Monday, December 28, 2009

Leveling up? Call me "Captain Generous"

If it is a problem, it has been with me since I was a kid. We played a lot in the 80's, but using D&D's experience rules just took too damn long for a PC to go up. Didn't matter if we played every week or every day; it just seemed to take too long to me.

I've always done my best to go by the book where characters are concerned, but I was never able to resist fudging experience. Even though I always gave copious amounts for things like role-playing and entertaining me, it just never seemed like enough.

When I started a new group last year (after several years off to pursue more interest in my lint collection), we decided that three to three and a half hours on a Wednesday night would be best for our adult schedules. So now it was going to take forever and a day for a character to go up, right? Screw that.

First off, since the mid-90's I have let 1st level PC's go up to 2nd level in their first game. Didn't matter if we play for three hours or half that. Your weakling went out, looked in a hole, and swung a sword at whatever lurked inside, then *wham* you are now second level as the chairs are being folded up and the beer bottles hauled out to the bin. Nobody spent more than one session at 1st level.

I fudge the hell out of exp. after that 1st level. I usually take a look at how much a PC needs to go up, think about all that they did in the game and what challenged them and what life experiences they had, then jot down a number I think is right. I don't look in a book. Sometimes it's big, sometimes it's small. In the last game a 5th level female PC lost her virginity. I gave her almost 5 grand for that (a guy would get twice that. C'mon, it's tougher for guys).

Some of the estimates I see online indicate around 13 - 15 game sessions to go up. Man, if only there was that kind of free time in the world. Right now saying I run 24 session a year would be a generous number. In the better part of the 90's, when I ran 5-8 hour sessions once a month at most, people would almost never go up in a campaign unless I fudged it.

I like for it to take 3-6 game to go up after 1st level. Getting a level around every 2-3 months or thereabouts doesn't seem like overkill to me. After about 24 or so sessions since we started late last year, the highest character is at 8th level. 8th level after one crime has been committed, has it?

I think a trade-off in my games is that I tend to end a campaign at around 8th or 9th level, then those guys go into "semi-retirement" and a new campaign with new characters gets started. I have no "end game." Very often, "retired" PC's get dragged into the current campaign at a certain point. The exception to that may be my current campaigns change of direction into a second year. I'm sending those now high level dudes into the Night Below adventure. Imagine how fast they will go up now!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I hate it when a plan doesn't come together

Had to cancel the Mutant Future 1st game session last night due to somewhat weird circumstances. At the last minute Dan's fiance had a death in the family, Ben 2.0 emailed and said he had a cold at the last minute (yeah, that's usually my top excuse to get out of shit. Gonna call in sick to work tomorrow with a "cold"), and then the nuttiest one. It was going to be just me, Andy, and Paul. Paul is a fairly timid young 20 yr. old, a long time Warcraft player new to tabletop. He showed up, saw that the house seemed quiet, stood outside for 20 minutes, then decided we had totally cancelled and left. This is a guy who had to take a bus to Santa Monica from West Hollywood (bit of a ride), and he went home without even knocking on the door. No call, nothing. Good guy, and up for anything we play, but that was just damn weird.

So no December last game o' the year. Shit. Group of six players and could not get enough for one damn game for year's end. Aw well. See ya in January...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Housin' Mutant Future

In yesterday's post, I outlined the setting and set-up for my Metamorphosis Alpha game using Mutant Future. So here are a few house rules I'm going to use. I want to use the rules as-is as much as possible, but I needed some tweaking to make it fit into how I like to GM things. I have a very difficult time refraining from modifying rules, and it's nice that this game's design makes it easy to add your own ingredients.

First off, I'm leaving out alignment. I just don't want to deal with it in this game, and I personally don't think it fits. I don't think the players will mind.

I want going up in level to mean a bit more. I noticed that some good mutations include drawbacks, so going up in level might alleviate some of that. For example, a mutant human character one of my players rolled up has disintegrate. When used, you get knocked out and go down to 1 hit point. Ouch. But there is hope. I may have the hit points he gets knocked down to be equal to his level, and maybe after 4th level I'll give him a saving throw to go down to only half his points and not get knocked out. A lot of mutations can be level-tweaked like this, and I'm going to wing it as best I can.

Also, I wanted to come up with my own level bonus chart. Here it is.

Experience Level Bonus

D6 Bonus
1-2 +1 hit and damage w/ attack of choice
3 +1 attack per round w/ attack of choice (not usable with powerful mutations)
4-5 +1 to random stat
6 +1 to stat of choice

Obviously, in my game you'll get much less chances to have extra attacks. I just think that getting extra attacks in everything every two or three levels is a bit much.

OK, now this hot potato. I'm including skills. I don't want them to be a big part of the game (just like in my D&D), but I'm just compelled to do so.

Character skills

Pure humans begin with half their intelligence (round up) in skill slots.
Mutant humans begin with half their intelligence (round down) in skill slots.
Mutant plants begin with one-third of their intelligence in slots (round down)

Acting /Performance: stage, musical instrument, puppetry, etc. (mutant must use two slots)
Animal handler: might include stable skills, cattle or sheep husbandry, etc.
Blacksmith: with proper facilities can work with metal, including weapons creation. Can work iron into steel (three slots and unavailable to mutants)
Boating: operate and repair small boating craft in Europa’s rivers and lakes
Farming skills: adept at growing food.
Fishing: +1 to fishing attempts, and ability to create fishing gear from simple materials
Gambling: get a small bonus in most gambling situations (mutants must use two skill slots)
Knowledge: general knowledge of an area/place the characters is not originally from
Riding: character is especially adept (+1) at riding horses or other animals
Simple weapon craft: can create weapons from wood, stone, and bone (no metal work)
Stealth: +1 when trying to move silent or hide
Survival: minor hunting skills and living off the land (usually not applicable to non-mammals)
Tactics: (not usually available to mutants) usable when dealing in combat with 10 or more allies present
Tracking: +1 when tracking things in the wild
Trade/Haggle: usable in trading situations (mutants use two slots)
Transport familiarity: can drive and repair carts and wagons of various sizes
Weapons skill: +1 hit and damage with weapon/attack of choice (all PC’s use two slots for this)

None of these skills are going to have a big affect on play. Even little weapons bonus' won't make that big of a difference. Now, when crew members or characters from other, higher tech society levels come into play, I'll need to rethink skills. But for now, these will do for people of a dark ages level.

That's about it. It looks like only three players are showing up for the game tomorrow, so I'm hoping to wow them with this excellent old school-style game. I hope it's good enough to make the other players wish they had been there!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mutant Future on the Starship Warden

As I've mentioned in previous posts, my current AD&D 1st ed. group has being going strong for over a year, and I feel it is time to do as I always do with a group I put together for my D&D world - introduce a back-up alternate game genre. I'm going to do that this coming Wednesday night with Mutant Future.

As a kid running a bit of Metamorphosis Alpha and Gamma World, Mutant Future appealed to me (and I didn't have to buy anything. I'm Scottish, ye ken?), and I've wanted to do some Met. Alpha again for years, so I thought I'd just do MA with the MF rules.

I'll start things off on the "Valley" level that the inhabitants call "Europa," a place more or less at a dark ages social and technological level. Three major international groups had colonist towns on this level and are now the largest populations of pure strain humans - Irish, German, and Italian. In the several hundred years since the "cataclysm," these groups have maintained many ethic features of their own. The Irish descendants are in a wooded area town of "Dublin" and are hunters and archers. The Germans, or "Germanans" whose original colonists mined large deposits of raw iron placed in the northern part of the level, are much like ancient Germanic warriors, and pure humans from there would start with metal weapons. The Italians, who originally were made up of many historians and anthropologists, have evolved their town into a mini-Roman empire with togas and higher learning and all. The people of "Nova Roma" tend to be more educated, and they created the monetary/trade system of the Valley. The Nova Romans have a gladiator arena, and often force mutant slaves and monsters to fight it out for entertainment.

Gypsies and savage hill people round out the PSH population.

To the humans of Europa, iron is the greatest commodity. Without it, you have to rely on weapons and armor of wood, bone, and stone. These items break easily.

Mutations are thought of as curses from the "bad times," and the three major pure human communities tend to cast out and chase off any obvious mutants. So most mutants live in the wild, except for the few who have created the mutant colony, a mutant town with a flop house and a public house for anyone willing to stay there, all run by mutants. Just like I would for any D&D town or village, I've come up with a few interesting NPC's the players might encounter. As I expect most if not all of the players to run mutants, the mutant colony will likely be the home base for the "Europa" portion of this campaign.

The NPC who will bring them all together is "Garth," a middle aged travelling scholar who is actually an original crew member, unfrozen a year or so ago, who is trapped on the level and trying to get out (the doors and elevators have long gone into malfunction - opening on their own briefly every 1-100 days). He is a high ranking electrical engineer, and he wants to get back to the command deck to meet up with his fellow crew members (and perhaps captain) to work on restoring more ship systems. So he will ruse the characters into questing around with him, and hopefully after three or four games in the Valley, lead PC's to other parts of the ship. Besides a mini-computer "Mother Box," Garth carries a plasma pistol that he wants to keep quiet from players. It'll only have a couple shots left, as Garth has had to protect himself while in Europa.

So Garth will probably encounter and hire the players at the public house in the Mutant Town, and go in search of tools and crew badges to get out of the level with. Yeah, I'm starting out with a standard D&D type meet n'greet.

