Sunday, April 26, 2015

Crimson Dragon Slayer playtest #1

"Couple hot girls, a wizard, and a cyclops... that's all you need for a good night." ~ Steve

I finally got a chance to play it myself... to see if this was something actually worth pursuing or if I'd taken too many wrong turns to even bother continuing.

I tried to pay attention at every juncture, every moment of immersion, laughter, confusion, annoyance, flipping back and forth through the rules, and twinge of nostalgia.

I came away with about two pages of notes on what didn't work, what needed a quick fix or facelift, and a couple things that felt awesome but needed to be reworked until they really shined.

Some things look good on paper but just feel wrong in the heat of the moment, either because they're unbalanced, clunky, or flat.  As a game designer, it's my job to notice the discrepancy between how something reads and how it plays.  Years ago (see my cringe-worth Empire of Satanis), I was more likely to power through a crappy mechanic or, worse, a lackluster or overblown premise even if it seemed less than wonderful... even ignoring constructive criticism.

Anyways, that's enough game design philosophy and peek into my shady past.  Onto the session report!  I had four players, below is a look at the party...

  • Robert  played an infernal elf ranger (defender) named Pin.
  • Steve played a dwarf thief (spell scoundrel... formerly known as "arcane trickster" named Alfonse.
  • Daniel played a human warrior named Stan Gruberman - the man with a mop!  (a reference to the movie UHF)
  • Ethan played a dwarf wizard named Jerry.

After about an hour of character creation, there was backstory and a cave.  My chief objective with Crimson Dragon Slayer is to emulate a science-fantasy computer roleplaying game from 1983.  Like a gonzo version of The Bard's Tale or sword & sorcery version of Ice Pirates.  It's meant to be funny and retro and kind of dumb in a (hopefully) awesome sort of way.

The first area inside the cave was full of dazed Infravision programmers with red glowing eyes.  They dispatched them well enough.  I found myself turning the 18 page manual back and forth between the initiative system I came up with and whatever other part of the rules I needed.  After that first battle, I realized initiative needed an overhaul.  

The thief rolled to see if he could find some treasure on the dead bodies.  Yes, the senior programmer had a wand.

The next area contained zombie cannibal ninja and a human bound and gagged on the floor.  

Even though it seems like combat is only taking off a few HP here and there, every once in awhile (about ever third round, I'd guess) something dramatic happens.  A character rolls a few sixes or exploding damage goes through the roof.  This might be a case of seeing what I want to see, but it reminds me of watching a sword fight (or any other battle on the screen).  For the first bit, it seems like it's a draw between warriors as not much is happening.  They seem equally matched or at least both seem decent at not being harmed.  And then all of a sudden, Ka-Bam!  Someone gets a sword through the throat!

But the thief wasn't special enough.  I mean, when you only have four core classes, you've got to differentiate.  That was also part of the initiative problem.  It wasn't until the drive home that I came up with a solution.

They saved the henchman tied up.  He gave the party his magic ring and wanted to serve them.

The last battle was against a wizard, his demon, and a black knight.  The ranger rolled double sixes in his dice pool and though it was clear that doing extra damage was the default benefit of such critical success, I pursued the matter further.  "You could do something else, like a called-shot to the wizard's amulet that had summoned the demon."

"Is the wizard wearing such an amulet?"  Daniel asked?

"Yeah, sure.  Why not?"  I replied.  And so it was.  

The ranger did just that and the demon vanished.  The wizard was dispatched with the newly acquired wand and the black knight was killed by a ton of damage from the warrior.  

That battle ended too quickly for everyone's liking, so there was an invisible wizard who shot one of those metal balls from Phantasm out of his hand.  Between that and his glaive, Stan the mop man was nearly dead.

For reasons that are still unclear - it may have been a really low intelligence or wanting to get back home or because he couldn't wait to find out what purple lightning strike did - the party wizard decided to betray everyone and started casting his spell.  Some damage was done.  Then he was charged by both the ranger and warrior while the thief hid.  

The best Ethan rolled that day was his death save.  He rolled 2 sixes and was up with a few HP to his name.  He attempted to cast another spell.  Failure.  The fighter types bashed him again.  I could see where another roll on the death save table would be ridiculous so ruled that since he was unconscious again, a simple coup de grace would do the job.

