Monday, November 26, 2012

Why I Like What I Like

Over the weekend there was a bit of a dust up about why people like "old school" RPGs and what it means and how game companies are suppose to "take" gamers that embrace "old school" RPGs.  In general, I think the topic was a little difficult to get one's arms around, and led to lots and lots of really broad statements.  While it may not be helpful for someone looking for a quick answer, I think the best thing you can do, if you have the time and you have the desire to really know, is to look at it gamer by gamer.

I just recently got to run my first game of Dungeon Crawl Classics.  I really like the game.  Before I purchased that book, I was never very "old school" in my game choices.  My patience for really complex fiddly game systems has diminished, but that doesn't automatically shift me into the "old school" column.  Or does it?

Currently, I have a few games bouncing around my brain as games that I really like, really want to play or run.  I have recently run a really great Marvel Heroic Roleplaying event.  Would love to run it again.  I really like Dungeon Crawl Classics, and would love to run it again.  I really like 13th Age, and would love to run it sometime.  There are other games I like and want to run or play, but we'll narrow our focus to the above, since they tie to the initial concept, "who likes old school games and why?"

I never had a burning desire to return to BECMI D&D or AD&D.  Every time I got a bit of an inkling to do so, things like THAC0 and a proliferation of level based "static" saves dulled my enthusiasm.  It's not that I can't "handle" them, I just had a hard time thinking that you couldn't revisit the simpler rules of earlier editions and also address the more logical expression of attack bonuses, armor class, and saving throws.

That having been said, I couldn't help but peek in on the OSR blogs that I saw, because there was something there.  It wasn't just "back in my day, things were so much better," it's that there was a reason that people that wanted to play level based kitchen sink fantasy were being drawn back.  Many of them had played newer editions.  It wasn't a matter of being sticks in the mud, of being trapped in time in the 70s, it was a matter of having played newer iterations of level based kitchen sink fantasy games and realizing that they didn't fulfill the need they had.

There comes a point where knowing that there is a "right" way to build an encounter, and a creature, and that feats, magic items, templates, and the like can all cause tiny course corrections that, taken as a whole, can radically change how the monster works.  That doesn't even address how allowing one little feat or spell into the game can cause a PC to be wildly more effective than the "baseline" of the game assumes.

The fewer fiddly bits a game has, the less likely you are to see game changing items being introduced.  When everything is transparent, it's hard to not fully understand how introducing something new will effect the way a monster  (or PC) is run.  GMs that have lots of imaginative ideas, but not much time to double check all of the things that may or may not line up right, were being marginalized.

Before I go any further, let me address something.  I know there will be new school level based kitchen sink fantasy enthusiasts that will point out you could fudge skill bonuses, how many feats something has, or what items they have on them, to make it easier to run the game on the fly.  I'll contend that this is true, but when you do so, you increase the chances that you introduce things into the campaign that will have long term ramifications  (for example, magic items) or that you will alienate the players that scrupulously detail their characters to work exactly how the game is suppose to work.

Now, back to looking at one gamer at a time.  I can think of plots for adventures over lunchtime at work.  When it comes to level based kitchen sink fantasy games, most of my GMing time would be taken up looking up stats and building things "right."  Even then, lots of time was spent between sessions figuring out how the magic items I just allowed into the campaign or the new spell from a new book would alter the encounters for the rest of the campaign.

Now that I've been out of the GMing seat for fantasy gaming for a while, I really like DCC and 13th Age.  They are like two sides of the same coin.  The coin is, "how do we make fantasy level based gaming work better."  DCC goes back to the simplicity of the earlier versions of the game, and bolts on some gonzo influence from the original source literature for fantasy roleplaying, along with a dash of unobtrusive "advances" in modern gaming, such as ascending AC and three stat influenced saves.  13th Age goes embraces what 4th edition did, a little hesitantly and unevenly, and throws out a lot of sacred cows and just builds a level based fantasy system that works internally and worries about servicing older concepts of the game as a secondary concern.

Oh, and DCC has the added benefit of being able to pretty easily convert any older edition over to DCC stats in a matter of minutes, and 13th Age has a pretty nice level by level breakdown of how a generic monster should work.

And for me, neither requires the use of miniatures and battlemats.  This means there is less set up time, and less time to scrutinize the exact details of the map, allowing for the action to keep moving.  The fact that there is little set up, and that action can keep moving and be descriptive is a commonality that both games have with Marvel Heroic, even though Marvel Heroic is, in some ways, much more radically removed from the original RPG paradigm with representative dice pools instead of even superficially simulationist rules.

The more things I have to think about that get between me thinking up a plot and presenting that plot to my players, the more I am likely to not like a game.  The things that get between me and that game session better be compelling enough to make me want to fiddle with them.  I can't speak for anyone else, but that's how I reconcile what I like and what I want to run.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

There are a lot of things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving, but since this is a gaming and geekdom blog, I'll try to narrow my focus a bit.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the people that check out the blog.  I want to thank all of the people that I've had the good fortune of getting to chat with online, here, on Google+, in various forums, and even in my YouTube comments.

I want to thank my players for being awesome.  I've been truly blessed to have above average amounts of awesome at my tables over the course of my gaming career.  In person, at the FLGS, and online, I don't know how I got so lucky as to keep running into such cool people.

I want to thank my fellow players in the games I've been in, not just for being great, entertaining folk, but for putting up with my own quirky gaming foibles when it has been my turn to hold the talking stick  (or the Fenrisian Talking Stick of Atrocities, for anyone that was in the Deathwatch game with me).

I want to thank the GMs I've had for running games.  Sometimes the job can feel thankless, and the RPG hobby just doesn't work without them.  Have an extra slice of pumpkin pie on me, GMs!

I want to thank all of the people that run various and sundry fan sites and blogs on the internet, and post podcasts and actual play recordings and everything else.  Who knows how I would get from game night to game night without being able to read up on, and follow, people that are as obsessed as I am between those games.

