Thursday, January 31, 2013

It Was A Great Convention, Then it Was A Horrible Week.

More or less just letting everyone know I'm still alive.  Winter War went great.  Introduced a lot of new people to Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, and at least a few of them were anxious to pick up a copy of either the Basic Game or Civil War and start playing.  We only really had one session where it was hard to explain to the new players how everything worked, due to a scheduling and placement issue with our table and some of the ones around us, but for the most part, even that session was fun, if a bit more confusing.

Monday afternoon I started to feel the encroaching illness that I had been dodging for a week or so, and figured if I slept from the time I got home until I went to work the next day, I'd be fine.  Not so much.  Tuesday hit me will almost every muscle in my body aching, a low grade fever, nausea, full lungs, and a horrible sinus headache.

By this morning I had worked through a lot of that, took a shower, and felt better . . . until I went outside to the now plummeting temperatures that hit us after a few days of 40 and 50 degree weather.  I almost immediately started to feel as bad as I had on Tuesday, went in to work, and promptly got sent home so as not to infect my whole department.

Because I've been sleeping a good portion of my time away, I didn't have time to prep anything for the Star Wars game, so even had I been feeling better, that would have been canceled.

This isn't so much a case of "con crud," as "I spent the whole weekend tiring myself out and not sleeping as much as I could while fighting off an illness that was already stalking me."  I've been pretty lucky in the past to have avoided any signs of "con crud" after a convention  (though that may have to do with the fact that I usually take the day after a convention off to sleep in and recharge my batteries).

So, I'm still here.  I'll post the last Star Wars session at some point in time, and write up a summary of the Winter War games, which were great, but right now, I need some more sleep.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Marching Forward

I've still got a Star Wars: Edge of the Empire game to summarize here, but most of this weekend I've been busy plugging away at printing, organizing, and outlining my Marvel Heroic sessions for the Winter War convention that starts this upcoming Friday.

Not only that, but I promised my wife some attention before she loses me for most of the convention this weekend.

Because I'm always a little paranoid about forgetting something critical, as per my usual custom, I'm not running my regular Thursday night game before Winter War, so no Dungeon Crawl Classics this week.

In my "free moments" and while waiting on my wife's hair appointments today, I did some inspirational reading, reading or rereading Secret Invasion, Schism, Avengers: The Children's Crusade, and Siege.  Just some light reading.

Have I mentioned how cool the Marvel Digital Unlimited Subscription is, especially for filling in the gaps in your reading from years gone by?

At any rate, I've got everything done but one outline  (for my Young Avengers scenario), so I'm not doing too bad.  Two of my scenarios are modified from the Breakout Event from the basic game, and the other two were graciously provided by Margaret Weis Production.  Really looking forward to getting to run some more Marvel Heroic.

I will say that I was a wee bit tempted to sign up for the twilight  (midnight to four) session of Tremulus, but I owe my 9 am players a bit more lucidity that I could provide, had I given in to my gaming urges.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Accentuating the Positive: You Can Always Steal Something Useful

Now that I wrapped up my long winded commentary on Dungeon World, something positive did come from my abbreviated read through of the book.  I really liked the way the book handled traveling and random encounters and such.

For those that haven't played the game, in Dungeon World, when the PCs travel, one PC is the quartermaster, one PC is the scout, and one PC is the navigator, or words to that effect.  Each one makes a check to see if you use more provisions than you expected, if you run into monsters, and if you get lost.

I like this idea.  While the wilderness has, from olden days in D&D, had it's own kind of rules compared to the dungeon, there is kind of a binary issue with overland travel.  Check for everything every day, and things drag to a mechanical halt.  Not only that, random encounters multiple times per day due to bad die rolling seems silly, but changing those encounters because they seem silly makes even making the check seem pointless.  On the other hand, just saying "you traveled for a month" seems pretty anti-climatic.

Now, the reasons for a quartermaster in Dungeon World have to do with provisions have their own special mechanic that ties into resting and the like, so it's not as important for this discussion.  However, navigation and scouting do make some sense to export.  So I tried this for my Dungeon Crawl Classics game.

