Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Playing Ticket to Ride last night helped me get over a design hump for a game idea. Basically, my crazy idea was to use the mechanics behind the NFL Draft for a sci-fi game. No, I haven't mutated into a sports geek since my last entry, I just caught a piece on TV a while back about the draft. Setting aside the football baggage for a moment, the NFL Draft is an interesting idea for a game for several reasons:

  • Previous performance is inversely tied to opportunities at the current draft. The worse you did in the previous the season, the better draft picks you get. I imagine my game having multiple rounds in which the points leader from the previous round is disadvantaged in the current round.
  • Multiple, overlapping goals. Everybody wants a good team, but not everybody approaches it the same way. Sometimes you need a good QB, other times you need to improve your defensive line. How each franchise prioritizes these goals will greatly affect the draft outcome.
  • Lots of negotiating and swapping. Maybe a current player gets traded for a better draft pick. Maybe the player before you takes the pick you needed for your elaborate trade to work.
  • No one knows exactly how well a drafted player will turn out for a team. Maybe he leads them to a Superbowl victory. Maybe he suffers a career-ending injury at his first game. After all that work to sign Huge McBeefslab he may be a net loss for your team.

So my first idea was to swipe these basic mechanics for a sci-fi game that was sorta LARPy and sorta like a National Security Decision Making conference game. The basic premise was that the Imperial Scout Service (or whatever) has opened up a new sector of space for exploitation and the players each respresent a faction bidding for exclusive rights to planets. Although that might kick ass at a larger con, I don't think my small local con could support a sufficient player base. I still think its a great idea, especially if I could work it into the context of the Starmada campaign setting that Pat and I building. My original thoughts for this game involved an space empire a la the Third Imperium of Traveller, but maybe the Federated Sodalities could serve as the vehicle for this first version.

But the ticket cards (i.e. the hidden victory condition cards) from last night's game of Ticket to Ride gave me an interesting idea for a boardgame built around this same basic concept. In my original conception the players represented varios megacorporations, governmental bodies, and other assorted social, economic, and political factions:

  • You are the Merchant's League, you need to secure the following worlds for your trade routes:
  • You are the Mining Guild, you score triple points for all worlds containing Dilranium deposits
  • You are the Psi Police, you only scores points for worlds with pre-existing colonies.

What if, instead of directly bidding for worlds, all these factions operated through proxies that specialized in the buy and selling of rights to planets? And thus the Planetbrokers were born. Players, as Planetbrokers, hold various Client Cards, giving the players ways to score points based upon what their client wants. Some of each player's cards must be face up, so everybody has an idea of some of what everybody else at the table is looking to do. Some Client Cards are kept in the hand, so that everyone had hidden motives as well.

Robber Barons & Pirate Kings

Last night at Bruce's we played two games by Days of Wonder, a game company I had never heard of before. Apparently these folks are putting out some german games. The first one we played was Ticket to Ride, a train game which I found to have some neat little mechanics and a breakneck pace. Unsurprisingly, I came in fourth out of players. What was surprising was that by the end of the game I had a clear idea what I had done wrong: My plans were not ambitious enough and I took too many face-up wild cards, unnecessarily limiting my hand size. Had we played Ticket to Ride again, I think I would have done better. Maybe I'd still be in last place, but my score wouldn't trail so far behind the rest of the pack. So of course we put that one away and got out another game.

The second game of the night was Pirate's Cove. Arr, matey! Pirates are a theme I'm more easily drawn to than train games, to be sure. This game puts players in direct conflict whether they like it or not. If you and another player both sail to the same island (which island you go to is determined simultaneously) then you are required to fight. I'm not a huge fan of that kind of boardgame. I prefer games in which everyone can do their own thing or intentionally choose to pimp each other over or cooperate for a joint win. This game's core mechanic thrusts you into a world where everyone is always an enemy. The only question is when you fight, not if. Oh yeah, I came in last in this one too.

Still, I had a really good time. Bruce, Carl, and Jim are great guys. My only concern is that in addition to being boardgame geeks they are all sports geeks. Bruce was watching a baseball game when I arrived and the TV was tuned to a college football game as we played. It's like if I really want to fit in I need to start following a sport and memorize player's names and statistics and league histories and crap like that. Maybe I should resume my fledgling interest in following sumo wrestling...

Monday, August 30, 2004

Game Night!

I finished up my vessels for the Federated Sodalties, over twenty ships! At the last minute I realized that all of my freighters were tiny compared to the largest fighting ships available, so I added one extra sub-faction to the FS, the Megacorps. The largest of their ultraheavy freighters bristle with more guns than many cruisers. Now that I have a decent fleet for all three of my factions I think it's time to start working on the background fluff.

Tonight is my first boardgame night with Bruce, Carl, and my brother-in-law Jim. I've played games with all of them before, but this is the first time I'm sitting down with them in the context of a (ir)regularly meeting game group. Should be interesting. One of the games Bruce wants to play has the word "pirate" in the title. Arrr!

Busier Than One Legged Man in a Butt Kicking Contest

The title of this update is an old saying that describes my weekend and is offered up as an excuse for no blogging. I don't know why I'm offering an excuse, other than the committment I made to myself to update daily. Normally I work on my posts after my daughter goes to bed, but the last several nights I've been watching the Olympics instead of sitting down in front of the computer. Last night I was just plain pooped. Long day of driving, miscellaneous family shenanigans, and, get this, honest-to-God exercise. I am not making this up. My sister Jenny and I spent a good chunk of yesterday afternoon throwing a frisbee around. That was a heckuva lotta fun, too. I may have to get myself a frisbee, especially if I can convince Amy that playing with a frisbee is not completely stupid.

Saturday I managed to get some work done on my Starmada fleets. I finished a sufficient quantity of Extragalactic Invaders designs and dug in to work on the Federated Sodalities. I just need to finish some examplar designs for some member sodalities (the Pansentience Republic and the Terran Alliance) and I should be able to start working on the background info and maybe a webpage for all this stuff. I also need to figure out which optional rules to use. Fortunately the Starmada Compendium supplies a helpful checklist, kinda like the old days of the Rolemaster Companions.

As the result of a very brief stop at the public library I managed to lay my hands on some more comic books. The first is a trade paperback for the comic Powers, which is a police procedural following the activities of two cops in a superhero world. A very neat idea. I'm going to have to pickup the other Powers tpb I saw on the shelf. The other comic is volume 1 of the complete works of R. Crumb. In retrospect I should have started somewhere in the middle of this series (the library has something like 15 or 20 volumes) because I don't know enough about this Crumb guy to make his earliest work relevant to me, though I did like several pieces. I'm hoping to post a couple of my favorite panels, assuming my scanner and image-hosting cooperate. I also picked up one of two Sapir/Murphy "Destroyer" novels on the shelf that I haven't read.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Game On & Space Out!

Amy received the news of my invitation to play in the boargaming group with enthusiasm.  It touched me that she was so happy with this new opportunity coming my way.  Of course she's seen up close how mopey and dejected I get without a regular game going, so every new chance to game is further insurance against me acting like a whiny crybaby.  So it looks like Monday I'll be going over to Bruce's.  I initially suggested that perhaps we play El Grande, a German game that both Jim and I enjoy, but it looks like Bruce has vetoed that idea.  According to Jim neither Bruce nor Carl are as impressed with El Grande as the two of us are.  No big surprise there, since I can comprehend El Grande enough to play the game in a non-moronic fashion.  Still, as long as there's a game to play, I'm willing to give it a try.
This afternoon I got a little bit of work done on my second fleet for the Starmada campaign, the Extragalactic Invaders.  I'm really hoping that Pat and I can get this project completed, as I'd like to run an "everyone unites to repel the Invaders" scenario at a future Winter War.  I've also roughed out some preliminary notes on my third faction, the Federated Sodalities.  This group is a little more byzantine to chart out, as the FS member-states each have their own navy.  I'm trying to stick to only two or three representative vessels for each subnavy.  Hopefully, Pat will get working on his three factions sometime soon.  I'm kinda hoping that with a little luck and some forethought this wargame campaign can also serve as a backdrop for some sci-fi role-playing.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Chess & Rockets

Now that I got my first session as a Savage Worlds GM under my belt it's time to turn to other matters. Thanks to the online Starmada Starship Construction Assistant, I've been able to whip up my first fleet (the Devil Suns) for the as-yet-to-be-named Starmada campaign. (I think perhaps we should call it something like "History of Modern Space Warfare, Volume 2", adopting the conceit that these encounters are detailed in a textbook on notable space battles. I say Volume 2 because I imagine that Volume 1 would contain accounts of battles involving smaller and technologically cruder vessels from the earliest days of the militarization of space.) I've also started work on my second fleet, the Extragalactic Invaders. The Devils Suns were easy compared to the EI, who have so many nifty gadgets to choose from that you can't fit them all on one ship. I look forward to getting all the fleets put together, maybe doing some background write-ups, and then actually playing.

