Thursday, January 5, 2017

What Am I Playing These Days (A Ransom Note Test Of My CSS Code)

So, let's inventory the regularly scheduled games I'm involved with, just for fits and wiggles.

Friday nights alternate. Last week I ran Gamma World, this week I'll be playing in someone else's Dungeons & Dragons game. I'm having more fun playing in the Dungeons & Dragons game than running the Gamma World one, but the Gamma World players are reportedly having a ball. I'll run the scanrios in the set until they are played out and then will happily drop Gamma World like a radioactive spud.

Saturday, being the first Saturday in the month, I will be running Delta Green, continuing a campaign set in the mid '90s using the D20 rules for Call of Cthulhu that has been chugging along claiming PC sanity and lives (and in one case the entire observable universe) for around five years on a once-a-month basis. This can be a lot of fun, but it is always a lot of work. I'm having difficulties with the current plot instalment but it should all smooth out and run better after a couple of hours of Investigator Effort.

Sunday evening will be the next installment in the Deadlands:Reloaded game I'm having so much fun with. This is another game in which I'm a player rather than the GM, and I haven't had quite so much fun in years.

Candidates being considered for the Friday slot when I'm done with Gamma World include Solomon Kane and Space 1889, both of which I've had a lot of fun with in the past, but that is way off in the future. I've probably got enough Gamma World stuff to take us into the summer.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Deadlands Fun

So life has been getting more and more fun in the Deadlands:Reloaded game in which I am currently playing a huckster (a sort of card-playing magician) by the unlikely name of Beauregard Tucks.

So much so that I decided to dress the part, at least from the waist up (no-one can see the legs while we are seated at the table). So I augmented my fake Stetson with an inexpensive tuxedo waistcoat, a fancy shirt, a western-style bow tie and a "fan of aces" set of cufflinks. This outfit drew admiring comments from the other players with the exception of Jeff, who regards such shenanigans as unnecessary hi-jinks and game distractions.

For the longest time now I've been theming my dice for the milieu I'm gaming in, with my go-to Deadlands dice of choice being either the two tone copper/black and copper/green set or the steel and green,blue or copper set. These evoke the mineral nuggets the NPCs were grubbing for during "Coffin Rock" (possibly the best value for RPG dollars I've ever added to my library and highly recommended to all Deadlands GMs as a source of hours of fun). The look of he dice adds an indefinable element to the ambience that helps me get in the mood.

Adding the "Stetson" - discovered in January in a gas station store on the way back from Florida and actually made from a hard but flexible plastic shell covered with some sort of textured flock rather than felt, and very comfy to wear - was an obvious step after reading the Cattlepunk episodes of the Knights of the Dinner Table. I discovered that wearing it helped me focus on being a character in an imaginary western setting rather than a player at a table in New York.

And so the extra bits and bobs. And it worked great. When I fiddled with my ridiculously cheap Steampunk fob watch I was doing so as Beauregard Tucks, hard-gamblin' master of matters arcane, set by fate upon a path to death or glory, most likely both, not as Stevie, timid and aging no-account computer botherer and captain of all things sad.

I've no doubt that this effort will precipitate events in which Beauregard Tucks will be shot into mincemeat, rendering the whole wardrobe effort moot. Given the current state of Jim Dandy (Jeff) it is highly likely that Beau's demise will come at the hands of - or because of the treachery of - Jim Dandy. This time at least Jeff will have a plausible excuse for his character's lack of loyalty, what with him being not entirely in control of his life any more on account of him being harrowed (undead and hag-ridden by a demon about sums it up).

But by the pricking of my thumbs it is a rip-roaring experience, the best RPG-as-a-player one I've had in memory.

