Thursday, September 30, 2004

Girl-Friendly vs. Girly-Show

I'm coming close to exhausting my local library's supply of superhero comic books. Still plenty of good sequential art available, but in the next week or two I'll have read every cape-n-spandex book on the shelf. I just about blew my mind by reading the trade paperbacks for Go Girl! and Gen13 back-to-back. Both feature young female superhero protagonists but the similarities pretty much end there. Go Girl! is light-hearted, even whimsical, and definitely written with the goal of being read by impressionable young girls and making a positive impact upon there lives. The innocence of Go Girl! is refreshing, reminiscent of the best of siler age Superboy, what little I know of it. If Go Girl! were in color, I'd plonk down the cash to buy my daughter a copy.

And then there's Gen13. To be blunt, this stuff is wank material. Now, as a red-blooded het male I like the T-n-A as much as the next guy, but Gen13 seems to be nothing more than the puerile juxtaposing of scantily-clad babes and superheroic fisticuffs. Personally, I either want a good story with eye candy backing it up (sure I'm gawking at Wonder Woman in a copy of JLA, but I'm also enjoying the plot, both are important) or else I want actual porn, none of this coy "we're going to pretend to be writing a comic book while not quite showing you the nipples" stuff. Maybe I'm just getting old and jaded or maybe this Gen13 stuff is marketed to the demographic of horny guys who aren't old enough to legally buy a copy of Playboy. Either way it sits in the middle ground of not being good enough to warrant reading it as a comic book and not being explicit enough to waste my time on, especially in this modern intarweb era in which naked pictures of She-Hulk are only one Google search away.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Monday Night Boardgaming

Technical difficulties and miscellaneous silliness prevented me from report yesterday on Monday night's boardgaming.  My brother-in-law Jim was absent, off on another work-related junket.  That left Bruce, Carl, and I.  Carl was in a bit of a hurry, so we played two relatively short games.  The first was Vinci, a great little bronze age Europe empire building thingy, sort of an abbreviated History of the World or an expanded Britannica.  I love these sorts of games for the feeling of faux archeaology they create.  Did my ancient empire of Red Markers originate in Scandinavia or Ireland?  Since both were legitimate first moves and I occupied both areas on the same turn, the world may never be able to unravel this mystery.  Who are the strange aboriginal people who occupied Macedonia for the entire game?  I love looking at these sorts of things.  For our second game we had another go at Bohnanza, the silly bean-themed cardgame.  I did a bit better than last time, as I was more ambitious in planting my fields and holding out for more matching cards.  However, I think I threw off too freely and ended up handing too many points to Bruce and Carl.  Still I had a good time and wouldn't mind playing it again.  Next week I'd like to play Puerto Rico again if the rest of the group is up for it.  And I'd like to play a round of Carcassonne soon.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

JL5K: Roster

I want 6 players in my JL5K game.  I want a nice tight storyline so I am going to make exactly 6 PCs.  Despite the fact that neither gaming in general, con games or supers games seem to draw many ladies to the table, I think I am going to go with an even 50/50 mix of male and female characters (at least assuming Singularity Zero really has a gender).  Anyway, here's what I got so far:
  • The Supertwins (SuperLad and SuperLass)
  • Singularity Zero, bizarre posthuman from the far future
  • DeadLass, the ghost that haunts Mars
That leaves two slots open for male PCs.  Now the membership of the Justice League 5000 is bigger than just the PCs in the scenario, but not all of them are available.  The local Green Lantern has a whole sector of space to patrol, so he is not available for every JL5K mission.  The 51st century Flash-equivalent (I haven't settled on a name) is going to be kidnapped by the forces of evil in act one.  BatLass rarely leaves the asteroid belt, but her partner Robin may make a good comedic relief PC.  He's a cigar-smoking punk-rock midget with a bad attitude.  Unlike the normal image of the Robin character he's an adult, full-fledged member of the League.  Maybe Robin could be the person who stumbles into JL5K HQ to report that TachyonLass (or whatever) has been kidnapped.
Adding Robin to the PC list leaves me with one spot open.  I have two possibilities in mind.  The first is to use an established DC character who is either long-lived or a time-traveller.  Given his involvement in the DC One Million crossover, Resurrection Man might be an interesting choice.  Making Vandal Savage a good guy might also be a hoot.  Even a blackheart like Savage has to feel like being nice to people once in a while.  Or perhaps there is a good 30th century character I could use.  The other possibility is to use WonderLad.  When the Amazons left the Solar System WonderLad accepted the job of continuing the fight for peace so that no Amazon would have to remain behind.  I just don't know if I can use that character with a straight face.

Monday, September 27, 2004

JL5K: Villains?