A lot of fun was had.  Some of it bad fun that went horrible wrong.  Hey, that's what playtesting is for.  Changes have already been implemented.  Go check out the g+ community for Crimson Dragon Slayer to download the beta version PDF uploaded on dropbox.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Outer Presence - playtest #1

This investigative horror scenario was born here.  Got to keep this short.  Busy, busy, busy!  Also, this session report will be short on details - spoiler free, it's called these days.  ;)

Below are the players and their characters.  I told them to create a character concept instead of going through the motions using Call of Cthulhu or something similar.  Interestingly, none of the characters were scientists, explorers, or even academics.  For an inexperienced Game Master, this probably would have led to either GM interference or crying.  I decided to massage their entry into the story.  Seemed to work well, no one mentioned anything.

Oh yeah, I also decided on the 1970's.  Not only is it a compromise between the 1920's / 30's and present day, but I was going for a Cannibal Holocaust type thing.

Tim Virnig:  "Lang"; grew up wealthy; father founder and editor of Gazette newspaper; supposed to follow in his father's footsteps; instead, photographer of B-list celebrities and scandals; in free time, hoping to write mystery novel; also hoping to be a news reporter.

Jeff Adamus:  He played Jeff.  Photography print shop owner; advertising, pop culture, and band/music enthusiast; owns a couple cats; band and business promotion with marketing specialty.

Russell Reed:  Frank Smith; writer; reporter; disco dancing freak; reveals corruption; wants to write detective novels.

Kent Nedland:  Vince O'Donald; accountant; believes world can be placed in a monetary paradigm; scrawny dude; pocket calculator; # crunching.

Marie Nedland:  Susan Thompson; tech person; plays poker and goes dancing; wants to fix the disparity between rich and poor.

Somehow, I turned a desperate need for more explorers into a desperate need for publicity now that the first expedition was such a success (not really a success).  The players were all game and they roleplayed their involvement extremely well.

Clues led them to believe that this wasn't just a fun, all expense-paid tax write-off.  For instance, a couple investigators found a hand-written note telling them that the expedition's last telegram should be shredded so that no one can learn the truth!

Onto New Guinea!  Their host was a piece of work.  I really wanted to push the envelope with what players and PCs might expect from the scenario's principle antagonist.  He pushed a lot of buttons and made everyone hate him.  PCs didn't actually vomit... but they wanted to.  Incidentally, the actor Sidney Greenstreet was my inspiration for Doctor Karl Steiner.

Exploring the temple!  Over the last few years, I've been on the jungle cruise at Disney World's Magic Kingdom probably a dozen times.  The part when the boat goes into that dark structure was the basis for my temple.  Could have been more detailed, but I think it was successful on the whole.

Two investigators went temporarily insane, none died.  Was the world saved?  Perhaps...

The timing went extremely well.  Including 15 min. of character creation, the entire scenario took 2 hours and 55 minutes to resolve.  Good thing as two players had to leave just as we'd finished the game.  The first hour involved the set-up, including arrival.  The second hour involved getting a lay of the land, interacting with the people, and learning what the scenario was really about.  The third and final hour involved exploring the next location, learning the truth, and final resolution.

Probably won't get around to publishing it for awhile as I already have two irons in the fire: the Game Mastering book and Crimson Dragon Slayer, my very own OSR rule-set.  Both will be available this summer!  Check out the g+ community for CDS here.  The support, feedback, and even playtesting (!!!) that I've received since mentioning the idea weeks ago has overwhelmed me with happiness and enthusiasm.  Thanks, everyone!


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Why the hell not?

Against my better judgement, I've been tinkering around with my very own OSR type RPG.  I've just finished the first draft of the alpha version.  It's weak, there's not much there, and it breaks a few old school D&D conventions, but it's a starting point...

Those interested in taking a look and providing feedback would be doing me a service.  Nothing has been set in stone; it's all malleable.  Actually playtesting what I have so far would really be going above and beyond!

Send me an email and I'll reply back with a PDF:

I have no idea what to call it at this point, so I'm going with The Crimson Dragon Slayer Critical Mayhem RPG.



p.s.  Artwork by HELMUTT, owned by me.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Major Boobage

Several months ago, I caught about 30 seconds of a South Park ending at the beginning of what I'd DVRed, probably The Daily Show.  The last bits of South Park's 12th season and 3rd episode, Major Boobage, was obviously an homage to the 1981 animated film Heavy Metal.

Despite having this knowledge, I never bothered to watch the episode until today.  Here it is on hulu.

