demo."

On top of that, a group that is actively playing a game buys supplements for the game, and keeps products moving, and seeing those products at the game table shows the people watching the "demo" how supplements play into the game.

So I think it's important for new people to be able to run a game, new people to be able to run a game, and new product to have a chance to move.  After having a (thankfully) stable group for a year, and most Mutants and Masterminds games being released only digitally, I honestly believe that this game really isn't doing much to promote new product moving or to do much for the store.

2.  Prep Work--While I have had a bit of an epiphany regarding prep work and how to schedule it thanks to Never Unprepared, this Tuesday game has been getting the short end of the stick ever since I started running the Rogue Trader game.  Thursday I run Rogue Trader, then the following Tuesday, I run M&M/DCA.

Despite all logic, weekends are the worst time for me to prep, given that I could have a lot of time, but there are also more variable at play on a weekend than during the week.  By far this is not the biggest factor in my decision, but it is at least a bit of a concern, and given that I just wrapped up this campaign, but there isn't an end in sight for the Rogue Trader game, it makes more sense to expand my ability to make the Rogue Trader game a positive experience.

Plus, there are plenty of 40K RPG supplements to move, unlike the anemic supply of M&M 3e material coming out of Green Ronin.

3.  Environmental Factors--I don't hear particularly well out of one ear, and from time to time my ear problems flare up.  Even at my best, lots of ambient noises can disorient me and it takes an act of will to focus on what I'm doing.

While it is entirely understandable, the store has grown, and they have responded to the needs of their customer base, and there are a lot more gamers in the store for other events on Tuesday night.  This is good for the store, and this is good for the customers that now have a place to find other gamers and a place to play.

This is problematic for me, as I'm getting confused and disoriented a lot, and I feel like I'm off my game a lot.  I feel like I'm getting lost in my own head, that I'm missing a lot more from my players, and that my players sometimes are catching what I'm saying.

This is no one's fault, it's just a circumstance of who I am and my limitations.  Thus far, the Thursday game isn't staged with quite as much ambient noise.

And before anyone says anything, I know I can be loud.  I like to make the excuse that it's a function of my poor hearing, but it could just be that I'm loud.  If that becomes a problem for anyone, I'll have to do what I can to make sure I'm not impeding anyone else's enjoyment of their own gaming experiences.

So, that's the long form version of "why I did what I did," because I can't shut up.  Thank you for everyone that humors me, both in reading the blog and having sat at one of my tables.  You deserve better that this humble host, but I'll try to do my best to entertain or at least not waste your time.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Engines of Construction: Engine Publishing's Never Unprepared

I picked up Engine Publishing's Never Unprepared earlier this week, and read through it.  Which is funny, because I actually pushed back preparing for a game in order to read a book about preparing for a game more effectively.  You would think this might have been somewhat unproductive, but oddly, it wasn't.



I run into a problem.  I like to be prepared.  However, I almost do a worse job of prepping for a game if I have more time than I do if I have less time.  However, if I have too little time, no matter how perfect my ideas are, I stress out and do a slap dash job that I'm not happy with.  I do my best, most satisfying work when I don't have to have it done right now, but I don't seem to have infinite amounts of time to prepare.

I fully believe I'm ADD.  I've never been diagnosed and I don't think I've suffered for it, per se, but I know that if you give me too much time, my brain wanders all over the place.  If I have a full weekend with no other obligations to prep a game, I'll fail, because I have so many ideas and so many tangents that I go on that I'll halfway create about three or four sessions, but none of them playable for my next session.



The best thing I got from this book was simply a model for breaking down the work that I'm doing when I am doing prep.  Between having some actual guidelines for steps to follow, and some rudimentary work on what days I should do those steps on in order to not have to do everything at the last minute, I actually found the two sessions I've prepped in the time since I've read the book to be less stressful.

There is lots of good, solid advice.  It's not 100% for everyone.  Some of it delves a bit too deeply into American Corporate Psychobabble  (and if anyone that is a fan, or even the writer himself, reads this, don't take this the wrong way, the vast majority of the book is wonderful, and there are people that such things appeal to and help.  Ever since my management days, such things always rub me the wrong way, and it's probably me, not them).

It does get a little repetitive, but then again, who is to say that that repetition didn't drive home some of the points better than I might have otherwise interpreted them?

I will say that I probably follow the exact steps within each phase a bit more loosely than presented in the book itself, but maybe that will change with time, or it's just an individual quirk.  Regardless of what the truth of the matter might be, the steps, and the discipline they force on you as a GM, are worth the time it takes to read through the book.

