Saturday, April 12, 2014

That Miraculous 15%

One of the players told me I had just uttered the quote of the day.  The intelligent and chaotic sword was being grilled by its new master and it responded with: "You don't get to hear my origin story before I've tasted blood."

Earlier this afternoon, I ran the very last playtest of The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence.  I didn't think I was going to get the chance to do another one after Gary Con, but I did.

There are more reasons for GM burnout than too much gaming.  A few members of my home group started getting busy or had better things to do or maybe it was spring fever.  I don't know.

In any case, the two week break turned into a month break and I decided to do another public, noob-friendly D&D meetup (using Swords & Wizardry) instead of trying for one last big day of gaming with my homies.

Ah, new blood for the purple islands... In fact, there were 10 players.  10!!!  All but two were strangers.  That was gratifying because I feared that scheduling another home game would leave me with several empty chairs and the feeling that no one cares about the time and energy I put into scheduling/preparing for a game.

The public library was very accommodating - a nice, big, quiet, clean space with good tables and chairs.  Couldn't ask for more than that.  Again, it took me way too long to make 10 pre-generated character sheets.  About two hours time; I could have spent that on tweaking encounters and planning the story arc.

I completely forgot about Purple's spell casting mechanic until the end.  The party ran into two back-to-back encounters that were very similar.  Maybe the original Star Trek is rubbing off on me.  For all the variety in the book, the lack thereof in my near random choices was pretty ridiculous.  Only had one critical hit.  This time it was one of the PCs scoring it and not a monster.  Nearly the same result though - total bloody carnage!  I love my critical hit table, and my d12 concurs.

I came up with a new reason for PCs to arrive: as convicts upon the purple islands penal colony like Escape from New York meets Game of Thrones.  I'll definitely include that as a suggestion in the book.

The climax was anti-climactic, unfortunately.  That's not the fault of Purple or the players, just myself.  Pure GM ball dropping.  After three and a half hours of challenge and exploration, the PCs found some human/spider hybrid wizards within the tower they sought and asked them to open a portal back to their home in exchange for a magic sword of Chaos they picked up.  The spider-people basically said, "Sure."  The PCs went through the portal and that was it.  If that happened in a movie, it probably would have been a major letdown.  They got what they wanted too easily.  Where was the conflict, the drama, the barely getting out alive?

That's kind of a drawback with campaign world and hex crawl books, they can provide a terrific framework, but they aren't a scripted adventure.

Ultimately, I believe that this session was slightly more successful than the last.  Gary Con's was pretty awesome, but I just felt something was missing.  After a couple weeks of giving it way too much thought, I realized what it was.  The missing 15%.  I tried to run the Gary Con playtest as written, without going off script, without that little bit of ingenuity and invention.  I forgot to include that modicum of inspiration which makes every session unique.  In hindsight, I wanted to run Purple as uncontaminated as possible, meaning I tried to run it like a computer might have done if given the manuscript and nothing else.  Instructive, but a bad move in terms of the overall roleplaying experience.  When making the most out of an adventure, a GM always has to put his spin on it, his 15%.

Well, I've got more revising to do.  Next time I run Purple, it will be with the finished manuscript in hand.  Probably the middle or end of June.  Can't wait!


p.s.  Just want to mention that the image is not a part of the Purple book.  In fact, I didn't stumble upon it until after I wrote the framework and created the Purple Putrescence.  But it's awesome, and a super cool interpretation of that godlike entity slurping foolish humanoids as it passes overhead.

p.p.s.  Thanks to the Madison Geekery guys and gals who helped me playtest Purple!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Crawling over Hexes

Here's a little work-in-progress taste of the black and white map for The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence.  Hopefully, it whets your appetite.  The b/w version will be in both softcover and electronic books, the color version will be available online and in the PDF version.  As soon as both are finished, I'll make them available to Kickstarter backers (sometime in May).

What else?  Purple isn't so much a module as a campaign world.  The idea started out as the former and quickly evolved into the latter.  Now, it's a sprawling wilderness of gonzo science-fantasy insanity.  I mean, every time I flesh it out the thing grows.  This thing could end up being around 160 pages by the time it's finished!

One of last weekend's Gary Con playtesters, Adam Thornton, said it felt like a cross between X1 Isle of Dread and Carcosa.  Well, that's pretty much what I was going for, so hearing that made me very pleased.

My only problem with Carcosa is all that awesomeness is just barely sketched out.  The GM isn't really furnished with many details beyond what color the people are, a sentence or two about their leader, mention of an alien artifact, and what abomination lurks nearby.  Purple is written for the GM on the go who doesn't need every last little detail described, but still wants enough material to run encounters without doing any heavy lifting himself.

Ok, I think that's it for now.  If anyone has a question, comment, suggestion, or anything else, please post it below.  Thanks!


p.s.  Cartography by Alyssa Faden.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Gary Con

There are quite a few reasons why I like conventions - the chance to meet new gamers, play new games or old games in new ways, and cool stuff to buy (i'll show off my awesome new dragon dice holder in another blog post).  But there are also reasons why I dislike conventions.  Besides travel hassles and potential marital strife, it can be very distracting.  Noise, people walking by, interruptions for one reason or another, etc.  Just the sheer openness.  God help you if you're the least bit agoraphobic, claustrophobic, or misanthropic.

The first game I signed up for was Mazes & Minotaurs.  By the way, I was about 24 hours late signing up for games online, so a lot of the popular and/or much anticipated games were already taken.  Shortly after dealing with hotel registration problems, I sat down early at the M&M table.  It was in a big room.  Lots of people.  Fairly loud.  I imagined what 3.5 hours of that would be like and shuddered.

The GM seemed like a nice guy but he admitted within the first couple minutes that he had some kind of bug - maybe it was food poisoning, a migraine, or a virus.  He wasn't sure, but he may need to leave for the bathroom and puke.  I was sitting right next to him as there were only 3 players.  I'm not an extreme case, but I'll admit that I'm a bit of a germ-phobe or whatever you want to call it.  After 10 minutes, I made my excuses and left the game.  I talked to some of the M&M players later in the day and the game broke up shortly after I left.  No one said it was my fault, but blamed it on the sick GM.

I'll pin this one on the GM's frail condition, but that 10 minute session started out pretty weak.  We got to pick from a handful of characters.  Not familiar with the system, we got to see the class and a couple skills, equipment list, and various numbers which meant little to us noobs.  Then we were supposed to buy equipment before this journey which we've already started on or were about to arrive at our destination.  Nothing specific, nothing definite... it began with a whimper and who knows, it might have jumped in with swords clanking and sandals covered in gorgon blood, but I doubt it.

I vowed that when it was my turn, I would be authoritative, interesting, and quick to get to the good stuff.

Back to the hotel reservation.  I won't bore you with the details.  In a nutshell, I got bumped to their sister hotel a couple miles up the road.  Fine.  Checking in, it was a private, fancy, golf course kind of community.  I only saw a couple people the whole time I was on the grounds - and those were in the registration office.  There was a spacious, swanky common area to lounge around in.  Leather couch and sofa, TV, fireplace, and a large round table with 8 tall-back leather chairs.

