Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Fourth Issue of Draconic Magazine

It's been about six weeks since the last one because I was working on my upcoming adventure, Revelry in Torth.  I think you'll be pleased with all the content over at Draconic Magazine.  Below is a summary of what's in store for you...

  • Tweaking adventures for conventions
  • The importance of 1 (or even 2) in 6
  • In-game lies that GMs tell
  • PC autonomy
  • Bag on a stick
  • Image of Aryd's End
  • Silk of a Thousand Spiders (new spell)
  • A Demilich and his lion
  • Kodarr's Kommandments
  • Pumpkin Giant
  • Adventure hooks that make you yawn
  • The terrible, terrible fan-fiction of Edgar Phillips Reitman
  • O5R Advantage/Disadvantage
  • 100 reasons that characters are together
  • WEG d6 Star Wars RPG revised, expanded, and updated
  • Witch Shackles (new magic item)
  • Lizardmen of Kilkutch (PC regional race)

Thanks goes out to all the many contributors who wrote articles for this issue.  Much appreciated, guys!


Monday, November 24, 2014

Liberation & Purple sale

It's done.  The November 25th sale prices have been keyed in and ready to go.  One day only!  See the sidebar images on the right or use the following direct links to Liberation of the Demon Slayer and The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence.

Along with Dungeons & Dragons, I turn(ed) 40 this year.  It's been quite the journey for both of us.  The whole damned community, no doubt!

Sadly, no new reviews or play reports.  But here is a great (albeit, familiar) analysis of Purple.  Hope you enjoy, guys.  Oh, and feel free to bring those reviews and play reports in with the new year.  ;)


Friday, November 21, 2014

Hooray for Lulu Hardcovers!

Lulu has a new coupon code valid through November 24th.  Type in "HC50" and receive a 50% discount on hardcover books!!!  You just can't beat that!

Let's read some suggestions from you guys.  Below are a few things I just picked up.  What other RPG-related Lulu hardcovers are worth checking out?

  • Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
  • Dyson's Delves I and II (revised)
  • The Mutant Epoch
  • Narcosa
  • Mutant Future
  • Swords & Wizardry white box
  • The Dungeon Dozen
  • Labyrinth Lord (and the Advanced Companion)
  • Tales of the Grotesque & Dungeonesque (I, II, and III)
  • Barbarians of Lemuria
  • Blood & Treasure
  • Transylvanian Adventures [looks like Ravenloft for DCC]
  • (Almost forgot!)  Encounter Critical


WEG d6 Star Wars Roleplaying Game REUP

I've uploaded the Star Wars RPG revised, expanded, and updated document to my dropbox here.  If anyone wants to use it for their personal, non-commercial use in order to play the out-of-print West End Games version of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game, then enjoy!

Even though my hardcover, full color Lulu version was taken down (thanks to an alarm-sounder on rpg.net - hope you received the Emperor's reward of 30 credits), I'm going to re-upload it presently.  Access will only be granted to those who personally make a comment on this blog post and then email me.

The creators' development blog was taken down by themselves because of excessive traffic.  They haven't received any legal notice, merely focusing on the errata.


p.s.  Boba Fett image by Stephan Burger

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

[d6] Star Wars RPG: revised, expanded, and updated

[See this page for clarification]

A couple days ago, I caught wind of a massive, fan-created document for the old West End Games Star Wars Roleplaying Game that uses a d6 system.  The rule books (plus supplemental material) of the WEG Star Wars are all out of print.

Several fans went to great lengths in order to create a 500 page, full-color PDF version of the game.  Their development blog is here (with PDF link).  The following is a snapshot of their mission statement...

The goal of the SW3E project is to convert the entire core rules of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game 2nd Edition Revised and Expanded (SW2RE) into a digital .pdf format with a new crisper look. In addition we aim to integrate many of the “expanded” rules published by West End Games (WEG) in various sourcebooks and galaxy guides, and even some of the great house rules that have been developed over the decades.  

We're treated to advantages and disadvantages (merits and flaws, basically) in character creation that's part of the d6 Space RPG.  Also, the Star Wars prequels and post-trilogy fiction influence the flavor text, stat blocks, and artwork.  And, well... there's just so much there.  500 pages is a lot.  Besides, it looks beautiful with pleasing layout, sidebars, different colored headings, easy to read charts and tables, etc.  After a thorough skim, the only real (albeit minor) complaint is the lack of poster art, stills from the original movies, and classic Star Wars artwork depicting several key characters at once it their FULL PAGE glory!!!  That would've been the cherry on top.  I'm sure the designers had their reasons, licensing and legality being paramount.

Being something of a dinosaur, I prefer a print version to PDF.  So, I uploaded the PDF onto Lulu but that left me without a suitable front/spine/back cover.  Stephan Burger generously donated his Star Wars artwork for my personal copy.  You don't know how much willpower it took for me to not swap Luke out for Boba Fett.  If I decide, for whatever crazy, cash-burning reason, I need a second copy, Boba Fett will grace the cover!

