Monday, January 14, 2013

2012 - a great year of just plain gaming

With the Temple of Demogorgon 4 year anniversary just this last week, I thought it might a good time to talk about some of my gaming from the last year (as seems to be the tradition). Mostly the last year was about focusing on actually running games over blogging or kerfuffling in the OSR, and I found it both peaceful and fulfilling.

In 2012 I didn’t do much in the way of gaming outside the regular group. After a couple of shitty experiences in the previous and other years both at tabletops and online (there were some good ones too), I dedicated myself to the regular group and to new campaigns with gusto, and kept my posts here to an average of 2 or 3 a month.

Pretty much started the year jumping right into my long-daydreamed about classic Runequest game. I did a lot of research, and dreaming up of my own stuff in relation to existing data for this campaign. It was a lot of work, but I love Glorantha and could not wait to portray my version of it. Though I used a lot of the Celtic imagery and some clarifications on locations from later editions, I did my best to keep my Glorantha very basic, they way I experienced it as a kid. There was a bit of work to be done with the crunch, as I almost immediately threw out some of the Strike Rank stuff and started houseruling to make the game and all it’s combat focus go smoother. I think that went well, as I’m pretty sure I captured the groups imagination with strong tribal-clan setting, a nice break from generic medieval Europe setting of D&D. I finally got to do the classic Gringles Pawnshop and Rainbow Mounds scenario’s, and it was all good. I think I left the campaign off later in the year with the players wanting more, and that is the feather in the GM cap as far as I’m concerned. I will for sure revisit the characters later this year.

In January regular player Paul brought a copy of Arkham Horror boardgame when we were low on players, and though lengthy (as most boardgames seem to be) it was fun, and got my juices flowing to do some Call of Cthulhu. We did eventually get a few sessions in, and it was good times. I called this part of the campaign “Fangs of New York,” with a classic New York setting. Byakhees and Chinese Gangsters over Times Square on New Years Eve, Cho Cho People and Chaugner Faugh in the Jersey Pine Barrens. Really great sessions, and as in the past some players hemmed and hawed about the genre, but loved it once we played. Quite honestly, I think I do my best GMing with Cthulhu. I’m really “on” when I run it. Looking forward to getting in some more of this soon. It is a good game for when you are low on players.

Just a quick video gaming mention as an aside. Around the earlier part of last year my video game of choice ended up being Fallout 3. I hadn’t played a video game with this much enthusiasm since Resident Evil 4. Just a great and immersive game, and a big time waster in 2012. Right now, into 2013, I’m putting a bit of effort into Borderlands 1 and Bioshock (I might have mentioned in the past that I am always 2-4 years behind on my video games).

My Knights of The Old Republic campaign continued. Despite the crunch, or maybe even because of it, the group on a whole seemed to really enjoy it. I cannot compare it to AD&D as I hadn’t run that for the group in over two years, but out of everything else I have done; Mutant Future, Champions, and Call of Cthulhu, this seemed to be what the gang liked best. I ran it right up to the holidays, but have set it aside since I want to do D&D so bad. We’ll hopefully get back to it later this year, maybe summer.

In addition to this new D&D campaign we are just getting underway, I also still want to do a mini-campaign with the high level dudes left over from the Night Below campaign I ended two years ago. The players seem very attached to these characters, and it seems a shame to not do the occasional outing with them, despite my mild dislike for high level play.

So we in the group have started my new AD&D 1st edition campaign, and the characters seem like a lot of fun so far. So my gaming wish list for lucky number 2013 is to do a bunch of this AD&D campaign, a smattering of the high level AD&D, More Call of Cthulhu here and there, a continuance of KOTOR later in the year, and…heaven forbid…maybe sneak a little Champions in? That would be a damn good gaming year for me.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fumblin’ around with The DMG – character creation

Dan Dan The Power Game Man™ has been scratching to get out of the house. His wife just had another kid last week, and his Mulholland manse is chock full of relatives from around the globe. After a hard partyin’ Christmas weekend, I was not totally up for a full game of any kind. But with only Dan and Andy available anyway, I thought why not sink some Newcastles and do character work for the new campaign, and maybe a little combat encounter or two.

With a return to more BTB game play in this 1st edition campaign, I wanted to be strict with the character creation. Strict for me, anyway. Racial stat and level limitations were in play this campaign, and with none of us being DMG experts (despite my recent ongoing efforts), there was quite a bit of fumbling through the beloved tome to try and make sure our bases were covered. I have a pdf of OSRIC I printed and bound to serve as a backup play aid in this campaign, and it was a little useful. It would have been moreso, but here’s another book I need to read and familiarize myself with. It’s better organized than the DMG, but it ain’t perfect when you need a particular piece of info. Nothing I wanted to look up in OSRIC was listed and easily found in the index's, but that may have been more bad luck than anything else. I am going to take a better look at it though (it is, like, a 400 page thing).