Meanwhile, I need to get cracking on the chess variants again. Among other things, I'd really like to get my ideas for Gygaxian Chess and Draconian submitted to The Chess Variants Pages. The last few weeks have also seen the publication of articles on two new variants that I find particularly interesting: Kristensen's Game, an attempt to "fix" orthodox chess dating from 1948, and Mainzer Schach, a new variant from talented inventor Jorg Knappen. I also need to cast my second round vote for the 44-Squares Contest. Right now I'm leaning toward Erech Schatz's Oblong Chess 44, a nice pseudo-historical variant and David Jagger's PiRaTeKnIcS (a.k.a. Triadic Chess), which I think makes a significant contribution to the field of chess variants. Whatever you call it, I think Jagger's game will go on to influence many future variant designs.

Pour a forty on the curb for poor Stuttering Tom

Last night was my Mob War! one shot, a Savage Worlds adventure set in the Roaring 20's. Ray was mysteriously absent, but Joe, Loren, and Pat showed up. They played members of the O'Connor Boys, and Irish gang looking to muscle in on Big Al Tolino's bootlegging operation. All in all I think the whole thing went well. All of the O'Connor Boys made it out alive, except for NPC Thomas "Stuttering Tom" McNaulty, who got clobbered by a big Swede with a tire iron. Bobbie O'Reilly (Loren's PC) brought some switchblade-flavored revenge down on the Swede. Many members of the Tolino gang went down in the brutal battle for control of the Miller Brothers warehouse, but the Tolino mob's resident freak, known only as "the Basque", managed to get away, thanks to me burning a bunch of GM bennies on soak rolls.

Things started a lot slower than I had anticipated, but we got some ripsnorting action at the end of the night. Joe at first seemed disoriented by the historical setting, but at one point midway through the session something clicked. "Oh, it's like we're on a Shadowrun." Suddenly the whole thing made sense. Loren was enjoying playing a vicious gangster and as usual Pat was cracking me up with his one-liners. At the end of the night we agreed to play some more of this stuff, so it looks like Mob War! is now a mini-campaign instead of a one shot!

Special thanks to the nice folks at RPG.net for the ample supply of gangster names.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

E-mails Ahoy!

Got three very interesting e-mails in the last coupla days. The first is from my good buddy Don. He's working on a D&D tweak in which he removes feat selection. Instead, he hardwires them into the classes, so that every fighter of level n has the same n feats. It's an interesting idea that simplifies the game while preserving much more of the D&D rules than my draconian Adepts & Warriors project, which gets rid of most feats and spells simply by dropping all the standard PC classes in favour of the stripped-down NPC classes. I think I like my idea better, but his idea is also really good and could appeal to a broader audience. Adepts & Warriors is a little too plain for modern D&D sensibilities.

The second email I received was from Gabriel Strange, a.k.a. gabby2600, author of the forthcoming Wraeththu roleplaying game. I've been documenting the development of the Wraeththu rpg in my "Wraeththu Watch" series of blog entries. It looks like gabby found some of my comments about the game in the RPG.net forums and decided to respond directly to me. At no point did I ever suspect that such a thing might occur, but stay tuned to this blog for what should prove to be my most interesting Wraeththu Watch yet.

Finally today I got an e-mail from my brother-in-law Jim inviting me into his relaunched gaming group. It very nice of him to make such an offer. Jim's a super guy as are the other two members of the group, Bruce and Carl. What's particularly interesting about this offer is that these guys are boardgamers, not roleplayers. I've never been involved with a regular boardgaming group, other than the period in which my high school group played more BattleTech than D&D. I'd love to play some games with these guys but I'm hesitant at the moment, for several reasons. First, they want to start at 8:30pm on a weeknight. That's later than I normally like to do these things, but certainly not a dealbreaker.

Second, I haven't played enough with Carl to know for sure, but I feel pretty confident that all these guys are way smarter than me. Even if I was intellectually on their level, they are boardgamers and I'm a roleplayer who also plays boardgames. In short, they will probably whip my butt on any particular outing. That's not the end of the world. I long ago decided that my ego was not on the line every time I played a game. Which is a good thing, because I'm a lousy boardgamer most of the time. So I'm not worried about going home crying to my mommy that the big kids all beat me at Candyland or whatever. I don't mind fighting to occasionally earn 3rd place in a four man field. What worries me is that I might drag down the level of play for the other guys. I don't want to do that. Now Jim, Carl, and Bruce are all nice guys, so I'm sure they would tolerate me even if I was a total game-gimp. The fact that I know how to behave myself at the game table probably earned my nomination for this spot moreso than any 1EE+ skills I might have. Still, I am somewhat concerned that my participation might bring down the level of competition.

Finally, I don't want to over-commit myself. Right now I have this every other Wednesday gig, as well as irregular sessions of Sue's Dungeons & Dragons game and my own Heroes Unlimited affair. Pat and I continue to talk about this Experimental Game Group idea and we've actually done some work on the Starmada campaign project. Do I also want to be out of the house on Monday nights until God-knows-o'clock? Yet I can't help but think that actual play occuring perhaps as soon as Monday night trumps any lofty plans for theoretical play at some future point. This realization was one of the things that spurred me on to sign up with Dave Hoover's game, whether or not I liked the rules or particular campaign proposal. Real gaming now is always better than maybe gaming sometime.

Anyway, I'm gonna obviously need to discuss this situation with my wife before I can offer a proper response to Jim's nifty e-mail. Whether I take him up on the offer or not, it's awefully nice to be asked.


I got my copy of SenZar in the mail today, along with its monster book, Creeping Death. I haven't been able to do much more than flip through and read a couple of pages, but so far I am really impressed with this game. It's tragic that the folks behind this game managed to piss off pretty much the entire online gaming community. If you accept their basic premise (that it's okay for your roleplaying game to be about killing, looting, and getting the power-ups) then I think SenZar may be a winner. Like World of Synnibarr before it, now that I have this game I really would like to play it and maybe review it.

One thing I gotta take points off for: many pages in the SenZar core book have grayscaled illustrations "behind" the text. I hate that kind of crap. Don't obscure the text of the game, that's the part I'm most interested in!

Monday, August 23, 2004

Post-GenCon Grapevine

Info on new products released at GenCon is starting to filter back into the discussions over at RPG.net. The majority of the talk is about the new World of Darkness relaunch, which I mentioned a day or two ago. The No Press Anthology made it to the Forge booth. I'm really looking forward to that one, a bunch of little indie games bound together for all of twenty bucks. Could this be the format for the future of indie gaming? I dunno, but I think its a possibility. An omnibus edition of the old Hogshead "New Style" line would rock on toast. Another indie game that made me sit up and listen was Excelsior!/With Great Power (name no finalized yet), which only appeared as a demo and maybe an ashcan. This little supers game apparently uses HeroQuest style mechanics and weds it to a hardwired structuralist analysis of superhero plotlines. I'm not sure what all of that means yet, but it sounds intriguing! Guardians of Order has released The Authority, based on the kickass comic of the same name. Everybody is talking about how it might be the prettiest rpg book they've ever seen but so far no one has said anything about the substantive contents. Finally, Necessary Evil for Savage Worlds was not yet out, no doubt much to Shane Hensley's disappointment. At least one demo of it was run, but my sole informant rates it a "meh". I'll be watching for further info on this baby, but it sounds like it might be premature to buy this one without a good flip through.

Wraeththu Watch - 2 month delay

I can't believe how obsessed I'm getting with this man's antics. He's like a really sad clown who's unwittingly killing your pet puppy or something. -Belphanior expresses the general RPG.net sentiment towards gabby2600 and his Wraeththu project
Last week I started a thread on RPG.net in order to get some insight from RPG industry veterans. I asked them if, given the situation as I understood it, could the folks at Immanion Press get the Wraeththu RPG out by the revised DragonCon release date. Everyone on the thread agreed that Gabby and crew didn't have a chance of finishing the game and producing a printed product in the few weeks remaining. Sure enough, just two days later Gabby posts an announcement on the official Wraeththu RPG forums:
Well due to massive writing spurts and organiseing XDragon Con, it has been delayed by about 2 months, however i think it will be over 300 pages in size, and retail around £19.99 ($39.99), however I'm sure most stores will offer a discount as we are offering generous direct rates from ourselves.