Hmm, I thought.  What a great place to game.  Long story short, I decided to run my game right there.  Wasn't hard to set up.  Got permission.  Told the main hotel I needed a shuttle van to bring the group to where I was staying.  Told the gamers waiting at my designated table that I had a surprise in store for them.

The game itself?  Well, I had been working on The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence for months.  It was taking shape.  I playtested it a number of times with my home group, but needed something more.  I needed to run the near-final version for a group of strangers, ideally in a convention type setting.  Gary Con was my chance, and I think it went swimmingly.  Which is not to say it went perfect.  There were flaws, shortcomings, things I hadn't thought of.  Some I ad-libbed on the spot, others I just used what was written on the page knowing revisions were a-coming.

Even though some of it was shaky, that campaign world lived for just under 4 hours.  The purple islands breathed.  We had breathed life into it, and the party's experiences changed it forever.  For that, I'm extremely grateful.  So, thanks again Tracy Jo Barnwell, Jason Warchol, Amy Horton, Adam Thornton, Mark Malone, David Bresson, and especially Guy Fullerton who took a couple pics during the session and furnished me with those names.  Somehow, I forgot to collect them myself in the soft violet afterglow of that crazy session.  And why the hell didn't I take any pictures?!?

Strictly speaking, it wasn't your typical "con game".  No, it was the first session of a wilderness hex crawl campaign using Swords & Wizardry.  For those expecting a clear, concise beginning, middle, and end with lots of closure... sorry, folks.  That's not what happened.

Those intrepid adventurers will always remember the hot dog rotisserie, the cleric's throat being chewed off by an insane clown (just like in last night's Walking Dead episode!!!), the coincidental dark secret / Devil's bargain / cleric resurrection ruse, and of course the Purple Putrescence itself which was accurately described as "a force of nature."  While I got a little feedback post-game, I'd love to have some notes on what worked well, really well, and not at all.  Since Saturday afternoon, I've written a couple pages of changes.  But the evolution will take time, as well as, other perspectives.

Oh yeah, I got to play Hollow Earth Expedition.  An adventure called Frozen Terror.  It was a lot of fun and the GM did a good job.  John Carpenter's The Thing meets At the Mountains of Madness with a dash of Return of the Living Dead.  It was fairly scripted and would have been a perfect game for a convention, except for the fact that it was a two-parter and we never got past the first.  Oh well.  One of the four players claimed (twice!) that a lady explorer with a jet pack who punched and threw out a Nazi flying a plane, then got in and landed it herself was the single coolest thing that had ever happened in any roleplaying game ever.  Which was nice.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Old Trek through New Eyes (part II)

Here's part I just in case you're interested in reading my outsider's perspective on the original Star Trek series.  Part II is below.  Hopefully, I don't trash your beloved episodes too badly.  For the most part, I think it's a great show.

"The Apple" -  I think this one was pretty good.  Not only did I see it about a month ago, but one or both of my kids kept yapping before the end.  If memory serves, I watched it twice because the first time around didn't leave me with much of an impression.  Pretty much the same story with these ancient episodes: the first few minutes before the credits are intriguing, the problem or dilemma set up during the following minutes is good, then there's several minutes of establishing some kind of mood or explaining the complexities of some civilization or Star Fleet protocol which bogs everything down and just seems to make the time drag on before the real action happens and everything gets interesting again.  If we're lucky, there's some kind of closure.

The lizard cave was cool in this one.  The race of humanoids looked pretty silly.  Sorry, I can't remember anything else noteworthy about "The Apple"  Oh yeah, Chekov.

"The Doomsday Machine" -  The captain must go down with his ship.  Like in Doctor Who, some of the best episodes require a total asshole to work off or against.  Commodore Matt Decker fits the bill here.

A lot of theorizing gets the job done - it's some kind of doomsday weapon built as a deterrent or universal suicide machine by someone or something at some point... perhaps.  Whatever it is, planets just get in the way and are soon destroyed by the thing.

Everyone wants a crack at harpooning this Moby Dick in space.  Somehow, it has a vulnerable spot and using the abandoned starship to implode just inside its maw does the trick.  I don't remember seeing this ultimate machine die on screen, but maybe it did.  However, I do remember feeling the build-up of rhetoric about how unstoppable it was right up until the moment they stopped it.

"Catspaw" - This is a gothic medieval episode for better or worse.  Why a landing party beamed down in the first place, I don't know.  But those guys are now missing.  The real landing party needs to find them... along with a witch, Uncle Fester / Anton LaVey, skeleton, black cat, and creepy castle full of cobwebs and probably clanky chains.

Magic, zombies, and a magic scepter/transmuter.  Apparently, the transmuter made these little bugs into gothic weirdos capable of destroying the Enterprise.  Oh yeah, I remember Kirk starting to seduce the witch lady and then not all of a sudden.  That pissed her off.

"I, Mudd" - Oh, fuck no!  Are you serious?  Mudd in another goddamned episode when there are so many other characters and ideas that actually should be revisited?  Hey, I love sexy 60's women, too, but this episode is just too ridiculous.  Female androids, logic defeats them, Mudd defeated and punished via his nagging wife, the end.  Lame.

"Metamorphosis" - I'm not sure which pile this one should go in.  Kind of an interesting idea and execution, but not much happens and that time-drag period I mentioned earlier went into high gear in this episode.  It's all too coincidental and just when you think Metamorphosis is going in one direction, it goes in another - but not in a cool, spontaneous way.

At least it had that sappy, romantic happy ending which is something I appreciate even though I'm probably the last guy you'd think would appreciate something like that.

"Journey to Babel" - This was a good one.  Finally, some more aliens - a couple we've never seen before.  The pig-mask guys weren't that awesome, but the blue-white aliens I liked.  Spock's dad is being just as much of a dick as you'd assume he would be.  Spock's mom is an odd mixture of supportive and unreasonable in her own way.

The diplomacy and what ends up happening is interesting, although Spock's dad almost dying seemed to take up most of the time.

"Friday's Child" - Funny costumes aside, this episode wasn't bad at all.  The blonde was hot and the way McCoy dealt with her embodied that 60's sexism that I find endearingly awesome.

Why knock a sleeping man unconscious with a rock?  Because that's how it's done, I guess.  Oh yeah, and we're treated to an Amish Klingon.  Bet you wish you'd thought of that, Encounter Critical!  The interplay between honesty and savagery was fascinating, as Spock would say.

"The Deadly Years" - It takes a lot to run a starship like the Enterprise, and being old means that you start to suck... or something like that.  Why so much of the episode and that episode's resident asshole spent so much time on a competency hearing instead of finding a way to stop the rapid aging is beyond me.  I guess some writer wanted to prove his point.

The saving grace of "The Deadly Years" is the ruse involving that Romulan ship.  Nice one, Kirk!

"Obsession" - Kind of a familiar feel to this one, but ultimately successful, I think.  Obsession is about some alien life form which Kirk had dealt with before... or maybe he didn't deal with it properly.

Kirk looks back at his actions years ago and reprimands some kid that might have acted a couple seconds too late.  The alien looked pretty cool and I liked the honey-sweet scent of it before it struck.  However, once it went into space and threatened to invade a bunch of planets or whatever, I kind of threw up my hands.  The writer wanted this thing to be "the ultimate killer" just like a dozen other Star Trek episodes.  Nope, can't have it both ways pal.  This can either be a complex creature on a single planet that the Enterprise crew deals with or something in space that the ship itself has to handle... pick one and stay with it!