And thank you to all of the people that work in the RPG industry, most of whom don't make nearly as much as they should, and especially for all of those who put out amazing work that is essentially a labor of love that no amount of gold could compensate.

And finally, I'm thankful that Rob Liefeld is so entertaining when he leaves a job, and that George Lucas can relax and quit tinkering with Star Wars movies from this point on.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Road to Hell is Paved With Hidden Intentions

I've been cogitating on this one for a while.  It's entered by brain before, but playing Marvel Heroic on a regular basis helped to crystalize some of my thoughts on the matter.  The matter in question being, player intentions, and how much you share with your GM.

I've read comments on a lot of games, and even seen first hand, some of what I'm talking about.  Specifically, the player says they are doing something, something that might seem kind of obscure or pointless.  Then they point out that they are doing something else obscure and off to the side.

Eventually, said player weaves together all of those little actions and springs his intention on the GM.  Clearly, because they left a piece of bologna on the table in the break room, and then turned the amplifiers on in the sound booth, and then shut off the vents to the bathroom, the bologna should suddenly turn into a localized form of nerve toxin and if the vents are shut off in the bathroom, the bad guys have to cut through the break room, and they die, and the good guys win.


And the GM gets whiplash, because he had no idea what the PC was doing.  Truth be told, he knows there are secret passages and things that bad guys could be utilizing that would nullify this plan, because, well, he's the GM, and there is no reason for the player to know about all of those ins and outs.  However, now that the bologna has hit the fan, the player expects that the GM owes him an auto-win, because the GM didn't see any of that coming.

It's a very adversarial play style, and I've seen it get downright confrontational.

"No, you don't automatically do X because you set all of that stuff up."

"But you had your chance to tell me X wasn't going to happen if you had paid attention and connected the dots of what I was doing."

Probably the worst expression of this kind of secretive checkmate is when the player is knowledgeable about something the GM isn't, and justifies what they are about to do by citing real world examples.  Unfortunately, instead of looking clever, a lot of times it just looks like you are making the GM look foolish for not being an expert on everything that you are.

I think there are two paths that lead to this "checkmate" kind of adversarial play.  One is up front and a bit more of an honest desire to do something novel, and the other is an outright mistrust of the GM to allow the PCs do to something cool.

I know sometimes a brilliant plan has a lot more impact when it isn't discussed in detail to the whole group.  But springing what you hoped would obviously happen on the GM is just putting the GM in a bad position.  

On the other hand, if you are in a position where you aren't trusting the GM to let you do something cool, that's a deeper problem.  It's something that needs to be resolved outside of the game itself.  I could be off base, but I seem to run into this a lot more in people that have been playing a long time, as if they ran into a lot of GMs that liked being killer GMs and racking up PC kills by applying lots of technicalities.

The reason this comes back to the forefront of my mind after playing Marvel Heroic is that, well, the whole point of the game is to do something cool.  Right off the bat, when you take an action, you explain to the Watcher  (GM) what your ultimate intention is.  Between the two of you, you work out how to make your character look awesome without needed to have an automatic gotcha I win checkmate situation.

Even in situations where you want your plan to take everyone by surprise, the GM really needs a heads up.  Passing a note with at least an inkling of what you want your actions to accomplish should be the minimum you are willing to share with the GM to make sure what you are doing makes sense and doesn't run afoul of anything the GM hasn't shared yet.

I guess all I'm trying to say is that very few RPGs really work better with the GM in an adversarial position to the players, and if you really don't trust your GM to let you pull off some awesome stunts in the game, instead of backing him into a corner and "forcing" him to let you do what you are planning  (and likely engendering a bit of ill will in the process), it's probably better to get all of the cards on the table and be clear about what PCs can and can't do, and figure out what the fruits of your labor will be as you are doing them, not after a complex chain maneuvers that you, as the player, assume must assure victory.

Rats With 2000 Copper Pieces are Alive and Well

Our Pathfinder GM was on a real world mission of personal goal fulfillment, so that left the rest of the crew to fend for themselves this Thursday night.  It took us a while to figure out who was and wasn't going to show up, given that the night was going to be a one shot of . . . something, but once we hashed that out, I was originally just going to bring my Sentinels of the Multiverse box to the FLGS and we were going to go to town on some villains.

However, work was insanely slow, and I was playing around with Evernote, and figured out that I could do all of my concept work of a game when everything was slow  (clearly only during authorized breaks), and only need what minimal effort it took to get game stats together and run.  Run what?  Why, Dungeon Crawl Classics of course.

It seemed to make sense.  I had no real desire to run Pathfinder, but DCC is a level based kitchen sink fantasy game, so it's in keeping with the "theme" of the night.  I threw together some notes, and looked up some stats, and in pretty much no time I had a workable 0 level funnel adventure to run for the group.

First off, just let me say that if you are interested in Dungeon Crawl Classics, you should check out Purple Sorcerer Games site and their DCC tools.  I made up a stack of 0 level characters in no time for the one shot festivities.

The Setup

I wanted a more old school, "Appendix N" set up for this adventure, so I tried to channel my inner Leiber and Howard in coming up with the backstory.

Bladesport is an ancient port city that "everybody" knows is blessed by the God of War.  Bladesport has a famous arena, and is the place to go to hire mercenaries, and it's navy is well known for pirate hunting, making the city even more attractive as a place to engage in trade.

Bladesport hides a secret.  It's founder was the half mortal son of the God of War, and his own son was a wretch of a human being.  Cursed by the other gods for crimes against nature, he was turned into a minotaur and sentenced to only die by horrible violence as befitted his cruel spirit.  No one in Bladesport is aware that the minotaur is still under the city, in a grand labyrinth created to hold him, and that the God of War blesses the city because once per year, the town fathers gather a tribute and set it lose in the maze for his sport.