Without further ado, my upload of the full color print version of their masterpiece is here.  Yes, it is ungodly expensive.  However, until Dec. 2nd, there's a Lulu 35% off coupon code making it less so:  SAVE35

Or check out Imladris' black and white hardcover Lulu upload here.  Definitely more economical but not as much fun.  Oops, just realized that version is in Spanish (however, the preview shows English... strange)!  Buyer beware.

Well, I can't wait to get my 3rd edition d6 Star Wars Roleplaying game in the mail and run some old school Star Wars games.  When I do, there will be blog updates aplenty.


p.s.  Someone just mentioned the "SAVE35" code didn't work for them (though, it worked for me this morning).  In that case FLASH30 should get you 30% off printed items through tomorrow, November 20th.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Playtest: Bell Bottoms, Black Sabbath, and Beltane

I know there are some of you out there in the cyber-land wondering how this game went.  Well, let me tell you about it.

Still unsure what in the hell made me think of such a thing, I went about imagining what Bell Bottoms, Black Sabbath, and Beltane would be, or should be about.  I guess I was thinking of the Call of Cthulhu RPG, except instead of the established time periods (there's 1890's Victorian era, 1920's and 30's Prohibition and Gangsters era, 1940's WWII, Ancient Rome, and Cthulhu Now / Delta Green, basically 1990's to the present), it would be set in the decade of disco, bean bag chairs, and psychedelic substances.

Well, why not a 1970's era?  And instead of focusing on the Mythos, how about general unexplained phenomena, the stuff investigated by TV shows and movies from that decade?  The 70's had some interesting tropes that might be just as much fun to roleplay as Lovecraft's 20's and 30's.

I had a Devil of a time finding players.  Sure, it was short notice, but that's not the real reason.  Advertising works.  A name brand gets more notice and conversion than something brand new.  It's why movie studios would rather put out Saw 14 and a 5th Batman or Spider-Man reboot than an untried, untested idea.  If this had been D&D, I would have had a full table.  Luckily, three courageous players stepped forward to see what the hell this madness was all about.

Below are bullet points of the system I created along with notes from the actual session...

  • Here's the essence of VSd6 and how I implemented it into the core BBBSB system: Characters chose a selection of profession, amateur, hobby, or interest.  Each choice equaling a certain number of d6 that could be rolled (from 4d6 all the way down to 1d6).  For instance, if you picked "doctor", that would be your profession (unless you wanted to be an amateur doctor or just had a passing interest in the medical field).  A full profession would yield the most dice (and the best chance to succeed) regarding first aid, diagnostics, getting into bed with nurses, and whatever else doctors did back then.  Professions leave you with little else to put dice in, since it's probably a full time job that requires a lot of energy and focus.  A hobby, on the other hand, allows for an additional hobby or multiple interests but with less proficiency.
  • Ok, let's get to the PCs... otherwise this is going to take all day!  Daniel played Abraham Richter, a police detective with an interest in the occult.  He has a contact inside the police department that gives him information and assistance since he's been demoted and scrutinized because he sometimes bends the law, babbles about occultism, end of the world, etc., and only respects authority when there's a damn good reason.  Detective Richter wears corduroy pants, a turtleneck, and tweed jacket with suede elbow pads. He drives a Chevelle Super Sport.  Back at his pad, there's a waterbed next to a nightstand with lava lamp.
  • Next,  Ethan played Troy, an amateur bounty hunter for the mob with an interest in mechanics who also happened to be an android with laser hand (his fingers dropped down).  He also rides a motorcycle and carries a switchblade and yo-yo.  Troy wears black leather with studs and flared jeans.  Very intimidating.
  • Last but not least, West played Barry Morrison, a psychiatrist MD with sensitivity to the supernatural and a contact named Jackson - one of Barry's patients who was a Vietnam vet who committed suicide a couple years ago.  Yes, Jackson is a ghost.  Barry wore bell bottom trousers, a button down shirt, "going out" tie, and kind of resembles John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever (or thinks he does).
  • I decided to run the "pilot" episode before the characters all meet.  Tricky but usually more satisfying.  So, each had a different reason for entering a local (I don't think we ever agreed on what city this took place in) club that frequently played live music called The Savage Beast.  Black Sabbath was on stage.  Sweet Leaf was played on my phone via youtube.
  • A local gang of youths, Street Thunder, happened to be at this club.  They were going to kidnap Barry because that's what they were hired to do by some mysterious group known as The Weathermen.  In their attempt, the leader of Street Thunder was thwarted by Abraham and Troy.
  • Outside the club, after the excitement was over, Abraham and Troy overheard John, the head of an organization opposed to The Weathermen, talking to Barry about his special power (being sensitive to the supernatural) and possible recruitment.  
  • I modeled John, his group: The Atlantis Project, and high-tech facility on The Tomorrow People (the original 70's version).  That certainly makes it easier to answer player questions, direct PC/NPC conversations, and come up with little details on the fly.
  • The three investigators decided to join The Atlantis Project after mixed feelings regarding a stolen van, otherworldly crystals glowing inside a briefcase, and the threat of another attack by The Weathermen.
  • Using Barry as bait, a couple black trenchcoated thugs tried to grab him at The Savage Beast (while Iron Butterfly was playing - thanks again, youtube).  Troy and detective Richter saved Barry once more.  Abraham interrogated the thugs in the ambulance, finding more information about The Weathermen and its leader - Colonel Veering.
  • Disguising themselves as the thugs in black trenchcoats, Troy and Abraham visit the Colonel with Barry bound and gagged.  Realizing that he and his group are utterly insane and evil - Veering showed them a prisoner's head implode with the turn of a dial - they deposited Barry in The Weathermen's cell as they worked out some kind of plan...