Resources:

Black/Copper dice at Chessex
Green/Copper dice at Chessex
Steel/Copper dice at Chessex
Steel/Blue dice at Chessex

Deadlands:Reloaded at PEG
Savage Worlds at PEG

To play Deadlands:Reloaded you'll need a copy of The Savage Worlds core rules and a copy of the Deadlands:Reloaded Player Guide. To *run* Deadlands:Reloaded you'll need to add a copy of the Deadlands:Reloaded Marshal's Handbook. Adventures run the gamut from free "one page" affairs to quite costly (but still reasonably priced for what you get) campaigns of linked "plot point" adventures and stand alone encounters. All available in comparably reasonably priced PDF form.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

For The Tainted

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me
A statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Three hellish chants,
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Four blasph'mous tomes,
Three hellish chants,
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Five Squamous Thynges,
Four blasph'mous tomes,
Three hellish chants,
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Six Leng-ground lenses,
Five Squamous Thynges,
Four blasph'mous tomes,
Three hellish chants,
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Seven scrolls from Xiccarph,
Six Leng-ground lenses,
Five Squamous Thynges,
Four blasph'mous tomes,
Three hellish chants,
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Eight runes from R'lyeh,
Seven scrolls from Xiccarph,
Six Leng-ground lenses,
Five Squamous Thynges,
Four blasph'mous tomes,
Three hellish chants,
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Nine servile shoggths,
Eight runes from R'lyeh,
Seven scrolls from Xiccarph,
Six Leng-ground lenses,
Five Squamous Thynges,
Four blasph'mous tomes,
Three hellish chants,
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Ten Tcho-Tcho rituals
Nine servile shoggths,
Eight runes from R'lyeh,
Seven scrolls from Xiccarph,
Six Leng-ground lenses,
Five Squamous Thynges,
Four blasph'mous tomes,
Three hellish chants,
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Eleven cultist henchmen,
Ten Tcho-Tcho rituals
Nine servile shoggths,
Eight runes from R'lyeh,
Seven scrolls from Xiccarph,
Six Leng-ground lenses,
Five Squamous Thynges,
Four blasph'mous tomes,
Three hellish chants,
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Twelve Brides of Dagon,
Eleven cultist henchmen,
Ten Tcho-Tcho rituals
Nine servile shoggths,
Eight runes from R'lyeh,
Seven scrolls from Xiccarph,
Six Leng-ground lenses,
Five Squamous Thynges,
Four blasph'mous tomes,
Three hellish chants,
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Trials of a Gamblin' Man

I've been playing in a Deadlands:Reloaded game, and having a ball.

Run by my friend Craig, who introduced me to the game some years ago when I needed to get up to speed on the Savage Worlds rules engine and hooked me on the setting quite unexpectedly, this game is one of four world-changing "quests" pitting player characters against elemental forces of nature personified.

I started out with a gunslinger character, one quite badly hampered with the sorts of "realistic" hindrances Craig had moaned about never seeing - one eye, abrasive personality and so forth. I was up to the challenge. My friend Jeff wanted in and made a Texas Ranger character. Jeff is an accountant by career, a very successful one, and an Alpha Character (in spades).

Jeff did his usual min-maxing thing (which took forever because he was unfamiliar with the rules) including taking an "edge" that gave him a free experience level, making him Big Man At The Table. I was a bit nonplussed that the numbers on the page dominated things to the point that he refused outright to name the character, making it awkward to interact with him. He eventually stated his character would be called "Tex", but we pointed out that a character in the Texas Rangers who was currently operating entirely in the heart of Texas calling himself "Tex" was likely to cause NPC hilarity and/or distrust. We just called him Ranger Jeff and moved on.

My Gunslinger (John Dray) was then involved in a number of firefights in which he saved the miserable hide of Ranger Jeff, despite being hampered with one eye and the depth perception issues that involved any time there was need for extreme measures. Ranger Jeff was tending to face encounters "D&D style" in frontal assault mode, which made for simple if bloody lead-filled conversations with the enemy. Don't get me wrong; the game favors that approach early on and I participate readily in such stuff when the odds are right, but this campaign was likely to get too damned dangerous too damned fast for it to be a modus operandi for every confrontation.