I haven't really thought much more out than that. I'm hoping to get the party to Nova Roma and into some arena combat somehow. I also have a "necromanser" (misspelled on purpose) in a "castle" in the hills who can create undead that I want to be encountered somehow. I even want to use the all-18 stat PSH "jungle girl" described in the original Metamorphosis sample valley level. The hunt for crew badges can lead to all of that.

I can see in the future having the party go between decks, learn that they are on a giant starship, and perhaps get recruited in the quest to save the ship.

I am fairly successful so far in not revealing the true nature of the environs to the players in this pre-game stage of discussing characters. Nobody seems to know I am basically doing Metamorphosis Alpha. I'm not allowing androids or robots as characters yet, and as far as the first characters are concerned, these things don't exist in my game. Once characters go to other levels and learn the nature of the environs, I will allow dead characters to be replaced by androids or crew members.

A few weeks ago I got together with a couple of players to work on characters. One wanted a mutant human originally from Dublin (he doesn't have obvious mutations, but does sort of look like he has Downs Syndrome or something), and the other a mutant tree from the wild. The human rolled teleport, disintegrate, thermal vision, and as a bad mutation ended up with slow movement, basically letting him only do things every other turn.

The mutant tree got acid blood, shriek, and thermal vision. He also ended up with a bad one, fast aging. Despite somewhat crippling bad mutation, both players were happy with their characters, which is a good sign. I'm going to have a month equal a year for the tree as far as growing is concerned, so it might be interesting to see how big he gets if the campaign goes on for a long time.

The randomization of mutations was done as given in the rules, and I like they way it worked out. I can't wait for another player or two to roll up a mutant. I do hope somebody runs a pure strain human, though. I can't tell them that eventually the pure humans can command robots and get other perks, so they seem like sort of bland characters compared to mutants. But there are advantages in terms of equipment and weapons and wealth for the pure humans, so hopefully that will entice somebody to go the "pure" route.

Game day is just a couple days away, and I'm still trying to decided on my house rules. I don't want to change too much, but I want to have some rulings about the particular mutations (especially teleport). I also want to have going up in level mean a bit more, and maybe tie that in to mutations improving as well. Guess I better get on that stuff...

As and old dog who never strayed too far from D&D, Call of Cthulhu, and Champions, it's pretty exciting to face running a brand new game to me. Tonight I'll finish up my small amount of house rules, and post them tomorrow. After that, it'll be the big test Wednesday night. Not all my players are totally excited about me running anything other than the AD&D campaign they are enjoying so much. I hope it wins them over enough to be an alternate game they won't bitch about having to play when some players are missing for D&D.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Why do rainy days make me want to game?

If rainy days AND Mondays always get you down, you’d be hating life in Southern California today.

For what seems like the first time in years, it is raining heavy today in Los Angeles. Here in Venice Beach, the home of the homeless and day laborers, the smell of old urine and unfulfilled dreams are being washed out into Santa Monica Bay along with around 18 tons of sewage, McDonald’s wrappers, and body parts.

For as long as I can remember, rainy days have made me think of two things. One – my several visits to Scotland with my parents when I was young. Sometimes on a rainy day, when I pass a house with a fireplace, the combinations of scents takes me right back to the cobbled streets of my mom’s ancient home town of Sterling. The second thing the rain makes me think of is gaming.

I know for sure that for decades whenever it was raining outside, or if I heard it was going to rain, I would immediately think “Oh man, I gotta work on the next game a bit tonight.” Something about it just stirs my imagination. There is a lot to be said of the famous literary story opener “It was a dark and stormy night…”

The only thing better than sitting in a cozy spot and working on an upcoming game when it is rainy outside is actually running a game when it is raining outside. It’s weird, even when I can’t smell it, hear it, or see it, the fact that it is just raining gives me so much inspiration and pep in the gaming process. I think some of my most brilliant “performances” as a GM occurred when it was wet outside. If I could run a game right next to an open door (as I usually do, standing up the entire session, with my latest group) where I can see and feel the downpour, all’s the better. Of course, it hasn’t rained on game night in the last year or so of this group, but that’s global warming for you.

OK, a cool clear night with a full moon is pretty bitchin’ for gaming too, but I like rain the best.

Bruno “Rainman” Mac

Friday, December 4, 2009

“The Hellpits of Nightfang” – it changed my world.

A recent posting about Paul Jaquays got me thinking about my fondness for his work (especially when I was a kid) for D&D and Runequest. I suddenly remembered Jaquays’ Hellpits adventure, and it reminded of how much it entered into my particular game world in the 80’s.

The Hellpits of NIghtfang was a 32-page scenario booklet that came out in 1979. Like a lot of the times I was a kid hanging out at Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica as a kid, it was a modest product that really captured my imagination. If you are not familiar with it, let me describe it briefly before telling you how I used this Runequest adventure in a big way in my game world, “Ardor.”

Basically, it is a cleverly designed series of muddy sink holes in a grassy field. It seemed like a simple enough setting, but there was plenty of action and Dex rolls to be had just in trying to navigate the slippery sides of the smallest hole. Down below in the small inner complex, Runequest mainstays like Flail Snails, Stake Snakes, and power-draining spirits abounded. But the main inhabitants of the earthy place were the elderly (but muscular) vampire Rune Lord Nightfang, and his rather homely wife. Fight Nightfang, bargain with him, or whatever. There you go.

OK, so at some point around 1980 I used The Village of Hommlet module to run a couple of games for my group. The major change (and I always make major changes to modules) I made there was to take the handsome, but scarred evil cleric Lareth, and make him as supremely handsome and charismatic anti-paladin. He was not slain at the end of that adventure, and ended up as the lover of a (not evil) Elvish magic-user/thief of one of the female players character named “Noradama” (or “Nord” for short). Although not exactly changing his ways, Lareth behaved long enough to have a short relationship with Nord in later games, and to become a fairly regular NPC. I know I know, lot of questions there. But it was 30 years ago and my memory dims like the Feral Kid in Road Warrior. It lives now, only in my dreams…

So around a year or less later, I had the Hellpits adventure, and decided to use it. But I wanted more from Nightfang and his wife than the sparse background Paul J. put into the scenario. Mind you, this was a Runequest adventure that I was converting into a AD&D adventure. As written, NF was a Rune Lord. So I decided in D&D he would have been some great wizard in ancient past. I needed more background for Lareth, who by now was involved with the same female players other character (a female drow, much more suited to Lareth as a lover than a wood elf tart), and was a regular feature in scenarios.

So I decided that NIghtfang was once known as Earlwuth Tan, a great general from the eastern empire who came to the west and founded my main city of Tanmoor, then just a frontier wilderness, several hundred years ago. In self exile at that time, after being cursed with vampirism, he eventually came across and married his current wife in recent decades, who happened to be a werewolf. Look, I was a teenager, OK? I then (and now) came up with some pretty wacky backgrounds for things .

Lareth was along with the group for that adventure, looking for his long lost father and mother who he barely remembered after he was born 20 years ago. And yeah, it gets wackier. Although I hadn’t originally intended for it when I did the previous Hommlet adventure (but the players did not know that), Lareth was a child of a powerful vampire and a werewolf. He was both, and had been hiding it from the characters. After some battling of monsters and Nightfang, Lareth revealed himself as Nightfang/Earlwuth Tan’s son, and after some thrashing about there was a family reunion that ended will, under the circumstances.

Now it gets bigger than shit. It was time then for a new campaign, and this started with Earlwuth’s (I would no longer refer to him as NIghtfang from then on in) declaration that he would take Tanmoor, the city he founded long ago, from it’s rulers from the Eastern Empire, and return it to the glory he meant for it when he founded it. He was evil, and a vampire, but he wanted the city to be returned to a time of kings and chivalry. The Empire from the East was mostly thought of as evil by the players, so it was not hard to get characters into this concept. For many games, the party helped Earlwuth, Lareth, and family overthrow the imperial forces in the city. Earlwuth/Nightfang then took a backseat, in the shadows, while his son Lareth Tan, took his birthright as king of Tanmoor.

Lareth married his drow character lover, and the Tan family remained for years in-game. Tanmoor had always been a wizardly city, but with a Vampire/Werewolf/Anti-Paladin as king, and his personal Addams Family in court, it became more of a place of elegant weirdness. Though the royal family had an evil background, the normal people of the city were actually safer, more prosperous, and happier than they had been under hundreds of years of rule by a distant empire. Some time in the later 80’s, I had a plot line that included the destruction of the royal Tan family. Hey, things change.

This may be the most extreme example of a modest adventure module being tweaked to fit into my personal game world. I still use this game world today, and when any of my player’s characters are from the Kindom of Tanmoor, I always have to explain the interesting Tan Family part of the city history (that happened around 50 years ago now in-game timeline). Sometimes they go “Oh man, I wish I had rolled up an anti-paladin vampire/werewolf with an 18 charisma instead of this fighter.” But the time of the Tans, the family of Nightfang, has long passed. Tanmoor remains kind of weird, though.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Abstract Combat rounds in AD&D

“OK, you have a full minute to attack the guy. But, uh, only one chance to hit.”

In my earliest experiences with AD&D, one of the concepts that chapped my ass the most when it came to combat was the abstract nature of a “round” or “combat turn.” As described in the rules, two (or more) combatants would attack, dodge, and block many times in that 60-second round, but only one opportunity to actually get a strike in occurred in each of those rounds.

I know that for my first few years of gaming I just accepted this for the most part, but as I got older and my games themselves matured, and there came times when the one-minute round just didn’t jibe with what was going on in-game. I saw the need for a shorter combat round, assisted by experiences with other games that had shorter combat “turns” or “rounds” of only a few seconds in length that worked out so well. I mean, who wants a minute’s worth of stuff to go on in the game that they don’t get to experience?