And that's where the session ended.  All in all, I feel it was successful.  I could see where some rule tweaks are necessary.  Such as the table of random 70's gear.  The violence was almost all diceless, which might seem strange, but I thought it worked rather well.  Just a skill roll at the start, then I narrated the events as they happened depending on various factors, such as the PC(s) and NPC(s) involved, weaponry, intent, circumstances, and how well the fiction flowed.  It was nice not to have combat broken down into increments, relying on individual probabilities to hit and do damage each round.  There was a freedom in setting the dice aside when it came to describing the violence.

We enjoyed a few amusing scenes with Barry's Schwarzenegger-esque bodyguard, some cocaine, and cocktail napkins blotting up the leaky oil from Troy's wound (he's an android, remember).  That last one became the first really freaky thing that happened - Barry received a freak-out point and had to roll a d6 (my version of a sanity mechanic).  I should have given another for the head imploding scene but it never crossed my mind.

Not knowing if the pilot episode would last the whole session, I came up with a variety of tables for randomly creating a 70's scenario involving unexplained phenomena.  Didn't get the chance to use them, but I hope we'll continue playing Bell Bottoms, Black Sabbath, and Beltane on a monthly basis.  Like most TV shows of that era, it's going to take a few episodes before it finds its feet... and an audience.  Hopefully, we can either get into more Jon Pertwee Doctor Who or Night Gallery type adventures next time!

I can see where a rule book full of 70's illustrations and advice would come in handy.  Though everything from that decade was present, I'm not sure it felt authentically 70's more than a handful of times.  I'd like to develop this into a full-fledged, albeit brief and rules-lite RPG once Revelry in Torth is in the hands of Kickstarter backers... assuming there's interest, of course.

Additionally, BBBSB could be played a few different ways: for laughs via the kitsch 70's nostalgia factor, as ultra-violent exploitation fare, trippy scifi spectacle, or razor's edge between science and superstition.  

Besides it being "An excellent game", the feedback I received pointed more towards BBBSB exploring area 51, X files, government cover-ups and secret bases sort of thing rather than Cthulhuism and Yog-Sothothery.  I couldn't agree more.

Any thoughts, comments, questions, suggestions, advice?  Let me know... I can dig it.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bell Bottoms, Black Sabbath, and Beltane

There were two cancellations in this Saturday's game: Temple of Elemental Evil with Fantastic Heroes & Witchery.  So, I decided to do something a bit crazy with my lemons.  Behold, my electric lemon-flavored Kool-Aid...

I scheduled a local meetup RPG called Bell Bottoms, Black Sabbath, and Beltane.  It's an RPG (with adventure) that I will make up between now and Saturday at 1pm.  All I know is that players will be exploring the dark side of unexplained phenomena in the 1970's.  So, it'll slightly resemble Call of Cthulhu, except with lava lamps, waterbeds, "purple haze" acid, feathered hair, flared jeans, and glow-in-the-dark pet rocks.

Even though I was born in 1974 and love the TV shows influencing this concept (see below), I don't know a ton about that decade.  I mean, I'm not a 70's-ologist or anything.  So, internet searches and re-watching the following will help:

The Tomorrow People, Night Gallery, Kolchak: the Night Stalker, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker era Doctor Who, In Search of..., Land of the Lost, Children of the Stones, The Omega Factor, etc.

I have no clue if this will be a one-off or turn into something more. Ideas are already brewing but I wouldn't mind suggestions, especially if you have intimate knowledge of that decade.  System-wise, I'm just going to use a stripped down version of VSd6.  Not sure about awarding something special for incorporating the 70's but maybe.

Have a nice day!


p.s.  First playtest session here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Gamehole Con II Experience (part 2)

This is a record for myself, principally.  However, if this write-up serves as some kind of ward or guide for you, dear reader, then more power to you.

Remember the first scene of the 1960 film The Time Machine, when the narrator bursts through the door, bedraggled and out of breath, anxious to tell his story before he starts to forget all the little details?  Well, I felt a little bit like that on Saturday night, except I knew that something important would be lost in a midnight summary after the wife and kids were in bed:  perspective.

Now, where to begin?  My Saturday afternoon session of The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence was the first time running the campaign setting / adventure / hex-crawl since the book was published.  Before that, it was all notes and a collective framework of ideas built upon prior playtest sessions.  Maybe having all of it in front of me, at my fingertips made me cocky.  Or perhaps it was my over-reliance on a randomized narrative via rolling the dice...

Months ago, I decided to run one game and one game only due to my first Gamehole Con experience - a disturbing lack of players on Friday and Saturday's Liberation of the Demon Slayer games; a meager one and two players, respectively.  I thought if spreading myself too thin wasn't working that a single game would be the ticket.  Of course, I wanted to maximize that solitary session.  So, I decided on six hours.  Six hours!  Adding fuel to the fire, I allowed eight players just in case there were a couple no-shows. In hindsight, WTF was I thinking?