I've been knocking around trying to come up with the bad guys for my Justice League 5000 to fight. Here are the possibilities so far, both my own and from the folks who have participated in this thread over at
  • A team-up of the greatest villains of all time, composed of time-travellers and immortals.
  • Solaris the Sun-Eater
  • Per Degaton and henchmen plucked from various eras.
  • The Crime Syndicate (the evil anti-matter versions of Superman, Wonderwoman, and Batman)
The current discussion on the thread about Psycho-pirate remembering the pre-Crisis world has me thinking. Could the plot involve using Psycho-pirate's brain to reconstruct the pre-Crisis multiverse?

Sunday, September 26, 2004


One of the comics I brought home from the library yesterday is a trade
called JSA: Fair Play. Good stuff. I really like this
incarnation of the JSA. The new Mr. Terrific and Dr. Mid-Nite kick
all sorts of ass. And WildCat is a hoot. I'd put this team right up
their with my favorite Justice League line-up. It might be worth the
money to buy the next trade or (dare I say it?) actually collect the
monthly book. The problem with going to a comic store and actually
buying a monthly is that last time I did it I didn't know when to
stop. If I get the JSA I will want to pick up the Authority and the
JLA books as well. And then the various Super-books. And maybe the
Bat-stuff. And then God knows what. It's like crack to me.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

"No blasters! No blasters!"

Last night my wife and I watched Episode IV from the new DVD release of the original trilogy. The Greedo scene worked okay for me. One other detail from the Cantina sequence seemed different. When Kenobi throws down with those two space thugs, didn't the barkeep shout "No blasters! No blasters!" or something like that? I think that line got cut somewhere along the way.

The sabre fight between Ben and Vader seems even more kickass after seeing these two characters in Episode II.

I'm starting to agree with the folks who feel Fett is out of place in the Jabba scene, but then he always seemed a little out of place at Jabba's Palace in RoTJ. At least to me. I dunno, the whole Boba Fett thing seems weird nowadays, especially after Ep II. Back before Jedi he was this super mysterious figure, now I know more about his childhood than I do about Han Solo or Obi-Wan!

Everytime I watch an original trilogy flick I get the urge to go buy some action figures and toys.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Winter War - Tentative Events

Fall is here so its time to start getting serious about working on games for Winter War.

Title: Justice League 5000
Description: Can the greatest heroes of the 51st century stop the greatest villains of all time?
Rules: Powergame 6.05
Experience: Younger players welcome.
Players: 6

Title: Synnibarr or Bust!
Description: World of Synnibarr is considered by many to be one of the worst RPGs ever written. Do you have the guts to take this system for a test drive?
Rules: World of Synnibar, 2nd edition
Experience: Some gaming experience assumed.
Players: 6

I'd like to run a third event, but I'm not sure what.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Questions About Comics

I like comic books, why do I sometimes hate comic shops? Is it because they are trying to sell me Superhero Brand Merchandise first and good comic books second?

Would I buy monthly comics more often (or at all) if I some good comics were stocked right next to the tabloids at the supermarket checkout?

Digest-sized manga are taking over the local bookstores' comic sections, why don't I see Marvel and DC comics in this format?

More and more all the serious comic fans I know get their fix from trades and graphic novels. Why do monthlies continue to be made?

If Superman or Batman comics came out in black-and-white, at a substantially lower price, would I or anyone else buy it?

How come the only comic subscription card I've seen in years is for Shonen Jump? Now that I can afford to have a monthly mailed to me, neither Marvel or DC seems to be trying to sell me a subscription. I only today discovered that Amazon will sell me some comic book subscriptions, but it hardly even looks like DC is trying.

Am I the only person who would like to see the return of the superhero anthology titles? I think a title in which each month different members of the Justice League had individual one-shot adventures would rock. Maybe this comic is being made and I don't know it.

Does DC comics buy commercial airtime during Teen Titans or JLU? If not, why not?

Did fan boys in ancient Greece get into arguments over whether Odysseus could take Achilles in a fair fight? Was the author of the Argonautica pilloried by armchair critics for violating the continuity established in the Iliad and the Odyssey?

Good Session

Last night's session of my Mob War minicampaign went pretty well. Big Al Tolino sent about 10 big gun-toting palookas over to Harrigan's Speakeasy. Most of 'em ended up dead, some after a brutal interrogation scene. Serves them right, they had the gall to hit the joint while the Dempsey fight was on the radio! Fortunately Tom Finnegan, Dave's new PC, was able to smooth things over with the local police. It looks like next time the O'Connor Boys are taking a field trip to Madison, Wisconsin. Seems Big Al has a large shipment of Canadian hooch coming through Madison.

I think the blue bennie machenic worked out well. People seemed to enjoy spending them. I think we'll use it again next time.