Before delving too deep, we did that stat rolls so they could start formulating ideas on what to run. So I had them both do up three full sets of stats, each with roll 4D6 use best 3D6, in order. This is a tightening up of my usual assign to taste preference. There would be no stat dumping here. You get three full sets to make a choice from, and that still seems fairly generous. I allowed only very minor tweaking, and only in cases I suggested. I took ZERO player suggestions on stat swapping and such. Nope. Mr. Tough Guy. Despite that, they came out pretty above average in most respects. Dan even got an 18 in strength for the set he chose.

So harsh restrictions in the book popped up only once or twice to burn players. Mostly in Dan’s case. He wanted his fighter/MU/cleric to be a full grey elf, but the rules say he’d have to be half elf. He was fairly disappointed for some reason he could not be the full elf, and I almost caved. But Andy chimed in and kept me on the straight and narrow. I’m happy for that, because hell, full elves are these immortal dudes. There should be reasons to make it harder to be one. Despite being all over the place, 1st edition does have some balancing acts going on, and I don’t want to do my usual willy nilly houseruling to mess with it. So it’s a half-elf for big Dan.
So after fumbling around to get characters properly created by the book, I set them up with a little giant rat killing at a city tavern to stretch the combat muscles for the pair.
New characters getting done up is always big fun for me, and I’m glad we’ll get to stretch it out when the other players are there to roll up. I had to admit, it was kind of refreshing to “go by the rules” for character creation. We’ll soon hopefully see how that goes for long term gameplay.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Rereading the DMG is gonna be a bitch

I can’t remember if I ever read the DMG all the way through when I first got it as a kid. Logic would say that I would have. It had to be an exciting thing, getting this tome. I just don’t remember it. I certainly never made a study of it. I’d say more than half my handwaved houserules came out of my not wanting to look shit up (the rest because, well, I thought a lot of stuff about the rules sucked). So I never came anywhere near to mastering the “official” rules of AD&D 1st ed.

Well, I have kind of decided to make a cover to cover reading of it. For one thing, I want to weed out some of my more arbitrary houserulings (many of which are just in my head and fuzzy sometimes) and get back to being a wee bit more by the book. This is something I should maybe have done when I started the group 4 years ago. In contrast to the many noobs I introduced to the game back in the 90’s (in the 80’s most of my players wanted to be experts), these guys were fairly seasoned players, and in at least one case knew the DMG much better than I did. So I had to sometimes fight tooth and nail with players over some of my “lazy” changes. So for sure to not have to go through that struggle again, and some other reasons, I am going to get more familiar with things in the tome. So I thought a cover to cover read would help. Even if I'm not as excited about it as when I was a kid, and its more like work.

After around a week I am not all that far into it. 30 pages or so. But in that short amount of time I remembered how disorganized the book is. One page I’m reading about spells, the next henchmen and homestead upkeep, and back again. Maybe this will, at the very least, make me more educated on what all is in this book I’ve had several copies of for well over 30 years. More thoughts to come.
And a happy Christmas to you!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Player characters – Divide and sometimes Conquer

I’m not talking about making PC’s squabble, which in itself can be fun and rewarding for a DM. I’m talking about giving characters their own little encounters outside of the usual group encounters. I did this in the last KOTOR game. Andy’s Mandalorian bodyguards for the major NPC Solomon, who visits the Coruscant University from time to time as an alumni. So I had him attacked in a student lounge area near the massive library, by the Sith brother Phade (see last post) whom Mandalorian had ticked off in a previous encounter. Also in the same game, I had NPC Solomon have the female Jedi, Lucia, watch his back as they entered a gang bar on a rescue mission of a young lady; it ended up in a nice big fight.

This is an example of something I have long since done in all my games periodically, including D&D. Give characters a life and encounters of their own from time to time. This is especially useful when you only have a couple or three players for the night, like I did. And they are a snap to design for. If you have decent characters to work with, they will have backgrounds and previous encounters that can give you good ideas for solo fights and you can pretty much just wing it. Old enemies return for an ambush, new enemies attack when character friends are doing their own thing elsewhere, or just rescue and escort missions depending on the character. This really helps flesh them out for me, rather than just constant group experiences.

Once again I firmly blame my comic book collecting background growing up. The example is right there in members of groups like the Justice League or The Avengers; big group-related donnybrooks, but the individual heroes also have their own comics with their own headaches.