One of the priests of the God of War throws the bones, determines how many participants the games will have every year, and people from all over the nearby environs are ambushed and thrown into the maze.  Those that die will "serve the minotaur" from that point on.

Anyone that can find their way out will be allowed to live, provided they never speak of the minotaur or the tribute games to anyone.

The Dungeon

The dungeon was composed of three separate mazes, a center, inner, and outer section.  There was one transition room between each section that had it's own unique trap or circumstance.  To navigate each section took an hour, and some kind of a justification to make a check to guess the layout of the maze.  Each time the PCs failed, they had an encounter or ran into another trap.  If the succeeded, they made it to the transition room to the next section of the maze.

Rats and Coppers

The first room the group came to had a neatly stacked pile of 2000 copper pieces with a sign next to it that said "Please Take Two."  On one wall was a set of ancient writing that predated modern languages, and on the other wall was a section of arcane text, like one might find in a spellbook or on a scroll.

My PCs  (since we had a couple of wizard's apprentices in the group) figured out the writing on both sides.  The one side explained that anyone that died in the maze needed a copper piece placed over each eye to pay the ferryman to take his soul, or he would rise to "serve the minotaur" as a zombie.

The arcane writing detailed a spell that ensorcelled any rats that came into the room to go out into the city at large and collect and stack copper pieces.  One of the players wondered what would happen if they took more than 2 copper pieces, and then grabbed a handful, thus causing the rats to pour out of their holes in the walls and form an angry swarm.

In what would become a trend for most of the night, the idiot wizard's apprentice that tended to stick Fate in the eye with a stick seemed to be immune to damage as the rats continuously missed him, but hit other characters.  Eventually the party fled and slammed the doors behind them, and the rats didn't pursue into the next room.

As a side note, had we been using a strictly drawn encounter map, I doubt the party would have attempted escape.  It's very easy to see that the swarm "could" chase you here or there, or that you might be two squares away from getting through the doors, or what have you, but here, in the abstract, opening doors, running through them, and slamming them shut when everybody is through makes perfect sense.

Wandering Adventurers

The group managed to not get lost very often, which was kind of a surprise, but they did end up running afoul of a giant centipede, which they scooped up in an empty treasure chest that one of the 0 level guys had as a trade good.  More on that later, but I will say this . . . again, figuring out if they could scoop the thing up was pretty quick and painless when you know there aren't any arcane rules governing it that are hiding from you somewhere in the rulebook.

In another room, the PCs found some skeletons of the previous people in the maze, slammed the door shut, and the skeletons battered the door down.  Again, we resolved this one pretty quickly, and the fight ensued.  Oh, and some PCs died.  That started happening.  The really dumb wizard's apprentice continued to avoid death, however, and one of the players really liked his Bee Keeper with an 18 personality, so his other three characters charitably decided to act as human shields for him for most of the adventure.

Killer Snakes

The group ran into a giant viper that was way out of their league, because I wanted to emphasize that they could, indeed, run into stuff way out of their league.  The whole party managed to escape the snake and slam the doors shut behind them, except for a couple more casualties, and the dumb wizard's apprentice, who, continuing his charmed streak, ran into the maze, lost the snake, and made it back to the doors, and begged to be let back in.

It's A Trap

I had a transition room set up that had two pools, filled with odd liquids, and a dragon's head above the hallway.  One liquid was highly flammable, and if the dragon's head trap was triggered, it would double the damage from the fire.  The other liquid made thing smeared with it immune to fire for 1 hour.

What was really neat about this was that the players actually used logic to figure out what the two pools did, and to set off the oily death enhancing pool before the dragon head trap was triggered.  It felt positively Gygaxian, except that the solution wasn't something obscure three levels above the party that they all forgot so they all died automatically without any other recourse.  But other than that.

Door Number One, or Door Number Two

The players found two cryptic notes above some doors, and actually figured out what each one meant.  One door led to the minotaur, and the other one led up a dangerous, narrow passage that had to be climbed, and was filled with painful spikes.

After a few of the PCs took damage and dropped from the spikes, a couple of them decided that maybe they could bribe the minotaur.  Now, I'm running a generally old school game, but I don't mind social checks, so I explained the the minotaur would require a DC 15 check to convince him to take their tribute  (after all, he could just let them die and take it off their corpse).

Much luck was burned.  The minotaur was given a gift of the treasure chest  (with a centipede in it, that he never got around to opening), a "magic cloth," which was just linen, and an ounce of mithril.  But man, did they spend a lot of luck on those rolls.

In the mean time, I had ruled that after three failures to get a grappling hook to latch, zombies from the maze would wander into the climbing room, and another fight ensued.  After that time, one of the players prudently pointed out that closing the door to the chamber might have been a good idea.

Survivor's Guilt

We had four players, each with four 0 level characters.  They all got enough XP to make it to 1st level, and each of them had at least one survive, and I think two of them had two survive.  Unfortunately, Fate was fickle for the stupid wizard's apprentice and the bee keeper, and they both perished.  And nobody remembered to put coppers on their eyes  (or cared enough to stop and do it).

The survivors were given 10 gold pieces and booked on a ship to another city in order to help them to not spread any word of Bladesport's secret.

Player Reaction

We had two of our regulars that weren't interested in playing a one shot, and one that wasn't really interested in giving it a whirl once he looked at the characters involved, but we picked up a spare that isn't usually in the group.  Of the people that played, everyone seemed to have enjoyed it and had a good time.  There was some speculation on how they would have used luck and approached survival and cooperation if they had been going into an extended campaign with the characters.

I did notice that I wrapped up the whole thing about an hour or so earlier than our Pathfinder games usually wrap up, because I'm not used to "old school" pacing.  Marvel encounters are are much more description heavy, due to justifying the die pools and the like, and even Savage Worlds encounters, which are more quickly resolved than a lot of Pathfinder actions, take more time due to the initiative on each round factor.

