Sunday, January 2, 2022

NYE Boardgaming - The Long Night and King of Tokyo Halloween

 On NYE I got to spend the night with my local besties B and L, and some of their local friends who they have gotten into some of the boardgames we love. 

It was on a big rural property in the sticks. Foothills of the Sierra Mountain range about a half hour away. The area is still laden with snow from the big storms earlier in the week, and it's just beautiful. I got my own flat to sleep in for the night (with horses living just under it), so I was totally up for it and raring to go for drinking, smoking, and playing some games. B and L are also hitting the road soon (they spend about half the year out on the open road) so it was about my last real change to game with them for at least a couple months.

So after a bit of the usual holiday cheer we got down to it. B and L recently got the Dead of Winter expansion The Long Night. It ties in nicely with the original game, making it and even bigger play area. A bandit hideout is included, and also the location of "Raxxon," this games Umbrella corporation. I'm sure this is a ripe-off or Marvel comics old Roxxon evil corporation. Raxxon is making super zombies, and is also likely the cause of the zombie crisis. 

You also get a lot of new characters, including a monkey. 

It plays out just like regular Dead of Winter. This was the first time doing it with 5 players, so there was a lot going on. By halfway through the game pretty much everybody at some point was accused of being the traitor. But towards the end it was clearly Bill, who was promptly exiled. 

The paranoia is the best thing about the game, since everybody gets a motivation card with objectives, and if the player tries to meet them (such as the game being won with two weapons in your possession or whatever) and the actions don't appear to serve the common good, you will get eyebrows raised at you, traitor or not.

The players won the game, though I was lacking one of my objectives, so I didn't get to share in the bragging rights. 

We also then played a few rounds of King of Tokyo, one of my quick game faves. But our kind hosts for the night owned the Halloween edition so we played that. One of the change ups from the regular edition is every character gets a costume card. So your Kaiju might be dressed as a cheerleader, or a princess or witch. This gives you a special ability. 

Since you don't always get a lot of power up cards in the original edition, I welcome something to make your monster different. But the costume thing kind of destroys any verisimilitude. OK, that is kind of ridiculous statement seeing as this is a whimsical game to begin with. But it's all good. It was just s different way to play it. And I did enjoy the chaos of a 5 person game. 

And its all about being with friends on the last night of the year, and that is what counts the most. B and L have been really good to me the last couple of years, and spending time with them, even often as a third (or even 5th) wheel, is very important to me. So, the year for me was ended just right. 

Happy new year!

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Munchkin and Call to Adventure

 So far I've made posts about boardgames I had played the hell out of in the last couple of years. But on Christmas Day I was able to try two games that are new to me. 

With my nearest family members living hours away, and me hating any kind of holiday travel, I was going to stay in town and hopefully see some of the local friends I've managed to make the last couple years.

My besties B & L (a younger couple who kind of adopted me when I had first moved to my new town) came over to spend Christmas afternoon with me and eat slow cooker chili, drink beer, wine, and cider (maybe a little smokey smokey) and play some games. We had a certain window of time; whenever they would drive the half hour to my part of town they would usually come around 4 or 5 and hang till 9. But a powerful winter snow storm was due at some point. A predicted 4 inches. They have a big truck but currently live in a rural part of town that doesn't have priority for snow plowing. So they came around noon and we put the chili cooker on to bubble and settled in quick to try a couple of new games as snowflakes began to slowly accumulate outside.

Munchkin is of course an infamous game that I have wanted to try since impulse buying the deluxe edition a couple months ago. Call to Adventure was given to me by B & L on the Thanksgiving I spent with them and their local friends. Having not heard of it (it never appeared on the Will Wheaton Tabletop show where I was exposed to most games I currently love) I kind of had doubts about it. 

I spent a couple hours Christmas Eve trying to teach myself Call to Adventure. The rules are a wee bit hard to grasp on whole at first, but as soon as you know the basics you wondered why you thought it was complicated. Its not really. Besides the character/story building aspects, things like memorizing what various runes mean seem hard on the surface but in like two minutes you got it. The first game will go slower mostly from trying to correctly pick out the needed runes for your challenges. But after a couple of turns we were in full swing, not having to look up advanced rules until the need came up.

The second game goes much faster (game one was around an hour and a half, the second a bit less than an hour). 

It's a fairly quaint and dare I say maybe a bit elegant game engine. It goes from awkward to intuitive fairly quickly.  You basically start with an origin card (you are a hunter, farmer, merchant, etc), a motivation card (Bound by honor, seeking vengeance, etc) and a destiny card that spells out your final fate and what points you get at the end for various other cards you obtained that relate to the destiny card. 

Runes stand for the usual character traits; strength, dex, con, Widom. You cast runes representing how many of these you have to defeat challenges that get you more cards to expand your story cards. 