Game Night: Rogue Trader--The Two Shots Heard Round the World (June 10th, 2012)

I left my Rogue Trader group in fairly dire straights last session.  They tried to walk out of the Khorne fortress they were in, and ran smack dab into a heavy weapons team.  I was very worried about the group getting wiped out, but it actually didn't go too badly, because I forgot about a very important force in the 40K universe.  Chaos.



No, not the ruinous powers.  The randomness of dice.  The first action of the Arch-Militant was to fire both of his pistols and dive for cover.  He scored a righteous fury  (a critical hit in other systems, for those not versed in 40K isms), and drove one of the guys with the rocket launcher into critical damage.

Which in this case caused his ammo to go up, which affected his buddies, which caused their ammo to go up . . . rinse, repeat.

At the end of the fight, two of the PCs were down and had to burn fate points  (again, for the 40K uninitiated, that means they would be dead if they didn't have fate points to burn), but all of the bad guys were dead, and the ork and the Explorator . . . got better.

The Astropath picked up some very bad ju ju from outer space, in the form of a Chaos Sorcerer on it's way to the planet, but the group still risked running into the Spiky One by evacuating several surviving settlements on the planet, thus increasing their profit factor for this mission.

This particular encounter taught us two things:

1.  The spiky bits on Chaos stuff are antennae so that Choas gets better reception in space.

2.  It's very easy for an Astropath to forget what universe they are in  ("Lord Captain, I sense a disturbance" . . . "you were going to say 'in the Force' weren't you?")

They also picked up on a treasure map where the pirates were hiding their booty before they became more chaos obsessed.



Oh, and an inquisitor has been stowing away on the ship and wants Acrisius the Explorator to spy on the Rogue Trader and his family for the inquisition, and has more or less promised him the ship if he digs up enough dirt.

Extremely fun session.  I had a blast and I hope that my players all enjoyed it as well.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Are You Sure That's the Question You Want To Ask?

I read through the D&D Next playtest stuff.  Well, I skimmed through it once it started loosing my attention.  Then I got an e-mail asking me about the D&D Next playtest material.



I figured that if I went through the trouble downloading the material, I might as well actually let them know what I thought.

I got about halfway through the survey when it started to strike me that the assumption seemed to be "we know these elements are what we want in the game, were they fine tuned right?"

Now, I'll be fair, there is a section where they ask in general what you thought about a lot of the elements and had you rank them, but once you get past that, you shoot right into "so, how good is this, is it good enough for you to buy a lot, or good enough for you to just buy."

It just seems like they get very locked into "knowing" that they are onto the right path, and that all that really needs to be done is the fine tuning to make it "balance" right.  They are very focused on the rules, but not on the overall package.

What do I mean?  Nothing about this game jumps out at me.  The only compelling reason to play this version of the rules is if I'm the kind of guy that things role playing begins and ends with D&D.  If I want a fairly complex tactical examination of level based fantasy, well, Pathfinder is a lot more flavorful and developed.  If I want "old school" dungeon crawling, well, I'm starting to really like DCC.

There is no personality, no verve, no vitality to the playtest document.  And before you say, "it's a playtest document," I've seen the playtest documents for Pathfinder and DCC, and they both did a lot more to convey the "feel" of the RPG than these documents do.



It's just that WOTC seems so sure that the key is somewhere in the numbers.  It just seems like more and more D&D's claim to fame is "we still have Drizzt, Mind Flayers, and Beholders!"

But hey, what do I know.  This came from a playtest document and a survey.  I could be way off.


Reading Out Loud + Critical Hit Charts

After our DC Adventures game Tuesday night, I started reading through the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG book, with a special eye on the spellcasting mishaps and critical hits.  I've been keeping my eye on this thing for a while.



I'm not really what you would call an OSR guy.  I may have gotten burned out on the increasing complexity and ever expanding power creep in any 3.x version of the game, but that never really translated into me wanted to fall back to an earlier version of D&D.

That having been said, lots of guys that are into the OSR are kind of fun to read, so I follow a few OSR blogs and the like.  Even when I didn't agree with those blogs, lots of those thoughts helped me to examine and reflect on my own thoughts on the hobby and what I do and do not like in my RPGs.

Anyway, the reason that Dungeon Crawl Classics caught me attention was that it did something a little different than other OSR retro clones.  It makes a system that is similar to OSR D&D games, but isn't identical, and then patches on some stuff that, while not in earlier editions, takes inspiration from the same sources that the original rules took their inspiration from.