The Wraeththu RPG is the first time I have attempted to follow a game from announcement to publication, so I don't have a good first-hand experience with how often or how many times a particular project is likely to be delayed. More experienced folks on RPG.net go on and on about comapnies pushing back release dates. Some games are delayed by years. Some games never appear at all. Even companies with proven track records occasionally pull a massive boner on release date projections, because the three-tier distribution system rewards people who announce upcoming products before they really have a solid schedule.

In the case of the Wraeththu project the outdated mechanisms of the hobby's distribution network aren't to blame. Heck, I see no evidence that Gabby and friends have any knowledge of the existence of that distribution system. Instead, I think we have a plain old fashioned case of biting off more than one can chew. DragonCon was picked as the revised release date because it features a lot of Storm Constantine fans getting together in a sub-con. Immanion Press is heavily involved in these events, forcing Gabby into the position of trying to write a game at the same time he is planning for a con. Either one of those projects ought to consume the entirety of his free time and then some. Something had to give. Maybe after DragonCon he can bear down and finish the game in time for the new first week of November release. We shall see.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Let there be War.

Pat was over today and we got the factions hashed out for our upcoming Starmada campaign. In the creative spirit of this endeavour we managed to rip-off somebody elses's ideas for all six initial sides in our galactic war:
  • The Axis (basically the bad guys from Gundam)
  • The Born (your typical biotech ship guys)
  • The Chrome (Cylons, Cybermen, the whole robot menace angle)
  • The Devil Suns (like the evil star Solaris in the DC One Million crossover, but a whole race of them)
  • The Extragalactic Invaders (like the Adromedans in Star Fleet Battles)
  • The Federated Sodalities (the politcally correct Good Guys a la the Federation in Star Trek, the Republic in Star Wars, BattleStar Galactica's Twelve Colonies, etc.)

Pat's responsible for building the fleets for the first three factions and I'm doing the second three. We each can make ships for the other guy's factions though, because we will both end up playing any of the six factions as the campaign progresses. We may add factions if we end up gaining other players. Once we have fleets statted up Pat and I hope to put up a nice little webpage outline our campaign rules and such. I'd also like to do an "everybody gangs up on the Extragalactic Invaders" scenario as a convention game for 6 to 8 players.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Went overboard (also WoD 2.0)

So I went and did up individual Savage Worlds stats for every two-bit punk in "Big Al" Tolino's mob. It was only after I started work on the hardcases in the outfit (the guys who are seasoned, veteran, and/or Wild Cards) that I realized what I had done. I had individualized all the mooks! Not only would that be a pain in the ass to run, but it runs contrary to the spirit of both SW and my planned game. Functionally, most of these guys are lumps of goon with pistols, nothing more. Why knock myself out fiddling with individual stats when they're going down like flies anyway? Still whipping up that many NPCs was a good exercise, especially since this is my first go at GMing the Savage Worlds.

In other news one of the releases at Gen Con (happening right now, in case you didn't know) is the new version of the World of Darkness. Preliminary reports indicate that the new "Storytelling System" is signifcantly more streamlined than the old "Storyteller System". This is a Good Thing. At one time I had significant interest in Exalted, Adventure!, and Street Fighter. Some of the old WoD product line looked interesting I suppose, though it was never real my cup o' tea. But I could never wrap my head around the friggin' system. I was driven nuts by the dice pool system in which some modifiers alter number of dice rolled and some modifiers altered the target number for each individual die. In the new system only number of dice changes, the target number is fixed. That is one of my favorite features in Ron Edwards's Sorcerer, the easy to track modifiers. Also, Storytelling has a nice explodey-die mechanic. Each 8 or 9 on a die is a 'success' but a ten is a 'success plus roll that die again'. I like explodey-dice.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Hey! I don't suck!

SpaceWarp 44, my chess variant, has made it into the finals for the 44-square contest! That quite a surprise! When I decided to enter the contest my only goal was to write a playable variant and have the submission completed by the deadline. The idea that I could make it through the first round of voting never, and I mean never, crossed my mind. The simple fact that I am such a poor chess player always led me to the conclusion that my chess variants were doomed to be equally amateurish. This unexpected success has re-inspired me to get back to working on my variant projects, after Wednesday's Savage Worlds game.

Art with a capital 'A'

I had intended last night to work some more on my Savage Worlds game for next Wednesday, but the Watchmen got the better of me.  I can see why some folks call Alan Moore's Watchmen the greatest superhero comic ever written.  It's that damn good.  Hell, I was more than half-way through it before I even had a solid guess as too who committed the murder on page one.  More than that, though, its the most straightforward deconstruction of the superhero genre I've ever seen.  It's doesn't devolve into parody or preach, it just examines the question "What if superheroes lived in the real world?" and never backs away from seeking an honest answer.  Even at its most bone-shilling Moore never flinches.
Moore's refusal to write a sequel is completely understandable.  The Watchmen is a complete tale.  It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  There doesn't seem to be anything more that needs to be said.  Of course, the RPG community demanded a Watchmen sourcebook for Mayfair's DC Heroes game.  I wonder what people did with it?  What stories did they tell?  More Rorschach kicking ass?  More Dr. Manhattan playing god?  I shudder at the possibilities.
Wil Eisner's Contract with God was also an excellent read.  I highly recommend it for people who can wrap their brain around the idea that serious literature and sequential art con co-exist peacefully.  Realizing how long ago Contract with God was published makes me weep for the comic book industry and its spandex fetish.  Count me among the superhero fans, but Eisner long ago demonstrated that the funnybooks could be so much more.  Why do superheroes, a small slice of the pie in every other mainstream media, continue to dominate in comics?

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Liberry comix!

Today at the library I explored the comics section. In addition to the expected books like newspaper strip reprints, my local library has an interesting selection of other stuff, like a dozen or so volumes of R. Crumb, some Sandman, and some trades of Powers, which I believe was Image Comic's attempt to deconstruct superhero mythology. Not a whole lot of straight superhero stuff, unless you count a slim volume of Witchblade. I picked up Will Eisner's A Contract With God, mainly because the back cover said it was the first published graphic novel, and the Watchmen. I'm probably about a decade overdue on reading Watchmen, but the fans of it back in college were just a little too enthused about it. I don't mind a nice normal recommendation, but at one point I was positively proselytized. Ten years later and people still acknowledge it as one of the greatest stories ever told in the medium, so I'm finally going to read the darn thing.

It's kinda interesting. I'm a big superhero fan and I love supers roleplaying, but I've never been much more than a casual comic reader. There were a couple of years in the early nineties (coinciding with the Death of Superman stuff) in which I tried to be a good little fanboy, subscribing at the local store and all that, but it was just an aberration. My brief fling with comic collecting was more about having some pocket money and no girl to spend it on. Nowadays it really takes something special (like the Superfriends trade paperbacks) to get me to spend money on a funny book. Speaking of the Superfriends, I think TV cartoons is where I really get my love of superheroes from. And not just the Superfriends show either. I remember watching the Bozo the Clown show broadcast from WGN in Chicago, long after Bozo had any appeal to me, because he would occasionally show an old Superboy or Batman short. Spider-man and his Amazing Friends was also a fun show, especially when they featured other well-known Marvel figures. The episode that guest-starred the X-Men and the 'Ten Little Superheroes' were both a lot of fun.

Don't get me wrong, I read and enjoyed comics as a kid. But I grew up on a farm a good 30 or 45 minutes from the nearest seller. Following a storyline from month to month was just not feasible. Heck, I remember how delighted I was to be able to acquire just two consecutive issues of Doctor Strange! It was during the storyline in which Dracula infilitrated Avengers Mansion to steal the Darkhold. It would be years later that I would discover that the story ended with the Doc using the Montesi Formula to destroy the vampire menace. I'm sure that little victory has been retconned out of existence since then. You can't keep Dracula down. Speaking of Dracula, I had at least two other comics in which he made appearances. One was an issue of Superman in which the Count attempts to drink Supes' blood to gain super undead kryptonian powers. Our hero trounces him by squeezing a children's balloon until the hydrogen inside starts fusing, creating a micro-sun. The other Dracula comic was a Gold Key/Whitman comic, one of Doctor Spektor's adventures.

I had some non-vampiric comics, too! I collected as many volumes of Marvel Universe as I could find. I had the first appearance of the Morlocks in The Uncanny X-Men. And a little sprinkling of other stuff. Daredevil putting the hust on Cobra and Mr. Hyde. Thor melting a frost giant by ripping open a gas main and igniting it. Rhodey Rhodes disco dancing with a French chick while Iron Man puts out an oil derrick fire. The Hulk throwing down with an undead cowboy. Good times, good times.

Miscellaneous Linkage

Are you prepared for the coming zombie apocalypse? Check out this Zombie Infection Simulation, then go read The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks.