"Wolf in the Fold" - Yay, shore leave on a planet where "I dream of Jeanie" girls are belly dancing all the way to the space bank!  Scotty's about to finally get some when she's murdered.  And then another and another.  Finally, the small bald guy with the wuss voice becomes some terrible demon / Jack the Ripper.  WTF?!?

This episode is almost worth watching for the sheer gall of the writer responsible.

"The Trouble with Tribbles" -  This was pretty good.  Lighthearted and fairly interesting.  It was meant to be somewhat comedic, so I'm not going to rip on it.

"The Gamesters of Triskelion" - This guy is channeling Anton LaVey even more than the Gothic Avenger (not a real guy).  Nice.  Between him and the green-haired broad, that's all the episode you need.  Plus, there's gladiatorial fighting.  And the 3 brains of the operation was a cool reveal and another high point for the episode.  Definitely one of the better entries for season 2.

The "what is thing called kissing?" stuff is kind of fun, but after awhile I can see this getting old.  Hopefully, it's not repeated too often.  And then Kirk just kind of dumps her green-haired ass (her ass doesn't actually have green hair, that I know of).  Just like that.  In life, there are girls you want to bring back to your starship/planet/civilization and girls you would rather leave behind.

"A Piece of the Action" - Oh man.  Leave a thousand books on a planet and no one even bothers to get a library card.  Leave just one book and suddenly everyone is slavishly obedient to the text.  Bigger than the bible, some gangster story changes the entire culture of a planet into a 1920's gangster... I just can't.  Next!

"The Immunity Syndrome" - And now we know where George Lucas got Obi-wan's "a thousand voices crying out at once and then suddenly silenced" shtick.  Thanks, Spocks!

Anyway, this one got kind of weird quickly.  A negative energy barrier is penetrated after discovering some kind of alien thing that destroyed a Vulcan ship.  An 11,000 mile wide amoeba.  Spock and McCoy fight over who gets to go on the suicide mission into the amoeba.  Spock wins.  An anti-matter bomb is created by Scotty and it's bye bye amoeba.

I guess this episode was pretty good.  I don't know, there's just something about this show that I like but can't seem to love.  Whatever it is, "The Immunity Syndrome" has it in spades.

"A Private Little War" - I remember liking the Klingon in this one.  The peaceful "good guys" that Kirk knows are kind of worthless.  The most memorable thing is the spicy little savage beauty named Nona.  She's the epitome of a Satanic Witch (yes, another Anton LaVey reference).  The way she moves, thinks, feels, and uses her feminine wiles to prey upon those she considers usable... fascinating!  It's a shame that she jumped from one bed/side to another too many times.

"Return to Tomorrow" - This is another high point.  A distress call, an ancient civilization cast in ruin, a plea for help, three survivors in some alien consciousness-receptacle... awesome stuff!

The betrayal is easy to see from a ways off, yet almost impossible to notice when you're right there in it.  Plus, the benefits seem to outweigh the danger.  I thought the android idea was a good one, but no half-measures for this race.  They seem to be all-or-nothing type beings.  And so they choose oblivion after some kissing, of course.

"Patterns of Force" - Even though I've always been fascinated by WWII and Nazi Germany, I was still mildly disappointed in this one.  It stretches my disbelief too far.  Of course, I understand the budgetary limitations... there was probably a perfectly good WWII set with costumes just 50' away.  Why not use them?  Well, cause then audiences have to sit through "Patterns of Force" decades later.  That's why!

But as a moral lesson, it could have been worse.

"By Any Other Name" - This is another good one.  Almost two in a row, Star Trek.  Are you trying to spoil me?  The woman is hot, the aliens are far superior, and it seems there's no escape.  Things move really quickly in this episode.  Almost too quickly.  Before you know it, they're well on their way to the aliens' home planet and the Enterprise crew is reduced to a handful.

Making use of the aliens' human form is an imaginative idea.  Although, the getting drunk thing was pretty much comic relief and the make-out sessions seemed a bit corny.  Though, the jealousy angle worked.

However, it ends just as swiftly as it began.  Suddenly, the aliens see reason, hug it out, and decide they can all live together in one big happy galaxy.  Kind of a lame ending to such a cool build up.  This one could have been a two-parter and taken its time.

"The Omega Glory" - So many questions!  Why are they senseless violet barbarians in the beginning and then persecuted statesmen by the end?  Why the communist vs yankee thing?  I suppose the episode's resident asshole kind of had an excuse - the planet had vitalizing properties.  But it's all just too far fetched for my palate, I'm afraid.  C- at best.

"The Ultimate Computer" -  I really liked this one.  From the start, you can feel Kirk's uneasiness.  The audience relates to his possible redundancy.  So unfair!  However, the M5 super-computer is totally bananas.  Yay!

The only thing that pissed me off about this one was the ending.  Where was the closure for Kirk and the asshole who called him some useless starship part?  Kirk needed to look Commodore Wesley in the eye and tell him that no one could ever take his place.  After all, Wesley is almost as culpable as Daystrom for all those tragic deaths.  But we don't get that.  Instead, we get some banter about gambling, hunches, compassion, and computer logic bullshit.  That last 3 minutes we were robbed of might have been the most dramatic and important of the entire season.  So, that's a shame the writer never bothered do put it on camera.

"Bread and Circuses" - Should have been called "A Pattern of Lame".  We've been treated to this same exact premise many times... and by now it's played out.  Plus the late 1960's police uniforms next to Roman togas and machine guns just irritated the hell out of me.

But this is the first time I remember hearing of a "Prime Directive".  Makes sense, but doesn't the Enterprise and her crew break that directive like every third episode?

"Assignment: Earth" - Interesting.  I think it was mostly successful.  Teri Garr was a pleasant surprise.  Is that what young women were wearing back then?  Fascinating.  (Tired of that word yet?)  Why is the time period of the episode 1968 when it's supposed to be about something in the future?  Were super-power countries like the US about to put nuclear missiles on space platforms?  That doesn't make sense to me.

The mystery is decent, but all-in-all this episode feels more like Get Smart or an American version of The Avengers.  Not really my cup of tea.

"Spock's Brain" - Primitive cavemen speak English and they have no word for "women"... typical.  Overall, I enjoyed this one.  Spock has an impressive brain so why not harvest it for a central computer in the bowels of your native planet - again ravaged by nuclear war or something.  But this brings up something that bothers me about Star Trek - Spock is too awesome.  He has every advantage (strength, constitution, cool ninja like moves, super-intelligence, etc.) and what are his disadvantages?  He can't tell a proper joke and is sometimes too loyal or logical.  Really?  It's like Spock is Superman and everyone else is Hawkeye or Jimmy Olson.  Kind of ridiculous.

Anyway, as much as I'm amused by the idea of hot, scifi-scantily clad women with the reasoning capacity of a child, I just can't get behind the concept.  It's like the Eloi from The Time Machine had a helmet of brilliant ideas and just used it often enough to keep the air circulating and the water running.  Doesn't add up.  But nice try, writer.  Still better than average.