I originally set the game up using Swords & Wizardry.  A month or so later I decided that S&W just wasn't right or wasn't enough.  Caught up with the buzz-stream of summer gaming and the promise of Starter Sets, I changed the system to 5th edition D&D.  My thought process was most likely two-fold.  1) I was still thinking about those empty Liberation sessions which used either S&W or DCC (can't remember which - I assumed it was the former, but +Doug Kovacs recalled the latter).  Certainly, a more popular system would get more people sitting at my table.  2) Just before the 5e Player's Handbook came out, there was lots of talk about the OSR and how influential it had been on D&D Next.  I thought, why not something like S&W, except full color, a bit more rules, options, and choices, flashier, along with advantage/disadvantage and inspiration?

Since holding the Player's Handbook and Monster Manual in my hands and seeing excerpts from the upcoming DMG, I began to regret my decision.  It's not that 5e isn't a great game or couldn't be used for OSRish type sessions, it just wasn't ideal considering my tastes, preferences, and aesthetics.  Alas, it was too late.  People had already signed up.  5e it would have to be.

Anyways, the game itself started alright.  I was a performer.  Part GM, part comedian.  The laughter was welcome and kept me from totally freaking out when the game stalled or took a wrong turn.

For some reason, I assumed the table would contain a couple gamers from my small, tiny, tiny, minuscule sliver of a following.  After all, in my head I'm a big fucking deal.  A celebrity amongst the RPG elite.  Yeah, silly beyond belief.  Still, there it was deep in my megalomaniacal psyche.  Somewhere out there in the unquiet void, Nyarlathotep is laughing.

After introducing myself and exchanging pleasantries with almost everyone who came to sit at my table, I proudly held up the book and asked if anyone owned Purple.  Nope.  Anyone heard of Purple, read reviews or actual play reports?  Nope.  How about Liberation?  Nope.  Anyone read my blog or have any idea who I am?  Nope.

Wow, that was sobering.  Let me post-preface this by saying that just walking around the convention the night before I ran into several people from last year's Gamehole Con, GaryCon, someone who had backed my last kickstarter, one of the artists I'm currently working with for Revelry in Torth, and an old friend I used to game with a decade ago.  That kind of buoyed my false sense of super-stardom.  As Thomas Ligotti once said, "There's no obscurity like minor renown."

Regardless, I proceeded.  I asked them about their expectations for this session and got mostly blank stares in return.  I asked what they hoped to experience today?  One mentioned riding an undead T-Rex in some kind of He-Man / Cthulhu Mythos game the night before.  I knew then tonight was going to be an uphill battle.  Another mentioned "secrets", like finding out hidden lore, mysteries and such.  A third answered something else, but I can't for the life of me remember what he said.  Never mind, I actually wrote it down:  fighting something ginormous and planar travel.  Oh yeah, I just remembered +Glenn Holmer wanted to familiarize himself with 5th edition.

I have no idea where I came up with this idea, but I asked around the table for their favorite scifi, fantasy, or horror movie from the 80's.  I like to include a fair amount of improv in my GMing.  Certainly with five hours of wandering through hexes (I budgeted an hour for character creation), there would be plenty of opportunity for throwing in some geek-culture references.

Pleasantly surprised, I received the following:  John Carpenter's The Thing, Evil Dead and Army of Darkness, Time Bandits, Monty Python's Holy Grail, and the Dark Crystal.  I wrote these down so I could remember them for later.

Then I went into character creation.  Both Purple and Liberation have a lot of ideas for PC generation.  I've had extraordinary luck with them and so proceeded with full force.  Combining that with the strict rules of 5e and a noisy room full of gamers proved... interesting.  Long story short, I did some hand-waving, horse-trading, book-holding, rule-explaining, and hostage-negotiating.
Can 5e be run as both old school and new?  Yes, however, it's going to be really unbalanced in combat.  The party ranger was doing 14 and 16 points of damage each round while lesser optimized characters and/or 5e noobs were doing 3 and 5.

I had everyone make two 3rd level characters because, you know, PCs die.  Only one magic-user in the entire party.  Now, each time a spell is cast, the player has to roll a d6.  Something significant happens on rolls of 1, 3, and 6.  Well, about 10 spells were cast during that session and the player rolled a 2, 4, or 5 every single time!

I explained how inspiration worked.  What turned out to be one of my favorite parts of 5e in theory has really gummed up the works in practice.  Every "scene" there are so many little things, verbal and non-verbal cues, in and out of character words and gestures... how is a GM to judge what is inspiration-worthy and what isn't?  Should it highlight a character's background?  What about his reason for wandering towards a particular destination?  An in-character glance at another player's character?  Merely mentioning his character's flaw or weakness?  Speaking in character?  Doing something kick-ass that has nothing to do with roleplaying or backstory?  In the end, I just threw up my hands and gave everyone a free d20 re-roll in the form of a yellowish stone.