Not satisfied with the stopping power of your Barrett 50-cal sniper rifle? Then check out their new 25mm model!

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

a BESM d20 idea

Inexplicable Justice Force protects Ultra Tokyo from the forces of evil. Keeping watch from their Justice Sphere perched atop Tokyo Tower, they fight for everlasting peace!
  • Gunzor GL - GL stands for Gun Lord
  • Crimebreaker Six - like Bat-Man only less so
  • Ultra Robo - the robot with the heart of gold, literally and figuratively
  • Kamen Pilot Blue - master of vehicles
  • Elfelf Princess Balina - the exiled ruler of the Fairy Realm
  • Mecharider Sam - he has 60 tons of high-tech gadgets and he's not afraid to use them
  • Chirubi the Chosen - unwilling wielder of a cursed blade

Basically, the IJF is a faux-japanese superhero team in the Justice League tradition, lacking a central coherent theme like a sentai team. Consider it an excuse to mix together a bunch of the BESM d20 classes in a single PC group.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Bootleggers & Blasters

Pat was over on Sunday and we chit-chatted about games like usual. He helped me write up Savage Worlds stats for an average 1920's gangster. We talked about future projects, like more Classic BattleTech scenarios and maybe a Starmada campaign. Starmada (by Majestic Twelve Games) is a great generic sci-fi ship-to-ship game with a nifty set of construction rules. I've done a lot of conversions for Starmada, from Original Series Star Trek to Traveller to Star Frontiers to the hilarious Red Chicken Rising. Since getting the Starmada Compendium I've been more interested in an original setting, the expanded construction system just begs to be run into the ground.

We also talked about the Experimental Game Group project. One of the questions that is nagging me about it is "Will any players sign up?" The EGG seems like a GMs dream, as any GM worth his or her salt has at least one interesting idea that their regular group won't play. But a game group consisting of nothing but GMs inflicting pet projects on one another smells a little too much of too many cooks spoiling the pot.

Pat has a supergreat idea for running the old Lou Zocchi game Star Fleet Battle Manual. Instead of the usual figures, he proposes model kits! And instead of lengths of fishing line, use laser pointers for determining hits! Brilliant!

3E to Savage Worlds

I haven't had a chance to look it over yet, but here's Savage Dungeons & Dragons, Dave Blewer's go at porting over the 900-lb gorilla to everybody's favorite system for fast, furious fun.

PeeJee & Dragons


I really, really wanted to link to the above comic back when I wrote my Synnibarr piece. In some circles "Rocks fall! Everyone dies!" has become a battlecry for DMs who have lost control of their games. World of Synnibarr does not allow any sort of improvised escape hatch for GMs, the rules require the GM to run the adventure exactly as written. I think that's a toally cool concept. Not appropriate for every game, but an interesting challenge for a GM who wants to step on up to the task.

Update to the Wraeththu Watch Update

As I type this the Wraeththu RPG website is back up. It appears that since I last looked at the page they have added this endorsement:
After reading over the rpg I think its very absorbing and very much like the way it's written. If you're new to role-playing it reads without making one feel like they will never catch on, and if your more familiar to role play it keeps your interest and gets you reading even the bits you might allready know.
That quote is attributed to Bruce Wells of Niberu.org. Who is Bruce Wells and what's a Niberu? A little Googling revealed that Niberu is Mr. Wells's band. Further Googling also revealed that he is an illustrator and cover artist for Immanion Press, publisher (if indeed it gets published) of the Wraeththu RPG. What gives? Does no one outside the staff of the publisher have anything good to say about the manuscript? Given my report from yesterday, is there actually a manuscript for Mr. Wells to comment on? Shouldn't Mr. Wells's close ties with the publisher be disclosed near his endorsement? The whole thing looks dicey to me.

I discovered Mr. Wells's attachment to the publisher via a googled link to the Immanion Press staff page. Very interesting stuff there, including an impressive array of hot chicks. Gabby2600's picture shows him wearing a kitten T-shirt and wielding a kukri, the traditional machete of the gurkhas. I wonder if there are any equally ridiculous pictures of me somewhere on the internet? Probably. The staff page also revealed that gabby has a co-writer for the RPG, a Ms. Lydia Wood. The link from the staff page to her website led me further to her livejournal. From what I glean of her blogging, it seems that she is letting gabby do most of the RPG writing while she works on some Harry Potter slash fanfic! Okay, that's not a totally fair assessment of the situation. She's also OCRing Storm Constantine novels for reprint by Immanion Press, working on arrangements for DragonCon (where there's a big Constantine sub-con), and obsessing over David Bowie. Both her and gabby seem to have too many irons in the fire. I can't help but suspect that getting an RPG to print, especially a first-time project like this, requires way more fanatical obsession than they can spare right now. I could be wrong. They may be hyper-energetic people. They may do well when they are forced to cram at the last minute. Maybe their publishing experience gives them a leg up over others in a similar situation. If I were a betting man, I'd be torn between putting my money down on 'vaporware' or 'final product reads like a book report written ten minutes before class'.

Sunday, August 15, 2004


I just won my auction for a copy of the infamous RPG SenZar and its monster book Creeping Doom! Supernifty keen-o! SenZar is regularly touted as one of the worst RPGs ever written, but my suspicion is that the game has untapped potential. For more on why I think this game might work, follow this link to my old blog entry on the subject. I'll report further when I have the game in hand.

(Yes, this is two entries in a row in which I've directed readers to my old blog. There's some good stuff in there, dammit!)

Wraeththu Watch Update

I try to remember to check the official Wraeththu rpg website every week or so to see how the project is going. As I type this that site is down. This would be the first time the site has been non-functional since I started following the project. The official message board is up, but nothing new has been said on it since user Spooky Fanboy and I stirred the pot back at the beginning of July. I decided to do some further Googling to see if any info would shake loose. This led me to the livejournal of Gabriel Strange, a.k.a. gabby2600. This gabby fellow is apparently the prime mover on taking Storm Constantine's Wraeththu novels and turning them into an rpg. He's also directly responsible for the hamfisted antics on RPG.net that led me to discover the game in the first place. (For more on that, check out my first Wraeththu Watch, from my old blog.) Gabby's livejournal entry from August 6th has left me completely boggled. This game is supposed to be available for purchase at DragonCon, the first week in September, and he still does not have a complete manuscript! Mind you, my ass is firmly planted on the consumer end of the production chain so I really don't know jack about the ins and outs of RPG publishing. Still I can't help but suspect that less than 30 days from release the first complete draft should be written. Best of luck to gabby and friends, but I see the release date being pushed back again if it hasn't already. Will the Wraeththu rpg end up in the dustbin of history as somewhat interesting vaporware or are these the normal growing pains of a first-time RPG publisher? I can't tell.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Get down in the trenches

As a lad I was greatly influenced by E. Gary Gygax. So was everybody else in the friggin' hobby, but in my case I went and read his books Role-Playing Mastery and Master of the Game. These are Uncle Gary's "how-to" manuals for the rpg hobby. I've tried re-reading them recently and they don't go down as smooth as when I was a kid: a little too much self-congratulation and a little too much busy-body know-it-allness. Of course this shouldn't be too surprising to anyone who has read his classic AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide or any of his various columns in old Dragon issues. It's all fine and good to endure that sort of attitude when he's talking about his game, but it's a bitter pill to swallow when he is pontificating on the hobby at large.

Still, I didn't know any better as a kid. I thought all the important questions in the world could be answered definitively by either Gary Gygax, Stan Lee, or Carl Sagan. One of the questions that Gygax answered was "What does it mean to be a good member of the role-playing community?" He does this by proposing a hierarchical model of ranks of mastery within the hobby. Each new level assumes complete mastery of the previous level's activities. In Role-Playing Mastery he offers the following hierarchy:
  1. Individual Effort and Player Mastery
  2. Play Group Excellence and Mastery of the Role of GM
  3. Contributions To and Mastery Of The Chosen Game System
  4. Contributions To and Activity Within The Greater Gaming Community

I took this model to heart as a kid. That's why I submitted an article to Dragon. That's why I organized games, volunteered at conventions, and generally tried to contribute to the greater hobby. However, I nowadays think that Gygax's model is flawed. A total newbie can volunteer at a convention. That's doesn't make him or her a "level 4" role-player. Similarly a brilliant gamer may choose to never GM or otherwise participate outside the scope of showing up for each session. That doesn't mean that person is a "level 1" rookie.