Let me just say, I don't know if this game works well or not.  I've not had a chance to play it, and I've only read part of the book thus far.  What I have read, I have liked, but let me make one disclaimer:

This is a game for playing a crazy fantasy campaign in a crazy setting that is greatly inspired by pulp fantasy but with a few other elements, with lots of stuff that doesn't quite make sense together if you think too hard, but you are suppose to think too hard about it.  You are suppose to grab a sword or a wand and blast things trying to kill you so you can get rich and famous or have an insane story about how you died spectacularly.



I'm not sure if it was the d20 boom following the OGL, or if it's roots go back further, but there is a vile and dangerous thought in RPG-dom, and that thought is that one game system should be able to handle anything.  There is not one perfect set of rules that will model everything perfectly and upon which you can throw any kind of campaign template upon, and expect it to work.

Dungeon Crawl Classics doesn't model the Lord of the Rings well.  That's too deliberate and noble for this type of game.  It doesn't model the political intrigue and incessant warfare of a Song of Ice and Fire.  It's way too gonzo and action oriented for that.  

To be honest, it doesn't even model it's own pulp roots well.  Bear with me here.  Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser and Conan aren't quite at home in a setting like this.  They run into crazy and raid tombs for gold and glory, but in a setting like DCC, it's not just one hero in a thousand that finds crazy . . . crazy lives right outside the damn town!

D&D, and now DCC, really created it's own strange reality that was inspired by a thousand different sources, but doesn't match any of them perfectly.  It is very much it's own genre, though I'm loathe to figure out what to call it.  Patchwork Crazy World Dungeon Fantasy?  

In fact, I'm starting to wonder, and feel free to call me out on this, because I'm not married to this position, if D&D (original) style roleplaying works best if the world is treated as only a shade more serious than your standard Paranoia campaign, and perhaps just a shade less serious than the over the top Warhammer settings.  

Meaning that the more serious you want your game to be, and the more you want to retell stories like LOTR and SOIF, the less you want a game where your fighter is getting blasted in the face by dragon fire and bitten twenty times by an ancient wyrm and surviving, no matter how abstract hit points are suppose to be.

Game Night: Shackled City Epilogue One Shot (June 2nd, 2012)

Our regular GM for the Shackled City campaign we have been playing set up a one shot to close the storyline before he moved on from the group.  Because we all threatened him with an all cleric party a few times, our pregens were all clerics that were warned by our gods about the bad stuff that happened because our regular characters TPKed back when they did.



In a shocking turn of events, Cauldron, the city built on a dormant volcano, has erupted.  None of us saw that coming.  Well, we did, but nevermind.  Cauldron is all erupty, and we approach the damned city, knowing there is some evil that our collective gods were concerned about.  There is a dragon circling around the city chasing quasits.

Another party might actually ask questions, but our dwarven cleric of Torm decided insult the dragon and force it to attack us.  Given the logic of building a city in a volcano, taunting a red dragon to attack us makes perfect sense.  Out of character we started taking bets on how many rounds before things went south.



Round one:  none of us could get to the dragon, which landed on the city walls.  His breath weapon didn't kill any of us . . . except my poor ranger/cleric's animal companion, who, oddly, failed his reflex save.  Bitey went away, I mourned, then shot a bunch of arrows that did no damage.

By round four, our dwarven cleric was dead, but we actually had the dragon dead soon after, and a timely Breath of Life kept the dwarf from moving beyond the "Mostly Dead" stage.

Inside the ruined city, we ran into a tiefling and two iron golems.  One of our clerics had a gauntlet that cast rusting touch and cackles.  It cackled a lot in this encounter.  As did I, when I got to massively perforate the tiefling, since the ranger half of my levels has evil outsider as it's favored enemy.



We save a noble, find out where the big bad is at, and find a massive construct tree with cages and people in them, and there is a monologue somewhere that sounds like "I'm evil, shoot me with your bow," until the magic words come up that the people in the tree are powering some kind of planar inversion thingie that will do bad things that involve Demon Lords and Evil Gods.

Well, even though my character is good, my god just talked to me not long ago and told me how important all of this stuff was.  Thousands and thousands of lives and maybe the world itself at stake.  Immediately I was reminded of the immortal words of the elven philosopher Leon'ard of NiMoy, who said . . . "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."