It was shortly after one such battle that Player Jeff interrupted a spate of role-playing between me and a third player (a lady joined only for that one session to see how it all worked) and opined that I (as John Dray) was lying to her. This was an unkind way to put matters, to say the least, and Ranger Jeff had no knowledge of the events I was discussing (how John lost his eye; something I was toying with making a "running gag" by telling it different every time I was asked).

Now Savage Worlds is not like D&D or Pathfinder, the games Jeff had played before, in that there is provision in the character build system to saddle the characters with hindrances. I, as I have already said, chose to saddle John Dray with "one eye", and also "quirk" and "vengeful". Among the raft of stuff Jeff had opted for was "loyal".

So I was a bit put out that this bastion of Law'n'Order would call John's word into question so casually, but went with it and demanded an apology. Jeff refused to back down and so things escalated into a "high noon" style gunfight (a feature of the Deadlands:Reloaded game setting).

And it ended badly for John, as I knew it would, because of all those negative die modifiers to his shooting roll due to the "realistic" build and my legendary skill at rolling low when the chips are down. The only fun part was pointing out to Jeff that Ranger Jeff had drawn first in the duel, which made him - according to the Code o' the West - a murderer. Jeff the player was pissed and tried to talk his way out of things but the witness was laughing her head off and confirming the situation as was the GM.

I spent the rest of that session doing some thinking and making a new character, but I was mildly pissed because if Jeff had played the character he had built the situation should never have arisen, since his own hindrances would have required him to either not make the unfounded remark that set matters in motion or to take back the slur when given the opportunity to do so. I think Player Jeff's alpha personality just wouldn't let Ranger Jeff back down even in the world of make believe.

Later I quietly advised Craig in a private conference that if the GM wasn't going to step in and "remind" Jeff that his own character limitations - starting with "Loyal(!)" - were true limitations on his player actions in that sort of situation then I wasn't going to attempt to play the sorts of character he, Craig, was complaining never saw the light of day in his Savage Worlds games.

I decided that my next character would be a "huckster", a magic using gambler by the name of Beauregard Tucks. I almost never play these magical characters as they require too much complex rules uptake, but the challenge of using magic under the nose of a Texas Ranger (an organization dedicated in part to stamping out such abominations) was too good to miss. Plus, I already had a pretty good grasp of the magic system of the Savage Worlds engine and the refit to Deadlands:Reloaded is no big deal.

And while Ranger Jeff was alive I had a ball. Jeff's Character (who Jeff eventually gave a name which I can no longer remember) would be looking the wrong way each time Beauregard used magic to save Ranger Jeff's miserable life. I made up a code sheet so I could tell the GM what I was doing magic-wise without telling Player Jeff. It drove him nuts, but he couldn't come up with an excuse to have Ranger Jeff discover Beauregard's shenanigans.

Best of all I gave Beauregard a magical birth "knack" that enables him to "lay on hands" and by using up a mulligan chip cure one wound automatically, including any permanent injuries arising from said wound. So when Ranger Jeff had each arm smashed beyond use in two separate encounters, each time Beauregard would put a poultice on his injured arm, get him soused until he fell asleep, then lay on hands and fix him up good as new.

Jeff the Player was going nuts. He couldn't do what he wanted to do and inconvenience Beauregard at noose-point because Ranger Jeff literally owed him his life and both arms - and was now properly Loyal to boot.

And then Beauregard learned how to fly, which I disguised as "sneaking" through long grass (i.e. hovering three inches above the ground) or "climbing" sheer rock faces with ease. It was just great, until Ranger Jeff, in a move so suicidal it beggars the imagination, went toe-to-toe with a hugely powerful undead character, armed only with a rifle and posse of five NPC buddies, rolled several bad rolls and died while Mr Tucks was taking position on top of a cliff to give supporting fire.