Aside from this obvious flaw, (Gee, level-based systems don't model the real world. Who'd a thunk it?) more and more I think sticking to fundamentals is important. That means the individual game group getting together and playing games. Everything else is secondary and should arise from actual play. I enjoy going to conventions and all that other ancillary activity. I'd like to do more with my website. I'd like to write some reviews for RPG.net. I'd love to be a published game author. But all that stuff has to come second to organizing, prepping, and running the regular ol' rpg sessions. Sometimes I wonder if some folks in the hobby still bother to play these darn things. Does Kevin Siembieda or Steve Jackson or Ryan Dancey still have a regular game?

After a comment like that, I think I'll stop blogging and go work on my Savage Worlds one-shot.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Reading Is Fundamental

This week I had to return Pritchard's Encyclopedia of Chess Variants to the friendly neighborhood library. Mucho gracias to the Los Alamos Public Library for sending the book out via interlibrary loan. I made some photocopies before returning it. At first I just wanted to copy the entries for Valentine's Chess (my original reason for seeking this arcane tome) and Enochian Chess (to expand upon my article on the subject), but in the end I also photocopied some pages at semi-random. Maybe I'll write about these various variants at some point, maybe I'll try playing them. Who knows?

My buddy Pat is always good for handing me nifty reading materials. This week it was a book and a trade paperback. The book is The Zombie Survival Handbook by Max Brooks. Scratch that off the old Amazon wishlist. Not because it's bad, mind you. I just don't need to go to pains to get it, knowing that Pat has a copy I can access. I can see why at least one person over at RPG.net wants to use this book as the basis for a All Flesh Must Be Eaten campaign. Good stuff. I might be tempted to use it too. Every once in a while I get an urge to run a certain kind of scenario and I just can't shake it. I need to run the darn thing to get it out of my system. That's the way it was with my Superfriends game at Winter War. That game haunted me for months. I had to run the damn thing. I feel that same way about my unfinished Jack the Ripper scenario for Call of Cthulhu. And more and more it seems that a zombie scenario is on the list of must-run games for me. Not necessarily because I want to, but because I have to do it. Some pithy writer once wrote something like "I dabble in writing the same way an alcoholic dabbles in liquor." I get that way about games sometimes. It doesn't ruin my life, but I feel these strange compulsions that must be addressed.

Anyhoo, the tradepaperback Pat gave me to read is JLA One Million, the mini-series from DC One Million, one of the few big comic-crossovers that interest me. (The others that I dig on are the original Secret Wars, Crisis On Infinite Earths, and the Amalgam projects. I have yet to read the Crisis, but it's always struck me as one of those comic events that I should read.) The trade paperback collected only the four issues of the mini-series proper, so I lacked the crossover issues from other titles. That made the story a tad bit disconnected, but it was still a ripping good yarn, chock full of big ideas. Whole campaigns worth of superheroing are hidden away in throwaway lines. And it's nice to know that even in the year 82,000 the Superfriends still kick ass.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

I hadda open my big mouth!

All things considered last night's session of the "Avatars" campaign went reasonably well. Dave got all the PCs together and put us in a fight with some Acid Beetles and a single Acid Beetle Wrangler. The new team roster:
  • Rongo (Pat), axe-wielding maniac
  • Sir Hugh (me), knight errant
  • Devlin (Loren), gambler and rogue
  • Actavioos (Ray), priest of life
  • Keth (Joe), priest of death
For added insanity, Actavioos and Keth are brothers. I think we have a shot at making this new group work, but I think the campaign's days may be numbered anyway. Everyone, GM included, has expressed interest in Pat's offer to run Necessary Evil, the supervillain PCs module due out this month. I've had a lot of fun with "Avatars", but it may be time to move on.

Dave has plans for our next regularly scheduled session, so I stuck my neck out and offered to run a one-shot set in the Roaring Twenties. Basically, I'm going to adapt some of the better stuff from the old TSR game Gangbusters and the first module for it Trouble Brewing. The PCs are all going to be members of an Irish gang looking to muscle in on the local Italian business.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Gamestick Explosion

It looks like I'm not the only person around who thinks the new gamestick technology is neat-o. Sega has a plug-in gamepad now on the market. Namco has released a second gamestick featuring Ms. Pac-Man, one of the best sequels in the history of videogames. Atari has a stick out. Pat reports that Intellivision is back from the dead with two products, one containing 25 games! And Taito has a gamestick now, with my beloved Space Invaders as the featured game. I've now seen most of these products in stores for about twenty bucks apiece; that's five or more game for less than the cost of a single new game for the PC or a console!

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

New Cast, Same Game?

Dave Hoover's "Avatars" game is Wednesday night and I'm a little concerned.  Last session my guy and Joe's guy were both killed by the Giant Ant Menace.  Since then Ray and Loren have made new characters.  Apparently their current PCs weren't doing much for them.  So out of five players, four of us are bringing in new characters tomorrow night.  The only continuity between last session's party and tomorrow night's group is Pat's gronk Rongoo.  Gods bless Rongoo, but he isn't exactly the keeper of the flame that would be needed to make a smooth transition to a new group.  It's kinda like asking Guy Gardner to recuit and lead a new Justice League, or counting on B.A. Baracus forming a B-Team with three new guys.  Maybe Pat will decide to reach for the brass ring and try to lead the party, but I think he originally built a thick brick of a fighter because he didn't want to do that sort of thing.  The whole situation kinda makes me wonder if maybe we should just end the campaign early.  Dave wants to pursue his RPM project.  Pat's thinking about running Necessary Evil when it's released.  Loren and Ray clearly haven't found PCs for the game that suit them.  Joe and I are dead.  Maybe it's time to do something else.  I dunno.  I think I could go either way.  I've enjoyed the campaign so far and should be able to get plenty more ripsnorting adventure out of it, but I'm going to miss playing my little wimp Rondoo.  I had a good thing going with him.
And I fear this almost entirely new party will seem like the Joanie Loves Chachi to the previous group's Happy Days.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Speed Campaigning

Call me a gameslut if you will. In recent years my GMing style has gravitated towards reasonably short campaigns with finite limits. Personally, I consider the old days of the theoretically endless "ongoing" campaign to be behind me. I cannot see myself running one of those legendary epic-length mega-campaigns. I have too many gaming interests; my inherent fickleness for systems and settings just won't allow me to settle down with a single game for years on end. Heck, I've even re-envisioned the idea of the epic campaign to better fit my short attention span.

One of my current gaming projects is "Home Team", a Heroes Unlimited campaign modeled as a twelve-issue limited series. I hit upon this model as a way of paralleling the Secret Wars, the early eighties Marvel crossover event. During the Secret Wars the mightiest heroes on Earth are on a distant planet fighting an ultimate battle of good versus evil. While the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the X-men, and Spidey are gone, who will protect Marvel Manhattan? That job falls to the Home Team:
  • Jill Montgomery, Agent of SHIELD!
  • The Dingo, the Aussie from Outer Space!
  • Cyborg, the Mechanized Man!
  • Radar-Man, No Crime Can Escape His Detection!
We start each "issue" by leveling up our heroes; we don't count experience points. Basically, these folks start the mini-series as goobs but by the end of their Year of Glory as Manhattans superpowered defenders their team will be able to stand tall next to all the other superheroes that normally defend New York City.

I first worked out this basic structure for my unfinished Record of Adventure campaign. Take a level-based system, set a limited number of sessions for the campaign to run, level the PCs every session. For the Record of Adventure the idea was simple. I wanted to run a bunch of canned modules. By leveling fast we assured that the PCs always qualified for the level range of the next module. A good time was had by all. I think this "speed campaigning" technique could be used well with other level-based systems. My beloved '81 Basic/Expert D&D only goes to the level 14. Fourteen sessions can get you a lot of dungeoneering. My 2nd edition MERP rulebook only runs to 10 levels. I bet I could squeeze a nifty little Middle Earth campaign into ten sessions, maybe something set in the Fourth Age (i.e. after the third movie).

In the Record of Adventure house rules, I included a caveat that if the players ever screwed up a particular session they would not get to level. I actually enforced that at the end of a session in which they were trapped in a dungeon. (Incidentally, the Rcord of Adventure house rules write-up also contained the warning to the players "I am going to try to fucking kill you." I thought it was important to set the correct tone for the campaign from the get-go.) For a Basic/Expert D&D game that was tightly focused on dungeoneering, you could advance based on meeting mission objectives. It could even be as simple as clearing the evening's assigned dungeon level wins you an advance.