The character and story building elements, that you have a lot of control over, promotes role playing and storytelling by default. B & L are not community theater rpg types by a long shot. But they extrapolated their cards into compelling stories. 

What really struck me was the spirituality aspects built into the game. In my late teens and eearly twenties I had a period of exploring many religious, spiritual and occult things. So I was famiar with rune casting. And there is a lot about the relating of various cards here that reminds me a lot of reading tarot. Exploring the artwork imagery to expand upon the card relations even further helps foster the storytelling fun of the game. 

OK, the storm was on. Snow was coming in sideways. But it was not packing significantly. So my pals decided to stick around long enough to get in a game of Munchkin (it was around an hour).

I personally found it clunky at first. Pulling high level monsters you had no chance against, and constantly having to ditch cards. If you have too many you cannot discard. You have to give them to other players. So it seemed there would be a lot of crap cards going back and forth a lot. But very quickly things started tying together so you could use more cards, and as levels were gained the more powerful monsters you could fight. Just like D&D, how about that? 

It is an amusing RPG parody, but I think the game play has to potential to be kinda deep. I didn't think I'd like it much due to the level of the whimsy in the artwork, but the nods to D&D really won me over.

The storm deepened and B and L hit the road. Our exploring these new games was the highlight of my long weekend, and can't wait to play more. New Years weekend?

I need to play both of these games a bit more to have a final verdict, but they made for a fun few hours. A heavy role-playing game and a not so much one. I'll post more in the future about both games and will also try the solo feature Call to Adventure includes. 

Merry Chirstmas and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Lupin the Third the RPG?


I only this weekend heard that there was an RPG book in the works based on the long running anime Lupin the Third. Since I only recently got into this show (REALLY into it) I wanted to share some thoughts on it. 

I was maybe 15 years old give or take in the mid 80's when I went to a Los Angeles Sci Fi con over a Thanksgiving weekend (Loscon) where I met my first real sweetheart. She was tall, pretty and lithe (much like a certain fem fatale I'm going to discuss a lot in this post), and liked the same pop culture Sci Fi stuff I did. We hung around each other the entire weekend. For a teenager into sci fi, this was the unbelievable weekend to beat them all. She and I would go on to date for almost two years, but at this con we were inseparable. That is my number one memory of that weekend. But the second most memorable was discovering Lupin the Third. 

I didn't know about the character, but it was kind of a hit for both of us. To get away from our friends and spend some sitting close time in the dark we had ducked into a side hall showing Japanimation (what it was called then). The Lupin movie "Castle of Cagliostro" was playing. Now my only experience was with wholesome Japanese shows like Speed Racer, Kimba the White Lion, and Gigantor. But this was something else. With its gunplay, violence, nudity, and sex, it was more like watching something like Heavy Metal, but with all the giggly energy of most Japanese cartoons. It was only a half hour or so that we hung out in there, but we were digging it. Cool, crazy characters and sex. When Lupin reached out and pinched his nude ladies nipple, the castle behind them blowing up as if in reaction to that, we laughed our asses off. 

The uniqueness of it, and my new crush sitting next to me to seal the memory, Lupin was in my mind for the rest of my life though I saw no more of the series. But sometime after that con, a year, maybe two; I was with pals at the local arcade and saw "Cliff Hanger" and lost my shit. I had not seen the show again, but I recognized the characters right away. Lupin was all over the cabinet art of the machine (weirdly with a fat ass). This was the time of Dragons Lair, and apparently a company wanted to do a laserdisc arcade game but didn't have the money. So they licensed a couple of Lupin films to cut up into a laserdisc adventure with horrible English dialogue. I didn't play it much (it seemed very difficult) but I was fascinated. 

Over the years I have no idea why I never watched Lupin video tapes. I'm sure Lupin tapes were at the japaninmation sections of video stores, but there were other things I wanted to rent. I probably would have by the 90's, but I was gaga over anime series like Dragonball and Bubblegum Crisis and spent a lot of times on those. Anyway, with the death of the video store and no regular showing of Lupin anywhere (that I knew) I forgot about him for many years. 

Then I saw recently that Pluto TV, a free multi-channel streaming network had added a Lupin the Third channel! Pluto is known for show-based channels showing up from time to time for a few months (Baywatch channel, James Bond channel, Chef Ramsey channel, etc). So you get used to surprises like this. Long and short? I started watching Lupin. A fucking lot of Lupin. I'd be watching right now if I wasn't typing this. I'm in that zone of having found a new pop culture item I love but have yet to discover everything about it. A hot honeymood period. 