I'm not sure what it is about this campaign that brings out the extreme pragmatist in us, but apparently we all got the idea that the surest way to save the world would be to kill off the prisoners powering the magical tree construct thingie.  So the slaughter of innocents began.  Sad really, but we saved the planet, so our whole karmic thing should be okay, right?

Mister Rusty Glove killed the metal tree.  Then one of the evil baddies turned into a beholder and disintegrated our rusty glove cleric.  After singing a round of "Dust in the Wind" to mark his passing, we killed the beholder, and then found out one of the innocents was partially possessed by an evil god before we killed the whole slew of them, and we got to kill the orphan a second time.



Plus, the orphan counted as an evil outsider, so I got my favored enemy bonus!

Orphans vanquished, the world was saved, and we could start planning for our next campaign.  The next game is going to involved a post apocalyptic version of Golarion with all of us playing godlings more or less conceived to save the world.   My godling will be the son of Kurgess, god of strength and competition, and he shall sound like Randy Savage.



Game Night--DC Adventures: The Beginning of the End (of the Beginning?)(June 2nd, 2012)

I ran a session of the DC Adventures session that apparently my entire DCA crew thought was going to be the last session.  I guess I've been telling them so long that there was a definite endpoint to the campaign that they really started looking for where that end might be.

Last session the sub-space interference that was keeping interstellar travelers away fell, and a couple of Green Lanterns showed up.  This session, the group was all ready to finally go to the reality rift near Jupiter where the JLA/JSA/Titans disappeared months ago.



I decided to do something a little different for the beginning of the adventure, which only worked moderately well.  That's okay, though, because it informed what I may have done wrong.  See, the GLs showed the party a recording of what happened right before the device that tore a hole in reality went off, a transmission that just reached them once the sub-space interference cleared up.

Instead of just explaining what the party would be watching, I printed out some members of the Justice League and let them pick a member before the session started.  Here is where I think I made the mistake.  I was trying to be too clever, and had them pick, all secret like, without telling them what was going on.

Thus, I had Green Lantern  (John Stewart), Captain Atom, Superman, Flash, and Wonder Woman for the group to play, in a fight with the Sinestro Corps, to learn what happened leading up to the beginning of the campaign.



I have at least one player that isn't that familiar with established DC heroes, and my player that took Flash had little to do with him.  I tried to get a range of recognizable characters, but looking back, I should have given them at least some information.  As a GM, if you want your players to play along, sometimes you have to realize that it is a collaborative effort.  If I did it over again, I think I'd tell them between sessions that they would be playing through the events leading up to the start of the campaign, and at least remind them that they would be fighting the Sinestro Corps in space, and ask them who from the JLA/JSA/Titans they wanted to play in this scenario.

As a GM, you may want to hold some surprises back for the sake of story telling, but if you hold too much back from them, they don't have the tools help you tell what is, in the end, a collaborative story.

This isn't to say that we didn't have fun, just that everyone was a bit off kilter having this sprung on them.  In the end, the group not only took out Sinestro and a dozen of his followers  (I set them up as minions since this was just a quick establishing scene), but they also altered how the adventure in the present was going to work.

Side Note:  There is an optional rule in the Gamemaster's Guide for M&M 3e that essentially lets any minion effectively interpose for their boss unless the PCs have some means of subverting cover, like a ricochet effect on a power.  I keep wanting to use this, but I don't, in part, because I didn't start the campaign using this.  Does make master villains fighting the heroes a bit more dangerous "by themselves," i.e. without other big name villains.  Future plans.

See, Atrocitus was allied to the "later to be revealed villain," and when he showed up at the end of the recording, the PCs managed to hold him down and take away his item that allowed him to remain free of the effects of the reality damaging weapon, which meant that there was no Red Lantern backup for the main villain later in the game.



The group ended up at the rift with the Green Lanterns, and they run into the Time Trapper, who has been intentionally walling off realities to create friction in time, and thus generating hypertime, which Time Trapper would then use to alter reality to what he wants it to be.

Essentially, my totally self serving goal in this entire campaign was to explain that there are still infinite universes, and not just 52 all predicated only on changes on one planet.  Yeah, I spent a year setting that up.

Time Trapper had no Red Lantern back up, due to the PCs actions when they were playing the Justice League.  I allowed Myrmidon to use his social skills to get Time Trapper to reveal his entire plan, even though he planned on killing them all, and from Time Trappers rant, they figured out that their "reality in a snowglobe" devices that staved off the spread of hypertime earlier in the campaign could be used to break the barriers between realities, thus destroying any means of generating hypertime and making it no harder to travel from one alternate reality to another, rather than trying to break through barriers to do so.