So my D&D one-minute “round” turned into a six-second “combat round.” I don’t really recall how I came up with that, but I think it was based on the six-second segment that applied mostly to spellcasting. That seemed long enough for just a little bit of dodging and jockeying, before getting in your chance to actually hit. Thinking in those terms, it just got easier to visualize and describe what was going on almost exactly in a combat, not just a bunch of superfluous flailing around. Also, combats between mid-level or higher opponents didn’t have to be assumed to be 8-20 minute affairs (watch a heavyweight boxing match and you’ll see that length of active non-stop hand to hand combat is beyond ridiculous). Two half decent swordsmen would fight for around a minute if they each got a little less than a dozen attacks in.

I really don’t know that the creators where thinking with the one-minute combat round where you only get on chance to hit. What were they smoking, the drapes? Let’s face it, usually a minute can seem like a long time. Did you ever stand in the shower waiting for conditioner to work? How about a minute-long elevator ride that somebody had just previously farted in (I almost died that day – I’d give anything to get back at that human skunk)? Those AD&D combat rounds stand out as one of the earliest things I “fixed” in my games.

OK, so to make things fair for the spellcasters, some winging it had to happen when it came to doing spells in combat. Most given rounds for spells are a minute as well (outside of 6-second segments and full ten-minute turns), but it’s pretty easy to look at the particular spell and decide on a case-by-case basis if it includes a one minute round or a six-second “segment.” Yep, on spell timing I really wing it, but that is maybe a post for another day.

I should probably mention as an aside, that the abstract nature of hit points never really bothered me. In fact, I actually like the concept of a hit point pool that mostly represents luck, divine favor, and defensive tricks, with just a nick or a heavy wound being abstract in amount compared to the health and size of the victim. Get down to one hit point, and you are almost out of life and luck both. Gotta love it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Inferno - "Go to hell!"

Written by Geoffry O. Dale and released by Judges Guild in 1980, this was one of my favorite modules I hardly ever used. Described on the back cover as an adventure you can use if a high level wizard tells you to "go to hell" or a cleric put a geas on you to steal a demon lord's magic item, this was an an area that only high level characters should tread.

On it's own, the module is a great read, full of the type of atmosphere that Dante's hell tends to conjure up. Just like in The Divine Comedy, you start out in a dark, lonely forest. Although there are no set encounters here, you are filled with a sense of dread and terror. Wandering down the trail, you will eventually find yourself at the gates of hell, and that is where the fun begins.

There is no great narrative, and the areas and encounters you have can be placed in front of the players in any order you choose. I always thought of it as more a sourcebook than an actual linear adventure. Besides various demon lords, you can meet a host of demon and devil servants, undead, and lost souls. Tiamet, Queen of evil dragons, has a cave lair in hell, and it is chock full of glorious treasures and artifacts. You can sail down the river Styx with the boatman, gazing with horror upon the polluted and foul water of the river, and the atrocities and suffering that goes on along it's putrid banks.

I never really had a place for this in my regular game world, but I did use it for a mini-campaign I was running in the City State of the Invincible Overlord (a rare series of sessions I ran with characters starting at 10th level). But a good indication of how much I loved a module in my teens and in my 20's was how long it stayed in my bathroom magazine rack. It was there for almost a decade!

I Ebayed this book several years ago during one of my game materials purges, and it is one of the game books I wish I had again to give it another read. Sure, like a lot of Judges Guild items any DM with decades of experience should be able to come up with a similar adventure setting off the top of their head that would suffice. Still, who needs to come up with an adventure they will never run? I just want to have another read of it to bring back some great old memories of an old school module I wish I had the chance to get more use from. It was really one of my faves.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

You’d GM it if you could (but probably never will)

Since the 80’s, I’ve always tried to have an alternate game to do for my D&D groups whenever I was feeling a little burnt out, or if a player important to the current scenario was missing. From the late 80’s until the late 90’s, my usual alternative would be either Champions (my long-running setting was based heavily on Superhero 2044), or Call of Cthulhu. Both genres originally would meet with resistance by the group (they never burnt out on my D&D), but after a couple games under their belts my players would often request an alternative session.

After several years off from gaming, I have had this new group going strong for over a year now. At a time of year where it is easy for players to miss a game due to end of the year obligations, it is more important than ever for me to introduce an alternative game. Something that we can do if only three players can make it (I like at least four players for the D&D session, but three is ok for most other stuff).
For months I have been putting thought to this. For the most part, I don’t feel like putting all the prep into Cthulhu like I used to do. My Champions setting is something I would like to rekindle, with my only consideration being that we play for only around three hours on a Wednesday night. Many simple combat scenarios can take more than three hours with Champs.

Having remembered the great times running Gamma World and Metamorphosis Alpha when I was a kid, I have also been tossing around the thought of doing Met. Alpha using the Mutant Future rules.

So last week I got together with a couple of my players (the ones most into doing an alternative genre) over a few beers, to work on characters for both Champions and Mutant Future just to see how we feel. Both players came up with mutants (a human and a plant), and the results of their random mutation rolls really brought back the old fun of those old mutant games. Both characters ended up with one really crippling bad mutation, but the others were so good they wanted to use the characters as is (the plant got the faster aging mutation, but also got the three dice of acid blood damage mutation – nice. The human mutant got the slow action mutation, but also got the disintegration and teleportation powers).

Then we really got to work on the Champs characters (oh, the crunch) and there were some good ideas there as well. A street level game is what I want to go for at first. Andy came up with a chop socky Hong Kong cop, and Paul (a fairly new player to the group) dreamed up a two-fisted chemist who carried special attack vials of chemicals (web, acid, smoke screen) and knew Savate (French kick-boxing.)

So the alternative will for sure be Champs or Mutant Future based mostly on great characters getting created, maybe both. But this has me thinking about the games and settings I have wanted to do for a long time, but probably never will. Maybe one day I will game more, and on the weekends, but twice a month on a Wednesday night isn’t exactly conducive to lots of experimenting. And with at least a couple of my players not wanting to play if it isn’t my D&D, these alternatives will always be the least priority in what we do.

But here are the ones I’d like to do if I could, but may actually never get the chance:

DUNE – I never really could get into the book when I was younger, but I always got a kick out of the David Lynch film. Several years ago I suddenly got into a Dune phase. I watched the directors cut of the film, and went right out and got the book. With the film setting up some of the locales and themes in simpler form, I was able to enjoy the nuances of the book more. I even read the two or three sequels that followed. Then I logged in countless hours on the Dune 2000 video game. It was around that time I got a real hankering to GM a game in the Dune setting. With no official game releases on this, I probably would have used the Hero system . With players running mentats, pilots, warriors, etc. I would have adventures across the planets of the empire and finally to Arakis itself. Whenever I mention wanting to do a Dune game to my players, it usually goes over like a lead balloon. So I guess this one shall remain a dream unfulfilled.

RUNEQUEST – I played this more than I ran it as a kid, but I loved it. I always dug the simple elegance of the Chaosium basic role playing system, and the mythical, ancient Greece styled setting was a great break from our D&D games that were going strong at the time. With most of my current players preferring the pulp fantasy of D&D, this one shall likely remain a dream as well.

TRAVELLER – another great game from my youth. Like Runequest I played more than I GM’d back in the day. At Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica, where I hung out as a kid, this was a heavily played game, much more than D&D. I also really loved the Dumarest novels by E.C. Chubb as a kid, a major influence on Traveller even thought it doesn’t get enough of that credit. Although I’m not a fan of the whimsy of the character creation process, and that I think there could be more character development as games progress, I really would love to do a straight Sci Fi game with little or no fantasy elements.

KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC – I loved the video game on XBOX so much it made me want to run games in that setting, despite not being a hard core Star Wars geek. KOTOR is so removed from the yammering muppets, mincing droids, and lame humor of Sir George’s works, it really shines as a separate, more mature section of the SW multiverse. I actually got the chance to run several games for an established Star Wars gaming group recently, and despite that not working out the way I would have liked, I would love to spring this on my regular group. Problem is, they ain’t exactly hard core Star Wars geektards either. Long live Jar Jar (not).

BUNNIES & BURROWS – Even though I sold my first edition of this 1970’s game on Ebay a few years ago (sniff), I would love to run a small campaign of this Watership Down inspired old school RPG. I think I would find an alternative sytem to use for the character types (maybe Chaosium’s basic role playing) as presented in the original game, but I would really love to see how game play would pan out. Just going out in the field to look for truffles is a huge danger to these characters. So tense, furtive gameplay would be the order of the day. Yep, another lead balloon for my players. I don’t think they would buy my pitch.

So, those are some of mine. What kind of game would you like to GM, but probably never will?

Monday, November 23, 2009

How Tolkien is my D&D world?

I thought I would throw my hat into the ring (hold the applause) regarding the “Tolkien’s influence in D&D debate”, inspired by very recent posts at The Cimmerian and Grognardia.

Both posters are greater wordsmiths than I, and much more knowledgeable about the classic works that Gygax and his peers cited as influences for their game. I can merely speak upon my own humble experiences on this matter. I don’t know art, but I know what I like.

I mostly agree with James at Grognardia that many of Tolkien’s influence on the game as originally published at least seem superficial. The inclusion of Orcs and Hobbits and such surely were not what the game was meant to be about. The “feel” of original D&D for sure felt more like Lieber and Vance. You could picture The Gray Mouser or Conan creeping through a classic dungeon much more than you could picture Frodo in there. So in terms of gameplay, it didn’t feel much like Tolkien.

