Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Trinity of Awesome Returns!

Yes, I have a new Kickstarter called Trinity of Awesome Returns!  Like the previous Trinity of Awesome Kickstarter, you get three PDF scenarios, one for each genre/system.

I like the format because I love fantasy, sci-fi, and horror, just as I love Crimson Dragon Slayer, Alpha Blue, and The Outer Presence.  Providing consistent support for each of them is important to me, and this gets the job done three-at-a-time!

These adventures are beginning to take shape.  I'm organically molding them into what they are destined to become, a little at a time.  So, it's an exciting process.  Can't wait to show you the finished product... probably sometime in July.

In the meantime, please do what you can to help promote Trinity of Awesome Returns!  Without you guys, there's no project at all.



Friday, February 17, 2017

Frame of Reference

This blog post was prompted by a prospective reviewer of Alpha Blue.  He declined to review it because of his millennial-based reasons - he didn't feel like it or wasn't feeling it or that it might upset the feelings of his precious tumblr readers.

Side-rant: I know I'm generation x and all, but come on, youngsters!  If you agree to do something, like reviewing a book someone has freely given you for the express purpose of reviewing, you do it.  Maybe you have to grit your teeth a little or sack up, but you do what you said you were going to do.  Treating your colleagues and peers with respect is just as important as standing up (or the online equivalent of such) for transgender restroom rights.

Anyways, one of his criticisms of Alpha Blue was that it came off as "just references," rather than original stuff inspired by 70's and 80's sci-fi, exploitation cinema, etc.  That got me thinking...

First, I wondered if he was right.  Well, in a way, yes, he was.  Alpha Blue doesn't use references like, "It's like Star Wars."  Instead, it may include something like a green-skinned, insectoid bounty hunter is sitting at the bar, snorting crushed up red crystals in between delirious diatribes about the difficulty of hijacking transport ships carrying ice in the Plutonic Nebula.

Again, yes, it definitely borrows to the extreme.  It references - and then cross-references with newness sprinkled on top so that it becomes something altogether different from whatever was stolen from a single source.  It builds upon the shared memory, experiences, and impressions of popular culture.  And to some degree, I think it has to in order to be 111% effective.

Roleplaying games, as a medium, lack what a variety of other mediums have in abundance - something to help substantiate our flailing imaginations.  Literature, film, TV, illustration, music, walking around a museum - heck, even interpretive dance have something that naked RPGs (RPG sessions without any of those) don't have... additional sensory input.

Players are told what their characters smell, the players aren't directly smelling anything for themselves.  Usually, the same goes for sight, hearing, touch, and taste.  If you're watching a movie or TV show, you get to see what's going on.  That's a level of immersion RPGs don't have.

RPGs can and do create compelling characters.  However, the RPG medium rarely allows players to get to know NPC outside of their momentary confrontation with the PCs.  So, players get a few sentences of information verbally described to them and that's it.

Without any kind of audio/visual input, it can be a rather dry experience.  The imagination has to do all the heavy lifting.  However, when RPGs tap into our memory of pop culture or things we've watched, read about, heard, etc. a new dimension of reality is added.  Immediately, we go from two-dimensions to three, and everything becomes more relate-able and easier to experience.

"Easy" isn't a word that we see advertised in RPGs much.  That's too bad because the easier something is, the more it can be played with, hacked, refined, fine-tuned, inverted, subverted, brought to the fore, etc.  Easy brings new gamers into the hobby.  Easy keeps gamers coming back week after week.  Easy allows the GM to keep running those games, instead of succumbing to burnout.

Story is another thing.  In my view (and in the view of old school and traditional gaming), RPGs aren't narrative vehicles - narratives, if they come together at all, are the byproduct of playing the game (i.e. adventuring / investigating / surviving).  Events happen and it's up to the players and their characters to make sense out of the things that occur, to create a story from the experience.

Because RPGs don't do pre-fabricated stories well, those stories must be taken from other places - movies, TV shows, books, etc.  When we can refer back to prior, shared stories, archetypes, tropes, genre conventions, and everything outside of RPGs, the depth of our collective imagination increases, providing a better sense of immersion, and generally speaking, more fun.