"The Enterprise Incident" - Most titles are either so vague I can't remember anything about it from the name alone (like this one) or they're hyper-specific and silly like "Spock's Brain".

This is the 2nd episode of season three and my last entry for this post.  It's been a bumpy ride.  Ok, let's get to it.

Has Captain Kirk gone mad?  Of course not!  There must be either a clever scheme or outside influence of the evil alien kind.  Which is it?  The former, apparently.  At least, the ruse is a good one.  And it works.  The Romulan cloaking device is stolen right under that Romulan milf's nose.  Nice one, Spock.  And he seems genuinely sorry that she was deceived in such a manner.  So, that's another half-Vulcan power - he's a true gentlemen.  Gah!  Spock's so awesome I almost hate him!

There's a Vulcan death-grip, too?!?  I don't believe it's not real.  After all, Spock is too perfect.  So perfect that he's displeased with the way Kirk looks with those ears, eyebrows, and hint-of-green eyeshadow.  "Get thee to a surgeon, Captain!"


Sunday, March 9, 2014


As you probably gathered from the title, this is a public service announcement for the roleplaying game community.  The following is a bit of wisdom that's worked well for me over the past few months.  I hope others can benefit from my RPG PSA.

Time is a valuable commodity to some of us, most of us, probably, especially when you've got a spouse, kids, demanding career, other hobbies, etc.  I had things I needed to do, RPG related writing, and a limited amount of time to configure them - toss ideas around the old brain box - before putting those thoughts down on paper.

As an experiment, I decided to cut-out my usual talk radio and CD listening on the commute to and from work.  It only takes me about 25 minutes to get to work and just a little bit longer than that to get back home due to traffic. My hypothesis was this: starved for distraction, my wandering mind would eventually be forced to focus on some of the things I was trying to formulate RPG-wise and, from that, a few good ideas would materialize.

It worked.  Maybe it took 10 minutes of driving without listening to anything but the muffled sounds outside the car (usually much less), but eventually, I thought about game mechanics, NPCs, magic items, monsters, the triumphs and tribulations of previous sessions, something I wanted to try in a future session, the nature of gaming, etc.  Most days, by the time I reached my destination I had a little something that made my silent drive worth while.  Occasionally, I'm able to solve major problems or come up with a string of neat creations in a row... bing, bing, bing!

So, I encourage you (those, like myself, with a temporal deficiency in their lives) to try it.  Rather than doing exactly what I did, take the essence of this experiment and apply it to yourself, to your own situation.  There will probably be fleeting moments of discomfort at first - the mind loves its distractions and hates to do without them - however, the price one pays for free floating thoughts is worth it.  That liberated imagination can easily (eventually, at the very least) be directed towards gaming, your job, relationships, superhero underwear collecting, or whatever it is you want to think about.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Mutant Epoch RPG

Welcome to Strange

I've heard a lot of words being thrown around like "gonzo", "old school", and "weird". Ok, fair enough. I believe Mutant Epoch (after awhile the "The" just gets dropped like a radioactive potato sprouting cybernetic lobster arms with florescent orange tendrils!) has its own tangy flavor and style. In the world of post-apocalyptic tabletop RPGs, it's a force to be reckoned with. But "tangy" is subjective; it depends on the ingredients and the individuals tasting it. Alright, put your splatter-proof bibs on and let's take a look at what goes into this Mutant Epoch's zesty BBQ garlic cheese spread!

So many character types! There's no race/class system here. You pick (or more likely, roll) to see if your a trans-human, android, ghost mutant, pure stock human, etc, and then roll on a table determining your pre-adventuring caste (including skills), traits (ability scores), mutations, implants, etc. Even size/weight, whether you're right or left handed (or ambidextrous if you're lucky), and if you can swim worth a damn are taken into consideration. Roll, punk!

Traits like strength, perception, and intelligence are used. Nice and old school, though there's something to be said for originality to spice up overly familiar RPG concepts. One thing I particularly liked was the table on generating those traits. Since they go from 1 - 100, I assumed (and have seen it in other games) a player rolls a 1d100 for each one, meaning that a trait or two could be in the 90's while another character could have abysmal scores. Thankfully, there's a table in order to keep things on a more level playing field. And yet, there's plenty of random chance to get a character like none other. That's right, no two PCs in an adventuring party will be exactly the same. The odds are probably a million to 1 against.

I've read a number of ME reviews that go extensively into character creation, rolling for mutations, etc. So, I'm not going to do that here... or am I?  In this case, I feel its justified since going through PC generation is one of the primary reasons for picking ME up.

Drowg the Super-Handsome, a Human/Horse Assassin

We start by rolling on the Character Type table.  There are three options, I'm going with the middle one, "Experienced Player".  My result is a 65, which means I'm a... Bestial Human.  No!  That's the one I kind of didn't want.  Oh well, the dice decide.  I shall be their obedient vessel.

Now Trait rolling... 

Endurance: [37] raw % roll was 62

Strength: [18] raw % roll was 14 (Ouch, guess he's not going to be wrestling mutants in the slave pits.  Pity.)

Agility: [79] raw % roll was 96 (Awesome!  He may not be strong, but he's quick... perhaps slippery?  Because of my high roll, my result was actually 60 + 1d20.  I rolled a 19.)

Accuracy: [29] raw % roll was 46 (Pretty average.)

Intelligence: [59] I rolled an 83 which translated into 40 + 1d20.  (Yes, another 19.  I'm on fire today!)

Perception: [21]  I rolled a 21

Willpower: [50]  I rolled an 84 which translated into 40 + 1d20 (rolled a 10.)

Appearance: [118]  Wow, I rolled a natural 100 which translated into 100 +1d20.  (He's a real looker!  Seriously, not making this rolls up.  This is the first time I've rolled these dice.  They came out of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess grindhouse box.  Thanks, James!)

Pre-Game Caste: I rolled a 61... Assassin.  Cool!  Now, the Bestial Human table... 73.  That means horse.  What?  Between my Caste and Human/Horse genetics, I get quite a few favorable modifiers to my Traits.  A whopping + 57 to Endurance!  Can that be right?  +25 to strength?  Another 21 points added to my appearance of 118?!?  Jesus Mutant Christ! Additionally, there's only a 50% that drugs will affect me and a 5% chance that the opposite effect will happen.

Being an assassin gives me the following skills: martial arts and knife throwing were automatic. Lying, pick pocket, dodge, unarmed combat, and wilderness survival I rolled for (wilderness survival I already had one skill point in because I'm half horse).  Also, I have black ninja gear... I guess it's tailor fitted for my immense stature.  Oh yeah, that's another thing.  Everything is in meters, centimeters, kilograms, and all those measurements alien to Americans.  Well, I know I'm big.  That's enough.

I had a 33% chance of having some mutations, but rolled too high for that.  :(  No ability to read/write. 

Ok, let's look at Trait Value Modifiers... 94 Endurance means my healing rate is 9.  That's how many hit points I can regain naturally each day.  My damage bonus is +2 and range of throwing things is +10%.  Agility Defense Value is -10 and then another -7 for being half horse and then -5 because of my dodge skill (that means I take away 22 points from people attacking me).  My Strike Value is +2.  