So there have been several mini series since the 70's (its based on a 1960's manga) and movies. And Pluto is showing them all. After even only a couple of episodes you are familiar with Lupin's major cast of characters: 

Arsene Lupin: an internationally infamous master thief. Lupin goes after only the most challenging heists, more often than not giving the athorities clues about when he will strike. Its not about the wealth so much; its about the quest. The game. With a disarming happy-go-lucky personality, Lupin is more hero than villain. His skill sets are vast and astounding. Besides all the abilities required to pull off almost impossible quests (great intellect, technological expertise, physical agility), he is a formidable gunman, hand to hand combatant. Like his allies he seems to be able to operate any form of vehicle, land, sea, or air. A ladies man through and through, Lupin's greatest love is Fujiko Mine (pronounced "meenay"). Fujiko has described him at times as "indestructible" and "immortal," and it seems true. He regular dodges hails of bullets, even from master gunmen. In fact, all the major players of the show seem to be superhuman in their abilities. 

Jigen: Lupins best friend. A former bodyguard and hitman, Jigen is probably the most skilled with firearms on the planet. Usually always carrying a Magnum .44, he has been shown to deflect bullets coming at him with his own well-placed shots. He is an affirmed woman hater, and constantly has to chastise Lupin over his weakness for Fujiko Mine. He is the voice of reason over Lupin's haphazard attitude and actions. 

Goemon: a modern samurai, when not training and meditating he joins Lupin on capers as part of his gang, and enforcer. With his sword he can block bullets, missiles, and can cut cars, helicopters, and even tanks in half with little effort, often from a distance. He has been shown leaping 50 feet and jumping from great heights, so to call him superhuman would be apropos. He doesn't seem to have the wide range of thief skills his partners possess, but those aren't' his bag. He's there as muscle, and powerful muscle it is. 

Fujiko Mine: originally your basic fem fatale, Fujiko quickly evolved into more than just Bond-girl eye candy. She is an international thief as Lupin is, but also compliments that with feminine wiles that get her out of danger as much as it does getting her INTO danger. Fujiko has always been aware of Lupins obsessive love for her (it's obvious to all), and uses it to her great advantage. Often working as part of his gang (depending on the particular series), she often regularly betrays them in order to get the loot for herself, leaving the gang in deathtrap situations, but knowing that there is nobody who can kill Lupin.

 When faced with danger She will often play the part of a crying damsel in distress, but in reality, Fujiko is fearless in most situations and just knows how to manipulate those around her.  Casual sex is never off the table for Fujiko, In all the series she is regularly nude, or at least topless. Shame is not a word in her world. Anything goes. Fujiko has shown that among the others she lacks the most conscious when it comes to killing. While the Lupin gang generally avoids it, Fujiko does what she has to do to get what she wants. 

Zenigata: A Japanese policeman and agent of INTERPOL, he has dedicated his life to capturing Lupin. Highly skilled himself, he is most often portrayed as an oaf, a buffoon for Lupin to antagonize with his escapades. 

There have been several Lupin series since the 70's, each with a differing style. Most do not reflect the gritty style of the original Manga, But the 2012 mini series The Woman Named Fujiko Mine comes closest. This is a departure from the general merry fun of the other series, being more of a psycho-sexual dark drama. Fujiko is the main character over the others here, and it tells the story of how Fujiko met Lupin and the rest of his eventual gang. 

Zenigata is the most different here. Instead of a comic foil, he is a serious detective oozing toxic masculinity. Having captured Fujiko at some point, he makes her have sex with hem in his office as other policemen peep through the keyhole, and enlists her to help him in return from staying off the hangman's noose. Rather than fall for her charms like most men, he calls her a "cheap ride" and a spitoon. But Lupin upon first meeting her is not so taken by her sexuality as his is by her sheer unique existence. A worthy foil and possible lover who is unlike any woman he has ever known. In this series Fujiko's past is also examined, repressed memories of a childhood of physical torture and abuse are coming to the forefront of her mind. But are they real? Are her compulsions for theft and sex a product of abuse, or is there more to it than that? 

This version of the show is my favorite, and anyone wanting to explore it should watch at least a couple of the sillier versions in order to have a blown mind from watching this one. It reminds me very much, in art style and vibe of the old Aeon Flux series. That surely must be an inspiration. 

OK, so how would all this make a game? Personally, I hate games that have you play as known characters from various properties. But the style and vibe of the series is solid. Big capers, highly skilled characters, odd and deadly rivals and foes. Who knows how the planned rpg will pan out, but I would hope character gen would be alot like a point-based supers game like Champions. With a stereotype as a basis. Cat Burgler (like Lupin), Gunman (like Jigen), melee specialist (Goemon), Seductress (guess who?). Other "classes" could include Wiseguy (mafia dude), Pilot, Mad Scientist, etc. Lots of points in one major skill, then spreading around to various other abilities. 