This game just zipped by.  We all seemed to have a blast playing the game, and we hardly even got to see that many criticals or fumbles, let alone any crazy spell rolls.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Watching the Edge of the Empire

I mentioned this a few posts ago, but I've got a mystery issue where I have some wonky access issues around the middle to final third of my normal online gaming time, which require me to fully reboot our router to get back online, which on top of being a pain, also potentially boots everyone else in the household off of the network for a while.

Yeah, I know, modern day techno-babble issues, we don't care, make with the blogging and the game talk.  Or not.  As you will.

My Marvel game on hold until I can figure out what to do about my internet issues, at least for hours long sessions, I popped in on my friend's Star Wars Edge of the Empire session at the FLGS.  Spoiler:  I'm going to be joining the game for a while, since my online gaming is on hold until I can get a handle on my server issue.

The group is comprised of an Assassin Droid with Medical Droid programming, a Wookiee, a Trandoshan gunman, a human expert in Xenobiology, a Twi'lek politico, and a Rodian tech.  They were on a scavenger hunt, which at the moment took them to Dathomir to track down some Rancor eggs.

There were a lot of electronic devices at the table with Fantasy Flight's dice app, and not many "real" dice standing in for the specialized dice of the RPG.  Some of the players have been with the game for a few sessions, and others have just joined, so there was still a bit of a learning curve picking up what the dice symbols mean.

Once people get up to speed on the symbols, however, it didn't seem too hard to figure out what they meant.  In the roleplaying/research/exploring aspects of the game it seemed like there were some fun situations caused by the GM and players figuring out what the non-success and failure results meant.

There was, however, combat.  I didn't look at the stats the GM has for rancors, but they seemed to be pretty nasty monsters.  While they may get more competent, and have a few more options, much like d6 Star Wars, Savage Worlds, or the 40K RPGs, something big and nasty tends to stay big and nasty even with characters that have spent a lot of XP on advancement, which I think is a strength that non-level based games have in portraying Star Wars.

Luke might have had a better chance at surviving the Rancor in Return of the Jedi, but in a straight up fight, it probably would have shredded A New Hope Luke almost as fast as Empire Luke or ROTJ Luke.  Luke just has better options to avoid that straight up fight.

The players found a rancor, shot it in the eye, closed a door, and ran away.  They tracked down a nest, ran into another rancor, and the Twi'lek politico got its attention and ran for the ship.  I think the plan was to blast it with the ship laser cannons, but things got fuzzy in the heat of battle.

I will say that the effectiveness of an auto-fire weapon seemed internally logical, but didn't quite seem like "Star Wars" to me.  It was a little too effective.  I'm not sure why.  I do know that auto-fire is one of the things that has gone back and forth in the playtest document updates, so I may not be the only one thinking that you should get something from auto-fire, but not have it be the logical "go to" in a setting where a lot of the main characters just carry heavy blaster pistols.

Once people got up to speed on how to build dice pools and how to read the symbols, things seemed to go fairly smoothly.  A few rules aren't in the most obvious location.  I'd chalk this up to the rules being in Beta, but Fantasy Flight does tend to hide fairly important rules in plain sight, in my experience.

I'm interested to get involved first hand.  The rules do seem to allow for modeling Star Wars fairly well, excepting my slight concern about auto-fire and it's importance in combat.  We'll see how my Gand accountant who is an expert at credit laundering works in the game.

Assimilating More Games: Reading the Killshot RPG

Google+ will be the death of me.  I have a hard time not taking a look at games that end up getting a lot of buzz on my Google+ gamers feed.  The next game to creep into my hard drive due to Google+ buzz is  the Killshot RPG.  Disclaimer:  I don't review things.  I'm not organized enough for that, and I can never really tell when something rubs me the wrong way, or when something is just bad overall.

I tend to use my previous frame of reference to explain what a game is like.  For example, when I said that Barebones Fantasy RPG reminded me of a Basic Game version of Warhammer Fantasy 2nd Edition.  I'm having a harder time coming up with a good frame of reference to compare Killshot, but here is a weird attempt:

In some very vague, tenuous ways, it's kind of like Marvel Heroic, but only so far as you assemble a die pool to come up with a more loosely defined overall action, and you never roll against a set DC, but are always rolling against a roll made by the Director  (GM).  On the other hand, it's nothing like Marvel in the sheer number of specific options in the game that you choose from, which alters your die pool, and the very structured ways you figure out if you kill a target, successfully case a location, or get away in your car.

Killshot does have a lot of options.  The name of the underlying base system is called the Optional System, and depending on what type of action you are performing, your dice pool will change around a bit, and you might be given the option to do something later on in exchange for slightly less optimal die pool, for example.

Initiative isn't what you might have seen in other games.  Essentially each side gets a number of actions based on how many people are acting on each side, and one side takes active options until they fail, and then the other side goes on the offensive until they fail, until everyone cycles through the whole set of actions for the series, and then it starts over again.

In a lot of ways, the game is set up to mimic "hit man" action movies.  When everything is going well, you break into the place, shoot all of the guards quick, and move to the next phase of the plan.  If you screw up one little thing, all of the sudden, the opposition might start blasting away at you and its no longer a by the numbers operation anymore.

When I first started reading the rules, I started to get the feeling that these rules were just a bit too far on the fiddly and involved for me to want to keep going with them, which was a shame, because a lot of the examples seemed to point towards a game that's really good at emulating the genre it's shooting for. However, the I decided to push on, and it turns out, while there is a great deal of complexity, it seems that a lot of the perceived fiddly bits seems to come from the fact that the way the rules are written, options are mentioned and discussed way before they are ever explained.  The cart comes before the horse in a few places, and it makes the game seem a bit more complicated than it otherwise might.