Ray once again didn't show up. Both times that I have run Mob War he has been absent. I'm kinda curious to know why. I don't think he has simply been unavailable, as his attendance to Dave's Avatars game was as good as anyone else. Does the gangster setting not suit him? Maybe he can't stand straight historical type games. I know some players need cyborgs or wizards or vampires or whatever for the game to interest them. Or maybe he thinks I'm a jerk. I dunno. Ray's certainly free to play or not play any game he wants. He does not owe me an explanation, but I am curious.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Alan Moore Kicks Ass

The more I'm getting into comics the more I am liking the works of Alan Moore. His Watchmen is required reading for the modern superhero fan, but I have been stumbling upon other works of his that are great too. Last night I stayed up past my bedtime reading Supreme: The Story of the Year. Great stuff. I think any Superman fan would find this an interesting read. Like Watchmen, this Supreme trade demonstrates Moore's ability to use the history of comics as building blocks in modern stories, while always maintaining the respect due his creative precursors. Another great example of such work would be his mini-series 1963, which I love but hadn't realized was his work until I read it in the 'about the author' blurb on thback of the Supreme trade.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Beanfarmers and Merchants

Last night's boardgame night featured a special guest appearance by Al, filling in for Carl. We played two games. The first game was something of Genoa, Traders or Merchants or something like that. Good game, with enough variables to make my head spin. I managed a win but I don't know if I could repeat such a feat. The second game was the silly but fun Bohnanza, "bohn" being German for bean. I'd gladly play either game again, though I'm hoping that next time we can maybe play another game of Puerto Rico.

Today I took the day off. I spent a good deal of my time updating my info for the Mob War! mini-campaign. I'm hoping for a real rock'em sock'em time tomorrow night. I'm thinking about trying out a new house rule tomorrow night, just 'cause I can. I'm gonna give each player an extra bennie of a different color than the others. This bennie can only be spent on the rolls of other people. Want to save a buddy from certain fate? Throw your blue bennie his way. Want to make the bad guy reroll his soak roll or damage roll? Drop a blue bennie down on his ratsoup-eating no-business ass.

Earlier today I came up with an idea for a Justice League 5000 villain: The Kryptonian. This guy believes that the House of El should be ruling humanity with an iron fist in order to fufil the goal of 'protecting' it. Oh yeah, and the puny humans should all adopt Kryptonian language and culture ASAP. I imagine his outfit being a riff on the later versions of Jor-El's outfit. Though using the earlier green Jor-El uniform might be delightful as well. I think the Kryptonian could be easily played as a noble-but-misguided Magneto type. Or just as a no good sum of a batch.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Been a long time since I rock'n'rolled

The new family computer is up and running, so I can resume my regular blogging. Where to begin? I've been continuing my trend of reading comics at a break-neck speed. Pat lent me several great books, the stand-outs being the first volumes of Hellsing and Ruorni Kenshin. This was my first go at reading manga "backwards". It took a while to get used to. From the library the big winners are Scout McCloud's Understanding Comics and Lynda Barry's One Hundred Demons. These books pack a one-two punch that really drills home a "write your own comics" punch. I'm so glad I picked up One Hundred Demons. Ms. Barry is a great comic artist/writer whose work is deeply personal yet immediately accessible. And her stuff is funny as hell too.

I've got several irons in the fire on the gaming front. Tonight is my weekly boardgaming get-together. Carl can't make it, so we'll have to find a game that plays well with three players. I wouldn't mind playing Puerto Rico again. Maybe I'll bring my Carcassonne set. This Wednesday is the second session of my Mob War mini-campaign. In the first session the O'Connor Boys busted up the Tolino Mob's bootlegging operation and "Big Al" Tolino will be looking for revenge! I'm taking a vacation day tomorrow to work on the game. Another thing I've been working on is HeroMachine2 character pics for my Justice League 5000 idea. I think I may end up doing this thing as a WinterWar one-shot, maybe using Mikko Kaupinnen's Powergame, a nifty little rules-light supers game. I'm kinda tempted to pursue using Blood of Heroes (the modern descendant of the original DC Heroes rpg), assuming I can track down a copy of the BoH Special Edition. Finally, Pat continues to help me refine my ideas for the 6 Islands Campaign.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

D&D 3E: The struggle continues

I've now statted out a room and a half in my first homegrown 3E dungeon and already I am hating it. My biggest problem so far is that I don't like setting difficulty levels. It's not a decision I want to make. Older versions of D&D had a fixed, hidden difficulty level. You want to search for hidden stuff? Roll a d6, on a '1' you find it. (1 or 2 if you got pointy ears.) Thief skills were all do-or-die rolls. Besides being work I don't want to do (Answering questions like "is this DC too high? Is it too low? What sort of skill level will the PCs likely to have?") , GM-set DCs have always strained my own suspension of disbelief. Sure, the Dungeon Master makes all sorts of arbitrary decisions that directly impact the fate of our heroes, but to me this one makes it too easy to see the man standing behind the curtain. That's why Savage Worlds is one of the few target number systems that gets me jazzed. It sets a hardwired basic TN for all activity.