I think the Tolkien influence had more to do with a certain ground work, a laying of stone foundations sort of thing. I think it is safe to say that most fans of fantasy in the 60’s and 70’s started out with the Hobbit before moving on to LOTR and finally to darker, more adult oriented tales by less “romantic” authors. Just like in my case, there was a certain “growing up” happening.

As a kid on his way to a life of loving fantasy settings, I picked up a copy of The Hobbit left behind by one of my older brothers had discarded, and was on my way. It of course led to the Ring Trilogy (and multiple readings thereof). That love affair lasted for years until Jr. High, when I discovered Fritz and Howard (turned on to them now that I had met people of my own age who loved fantasy and showed me what they were reading). By the time I read fantasy other than Tolkien, I had already been playing/running D&D for a couple of years.

As I read more boldly adult, flesh and blood lusty adventuring, my game world got just a shade darker and sleazier. Finally, adventuring wasn’t just about ideals of chivalry and destroying dark lords. My games started becoming more about the characters getting glory, gold, and laid, just like Conan, Mouser, and other greats of darker fantasy. I think this, more than anything, is what Sir Gary and the others meant the game to be. A kid wants to be a noble hero like Aragorn. A young adult and older wants to be a badass horndog like Conan.

So Tolkien put down the foundation for me, and I think it was a lot like that for Gygax. You start out with the Tolk, then you will always treasure the Tolk. But you will inevitably “grow up”.

And the one thing that truly lets me know Gary had Tolkien in his heart and on his mind? Look at Gary’s writing in any of the gamebooks. A very old Victorian style. It sure sounds more like what Tolkien would write in the forwards for those books than any other fantasy author outside of Dunsany.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Free Porn!!!

Pretty grabby post title, eh? Only yelling “free beer!!!” at a Ren Faire will get you more attention (believe me, I’ve done it). Here’s Zack S. of Playing D&D With Porn Stars title description:
I play D&D. Nearly everybody in my game is a stripper, or a porn star, or both*, so everybody's very busy, but when we do get to play, we like to do it up right. (*Yes, I'm serious.)

If you want subscribers to your game blog fast fast fast, then one great way to do it is to use the word “porn” in the title. Calling your blog page “Playing D&D with porn stars” seems to be a home run. So much more so than “Temple of Demogorgon.”

You want to not believe it at first. I mean, in geeky circles that would be your first reaction. You WANT to believe it, but some groups have trouble getting a female in the mix period, much less one who will play for pay. When I tell people that in the 90’s most or all of my 4-6 players per session were usually female (I only boinked a couple of them), they don’t believe that. Getting one girl there is hard enough for most gamer guys.

Personally I tend to believe it. I mean, I am an LA native and have lived in Venice Beach my entire life, and I have seen a lot of what this city has to offer. And although I have not had porn stars or strippers in my games (although I have had actors, screenwriters, and priests), some of the gals could have been if they wanted to. And actual sex has occurred before, during, and after games I’ve run. Yeah, some of that included me (but not always, unfortunately).

Girls in my games over the last 30 years have varied wildly in the looks department (I’d say the late 80’s was my heyday of great looking gals in my campaigns), but regardless of the physical description, I was usually pretty grateful to not just have a bunch of guys sitting around playing make-believe.

“Zak S,” a resident of Hollywood, has already achieved a fairly big following to his blog in a very short period of time. As of today, he has just over 40 followers. About as much as me. But I started my blog in January. Zak started his last month. I’m guessing most of the followers are awaiting tales of post game orgies and bukkakes, but those do not seem to be forthcoming. Zak actually puts together typical gaming posts, fairly lacking in the salacious details of the porny connection. Actually, they are very decent posts about the typical gaming subjects we gamers want to read/write about.

So. Zack S. knows some strippers and porn stars, and he gets them to play D&D. OK, we aren’t talking dolled-up blond airheads here, such as big names like Jenna Jameson and Katie Morgan. The girls Zack shows some pics of are more tattooed goth/rocker chick than glamour-puss. The seem very much like girls I know in LA, except in my case I would know them more for the folk music and hippy scenes (hey man, there are demonstrative chicks in those scenes like you would not believe) than from strip bars. But most of those girls don’t have a lot of interest in gaming unless their boyfriends get them into it.

So how does Zack do it? Well, that is probably a tale we would like to hear more about. It just so happens he isn’t up front with that information, much less where we can find out more about the girls he puts up pics of (they seem to have twitter and facebook accounts, but that doesn’t necessarily tell me where I can see them “work”).

Maybe Grognardia James needs to seek out an interview? Zack isn’t exactly the old school interview James wants, but what the hell, Zack probably has a tale or two to tell. Who cares if it doesn’t involve Gygax?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Beyond the Crystal Cave: Role-play and non-violence

(Over the weekend I noticed a reader comment on Grognardia asking James to blog at some point about this module, and it got me thinking about it again a bit. Although I really only post about more personal aspects of gaming now, I thought I'd rehash this one from last January. It was a pretty interesting module)

Published by TSR’s UK division in 1983, UK1 seems to be inspired by “forest/garden levels” in dungeons. It is, of course, a dungeon-like adventure, in that you cannot fly nor float into the area due to an impenetrable force field. You can actually destroy the force field - If you are a 20th level wizard, that is. It is so funny when modules actually describe how you can affect something, even when there is no chance in hell of having what you need to affect it! This module is designed for levels 4-7, so it’s doubtful anyone involved would have the contacts to get a super-wizard to help out. Note that just like any other aggressive act in the module, destroying the force field has a consequence – the dispelling wizard will be sucked into a vortex, and spewed out in some random place and time. Why did they even bother to go into this? Sheesh.

Created on an island (in the World of Greyhawk) by a wizard and his elvish wife, the gardens still go on long after they had passed away. It is always summer in the garden, and it is full of various sylvan creatures, including leprechauns, pixies, centaurs, an Ent, dryads, and unicorns.

The local governor asks the party to enter the gardens and bring back a young couple. The official offers up 10,000 GP for their return, a hefty sum for any rescue mission. The party will eventually have to earn it, because all of the creatures in the gardens believe the young couple to be their old master and mistress reborn. Within that fact dwells the challenge of this adventure: there is no evil in the garden, but every living thing is your enemy. Many of them, as described in the module, will attack on site.

Like many TSR modules, many spells did not work as normal. In this case, many of the most common spells a druid might use did not work at all. This was a very strange thing, considering druids also were granted a level while they stayed in the garden, but things that did not make a lot of sense were often included in TSR products.

This adventure heavily stresses non-violent parlay, and role-play is more essential to this adventure than most others. In something like “Steading of the Hill Giant Chief,” you ultimately won’t have much choice but to barge and bash your way through it. But in UK1, every page is full of bad things that will happen to you if you are aggressive, steal anything, or harm anything in the garden. Even worse, the official who hired you has an amulet of ESP, so if you show up after a nasty act looking for the 10,000, he will deny you and have you thrown out of town. If the party really is evil, this would be a great time to show it. Kill the governor, take his amulet (easily worth over 50,000 in my game), steal a boat, and disappear for awhile.

There are two combat encounters in the caves leading into the garden. There are some Mudmen, a by product of the magic stream exiting the cave, and also an ochre jelly. But after these fights, don’t fight anything else or you not only forfeit the reward money, you’ll have the entire garden population after your head. The young couple is held up in a magical tower in the garden. This place pretty much would count as a mini-dungeon, but once again you have to walk on eggshells or face dire consequences.

The "boss monster" (forgive the video game lingo-lax) of the gardens is "The Green Man." The spirit of John Barleycorn is alive and well in the place. This meant nothing to me in the 80's when I got this module, but later on when I joined a group at the local Renaissance Faires based on Morris Dancing and folk music, I learned a lot about this old English country spirit. Morris dancing is about making the "ale crops," barley and hops, grow by doing worhipful dances and country dances in his honor. If I run the scenario again in the future, I will use him more than I did the first time.

There is a magical oracle force in the “Cave of Echoes” that lead into the garden that can be entertaining. As described in the module, it will pretty much grant any minor wish to a zero-level NPC who is in need. It has no respect for greedy players though – if they wish for something, it just gives mysterious gibberish. So great fun can be had with this, and you can really see who the greediest player character is judging by how they approach the oracle.

Most DM’s would find it a challenge to keep players entertained, seeing as most of the adventure is passive (or is designed to be). I actually altered things to make it easier: I had a powerful party of evil NPC’s enter the garden to loot it, and that way the players had somebody they could fight and not incur wrath.

As a player character, the most troubling aspect of the gardens is the time stream. For every hour spent within the garden, a month passes on the outside. When I ran the module for the first time, I think the party spent 8 or 9 hours in the garden, and that was after finding out about the time slowdown a couple of hours into it. They stepped it up a bit, but a party unaware (as the module hopes they will be) could easily spend a night or two in the garden, especially if they happen to befriend some creatures and hang out with them. So a typical scenario could have the party come out to find 2-4 years have passed. Yowtch. At this point, have the players put the character sheets away and start new ones. The world will catch up to the garden visitors eventually.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

“A simple Sleep spell stopped them!” – crappiest D&D ad part three

This entry in the engrossing series of D&D comic book ads from the early 80’s is a masterpiece of minimalism. You blink and it’s over.

In our last chapter, Indel, formerly with the Keebler Company, fell through a secret door and ended up in a deeper level of the dungeon. So his pals the wizard Grimslade, the unflappable fighter Valerius, and blond cleric chick Saren are busy trying to attract wandering monsters by yelling out the ambiguously gay elf’s moniker. They get more than they bargained for! A vicious band of three goblins!