Jeff then announced to the world that it was obvious a person could not succeed at this game on his own, so the secret was obviously to make a character that could persuade others to act in his stead. I kept my mouth firmly shut as he built a new character, "Jim Dandy", with a staggering level of Charisma (normal characters usually have a Charisma modifier of 0, Jim's is 4). It was a Knights of the Dinner Table sketch made manifest.

Long story mildly shorter, Jim and Beau ended up in Tombstone when the Earps were assassinated and a new marshal was required - a job no-one in their right mind would want. Jim decided to advocate for Beauregard Tucks as Marshal, but I had gotten the jump on things by having Beau spend a fortune on sketches of Jim that became fly-posters (Jim Dandy for Mayor of Tombstone, Jim's just the Dandy choice for Mayor etc), people to stick same up all over town, performances by marching bands and temperance ladies' choirs, rallies, banners and all manner of nonsense.

Jeff loudly protested that Jim Dandy was going to spend an equal amount on the same tactics, but I countered with two telling blows: first, I got in first and should be considered to have a considerable advantage in the promo war, and second, Beau was currently disfigured after the aforementioned run-in with undead that killed Ranger Jeff. When it came to interacting with people, Beau was taking a -1 Charisma modifier whereas Jim Dandy, The Dandy Choice for Mayor was charming the very planks out of the boardwalk with his +4 Charisma modifier.

At this point the GM got fed up with things and made us move on, which was a shame since I was about to have Jeff/Jim hoist on his own cheesy Charisma petard.

Which I think would have been hysterically funny.

Monday, October 31, 2016

So, What Am I Playing These Days?

I deep-sixed Necessary Evil as no-one was having any fun.

The players felt over-matched. This was mainly because they would plan and reconnoiter, then make a frontal assault against overwhelming odds. They apparently never learned that the bad guys had super-powers too. Oh well.

The GM, yours truly, hated it because of the huge number of misprints in the plot point campaign. I only run these things so I can avoid doing massive amounts of game preparation, so I need the plot point notes to be right.

And they weren't. Bad guys were shorted their powers and abilities routinely because the notes in the betsiary in the back of the book had been mis-transcribed into the notes in the plot point adventure.

So we dumped it for Gamma World

We decided to start playing through the boxed set scenarios after I got back from my vacation in Sunny Florida, and I used that time to get a full set of the extra cards printed up.

One of the sucky things about fourth edition D&D, and by extension Gamma World, is that Wizards of the Coast used it as an experiment to attempt to introduce the Collectible Card madness into the RPG world. I've always hated the "blind package" hobbies for the very reason the companies that use such marketing love it: the overspend factor. Buying cards in packs of eight guarantees that you will end up with multiples, and most of those will be unusable because the rules limit the number of duplicates you can have in a deck.

These cards are of two types: Alpha Mutations, which are mutant powers the player characters develop "because of all the radiation" such as tentacles, the ability to fly and so forth, and Omega Tech, which are devices that can be used once and maybe more often, but usually only once. Found treasures.

I played in a brief Gamma World campaign and ended up buying a few packs when I could get them at discount prices, but I would need a fairly complete deck if I were to run the game. One of the players was eager to use his own deck (players can optionally make up their own decks - WoC are not dumb and want everyone at the table to have a chance to hurl money at them) but the other interested guy had no cards and no money so I would be "fronting" him - which I was completely OK with.

So I ordered a set of the after-market cards as a print-on-demand deal from Drive Thru RPG.

The other sucky thing about Gamma World is that it is so far tuned for the "Encounter" experience it is not untrue to say it is just a board game for which no-one wanted to write proper board-game rules.

The setting as a post apocalyptic one, set after a disastrous "collision" of different parallel worlds. Players take the roles of mutated animals, robots and animated plants in this bizarre landscape and take on quests and adventures.