Is the old way unrealistic? I suppose so. Of course, I do occasionally toy with the hidden TNs. "This secret door is extra well hidden. Players must roll a d8 to find this puppy." But most of the time I leave them alone. I like the systems where the only issue most of the time is how good the PCs is at the task they are attempting. That's what I like about Call of Cthulhu. You don't need to hand out stupid skill roll modifiers in that game. The PCs will rise and fall on their own skill ratings. I honestly don't know if I can do this. Running D&D 3E is okay, but writing my own dungeon is driving me nuts. Maybe I should find a system that doesn't make me nuts, even if I lose players in the process. Or maybe I just need to get some modules and run 'em. Neither solution is ideal.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Spin-offs usually suck

Mork & Mindy was a spin-off, though. I liked that one. Anyway, here's my new 6 Islands Campaign blog. The idea is that I can build a campaign world a little snippet at a time, but in 3 or 6 months I ought to have quite a bit of stuff that can be re-edited into a player's guide and a GM's handbook. I just hope I can keep up with both this blog and the new one. What other spin-offs were good? Knots Landing was spun off of Dallas, right? That one did pretty well. I liked the one or two episodes of the Lone Gunmen series. I gues if considered TNG a spin-off of Star Trek that would be a winner. I'm not too keen on the series that were spun off from TNG though.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Blogging about blogging, and other stuff

Dude, I'm getting a Dell! Once my new machine is up and running at home I hope to be able to get back into the swing of things as fas as blogging goes. In the meantime I'm considering starting another blog devoted solely to hashing out the details of my new 3E campaign. Mainly, I want a convenient online location where I can just throw out some rough setting ideas. I see it as a short term blogging project that would eventually form the basis of a campaign bible.

Pat was over yesterday. Foregoing our normal session of just Talking About Games, we actually played something! Pat whipped up four fantasy adventurers for Savage Worlds and I threw some monsters at him. First I unleashed a band of orcs, then a trio of ogres, and finally a dragon. The fight with the dragon took two freakin' hours! All this was meant to be a sort of playtest towards Pat converting G1-3 Against the Giants to the standards of Dungeons & Savages.

A Method to My Madness

All dungeon-based adventures occupy a place on a continuum running between two extremes, the "rational" or "coherent" dungeon and the "irrational" or "incoherent" dungeon. For many years now the rational end has been getting a lot of good press. People designing rational dungeons worry greatly about things like ecologies of monsters, who designed the dungeon and to what end, and stuff like that. These are good things to think about and I applaud anyone who can construct a fun dungeon crawl in the coherent style. That's not my cup o' tea. My dungeons are intentionally less coherent. Consider for a moment the psychological implications of the dungeon crawl, by plunging the depths of the dungeon we explore the alien landscape of our own Unconscious Minds. In the realm of myth descending into a dungeon is no less than a descent into hell itself. Upon entering the dungeon we set foot into a dream-like world where everyday notions of logic or plausibility are insufficient to describe our experience. A good dungeon crawl should have some of the qualities of the drug-induced vision. Steve Jackson called his first role-playing game The Fantasy Trip for a reason.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Damn the torpedoes, damn my eyes

I'm going to do this. I am going to start work on a D&D 3E campaign this weekend. Waiting for C&C to come out just causes unnecessary delays. Before tackling a big dungeon I think I'm going to start with some small stuff: a few simple lairs, a haunted house, a kobold-infested mine, a wight's barrow, stuff like that. Not only will this help me get into the swing of things but in past campaigns I've always had insufficient amounts of this stuff on hand. Maybe I'll do some surfing to dig up small maps.

Thursday, September 09, 2004


  1. I really ought to watch the rest of the Lord of the Rings movies. They are the Star Wars of this generation of young geeks and I am making myself irrelevant by blowing them off.
  2. I need to figure out what the crap I want to run for Winter War and then get cracking on some char sheets and adventure notes.
  3. My blogging started as a way to get my writing chops in shape. Time to stop screwing around and get some non-blog writing done.
  4. My website hasn't been updated in a long-ass time: My BattleTech page still has only one scenario up and the Comics page hasn't been updated in years.
  5. The Erol Otus Shrine needs work, too.
  6. Hey, howzabout I stop jibber-jabbering about campaign ideas and actually work on a game?
  7. [top secret project]

Star Wars Point Five

This is a mini-campaign idea that I've chewed on for a long time.  Until I got Savage Worlds I didn't own a system I liked for it.  (Yes, I know there two different official Star Wars rpgs.  I don't own either of them.)  The basic idea is simple: each session is another Star Wars movie in a series that runs basically parallel to the original, but with individual episodes occurring between the established ones.  I'm basically thinking a 5 session mini-campaign (Episodes 1.5, 2.5, 3.5, 4.5, and 5.5.) but you could stretch out to seven by adding a prequel to Phantom Menace and a sequel to Jedi.  The main challenge to this idea would be to develop a plotline that rivals the Darth Vader Saga without using the known main characters but while following the overall history of the Star Wars galaxy.  Maybe the solution is to run it as a series of isolated one shots, without an overall plot.  I like the idea of my gaming group being the guys who win the Clone Wars, or who hunt down and destroy the Jedi Menace, or maybe they're the Bothans who die to insure the Rebellion receives the new Death Star plans.