Tired of facing Shambling Mounds and Green Slime, the warrior Valerius licks his chops and pulls out his new magic sword in preparation for the battle he has long awaited, and…what the fuck!!! What happened? Well, as in most low level games, the goddamn MU ruins the fighters chance for a rousing combat by wasting his most powerful spell on a triad of 3 hit point mooks. “Phew! OK, now we have to take an 8-hour break so I can rest and get the spell back.”

With his big chance at wowing Saren with his manly might now gone, Valerius feigns interest in the welfare of the lost cookie elf. “Um, er, c’mon! We gotta find Brucie!”

Meanwhile, Indel, after proving his elvish secret door finding powers ain’t shit, also proves his dexterity is less than to be desired as he lands on his perfectly coiffed head. You can tell, because he goes “”Oh, my head!” Either that, or it’s New Years day and he’s just waking up. Been there a few times m’self.
Uh oh, looks like the mortal worm is in trouble (mortal? Don’t elves live 5000 years or something?).

OK, how many levels exactly did Indel fall down that chute? You fall down a trap door on a level that only has Green Slime and three Goblins to offer as monsters, and then you fall right down to a dragon’s lair? What kind of shithole dungeon is this! Right about now, Indel’s player is wishing they hadn’t agreed to let Bob’s asshole older brother run the session.

Next: “Gavin’s Inn has a warm fire to relax by!”

Monday, October 19, 2009

“Look out! It’s dripping!” – crappiest D&D ad part 2

The most important thing here is that the artwork gets better (don’t ask me his name – Grognardia James is the archeologist around here. I’m just the village idiot). I’m sure Indel the elf personally appreciates leaving his Keebler background behind and becoming more of an action-looking type guy. Although you only see him covered in slime or falling down a trapdoor, the new artist obviously wants these characters to look like ones you would actually want to play in a game.

I think the fighter Valerius and our boy Indel may have had some problems getting along with each other in the past (it actually becomes all too clear after the chick shows up). While “Gray 'stache” the wizard seems worried about the 80 pounds of green shit that has just fallen on the luckless lad of elfland, Valerius is busy worrying about his plus-nothing sword being eaten by the goo. Well, he is a fighter, and his priorities are clear. Please don’t tell us you tried to stab the stuff, Valerius.
“Forget the fucking sword, dude, we’ve got to save Indel!”

Poor Indel. Not only has the green slime apparently gone “Code Yellow,” but it’s also eaten his legs, ‘nads, and even his Robin Hood hat.

“Swoosh!” Burning Hands spell, right? Damn skippy. I’d like to talk about how when I was a kid I loved that spell when nobody else was wasting a slot on it, but I’m too busy talking about this lame adventure. On we go…

Suddenly, a figure steps out from the shadows, and immediately two hundred thousand Spider-Man readers (including yours truly) actually starts paying attention to this advert. Nothing like a hot blond chick to step out from the shadows and make things not gay anymore – am I right? Just like finally getting a girl to play in your game. They actually managed to capture that aspect of D&D perfectly. I guess the powers at TSR were like “what else can we put in here to appeal to the geeks besides slime and trap doors?” You have to wonder what she would have looked like if she appeared in the last ad. The horror.

Saren the Cleric seems really worried about Indel. If that little elvish hairdresser tapped that, I swear to God I’m gonna kill myself. Best not to think about it. Anyway, her powers of whatever heal the little dude, and in the next panel he’s posing like a 70’s porno dude about to do his thang. Valerius finds a sword to replace his eaten one. What a coinkydink!

Our hero and star of the show Indel next gets back down to D&D business. When asked to use his elvish powers of secret door finding, he immediately on cue falls through a trap door. Right now the guy running this characters is like “after tonight I am so done with this fucking asshole DM.”

And Saren, she looks so worried about him. Look at her face. She’s crushed. Oh God, they really did do it, didn’t they? There is no justice in this world, man. There is no God. Valerius doesn’t look too broken up though, does he? As he looks at Saren with a satisfied smirk, you can almost hear him thinking to himself “Finally. Tonight is your night, bro.”

Next: Deeper baby, deeper!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

D&D's crappiest ad:part 1

In the early 80’s, D&D advertisements where all over the back pages of comics. There were several of them in this particular series, and they appeared every two or three months. I imagine the time lags may have represented the folk at TSR scrambling to find a better artist for the most recent ad compared to the piece of crap hack who hammered out this first uninspired strip.

Is this how they sold the game? I mean, they wanted to make money, didn’t they? Why phone it in like this? These were appearing in comics that were drawn by greats like John Romita Jr. and Frank Miller. Drooling mongoloids might have liked the goofy adventuring represented here, but did they have the brain power to understand how to play if they bought it? I guess just making the sale was important. Whatever – D&D became more and more popular, despite these terrible comic craptacular adventures.

As I was an avid comic book guy since around the age of 6, they were pretty much preaching to the choir in my case. I already had a few years of D&D under my belt when these came out. More importantly, even at around 15 years old I was running games that were cooler than what was happening to these low-rent, cookie cutter adventurers (if you want to read about somebody who preferred their D&D to pan out like these adventures, check out some old posts at Grognardia).

Speaking of cookies, one of the adventurer’s is a damn Keebler elf. No joke, look at the guy. Disney characters laugh at this pathetic excuse for a Legolas. You ain’t going to see this guy swinging around on elephants shooting three arrows at a time. Gimli probably would not have much trouble beating his orc-killing score. Better yet. Look at panel 5. WTF is he doing? Levitating? Or is that a jump? I’m getting a headache just looking at it.

I know the Shambling Mound looks like its Monster Manual counterpart, but seeing as this ad appeared in Marvel Comics, weren’t they worried about a lawsuit or something? I mean, that’s the damn Man-Things nose, man! I guess the Marvel Bullpen didn’t take D&D all that seriously, true believer.

Since when did a Hold Monster spell light up the night? What other spells act as a light spell, other than a light spell that is? Well, it’s a good thing, because green slime was on the walls, and according to that douche Grimslade it is certain death. Not quite, but in our next adventure the Keebler elf finds out the hard way that you don’t mess with that emerald snot!

Oh, and a hot blond cleric and a much better artist shows up. See you then, Pilgrim!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Group Size - what's your pref?

In my last post I talked about digging on the full group of six players I currently have. Of course that might change before too long (in the last year I’ve had a total of four new players come and go, and three regulars who have not missed a game), but after many years of no gaming it’s kind of a treat to see six players at the table. In all honesty, six is about as many people as our current host can handle (and I stand up for the entire session) in the spot we have (his wife’s fabric workshop in the back studio).

OK, so I got some comments that mentioned the amount of players those particular GM’s preferred in their gaming sessions. Here’s what some of the had to say:

Barking Alien said: …”Its also funny what a full group consitutes for some GMs as opposed to others. I pretty much don't feel like gaming if there aren't at least 3 or 4 players. For me a full group is more like 7 or 8. My current Mutants & Masterminds campaigns averages 8-9. If everyone showed every time we'd have 11 people…”

Sir Larkins sez: …”Seven or eight players for me is way too many. I'm most comfortable with three to four…”

Felipe Budinich said: …”Heh the full group concept also strikes me as funny, usually I have two players, over 4 players and i feel that it gets too crowded…”

So like a lot of things it’s “to each his own.” Space restrictions probably have a lot to do with it. For instance, at this point I can phone in AD&D 1st ed. (30 damn years), so I’m pretty sure I can handle seven or 8 people without serious detriment to the amount of role-playing or amount of time combat takes in my game. But for now I think 6 is going to have to be the cap. The only exception I might make to that is if a girl comes along wanting in on the campaign, if only to keep poor Terry from being the only girl in the group (I actually think she likes that, but that may be a subject for another post).

So I like six for D&D, but what about my couple of other favorites that I had successful campaigns with over the years? Well, in the past I was usually able to get all my players into other alternate genres, specifically Call of Cthulhu and Champions. In the 90’s when I tried to turn the groups on to one of these games, half of them groaned about it (especially the girls), but once they got characters created and got a game in under their belts, they often preferred them to my D&D!

For Champions it was hard for me to handle upwards of six people. Just so much math and crunch. This one particular regular player of mine from the 90’s, “Planet” Janet, was so bad at math (and usually so stoned on tequila and pot) that I had to do it all for her. Champions actually helped my math – heaven forbid you should actually learn or grow in some way from gaming.

I really preferred 2-4 players for Champs. If I only had three players, I would usually do the “street level” type characters. Fighting gang members and serial Killers was usually pretty easy to adjudicate. Ironically, when I had five or six players, it made sense to do the “Super Group” type games, even though it would include tons of super-attacks and tons of crunchy stuff that was just so time-consuming. Those powerful superhero fights took forever. With our current sessions happening for just three hours on a Wednesday night, I doubt we could have Champions as an alternate.

Call of Cthulhu was also a game I think I would have preferred to have like three players for, but my players in the 90’s ended up liking it so much that when we played it as our D&D alternative everyone showed up.

There was one memorable CoC game I ran in the mid-90’s with just three players that was kind of a gas. On a Saturday afternoon my three female players were hanging out in Lisa’s pad above the Hollywood Bowl, and they called me (at home…dateless) to see if I felt like coming over there to run some Call of Cthulhu. That was a session that went late into the night, and there wasn’t even anything of a supernatural nature going on (although I added in a “bump in the night” or two). Basically it was around 5 hours of the girl’s characters hanging out in Arkham shopping, cruising for guys at the Speakeasy, and looking for fun at the nightclub (that one of the characters was a torch singer at). It was one of those games that just would not have worked that well with 5 or more players. I would have needed some beastie to show up to spice things up.