Like a lot of games that catch my eye these days, this game's rules are really geared towards emulating a genre, not simulating a world.  The world works the way the world works in modern assassination action movie, it doesn't give you rules for running assassins and hit men in a quasi-realistic world where things go on that aren't related to contract killers.  I've grown to like this, because it allows the rules to really funnel you towards doing what the game is suppose to help you do, not give you a million options that are semi-simulationist and cause you even more option lock when it comes to planning out a hit.

While the Killshot rules aren't geared around this, and wouldn't work perfectly for this as is, the more I read the book, the more I thought that if things like kill markers and objectives were tweaked a bit, the Optional System wouldn't be a bad game for running spy thriller games.

I will say this:  the complexity involved didn't make me want to casually jump into running a game of Killshot.  While I enjoy the genre, it's not one of my favorites.  However, it was an interesting enough read that I would love to actually see a real session "in the wild" to see if all of the moving parts work the way I picture them working as I read through the book.

In the end, I didn't mind spending the $8.00 on RPG now or the time reading the rules, which are written "in character" by a rough and tumble assassin's employer introducing new hit men into the profession.  Oh, and in case you are sensitive to such things, the language in this conversational treatment of the rules is indicative of the genre, so expect lots of coarse language and F-bombs.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Will Everything Happen As I've Foreseen It?

While I spent a good deal of time discussing Star Wars with my circles and my friends and family, I never really blogged about Lucasfilm's assimilation by Disney.  After I've had some time to let this settle in, I've got something that I really hope happens when it comes to the Star Wars franchise.  You may disagree, and that's cool, but here it is.

What I'm hoping for, with the impending shadow of Mouse Domination is for a simple thing, really.  I hope that Disney relaunches the Expanded Universe  (books, comics, games, etc) in such a manner that, from the get go, they don't contradict the movies or anything else deemed "important canon."

Why do I care?  Mainly because I like consistency.  I also like a company to have respect for it's own IP.  I'm not implying that all Expanded Universe material was bad.  Far from it.  Some of it was, some of it was great.  However, the overwhelming feeling I got, whenever Lucas himself was involved, was that Lucas had no respect for any other storytellers.  They could play with his toys, and Lucas Licensing would drop the hammer on creators that didn't play nice with each other and with other properties, but he would never worry about anything they wrote, and he would even grant "special" projects primacy if he threw out a few ideas for that project  (Shadows of the Empire, the Force Unleashed, et al). 


It created a really weird hierarchy.  At least with Star Trek, you knew that one author's work had nothing to do with another author's work.  You knew none of it was canon, but nobody was forcing them to have some weird alternate timeline that had to work with everything else, except the stuff that came from on high.

Even worse, once something came from on high, to keep playing with the toys, you have to find a way to explain how the new canon is primary, and how stuff that just happened, and was okayed by Lucas Licensing, didn't happen the way it happened.  

On top of all of that, if Lucas really had a lot of these details hammered down, some of the details that only existed in his head seemed like they would be important to share with others.  We were told that he warned authors away from some characters or time periods, but then he allowed other authors to mess with something that just as likely to cause problems if it was touched upon.

I mean, really George, you couldn't tell anyone that Jedi can't get married?  Your supposed "I only look at outlines to okay general storylines" stance on novels and comics never led you to notice that Luke had been married for twenty novels or so before Episode II came out?  Or that in the Visual Dictionary for Episode I that there are married Jedi and Jedi that hold political office on various planets?  You were really that unconcerned about products associated with your IP?

So I'm ready for Disney to say nothing but the movies, the Clone Wars cartoon, and maybe the Old Republic game history has happened.  I'm fine with that.  It's not that I don't like the Thrawn Trilogy or other stories that would be wiped out.  It's that those stories have built in problems from how the IP was managed up to that point.

I would love it if Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade, and Talon Karrde ended up in this theoretical new continuity.  But I don't expect the whole trilogy to survive.  Heck, I think the Vong could be made into some really interesting villains for future Star Wars movies, but I would never expect the whole NJO storyline to make it into "new canon."

I would love to see a line drawn, and to have future products clearly delineated as "this is all as compatible as we can make it."  I'd love to see old elements repacked to work in this new Star Wars universe, in a way that doesn't cause some major tap dancing to explain when a new movie or TV series comes out.

Now that the people in charge may not be playing their "brilliant ideas" so close to the vest , maybe all of the Star Wars media can play nice with every other form of media, without weird "levels" of canon and declarations of primacy.  

Oh, and Disney?  Please kill Star Wars Detours.  I have a bad feeling about this.

Always in Motion the Future Is (Game Changers)

Some changes in my gaming habits and in the blog content that we have going on, so bear with me folks.

What I'm Playing

I'm still in a Pathfinder game, but unfortunately, after a stellar run with our Breakout Event, my online Marvel game is going on hiatus.  There are a number of factors, but to sum up, we have multiple players leaving and I'm having some connectivity issues with my internet during "prime time."

Taking all of that into consideration, I'm picking up a new "face to face" game in a friend's Star Wars Edge of the Empire game.  Looking forward to participating in that game, and I'll be discussing how this goes right here.

Due to the same connectivity issues, I'm also, unfortunately, dropping the Marvel game that I was playing in on Tuesday nights.  I'll miss my fellow X-Men, and playing Beast.  

What I'm Blogging

I'm bringing my Wednesday Milestones to an end for now.  Originally this feature started out as a thought exercise to see if I could put together usable milestones from the comics I was reading from month to month.  

It was a lot of fun, but I'm getting a little burned out, not because I'm not enjoying the comics or because I'm burned out on milestones, but because I am reading a lot of the same books from month to month, and it's getting harder and harder to come up with milestones that don't sound exactly like the milestones I just did last week.

I do have some thoughts bouncing around my head about milestones focused around brand new heroes and how they establish themselves, from the standpoint of making new, original characters to use in Marvel Heroic, as well as some unlockables to go with those milestones.  I'll be throwing those up here on the blog when I get them polished up.