I think there are some fun games to be had with this genre. With a GM who is willing to do a LOT of prep on capers, and players willing to indulge in role play as well as thinking smart with capable characters, there are some great possibilities here. 

Now to go watch more Lupin. I hope Fujiko takes her top off in this episode. Just joking, she takes it off in most episodes...

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Eric Bischoff's SARSA method - for gaming


Eric Bischoff is a television producer and wrestling announcer who worked for a couple of wrestling organizations until ending up doing similar work for Ted Turners WCW promotion in the early 90's. He eventually caught Ted Turner's attention, and was named CEO of WCW over many more seasoned candidates. This happened for a variety of reasons, but the main one was Turner's fondness for Bischoff's "gumption." Eric was coming in with, at the time, off the wall ideas, including putting WCW's new television show on opposite Vince McMahon's WWE (at the time the WWF). This was a batshit move, as WCW had not turned a profit for years. It was a vanity project of Ted's, but WWE was the 800 lb. gorilla in the room.

It as not long before the profits started coming in. Eric's ideas were new in wrestling, a format that still had its feet in an old school mindset that shouted out that change was bad for the industry. Besides the Monday night move, he masterminded the New World Order storyline and Hulk Hogan's shocking "heel" (bad guy) turn. The attention from this shot the ratings up and WCW, the red headed step child of major wrestling organizations, at one point beat WWE in rating for 83 consecutive weeks. So much pressure was put on WWE that story has it Vince McMahon had the water coolers removed from the Titan Sports offices for budgetary reasons. 

I would never say I was ever a fanatic wrestling fan. I watched a couple years in the 80's, and was a huge Hulk Hogan mark. Then I showed little interest until the mid 90's, when Bischoff's moves were getting people talking. This late 90's "Monday Night Wars" period is really the only era I'm still a big fan of. I don't watch much wrestling these days, but I listen to several podcasts by personalities from the time period. Bischoff, Jim Ross, Bruce Prichard, Stone Cold. And years ago I read a few biographies, including Bischoff's Controversy Creates Cash.

In one part of the book Eric talks about the SARSA method, his outline for putting together wrestling angles and storylines. 

“As I felt more and more comfortable and especially in ’96 when I got a lot more involved and around the same time, I focused on a formula that was born out of a newspaper article that I read, ”Bischoff said. “Dick Ebersol was being interviewed about what he was going to do to improve audiences at these Summer Olympics and one of the things I took away was the formula. 

“Ebersol spoke about making sure that you don’t just cover the sport, but that we tell the story, bringing reality to it, creating anticipation in all Olympic sports. I thought, “Well wow, a lot of that applies to what I do. And I had to tweak that formula a little bit and I did and I found a formula that I called 100,000 times “SARSA”. the acronym: Story, Anticipation Reality, Surprise and Action, and throughout my career to varying degrees, certainly in WCW to a large extent because I was in control of my own destiny there for a long time, in TNA once I really started to get involved in booking at all levels then tried to make it in WWE I just wasn’t around long enough to be successful but I always believed that no matter what, I don’t care how the fight changes, how audiences change, how many streaming platforms are coming in, how many people are watching their shit on their phones, I don’t care record because at the heart of why people watch, what they watch on any device they go to watch it on is “history, anticipation, reality, surprise, action.” If you can combine these elements into any content on any platform, regardless of audience generation, you are likely to be very successful. “

He would sit down with a legal pad and jot down notes according to his SARSA method. You can imagine how it works for wrestling plots, but suffice to say some years ago I loosely adopted Eric's interesting method for my RPG's. 

Its not hard and fast. Nor does it need to be done in any order. But this helped me as dedaces past I would sort of brainstorm possibilities for the coming game (on a walk, at the gym, at work during boring moments, etc), take a note linearly here and there ("if the characters do this then this might happen," "these NPC's might be encountered at the tavern and this is some things that might happen depending on PC actions," "characters will get access to a partial dungeon map" etc). But finding a more organized method to help me organize these thoughts and notes better, more concise, has helped immensely. Especially since thinking about game specifics on the job or anywhere else has diminished for me in recent years. So if I only take notes on a game while having some beverages and a little smoke with some tunes on, then this is a way to get them down in a more helpful manner.