Magic Item Blues

It turns out that Sue wasn't being a stingy DM, she was just giving out whatever loot was in the little Adventure Keep modules.  Saturday night we ran through The Illusionist's Daughter, which played out a lot like a classical tragedy.  The only thing that was missing was someone poking their own eyes out with some pins.  Anyway, the module had a fair amount of treasure in it, so I find myself in the market to buy some magic items for my Druid 3/Rogue 1.  Although getting loot is a good thing, I hate treating magic items as commondities to be bought and sold on the open market.  I guess it's a logical consequence of the whole magic-as-technology model that runs through the more popular forms of D&D, but that doesn't mean that I have to like it.  Going back to the supposed roots of the fantasy phenom, how many magic items does Frodo buy from the elves?  And how many plus items does Conan cash in for beer money?  It seems to me that you could do a better job of emulating fantasy adventures by having rules for gifting and receiving magic items and for squandering gold instead of hoarding it for the next magic purchase.  Magic items would be won as rewards for jobs well done or earned by entering into dark pacts with strange powers.  Wizards could create potent items, but the rules shouldn't allow magic item factories to exist.
Magic items might again become rare and fabulous if we took the time to properly structure our games.  Instead we give out some gold pieces and say "buy whatever you like out of the book".  I know I've done that a lot.  It's the easy sleazy path but I fear that it ultimately undermines the whole point of playing a fantasy game.  Which of these two games do YOU want to play in?
  1. "I bought this sword +3 for 6,000gp"
  2. "My sword +3?  It was given to me by the Elf-King after we routed the goblin army at Fellsword Pass.  It previously belonged to the doomed half-elven prince Entregar, who slew a thousand drow with it, but eventually succumbed to their noxious poisons."
The second choice takes a lot more work to pull off, but sure seems to me like the way to go.  Not only do you need lots of nifty little write-ups on magic items, but you also need fleshed-out patrons to give them to the heroes.  Of course these days the problem is magnified by the expectation in D&D that every sucessful PC of mid-to-high level with be decked out with a half dozen or more magical goodies.  As far as I can tell there are two possible work-arounds for this issue.  The first route is to separate technology from magic, but don't ditch the technology in the process.  Use non-magical plus equipment (special materials or craftsmanship), non-magical devices (clockwork stuff, perhaps), and non-magical 'alchemical' potions.  Then you can save the magical enhancements for really special stuff.  The second option is to simply not play mainstream D&D.  The expectation of lotsa magic items may be hardwired into 3.0 and 3.5 D&D, but it isn't nearly as prevalent in Basic/Expert D&D.  I'm sure that most other fantasy games aren't nearly as bad in this regards as 3.0.  RoleMaster (at least the 2nd edition I'm familiar with) had special materials built right into the game.  My experience with Pendragon leads me to believe that most PCs in that game will never touch a magic item.  And you ought to be able to run a fantasy version of your favorite generic system without piling on the magic items.

Bye bye Ironhand

That copy of Tom Moldvay's adventure module Seren Ironhand is not sold. I was in a bit of a bidding duel with a fella called grodog_of_greyhawk, but dbartman swooped in with a final winning bid of $25.39. That's still more than I was willing to pay, but getting closer to my price range. If seller hamilcar really has a case of these somewhere, maybe I can afford one once all the deep-pocket collectors have their copies.
I used to think that I was the only Tom Moldvay fan out there. Then I met grubman over on RPG.net, but I thought he was just another lone freak like me. (Yes, that's two lone freaks.) But then I found this poll over at Dragonsfoot.org.  Seems at least 36 other people like the Moldvay Basic/Cook Expert version of D&D.  Maybe we should form a fanclub!  Probably not.  All those folks might well hate Moldvay's other work.  Enthusiasts for his RPG Lords of Creation seem to be about as common as hen's teeth.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Of Hookahs and Soda Pop

I've caught word of two nifty new local joints I need to visit. The first is Cafe Hookah, an honest-to-Grodd hookah bar somewhere on campus. The other is the Homer Emporium, a little antique bar/soda joint, with over 130 varieties of soda pop! I first heard about Cafe Hookah in an uniformative review of it in Buzz. You know those free alternative weekly newspapers you can find in large university towns? They're hip and lefty and cover the local arts and music scenes. Buzz ain't that. It's the local student-run paper that's trying desparately to be that paper. I used to be a pretty regular reader of the local grown-up's alternative weekly, but it recently went through yet another ownership/editorial/name change. After this last change the Hub, as it is now called, seemed to lose much of its appeal. I get a feeling that most of these changes were made in an attempt to make the Octopus/Optimist/Paper/Hub more commercially viable. Good effin luck on that. These sorts of rags run on a break-even basis at best. To take an editorial axe to a good little paper in the hopes of making more ad bucks seems like a losing strategy to me. Unless I'm the only reader they alienated with the changes. Although I was initially skeptical about Buzz when I stopped reading the Hub regularly, it's starting to kinda grow on me.

The Homer Emporium I discovered while listen to WILL-AM, the local public radio station. The have a great local program called Sidetrack covering local oddities. Sidetrack is just one of the many great things I like to listen to on WILL. Within the last twenty-four hours alone I've heard a report on cultural difference in pre-Revolutionary America and a far-left Indian author speaking on the topic of American foreign policy. Did you know that Kennedy helped put the Baathists in power in Iraq? According to this Indian woman he supplied them with an CIA-composed enemies list of commie sympathizers. The communist party of the time was the main politcal vehicle of the Iraqi Shi'ites. By purging the people on this list, the Baathists were able to guarantee one party rule in Iraq for four decades. Or did you know that Albany, New York was a Dutch speaking city throughout British rules of the Colonies? The bahavior of British soldiers in Albany during the French and Indian War was the direct cause of the grievance against quartering troops mentioned in the Bill Of Rights. The cultural differences in the Colonies seemed less important after the general cluster that was the French and Indian War. British mishandling of the affair managed to unite the colonists against the folks across the pond. No longer did you have the Dutch in Albany squabbling with Swedes in New Jersey and the Quakers in Pennsylvania. Instead, the Colonist had the beginnings of self-identification as Americans.

One other line that stuck in my mind from the Albany piece was the description of the Seven Years War (of which the French and Indian War was the New World component) as "a world war before the World Wars", because it was fought between the superpowers of the day and was fought on multiple continents. I wonder what other conflicts fit that criteria? The Napoleonic Era springs to mind.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Black Manta: One Bad Motor Scooter

The Challenge of the Superfriends, Season 1 DVD set has been my main television viewing as of late, or at least during those times that I have trumped my daughter's viewing choice.  When she was into SpongeBob life was good.  Dora the Explorer wasn't so bad, but lately she's been into that damn Elmo.  Is it just me or has Elmo ruined Sesame Street?  It used to be a hip show with an urban sensibility, aimed at educating kids without condescending to them.  Elmo seems to be the antithesis of all that.  Like the people managing the show after Henson's death decided that they would do better selling merchandise to the soccer moms rather than
Anyhoo, last night I was watching the Superfriends episode "Revenge of Gorilla City".  I figured this would be Gorilla Grodd's moment to shine, but the real badass of the story was none other than Aquaman's archnemesis Black Manta.  In one sequence he singlehandedly captures Apache Chief, Batman, Robin, and Flash.  Apache Chief was no problem, just point evil ray gun and shoot.  Hard to miss when your opponent is 50-foot tall and slow as molasses.  But then he tricks the Dynamic Duo with a Manta Decoy.  You read that right.  Black Manta outwitted the Batman!  Even more impressive he succesfully hits Flash with his ray gun by leading his target.  In other words he manages to zap the fastest man alive by anticipating his movements!  That's hardcore, my friends.
Most of the Superfriends episodes start with a single member of the Legion outlining a new evil scheme.  Braniac and Luthor great good screentime in these sequences, but other villains come up with plans too.  Captain Cold puts together the plan to enlist the Venusians to help conquer the world.  Grodd and Toyman invent new devices that they propose deploying against the Superfriends.  Heck, even Bizarro and Solomon Grundy come up with plans!  They're bugfuck insane plans, but they both nearly work.
I believe I've seen the entirety of season 1 and I don't think Black Manta gets an episode where he proposes an evil project for the Legion of Doom to undertake.  But he does seem to handle a lot of the villainous gruntwork.  And he's not afraid to take on the heavy hitters of the Justice League, either.  He'll try to zap Superman just as readily as he'll go after Aquaman.  In the episode "The Final Challenge" we also see that Black Manta's submarine is space worthy and that his "space sonar" can detect Wonder Woman's Invisible Jet.  How cool is that? 
So now I'm rewatching the entire season, trying to pay more attention to Black Manta's role in the Legion of Doom.
Bonus Link: Seanbaby's Hilarious Superfriends Pages  If you are a Superfriends fan do yourself a favor and follow this link.  Seanbaby is one of the funniest guys on the internet.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Drat you, eBay!