You don’t want to make other players wait too long (sometimes I miscalculate, which is the main drawback of this kind of thing – but if it happens you can promise the offended player their own beefed up solo encounter in the near future to make up for it), but if you put some thought into it the players can really dig getting their own licks in without other characters getting in the way. It really helps bring them to life.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Star Wars – the Brutality of Force Powers

We had a very rollicking session of Knights of The Old Republic this week, one that stood out mostly due to the very high amount of force powers being tossed around the battlefield.

Most of the display of force powers so far In the campaign has been the Jedi characters, most specifically the male Jedi whose powers have been chosen for maximum combat usefulness (the player of the female Jedi has chosen powers and abilities that she liked over any sort of power gaming), making him a terror to lesser villains. He crushes and slams his way across a battle area, aided and abetted by things like negate energy (stops energy attacks), deflect, and block to keep the personal damage total to a minimum.

I got the chance to do some force power use of my own in a game earlier this year when the party took on a lichy undead Sith Lord aboard a haunted space station, but in the game this week it got way more hairy.

The party is travelling with a young, red-haired NPC named Solomon, who has for some reason or another (some prophesies have been attributed to him) has garnered interest from the Sith who want to find out what he is about, and another arcane group with great resources that seem to want him dead.

So in the campaign so far the party has been tailed by a pair of young brother and sister Sith Students, and in this last game it was revealed that they are actually working for their mother who is a Sith Witch. The witch, her kids, and almost a dozen other Sith students (actually young Fallen Jedi being tested) travelling with them confronted and ended up attacking the party in a rundown factory area of Coruscant. The male Jedi of the group was in a speeder hidden nearby, so most of the party was deprived of his strong force powers in their fight with the larger group. This Jedi was attacked at his speeder by a small number of Sith students, but did not end up in combat as one of the Sith was a former Jedi who grew up with the PC Jedi at the Coruscant Temple, and she recognized him from going up around him and stayed her hand, telling her companions to back off as well.

As a matter of fact, the Witch leader and the rest didn’t really intend to kill them. Obviously they were trying to get Solomon to come with them so they can investigate him further, but also with Coruscant being basically the Jedi capitol, it would be unwise for them to slaughter people planetside, especially involving killing of Jedi. But what they did want to do was show Solomon their strength, impressing him by beating the shit out of the other characters. Which in this case ended up being the two strong fighers.

These two characters are a Wookiee outlaw, and a Mandalorion veteran from the recent wars (that lead up to the current Jedi Civil War). Normally they dominate a battlefield, but they were facing strong, mid-level Sith warriors (almost all former Jedi) and all with force powers in addition to lightsabers.

And now, with me finally being able to cut loose with multiple force users of my own, it was my turn to dominate these two often bullyish fighters. And let me tell you, these powers are bruuut-tal! With the Mandalorian in full armor flying around in a jet pack, he got hit by Force Grip (one of the more strong and somewhat broken force powers), and a couple of other powers including a thrown lightsaber that did damn good damage (that surprised him, though he is a Mandalorian War veteran who would have faced Jedi in combat in the past). Pretty close to taking him right out. As for the Wookiee, he got hit by force lightning that was not only damaging, but severely knocking down his condition track (you get minuses to everything when your condition goes down). With several lightsabers coming at him, powered by decent skill and Dark Rage power, things looked bad for the Wookiee as well.

But the Sith had made their point, and backed off. I was actually a bit torn at that point, and put it to a secret dice roll as to whether they might try to kill the party. The Sith Witch and her two children were not involving themselves in the fight, but the characters chose to throw some attacks their way. I felt it was kind of foolish, going for honor shots on the leaders instead of focusing on those attacking you. But that’s overconfident players for you. Lucky for the characters that they backed off anyway, as it probably would have been the end of them. It actually would have been kind of cool to end things in a TPK.

See, even though it’s fun and I love the KOTOR setting (initially sparked by the KOTOR XBOX game), I kind of need a break from it. We actually don’t play it as much; our first game was around a year and a half ago, and we’ve probably only done fifteen or so sessions of it since. As it’s getting higher level, the foes need more detail over the cannon fodder the PC’s have been wading through so far. I was using over a dozen force users on the battlefield, all with differing powers and abilities. I even went so far as to have to put numbered bits of paper under them to keep track of the individuals better. This is a lot of work for me. Not like D&D which I can basically phone-in and still have a fun session.