I'll also be putting together more characters that haven't shown up in Marvel Heroic books up to this point as the mood strikes me.

I'm also planning on keeping up with the Pull List on a monthly basis, when I have a chance to look band and determine what I'm going to keep buying and what falls off into the comic book abyss.

Monday, November 5, 2012

"This is What I Look Like When I'm Smiling"

I have kind of a mission here.  During World War Hulk, Ghost Rider was billed as being potentially powerful enough to take out the Hulk, if he had actually cared to spare the Illuminati his wrath.  I'm not sure where this version of GR fits on that power scale, but it's a working model.  Let me know what you think.

I'll tweak a few things a bit to fit the proper wording from the rulebooks eventually, I just kind of threw this together as the inspiration hit me.

Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze)


Solo d10
Buddy d8
Team d6


Brimstone Biker
Spirit of Vengeance
Protect the Innocent

Power Sets

Demonic Form

d10 Superhuman Strength     d10 Superhuman Durability     d12 Emotional Blast     d12 Hellfire Control

SFX Penance Stare In a dice pool with an Emotional Blast die, add a d6 and step back the highest die in the pool. Step up your effect die, and keep an additional die that can only be used to create a “Haunted by the Past” complication on the target.

SFX Multi-power Add an additional power from your Demonic Form powerset, but step down each die added from your Demonic Form powerset.

SFX Area Attack Add an additional d6 and keep an additional effect die for each additional target. This ability cannot be used with Penance Stare.

SFX  Relentless.  As part of an action, spend a die equal to the stress from the Doom Pool to remove physical stress and step up a trait for this action.

Limit Guilt Ridden Souls Emotional Blast die and Penance Stare abilities can only be used on opponents that have a soul and are capable of feeling regret.

Limit Emotional Shock Penance Stare can only be used against a given target once per scene.

Limit Innocents to Protect If the Spirit of Vengeance can be convinced that there are no innocent parties involved, Zarathos will retreat into Johnny Blaze. Shut down Demonic Form Power Set.

Limit But You Can Control It! Add a die to the doom pool and shut down Demonic Form. Recover by spending a die from the Doom Pool.

Implements of Vengeance

d10 Hellfire Cycle     d10 Weapon     d10 Dimensional Travel

SFX Dragged by the chains. In a dice pool that includes the Hellfire Cycle trait, step up or double Hellfire Cycle die, discard the highest rolling die in the dice pool, and add three dice for your total. This cannot be used in a pool with Multi-power.

Limit Linked When Demonic Form powerset is shut down, shut down Implements of Vengeance as well.


Combat Expert d8     Cosmic Expert d8     Menace Master d10 Mystic Expert d8     Vehicle Master d10     

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Pull List! October 2012

I decided to take an inventory of what I'm "pulling" every month, to see what I'm keeping up on and what I'm likely to drop.  This first go 'round is going to hook in a lot of stuff that I tried out over the summer, but if I keep up on this, it will be more of a month to month look at what I'm keeping and what I'm dropping.

A+X:  It's hard to look at a trend here, since it just came out this past week.  I like team up books.  I don't expect a ton out of them, except to be entertaining.  Of the two stories in the book, I much preferred Slott's Cable/Captain America team up to Loeb's Wolverine/Hulk team up, which, of course, revolves around his "brilliant" creation, Red Hulk.

Prognosis?  I'll be picking this up again next month.  It's not in huge danger of being dropped unless the stories are really disappointing.

Amazing Spider-Man:  Well, I guess I'll be forced to drop this one when Marvel Now relaunches this title as Superior Spider-Man  (really, Marvel needs to match up the adjectives better).  I love Slott's work on Spider-Man, and while there might be a flat issue here or there, the overall story arcs are exactly what I want out of Spider-Man.

Prognosis?  Love the book, and I really like Slott on Spidey.  I hope his "not Pete" Spidey work is as strong and compelling as his time with Mister Parker.

Avengers Assemble:  When I started reading this book, I was just expecting an action oriented, loosely canon storyline.  New Zodiac, fights, and a hunt for cosmic artifacts on Earth?  Great.  Then we moved into Bendis' introduction of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and his handling of the Elders of the Universe and Thanos, and a lot of my enthusiasm for the book started to evaporate.

I'm still reading because I'm interested to see what direction the book takes under DeConnick, who I think has a good grasp of a lot of the Avengers and the interaction between them.  Plus, the wrap up of the Thanos story was much more like the beginning of the book.

Prognosis?  Staying with the book long enough to get a feel for DeConnick's direction for the book.

Avenging Spider-Man:  Remember when I said that my standards for team-up books aren't super high, as long as they are fun.  When you add that to the fact that I have a hard time not buying things with Spider-Man on them, you would think his title works really well for me.  I'm starting to have my doubts.  While I want the action to be fast and furious, and I want Spidey to be a wisecracker, I do want the story to be a little more serious and have a least some stakes that the characters in the story recognize.

From Aunt May, to Deadpool, and now the annual with the Thing, there haven't been many credible threats, and the plots are getting increasingly silly.  Light-hearted doesn't need to veer into goofy land.

Prognosis?  With Devil Dinosaur up next as a co-star, I'm not sure I can take much more whimsy.  The DeConnick and Slott stories are really looking like the exceptions, and not the rule.  After Devil Dinosaur next time around, we may be saying goodbye to this title.

AvX Consequences:  This is only a limited series, so I'm much more likely to finish what I started.  Even without that disclaimer in place, I am enjoying this series.  It makes a lot more sense than the main series that spawned it, and is actually digging deeper into character motivations and the state of various heroes as we move into the "Now" timeline.

Prognosis?  Unless something drastic happens, I'm in for the distance with this series.