For every week, the PCs make a navigation check and a scouting check.  If the trip is less than a week, you make one check each, minimum.  If you fail a navigation check, you add a week to your trip  (or a day, if it was shorter than a week).  For each week, you make a scouting check to see if you run into a random encounter.  PCs that don't want to scout get an encounter, and you shouldn't feel guilty about slamming them with 1d4-1 wandering clones of Orcus.  Or something like that.

I liked it, and it didn't handwave the travel time, it just gave the PCs something they could do to mark the passage of time that was relevant to one of their backgrounds  (or not, since it's DCC and not everyone is going to be good at navigation and scouting).  If you want the area to be more likely to have wandering monsters, or be overgrown and hard to navigate, you just up the DC.  In a well patrolled area with tons of formally paved roads, you bump the DCs way down.

Now if I could just come up with a good way to incidentally include weather in a fun, encounter based manner that didn't bog things down as well, I'd be thrilled.

Dungeon World Intimidates Me

I read about a lot of people, including people that I have personally gamed with (and as such, trust their gaming instincts), that were really excited about Dungeon World.  When it came out at RPGNow, I picked it up right away.  I still haven't finished the book.  It's not a slam on the book, but it is something I can't quite put my finger on.

Digging In

When I initially mentioned some of my concerns with the book, I was met with a lot of responses that indicated that it doesn't play like a typical RPG, so it might not be easy to fully grasp.  I don't think that is the whole thing here.

If you are reading this, and a Dungeon World type person, feel free to correct me, but the crux of the game is that there is no initiative system, and you present the players with situations, the players tell you what they are doing, if that thing they are doing seems like it would be a good thing to dramatically determine based on stats and a die roll, you do so, and most of your actions as a GM are determined in response to PC actions after you see how they react to what you have presented them, rather than proactively doing things yourself, to the point that you don't even really roll dice that often as a GM, you just present the situation and introduce what mechanics are used to resolve what the players do in response to the situation that you have presented.

So if I'm wrong on all of that, or any of that, I'll be happy to be corrected.  I think I'm picking up on the main body of how this is supposed to work.  What I think is throwing me is the amount of effort used in the rulebook to reassure me that this isn't like other RPGs, and to avoid actually using rules terminology most of the time, while still obliquely referencing those same rules that are eventually presented.

Some Who Wander Really Are Lost

I think I just keep getting lost in the part of the book where it discusses theory and storytelling after the design goals have already been established.  I guess what I'm saying is, you can write an introduction that explains how this is supposed to work the plays down the rules.  You can write a section in the GM's section that reinforces this.  You can have a section in the player's section that touches on this.  But having this same theme, in a kind of unstructured way, weave its way through the whole book, just makes me feel like either I'm missing something because sometimes words that get repeated a lot in an RPG book have been appropriated as having rules defined context.

As an example, while some rules squeak by as being less explained or highlighted than they should be, Marvel Heroic is a game system that doesn't work like a lot of game systems out there, especially other supers games.  However, the way the book presents the rules, I get the feeling that I understand the basics, and I'm not missing out on the core experience if I happened to have missed one little rule or didn't quite do things as intended.  The rules sections clearly explain that since this is a game, it has rules, and here is how they work, and there isn't a constant reference to how different the game experience is or digressions into how to tell stories above and beyond any rules that are being presented.

Conceptual Integration

But I don't think all of my issues are just with the rulebook.  I think part of my issues come from reading what other people post about the game.  I think that has colored my perception of things a bit, and that's part of why I don't want to be too critical of the book itself.  There are things that I didn't get as part of the "core experience" from my reading that appear to be such from discussions that I've seen.

For example, I know that the PCs are the focus of the story, but I keep seeing it hammered home that the PC is "the" Fighter or "the" Wizard, and there may not be anyone else that can do what they do ever anywhere.

I also see lots of people mentioning that the GM isn't supposed to really create or use a setting, just present what he needs to present to the PCs, and incorporate what they come up with into the setting.  That's hard for me as a GM, as I run "the world" and the PCs run "the heroes."  It's not that I can't improvise or incorporate player ideas, but I need to have a fairly good idea of what I'm doing with the setting that is inviolate, that doesn't yank the rug out from under me, just like I won't tell a PC that they would take a certain action or that they have to engage in a romance with a given NPC.