Speaking of stones, the islands are sentient (or can be if the GM chooses to go that route).  I randomly rolled (really, half the session seemed to be random rolls sending the session down rabbit holes of possibility.  I'm going to call this quantum-mastering the game... QMing instead of GMing.  Anyways, I rolled that the islands wanted to awaken the Great Old Ones.  Unfortunately, I rolled a 2 or 3 (if not a natural 1) on my meta-plot improvisation skill.  It never really came up again and no one even had a chance to receive a purple stone for acquiescing to the islands' dread agenda.

Swords!  I allowed each character to start the game with a magic item.  This seemed to be fun for some and a chore for others - I suppose it's a lot of pressure knowing that your decision might mean the difference between life and death.

Most players chose a sword +1.  Such weapons have intelligence and even personalities as per the rules in Purple.  These provided some interesting background hooks but, sadly, I only referenced each sword about one time throughout the entire session.

There was a magic sword that worshiped the Great Old Ones, a sword that used to be wielded by Alhazred, another that was compassionate, a sword that was both self-loathing and spoke in a foreign language, and lastly an amateur paleontologist who just wanted to dig up some dinosaur bones.  All I see now are missed opportunities, but c'est la vie.

Not sure why, but I decided to start everyone already on the islands instead of making their way to them like I usually do.  Each PC had been there for 1d8 weeks.  Before the game, when I was tracing all this stuff out in my head, I thought about rolling a percentile for each character versus their weeks of inhabitance x 10.  Sitting there trying to be heard by everyone as the next table shouted their battle cry, I trashed the fiddly bits and dove right in.

I allowed them to start wherever they wanted as I had Kinko's blow up an 18" x 24" full color map of the region.  Probably another mistake, as no one could decide just where to begin.  There were too many choices and nothing to go on besides variations of landscape and several interesting locales illustrated per island.

The giant purple worm I intended to frighten the PCs away from a burrowed hole ended up being public enemy number one.  They fought it even though I had no stats for it and kept fighting regardless of my mentioning its armored skin.  Then, they wanted to continue down that hole.  I had nothing planned for that, of course, but the party really wanted to explore underground.  The Overlords had a subterranean base, so I decided what the hell.  Eventually they found it.

It didn't take long before the party exterminated everyone in the underground base with a cache of futuristic weapons.  Storming the florescent-lit hallways, some noticed a surgeon trying to resuscitate a patient lying on a steel slab.  Those who chose to investigate witnessed the patient's chest cavity open up into jaws, chewing up the surgeon's hands, while the rest of the patient turned into some slimy, green abomination with spidery protrusions.  Indeed, a callback to The Thing.  There was a lot of welcome laughter from the players and they busied themselves with burning it all away.

Interesting footnote, I was able to get a post-game critique on the game from one of the players I found online.  Asking for feedback, he told me that while the Mythos and spaceship stuff wasn't really hit cup of tea, he enjoyed the session.  However, the inclusion of fav 80's movie cameos gave an unwelcome artificiality to the session.  While I couldn't help but agree with him (more hubris on my part, surely), I still think that scene was a highlight of the session.

After taking over the Overlord base, the party ventured back up to the surface.  I'll cut this short so this post stays under 10,000 words...

My favorite scene was encountering a settlement of Purple worshipers.  One PC, a female cleric, braved the trial.  I should have put more energy into beefing that up so it led to an adventure with an actual goal and stuff.  I assumed the rest of the islands' fauna and flora would bail me out.  Plus, there was a player with a tiefling warlock who seemed bound and determined to "be evil" for the sake of it, killing and stealing indiscriminately.  He snuck away from the party in order to infiltrate the settlement with a clever disguise.  Admirable but in the back of my mind I thought he might derail the entire session.  Ended up being nothing to worry about.  Oh well.  Even if it had, was it worth wasting precious focus on something that could lead to more crazy, high-pressured adventure?  Probably not.

The black pylon scene was cool.  I gave the interior a chance of being endless instead of just 20' x 20' as I originally planned.  Endless black it was.  Also reminiscent of Time Bandit (though I'm not sure that was in my mind at the time).  Half the party traveled to a derelict spaceship via portal.  One of the players had rolled a "connection with the islands" stating they were from another planet and were trying to get back. It fit perfectly, but then almost half the party were on their way to Alpha Centauri while the rest resigned themselves to exploring the rest of the island.

There was another sighting of the Purple Putrescence.  This might have been the fifth and final time of the session.  By now it was an overused crutch that seemed to lose its impact (for me, at least).  I didn't even use the book's cover or go into detail about what the godlike entity was doing.  It just showed up like a floating, purple, Lovecraftian Tarrasque on ambien.

The last 30 minutes devolved into the most bizarre encounter I've ever run.  Maybe I was inspired by last night's dream lands scenario or perhaps I painted myself into a surreal little corner, relying on little more than dice rolls to save the session from death by aburdism?

I won't go into details, but even if some players disliked parts (or all) of the adventure, there's a small chance that what transpired would leave them shaking their heads in disbelief for years to come.  So, I've got going for me... which is nice.
Thankfully, one player had the foresight to call it.  "This might be a good time to stop right here, some of us have 6 o'clock activities to get to and everything."  Indeed.  We ended at 5:45.  It was time to shake off the last remnants of - whatever that was - and go.