Like a good boy I haven't been browsing on eBay. But today two of my longterm automatic searches kicked out results. Another copy of Tom Moldvay's old module Seren Ironhand is up for sale. Or is it the same copy as last time? I can't quite tell. The listing looks very similar to previous one. I don't recall if the seller, "hamilcar", was involved in the previous transaction or not. Given how rare this module seems to be, I'd guess he is either selling the copy he bought in the last auction or else he's sold 2 copies now and must have a box of 'em stashed away somewhere. The other search found a copy of SenZar and its monster book being sold as a lot. I did a mini-review/apology for SenZar in my "In Praise of Bad Games" series in the old blog. Here's a linky to that article. (Hmmmm. Maybe I should collect some of better articles from the old blog, polish 'em up a bit, and post them to my main website.)

Fools and their money being what they are, I bid on both items. I've already been outbid on Seren Ironhand. No surprise there; the last copy for sale went for 37 bucks. A module would have to be written on the ass of a gold-plated supermodel that grants wishes for me to spend 37 bucks on it. I'm currently the high bidder on the SenZar lot right at the minimum bid amount. I wouldn't be surprised if I was the only bidder for it. It's a ten-day listing so it may be a long wait to find out if I'm gonna get it or not.

I made an interesting (to me, at least) observation. I got the two automatically generated e-mails about these items on the same day. The SenZar auction was only a few hours old when eBay notified me of its existence. Good job. But Seren Ironhand was already into day five of a seven day auction before eBay clued me in. WTF?

Game On!

My friend Sue has decided to try to kickstart her dormant D&D 3E campaign by scheduling two sessions this month, and the first one is tomorrow night! Cool beans. I can't wait to break out my kung fu druid Endrin Greencloak. He's a rowdy, good-for-nothing Half-Elf Druid 3/Rogue 1 who is absolutely certain that he is the star of the show. In his world he is the heroic leader of the party and all the other PCs are his trusty henchmen. It's a fun gig to play. I call him the "kung fu" druid because I have invested all his Feats towards increasing his ability to fight in melee, particularly with his quarterstaff.

I enjoy Sue's game. She does the whole abstracted, mapless combat thing, so no Attacks of Opportunity or 5 Foot Steps to drive me to madness. The adventures are short and to the point. In fact the whole campaign has been an ongoing series of those little pamphlet modules from the Adventure Keep line. I can dig that. I like campaigns that read less like a Tolkien novel and more like a collection of Howard short stories. The people are all a good bunch too. They're all members of the Winter War clique, folks who help make the con run. There's all the folks in my "Home Team" superhero game: Sue herself, Sue's hubby Don, Paul, and John; plus Don & Sue's son Michael, James (our token otaku), Jon (who moved away, we don't see him often enough), and Bruce, one of the great grognards of the local gaming scene. Great people, each an everyone one of them. Discussing politics with them puts me in the precarious position of being the only vocal liberal amongst a horde of conservatism, but even then they tend not to get rabid about it. Usually.

The only downside of Sue's game is an apparent shortage of loot. I'm not a regular player of 3E, so my perceptions are based primarily on earlier editions of D&D. But it seems to me that we are usually shorter on coin and more magic-poor than similar 4th level parties in other games. This is just my perception, I haven't taken a survey of what magic equipment everybody else is packing, but we haven't been allowed to buy any magic stuff outright and my recollections indicate that we haven't found that much stuff in play. I even kinda suspect that Sue dropped the Damage Resistance from the last undead Big Bad we faced because we couldn't muster the plusses to whup him.

I can understand any insecurities Sue might be having over handing out magic items. Too much magic paves the way unto the dread realm of Monty Haul. My own such concerns basically led me to halting my first and only 3E campaign at about 6th level. That was the point at which Pat's cleric started churning out magic items and I whimped out as a result. But maybe I'm wrong about Sue. She may just be running the modules as written and the modules are stiffing us, not the DM. Or maybe my perceptions are totally skewed by previous editions of D&D. After all, my one magic item is an Onyx Dog, which puts me well over where I should be on the expected loot per level chart. But I think that my little figurine is one of only a handful of magic items in a rather largish party.

Either way, I'm definitely having fun in Sue's game and I look forward to some D&D action tomorrow night.

Worlds & Dragons?

(In case anyone cares I sworded the last blog post after a technical glitch. Blogger.com was giving me some error messages and published a draft while I was still writing the dang thing. This is the first major snafu I've had with blogger.com/blogspot.com. That one glitch compares rather favorably to the error messages I waded through every day with the old blog. Anyhoo, I'll retype the rest of the entry and republish it in the next few days. EDITED TO ADD: Yesterday's post is corrected/completed and back up.)

Pat and I managed to get together yesterday. He looked over the game I'm supposed to be playtesting and provided some useful comments. Although he had some things he didn't like about it, I think he will at least help me playtest it. It's got goblins what need killin' and loot what needs pillagin', so it can't be all bad, right?

Pat also pointed me to a nifty Savage Worlds fansite called Savageheroes.com. In particular the Dungeons & Savages rules in the conversions section are tripping his trigger. Although I didn't immediately recognize them (I should have, with a name that cool), I had encountered these rules before over on Dragonsfoot in their Savage Worlds section. Incidentally, I think it speaks very well of Savage Worlds and its reception in the old school community to see a section devoted to it at a place like Dragonsfoot.

(Pat also pointed out that Savageheroes has a set of Superhero "Test" Rules available for download. Could these be the playtest rules for the forthcoming Necessary Evil plot point book? I dunno.)

Anyway, back to this Dungeons & Savages stuff. Basically, we're talking about a set of guidelines for converting from 1st edition AD&D to Savage Worlds. Not a terrible idea in theory. Heck, I wouldn't mind sitting down and converting the Caves of Chaos dungeon from module B2 The Keep on the Borderlands. That ought to make for some fast, furious fun. Having read D&S, I feel kinda reluctant to go down that path. D&S is what I would call a "hard" conversion, as opposed to a softer conversion. Conversion rules always occupy a place on a continuum between abiding by the new rules and making the PC fit, or tinkering with the new rules so that the PC fits but the game itself is changed. For my tastes Dungeons & Savages strays a little too far towards changing the game to fit the PCs being converted. Any conversion begs the question "If we like our old PCs and were having a good time playing, why are we converting to some other system?" A hard conversion adds a second difficult question, "If we are bending the new game to fit the PCs, what about this new system makes it so suitable for this conversion?" I don't think the Dungeon & Savages rules make any attempt, explicit or implicit, to answer either of those questions. If I had to guess, the thinking behind D&S went something like this "Hey, these new Savage Worlds rules are great! Let's dust off our favorite PCs and convert 'em!" In and of itself, this is not a bad thing. I tend to see this behavior most often among the trendy type gamers, but I still don't knock the impulse to convert from Beloved Old Game to Flavor-Of-The-Month. You have to be careful when proceeding with such a project. Converting everything under the sun to new game mechanics can quickly degenerate into writing an unplanned hybrid of the two systems, rather than a conversion. In my admittedly limited experience few such bastard systems have anything to offer to the gaming community at large, as they represent a local, idiosyncratic interpretation of the two systems as well as an individual judgment as too which parts of each of the two parent systems should be retained and which parts should be rejected.

Again, I'm not against conversions, but the approach used in Dungeons & Savages just doesn't suit me. The main bugaboo for me is the class rules. D&S basically re-invents the AD&D character class system as a series of elaborate Edge trees, lame Hindrances, and miscellaneous mumbo-jumbo. Why? It seems to me to be a simple truth that if you like class systems stick to games like Dungeon & Dragons! Don't try to marry them to perfectly decent classless systems. D&D is nifty keano. Savage Worlds is the bee's knees. But mixing the two this way kinda gives me indigestion. A better approach, IMHO, would be to build Edges and Powers that emulate or at least suggest some of the class powers in D&D, leave the rest of the system alone, and let the players mix-n-match like in a regular SW game. Those players who want to play a straight up class emulation will do so, while others will take advantage of the inherent flexiblility of SW's char gen to make something new and unique.

Dungeons & Savages may not be exactly my cup o' tea, but its still a well-done little PDF. If you want to impose D&D-like class structure on a fantasy-based SW game, it might be right up your alley. Pat certainly likes it. He mentioned possibly converting G1-2-3 Against the Giants over to D&S standards. I can't sneeze at an opportunity to play Gleep Wurp the Eyebiter, so I've made some preliminary notes for converting the pregenerated PCs to D&S. Turns out that some of these guys have high stats that totally nerfs any prospect of a clean-cut point-by-point conversion. Ah well, if converting PCs were easy, we wouldn't need documents like Dungeons & Savages at all!

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Time to retire the hawk?