In conclusion, don't be afraid to refer back to all the stuff you know and love.  When the sleeper awakes, don't forget your jelly babies and may the pon farr be with you... always!


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Paranoia session report

Last night, I dipped my GMing toe back into a classic RPG that I hadn't experienced since about 1992.

For whatever reason, I wanted to try a slightly different approach for this session.  Instead of 1984 meets the Marx Brothers, I went for 1984 meets... something else.  One of my inspirations was the first episode of Blake's 7, another was Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

The setting and style was dystopian and slightly absurd rather than slapstick, pun-heavy, and ridiculously gonzo.  I think I pulled it off, but time will tell.  No one outright told me the game sucked.  Actually, everyone said they had a good time.  However, one never really knows, does one?

Since this was a one-shot for several people who had never played Paranoia before, I gave it my own personal hack-job.  You can read about it here and there.

The characters were named Clyde, Plank, Sepiroth, Jerrick, and Buh.  Buh stood out the most because he was the stupidest with an Intelligence score of 2, which also made him the perfect supervisor.  That little detail may not have come about if I hadn't had each player roll 2d4 x 100 for their starting credits and weekly salary.  Buh made 700, and one of the players reasoned that he would probably in some kind of managerial position.

After familiarizing them with how things worked around Alpha Complex...  Infrared lives matter!  ...they walked to the factory where they all worked.  Making them co-workers seemed like a decent starting off point for a Paranoia adventuring troupe.

The water is brown and the food has been recycled so many times, one may as well just eat poop.  However, the speakers played tranquil music, faces always smiled, and everyone in Alpha Complex seemed comfortably numb... until a fellow citizen went crazy with a flamethrower.

Plank went to investigate to see what was the matter - after all, who could be angry and frustrated in such an amazing place as this? - but was quickly charred to a cinder.  His clone emerged minutes later, catching up with the others on their way to work.

They collectively noticed a recruitment poster on the wall.  "Become a troubleshooter!  We're looking for a few disposable citizens for security clearance red.  Risk life and limb fighting terrorists, and earn an extra 100 credits per week.  The Computer needs you!"

A couple of the PCs considered it and seemed interested in finding out more information.  They couldn't locate a recruitment office, though.  Also, they had heard horrific stories of bootcamp.  So, the idea remained just that for the time being.

While working in the factory, the PCs were approached by a citizen selling clean food and water - without all those preservatives, additives, and neuro-inhibitors.  No one seemed interested.  Without any provocation on my part, all the players kept their characters within the rigid confines of a drug-induced totalitarian state.  Even though 4 out of the 5 players had never played Paranoia, they had heard about it or researched the game enough to stay within the genre parameters

There was a mandatory coffee break, even though Alpha Complex had run out of coffee years ago.  The players did a great job of improvising further details, like everyone in the break room is drinking water, but they all have to pretend to its coffee... unless they want to be labeled a terrorist and executed.

The ground shook as another bombardment took place.  Someone or something was shelling Alpha Complex again.  A few of the PCs took damage from falling ceiling.  Then it was back to work.

And lunch time!  Just before arriving at the cafeteria, they were diverted to an alternate route because of a toxic waste spill.  A citizen was mostly melted and the floor was glowing a bright green.  I had them all make Wisdom checks and those who passed had a theory - getting close may give them mutant powers.  After all, I felt bad that only Steve's character, Sepiroth, had mutant powers.  Alas, none availed themselves of the opportunity.

The detour took them farther and farther away from every section of Alpha Complex they knew.  After 3 hours of walking they came to a dead-end, filled with dust, cobwebs, a broken monitor, and the skeleton of a citizen with blue security clearance.  Additionally, there was a section of the ceiling missing.  Looking up revealed a hatch of some kind.  Sepiroth investigated but the others were really hungry and wanted to eat.

By the time they got back to the cafeteria, the toxic waste was cleaned up and they had not only missed lunch but dinner as well.  Then, Jerrick remembered that one dude who tried to sell them clean food and water earlier in the day.