Getting up to leave, there were a few "Good game"s said in my general direction.  The player who rolled a natural 19 attempting to pilot the spaceship to Alpha Centuari told me that Purple reminded him of Ravenloft meets Carcosa meets... I can't remember what he said so I'll make up something suitable "B-movie Land of the Lost starring William Shatner."

Yeah, I didn't love my performance and wasn't thrilled with my presentation of Purple.  I couldn't control the loud, distracting convention atmosphere but there were things I could have done to make the game better: shorten the time frame to 4 hours (including pre-gens), a limit of 6 players max, and stick with a specifically OSR rule-set if I intend to run an OSRish session [though I'm still hoping the 5e DMG will allow me to use it more like 80's D&D.  That and have something planned that's more linear and less "anything goes" sandbox.... unless the world needs more sword & sorcery surrealism.

Quantum Mastering for the win!


p.s.  Part 1 is over here.

Monday, November 10, 2014

My Gamehole Con II Experience (part 1)

I was going to blog about my entire GameHole Con experience in one post but that would get too lengthy.  So, here's my Friday night write-up.

For me, gaming conventions are not a vacation, nor are they just another weekend full of roleplaying in my responsibility-free life.  No, I have a growing family.  Therefore, a certain amount of convincing, pleading, horse-trading, and general spousal complaining surrounds any two consecutive days I'm not around the house for extended periods of time.  So, cons are something of a luxury item to me - not in terms of money but time.

Anyways, Friday night I played in a Dungeon Crawl Classics that +Michael Curtis was running.  It was a playtest session for The Third Phantasmagoria (no idea if that's what it'll eventually be called). He did a great job, standing there, towering over his GM screen as he described a plethora of weird dreamlands type stuff.

He had a good selection of pre-gens.  I've run DCC many times but have never played.  As such, my version of it has always been a hybrid between DCC rules-as-written and a stripped down, house-ruled version of basic and advanced D&D.  But that mercurial magic system is one of my favorite things.  So, when the PCs were presented, I jumped at the chance to play a wizard.  Unfortunately, Michael doesn't use the mercurial table for one-shot con games.  Oops.

I played a purple-robed wizard from a noble house named Pompei (yeah, just one "i") whose patron was Sezrekan.  Finally having a chance to play, I remembered the little descriptor selections from Dungeon World a player could choose upon character creation.  Stuff like "wild hair", "haunted eyes", "thin body", etc.  DW only gives a paltry handful of options per class and race, which is a shame because I think every RPG could do with those.  Sure, players can come up with their own but in the heat of the moment, many don't take the time to do it or feel self-conscious (especially in front of strangers) about taking their character's appearance and mannerisms seriously. After all, this is a wargame with bits of roleplaying (So you can actually feel the war cutting into your hands and singing your eyebrows!), not some kind of sword & sorcery drama club.  Personally, I prefer the latter.

Fortunately I got to see how the spell-burn and mighty deed concepts worked.  Very enlightening.  Next time I run DCC, I'll try my best to incorporate them into the game.  The deed die still seems a bit clunky to me.  Why can't every character do out-of-the-ordinary maneuvers and stunts that are still within their class purview?  You know, kind of like VSd6 (also included in The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence) or this.

Michael took the time to describe this slumber world with the possibility for lucid dreaming.  Though I watched a few attempts (which usually went very poorly), I'm sorry I didn't try it.  After all, lucid dreaming - like manipulating shadow in The Chronicles of Amber - is something I'd really, really love to do in real life.  For me, that's kind of what roleplaying is for.

Apparently, Pompei is a bit of an arrogant, anti-authoritarian asshole.  The party encountered this really interesting and strange "creature" consisting of three mirrors (two small, one big) on the wall.  It communicated with me when I investigated it (the rest of the party, aside from the thief) were cowering in a hallway just outside the chamber.  After a few pleasantries, my wizard asked for a boon - some kind of aid, artifact, knowledge, or power.  Pompei was asked what he was willing to give (I think) or else shot down by a condescending statement.  Pompei tried yet again to make some kind of deal.  "Perhaps I might serve you.  Ask me to perform a service."  Now, Pompei wasn't necessarily going to perform anything for this mirror entity, he was more interested in finding out what it wanted.

Well, the creature asked me to cut out one of my eyes.  Fuck that, Pompei thought to himself!  "I attempt to shatter the large mirror with my sword."  I told the GM.  I don't think Michael expected that.  Long story short, I taught that entity a lesson and for my trouble caught a fair amount of broken glass shrapnel.  The GM said there'd be a small chance that one of the shards got me in the eye.  I smiled in agreement that such a delicious irony was worth rolling.  Luckily, it missed and the rest was healed easily.

Cutting to the end, Pompei was sucked down into the floor by some kind of dungeon Sarlacc.  He almost died except for luck and the quick actions of his comrades.  I've never felt more like Boba Fett than that moment.  So, I was actually ok with dying.  I really didn't expect to survive that... but I did.

