Friday, December 11, 2015

Oz In The Cards

As much as I would love to make sure all of my lovely readers (Yes, all 3 of you) pick up Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road for their loved ones this Christmas (or whatever gift-giving holidays you do celebrate), some of you might already have the game and are looking for the next big thing to give this year.

So here are a couple of standalone card games that I've found that might just scratch that Oz gifting itch. Both are expressions of existing card games, but offer a fun, Ozzy twist.

Oz Fluxx: The fun of the Fluxx card games is that the rules are always changing. While the game starts simple (draw 1 card from the deck, then play one card from your hand each turn), there are cards that describe new rules which change those basics when they are played. The object of the game is to acquire a set of 2 or 3 Keeper cards (characters and objects from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), but which set of cards you need to win is another element that can change as the players bring out different Goal cards.

Watch out for Creepers! Creeper cards represent the villains and monsters of the Wizard of Oz. If you have a Creeper in play, you cannot win the game unless the Goal card currently in play requires it.

Most of the Oz references in this version of the game are drawn from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but it seems like the designers were trying to hew closely to the expectations from the film version. There are no Kalidahs, but the Fighting Trees and Winged Monkeys are present as Creeper cards. Three of Oz's four Witches make an appearance: Both Wicked Witches are Creepers, and the Good Witch of the North is a Keeper (looking much as she did when Denslow drew her), but Glinda the Good Witch of the South is not present.

There are some literary touches. For example, the Goal card that requires you to collect the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow is titled "Future Leaders of Oz." A "Golden Cap" Action card lets a player summon and command the Winged Monkeys to rest in front of the player of their choice. Another Action card is called "Ozma's Decree," but it's the only reference to the extended canon that I found in the set.

All in all, it's a fairly simple, fun game for fans of the film version or the book. And if you want a version with a different theme, or to see what other fun games they have, check out

Munchkin Oz: This is currently a Target exclusive, and I picked up my set at my local Target store last week.

While Oz Fluxx only had slight connections to the deeper Oz canon, Munchkin Oz is bursting with them. Not content with simple Flying Monkeys and Fighting Trees, monsters and enemies from nearly every book are present. Rigmaroles and Flutterbudgets at level 1, all the way up through Wheelers, Whimsies and Invisible Bears, with the infamous Nome King as the set's only level 20 monster.

Gameplay is the same as other Munchkin games. You start as a Level 1 nobody competing with the other players to defeat monsters and be the first to rise to Level 10. On their turn, players "kick down the door," turning over a Door card to reveal a monster to fight (though other things turn up on Door cards). If a player's Level (and all bonuses from Treasure items) is greater than the monster's Level, they've won the fight, getting a Level closer to victory and drawing more Treasures to become more powerful.

One nice addition is the inclusion of Ally cards. A wide variety of characters from the Oz stories, from Dorothy Gale to Polychrome the Rainbow's Daughter can provide you with combat bonuses
 and special abilities.

The Treasure cards also bear a distinct Oz flavor. You can get a Yellow Brick from the Yellow Brick Road, take a peek at Ozma's Magic Painting, or make a quick escape by eating a Dama-Fruit. Even the traditional weapons and armor get into the fun, with the Gillikin Guisarme, the Munchkin Morningstar and the (I kid you not!) Baumstick!

Depending on the kind of Oz fan you are, you might not go for the combat theme. But if you can get past that, the Oz references are fairly constant and add to the fun. It can also be combined with other Munchkin sets to mix genres and jokes.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Make Mine Gameable!

I may have gotten a late start, but I seem to have caught the podcast listening bug.

First there was Welcome to Night Vale. Then came Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff. And now I bring you the latest in my playlist:

The Gameable Podcast!

It started life as the Gameable Disney Podcast, examining the Disney animated films for gaming inspiration. They would occasionally look at other works outside this narrow purview in their "bonus episodes," like the live action/animation hybrid Mary Poppins or the live action but cartoony Herbie the Love Bug films.