 STORY - No, not really storygaming with a well written out plot. In the case of RPG's its the overall box within which your campaign or several game arc will take place in. If your setting will be The City State of The Invincible Overlord, where the characters will spend several games exploring the shops and markets at will for the entire group of scenarios, well, there is your story. In my recent story arc the setting was an area near the frontier of the kingdom, a far flung town where chicken farmers produce the best chickens in the kingdom of Tanmoor. The people are well off, but are a kind of grim folk, who I portray with East London accents and say "Bloody" a lot. Like every other word. There is a crypt of a bandit from 200 years ago and some of his men whom the folk of the town are descended from, and of course one or two other locations they might want to look into. An arc like this, just part of an overall campaign, starts with just the seed of an idea (a crypt crawl) and expands. Hey lets put it in the east most part of the kingdom. Lets have a rooster demon involved in there somewhere. And lets have the town in the area be chicken farmers who say "bloody" a lot. That seed of an idea came from the John Cooper Clark poem "Evidently Chickentown." Here it is in part:


The bloody view is bloody vile

For bloody miles and bloody miles

The bloody babies bloody cry

The bloody flowers bloody die

The bloody food is bloody muck

The bloody drains are bloody fucked

The colour scheme is bloody brown

Everywhere in chicken town

And that's the seed of the story. And more and more bits to add will come to mind the more you let it simmer. In the last town before Chickentown I had the characters overhear some little girls jump rope and sing lines from the poem to give characters a heads up that unpleasant people may lay ahead. This is all flavor and outline, and the characters will be the ones that make it an actual story with their actions. So in a nutshell you just put together possibilities hung on the skeleton of a story that the characters will fill in for you. Of course, if you like to storygame then I don't judge. It fits here under SARSA.

ACTION - Action is action. Role-play is fine, but action scenes are the meat and potatoes of it all to me. Just enough to please both the combat wonks and the role players. My basic notion is for two major action pieces to occur in every three hour session. At least one of them should be a true combat that involves all or at least most of the characters. But one of the action pieces could be a chase, where various rolls are involved (how fast you are moving, jumping over fences, jumping from roof top to roof top). Any scene that might involve climbing steep surfaces, avoiding hazards, swinging from ropes etc. Anything that has an element of danger and requires rolls be made to fail or succeed. In a game like Call of Cthulhu, or classic Traveller, where death comes easy and you need to have less combat than in D&D, various action ideas that don't have to involve bloodshed can be injected. Perfect for CoC really, especially if you run it a bit pulpy. There are lots of dangers in the world that don't involve guns or tentacles. So in SARSA you just keep in mind that static role-play is fine, but factor in lots of dice rolls and non-combat danger or at least suspense. Fit them in as much as you can. And of course PC's might find some chances for rolls on their own. Thieves pickpocketing at the local market is for sure a chance at multiple actions instances. So jot possibilities down under the "action" column ("players might face a fencing master if they get caught cutting his purse," "there might be lots of nobility at the market today so bigger stakes...but more guards," "there is a wizard convention in town so a chance at magic items, and possible wrath of a magic user, is possible tonight" etc).

 REALITY - Yeah yeah, it ain't real life. But verisimilitude is what to strive for; the reality in context of the setting you are presenting. But trying to keep a mind on basic physics helps make the times when reality is bent stand out more. For instance I like to have things as "normal" as possible, real-world adjacent, so that when big spells go off or I inject something whimsical (silly?) it stands out. My setting is a basic D&D world, fairly mid-magic, but I grew up on things like Judges Guild and Arduin. I just have to throw in batshit monsters or situations based on that experience. But its a sometimes thing. Most of the time my reality is kobolds, orcs, giants, big bugs. That's the reality for my players. But watch out when I've been looking at my old third party materials. The players may briefly be swept out of their reality by encountering Tegel Manor (for 5th ed!), or perhaps a merchant for the pop-up store of The Multiverse Trading Company. Or maybe a dungeon of the Mythic Underworld variety, where the laws of nature don't always apply. But everyday life should be held to the laws of physics we know (up is not down, most animals do not talk, nothing is free, etc). So in this column you jot down parts you want to have a full hold on everyday reality, and the things that might vary from those normal physical laws. And how you will bring that down to reality eventually.

SURPRISE - Twists, turns. Will there be any? Can and old enemy show up in this game? Maybe something the PC's thought of in a certain way will be changed up. Maybe a friend will turn out to be a traitor. Any ideas that might make characters do a double take can go here. 

 ANTICIPATION - I find this very important. Setting things up for the players to look forward to, and how that thing might pan out, or NOT pan out, can go here. Classically in D&D treasure is that thing they look forward to besides the monster combat and exploration. Levelling up is another basic anticipation. But maybe you have other ideas that can set up anticipation. Possibility of promotion from the queen and all the perks what come with? A surprise romantic possibility that will be put on a slow burn (true role players love that). An opportunity for revenge might be on the horizon? But if you do boil it down to treasure, a hint at what might await can get player juices flowing. But also unknown foes. PC's might know an armed force awaits them, but how many? Don't let them know unless they have some scouting tactics. Will this be an easy fight or a party-killer? And not everything has to be a mystery. Knowing a powerful force is ahead that they cannot avoid. That stirs it up. Some fights are over the PC's head, and often they can overcome such. Aid coming in at the last moment can be jotted down in the "surprise" column. Its that real possibility of death that has always been key to anticipation in games. Find ways to keep reminding them. Jot it all down in this column. 