I'm also right handed and a strong swimmer.

Because I'm Rank 1 (Ranks are pretty much like levels).  I have a 50-50 chance of hitting something, but then it's modified by my +2.  So, everything I want to try and hit someone, I roll a percentile and if it comes anywhere between 01 and 52, I hit.  If my opponent has a Defense Value of -10, then I would only hit with a roll of 01 to 42.

As you can see, this is one crazy motherfucking system.  Pretty cool, but involved.  Lots of rolling, chart consultation, and modifiers up the wazoo!  Nifty in theory, but I won't know how it works in practice until my group actually plays ME.

I can see that rolling 6 characters is going to take about half of our 4 hour game session.  At least the remaining 2 hours can get be action packed, trying out combat and exploring a ruined city.  

Back to the Review

Some concepts were not intuitive (for me). Endurance is a trait and that number also doubles as a character's hit points, I assume. When I run it (and I'm really looking forward to that day), I'll probably drop some of the non-essential stuff like complicated combat moves and the type of over-complications which bog down the first few sessions when everyone is learning the rules. Not everything is spelled out but it tries to think of everything.  ME bills itself as an RPG for experienced players. Noobs are welcome, but are advised to watch and learn from those who've been around the block of ruins. This is the Outland system - expect an eye-gouge before that blonde mutant with the nice boobs opens up all three of her legs for you. Novice GMs should prepare themselves for some growing pains.

There's a lot of tables, many arbitrary percentages for likely narratives - your former owner wants his slave back, etc. Sometimes, you're rolling on a table to get a random number of things (which you roll) in order to find out how many times and in which categories you roll on a brand new table. Not a deal-breaker, obviously, but if you detest that sort of thing, then perhaps ME isn't for you.

For many, the layout might be a disadvantage. The type is a bit small (a youtube reviewer claimed he had to read the entire book with a magnifying glass!), though I didn't have any trouble reading it, and quite a bit seems kind of run together without nice paragraph breaks separating them for a cleaner look.  But the good news is that its 240 pages would come to something like 320 in most RPG books.  A lot of text, tables, and artwork. Let's talk about that. The artwork is pretty awesome. Some of it is a little cartoon-y or juvenile, but most illustrations fit the genre. Art throughout the book - everywhere! Of course, some of the images are pretty small, like 2" x 2", 1" x 3", or even 1" x 1", making it difficult to see any detail or even appreciate how cool a certain creature, mutant, or weapon is.

People compare ME to Gamma World. I never had the pleasure of running, reading, nor playing GW, so it's hard for me to say. However, some of ME reminds me of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness RPG along with a sourcebook called After The Bomb. Freaky human/animal mutant hybrids scavenging for fuel, food, and weapons in a post-nuclear wasteland. I'm not sure if Gamma World or similar RPGs include magic, but ME doesn't. There are psionic powers and hi-tech relics which seem magical to some, but this is not a scifi-fantasy post-modern mix like Shadowrun or Rifts. However, an introductory paragraph or two suggests that would be a cool addition to the game. Also, the creator, William McAusland, says there's a fantasy RPG using the Outland System coming out soon.

ME has hazard checks (saving throws), weapon codes, unlooted corpse classifications, a random hit location table (with only 1 in 20 chance of "torso"?), quite a few mentions of prostitution, erotic art practitioners, and sex-bots, as well as, quite a few tips on forming a campaign. GMs need it, too, because the post-apocalyptic genre just doesn't have as many ready made, go-to ideas as standard fantasy or scifi. There's probably only a dozen fantastic post-apocalyptic films I can think of - not all of them will be inspirational regarding the GM's particular campaign. Hundreds, if you count traditional scifi or fantasy.

There are some typos, but that just comes with the territory. Alright, I think that pretty much covers it. The ME website has a lot of cool stuff, including a members only area accessible once you email Mr. McAusland with the code at the back of your book or PDF. Basically, this is a sweet (and tangy) post-apocalypse RPG if you like that sorta thing. Maybe a bit too Gygaxian for some, but those who want AD&D with laser eyes, chainsaw hands, crab claws, and tentacles should get more than their money's worth.  It's not a perfect fit for everyone, but a few will absolutely love this!


Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Shadow Over Hollow Earth

Got halfway through True Detective tonight.  In some sick world that's probably a kind of victory.  Kids won't sleep.  I think they might be allergic to it.  Oh well, at least it gives me the chance to update my old school gaming blog.

Anyways, earlier today was our first time with Hollow Earth Expedition [HEX].  Virgin blood.  Had some trouble getting the original hardcover edition of the book.  It's been out of print for a little while, but with amazon's help I now have both the travel sized softcover and a mint condition hardcover with the colored end papers and character archetype plates - better than mint, actually.  My used copy is signed by Jeff Combos.  Whoever you are, "Jen," thank you.

Onto the game!  Rather than do the easy thing, which, in this case, would be running the introductory adventure at the back of the book, I decided to "do my own thing".  The outsider's curse.  It took me until the night before to come up with something decent.  HEX's game world environment is simultaneously specific and vague.  I love that, but sometimes I struggle to find a purchase on the slippery setting.  From the moment I read about dinosaurs, Nazi occultism, mad scientists, 1930's, and the lost city of Atlantis, I knew Lovecraft would have to be involved.

I decided to do a HEX makeover/hack of "The Pits of Bendal-Dolum" - a Call of Cthulhu adventure from the Cthulhu Classics scenario book by Chaosium.  Old school.  The middle was almost identical, but the beginning and ending took on drastic changes...

The Beginning

The memoirs of Jasper Hedrick were published a decade ago.  Hedrick was a small-time explorer back in his day.  His primary claim to fame was an expedition to Baaldum-Jale, a temple devoted to the forgotten gods.  However, his editor, Lawrence Talbot, made sure it was barely mentioned in an effort to preserve Hedrick's credibility.  "An account bordering on the fantastical."  he said.

A fortnight ago, Mr. Talbot died.  Among his papers were the original notes of Hedrick's central American expedition to Baaldum-Jale, where he observed carvings depicting inhuman creatures, strange phenomena, the practice of black magic, and something he never dared describe at the bottom of a stone stairway containing 777 steps.

A room full of people listened to this new account thanks to the blabbering mouth of Tuffy MacStinson.  Normally, that wouldn't be a big deal, but Tuffy spilled the proverbial beans in the drawing room of the Intrepid Explorer's League club.  Several expeditions were launched by week's end.

The Middle

Native tribesmen encountered, the survivors of a competing expedition saved, some kind of dread seal or talisman found, a giant Tulu statue marked the temple's perimeter, and nightmares disturbed everyone's slumber.  Except for an increase in reptilian aesthetics around the temple, it was a lot like the Call of Cthulhu adventure.

But this is where we got to try the Ubiquity System.  Basically, you roll big pools of dice and try to get evens.  As GM, I got very few.  Everyone else seemed to do fairly well, about average, sometimes better than.

If you think Call of Cthulhu is deadly, holy shit!  Playing a Big Game Hunter or Fortune Hunter if you want to see the bodies pile up.  The adventurers killed a saber-toothed panther jaguar in 1.5 shots.  Later, they took out a traitor/cultist/Hell-plant in a single round.  But what do you expect when rolling 14 dice to the defender's 6 or 7.