Do your vitamins, say your homework, and eat your prayers

Last night Dave put his "Avatars" campaign on indefinite hiatus, a move prompted by a combination of GM burnout and a need to begin prepping for the next Winter War (still 5 months away, but he plans on running a boatload of games). I for one applaud every time a GM takes a game offline before it turns sour. Why run a good thing into the ground when a break may be all that's needed to get back on track? Kudos to Dave for running this game and for getting me into this game group.

We talked about future plans. I'm going to run my "Mob War" mini-campaign next time we get together, and maybe for a few sessions after that until we used up all my material. Although Necessary Evil has been delayed again, Pat might still run a supervillains game under these rules. That would be cool. Last night after large amounts of general dicking around (which itself was pretty fun) we eventually decided to use Savage Worlds to play out a professional wrestling battle royale. What a hoot! Dave did a great job with coming up with rules adjudications on the fly. My guy, a retread of my e-fed character Kid Skull, got eleiminated pretty early in the match. Pat's wrestler, The Amish, went on to win the match after a slobberknocker ending against Jimmy "Mack Truck" Henderson. Nifty! We may do some more of this rasslin' stuff.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

My Eyes Hurt

Probably my eyes hurt from a combination of getting up too early (woke up at 4:445am; couldn't get back to sleep) and staring at this cathode ray tube all day. Probably. But my attempt at lunch to read the 3rd edition Player's Handbook certainly didn't help. Setting aside the horse-choaking quantity of rules and the too-cool-for-moi dungeonpunk art sensibilities, what really put an extra dose of hurting on my ocular orbs was the damn lined-paper effect behind the text. I hate these sorts of effects! One of the few things SenZar loses big points on is the grayscale art obscuring the text. (The other main deduction being for the lack of monster stats in the corebook.) But at least SenZar has some white pages. Here at my desk, under the merciless glow of multiple neon tubes, the PHB is pretty easy to read. Under anything less than ideal conditions it becomes a major pain in the ass. Is the text of the 3.5 books similar hosed? If it is, then I can see some possible solutions to D&D-induced eyeball ache:

  1. Mongoose's Pocket Player's Handbook (Upside: Only 20 bucks new, chock full o' 3.5 goodness. Downside: May have eyestraining layout issues of its own.)
  2. Professional pdf of the SRD (Upside: Cheap and easily available at RPGnow. Downside: Must print & bind. "SRD pdf" sounds stupid.)
  3. Make my own book using the SRD. (Upside: Totally customized rulebook. Downside: It will look like ass. Readable ass, but ass nonetheless.)
  4. D20 variant, such as BESM d20 or Castles & Crusades. (Upside: In different ways both seem to scratch my itch better than mainstream D&D. Downside: Finding players is harder the further you step away from mainstream D&D.)
  5. Old school D&D. (Upside: I love this crap. Downside: Do I want to stretch myself a bit, or simply spin my wheels?)
  6. Savage Worlds. (Upside: Readily available player base. Kickass rules-medium system. Downside: It ain't D&D, thus kinda missing the whole point. The local player base may burn out on the system.)
  7. SenZar or World of Synnibarr (Upside: Designed for nonsensical, wahoo adventure. Downside: More hated than loved. Virtually no player base.)

It's easy for me to fall into the trap of waiting with baited breath for the next game that will finally be the perfect fit for me. HackMaster was the last such game for which I pined. It was a great game, but not a perfect fit for me. My new last best hope for peace is the aforementioned Castles & Crusades. Why I let myself get all worked up over these forthcoming products I'll never know. Even if they meet my expectations building a game group around them is like pulling hens teeth, especially when we are talking about substitutes for good ol' D&D. A different genre is much easier to sell. But when you are talking about a game that focuses on killing orcs and stealing gold you have to work extra hard to come up with an answer to the dread question "Why don't we just play D&D?" That's a hard question to answer. "Because I don't like the graphic layout" ain't much of an answer, nor is "Because I'm a lazy DM."

Beetle Pancakes of Existential Angst

Tonight is game night for Dave's "Avatars". I fear the days of meeting at the pancake place are numbered, as the owners intend to start selling suppers as well as breakfasts and lunches. Dave's says everything is still jake, that we still have dibbs on the back room, but I have my doubts. This joint does gangbuster business. Everytime I go there I have to wait for a seat. Even if they weren't adding a special supper menu I would expect them to be able to sell a buttload of pancakes at night. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if the owners discovered that they needed the back room.