Finally, we entered a flaming dog skull chamber and there were wraiths and masked humanoids and I didn't think there was a chance in Hell our 1st level party would survive.  Especially since we already lost our thief (expertly played by +Brendan LaSalle).  Somehow, with elven sorcery, flashing blades, and my own spell-burn fueled magic missiles, we survived!

Michael signed a couple books for me and so did +Doug Kovacs who was lurking around our table.  I got to talk to them both (albeit very little) outside the game and it was a real pleasure.

So, that was my Friday night.  Tomorrow, I'll post about Saturday afternoon where I ran an uneven session of the Purple Islands (with map).  Should be interesting if for no other reason than I wasn't thrilled with my performance.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Post-Con Debriefing

I'll be posting about my experiences at Game Hole Con tomorrow, but tonight I'm wondering how gamers feel after a convention.  What's the takeaway after it's all said and done?

Both players and GMs must have some aftermath insights to share.  Tell me something about your most recent convention experience... it can be anything, really, but I'm especially interested to read about actual gaming sessions.  Anything memorable?  Was there a lesson learned?  Did you prove something to yourself?  Were there high-fives all around?  TPK within the first 30 minutes?  Think back for a moment and give us the good, bad, and ugly.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Convention Game Preamble

Question for GMs: What do you start with?  Before the game session even begins, I mean.  Do you preface your con games with any particular words of wisdom, special rules, expectations, hopes, encouragement, warnings, introductions, anecdotes, jokes, questions or questionnaires?

Question for players:  Is there anything that has stood out to you over the years (good, bad, or weird) that a GM has said or done before a con game actually started?

That's it.  Please comment with your answers below.  Thanks!


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

How I Met Your Mother: Transcendent TV

While this is trying to be spoiler free-ish, I can't guarantee anything.  You've been warned.

It's been a long road.  Yeah, nine years.  You don't stick with a TV series for that length of time if it sucks.  Obviously, How I Met Your Mother doesn't suck for many of us.  In fact, it's a great show.  If you've never seen it or dropped off somewhere in the middle, I definitely think it deserves another go.

The wife and I just finished watching the last episodes of season 9 last night.  Whew!  An emotional rollercoaster ride.  I got sucked in and now that I've seen the entire series, I feel (as cheesy as this is probably going to sound) transformed.

The DVD has two endings.  Only the last 4 or 5 minutes is different but you get a choice.  We watched the ending broadcast on TV first, and I'm glad we did.  That's the one everyone (I'm exaggerating, of course) is all up in arms about.

In fact, I didn't even want to watch the alternate "safe" ending because it pulled punches, it chickened out.  HIMYM deserves a legendary ending because it was a legendary show.  Anyways, below are more of my thoughts about season 9.

The review I just posted on Amazon...

Now THAT was a series finale! A perfect combo of... everything. You had the dumb humor, smart humor, drama, romance, great characters changing (while still mostly staying the same - just like real life), mystery, suspense, tragedy, and introspection. We got to see the past, present, and future.

I've seen the last few minutes of season 9 criticized for turning the tables or pulling out the rug or something. I don't see it. Because of the ending - that's why Ted is telling the story. That's why he's been reminiscing with his kids about his journey and the journey of his friends. Knowing what happens to the mother doesn't ruin the show's premise - it reveals it!

Six years is a long time. I would have preferred his making a move earlier than that. Oh well, that's my only quibble. The entire series, especially season 9, sowed the seeds of Robin and Ted. It felt right, it still feels right.

All in all, I can't recommend season 9 strongly enough if you're a fan of How I Met Your Mother. Want to know what the dream is? Creating a nine-season epic of television storytelling that transcends sitcoms and whatever kind of show "Friends" is. That's it. That's the dream.

And here's my comment to an Amazon reviewer (one of many) who panned season 9 because of the finale...

It's fun to lift up the hood and take a look at the inner workings or to imagine what might have been.  But that's not the point of the show.  It's about the journey, and that journey was inspired... nay, forged by the events of the future.  What happened to Ted's wife is the reason he's narrating the past - because it leads to his future.  Life happens.  Season 9 felt real, was real.  It showed us a deeper truth and transcended the whole "Hey kids, here's a bunch of stories about my troubled youth when I was single and looking."


Physical Fitness (monthly progress report)

Most of you probably aren't aware of this, but throughout my life (on and off) I've been something of a bodybuilding geek. Not to the extent of my scifi/fantasy/RPG geekdom, of course.

"Bodybuilding" might be too strong a word.  Though I idolized Arnold Schwarzenegger just as much as Conan the Barbarian, I've never competed in a bodybuilding competition, nor even attended a show.  So, perhaps it's more accurate to describe my interests as weight training and nutrition.

Regardless, I'm interested in getting back into shape (on again).  Not just my prior heights but something greater.  Specifically, less fat and more muscle.

I'll be posting a progress photo along with my current weight each month.  Not only does this keep me honest with myself, I'm held accountable through the magic of the internet.  Some will see this as over-sharing or just plain annoying as it has nothing to do with RPGs.  Oh well, I say.  It's my blog.

I actually forgot to weigh in this morning but yesterday's weight was 187 lbs.