Again, this is just an outline of one method for organizing possibilities you are thinking of that might normally just bounce around in your head, maybe forgotten by game day. Outside of your maps and nuts and bolts notes on dungeon contents and other important adventure notes, SARSA or something like it is a great way to set up a one page set of organized notes to create flavor and list the "mights" and the "maybes." 


Sunday, November 7, 2021

And...then there was Eldritch Horror


It's kind of odd really, to be several games in to a successful D&D campaign with people I first met in the 1st session and to mostly be posting about board games. But it's my current passion. Not just any people to play with (my local besties B and L), and not just any games. All the games I have posted about that I love are games with action, mystery, adventure, and whimsey. 

When I first moved into my new town a few short years ago I looked into local board game meetups. But unfortunately, the gamenuts present had long since moved on from some of the games I loved, and on to others. Games that I didn't find especially inspiring. There was one game where you built different colors of coral. Yawn. Another popular one was Stone Age. I was excited to try it. Mammoths and hunting! But no, turned out it was all worker and resource management, something I find about as exciting as two flies breeding. I gave up on that scene fairly quickly. But I soon met B and L. They were looking to get into D&D and tapped me to run the games. The group went well for a few months, but when it folded for the usual reasons, I decided to try and get them into the board games i wanted to try. B and L already went to a local bar that had over 100 board game free to play, so they were no strangers to them. 

At first, I got them into my old copy of Talisman, and they liked it enough to quickly buy one of the more recent versions. Soon I was buying games I wanted try with them, mostly seen on Will Wheaton's Tabletop show. King of Tokyo, Epic Spell Wars, Dead of Winter, etc.  We played and continue to play the hell out of them. Some others as well. But the one that sat on the shelf since I know them went untouched. It was Eldritch Horror. 

A relative of Arkham Horror. EH was a complicated game, with tons of cards, tokens, and a huge number of fiddley rules to unpack. I was fairly intimidated by it. When I first got it almost three years ago I broke it open and tried a few rounds to learn it, and man, I was baffled. Too much. So it remained stashed away. 

But recently I was like "what the hell." I kept studying on it, and got some info locked into my brain, but the only way to learn it was to actually play it with people, and B and L were up for it. Honestly, just taking the half hour or so to set it up made you learn a lot. Many of the decks involved are identified by artwork, often very similar to different decks, which makes it harder to organize. So far we are maybe three sessions in with it. We devote our entire game day to it, but never seem to finish it. Usually, things look bad and rather than try to hang on with our characters for another hour or so, we pack it in and play some shorter games to end the evening. B and L are fairly competitive, but unless money is involved, I'm about the journey. I don't really care if I win or not. I'm a role player. 

Not to say it isn't fun. It's awesome. It has a lot of role-playing elements that appeal to me. The interesting characters, the different story beats that can happen. It kind of plays like a more epic, international Call of Cthulhu campaign. 

You basically choose of of several Old Ones, including Cthulhu, and build things around that deity. One card deck you actually have to work on to apply to that specific God, organizing it in particular layers. Then your characters travel around the world locations, doing actions (travelling, shopping, etc) and having encounters. As you play gates will appear (during the games turn; the "Mythos Phase"), and monsters as well. It's hilarious, but B and L have almost no Lovecraft experience, so I'm constantly explaining what things are. The Mi Go takes out your brain and fly it to Jupiter or whatever. Hounds of Tindalos come through angles to get at you. Etc. But playing last night a Colour out of Space showed up, and they got excited, having recently seen the Nick Cage movie of that name. We're playing with Shub Niggurath as the deity, and had to keep telling them to mispronounce it because it has an unfortunate similarity to a word we should not say out loud. I kept saying "no, say "Shub Nagrath." I'm serious, did Xenophobic HP Lovecraft purposefully use that unfortunate pronunciation? 

The game play is fun and very deep, so even if you aren't a Lovecraft fan, if you are cool with learning a lot of awkward (yet strangely effective) rules, and are willing to put like 5 hours into a game (some will be a lot shorter just due to bad luck), you might like it. We love it (B and L specifically asked to play it yesterday), but a little goes a long way. So many games to play, so little (generally speaking) time. 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Finally - Betrayal at House of The Hill


Around three years ago just when I was getting ready to move to a new town, I only had free antenna TV for several weeks. It was on one of those channels that I discovered Will Wheaton's Geek and Sundry show Tabletop. All the board games I currently love, besides Digital Talisman, were purchased after seeing them on episodes of that show. Dead of Winter; King of Tokyo, Epic Spell wars. My love of board games, never really a thing for me outside of Talisman, had begun. 