Preferences aside, different group sizes usually create different gaming experiences. But what is your preference?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"It's about Bunnies!" - redux

(Note: As I am currently heading into the second weekend of a several weekend run of working at a Ren Faire in Central California [4 + hour drive], taking a class during the week, preparing for a bagpiping competition in October, yada yada yad - my posting is getting slower at a time when I was really getting into the flow. So I thought I would, here and there, dredge up a past post from earlier this year when I had maybe three subscribers and before my blogger network membership. I'm not egotistical enough to call it "best of," but perhaps there will be some interest in past stuff that I thought was worth talking/reading about. This one about Bunnies and Burrows has the distinction of being maybe one of two of my posts that James at Grognardia actually commented on - hold the applause!)

I had never read Watership Down, nor seen the movie by the time I first saw a copy of Bunnies and Burrows over 30 years ago. There it was on the stands at Aero Hobbies. All the older pricks were geeking out about it at the game table, like they did with most unique new games that came out. I don’t remember anyone actually running it at the shop, but I was somewhat smitten by it’s strange nature.I had of course heard of Watership Down in the school yards over the year. It would usually be one of the timid, shy girls reading it at lunchtime (this was before Goth kids came into their own and started to be recognized), or one of the seemingly speechless boys from the “special” class. It’s not exactly a “feel good” story. As Sawyer on the TV show Lost once sarcastically said, in a gleeful singsong voice as he was caught reading it “It’s about bunnies!”

I saw no sad little sick rabbits on the run from all kinds of scary things as I read the B&B rules. Only herbalists, fighters, and the incredibly appealing Maverick character class. The rules were fairly light, as were a lot of the new games coming out. It left a lot open to interpretation, which as any Grognard knows is the salt of the earth in a fun-to-GM game.

B&B came out in 1976, only a few short years after D&D, and it is recognized as the first game to have all non-human characters, and also as the first game with a detailed martial arts system. Your skills and abilities varied depending on your character class, and task resolution was on percentiles. There were great little “simple life” rules in the game that gave it a very quaint flavor. Your rabbit could only count up to 5, and I don’t think you were allowed much more than that in the way of objects in your backpack. Yeah, that’s right. These rabbits weren’t exactly humanoid, but it was obvious that they were more intelligent than animals, and could stand upright and manipulate things with fingers. This was not specific in the book – only some of the skills, and some of the drawings (a maverick holding playing cards, the soldier rabbits of the book cover, etc.) lead you to believe that they were more than plain old bunnies. Well, that and the fact that somebody had to have made the backpacks.

Seeing as you are a rabbit and one of the weakest creatures on the planet, role play was key over combat encounters. All forms of animals are listed as enemies, but only human beings with their “alien minds” were true monsters. Snares, poison, and natural hazards filled the daily lives of the little fellas as well.The rules book itself was pretty poor quality. It looked typewritten (as were a lot of my favorite gaming material of the time), and the “artwork” can only be describes as “scribbles.” I drew better looking artwork of cops beating up hippies on my high school Pee Chee folder.

A couple of editions came out in the following years. There was a GURPS version with a cover that could only be described as hilarious. It had two small rabbits furiously attacking a guard dog, like the two raptors attacking the T Rex in Jurassic Park. That seemed to kind of miss the point of the original game right there, but newer gamers probably would not want to play a game were you mostly just forage for truffles all day, Before heading down to the Doe cave to hammer out babies all night.I finally saw the Watership Down movie and read the book in the 80’s, and the game reflected a lot of that inspiration. Figuring I would probably never run it, I sold it on Ebay several years ago for about 50 bucks. Now that I’m going through my own retro gaming fad, I wish I had kept that one. I even created my own little gameworld for it about 10 years ago. Called “Rabbit Valley Days,” I was hoping to evoke those original rules using another system eventually, but I doubt I can sell my current players on it now. The game is about bunnies, after all.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Crappy Stats

When it comes to random rolls for stats, it doesn’t matter how generous you are as a DM, somebody may always end up with an 8 or lower in something. Two such stats and you got a real stinker on your hands.

Grognardia James is doing a play-by-post Dwimmermount campaign through the OD&D discussion boards, and of course he is using the oldest, most basic of D&D. That means, among other things, rolling 3d6 for each stat. No substitutions or eliminations. For any of us who were kids getting into D&D in the 70’s, we know that pain. You really had to make your rolls before envisioning what kind of class you would want. Who wants a fighter with a 7 Str or a wizard with a 9 Int? A lot of stumblebums and numbnuts are being created there. My own guy came up with an 8 Wis and 6 Con! Yeesh. Don’t wanna complain too hard, because one dude got a couple of 5’s. Ow. I was one of the lucky ones to get a decent number in one stat; a 15 in my Intelligence. So of course I came up with an MU (see below to get a gander at my stats, and the history I came up with to explain his shortcomings).

I’m not much of an old school “adventurers are just average/below average tomb robbers” kind of guy. Growing up on comics and heroic literature, I preferred haughty champions for myself and my players from an early age. I think we threw out the 3D6-can’t choose the stat type roll-up pretty quick. I went for the best 3 of 4, put on the stat you want methods. I usually allowed an elimination roll of anything under 9. For a long time I allowed a stat or two to be moved around to be able to allow a ranger or paladin or whatever for somebody, and that was cool. I mean, my games are important enough to me that I wanted my players to have the type of character they were envisioning before the rolls were made. This didn’t create supermen, and 18’s were still pretty rare. It just allowed a half-way heroic group of characters, the type who went adventuring, and had a chance to survive it.

Oh, and the other couple of generous things I do is allow max hit points at first level, and also to not let characters die (for the most part) in their first game. I don’t really know how much of an affect this has had on the mortality rate, but it’s probably telling that characters rarely die in my games unless they do something very stupid or very suicidal. I think more characters have died because of other characters and not because of my challenges.

Back to James’ game, it’s pretty funny that all these stat-deficient characters are getting into a life of adventure. Maybe it really is a mental thing in that world. All these buff, healthy farmer lads tilling the fields and enjoying a peaceful life, and these weak, sub-par types marching by on their way to Dwimmermount, a place more than likely to kill you pretty quick. I mean, what did you expect? You’ve only got two hit points! It’s like the Special Olympics – to the death!

FYI – this is the first player character I have created to play in almost 20 years. I mostly GM.

Thurston “Thirsty” BrewerHuman

MU1 H.P.2 AC10STR 11INT 15WIS 8CON 6DEX 12 CHA 12Languages: Common, Elvish, Dwarf, GnomeSpells: Read Magic, Shield, Sleep (probably)

Thurston, or “Thirsty” to his friends is a 25 year old human and looks like Steve Buscemi. Thirsty grew up in Adamas, where his father and mother own a middle-class tavern called “The Drunken Dragon.” Thirsty grew up there and knows his way around tavern work (including stable). He also knows his way around booze. Like most of the men in his family he is a “working drunk,” but in Thurston’s case he had way too much access to hedonistic materials at too young an age. Although he will imbibe almost anything through mouth, lung, or ear, alcohol is his fave as it is the easiest to get, and quickly satisfies his raging oral fixation.

With a liver and his wits quickly getting shot at a young age, Thurston will be lucky to make it into his mid-30’s unless he changes his happily hedonistic lifestyle. As he is not the first in line to inherit the tavern (has older brother who actually works hard), Thurston decided he wanted to learn the magic arts and enrolled in Wizard School a couple of years ago. Needless to say, he was the party animal on campus. One night recently, sauced with friends at the tavern, Thirsty heard some adventurers talking about an exploration of the famous Dwimmermount area he had heard about for years, and inquired about lending his spells to the expedition.

Thirsty stands out due to the 4 wineskins he tends to have hanging off him under his light cloak. But he doesn’t get smashed “on the job.” In dungeon he just sips whiskey during the day to keep the shakes away. The wine is for sharing to celebrate milestones (clearing that room of giant spiders, finding a new level to explore, etc.). It is all good booze so he double-costed it. Back safely in town or village, all bets are off as far as being professional, and Thurston’s party cry can be heard echoing out of the inn or tavern “It’s slobberin’ time!”

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Night Below: The Tweaking of Book Two

OK, in my last post I talked about changing gears in my campaign, and having players go into the Night Below setting instead of the dungeon they have been preparing for (leveling up) for around 20 games and one year of play.

One reason for this is that I have been dilly dallying a bit. I wanted them to be hitting the dungeon around 4th level, but I have had so much fun with adventures around villages and towns that I just let time fly. Now they are closing in on 7th level. I also felt that at least a couple of characters were running a bit roughshod over my world and NPC’s. As they got to higher levels without any major opposition outside of orcs, Kobolds, and trolls, they have become a bit cocky. Night Below is enough of a meat grinder to make them see the error of their ways (and possibly have to roll up newer, more humble characters when these ones get decimated in the Derro battle, heh heh heh).

I’m going for it, and starting with the material in Book 2. But in my more focused reading of the material, and in some of the things I’ve read online, I think I need to make a few changes for this to work for me.

The major thing bugging me right off the bat is the scale. Say the characters travel from the Deep Gnome city down to the Glass Pool area. According to the miles given in the map key, this is something like 400 miles! Yeesh. I rarely make characters trek 400 miles on foot in the surface world, so this is kind of a big deal. The adventure books suggest making multiple trips to the surface world, which makes this journey around an 800 mile round trip. So screw that, I’m going to half that (at least). That should still be enough travelling to get across the “underground wilderness” nature of the Underdark (which surface dwellers in my world call “The Great Beneath”) without the characters having to effectively travel half the length of my gameworld continent.