There's a little thread on RPG.net right now about retiring tired old settings that have lost their luster. Although it pains me to say this, I think some of my favorite commercial settings reached their creative zeniths a long time ago. Mystara, the Known World of my earliest campaigning, became cartoonier and cartoonier as the world expanded. I was never satisfied with the material expanding outside the original continental map from module X1 The Isle of Dread. Heck, some of the Gazeteers seemed uninspiring to me. The good old Grand Duchy of Karameikos stills works for me though. It's my primal example of a decent small campaign setting. My conceptualization of a large scale campaign rests firmly on the shoulders of Gary Gygax's World of Greyhawk boxed set, with a small side order of Tolkien via MERP. Almost all of my D&D games have been set in either the Known World or some part of Greyhawk. My most susccessful DMing endeavors have been set in one or the other: the D&D Basic/Expert game featuring my old buddy Dave as Axe the Hobbit-Hater rambled through Mystara, the 1st/2nd edition AD&D game featuring Pat as Doctor (later Baron) Phostarius was set primarily in Greyhawk's Bandit Kingdoms, my one go at a 3E game used Greyhawk's Blackmoor with an infusion of Arneson's original Blackmoor, and my nostalgic 1st edition game flitted across Greyhawk's Flanaess when a setting was required.

Still, everytime I set a campaign in somebody else's setting I hear a little voice inside my head says "Real DMs write their own setting." I feel like I'm cheating myself out of one of the most rewarding creative experiences in the hobby by not tackling the porject of writing anfd running my own campaign world. Even if it turns out to be nothing more than an intricate patchwork of derivative ideas, it would still be mine. I can't get that sense of ownership from Gygax's or Arneson's or anyone else's setting. I just need to figure out what exactly I want from a campaign world of my own. I've started the process of writing a dozen or more times and usually get no further a few pages of notes and a map. Without identifying exactly what I hope to accomplish and a clear methodology for achieving those goal, I fear all my efforts will end that way.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Swiped this off of RPG.net's adbar:
Mysteries of the Drow
The image is futzed a little by my hamhanded grabbing, downloading, uploading, converting, etc. In case you can't quite make it out the tagline reads "d20 adventure with no NPCs who aren't meant to be killed!"

My heart leaps with joy at that old school sense of hack-n-slash! Ah, for those joyous days of youth, when mayhem and slaughter was nothing but lighthearted, innocent fun. Nowadays I stop and think about things like maybe killing black elves isn't the best premise for a module. I'm not saying the nice folks at Goodman Games are hood-wearing KKK freaks, or any other adventure writer that does "kill the evil drow/orcs/whatever" as a plot. It's just that as I get a little older I notice crazy stuff like that.

Maybe someone needs to do a "Kill Whitey" adventure module. That could be fun. Stick it to the Man!

FLGS Shenanigans continued

It's been four days since my Friendly Local Game Store announced the evaporation of the store bonus credit program.  (Due to a technical glitch.  Apparently the machine with all the inventory/sales data crashed.)  I have yet to see a response from the owner regarding my question on the matter.  I'm starting to get the distinct impression that perhaps e-mail with this guy is a one-way street.  He sends them out but doesn't respond to incoming communiques.  I thought the mailing list was a way for this FLGS to maintain an ongoing electronic dialogue with its customer base.  Instead, it's starting to look like nothing more than free advertisement.  I could be wrong.  Maybe he answers all his email, just slowly.  Slow here meaning that 8 days later he hasn't responded to the e-mail I sent him from before the computerized crisis.
I talked this whole thing out with my wife and she's of the opinion that I have no real reason to be loyal to my FLGS, other than sentimentality for the Ma-and-Pa operations in the hobby.  The more I think about it the less that sentimentality gets me anywhere.  After all, I have no doubt that most of the online gaming outifts I've done business with are just as small as the FLGS.  Some of these ventures can't be much more than some d00d, his website, and a garage full of gaming crap.  Admittedly, that d00d doesn't spend the money earned locally, nor does he support the local gaming scene with some tables in the back of his non-existant shop.  Does that matter?  If I hated Mac&Cheese I wouldn't buy it just because we have a Kraft plant in town.
And you could make the argument that the tables in the back of the shop are for someone else's hobby, not mine.  Most of the time I see CCGs, clickies, and Warhammer being played at those tables.  I don't normally like to draw divisive lines in the gaming hobby.  "You're an icky LARPer, I'm a real roleplayer."  "Those Magic: the Addiction tournies are full of snot-nosed punks." and all that other sort of stuff normally ain't my style.  But most physical gamespace arrangements are going to be friendlier for some types of gaming and a hassle for others.  Dave moved his "Avatars" campaign to the pancake joint for a practical reason: the store was too durn loud for roleplaying.  IMHO, the FLGS is set-up for (logically enough) the games that should make the owner the most money, namely the higher-volume collectible type games.
I don't begrudge the owner for slanting the store towards the customers that make him the most money.  But it seems that my FLGS doesn't get special orders done, is overcrowded almost to the point of it being dangerous to go in, fails to reply to emails from longterm customers, and orients its business to the kids with the cash for clickies.  Why should I be loyal to that kind of store?  That's not a rhetorical question.  Help me out here, folks!  Throw me a bone!

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Grubby's new game

Work has been craptastic the last coupla days, but I can kinda see the light at the end of the tunnel. Over my abbreviated lunch today I finally got a chance to flip through the first draft of Grubman's new game. He hasn't done anything like hand out Non-Disclosure Agreements but I still feel weird blogging about any details until I've cleared it with him. Still, I'm happy to report that overall it seems to have a light, frothy sense of hack-n-slashy fun, taking as much from Tunnels & Trolls as it does Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons. I could definitely see running something like Keep on the Borderlands under this system. The die mechanic has a nifty little exploding action, though I am slightly saddened to note that only d6's are in use.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Experimental Games Group

Pat and I got together again last Sunday and we talked bout reviving the experimental games group concept. The EGG would be a game group that gets together regularly but that doesn't play a regular game. We would cycle through one-shots and mini-campaigns instead of sticking to a single campaign. For popular offerings you could develop a campaign-like structure in which a one-shot could be revisited. If everyone digs a particular game and group of PCs you run it again but not right away. Imagine the overall structure of that particular game as a series of movies. You have to wait to see the sequel, right? I think that kind of delay could possibly make the experience richer than if you play the same guy everyone session. Not necessarily better than a regular campaign game, but different in texture. Pat thinks the timing may be right for launching the EGG because the Sunday game Loren played has apparently broken up. John Pedigo might be interested in at least some of the games Pat and I want to play. We might be able to get him to run something as well, like maybe a testdrive of Mutants & Masterminds. Maybe Dave Hoover would be interested as well. Just an opportunity to play instead of GM would probably thrill him. Maybe some of the local folks I've met online would give it a try.

So what does the EGG have to offer someone who might be interested in participating?

  • Variety. Like weather in Illinois: if you don't like the game, just wait a session or two.
  • Guinea pigs for mad scientist GMs. Try something really wild, knowing that next get-together will be a totally different project.
  • Missing a session shouldn't be as big a problem as it normally is when the session after that may be a totally different game.
  • Shared GM commitment should reduce GM burnout.

What are the drawbacks of structuring a game group in this way?

  • Variety. The game you're really digging will be over soon.
  • Guinea pigs for mad scientist GMs. Where do these GMs come up with these crazy-ass ideas, anyway? I just want to kill some orcs or something.
  • Missing a session is a huge problem. Last time I made it to a session we were playing time-travelling Nazi-smashers, now we're all fallen angels launching commando raids against the Pearly Gates. I think my brain just broke.
  • Multiple GMs means that the scheduled guy can whimp out at the last moment. "Dave, I got nothing. Can you run something tonight?"

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Is anybody doing this?

Here's the idea: Taking full advantage of the OGL, put together beer & pretzels adventures (kinda like Savage Worlds short adventure PDF line, Savage Tales) and package each one with a chopped-down customized rulebook. In other words, you basically get 2 files at point of purchase, a short whiz-bang adventure with pre-gen characters absolutely ready to run as is AND a short rulebook containing all the rules you need to run this one adventure, in case you don't already own a corebook. Not everybody likes pre-gen characters (in fact, I don't know anybody who likes using pre-gens) so the second book would include chargen material tailored to steer any PCs made with it towards characters useful for the module.

So again I ask, is anybody doing this? If not, I may have to try it. It ties in with several ideas I've nattered around with, my long-slumbering Adepts & Warriors project, the BESM d20 stuff I've been on a kick about lately, my obsession with bringing back beer & pretzels adventure gaming back to the mainstream, etc. The first couple of dry runs could be simply approached as one-shots with my gaming groups and as con games. After getting two or three of these puppies done and run, then maybe I could take a stab at actually putting together a marketable product.