Because my travelling friends B and L are back in town for a few months, I went ahead and pushed the button on one I've wanted a long time so I could try it out with them. That game was Betrayal at House on The Hill. The best thing about B and L, besides being my besties in town, is that these games are newish to them as well. The local board gaming community has long since moved on from these games (usually to often abstract worker and resource allocation things I find boring), but they are kind of new to us. Even something like Dead of Winter feels newish, as each game we play seems very different from the last. 

Hilariously, most bad reviews on Amazon for Betrayal are from mothers who bought it for their kids expecting Lugosi Dracula or Karloff Frankenstein to be the foes (versions of these characters are in the game), but found it to have demonic/satanic elements. Well, yeah, if you come up with 50 different hauntings to create the end game, you are going to hit pretty much all genres. Devils, spirits, ghosts, demons, etc. Personally I love the concept of demons, and they are far more fun to me than other creatures you might find chasing Abbot and Costello around in the 50's.

In the game you explore three  floors of the haunted house. The ground floor, second floor, and basement. As you move from room to room you reveal a room tile. Though the room description might be "dining room," "laboratory," or crypt, etc, what is important is if there is a card to be taken and revealed. Three card types in three piles are there and depending on the symbol you will get an item, event, or omen. They might all help or hinder you in some way, but the omen cards are the most important to the game. For each omen you have in play, you must roll under that number each time a new omen is revealed. If you fail, the haunt phase begins. You cross reference the room with the omen just pulled on a chart and you find out what the haunt is and who is the traitor. 

The character cards are two sided, and each opposite side seems to a very different person, though they kept them similar looking enough so the included miniature for each can be used for either. The young high school quarterback on one side, a lineman looking guy on the other side. The male child figure represents either a Caucasian boy or a Japanese boy. A professor, a priest, a fortune teller, a Hispanic lady. All have their own stats. The physical stats being might and speed, and mental being sanity and knowledge. Attacks could harm any of them and reduce them. But you can't usually die until after a Haunt starts. 

So each character goes from room to room, encountering events, items, and omens. These can be helpful or hurtful things (helpful items might be a spear that helps you fight or a set of armor). Omen cards will eventually lead to a Haunt. 

When the haunt occurs, somebody is going to be a traitor. It may be whoever revealed the last omen card, or it could be somebody else. You cross reference a chart with that omen card and the location where it is found, and you have a Haunt on your hands. Somebody maybe turns into a werewolf, or maybe a controller of demons who sends them to hunt you down. There are 50 such haunts, some more powerful than others. One may leave you little chance of winning. Another might be a breeze. But is always fun, and it all pans out as a great little story. And experiencing that story is one of the things I love about it. A game like this promotes role play. In a game like that, I might have my character do something less about what might let him win, and what I think that character would do. Winning is just icing on the cake. 

One downside right now is that we have played like 5 games, and two of those had a repeat haunt. That is not really supposed to happen, you know, with 50 different haunts. I've seen online that people will play a couple dozen games and never get the same haunt. 

Our getting repeats has maybe made us a bit tired of it already. And to be honest, the pre-haunt exploration portion of the game at this point for us has the same rooms and same events and items popping up. So be are taking a break now to play the DandD version Betrayal at Baldurs Gate. 

Yesterday after a Dead of Winter session that had us lose to the apocalypse in record time, we broke open Baldurs Gate and had a run through. It played very much like House, but with fun DandD themed differences. 

I'll probably post at that version after a couple more plays. But I'll say for now that House is a great and fairly easy (until the Haunt) game I think anybody would have fun with, though in my case the replay value is short. But there is at least one expansion for the game, Widows Walk, which adds another level, the roof, and probably some other stuff. I may get that before too long just to check it out and freshen up the main game. 


Sunday, September 5, 2021

The New Campaign 1st Session Murderhobo Test


This was something I have been doing for years, but I never had a name for it. I didn't even think of it as a thing. I just did it. But my recent experiences running for a new group (3rd session coming this weekend), all strangers to me, compels me to blog about it. So I needed a name for this test I do at the very beginning of the first game of a campaign of D&D. At first I wanted to call it a Litmus Test. But until I looked it up that term didn't really apply. It was just a name for things, usually not matching the pure definition of it. Hence, the title of the post. Good a name as any. 

The "you meet in a tavern" trope was something I did as a kid when I first started DMing. It was easy. Just be at a tavern. When I started my own setting after using Judges Guilds Wilderlands, it was essentially a tavern (in a village...gotta have a supply shop too) and a dungeon. That was it. Its a loooong story, but my world grew from there. But at some point in the late 80's, I got more mature and creative as a DM and started going outside my usual box. Characters meeting on a crossroads and something happening (save a family from bandits, encounter a mage who needs help, etc). That was a favorite. Or all of them starting out hired by somebody and already in a room meeting about what was to come, the players doing what they do in any first game (because I make them); describe their characters to everybody. That "already hired" method worked great for superhero campaigns, and even Call of Cthulu in some cases. 