They went to where he lived.  He provided them with the good stuff for a price and wanted them to break his brother out of the detention bloc.  His brother had been locked up for distributing subversive pamphlets.

By this time, the drugs from Alpha Complex food and drink had all but wore off and the PCs were starting to think clearly for the first time in years.  The Computer was bullshit and Alpha Complex sucked!

There was some floundering, but eventually the PCs decided to go for red security clearance.  They found a small red golf cart for speedy travel and searched it.  They were hoping for some better than black uniforms.  I gave them my standard 33% chance (or 2 in 6) of discovering 1d4 red uniforms.  They found 1 and Jerrick put it on.

As the night was getting late and there wasn't too much game time left, I rushed them through basic training.  They had to survive a physical challenge, an emotional challenge, and an intellectual challenge.

The physical challenge was an obstacle course.  All participated and Buh was circling the field looking for landmines... which he found.

The emotional challenge was being strapped to a chair and lie detector while being asked personal questions, such as have you ever wet yourself at the thought of terrorist activity and have you ever had sex with your sister's clone?  That one went to Plank and in response to the questions, he kept asking, "You mean today?"  And then would answer in the negative.  I rolled for the lie detector and it couldn't detect shit, so he passed.

The intellectual challenge was a room containing a bomb set to explode in 20 seconds.  Clyde was thrown in and given an option between a red, green, and violet wire to cut.  He chose the violet, which was wrong, and little bits of him flew all over the place.

The citizen in charge of the training really wanted to get to breakfast before all the sausage and egg McPoop was gone, so he passed them all.  Also, no one questioned Jerrick's credentials, so he just remained a red.

Just before they were going to eat, Sepiroth noticed a citizen with violet security clearance rushing down the corridor.  He dropped some papers - a TPS report (with coversheet).  The report claimed that an asteroid was heading straight for Alpha Complex and it was going to hit very soon.

Then, it was back to the hatch!  The PCs escaped as a couple orange security guards fired lasers. An orange uniform was stolen, Clyde wanted to make a heroic last stand, and the rest fled into the jungle at night.  They eventually came to a rainbow-robed wizard and his barbarian companion questioning a tied-up citizen of Alpha Complex.

The battle raged for several rounds.  The wizard burned a few of the PCs with his fireball and the barbarian skewered at least one guy.  So, half the party emerged from the cloning banks back in Alpha Complex while the rest stayed in the outdoors.

For the guys back in Alpha Complex, they ran into a High Programmer who was fiddling around with some special device he was given from a citizen of a lower spectrum.  Sepiroth and Buh investigated.  The High Programmer got bored, insulted Sepiroth, and handed him the device - the device which could save Alpha Complex from certain doom!

Long story short (too late, I know) Alpha Complex was saved by Sepiroth's fiddling with buttons.  The asteroid bounced away with little time to spare.  Then, they left their underground city again.  Only to return after 3 months of learning the ways of an outdoorsman with the weird device.  The hatch was locked from the inside, so Sepiroth - having learned of its power - set the thing to detonate and stood way, way, way back.

The explosion took out 8% of Alpha Complex and killed about 97 people (out of about 1,000).  This just occurred to me, but that destructive deed made the PCs actual terrorists (even though terror wasn't their goal - they just wanted to get back inside to free people, get dates, or something).  I wonder... could The Computer have foreseen future events and modeled Alpha Complex to prevent this from occuring?

Afterwards, flailsnails, beholders, mind flayers, and all the other stuff that WotC doesn't want us to use crept into Alpha Complex.  Also, women were freed (stolen) and Jerrick - fancying himself a wizard after stealing the wizard's wand - acquired an apprentice.

That was pretty much it.  So, a nice little adventure.  I think I did Paranoia justice, even though I didn't go down the typical roads of constant pop-culture references, finding every little thing treasonous, and instigating player vs player clone annihilation.

Anyways, thanks for reading.  I'll be running Marvel Superheroes RPG (second edition) next month.


p.s.  I forgot to mention one of the more poignant encounters of the night.  Plank was bossing people around with his newfound red security clearance power.  In the cafeteria, he ordered some lowly infrared to get him something to eat.  Instead of going up to the lunch line, the black uniformed citizen offered to drop his overalls and shit right there in the corridor... because at least that way the food would be hot and fresh.