Last session Dave introduced some a Beetle Rider of Doom, developing an insectoid theme beyond the known Antish Menace. I'd like to capture one of the riders and find out more about what's going on, but can't stand the sneering "We're right, you're wrong, just kill me and be done with it" attitude typical of any prisoners we take in the course of this campaign. You'd think that once in a while the other team would be scared of the psycho with the axes, but they all got their Uber-Fanatic grooves on. I suppose that this devotion is meant to makes our heroes stop and consider their actions. But as a player, it just makes me feel less sympathetic for the plight of these imaginary warriors. I'm more likely to go easy on some poor slob who's shitting himself with fear. This "I'm so macho in the face of imminent death" thing just turns me off.

Still these prisoners aren't my main issue with the campaign. My main issue is "What the hell am I supposed to be doing?" Is it implicit, given the title of the campaign and the Edge available, that we should all be chasing Avatarhood? Are we supposed to be rushing into the lair of the Ant Riders, saving the world despite clearly overwhelming forces aligned against us? Are we meant to bounce around the map, doing the good deed of the week like on The A Team? I'm just not sure where I stand. For the most part the individual atoms of actual play are fun as all hell, but I fail to grasp my position in the overall scheme of the campaign. Are the other players asking themselves these questions, or am I overanalyzing the situation?

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

World's Largest Dungeon: Honeymoon Over

From a post by RPGnetter hyphz:

Finally got my copy of the WLD...

But am I bit shocked at the number of changes and hacks at makes to standard D&D rules:

* No PC teleportation. (The DMG says, "Don't design dungeons that ban fly and teleport spells just because doing so is hard." Why should the paid designers not be held to the guidelines given for amateurs?)

* Don't use the standard XP progression. Use something else instead. Dunno what. The guide says the PCs should advance twice per map, but not what points system to use to ensure they do so.

* No entangle/web spells.

* No summoning spells for PCs.

* No druid PCs.

* No take 10/take 20.

And the PCs are trapped in the dungeon for the entire campaign!

Now all these items are merely recommendations, but I'm still scratching my head. Trapped in the dungeon I'm okay with, though it's not my first choice. But that's a pretty long list of rules changes to be applied to a a frickin' dungeon adventure. Dungeons is what D&D 3.x was designed for, right? Am I the only one who remembers the "Back to the dungeon" tagline for 3.0? I do not understand why someone would tackle a project like the World's Largest Dungeon if they couldn't get it done while sticking to the rules as written. What's the point? The no teleport/no druids/no summonings rule looks like sheer laziness. No web spells? WTF? And screwing with the XP system is asking for trouble. The only changes I would ever brook to the current XP system would be to add ways of earning points. Like re-introducing XP for treasure. I thought it was ass-tastic to remove loot XP from the system. Yes, getting the gold and xp both seems like double dipping, even moreso for magic items and XP. But so what? In my experience chests full o' XPs are a much bigger motiviation for PCs than chests full of mere coins. If anything, the WLD (and maybe dungeoneering games in general) should be giving a bonus for clearing a level, on top of anything else earned the usual ways.

Hmmm. I rushed over here to blog about my indignation over these discoveries. Obviously the people behind WLD can design anything they want, but I'm still worked up that this product doesn't seem to quite meet with my simple expectation that it follow the frickin' rules. My sensibilities are offended. Nevermind the fact that last 3E campaign I wussed out long before anybody could cast teleport. Still, at least this list crazy no-no list gives me things to think about when designing my own dungeon.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Medieval Streetcars are Go!

My new regular game night was cancelled but Jim and his sons came over this afternoon. We played two games. The first was Streetcar from Mayfair, a tile-laying game with a little railroady theme. Fun game, but I suck at it. The second game of the day was new to me: Medieval by GMT. This is a cute little economics-and-war type cardgame with great production values and a nifty little cardmap of Europe. I actually won this one. I AM TEH WINNAR!!!!11111onelevene!!!!!! Frankly, good card pulls and lucky dice had more to do with my victory than did canny play, though I think I made a couple of smart moves. But I wouldn't be surprised if I got absolutely creamed on a second game of Medieval. Still, I'd play either game again. Streetcar has a nifty little hose-over-another-player mechanic to it that makes even last place a hoot.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Dungeon Mungery

My earlier blog entry on the World's Largest Dungeon has got me thinking about maybe trying again to run the 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons. During my first campaign I didn't give 3E the total effort I could have exerted and I whimped out when the power level started to rub against my comfort zone. I know I can do better than that. D&D 3E may not be my favorite incarnation of Dungeons & Dragons, but I feel kinda alienated from my own hobby because I'm not playing the Big Game. Sure, I went through my "D&D sucks, [insert random game here] rules!" period in the early nineties, but I can lay a lot of that attitude at the feet of TSR and its misdeeds. The rest was youthful exuberance at discovering other gamers who actually played other games. It wasn't long before I was back kicking doors and swording orcs.