On the same coin, I’m also thinking of making more flux points for the players to use, and therefore be able to get around a little faster (after the initial foot traveling – each flux point would need to be physically seen in order to be able to travel to it). I’m not real sure about the flux’s though. I want this setting to have all that great oppressiveness that should be felt deep below the ground, and making it easier and faster for players to travel may take away from that. Still, I think I would maybe have a Flux Point that is well guarded in the Gnome City, and another one around the Derro area. As you need to first be in the presence of one in order to travel to it (the way I would do it), the Mind Flayer can’t appear in that one, and the player could not get back to the Gnome Flux without traveling on foot first to one in the Derro area. This addition of Flux would seriously cut back on travel and game time spent in dreary travel later in the game.

I also don’t want this to be a 2-5 year campaign (I have heard from various sources that have taken various amounts of time, but the fact that I am skipping Book 1 should cut back at least a few months). My games are a little less than three hours on a Wed night around twice a month, and should remain so into next year. So I don’t exactly have a plethora of time-stuff to do this. I’d like to cover the entire two books-worth of material, from the Deep Gnomes to the assault on the Aboleth city, between now and Fall of next year. Yep, I gots the next 12 months of games covered here. I’m getting kind of tired of all the above ground village and town encounters anyway. It’s time for a real bloodbath in an alien setting.

One thing I think I will cut out entirely is the Rockseer Elves. That should save a game session or two. I’m not a big fan of them here. Not only are they a major distraction and long journey to deal with, but the campaign is meant for them to go to the surface at the end of it all, and reveal themselves to surface elves. Big whoop. Also, the encounter with them requires that some player characters be kidnapped for a bit, and I have found through decades of experience that not only do players hate this, but it requires a bit of railroading on the part of the DM. Players are usually so resistant to being captured in any way; it is often difficult to pull off without some Deux ex Machina involved.

So I think I will increase both the quantity and quality of the Deep Gnome involvement in the adventure. In the next game I’m going to have the party save a Deep Gnome scout from Gnolls in upper caves. The Gnoll shaman will have fed the Gnomes legs to his pet ghouls, so the party will hopefully escort the crippled Svirfneblin down to his people. Not only will they be rewarded with part of the legless gnomes trove, but he Queen will be more disposed towards liking them than in the original material. As the party currently contains a gnome illusionist, the queen will give him the special treatment as described in book 2 (make him a champion, offer the gnome home as a place of safety and succor). The gnomes will also provide far more info on the goings on down here than book 2 wants you to know early on. They will know about the comings and goings of mind flayers between the Glass Pool and the subsurface world, that they have been coveting spellcasters, and that deep below in the Sunless Sea ancient monsters contemplate the subjugation of the underworld and beyond.

I think I will leave in the Troll caves, though I may not have the Deep Gnome queen ask specifically for them to be eradicated. If they prove a problem for the players, it can be up to them to deal with them if they want (which will still end up getting props from the Gnomes). I want to have a lot of wandering monster type encounters in the first long journey to the Derro area, so trolls can be met on the fly.

I like the idea of the Sunken Drow city in the Sunless Sea, and to tie into that a bit more, I am thinking of creating a long-abandoned Drow outpost up here, maybe in the area where the tunnel to the Rockseer Elves starts. It could be nice and haunted, filled with giant spiders, or whatever. As it is mostly undisturbed in the last 700 years, it can contain some clues about the Sunken Drow City and the ancient Drow presence in the Southern Underdark. There is a Drow in the player party, so she should have some interest here.

The Grell don’t really appeal to me. Even as a kid reading about them in White Dwarf (including an article on how to make minis of them from scratch), I thought they were kind of lame. So I am going to replace that Grell community with Dire Corbys. Yeah, you heard me. In all honesty they seemed just as lame or lamer than Grell. They looked crappy in the MM2, and their shouting “Doom” as they attacked sounded pretty cheesy. But recently I got a cheap copy of the Drizzt Du’orden Omnibus Graphic novel (I never read the novels based on Drizzt), and I loved the chilling portrayal of a mass Corby attack within. Even the shouts of “Doom!” seemed pretty cool in that context. So I’m going to use them as a nice hack n’ slash encounter.

The Quaggoth and Hook Horrors seemed pretty dumb to me as well, but upon deeper reading it kind of grew on me. When I learned that the shaggy bear-men were left over from the ancient Drow presence here, I kind of liked it. Their reaction to the Drow PC might be interesting as well. The Hook Horrors being led by a shape-shifted Rakshasa is kind of cool. I haven’t used one of those since my last Isle of Dread campaign around 20 years ago. So that whole area, including the sword Finslayer, stays in the picture.

I need to study the Derro encounter areas a bit better, but from what I can tell that is the true bloodbath of Book Two. With both fighting ability and magic, they seem like a nice challenge. I also need to look more closely at the City of the Glass Pool, because so far I have been more into tweaking the areas leading up to the climax of Book Two. One thing I don’t like on cursory inspection is the Ixians. I think that between the Mind Flayers, Kou-Toa, Aboleth, and all the intelligent races and creatures that support them/oppose them, there are already more than enough evil main villains to deal with. But who knows, like the Hook Horror area they may grow on me. For all I know they are integral to the story. It’s a nice long weekend coming up, so I’ll be taking a better look at the end of that chapter of the adventure.

The Glass Pool area requires multiple assaults, because it is so large in scope and has a lot going on. I haven’t looked real closely a the Aboleth city in Book 3 all that much, but Glass Pool seems to be a more complicated war. I’m really not a fan of assault/go rest/assault some more game play. I really do prefer large battles like this to play out more cinematically. For this I would probably have to cut out a lot of stuff and change a lot of others, especially if I am to do it in one setting. But I don’t want to change the entire philosophy of the Night Below campaign, so I need to tread carefully with things I leave out. But I really want to do a lot with the Sunless Sea area, and to do that in a year (of short, three hour games) will for sure require the leaving out of a lot of Book 2.

So, what do you think of these tweaks? I’d also love to hear from anybody who ran the adventure as is with little in the way of changes.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Reconsidered: Night Below Campaign

Reconsidered: Night Below Campaign

During the 90’s, I hardly ever bought D&D supplementary material. I mean, I had so many seeds of ideas in my head when it came to gaming, I never felt I needed to buy other people’s ideas. Plus as a Scotsman, I’m notoriously cheap (and yet can never seem to save any money).

But when I got back into gaming after several years off, I had a hankering to purchase some of the interesting sounding items that I passed on many years before. So some time around winter of last year I got great deals from Ebay on the Dark Sun boxed set, and the Night Below boxed set.

By then I had a nice little campaign going, running countryside adventures to build up PC’s for an eventual dungeon crawl. Although they were interesting reads, Dark Sun and Night Below didn’t seem to have any immediate use in my current games. Actually, I had mulled over making a gateway in the dungeon that would transport the party to the Dark Sun world, that would be sort of a post-apocalypse version of my regular game world. But that was just a thought.

The party is getting up there in levels, most around 6th or 7th, and it is starting to seem like they will be at least 3 levels higher than I had planned them to be for the dungeon. So this last weekend I broke out my copy of Night Below, wondering if it might just make a decent alternative to the dungeon players were heading to. I took a good look at the first two of the three books of NB. I started to see the events of book 2 would be easily adapted to my current scenarios.

Book 1 features little adventures in a populated area of towns, villages, and farms. Much like my games have been so far, these little Mickey Mouse outdoor adventures are designed to beef up the party for eventual underground adventuring. Many little situations in book 1 are meant to give motivations for the Underdark adventures in book 2, but I should have no problem using what has already happened in my games to tie this in. For one thing, in the last couple of games the party has explored a gnomish “Safechamber,” a secret pad under the human frontier town of Overtown built long ago as a place for gnomes to hide from the monsters that once roamed the surface world in greater numbers. The party found a hidden trap door within, and that one appears to lead to an even larger gnomish area around a half mile under the town. I didn’t plan to have them go much deeper than that, but seeing as the underground gnome town (apparently abandoned) had passages to the Underdark, why not switch gears a bit and give the party good reason to go deeper (waaaaay deeper) below?

In the last few games I’ve had party members running afoul of a group of Drow who are in the area, secretly planning to eventually go to the same dungeon the players are going. But no problem, I can now have them coming to the area to meet up with Mind Flayers (from book 2) and working out a deal to capture spellcasters for them. So I can change the human slavers the party eventually encounters near the Derro area underground to these drow no problem. The players deserve a real face-off with these pesky dark elves anyway.

In the next game the party will explore the little abandoned sub-surface gnomish town, and they will discover gnome historians (and their infant daughter) from the gnome areas up north. They will have been spending years here studying and restoring this once bustling little community. The gnome family will be getting bothered by gnolls who have moved into upper caves near the abandoned gnome town of “Southgem”. These gnolls in turn will have been displaced from lower caverns by the troop of orcs that are working for the Mind Flayers who have been moving back and forth between the surface area and the City of the Glass Pool far below in the deeper underdark.

So all this, with a bit of prodding, should get the adventurer’s on their way to the Deep Gnome city, and eventually to the Kou-Toa.

There is a lot I don’t like in the Night Below material, and it will take a lot of my personal tweaking. But it has always been thus when I use modules or adventures created by others. You have personal taste, and you have to take that into account and make mods if you are a creative DM.