But after a couple of games it is woefully apparent that "off the grid" (out of combat) the mutations they pick up are mostly of no use whatsoever. The vast majority the card powers are things to use in combat situations. And any time a one is rolled, the powers switch out in a random mutational surge. It is impossible to approach this game with any sort of serious intent when this sort of manic Keystone Kops nonsense is going on. To say the game is "light hearted" is akin to saying "the current crop of presidential candidates is a tad uninspiring".

Not only that, the rulebook is deficient in anything not directly involved with combat. It is painfully obvious that this game was designed to sell cards rather than to be a gripping RPG experience per se.

But the players are seemingly enjoying themselves. I'm not, but I can stick it out for the few weeks it will take to get to the end of the thing.

.

Friday, July 15, 2016

So, What Am I Playing These Days?

I spent last night playing in someone else's Space 1889 game, using the Savage Worlds rules.

This setting is more fun than a poke in the eye. Set at the end of the Victorian Age, sometimes on Mars where the miracle of Liftwood makes flying ships a reality. Steampunk on toast.

The GM had pregens but I begged to be allowed to play a home-built character, and turned up with a Weird Scientist with a mania for the wondrous powers inherent in Radium. He was toting a Raduim-Enhanced pistol (SMITE power), a Radium Enhanced cricket bat (aka club, c/w SMITE power) and a flask that used Radium Infusion to produce a beneficial healing elixir (HEAL power), and much scenery chewing was done in the two hours or so we played out.

Pure delight watching the others who took full advantage of the GM's wonderful photo-printed cliff scenery to leap aboard a land ironclad (tank) right before another player blew it up with more dynamite than I thought existed in the world. I merely hid behind rocks shooting at the enemy for most of the time, but my awesome Radium Enhanced attacks were quite ... average if I'm honest. Fun though.

If you get a chance to play this system and setting I urge you to have a go. It is just about the best fun one can have with one's clothes on.

If you are in NYC and happen by the Citicorp Atrium around 7pm next Thursday, drop by the table and join us.

So What Am I Playing These Days?

I'm GMing Delta Green once a month.

On the first Saturday of any given month I gather with a few people (currently down to 3 others, but there have been as many as 8 others at the table in bygone days)  and we play out a modern day, conspiracy-theory heavy cross between X-files and Cthulhu Now using the D20 version of Call of Cthulhu.

I picked D20 in part because I wanted an action/adventure feel for the campaign, but mostly because I was using the whole Delta Green thing to challenge my assumptions.

Call of Cthulhu GMs tend to be reactionary sticks-in-the-mud who cleave to the BRP or Nothing mantra. BRP, or Basic Role Playing, is the system from which Call of Cthulhu is adapted and it is a simple-to-use game engine that lends itself to quick uptake.

A character has less than twenty attributes to take care of, most of them derived from the core attributes generated by rolling dice in the familiar RPG manner, and a list of skills he/she selects to reflect competences in various disciplines. The list can be a tad arbitrary depending on the published version you are using, and GMs are encouraged to use it as a springboard rather than a finite limit on what can and cannot be achieved by a character.

BRP advancement involves identifying the skills used "successfully" by characters and allowing attempts to increase these skills at an adventure's end.

D20 is a rather more complex affair, adding (some would say "larding") to the richness of the player character build-outs with experience-earned "feats" that give characters special abilities above and beyond the skills the system also offers. D20 also has the hated "levels" that are a legacy of the D&D RPG that started the ball rolling and which drive the BRP or Nothing Brigade to apoplexy.

Advancement in D20 involves the use of "Experience Points" that are collected until one has enough to "level up". Once a player increases a character's level, that character gets more hit points, gains increases in various bonuses (to attacks and various "saving throws" that grant reprieve from pitfalls, mental attacks and poisons to name but three) more feats and points towards the purchase of more skills and so forth.