More importantly, I've come to a conclusion regarding my Game Mastery skills. I like to try lotsa different things, but I really only have my "A" game going when I am running a classic fantasy dungeon crawl. I look back over my years of GMing and I see things like the Dungeon of Doom as the high points. I put a lot of work into the Dungeon of Doom and it played out very well. I'd like to rebottle some of that lightning without it being a dusty old system that "nobody" likes to play any more. The solution seems to be to sit down and write a multi-level underground extravaganza for 3.0 or 3.5 D&D. The alternative systems (earlier versions of D&D, fantasy-flavored Savage Worlds, Castles & Crusades, BESM d20, SenZar, World of Synnibarr) all shrink the potential pool of players for relatively little gain. Savage Worlds at least gives me a readily available player base, but how long will it be before it is no longer the local flavor-of-the-month?

Pat was over today and he and I talked this situation out a bit. As usual, he is uber supportive of whatever direction I want to go. He referred to Black Fire, the draft game linked from Ron Edwards' Gamist Essay. I went back and re-read it but I don't see how it fits into a proposed 3E campaign. Pat, if you read this, could you drop a note in the comments section explaining what you have in mind?

One of the things we discussed was the perennial problem in modular games: what do we take out, what do we put in? Pat lobbied for a serious consideration of some of the materials in the new Unearthed Arcana. I'll have to take a look at that. Another factor to consider is what will players be able to use for making characters. I bounce between the two extremes of "three corebooks only" and "any published classes and races are fine". One option helps keep a tight focus to the game, the other really allows the players to cut loose.

If I'm really going to tackle a 3E campaign the first thing I need to do is re-read my copies of the core books. Right after I'm done putzing around with SenZar.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

More comical goodness - with minor spoilers

I got over to the library this morning. I picked up several comics: a Powers trade paperback titled Who Killed Retro Girl?; a Stormwatch trade called Forces of Nature or something like that; volume 6 of the complete Crumb, and The Big Book of Grimm. I also got a collection of short stories called something something Supermen, doing the whole post-human thing. The Powers book was a fun read. I wasn't expecting one of the superheroes to pull a Jack Ruby on Retro Girl's killer. This was my first encounter with Stormwatch. It looks like maybe this volume comes fairly late in the run as I can see some of the themes in the Authority starting to develop. And Jenny Sparks shows up in it in all her washed-up rockstar glory. Volumes two through five of Crumb were not to be found today, so I leaped straight from the mostly innocent Crumb of volume 1 right into the psychedelic, pornographic, radical material he is more known for. Jumping gears like that was a little bit of a shock. I mean, I've seen this sort of stuff in comics before but it was still kinda odd to be at the public library, checking out a comic book that depicts a cartoon orgy on the cover at the same time I'm getting my daughter some frickin' Elmo DVDs. The Big Book of Grimm is another excellent entry in the Big Book line, this particular volume presenting the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm as they originally appeared in all their horrific glory. I have yet to read a Big Book that didn't deliver.

I haven't started the sci-fi short stories yet. I'm not sure if I'll get to it or not. I seem to be on a big sequential art kick lately. "Are you obsessed with comic books?" -- my wife.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Return of the Monster Games

Board wargamers have enjoyed monster games for years. These are games that are so large in scope that just getting the game set up is a Herculean task. Lou Zocchi did a version of the Battle of Britain that tracked every single plane involved on its own control sheet, quite a task for the largest aerial campaign in history! Campaign for North Africa is another that the wargamers mention when discussion turns to the monster games. You essentially need two teams to manage this "two-player", each team basically representing a high command. According to reports this game tracks things like when was the last time you change the oil on your troop transports. Italian troops are penalized on water usage, because they boil pasta for meals even when fighting a desert campaign. My brother-in-law has the maps for DAK, another Rommel in Africa game, on his game room wall. I believe the overall map measures about 36 inches by eight or ten feet long. I think the battefield for the First Battle of El Alamein takes up something like six hexes on that map.

Role-players have long enjoyed big projects like the monster games. Even today people are still gaga over playing T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil followed by A1-4 Scourge of the Slavelords and topped of by GDQ1-7 Queen of the Spiders. That's approximately eighteen levels of adventure in 3 big fat supermodules! Time for that disjointed and flawed (but still classic) series to step aside for the new kid on the block AEG's World's Largest Dungeon.

Look at that map!!!
The 16 poster-sized maps make quite an impressive display, eh?

This puppy is over 800 pages long, over a million words of text! It contains nearly every monster in the SRD! Even a Terrasque! This huge and mighty tome has an MSRP of a cool one hundred bucks, but Amazon will part with one for only $68.