So in a later posts I will detail some of the changes, for good or better, that I plan to make in Night Below. If you have used the NB material in your games, I’d love to hear what kind of changes you might have made, and how the adventures panned out. If you have only read the material, I’d still love to hear what you think about it.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Comic Book gaming styles

After posting about my comic book gaming history last week, I got a bit introspective about the three decades of my experience running those sorts of games. Over all that time, my GM style evolved in many ways, reflecting the changes in the comic book industry itself. I thought I would touch on that a bit more.

I grew up with comics. Even by my early teens I had quite a collection. Besides buying the occasional current issue off the racks, my folks would often return from swap meets with a pile of comics to add to my growing stock. These were special treats, because they would more often than not be 10-20 years old, so I was very much in touch with older, pre-Silver Age comics.

I loved the iconic, God-like heroes of DC of course; Batman, Superman, Green Lantern. But I was a Marvel boy tried and true. I could connect at a deeper level with Peter Parker and his personal problems far more than Batman and his Joker-chasing adventures. Homework, girls, and bullies were part of Spider-Man’s life just like mine, and that made him more real to me. So around 1979, when I was fleshing out my comic book world for gaming, Marvel played a huge part.

I decided to set my island nation of New Haven in the Marvel Universe, except 20 years in the future. That gave me something to ground my world with, but the future setting gave me more freedom that Marvel’s modern New York would have. I didn’t really want to use Marvel characters all that much, I just wanted the setting.

Within a year or two, X-Men comics featured the famous “Days of Future Past” storyline, in which mutant-hunting Sentinel robots had rounded-up mutants, killed most of the world’s superheroes, and set-off World War 3. That was perfect for me, as it eliminated most of Marvel’s superhero roster, while leaving enough of it free for me to use in my future Marvel setting. There wasn’t much chance of Spider-Man showing up on the streets of New America City in New Haven, but if a player wanted to have “The Son of Spider-Man” as a character, then no problem. As a matter of fact, a girlfriend of mine in the early 80’s ran the daughter of Wolverine, and low and behold a decade and a half later a daughter of Wolverine showed up in the Marvel universe.

The very first superhero games I ran in the late 70’s, using the Superhero 2044 rules didn’t have any real style. With that system, there wasn’t much more to do than have your powerful hero show up, and lay waste to bank robbers and cause tons of property damage in the process. It was howling mad fun for kids to have men in power armor squash crooks into street pizza, but as we got older we wanted a little bit more than that.

So when I made the transition to Villains and Vigilantes, Silver Age Marvel comics set the tone for the goings on. Angsty heroes and anti-heroes ruled the Marvel landscape of the late 70’s, so our games reflected that. Then in the mid-eighties the X-Men comics were huge, so of course I ran my own campaign of new X-Men in New Haven’s future world. As a matter of fact, the anti-mutant hysteria popular in Marvel for decades entered my game world frequently.

But in the later 80’s two great, ground breaking comics changed the comic book landscape forever. One was The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller gritty new take on the Batman. OK, as a comic geek I know that Miller did not invent this darker Batman. In the 70’s the work of Neil Adams and others had turned Bats from a jokey Adam West dork into a noir detective who had travelled the world after the death of his parents picking up Samurai and Ninja skills. But Miller’s dark future of Gotham City had a profound effect on how I presented destitute parts of New Haven’s metropolis. I began to set more scenarios in the run-down parts of town instead of NH’s gleaming downtown spires. Street criminals became less comic, and more ruthless and dangerous. With the crack epidemic of the 80’s hammering the evening news, more scenarios involving drugs and drug dealers happened in my street-level games. Of course, being a futuristic Sci Fi world, these would more often than not be super-drugs that granted temporary super-powers to junkies.

By the late 80’s, I discovered two more comic properties that changed how I ran games and how I perceived the existence of heroes. First was, of course, The Watchmen. Alan Moore’s take on what the world would be like with real Superheroes had a profound affect on me. Suddenly Supermen were just as subject to darker and malignant human foibles and passions as the rest of us, and were more often than not driven insane by their own hubris and crapulence. This more cynical view of the superhero world was increased in me tenfold when I began reading Marshal Law. Law was a super-powered cop who hunted super-powered gang members, rapists, and killers, and was a total deconstruction of the Superhero myth.

The early to late 90’s was my heyday of superhero gaming (in terms of amount of games and frequency), and many of my players were not only unfamiliar with superhero RPG’s, but with comics themselves. So my own take on superhero deconstruction was greatly received by my players, and often hailed as a unique view on the super-powered world!

With the huge popularity of the Miller-influenced Dark Knight films, and the recent release of a The Watchmen movie, larger audiences have been exposed to the deconstruction of the Superhero myth. But in my games, it was a long-running standard.

It has now been almost 10 years since my last Champions games. With a decent D&D group going strong, I have the occasional hankering to revisit New Haven. But how will it have changed? Have dark heroes continued to violently fight crime in the ally’s and parking lots of the bad side of town? Are super-drugs and violent criminals still a raging problem, or has the possible lack of heroes swinging around the cityscape made a positive difference in New Haven? In my final games around 2000, characters dealt with a world-wide alien invasion that was defeated at tremendous cost. How has New Haven, and the future world, handled all this in the years following? A surge in space exploration? More racism against those who are different or strange? These questions and more will have to be dealt with. But how I go about it, and how my players react to it, will be the real fun. I can’t wait! Just gotta get that pesky D&D campaign over with, then…”It’s clobberin’ time!”

‘Nuff said, true believer.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Three Decades of Comic Book Gaming

My history of running/playing Superhero games began pretty much at their inception. In the late 70’s I was a kid hanging around Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica, California on the weekends, and I had access to every cool new game that came out.

Superhero 2044, the first Superhero RPG, just fascinated me. My 14 year-old brain had some difficulty wrapping itself around some of the rules, and that may have been because they are rather sparse. Most of the crunch seemed to have gone into the rather unique (at the time) patrolling rules, which in a weird way seemed to be a replacement for role-play. When running campaigns for friends (who had previously only played D&D), I quickly ditched the patrolling rules (although they still seemed to be pretty good for solo or one-on-one play), and focused on making sense of the rest of the rules. Talk about rules-light, you barely knew what to do as far as coming up with powers. I cut my “winging it” teeth on this game.

In my Superhero 2044 days, I came up with my own game world for it, called “New Haven,” a last vestige American state that was the only U.S. area to survive nuclear Armageddon. It was my own version of 2044’s Shanter Island. I considered it sort of an all-encompassing Sci Fi setting, and often encouraged players to not just think of running a typical comic book hero, but feel free to come with any kind of Sci Fi character that can be hammered into a world where superheroes exist. My players came up with some incredible PC’s for this milieu over the years, and characters that might seem more in place in a D&D, Rifts, or Cyberpunk game were common. I think New Haven was the most open setting I ever ran, and I used it as my superhero game world over three decades and spanning 3 game rulesbooks (all that I mention here minus Supergame).

As the 70’s were coming to a close, I had the opportunity to play a couple of games at Aero that some folk were playtesting for future publication. I have bittersweet memories of these sessions. It was a young couple, Jay and Aimee, who had created the game. While Jay was gregarious and supportive of younger people in the play process, Aimee was kind of a wicked witch, arguing with him the whole way about this or that rule, and denying players this or that action. A couple of years later I had my own disastrous attempt to run this game at Aero for some of the older assholes, a group of condescending, smelly weirdoes who should not have been hanging around a store populated with kids. Although that experience (and Jay’s lack of support of my attempt, despite his presence), helped sour me on Supergame. I think I was so crushed by that experience that I threw the book in the trash that night. I have to admit that I wasn’t much of a fan of the crunch anyway, based unnecessarily on square roots. In all honesty, it was cool at that young age to know people who created a game. It did have the distinction of being the first game to offer a power-buy system.

I was contacted by Jay earlier this year. Obviously, after 30 years of his game being out of print, he was still watching for Supergame references online (how else would he have found my little blog? You can count Supergame references on the internet on one hand). I had written negatively about the game, and he was a bit upset at my calling his game a Superhero 2044 rip-off. That was probably a bit harsh, but he and Aimee’s efforts may have been better placed as a supplement to 2044’s sparse power rules, rather than force people to whip out a calculator for every little action. Aimee’s very amateurish “art” style did not help. I remember one of her friends seeing my scribble of my character and saying “You have nothing to worry about Aimee”. What a thing to say to a 15 year old kid. That gives you a good idea of the caliber of older people who populated that scene. Very discouraging to younger folk. Well, no artist other than me had to worry about Aimee’s laughable superhero work.

Not long after my Supergame experience, I tried my hand at a series of Villains and Vigilantes games for my friends (away from the negative older pricks of Aero), and we had big fun with these. V&V had random character power generation, which when combined with the suggestion that players play themselves with superpower was the source of gigantic hilarity.

But by the mid-80’s I had found Champions, and I never looked back. All the way up to the late 90’s, it was my game of choice, and I ran many awesome campaigns. Despite the big rules crunch (which I usually hate – at least no square rooting was involved), I managed to get many of my D&D regulars into the game, most of whom didn’t even read comic books! I think the sheer customizability of the game appealed to them in the same way it did to my math-challenged brain.

Around 1999 I ended my final campaign with a huge battle against an alien invasion, followed by a presidential election that involved characters in a variety of ways. The election ended with a black, female president getting elected.

I took several years off from gaming until late last year, but now that I am in the swing again, I sort of hanker to put some more effort into Champions and a new campaign in New Haven. As I ran it more or less in real time, it would be interesting to revisit that world after almost 10 years. I just need to convince my non-comic book reading D&D players that comic book settings are a gaming no-brainer.