Tuesday, September 26, 2017

I Can Has Questions

Why do the current crop of RPG rulebook writers insist on hiding the essential information needed to get up to speed as quickly as possible behind pages and pages of waffle?

Used to be the character build process was the first thing in the rulebook and was laid out quickly and in a straightforward manner. But now you have to wade through almost the entire blasted book to find out the most important stuff - i.e. how to build a character for use in the game.

Not that I'm against having a rich character-build process or game world you understand, but it is much easier to understand the bits the author is trying to convey at the start by reference to an actual, you know, character. Writers: don't describe the blasted skill test mechanics to me until you've described how I build the skills.

Case in point: I want to run some players through Planet Mercenary RPG this Saturday and since no-one has any idea of what that entails I need to get up to speed quickly. I flip to the character build section (a good 1/3 of the way into the book) and my immediate question was "How many skill build points do I have?" It took me about 15 minutes to locate the section in which that info was yielded up. Shortly after, I was looking at the Starship build process (part of the initial group character build process). How many resource points do the players get? Another 15 minute search for something that should have been front and center, not buried in a small paragraph at the end. Seriously, are the editors autistic or something?

This isn't a problem restricted to Planet Mercenary RPG either. D&D 5e pulls the same nonsense. Dresden Files RPG did it in spades, requiring reading almost the entire rulebook to get a character built.

Savage Worlds on the other hand presents all the relevant info concisely and up front. GURPS also does the job right, if somewhat less concisely. So it isn't impossible or hard to do. Call of Cthulhu has a two-page spread that explains the whole process diagramatically. It really doesn't get any easier than that.

So game designers and editors: If you want people to play your games, why make it hard to glean how to do so from the rulebooks? If you are going to make people go hunting in YouTube for instructions on how to play, why bother writing a rulebook at all?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Thank You, Ralph.

A shout out to my friend Ralph, who has lived far away from me for Lo! these many years.

We vacationed in the Poconos this year on account of a hurricane wiping out our Florida plans (hence, no reports of an expensive visit to the local friendly game store this summer) and managed to swing by Ralph'n'Cate's place in Pennsylvania before departing for home. They have a beautiful house in a wonderful neighborhood, but that's a subject for a different blog.

What gets a mention here is that Ralph was extremely generous as we left for home, gifting me with two fine game products: the remade Horror on the Orient Express campaign for Call of Cthulhu 1 and something I hadn't seen before: Gumshoe: Cthulhu Confidential , which is a special rewrite of the Trail of Cthulhu rules for one player and a GM.

These fine gifts shall not go unappreciated, and Cthulhu Confidential is scheduled for a detailed reading in a couple of weeks, after the Planet Mercenary RPG playtest.

So now I need to find a platform that will support Ralph and my long-distance gaming interests. I'm thinking Google hangouts.

  1. which I'd seen but steered clear of on account of having the original and not believing Chaosium would ever deliver on the Kickstarter2
  2. And in fact they almost didn't but for the intervention of some "angels"

You Could Have Knocked Me Down With A Feather, But ...

Planet Mercenary RPG delivered.

About a year and a half late, but it delivered, and nice it is too.

The conceit is that players are NCOs and officers in a mercenary company in the far future, in the universe of the Schlock Mercenary webcomic. Notable mechanical goodies are that each player gets a gang of three NPC grunts to order about, a card-mediated "mayhem" mechanism that purports to put role-playing opportunities back into dice-fest combats and skill blitzes. Looks good on paper.

I Kicked in for a deluxe package containing the hardcover rulebook, a pdf copy of same, A distressed copy of The Seventy Maxims Of Maximally Effective Mercenaries1 and a pdf of same, a GM screen depicting ships of the universe on the player side, some themed dice, the cards (of course), a dice bag, a challenge coin D2 flipper and some lapel pins. All very nice.

The delays in delivery were mainly caused by overthinking the artwork on the Maxims book and the rulebook as I understand it. This was unfortunate, especially as I would have kicked in without the "ultra realistic" artwork, gussied up from the webcomic. I rather like the webcomic art. No matter, though much of the momentum and expectation I'd built for the game in my pool of players has evaporated in the interim.

I'm taking it out for a test-drive next weekend, so I'll report in on the experience then. if it goes well I may try and convene a regularly occurring game of Planet Mercenary RPG.

I also Kicked into a separate project by the same team for three copies of their plastic "handbrain" things. These are basically frames that can hold a half sheet of legal pad paper created to look like the PDA "handbrains" used by everyone in the comic. They are intended as small gm shields or handout dressing. Once properly distressed and painted up they should look nice, and may be useful for handing out building plans, space station layouts or briefings. Who knows?