I believe only 1 Style Point was spent during the game.  Unfortunately, I can't even remember what it was for.  But a few of the players really hammed it up roleplaying-wise in order to get them.  The Christian Missionary was the best.  At every turn, he had a sermon ready or a passage from the bible - the guy even brought an old beat-up bible to the game!

The End

After the demonic vegetation burst out of the cultist's back, the Thule Society wandered in suggesting a combined expedition.  They had a man in their group who had actually been to the hollow earth before and was pretty sure this would be a way back.  Plus, they had a special girl with them; she was physically blind but also a spiritual medium.

Boldly stealing from Star Trek, the super-expedition climbed down the Cyclopean steps only to find a de-materialization area for beaming people down to where the action is.  They went.  Jungle again but more exotic... and dangerous.  PCs saw their first T-Rex, the missionary befriended an Ape-Man, convincing him to let everyone into the Atlantean ruins.  That's where the session ended.

Experience points were given.  I can't remember if it's in the rules, but I allowed players to use their unused Style Points as XP if they wanted.

"How was it?"  That's a question I frequently ask since I've started running new games on a regular basis (new to me and my players, that is).  Because sitting behind the screen - figuratively, because the HEX GM screen is harder to find than a solid night of sleep at my house - doesn't tell me everything.  Even though I try my best to gauge player actions, reactions, expectations, verbal and non verbal cues, etc... sometimes you just don't know until you ask.  Not that you always get an honest answer, but it's better than guessing.  The verdict?  Everything had fun, liked the system, and wanted to keep playing.

After session #2, I'll end at a good stopping point, ask people if they want to continue playing HEX or move on to something new... like The Mutant Epoch.  Thanks for reading.  Feel free to comment.  I enjoy the feedback.


p.s.  After session #2, I have some fresh insight into HEX: given enough time and enthusiasm (especially when fueled by an awesome idea), the PCs will pretty much be able to do anything they want within the setting's context and never die.

It would have been nice if the introductory text had said that up-front, but I got there in the end.  That's how this style of game should go and that's what the system facilitates.  Once the GM is aware of this, the game noticeably improves for all.

If your players are tired of scrounging and scavenging for a +1 sword, constantly trying to survive battles with giants, dragons, and wizards, then they'd probably enjoy a little vacation.  Give them some well-deserved R&R.  Run HEX.  Somewhere between 1 and 3 sessions should do the trick.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bikini Shop Troubles & Commie Illithid Ninja

Ok, this is the long-awaited 3rd and final session of Encounter Critical.  For those keeping track, 1st session here, 2nd session here.

With a catch-all RPG that heeds no warning about genre boundary restrictions, as well as, pick and choose what you like from the thousands of books, movies, and tv shows that have ever been made, you've got a gonzo recipe for something disastrously awesome... or awesomely disastrous.  In a game like EC, there's no one looking over your shoulder telling you what to include, what to leave out, how far is too far, etc.  Similarly, there's no one to tell you, "Hey, look out for that oncoming truck!"

Not all gaming groups are alike.  Mine has had to deal with me for quite awhile.  For the most part, I'm fast, flexible, and willing to risk utter game collapse if it means the table might laugh instead of groan... or just walk out (no one's done that yet).

Anyway, I was getting to a point a paragraph or two ago.  What was it...?  Oh yeah, the dichotomy of too much and yet too little material.  When almost anything can be included, the creative center of the brain can feel overwhelmed.  Luckily, Joachim Heise tagged me in a post about a mysterious map of Illithid communists and Catholic schoolgirl shenanigans.  I felt like challenging myself to incorporate this weirdness into our EC game.  After all, why not?

A new player joined us!  I gave him the gist of what the party had been up to the last two sessions.  Shaking his head with laughter and bewilderment, he sat down to play a human warrior - practically unheard of in EC history.  Well, he rolled a human randomly and wanted a class that was easy to play.  Makes sense.  Luckily, everyone else convinced him to roll the maximum number of times on the Mutation Table.  His first roll was dwarfism or something that made him really short.  Think Tyrion from Game of Thrones.  His second was a birthmark entity (roll again to determine if good or evil).  A player joked about the angel/devil on his shoulder.  He rolled evil as I rambled on about Kuato from Total Recall.  His last mutation roll was the same frickin' thing!  So, we determined (yes, in a game like this most things are interpreted) that meant he did have a little part-of-himself creature on each shoulder.  Sure enough, that one turned out to be good.

Before the game, I tried my best to come up with a marriage between commie Illithids and what I thought was the lamest/best premise for an adventure.  Namely, Uncle Sal's Bikini Shop was in dire financial straights.  Unfair regulations were killing Sal's business and all because Senator Maximilian Deekstrung was forcing the Bikini Shop to go bankrupt so the Senator's son could buy it for a song.

So, the PCs traveled from the 17 headed serpent's lair - where they found a prisoner who was a human warrior midget (or little person, if you prefer).  There was talk by Lobstertron 500 (because now he was 5th level) about making this new PC his minion, sword shiner, or even slave.  Needless to say, this new addition to the party would have to prove his worth.

Along the way, they encountered a trio of Space Guild Assassins.  Didn't take too long before they were creatively dispatched.  Although, before they were all finished off, I said to myself that one of them should have a mutation of his own to make things more interesting.  Would you believe, I also rolled "Magic Birthmark Companion (50% odds of evil)!  And yes, I then rolled low enough to make the little sucker evil.  That birthmark thing had its own tiny laser which it blasted in the face of the NPC slave/hypnosis victim the party were using to do some of their dirty work.

But that was not the end.  After the little guy and the new guy saved against a fireball thrown by the itch magic finger of the Klengon Warlock, they determined the birthmark companion knew the bank account number of the dead Assassin he was attached to.  The Lobstertron 500 used his machine friend skill to turn his lightsaber into a laser scalpel.  The procedure was a complete success.  He went onto the shoulder of Sslash the lizard man criminal/bounty hunter who wielded a sun sword.  Throughout the adventure, his birthmark companion (complete with diminutive voice and Mexican accent) was outfitted with little cool extras like a laser eye, tiny ninja attire, and a couple strands of a Rambo-red bandanna to make his own badass fashion statement!

Before the session, I detailed Joachim's map, with a sentence or two for each room or area of interest.  Store rooms, guard rooms, a piranha spawning pool, worship room decorated with a giant wooden Cthulhu Jesus - two characters worshiped Cthulhu and pleaded with the Warlock to clone it and shrink it down so each could wear it around their neck.  Did I mention the Illithid ninja?  Yeah, there were a lot of those.  A few PCs took some damage, but healing is relatively easy.  Robodroid repair should have been as well, but Lobstertron 500 doesn't worry about bullshit like that.

And... that's how he got blown up.  This was towards the end of the session.  He failed his save, went down to negative hit points, and then failed his survival roll.  The lizardman rolled a zero one on his percentile roll for machine friend (which doubled as Robodroid repair, we assumed).  All fixed up and ready to use his mechanical lobster claws to destroy those who would oppose him.  BTW, there was a routine machine friend roll to transform his laser scalpel back into a lightsaber - natural 100.  Not only was his lightsaber permanently a laser scalpel, but it did 1d6 damage to him as he attempted to convert it back.  Those who play and Journey Master EC (along with similar games) live for the times when a critical success or failure occurs, respectively.  Those are the moments when making up shit is given carte-blanche, encouraged by the rest of the table, in fact!