It was a weird moment that emphasized how absurdly horrible some of the living conditions were in Alpha Complex (the food, the authoritarianism, and the lack of corridor hygiene) while surprising myself with such an epic gross-out.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Call of Cthulhu session report

I finally got to game again (tentacle fist-pump)!  This was last weekend.  The twins are over 2 months old now and things finally settled down enough where I could organize a monthly session of roleplaying.

I gave the players their choice of games, a variety of stuff that I already had and knew how to run.  The first voters chose Call of Cthulhu.  Figures, that's the one game that can't be GMed on the fly.  I had little time to prep, probably a total of 2 hours.  That was barely enough time to read through a scenario, let alone take notes and consider changes.

I decided to just create a new scenario from scratch.  One hour spent creating the basic framework the night before and another hour fine-tuning it the day of.  Below is a quick rundown of what happened.

If you're interested in my Call of Cthulhu hack, check it out.  It effectively cut our character creation time and effort in half.

The characters were an odd assortment from the 1920s - gangster, archaeologist, journalist, occultist, etc.  I read over the motivations in Trail of Cthulhu.  When I came to the entry for "ennui," I braced listeners for my ignorance on how it was pronounced.  Minutes after learning that it was pronounced "on-wee," I purposely referred to it as quinoa... which made everyone laugh.

It began with a ski trip to the Alps organized by The Outdoors Society - a Miskatonic University club.  The PCs were on the ski trip for a variety of reasons.

After the obligatory warning that something ominous might happen (a comet was seen overhead last night), the PCs were settled into the ski lodge, either socializing or retiring for the evening... when some kind of starship landed a mile away.

These icy shoggoths with tentacles shambled out of the ship, attempting to grab a human specimen from one of the many onlookers.  That specimen just happened to be the party's Austrian bodybuilder.  There was a struggle, a second alien, and a couple of NPCs getting melted by a milky discharge that came out of their tentacles.

Luckily, all the PCs made it out ok.  The aliens decided to cut their losses and flew away in their ship.  However, the force from their departure caused an avalanche!  Two of the PCs were buried in snow.  Thankfully, they were buried out in time and all returned to the lodge.

A year later, each of the PCs receive a telegram inviting them to Herr Zandyke's castle in Austria.  Herr Zandyke being an alumni of Miskatonic and generous donor, everyone attended.

Upon arrival, the celebration was in full swing.  About 50 attendees were present and all wearing fanciful masks.  One was a peacock with shimmering blues and greens, but also suckered tentacles hanging from where the mouth should be.  Another was a demonic spider with bulbous scaly head and membranous sacs inflating and deflating as the mask wearer breathed.

Each of the PCs was being wooed to join a certain faction and wear a particular mask pertaining to that faction.  Unfortunately, I didn't have time to work out the intricacies of these factions, but I want to flesh that out in the near future if I run this scenario again or self-publish it for The Outer Presence.

Regardless, the PCs ended up below the castle on the shore of a subterranean lake.  At the center was a small outcropping of rock, a grotto which contained something of great value.  Each PC was given a ceremonial knife and locked down there for an indefinite amount of time.

Deep Ones came for those who stayed on the shore and another Deep One protected the grotto from those who tried to swim to it.  One loss of sanity was so great the character went temporally insane. A swimmer almost drown; being at zero hit points from a vicious claw attack, he fell unconscious before reaching the rocks.

Luckily, the occultist swam over to save him before he drowned.  Meanwhile, the others were trying to break through the door in order to get back into the castle.  Thanks to the bodybuilder, they managed it.  Taking out a couple of cultist guards, stealing a car, and engaging in a high-speed chase / firefight.

Eventually, the PCs evaded the cultists and flew back to the United States.

It turns out that 3 of the players had never played Call of Cthulhu before.  So, it did my RPG fanatic heart good to pop a trio of tentacled cherries!


p.s.  For the record, "69" was rolled 5 times over the entire evening.