Am I Reading This Right?

As an example of where I didn't understand the rules a certain way, but saw them presented that way by participants of a game, I present the lore rolls.  I thought if a PC didn't roll high enough to get something, they learned something true, but not immediately helpful, and if they rolled high enough, they learned something true and immediately helpful.  The way I've seen this interpreted by people online is that the player gets to make up that thing that is true for that type of monster.  Wow.  If that is the case, how do I have any investiture in the creatures I present?  And even in the best of groups, you are going to have players that get caught up in the novelty of this concept and just see how hard it is for the GM to incorporate a completely off the wall idea into the monster concept.

To explain how some of this contrasts with my original ideas on using the game, I'll present what jumped into my head.  It's been years since I ran a Forgotten Realms game, and I love the version of the setting that exists in my own head, inspired originally by the Old Grey Boxed Set.  A lot of fantasy systems make me wonder if I could run a Realms game that would use elements of the setting well, divorced of any particular rule from D&D.  When I first started reading these rules, I thought I could do that with these rules.  If a lot of what I have read is accurate, no, I couldn't.  There are other adventurers in the world, and half of what I want to be true might go out the window, so I might as well use generic fantasy land and let the details fill in as we go.

I know a lot of games tell you, "use what you want, don't use what you don't want, and don't worry if you forget something or skip it to advance the story," but it seems like a good portion of the rules and a lot of the people posting about the rules indicate that there really is a "right" way to use these rules, and not getting that right way will cause you to miss out on a really amazing experience.

This makes me a bit nervous about doing anything with these rules.  If I run a game using them, I could ruin a great gaming experience by not using them right.  If I play, and I don't get how I'm supposed to contribute, I could bring everybody down, because even though I think I get it, I don't really "get" it.

From what I've read of the rules, it seems like this would be a fun, more story-driven, rules lighter version of presenting the traditional kind of fantasy adventure roleplaying that's been around since the dawn of the hobby.

But from what I've read online, and get the notion of in a few places in the rules, that's just kind of a veneer that glosses over this kind of transcendent storytelling experience, and it's kind of intimidating.  It's the same kind of intimidation that kept me from ever cracking the spine on a World of Darkness book.  I just worry that I could never be that amazingly "on" all of the time to do justice to this experience that I keep reading other people expressing.

Someone Stop Me Before I Judge Again! (Dungeon Crawl Classics)

We had our Dungeon Crawl Classics game last Thursday night.  I learned a few things.  The first thing I learned is not to watch Your Highness before finishing my game prep.  The second thing I learned is that I now know what it's like to hear words coming out of your mouth that you want to stop, but can't.  Finally, I learned that my players have a high tolerance for the depravity that festers beneath the surface of my brain like a mental abscess.

As a group, we're playing through a lot of published material from Goodman and other publishers.  I'm doing this in part because I'm running more than one game, and also because I know that there are times when I fall into being a "softball" GM when I create my own adventures, and it's easier to hold myself to the vicious, bloodthirsty requirements of judging DCC if I use appropriate material.

That having been said, I have to tinker.  I can't help it.  When the party ran through Sailors on the Starless Sea, I had to create a framing device, and I couldn't help it now that they have arrived in the proper location for People of the Pit.  

The PCs have already run into an inquisitor that torched their home and was hunting them for a year. They run into him again, and he offers to pay them and clear their names if they can look into a little inquisition business for him.  Thus they traveled to a "ravine" in the south, which turns out to be a rift the size of the Grand Canyon.  There were six villages around this rift, and now there are five, with the most prominent currently being the village of Doomshadow.  Upon arriving, the PCs find out that the village is swelled with visitors for the Games, which seems to be at least a somewhat festive event.

In town, they find out from the mayor that the inquisition shut down the original purpose for the games ten years ago.  Hundreds of years ago, when the villages around the rift were attacked by a powerful extraplanar being, a priest instituted a program of sacrificing a dozen virgins to the entity.