Why it took me so long, I don't know.  Maybe I feared being disappointed or shamed for my enjoyment of cheesecake, bloodshed, and psychedelics.  Perhaps I wanted something to look forward to, saving it for a rainy day, etc. (incidentally, it's been raining all day).  Or it could be that my memory sucks.  It probably helped that I just re-watched Heavy Metal for the 37th time this morning before work.

In any case, Major Boobage was a fun little nostalgic trip for Heavy Metal super-freaks like myself.  Like many South Park homages, it ripped on or lampooned what it's supposed to be praising.  Yeah, I guess all the nudity, boobs, butts, and gory violence stands out like the weirdo girl covered in pig's blood at her prom... but, damn it, that's my bread and butter.

Aside from the awesomely dated music, apparently, the creation of that episode took 8 times longer to make because they used the old fashioned rotoscoping technique used in the original film.  Porn actress Lisa Daniels was used as live action footage before converting it into the cowgirl Taarna that personifies South Park's tribute to one of the greatest scifi-fantasy movies in history.

Since I'm blogging about it, I'd love to hear about your experiences with Heavy Metal.  Doesn't have to be RPG-related. First time you watched it, last time, did it change your life, or inspire you to create something awesome?   What did you think of Major Boobage?  Was it a worthy tribute?  Did it re-watch Heavy Metal after viewing it?  If you have a story to share, comment below!


p.s.  Holy crap!  I just realized that the god Uhluhtc from the Den sequence that is about to receive a young, nubile sacrifice is Cthulhu spelled backwards!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Are they paying attention?

This blog post is basically an open-ended question.  Do other, bigger paper & pencil RPGs (including their audience, fans, players, GMs, and scene in general) even know about the OSR?  And here's my followup question: If they know about it, do they care, do they use it, do they buy our products or use our free resources, are we influencing them at all?

Ok, here's a post-followup question I came with after discussing it a bit with +As If and +Erik Tenkar:  I assume that certain OSR blogs, podcasts, products, resources, etc. permeate the RPG mainstream from time to time, despite their niche within a niche status.  Does that increase awareness of the OSR as a whole or is it merely limited to the stuff that has managed to break out of the OSR ghetto?

I believe the OSR effectively changed 5th edition for the better, but what about the average D&D 5e gamer?  Are they aware that the OSR exists?  But specifically, I'm wondering about Pathfinder, Dragon Age, Numenera, Dungeon World, 13th Age, Fate, Savage Worlds, and other popular titles I can't think of right now.  Call of Cthulhu?  World of Darkness?  Post apocalypse RPGs?

Since mostly OSR people will probably see, read, and comment on this post, let me know what you've experienced.  If anyone actively into the above RPGs but not the OSR actually stumbles upon this, please answer as best you can.



Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Face Off

I've been watching the practical special FX tv show on the Syfy channel from the beginning, back when they still called themselves Sci-Fi.  Since I love older science fiction, horror, and fantasy movies and tv shows that used those sort of non-CGI effects, it's always been a pleasure to see.

Last night was no different.  Although, there was one concept that totally blew me away.*  It spoke to me in that creepy voice you only hear in a nightmare.  While Adam wasn't able to fully realize his vision, that concept drawing was everything I love.  Ironically, that makeup sent him packing.  However, I've been inspired to incorporate his basic conception in my future investigative horror scenario.

I'm tentatively calling it "The Outer Presence".  It's basically already written in scribbled note form.  All I have to do is type it up into a pleasing, useful format.  Part of me is tempted to do a Kickstarter, mostly to raise awareness because I just don't have the advertising dollars available.  If I went the KS route, I'd probably feel obligated to extend and expand the scenario so it also included a softcover version.  FYI, I'm not comfortable starting a new KS campaign without first having discharged my current KS campaign.  Yes, multiple Kickstarters can be done but I'm pretty sure it would make some backers uneasy.

The only downside is that such an endeavor would postpone any science-fantasy OSR adventure I might write.  The investigative horror scenario is in the same ballpark, of course, but it's still a slightly different audience.

So, I open it up to you guys!  I don't know how to make an actual poll, so below are your quick and dirty choices...

A.  Just do a short PDF of The Outer Presence in between your D&D type stuff. 
B.  Do a longer version of The Outer Presence with softcover via KS. 
C.  Forget this system agnostic Call of Cthulhu-esque nonsense; focus on your D&D type stuff.

Thanks for your feedback,


p.s.  Currently, I can't find an image of his concept drawing on google.  I'll try looking later in the week.  If you spot it somewhere, please let me know.  Thanks!  The second image posted is kind of close... but not really.