Before the session ended, the PCs encountered a Unicorn Cyclops Shark (too much Mountain Dew or just enough?).  They were going to use monster friend and bypass it when I decided to become the laziest and most voyeuristic Journey Master ever as the Unicorn Cyclops Shark told them, in lieu of nothing, "Don't take my magical horn!"  The PCs, after a solid minute of laughter, couldn't chop that thing's horn off fast enough.  Turns out, it was basically a wand of purification.

After pulling the self-destruct levers on the Illithid base, they hopped into the psionic submarine and made for greener pastures.  Oops, almost forgot.  There was something cool looking on the map near the submarine.  I decided it was The Cursed Emerald Diamond of Zalula-katan!  Jon (playing the lizardman bounty hunter) asked if it was or just looked like the LOC-NAR from Heavy Metal.  How could I say no to that?  I mean, not only is it one of my favorite movies, but we were listening to the Heavy Metal soundtrack for Taarna's sake!  So, just like that, it became the LOC-NAR.  Without touching its glowing green sentient evil - "A green jewel they must possess." - they took it with them and promptly sold it for 100,000 gold credits.  After all, the Venusians say it has spiritual powers.

Even though we have no plans to play EC again in the near future, everyone wanted to know if they leveled.  "Sure."  I said, and then 10 minutes later they finished advancing their character.

[Sigh] Wow, that was a lot of stuff.  4 hours of gonzo gaming that pretty much felt like a scifi-fantasy-pulp choose your own adventure spliced with a post-apocalypse comic book with balls, penises, and vaginas penciled into the margins.  Adolescent fun, logistical nonsense, and a hilarious romp in the Romulan Champagne Room!

Lessons learned?  Hmmm... let's see.  My normal GMing attitude is "just go with the flow", but times that by 3 for RPGs like Encounter Critical.  Attune yourself to what the players are doing, thinking, feeling, expecting, dreading, etc.  Don't always cater to them; it's fun to have things go against the PCs.  Keep your interpretation hat on at all times.  As the GM, you'll be expected to have some kind of answer or make a swift ruling - but also feel free to ask the players what they think.  A few will volunteer something totally awesome - even if it doesn't benefit them.

Can this kind of "anything goes" be inserted into your current RPG du jour?  Is the new guy wearing Transformer pajamas (Deceptions, I rolled "evil") because one of the Space Guild Assassins was bringing it back as a gift for his son and you made your Happenstance roll?  Sure, why not?

Hope you enjoyed this half as much as we enjoyed playing it.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Star Trek: Old School Through New Eyes

I loved fantasy and science fiction as a kid.  Born in 1974, there was some stuff I missed.  Thankfully, regular TV, HBO, and our family VCR helped bridge the gap so I could watch more and more and more!  The original series of Star Trek, however, somehow eluded my viewing.

By the way, my first exposure to Star Trek was The Wrath of Khan.  I must have watched it a couple dozen times in the 80's.  To this day, it's still my favorite Star Trek movie.

I think I tuned into the show once, quite accidentally, halfway during an episode where everyone was dressed like cowboys and walking through a western set.  A couple more such experiences must have soured me on the franchise's origins because I never tried to rent it or catch it on tv.  Then, a few years ago, I found out or maybe accidentally stumbled upon the episode "Space Seed".  For those who don't know, it's like a 50 minute Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan prequel.  Yes, "Space Seed" came first and the events lead up to the movie's premise.  Not only did I like the story - especially finding out it's about the earlier years of Khan - but there was a sexism aspect that I really enjoyed and found refreshingly old school.

Moving on, I purchased the original series on DVD a couple years ago after watching "Space Seed" and just kept putting it off and putting it off until just a couple months ago.  My youngest daughter likes to get up in the middle of the night (usually twice) for breastfeeding.  My wife takes care of that.  Illyria is my responsibility when she gets up around 6:30 or 7 in the morning.  At that point, we go downstairs.  She plays, I'm sitting on the couch five feet away watching, you guessed it, Star Trek: the original series until my eldest daughter wakes up and demands Mickey Mouse or Bubble Guppies or Lala Oopsie, etc.

Having never seen these vintage episodes before, I'm getting a real historical kick out of the scifi vintage that is this show.  An important point - I bought the DVDs with the updated, enhanced special effects.  Not sure if that was the right move, but think I may have been bummed to see 60's FX on a dismal budget.

It seems a little silly to review the original Star Trek show, so this isn't intended to be that.  Below are my snap-shot subjective thoughts on what I've seen so far.  The episodes I will most likely want to see again down the road, maybe when the girls are a bit older.

"The Man Trap"  -  I like the planet's rock formations, ruins, and bizarre colors that seem to be everywhere like a Dario Argento film - scifi Suspiria!  Great looking creature!

"Charlie X"  -  I have to keep reminding myself that what I might find "unoriginal" now might have been ground breaking back then.  Three dimensional chess... cool.  Not sure if I only half understood the ending because of alien exposition and saving the day or one of my kids was screaming about something.

"Where No Man Has Gone Before"  -  Cool eyes and mind powers!  Not bad at all.

"The Naked Time"  -  The beginning reminded me at little of John Carpenter's The Thing.  Sulu without a shirt.  Overall, a little hokey, but not oh well.

"The Enemy Within"  -  Kirk is divided into a virtuous and demonic version of himself.  Both are extremes and neither are able to effectively captain the ship or live within society's confines.

"Mudd's Women"  -  What?!?  I enjoyed the blatant sexy space women angle, but the overall plot kind of bored and confounded me.

"What Little Girls Are Made Of"  -  Speaking of sexy space women (this is going to be a running theme, I guess).  That "research assistant" is one hot ticket.  And wasn't that "large humanoid" the cannibalistic alien dude from that Twilight Zone episode, "To Serve Man"?

"Miri"  -  It's only begun, but I already have the urge to shout, "Stop it!" at the planets that resemble 1960's earth.  Of course, that urge might also come from baby and/or toddler throwing food, slapping or clawing me in the face, and similar behavior.

"Dagger of the Mind"  -  This one seemed to take forever to get going, but I enjoyed the mad scientist / crazy psychological theories angle.  Next time, cut to the chase a little faster, ok?

"The Corbomite Maneuver"  -  Who doesn't want to slap Lt. Bailey - especially when he wants to slap everyone else?  I liked the back and forth of this episode, the unknown, the unwinnable forecast.  Chess versus poker.  Cool.  Wait, who the fuck is that little dude?

"The Menagerie, Part I"  -  I was sorry to find out that this is the series' only two-parter.  A shame because it's quite awesome.  And for the really, really good stories, this is my preferred format.  Pike looks so bad.  Jeez!  Spock is betraying Kirk!  No!  Why is Talos IV forbidden?  How are those images possible?  What's going on?