Batgirl:  Yes, I'll get this out of the way, I liked Barbara better as Oracle.  I like Gail Simone as a writer.  I've been in and out of this title for a while.  I checked it out early on, but the continuity mess around Barbara turned me off.  I checked back in once things settled down, but the series just isn't working for me.  Something feels off to me.  Barbara isn't quite old Barbara, but sometimes she is, and Simone seems to be trying too hard to create a unique cast that isn't winning me over much.

Prognosis?  Even with the impending Death of the Family storyline, I'm going to risk dropping this.  I'm just not that invested in the new status quo and the new characters aren't gelling for me.

Batman:  I've been in and out of Batman as well, but unlike Batgirl, when I checked back in at the end of the Court of Owls storyline, I actually kind of liked Snyder's take on Batman.  I wasn't a huge fan of Morrison's run on Batman.  By embracing everything about Batman, all at once, I think he lost sight of making him compelling on his own.  Snyder's Batman is more in line with the Batman I got used to in Moench's, Grant's, and Dixon's stories.

I didn't expect to like the opening salvo of Death of the Family.  I think the new look for Joker is horrible and the serial killer angle is being pushed too hard.  By Snyder's first installment reads pretty well, so I'll keep on the ride.

Prognosis?  I'm in at least for a few more months.

Batman and Robin:  I was never a huge fan of Damien.  Despite that, I started to warm up to the little jerk between reading his regular appearances as Dick's sidekick and his cameos in Batgirl.  After Flashpoint, however, Damien seemed to regress back to the starting line, and on top of that, Tomassi's villains in this run have just be too much strange and not enough interesting.

Prognosis?  The cavalcade of weird, uninteresting bad guys and Damien's reversion to full on jerk mode have me waving goodbye to this book.

Captain America (& Guest Star):  Hey look, a team up book!  I didn't warm up to this book at first, because it took me a while to get used to Bunn's pattern.  The first book of the arc tends to "reintroduce" the characters by leaning heavily on the most stereotypical behavior from that character, but then the meat of the story kicks in, and it tends to get fun.

The current Black Widow arc isn't as much fun as the Iron Man arc was, but with the end looming nearby, and some plot threads from multiple arcs wrapping up, there isn't much reason to bail now.

Prognosis?  I'll be reading it until Marvel Now kills it dead.

Captain Marvel:  I really like DeConnick's take on Carol.  I think she gets her voice right, and I like how she writes her interactions with Spidey and Cap and Jessica Drew.  That having been said, this opening story arc started off interesting, and spent several issues meandering around with most of he action being repetitive and muddy, with the payoff being a trip to Carol's origin to prove that she should be Captain Marvel, by beating . . . someone else . . . to the "title."

I like DeConnick's dialogue and handle on these characters, but the action and the stakes must really pick up.  It was hard to tell why this last story arc really mattered, other than for Carol to get back to the present so we could move on to another story arc.

Prognosis?  Still in, but if the action doesn't pick up, and if there isn't more in this book than stuff that is very self-focused on Carol, I'm dropping this one fast.

Daredevil:  I missed the relaunch, but I read the first issue months later, and thought it was great.  Then, when I jumped on board, Daredevil got kidnapped and sent to Latveria, and came home to his law partner hating his guts and weird stuff happening.  I jumped on at the wrong point.  The Latveria storyline just plodded along, and this current arc is jumping all over the place.  It might pay off, but it's a really bad follow up to the slow and kind of pointless jaunt to Latveria.

Plus, I have to admit I'm kind of disappointed that Waid, of all people, seems to be redefining a "lame" villain to make him "cool" and "edgy."  That's not really what I expect out of him, or from all of he buzz I was hearing about this book.

Prognosis?  If the next issue doesn't wow me, I'm gone.

Earth 2:  This one has been a bit of a roller coaster ride for me.  I really liked it at the outset, got a bit worried a few issues in, but I'm settling in to like the book.  Some of the characterization is a bit stilted at times, but for the most part, I'm enjoying the 100% reboot, without trying to figure out what is and isn't in from previous continuities.

I do hope the quality levels out a bit more, and I really hope a more traditional Grundy shows up on Prime Earth, but I'm having more fun with this than with most DC books at the moment.

Prognosis?  As long as we don't bottom out too many more times like we did when Alan first became GL, I'm planning on keeping up on this book.

G.I  Joe, G.I. Joe:  Snake Eyes & Storm Shadow, G.I. Joe:  Cobra:  I'm lumping these together to make an overall point.  First off, I dropped G.I. Joe Cobra months ago, because it's just not that compelling to me.  I get enough of the inter-Cobra politics in the other books that I just don't care about following it in it's own book.

I love Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow, and I really enjoy G.I. Joe.  That having been said, I'm dropping the whole she-bang when the Target:  Snake Eyes storyline is over.  Why?  Because IDW is relaunching a new G.I. Joe book at #1 that may or may not have anything to do with this continuity, and Dixon is getting a new book, Special Missions.

I could keep reading that book, but honestly, IDW is doing the same thing to G.I. Joe that they did with Transformers that kept me away from those books.  Lots of concurrent books that may or may not be in the same continuity doesn't make me want to care enough to keep up with the scorecard.

Prognosis?  Done with the whole thing when Target:  Snake Eyes is over.

Gambit:  I love this book.  Getting Gambit away from the X-Men, stealing things  (from bad guys) and flirting with mystery women is great.  Adventure, fun, and excitement, and a firm handle on what makes Gambit cool is keeping me really interested in this book.

Prognosis?  Onboard for the foreseeable future, as long as the book remains as fun as it is now.

Ghostbusters:  Setting aside that IDW has be kind of gun shy right now, this book's main stories have been great.  Its a mix of the best stuff from the movies and the long running cartoon.  The backup features have been hit or miss for me, but the main story has been pitch perfect.

Prognosis?  I'm in, as long as IDW doesn't start to think it would be a good idea to have two or three other Ghostbuster continuities running around, relaunching #1 issues left and right.