Thirty years later, when an ill timed orgy in the village of Chance cause a virgin shortage, the creature attacked again, wiping out that village, and doing great damage to the rest.  After that unfortunate incident, two things happened.  The games were instituted, and the village whose champion finishes last in the games must provide the extra virgins to cover for the lost village of Chance, to bring the total up to a dozen.  Also, the priests of the village created the special dowsing rods that could be used to determine the virginity of any given person, just to make sure.

The mayor is glad to see the PCs, because the inquisition shut down the virgin sacrifice, and promised to look into the matter further.  The PCs must be the "problem solvers" that the inquisition promised.  He further explains that there have been kidnappings, sightings of strange, faceless robed figures, and the theft of several of their precious viginity dowsing rods.  He explains to them that if the PCs find that the creature is no longer a threat, they will gladly hold the games to honor the gods in accordance  with the wishes of the Inquisition, and if they fail, they hold the games as normal to pick some virgins really fast.  It's a win win situation.  Until the inquisition comes back of course.

Why do people keep rebuilding here?  The rift is the dividing line between the fertile north and the wastelands of the south, and the lands in this area are the most fertile in the entire empire.  Thus, the inquisition is less likely to put villages to the torch willy nilly.

Here Be Spoilers!  (If you are going to play in People of the Pit, stop right now!)

With that framing device firmly in place, the adventurers set out to explore the rift.  Now, even my softball GM soul can deal with the fact that a few of the players have extra characters left over from the "Funnel Days," so killing a few off will be fun.  Plus, the nobleman priest has a hireling along as well.

Thus, I was a little disappointed when the whole group survived the battle with the cultists on the stairs, especially when the cultists managed to summon a tentacle to smash said nobleman priest.  The cleric burned pretty much all of the Luck he could afford to damage it enough to hold it off, and the PCs picked up on the fact that if they could kill off enough of the cultists, they might lose the tentacle.

So, no fatalities, but a lot of Luck went out the window.

Exploration, altars, and traps ensued.  Most of the party waited at one landing while the halfling in the party found the "back alley" crawlspaces and rooted around, but we determined that the halfing took about an hour and a half to explore, and the rest of the party got bored and assumed the halfling died at the half hour mark and moved on.

The group headed to the last landing, the thief climbed over to the landing and tied off a rope, and because he has poor impulse control, the Chaotic aligned wizard threw a stone at the big ominous gong that everyone else was avoiding.  The halfing could hear it, and figured the party was still alive and what direction they went, but was still a way from catching up with the rest.

Eventually the group worked their way to a massive devil toad monstrosity.  The wizard was pretty cordial to it, but in the end, they figured out that they had to kill each other.  So, remember my concern about fatalities earlier in the night?  Chaotic wizard got pinned, swollowed, and killed, I know that the nobleman cleric died, and at least one other PC, but I'm an evil Judge and I don't have all of the PCs memorized yet.

Bah, who am I kidding.  They don't deserve recognition until they make it to 2nd level at least.

I had a really good time, once I got past the colossally in bad taste set up that I created and set in motion had passed.  I can only hope that my players enjoyed the night as well as I did.  And unfortunately, since the party hasn't hit 2nd level yet, I'm making our poor, unfortunate player whose cleric died roll up another 0 level character.  I'm sure he'll do well accompanied by his experienced, brave, stalwart companions.

The Death Jawas of Etti IV (Star Wars Edge of the Empire)

Over a week ago, I took over the reigns of the Edge of the Empire game I was in.  To start off we established our new status quo by figuring out who was still on the crew and who had left.  Two of the players had picked up new characters, and our previous GM had a new character to introduce.  Our old Wookiee, Gand, and the assassin droid hired on with the Hutt whose scavenger hunt we had participated in.

Max Damage, our "humans first" jack of all trades ran into an old friend of his, a ship builder who had run into a spot of trouble by having the wrong people help him finish one of his projects.  He had been given some corvette designs from Sienar Fleet Systems to deliver to one of the corporations in the CSA.  As in, Sienar hadn't made the plans public are started production on these designs, and somehow they might end up getting produced in the Corporate Sector before Sienar could do so.