They ran a month late too, though that was because of manufacturing problems that pushed into the schedule for Gencon.

At least they honoured their promise to not hold the Planet Mercenary RPG release up until Gencon. I hate Kicking into a game that then delivers at Gencon first instead of to the early-bird supporters that got the game made.

  1. An in-universe artifact made famous in the webcomic

All Good Things Must Come To An End

"So what happened with Beauregard Tucks and Co?" I hear you ask1.

Surprisingly, he didn't get killed, at least, not for a good, long time. He survived the deaths of just about everyone else in the game, ending up in the final confrontation as the only PC to have witnessed the demise of The Earps.

Stone 2 was killed twice (he didn't stay dead for reasons I won't spoil). The first time in mano-y-mano duel between Stone and a character played with gusto by Matt, using magic bullets it took a couple of PC lives to recover from their resting place, and the second in a bloody drawn-out slugfest 3 that ended up with two more PCs dead before Stone engaged, and the final death of Tucks when he decided that the epicness of the situation called for an all-out effort, shot at Stone, missed and was backshot to instant death by Stone's posse.

This behavior of Tucks' was so at odds with his usual "go invisible and fly over the enemy, blasting them with a shotgun and/or magic attacks for the quick kill" tactic that he had used so effectively in the past (while Matt's character was dealing with Stone's challenge, Tucks was dealing very effectively with the twenty or so henchmen trying to add their voice to things for example) that the others might have been forgiven for thinking that Tucks was simply trying to steal the show.

That wasn't what was going on.

First, Tucks was hamstrung by a dearth of magic resources to hand. He could have borrowed the resources needed from demonic forces, maybe, but with Stone out and about he thought that might be a foolish thing to try. Long explanation short, Tucks could not afford the resources to go invisible.

Second, Tucks had opted to cast a spell with a cheesy "get two moves for the price of one" effect, which I interpreted as "you only have three seconds instead of the usual six in which to think and act in each move". This was entirely subjective and I discussed it with no-one, but it seemed immersively right from my seat, and I refused to pause for long decisions and discussions with the other players as I made Tuck's moves. This probably didn't go over well with the other players but I had broadly hinted at what was going on and some of them were role playing their own parts well.

Third, Tucks was the only character in play by then who had seen the horrible deaths of the Earp family, and was carting Wyatt Earp's marshal's badge. That badge was magic and had save Tucks's hide several times, but I (as a player) honestly thought our party had over-reached and were doomed, and decided that Tucks, realizing how bad the situation was, would decide that the time was come for playing out the hand as dealt and living up to the totem he carried by trying his damn' best to take down that Son of a Gun Stone as quickly as possible, with a shade less thought for his own skin than had been the norm before, so that the others could have time enough to flee for their lives if they so chose.

In other words, an epic scene from an epic campaign required epic participation. Tucks was, after all, a Legendary character4 by this time.

Had Tucks had one more round and ten more magic points, perhaps he would have made different tactical choices. But you play the cards you are dealt, as Tucks might have said.

In the end Tucks managed to find the one weapon that could kill Stone, but flubbed the shot and was killed for his failure. Appropriately epic in my estimation. I'd have liked him to survive, but I was happy the way it went down.

Until he rose from the dead as a Harrowed character5 that is.

Should the opportunity to play Tucks arise again, he will be constantly fighting the same horror Jim Dandy ended up losing his battle to - permanent demonic absorption.

The other players were magnificent.

Matt - Died once, then got smart and survived until the end

James - Died several times, but always from chance critical hits while doing the right thing.

Sam - Died once but couldn't make many of the sessions, including the last one.

Ali - Missed many sessions, but her portrayal of Dr Honeydew as she slid ever deeper into madness was brilliant

Jeff - Died three times. Became Harrowed and lost the dominion battle once. A martyr to ambushes and multiple critical hits.

Craig - Our GM who threw us Lame GM Bones when required and did his very best to keep it unreal.

I haven't had so much fun in years. I looked forward to the games and dressed-up as Tucks faithfully each time to maintain the image. By the end I had the black hat, dress shirt, studs, Poker Hand Cuff-Links, a smart waistcoat, a monogram bolo tie and a fob watch. I've never done at-table cosplay before6, but it will become part of my RPG kit-out whenever opportunity knocks.

  1. When I put those words into your mouth, dear reader
  2. the personification of Death in Deadlands:Reloaded
  3. in every sense of the word
  4. A game term for the experience level the character had earned that also carries repercussions in-game
  5. I suspect a cheesy GM finesse used as some sort of comedic come-uppance here, but them's the breaks.
  6. A lie: I wore a robe to A Song Of Ice and Fire once

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!