So I think some D&D is in order to run some more relaxing sessions. A new campaign. It’s been a couple of years or so now since I finished my Night Below campaign, and I think I have recovered enough from that to get on the Dungeon train again. So I think KOTOR goes on the backburner for awhile, and I’ll get on some good ol’ D&D as we get into a new year.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tegel Manor and my Return to “Gonzo” D&D

As a kid and most of my teens my D&D was all kinds of Gonzo. I used City State of The Invincible Overlord, Tegel Manor, and a variety of early Judges Guild products as my D&D wheelhouse. In those early days I did not give a damn about verisimilitude, and didn’t even know what the hell it was. Right out of the gate I think we were doing weird fantasy in our games by default, long before James Raggi used the term for his games.

But that was not to last. Just growing up made the gaming group increase the realism a bit, and once again as usual I put the blame for my own game world becoming more “real” on girls entering our gaming circles. Pretty, pretty girlies. Endless dungeon gauntlets and constant killing, combined with apeshit occurrences in-game that made little sense seemed to turn girls off. Role-play became a bigger factor then. The gals wanted to develop relationships in the game world. They seemed to respond better to things that made some sense, not just the weirdo whims of adolescent fantasy-minded boys. So in my game world shopkeeps and bartenders stopped being 10 level wizards or retired 9th level paladins. Magic shops began to become scarce. Dungeons existing for no other reason than to massacre adventurers became rarer. I stopped using Thor, Zeus, and other gods of myth and injected my own that made sense for my setting. Verisimilitude reared its ugly head. Thus has it remained over the decades. I kept an eye on things making some kind of sense in my world.

Well, I’m sort of getting turned around on that. I've had a couple of years off from running a regular D&D campaign, focusing on Sci Fi and other types of fantasy. After all those years of making my game world sort of low on gonzo, I’m getting a desire to go silly once more when I get back on the campaign track. Not that everything in the game world is going to go apeshit all of a sudden. But I want to have my main city stop being so much like Gondor, and go back to being more like Lankhmar. Weirdo shit around every corner. And my first step is to utilize the full gonzo nature of Tegel Manor. That setting will be the focus of my next campaign I think. Gonna make it MY Ravenloft! On a trip out of town the other weekend I actually got to test the waters with it outside my regular group a bit. That taste has me ready to go full bore with the wacky, brutal mansion on the gang in the not too distant future. Oh, of course I will try to throw a little gravitas with it in the form of better explanations of why certain things are the way they are, but Tegel seems the perfect way to hit the group over the head with my new gonzo outlook.

Really, life is getting too short for obsessing on verisimilitude in a game of pretend.

Walking Dead still not doing it for me

Read this comment in a (non-gaming) pop culture forum today, and it sums up my feelings on the episode last night.

"None of the deaths had any impact. It felt like a show in panic mode, thinking everything sucks so they have to kill a bunch of characters off. T-Dawg getting replaced by T-Dawg II is hilarious."

The writing is just god aweful. Things like the Guv'na's easy wipe out of trained military men (we know by now that in real life, such as in the middle east, panicy soldiers shoot first and ask questions later) last week is a big deal breaker on its own. Just another example of things happening because the writers need them to happen, like The Joker in The Dark Knight. I hate that kind of writing.

Michonne is an interesting comic book character, but in the reality the TV show presents, she seems really out of place. If this was a movie she would be the main hero and everybody else would be supporting characters. She is also mostly portrayed as smart and savvy, but she seems to put all her cards on the table by questioning the governor about the soldier encounter. More poor writing.

I know it's TV and writing often sucks on even decent shows, but damn. I guess I should not watch really good shows before watching this. This last weekend I finally watched the first few eps of Homeland. That is MUST watch stuff. Writing and character development is off the hook. From now on I won't be catching WD in it's time slot. I'll be catching up on it On Demand later in the week while doing other stuff I think. Nothing about it is must watch to me, and I don’t think it’s going to capture the magic of that pilot episode. If this is the best they can do, then it’s all downhill from here. I really don’t care what happens to anybody. This is in stark contrast to other great shows, such as Breaking Bad, where each and every character is full and interesting, even mundane ones.

And as for Talking Dead, they really need to stop having producers as guests. They suck the friggin life out of it. They never have anything to add. The moronic Chris Hardwick constantly asking questions he knows they will not answer. And the actors usually suck too. Most actors need really good interviewers so as to not come up forced and hammy. It's at it's most fun when geek comedians such as Patton Oswalt are there to add a little color (although Drew Carey was a total dud).

I was so excited the other year when I heard about a zombie TV series being made. But it turns out for that to be good and outstanding they need compelling characters and strong writing, which this show totally lacks. I really wish they could have done a show based on Max Brook’s World War Z, using clever filming methods to stay on budget. What a great, international anthology series that would have made. A different story and setting each week or season. Dare to dream.