While Max's friend was joining he group, two other beings found the cargo hold of the party's ship.  A Force sensitive Squib trader and a Jawa started looking through what the ship had in it's hold.  The Squib was convinced that the ship was open, so it was fair game, and the Jawa . . . well, he's just kind of obsessed with doing illegal things.  The Squib pulled a blaster on the Jawa, and the Jawa disappeared into the cargo hold.

The party's "face," a Twi'lek that had the license on the ship, and that has ties to Black Sun, decided to pick up a job on the side, and after asking around a bit, ended up taking a job from one of the Hutt cartels to ship a load of stuffed Wookiee toys that certainly didn't have something like spice in them into Coruscant for distribution, presumably to children that liked stuffed wookiees.

Upon finding out about the stowaways, the Twi'lek began to negotiate with the squib about his usefulness, and the squib demonstrated his unorthodox but useful trading skills by negotiating a trade license in the CSA by Holonet.  In the meantime, the Twi'lek decided that it would be best to get rid of any jawa pests by venting the cargo hold to the void, but the Jawa managed to scurry up to hide in the cockpit while the cargo hold was being vented.

The new shipwright on the crew turned out to be a excellent navigator and planned out an amazingly fast hyperspace route to Etti IV, the capital world of the Corporate Sector.  On the way to the planet, the group realized that the Jawa was still alive, and that he was surviving by doing things like eating their shoes.  Resigned, they stopped actively trying to kill him.

The shipwright managed to deliver his plans, accompanied by his friend Max, and the meeting seemed to go off without a hitch.  The Squib convinced he twi'lek to take on some legitimate cargo, and he managed to chat up a local mineral shipper to purchase a relatively small load of Outer Rim minerals that could turn a profit in the Core.

Unfortunately, the humans didn't make it back to the ship unmolested.  They spotted a figure trailing them, and rather than lose them, their mysterious stalker opened fire.  The notorious Gungan bounty hunter Deadeye Bodad opened fire on the pair.  The shipwright was badly injured by the Gungan's disruptor.  Max managed to shoot the Gungan in one arm, and he had to switch firing hands.  The fire fight continued, until, out of the crowd, without warning, the Jawa popped up, blew off the Gungan's other arm, then dove back into the crowd.  Max finished off the Gungan, and the Espos, local law enforcement, collected the body and everything at the crime scene.  The Jawa lifted a credit stick from one of he Espos, and the Squib, while hearing about the dust up on his com link, felt as if the Force didn't want him to leave the ship while it was being loaded.

Between the Squib and Max, the group managed to convince the Espos not to hold them for questioning, and the group headed to Coruscant.  The trip was uneventful, and the Squib managed to turn a tidy profit on his cargo.  The Max and the Jawa delivered the Wookiee toys and negotiated a better price than the Hutt had set, and the Jawa pocketed a few extra credit sticks, since he can't help it.

We left the crew with the Twi'lek having a meeting with his Black Sun bosses while at the center of galactic intrigue.

Current Lineup

Currently we've got a human jack of all trades in Max, another human shipwright, a Force sensitive Squib trader, a Jawa all around criminal, a Twi'lek politico, our Trandoshan gunman, and of course Prawn, our Rodian pilot and slicer.  Our Rodian and Trandoshan players couldn't make the session, and our Twi'lek had to leave early, causing us to wrap up a bit earlier than I might have otherwise.

Fun With Dice

The narrative dice for this game are really starting to grow on me.  In other games if you roll a number that's a lot over your target, sometimes you get the idea that you did something really well.  However, having the extra successes or setbacks right in the roll does kind of encourage you to add some details.  I like that there isn't a set response for every situation, but that there are lots of examples of how positives or negatives could effect success or failure.

Speaking of dice, the Squib was actually going to throw himself, using the Force, into the fight with the bounty hunter, but the Force dice kept keeping him from rolling high enough to do this.  I liked that this got interpreted that the Force was telling the Squib that he shouldn't leave the ship.

Where Did You Get a Squib and a Jawa?

For fun I allowed some options from this site. Lots of fun toys to play with until Fantasy Flight starts to introduce their own expansions, which, if the 40K books are any indication, have to be in the works as well as the core book.