Hawkeye:  Much like Gambit, I'm loving this series.  It takes the balls out, cocky goodness at the core of Hawkeye and builds awesome stories around that, with the added fun have having Kate along for the ride  (and a degree of sanity).  Also, balls out is literal in this case.

Prognosis?  As long as the formula stays the same, I'm here for a while.

Justice League:  Oh, Justice League, how you vex me.  The book can be a lot of fun, even though it feels like it's in a whole different world than some of it's component parts.  Sure, Hal is a big jerk in the book, much worse than he usually is in the GL books.  But I like this Diana better than the version in WW, and Superman is reasonably consistent here, unlike in his own book.

I really dislike the Shazam backup feature, but I like the reinvention of Steve Trevor as a kick ass government agent.  

Prognosis?  Tentatively in, at least long enough to see how Justice League of America spins out of this book, and to see if Shazam is less of a jerk on a team than he was in the backup feature.

New Crusaders:  I wanted to give this one a try because it was a fresh start for a group of heroes, and it seemed like fun.  I'm not saying it wasn't fun, but two issues in, the only character I really liked was the Shield, crotchety old trainer guy that he was.  One supporting character isn't enough to keep me coming back.

Prognosis?  Dropped.

Nightwing:  Another on and off again book for me, I'm interested in seeing DeFalco's influence on the book.  So far I'm interested, even though Barbara seems like she's had a bit too much coffee and is a bit too excitable in this issue.  

Prognosis?  In for a couple issues or so to see how things are looking, especially with the crossover.

Pathfinder:  I like the setting of Golarion, and I know these characters from the bios in all of he Pathfinder products they appeared in, so I picked up the first issue of this comic.  My personal opinion is that the art was ugly, the characters weren't compelling and didn't quite seem "right" from what I knew of them, and I really didn't care about much of what was going on.

Prognosis?  Dropped and not looking back.

Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt:  You know what's funny?  I don't like DC morphing Charlton characters into their Watchmen equivalents.  I don't like Ted Kord being an overweight washed up hero that doesn't have what it takes, and I don't like Captain Atom being some super powerful force of nature that doesn't know what it's like to be human anymore.  

And yet, I like this book.  Maybe it's because I don't like DC doing it?  Or maybe it's because this comic takes some inspiration from Ozymandias in Watchman, but grafts that onto the traditional version of the character, and it seems to make for a more unique, less self assured guy that is trying to do something grandiose that he hopes will help the world, but isn't quite sure about.  I joked that this is my favorite "Before Watchmen" book, but it's not that much of a joke.

Prognosis?  Taking it month by month, but I'm still interested to see how this is progressing.

Punisher War Zone:  I wasn't sure how this story was going to turn out, given Rucka's rather public announcement that he was done with the Big Two.  I debated picking this up.  Given that I have a hard time not finishing a limited series when start one, I was hesitant, but I picked it up.

I'm actually glad I did.  I like the set up, and it seems like it will be an interesting story to read.  I am looking forward to seeing how some of he Avengers interact with Frank, and I liked his scenes with Spidey and Wolvie in this issue.

Prognosis?  Most likely in for the distance.

Scarlet Spider:  Yost is one of my favorite writers at the moment.  I think Slott and Yost could rule the Spiderverse and I'd be perfectly happy.  There have been a few flat stories in the middle of story arcs, but overall, the book has been great fun.

Prognosis?  I'm in for the foreseeable future on this one.

Secret Avengers:  I read the first arc of this series  (Mission to Mars) but lost track of it for a while.  I jumped back on board recently, and I've been enjoying it.  This is one of those cases where staying on board means staying with a book that is likely going to shift around a bit after the Avengers get reorganized.

Prognosis?  In for the rest of this arc's resolution, but not sure about the Now version of the title yet.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:  IDW had a sale on TMNT a while back, and that got me into the new version of the book.  I like it, and I think it's a compelling reboot of the origin with enough new stuff in the story to make it worth rereading, and enough old school material to make it all recognizable.  That said, I'm not sure it's compelling enough to stay on my list with everything else I'm juggling right now.

Prognosis?  Gone but not forgotten, but something's got to give.

Uncanny Avengers:  We have all of one issue under our belt, but it's an interesting issue so far.  I'm not quite sure about Rogue and Wanda's tension, and some of Red Skull's new henchmen are a little out there, but I'm still interested enough to stay on board.

Prognosis?  At least for a few more issues to see where this goes.

Uncanny X-Force:  Another book that I caught the tail end of, I'm interested in seeing how this story arc plays out.  Once it's done, however, I'm not sure about either of the new X-Force books coming out.

Prognosis?  Until the end of the story arc, but maybe not on board for future versions of the book.

Venom:  I jumped on when creative teams shifted, during the somewhat strange but enjoyable Monsters of Evil arc.  I'm liking the Minimum Carnage storyline, but I'm no sure I want to be 100% dedicated to the story.  We'll see.

Prognosis?  In through Minimum Carnage and the move to Philly, then we'll see.

Wolverine and the X-Men:  I really enjoyed the return to a more traditional set up for Wolverine's side of the X-Men when this book launched, and I liked he less paramilitary, more fun focus of the book.  I did drift away for a while, however, because I didn't want to deal with all of he drama from AvX bleeding over.  Now that all of that is over, I'm back on board, and still enjoying how the book is set up.

Prognosis?  Looks like I'm in for a while again on this book.

World's Finest:  I'm mainly sticking with this book because of it's ties to Earth 2, but I'm getting less and less interested in following the exploits of these two.  In spite of myself, I want to see the Huntress/Robin meeting, but beyond that, I'm not sure this one will stay on the list.

Prognosis?  Likely done after the family reunion.

Wow, that was a lot of words.  Lots and lots of words.  I'll be interested myself in seeing how much I cull these books next month at this time.  Until then, if you made it this far, thanks for checking out the blog.