So well into the late 90's it was anything BUT meeting in a tavern. 

But at some point for D&D I went back to the "meet at a tavern" gimmick for one particular reason. Whether it was a group of new folk I was running for, or the usual group, I would more often than not go into it not really knowing how the characters would combine as a group dynamic. A couple characters might be easy going and not particularly violent, but even just a couple of murderous PC's, merciless "Murderhobos if you will, can spoil the bunch. Not just that, they can ruin any chance for a peaceful meeting of minds for the new party. You see, a group of gang members or just basic thugs will start a fight. They will claim the table is locals only, or they might hit on a female character a bit too aggressively. Whatever it is, a fight will erupt. But the first fight in a civilized place that a party has can tell you a lot. And that is why it started being a test for me. How violently and mercilessly will the party, or at least a portion of it, react to a less than lethal threat? Its good to know early on so you can adjust your campaign plans to account for violent sociopath PC's shitting on your good works. Lets face it, few campaigns are suitable for both murder hobos and heroic types. I like a group of mixed philosophies, but the party will lean one way or the other more often than not, and I want to account for sociopathic behavior. If the party wants to kill everything in their path, then I'll plan on more fights over any kind of intelligent role play. Fine with me. 

So here is the test: the party is at a table in a crowded tavern. They mostly don't know each other, but it was the only available table so there they are; either introducing themselves or focusing quietly on drinks and dinner. A group of toughs appear (a gang of local rakes; some barbarians just rolled into town; a half-orc work crew just off their shift, etc). They start some trouble ("hey good lookin!"; "this table is locals only!"; "there is a beer tax for sittin; here!"). They may be armed, but knowing its a guaranteed night in jail at the very least if full weapons are used in a fight they opt to start out with fists and feet. If things are going badly daggers may appear, but not full size weapons unless the other party draws first. 

So how does the party react? If its in kind with fists with no real deadly weapon escalation, then you know you have a fairly reasonable and intelligent party. If they pull weapons out right off and start hacking away, then you know you have murder hobos with no fear of repercussions. 

So in the first game of my recent campaign I did this. Party at city inn. It was The Bonfire Inn on Bonfire Street. The largest and most popular tavern in Tanmoor. It also happened to be Queen Libertine's birthday, and the characters, individually, witnessed the queen riding in her own parade, stopping occasionally to politely refuse costly presents from nobles, and accepting letters and humble homemade presents from the poorer folk of the city, showering them with gold coins in return. 

The city was drinking, in a way a city often known as "The City of Cups" only can. So as the PC's entered the bustling tavern to get their own drink on, they were lucky to find a mostly empty table in the back. But it wasn't long before my "test" began. The were approached by a gang leader and a few of his followers. They were know as "The Ragdolls," a colorful group who did themselves up in colorful rags and ribbons in the fashion of rag dolls and corn dollies. Another group of young upper middle-class thrill seekers in it for the kicks. 

The gang wanted the table, exposing the classic "locals only" philosophy. After a little verbal back and forth, the leader swung a wine bottle at the barbarian dwarf and the fight was on. Though at least one character, a wizard, had stepped aside to wisely avoid getting in a fight, the dwarf, half orc fighter, and the druid who fancied himself a bit of an assassin were right into it with deadly weapons. The druid threw a fire bolt. The half orc immediately swung his great axe at the lesser armed leader, sinking it inches into his shoulder blade, taking him to zero and almost killing him with that one shot.   

The gang member who got hit with the fire bolt took off at full run as best he could through a crowded room, and the dwarf wanted to toss his hand axe at him from behind. When I made sure he knew it would more than likely hit an innocent with that shot, and could count on being out of the campaign in prison for a couple games (or more if he killed anybody from behind) he rethought it. I don't usually interfere with a characters decisions, or go a ways to explain the consequences of a characters actions, but here in the test it is acceptable. 

And when you know a character will tend to try and kill a retreating enemy, who had yet to attack anybody, in the middle of a city in a crowded hall, you knew that you had a sociopathic character on your hands. Sure, he's a barbarian. But not all barbarian characters are run like that. But the test showed me this guy would be. No prisoners. Good for a DM to know. 

So I knew what I was dealing with and the test was done. At least a couple characters were going to be murder hobos, with a druid who also had not hesitation to throwing a fire spell in a busy tavern. I ditched the idea I had for the campaign, an NPC heavy urban series of games, and decided to go for hooks and quests that would take them away at least from the major civilizations. Dungeon delves where they would be met by other brutal things rather than spending the games bullying locals and town folk. 

...and now I knew what to expect.