Questions and comments are encouraged.  I've been lifting weights since I was about 15.  I've been paying attention to proper bodybuilding/fitness nutrition like intermittent fasting for over a decade.  Now's the time to get into the best physical shape of my life.  Especially since I'll be 40 at the end of this month.


Monday, November 3, 2014

Temple of Elemental Evil continued

I'm just going to put all these stray thoughts into bullet points.

  • I'm almost finished reading through Dungeon World.  I'm sure I'll write an actual review of it soon.  My overall opinion: interesting.  One thing I like is the rolling 2d6, adding ability score modifier, maybe a +1 or -1 depending on miscellaneous factors, and comparing the result with 10 and above success, 7 - 9 partial success or success but with some additional drawback, and 6 and below yielding failure.  This might trump my roll 3d6 vs. ability score and VSd6 for efficiency and simplicity.  
  • Even though we're all enjoying FH&W, I think we might switch over to 5e when the DMG finally comes out.  The extra HD of healing for short rests, PC abilities/do-dads, and everything else a monster RPG franchise can bring to the table will probably be worth the extra 10 minutes per player at character creation.
  • Instead of giving out inspiration on a per roleplaying per scene basis, I've been giving everyone a point of inspiration (just a re-roll, actually) at the start of each session.  If they don't use it, they can add it to next session.  Personally, I think any kind of inspiration or action point should accumulate.  
  • However, I did grant Sir Basil an extra point because of his elaborate and daring maneuver of jumping over a pit, kicking in an open door, and slashing at the enemy with his sword.  
  • By now, I'm sure the players have realized that much of the campaign is driven by percentile dice rolls.  Well, guys, here's the secret.  If there's an unlikely but possible chance of something awesome, terrible, and/or interesting happening, then I'll roll.  If the result is between 01 and 33%, that unlikely possibility occurs!  That's pretty much it.  Solves a lot of the background probability grey areas that can wear a GM (or campaign) down.
  • I seem to fall into a pattern.  Every other session, there's a deluge of magic items.  Those alternating sessions, hardly anything at all.  Does it just work out like that or am I subconsciously making it happen?  In any case, see below...
  • Scroll of mirror image, ice storm, and slow.  Ring of fire resistance (5 points).  Evisceration dagger +1 that does exploding damage.  Wand of illusions (12 charges).  Axe of regeneration (doubles the normal rate of healing for the wielder).  Ring of free movement.  Lightning Javelin.  Yeah, I added some cool loot to the temple.  A couple gamers warned me it was a bit stingy on the magic items.
  • Speaking of that last one, when badass magic items are first acquired, caution goes out the window.  Luckily, X'fritl only killed the high priest!
  • NPCs started dying like flies.  One was planned, the other three happened by accident.
  • The party's elf died.  Moloch was an eldritch archer by trade.  Mostly an archer.  I think he only cast one spell in two sessions.  Yeah, it was a good day for Kaazor.  
  • Gnolls and human guards were pedestrian enough that I felt the need to break out TWO different demons from Fiend Folio.
  • Roleplaying and subterfuge won the day rather than brute force.  Well played... and sorry about your untimely death, Grog Barg (one of the unlucky NPCs, a half-orc).
  • The first dungeon level of the temple has been cleared out and now the PCs have a key which probably unlocks the bronze door to level two.  
  • Everyone leveled and I think the next session on Nov. 15th will be epic!
  • Oops, one last thing... Ben created a new character to replace his assassin.  This session, he started playing a wizard named Zar.  The name was remarkably similar to his tiefling (half-demon) warlock Zatar here, so I asked if the two magic-users were related.  His response was: "Maybe, but not that they're aware of."  That led to us theorizing that Zatar's father was a demon while Zar's father was human and they were separated at birth - Zatar sent to Torth and Zar to Greyhawk.

Ok, that's about it.  Will be running Purple at a local con this Saturday.  Wish me weird!


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Hall of Fame d20

I haven't seen any lately, but there was a time when dice shaming was a thing... popular, even.  Whether a timeless geek meme or fashionable flash in the pan, certain dice got shamed on the internet for rolling poorly.

I can't be the first tabletop gamer to lavish praise upon a certain die but such posts definitely seem to be in the minority.  I've had my set of translucent purple with white numbering dice for years now, and they've always rolled pretty well...

When I rolled to see if the Purple Putrescence was about to drift noxiously overhead with tentacles wavering and mouth-holes slavering, I rolled a 6.  When I needed to roll damage on the PCs, I rolled 8's, 10's, and 12's.  Indeed, those trying to liberate the demon slayer got exploding dice all over their faces.  Dark priest and monster saving throws?  Yeah, they made more than a few.  However, it's the number of natural 20's that really brought the pain and keeps on bringing it.

Earlier today was the 3rd session (2nd for Temple of Elemental Evil) of my new home campaign.  Everyone at the table was rolling well, but I was critting left and right.  The final battle of the session with a Guardian Daemon from Fiend Folio resulted in yet another player's demise.  That's probably a devil's dozen deaths indeed!

While I don't revel in such tragedy, I gotta give that little purple d20 its due.  Let honor and fame be heaped upon its name!  Speaking of which, I should give him a name...  I think I'll call him Kaazor.