Time Trapper had a rather nasty ability that was linked to do damage and also weaken Toughness, with the ultimate effect being wiping someone out of reality.  Myrmidon spent a lot of time explaining where to punch Time Trapper in the tender bits, and eventually he went down.  Then Paradox flew back to Earth to get the "snow globes" and toss them into the rift.

When this was done, the rift sealed, the freighter with the prohibited weapons popped back into reality, and the JLA and company showed up with the Sinestro Corps and Atrocitus all wrapped up and ready for long term incarceration.

Back on Earth, Superman was willing to step aside and let the New Guard keep the Justice League title  (at least after he got over the shock of the Fortress of Solitude being destroyed), but the New Guard handed the keys to the Watchtower back to the "Old Guard," and went back to their very own headquarters in Central City . . . to get ready for Myrmidon's wedding!

Myrmidon's wedding was attended by many of the Justice League, although Necromancer had to convince Myrmidon to invite the "geezers" from the JSA, after he and Wildcat got into an argument on the Watchtower.  Raptor Force from Canada showed up as well, as did most of the Greek Pantheon.  The group even convinced Mongal to come back to escort her prince Marathon to the wedding.

The wedding went off without a hitch.  Then news arrived from Paradise Island that the island was being invaded by forces led by Devastation.



Yup.  One more big event before the campaign is over.  So what does happen to Tartarus and gates thereto if Olympus and the gods are gone/powerless?





Game Night--Rogue Trader: What's Behind Door Number 2? (June 2nd, 2012)

A little bit behind on my Game Night posts, so for those of you that care, we'll kick things off with the Rogue Trader game from the previous Thursday night.

The crew had left off right in front of a fortress manned by Raiders of Khorne, pirate corrupted by Chaos.  The group saw that the place was heavily fortified, and they noticed a Khorne baddie throwing bodies to some natives of the planet.



The crew blew the Hell out of the Khorne Raider  (see, it doesn't look as bad as it sounds when you spell it out), and then went to talk to the natives.

At this point, I'll point out that the team could have done all kinds of skill based stuff to track the back to one of the "back doors" to the base, but instead, the ork pressed a button on the Landspeeder and sent it careening off the side of a cliff.  Thankfully the Arch-Militant caught him with his whip.  Which would have been painful for anyone but the ork.



The group found a native population cut off from the Imperium by Warp Storms hundreds of years ago, had some communication problems, and had to corner them after the ork scared them off trying to talk to them.  Eventually they were convinced that the Emperor was the Sky Father that the natives worshiped, thanks to the Astropath, and Rogue Trader struck a deal with the natives to take his tribe with him off world if they showed the crew the secret passage into the fortress.

The secret passage led to the "mutant pits," which caused a corruption check.  Fun!  Plus, even though the group was horrible at sneaking, they killed the "boss" in charge of the pits, and the Flesh Hounds of Khorne don't have hands to press the button to let them go up the ramps to kill the party!



Eventually, the group made their way up to the "interrogation room" where the pskyers were being held.  A dozen of the bad guys, an artifact that nullifies Warp based powers, and a psyker that apparently is needed to activate the artifact.  The Astropath drops during the fight, due to being cut off from his powers, and the prudent course of action?



Kill the psyker.  Usually the wisest thing to do in a 40K RPG.

So the bad guys  (and one "innocent") were killed, the artifact was retrieved, and the party just needs to get out of the fortress and back to their ship.  This is made even more important once the party learns that the rest of the Khorne pirates  (again, it reads better than it sounds out loud) left to bait their rivals back to the planet so that they could use their secret weapon against them.

So the party could go back through the mutant pits, and avoid most fights, but then suffer some more potential corruption, or they could perhaps find the back door through the motor pool that they didn't find back when they killed the single Khorne raider previously.

However, the course of action chosen?

Let's go out the front door.  You know, the one with the heavily fortified positions, and the guys with heavy weapons.  Yeah, that one.

Step one?  Run into an altar to Khorne used for blessing weapons . . . in the armory!  Do you know what happens when you fire a weapon into a Krak missile in an armory?  The same thing that happens to everything else!  (That line never gets any better)



The altar and the armory goes up in a spectacular explosion, and takes out a handful of guards before they can act, but then leaves the party with a dozen heavily armed and armored Khorne worshiping pirates just not turning to fire on the PCs.

Good place for a cliffhanger, says I!