I picked D20 and Delta Green five years ago as a way to open my mind to two things I'd always turned away from without really thinking about it. I didn't care for the incredibly detailed background of Delta Green, never really found that end-of-the-millennium paranoia to my taste to be honest, and had the standard BRP or Nothing GM's stance on Call of Cthulhu.

But I had the books, and the D20 book had some rather good ideas in it. Moreover, it made the whole business of players being able to access the ancient and maddening books of magical lore much more like the original first edition of the game. Later editions had strived to make the business of reading a magic book and being seduced by the lure of power something that took so long no player would ever consider doing it. One book famously takes over a year to read!

I had long held that the model for this nonsense was "obviously" derived from the story The Dunwich Horror, but that story is really detailing the process of Magical Research rather than a straight reading.

The BRP way of dealing with books is also intended to be a "between sessions downtime" thing, something I hadn't realized until I read John Tynes' way of doing things, which is not only an in-game affair but is more evocative and just all-round better in every way than the stilted and rather pedestrian BRP loss of sanity between sessions method.

A few games saw players being lured in and coming, inevitably, to bad ends for the best reasons and doing so from the most altruistic drives. It was wonderful, and the sense of wonder was back in the game. I was happy.

I also liked having the possibility of mass combat with modern weapons actually be manageable. I wanted to be able to model 50 debased inhabitants of Innsmouth chasing panicked investigators armed with Glocks through the streets at dead of night with the fog rolling in off the ocean.

BRP GMs scream another old mantra "If you are using combat you are doing something wrong" but that is an overly broad interpretation of the game's reality and contradicted by the content in the published scenarios and campaigns, just about all of which feature combat prominently.

There is a school of thought that the reason people don't fight in Call of Cthulhu is tha the combat system doesn't work very well. It is derived from a rather persnickety combat system intended to model hand-to-hand combat with edged weapons and shields, and really doesn't port well into a "scared academic with a pistol" scenario, let alone the "four ex-marines with advanced tactical training and mac-10s" scenario.

D20's combat system addresses those concerns by providing a robust combat system that can be played out on a grid (BRP Call of Cthulhu didn't even specify the speed character could move, making a mockery of the old joke about Call of Cthulhu player characters having higher "flee" rates than shooting skills - everyone moved at the speed of plot.)

It turned out that just about all the concerns BRP GMs were using as places to stand and dig in their levers were non-issues.

The hit points thing ("The PCs end-up being God-Like") is simply not true. The D20 rules have and always have had something called a Massive Damage rule, which is a level of damage inflicted at which a character must take a Fortitude Save - Difficulty Check 15 - which if failed is instant death. The monsters have the same rule, but the damage threshold is 50.

This means that you would have to inflict 50 points of damage in a single attack to stand any chance of killing a powerful thing from hell, but it would only have to cause ten points of damage to you - and almost forgone conclusion and one that had people dropping like flies until they learned to keep their distance from the nasties. Just like they do in BRP.

As for the levels, well, the players tend to be irretrievably mad or so fragile they'll go mad at the drop of a tentacle long before they become "Godlike". There are only so many things man was not meant to know you can look at before you are about as stable as a three legged cow.

And the game has become fun again. If you check out the forums you'll find them depressingly full of people claiming that their players "don't get" Call of Cthulhu and that they can't seem to scare up a game these days. The evidence is right there in front of these GMs - no-one enjoys the rather sterile experience of Call of Cthulhu as it has become. I also couldn't scare up a trad Call of Cthulhu game, but people were eagerly waiting each month for the Delta Green game. I had players who fell into the lure of Eldritch Power with predictable results. I had players gleefully treading the path to madness. All having fun doing so.

And that game has generated more deep immersion "buy in" than any other I've run. The sheer effort the players drove me to at times to provide them with challenging and interesting mysteries was exhausting. I've throttled back a bit, running some published scenarios rather than home-brewing them, because I couldn't sustain the mental effort any longer.

All from a setting and rules-set I had initially thought worthless.