"The Menagerie, Part II"  -  Wow, Vina might be the single best part of this season!  My first glimpse of the green skinned Star Trek girls I've heard about.  Doesn't disappoint.  Those large headed aliens look really cool.  I kind of wish they would've only used their minds to speak, instead of quickly switching to the regular mouth talking we're used to.  Can't say I expected the ending.  Is the hottness that was Vina still there?  Can Pike run around in his imagination?  Is this the matrix?  What exactly is going on?

"The Conscience of the King"  -  This reminds me of a Blake's 7 episode.  A couple different ones, actually.

"Balance of Terror"  -  Yes!  Finally, there's some ship to ship combat, tactical maneuvering, and general fighting aliens awesomeness!  Wait, doesn't that Romulan look awfully familiar, even for someone who's never really seen the show before?  Why was that guy picking on Spock?  Ok, I enjoy the fact that there's some species/racial connectivity between Romulans and Vulcans.  Didn't know that.  Cool.

"Shore Leave"  -  No!  We go from one of the best episodes of Season 1 to one of the worst.  Alice in Wonderland, seriously?  I'd almost rather be playing Disney Princess tea party than pay close attention to this one.

"The Galileo Seven"  -  I'm not sure about this episode.  On one hand, it reminds me of Lost in Space (which is both good and bad, but mostly bad in the serious scifi sense).  On the other, it's an interesting entry in the Star Trek canon.  Am I glad that I didn't get to see much of those giants, like their faces?  Probably.  Why is everyone hating on Spock, god damn it?!?  Ok, he's logical and emotionless, but the man's (so to speak) doing his best to keep everyone alive.  Back off, Lieutenant Boma!

"The Squire of Gothos"  -  Dear god, why me?  Why should I be subjected to this poppycock!?!

"Arena"  -  I vaguely remember seeing bits and pieces of this one in my youth.  Hmm, not sure if I really liked it that much.  The reptile alien was cool, I suppose.

"Tomorrow is Yesterday"  -  This one reminded me of Twilight Zone, Land of the Lost, and Doctor Who.  It was done alright.  Time travel can be tricky business.

"Court Martial"  -  This episode was really good.  Unexpected!  Didn't have any cool star ship battles or aliens or bizarre scifi concepts, just a solid mystery fueled by quirky human behavior.  More 3D chess!

"The Return of the Archons"  -  For Landru's sake!  I understand the studio didn't actually give you any money for alien world sets and whatnot, but come on.  Overall, this wasn't too bad, but it started off so slow.  Pick up the pace a little, guys.

"Space Seed"  -  I remember this so well, I skipped it because I want to watch it with either my wife or a couple of friends and then see Wrath of Khan right after.  Awesome episode!

"A Taste of Armageddon"  -  Great story.  This episode would be original even in 2014.  I want to punch the idiots on that planet almost as much as Kirk.  Also, there's a darkness to it.  It creeps me out a little bit to think of people voluntarily walking into a disintegration booth just because the planet's computer lost a game of Battleship.

"This Side of Paradise"  -  This reminded me of Invasion of the Body Snatchers from the 70's.  Wait a minute, Leonard Nimoy was in that movie!  Last ditch save at the end.  Not sure if I like how the story panned out.  This episode made Spock sad.  >:(

"The Devil in the Dark"  -  There's got to be half a dozen vintage Doctor Who episodes that fit this basic description.  All the overweight, middle aged, average looking men at the beginning seem out of place - maybe that's because it actually seems plausible.  Oh my god, my reality has just been altered by some alien plant disease curse doppelganger hideous monster thing... no!

"Errand of Mercy"  -  Mostly awesome!  We get to see Klingons for the very first time!  Even though there's no ridged forehead stuff going on, the main one (that has more than just brown shoe polish rubbed into his pores) is pretty badass!  But who couldn't have guessed the natives of that planet didn't have some kind of ultimate doomsday weapon or were actually godlike beings just pretending to be human or were actually holograms or something?  Duh!  Still, the moral of the story was an interesting one.  Do civilized species/races have the right to wage war on each other when there are "grownup" aliens around?

"The Alternative Factor"  -  I just didn't know what to make of this one.  That dude's beard, for starters!  The last few minutes were the best.  A corridor between universes sounds pretty neat.

"The City on the Edge of Forever"  -  Isn't there a Blake's 7 episode of the same name?  Hang on, I've gotta look this up... ok, that one is called "City at the Edge of the World".  Anyways, this one started off really cool, but then 1930's earth.  Yawn.  Joan Collins?  Spock is building what with vacuum tubes and bottle caps?  Can pacifism ever be a bad thing?  Guess so.  Sorry, Hitler.  Joan Collins isn't going to lull baby America to sleep just yet.  "Let's get the hell out of here."  Indeed.  Wait, what?  No, that alien world time guardian thing is awesome.  It was the great depression era that made the episode suck.  Come back, Kirk!

"Operation: Annihilate!"  -  I didn't care for this one, either.  Kind of a poor ending to a pretty decent first season.  But wait, there's more...

"Amok Time"  -  Spock needs some time off... personal reasons.  I must have heard about "pon farr" before, but most recently a youtube series of videos called Barely Political / Key of Awesome did a parody thing about just that.  Just when I was starting to get bored with the back and forth shenanigans between Spock, Kirk, and Kirk's commanding officer telling him not to take a pit stop on the planet Vulcan, things started to get interesting.  This definitely could have been a two-parter.  I like the planet, rituals, Vulcans, fight to the death, Vulcan princesses' clever plan, and Bones' ingenuity.  That Vulcan who almost fought with Spock looked a lot like Leonard Nimoy, didn't he?  Uncanny.  And Spock smiles big at the end.  Nice.

"Who Mourns for Adonias?"  -  Jesus!  I have a feeling that this is why I never got into Star Trek as a kid.  A minute of this poorly done Bewitched meets I Dream of Jeanie bullshit is one minute too long, let alone 50 of them in a fucking row!!!

"The Changeling"  -  Even though Kirk tried to explain it, I have no idea what this episode has to do with changelings.  This is a common scifi tv trope.  I've seen it done in Lost in Space, Doctor Who, and probably a dozen other shows.  Not bad.  Nomad reminded me of IG88, which was nice.

"Mirror, Mirror"  -  Awesome!  This is more of what I'm talking about.  Spock with a goatee, Sulu a facial scar... where's the eye patch?  Assassination is a reasonable avenue to promotion!  Who knew?  Definitely enjoyed watching "the Captain's woman".  That dagger coming down into the world stencil really says it all.  Is evil Spock even more awesome than his usual self?  I think so.  He's still as logical and calculating as before.  Loved it when he said this to the scheming Sulu, "Many of my agents are Vulcans."  I can't believe we didn't get to see the evil landing party initially interact with the good enterprise crew.  Did the writer fall asleep?  This could have been another grand two-part episode.

That's all I've seen so far.  Will probably take me a couple months before I'm through season 3.  Hopefully, no one is offended by my sort of snide or snarky comments.  Just trying to add a little humor to the process.  If you have a comment, want to chat about an aspect of the show or something that happened in an episode, go right ahead.  Even though these episodes are fresh in my head, I'm no expert.  Find a Trekkie for all your esoteric trivia needs.

I'm starting see what all the fuss was about, up to and including Big Bang Theory.  Sheldon Cooper as Spock?  Only if he keeps the goatee...