I'm not a huge fan of the current incarnations of Dungeons & Dragons, but holy crap does this product get my blood a-pumpin'. It's like WLD is the Mount Everest of dungeoncrawling. I want to tackle it just cause it's the biggest, baddest dungeon around. I'm not sure I could DM it, but I sure as hell would love to be a player in a campaign that focused exclusively on tackling this module. One of the things that has fallen out of D&D for me is a sense of purpose. Back in the days of 1st edition Advanced and especially the Basic/Expert era every campaign had an implicit goal: Level up until you build a kickass castle and retire surrounded by minions and henchmen. Maybe you fought some wars or something but basically your adventuring days were supposed to be mostly over at that point. If you played the Mentzer edit of D&D or was a big Deities and Demigods fan you could tackle the more ambitious project of achieving divinity. Either way when playing earlier versions of D&D it was always easier for me to see a clear victory condition that I could strive for. Whether I suceeded or not was secondary, I needed an overall challenge to test myself against.

For much the same reason I've always been drawn to the idea of a campaign centered around looting one exceptionally large dungeon, whether it be the originals (Castles Blockmoor and Greyhawk), my own meager efforts (particularly my Dungeon of Doom) or this new World's Largest Dungeon. Unlike the boilerplate "what is an rpg" text I've always felt as if a good role-playing campaign ought to have a goal. Just buttknockering around a large campaign map getting into trouble seems insufficient for me these days. "Here's your mission this week" gaming seems equally incomplete. I guess maybe I let superhero games slide on this count, because superhero comics are so darn reactionary in nature. Apart from supers though I tend to favor building a winning condition into a campaign, if for no other reason than to give the campaign an endgame, a limit, a sense of closure.

One way to construct such a game would be to focus on one mega-dungeon and when that dungeon is cleared the campaign is over. If you're going to play the kind of campaign in which dungeoncrawling is the main activity of the group, why not make that activity the centerpiece of the campaign? I tend to suspect that a lot of groups engage in what I might call "abashed dungeoncrawling". These folks construct elaborate plots which inevitably lead to some form of dungeoncrawl. Find the Dingus quests are often like this. By having an elaborate backstory on hand the group can convince itself that they're not really dungeoncrawling hackmonkeys. "After all, we are only going into this ruined temple because our intricately crafted plot demands it. Not because we like hacking orcs for dollars. No, that can't be it. We're grown up gamers."

Well, funk that. I like measuring my D&D success by killcounts and gps looted. And few things feel better in a game than discovering that you have successfully cleared another level and found the stairs down to boot. I want to descend into hell, kick some ass, and win fabulous prizes. Maybe that makes me a hack-n-slashy munchkin, I dunno. I'd like to think that it makes me a Gamist. Either way I know that it would be about the coolest thing ever to be able to some day say "World's Largest Dungeon? Been there, done that."

Thursday, September 02, 2004


Inspired by the JLA One Million trade paperback, I've been doing a lot of thinking about a futuristic sci-fi/superhero game. My idea doesn't reach as far into the future as DC's mini-series (set in the year 85,000-and-something) but I do want to place it far enough into the future that even the Legion of Superheroes is a part of the remote past. Trouble is, I don't know bupkis about the Legion era, so I can't really effectively build from it. I suppose at this point I could invoke the notion of setting the campaign on a remote colony, perhaps cut off from the rest of human space. That removes the possibility of setting an adventure on Mars, which I would paint as a haunted planet, haunted by the spirits of Martians past and haunted by J'onn J'onzz. Also there's the simple fact that threatening to destroy Earth packs a bigger emotional punch than threatening to destroy Colonial 62B-Ophiuchi or whatever. Maybe the old DC Heroes supplement on the Legion contains enough material to work up a future DC campaign.

Of course, once all the setting details are thrashed out we still return to the age old question for supers games: What system? Most made-for-supers systems don't do a very good job of tackling the high power levels of Superman and his ilk. I can let that slide for most supers games, but I think this concept calls for cosmic level powers. The aforementioned DC Heroes game and its descendant Blood of Heroes ought to do the trick, but I'm not sure I want to tackle an old-school crunchy system like that. I owned one of the DC boxed sets at one time, but back then I couldn't wrap my head around the system. Maybe all these years later I could do it, but do I want to? The new Authority rpg from Guardians of Order takes their Silver Age Sentinels system and dials the power level to eleven, so that might work. After those two their a zillion other supers games, generic systems, and doing wierd things like ripping off non-supers games. I'm sure I could find some folks on that would urge me to use Nobilis or Exalted for the task. Maybe I could tackle this project as a one shot or a con game, in which case I the ideal system would be A) popular, B) easy to use, and C) already in my collection. I wish I could think of a game like that right now.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


I finally scanned in my two favorite pieces from volume 1 of The Complete R. Crumb Comics.The Secret Life of Cats
Up until this point the cat's adventures had all been very domestic and kinda goofy, but night falls and the comic becomes darker and more dangerous.


Perfect use of a silent panel to set up a great understated punchline!