But it seems to have fulfilled its original mandate and has expanded its reach to the computer animated Pixar films. I'm still playing catchup (I'm currently on their Hunchback of Notre Dame episode), but I'm looking forward to seeing what they continue to come up with.

The typical episode gives a plot synopsis with occasional gaming asides, followed by I'd Play That (Each of the hosts picks a character from the story that they want to play. This can be a protagonist, but is as likely to be a side character with room to grow, or sometimes even a villain). Then comes Un-Disney-fication, a discussion of how to remove the kid-friendly elements from the story and make it more robust as a setting usable for multiple stories. After a discussion of the music of the movie, with each host picking a favorite and least favorite song, they move on to the Final Verdict: Does the movie provide a setting or story that you can easily present to your players?

As of Episode 31 (The Lion King) they make system recommendations as part of the Final Verdict. They had made reference to systems previously, including taking the "Mary Poppins is a Time Lord" to the logical conclusion of filling out character sheets for Mary Poppins and Bert the Chimney Sweep using the latest Doctor Who RPG, but it was never a regular feature or a terribly strong recommendation until this point. Needless to sat, I was very jazzed that Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road was one of the system recommendation in Episode 32 (Pocahontas) due to its relationship mechanics.

DISCLOSURE: This podcast is hosted by Kris Newton, who is a very creative person who I used to game with some years ago. He wrote The Jaded City of Oz sample adventure for Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. I regrettably lost touch with him some time back, but I'm glad that there is still a way to bask in his gaming genius.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Out On Campaign?

This is a piece of a big idea my brain is chewing on right now, but I think there's at least something I can share right now.

I don't know how many people read this anymore, but a few months ago I posted the basic outline of my big idea here. For those who don't follow links, my idea is that a roleplaying game can be separated out into a number of separate levels. The System (the rules of the game), the Setting (the physical location of adventures), and the Campaign (What the characters are expected to do in play). If you want to be a stickler, you can even add a level below the Campaign which is the Adventure (specific scenario), but that's only useful in certain contexts.

My rant in the link above was mostly about how I felt sort of cheated by gaming products which use the word "setting" in their descriptions, but instead mostly speak to the Campaign level rather than my (more neutral) definition of Setting.

As I was working on explicating this idea, I had something of a realization: Successful gaming products are the ones that reach down to the Campaign level in some fashion.

Let's take the most popular and recognizable RPG out there: Dungeons & Dragons. The basic rulebooks touch on System, Setting and Campaign. They are rulebooks, so of course they provide System. They also communicate Setting through race and class choices and a pseudo-medieval equipment list. They answer the question of Campaign through details like reward structures (XP for killing monsters/gathering loot) and advancement benefits (hit points and combat powers are common gains when leveling up).

This is why you can say "Let's play D&D" and it's a meaningful statement.

It also explains why GURPS has not been as successful as some other games on the market. The basic rulebooks are full of System and only System. Their Setting books are largely Setting, leaving Campaign level alone. While there are those who love GURPS for this reason, it does stand in the way of broad market success.

Looking at this sort of model as a designer is actually kind of fun. But as a publisher, I've got to ask "Have the products I've published sufficiently addressed the Campaign level? How much work am I making the GM do before they play my game?"

While a couple of tweaks to the rules of Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road have suggested themselves since I released it, I can't help but wonder if the book's  Narrator advice needs punching up as well. Or maybe something more than that.

I don't know how many people actually read this anymore, but comments are welcome.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Getting Back Into The Swing Of Things

For a long time, I was blogging weekly. Now it seems that I'm blogging weakly.

And that's something that I need to work through. I feel like I've been in the doldrums a lot lately. But I've forgotten the lesson of Milo from The Phantom Tollbooth. It's very easy to get lost in the Doldrums, but finding your way out takes effort.

I think at least part of that effort is blogging. Setting a rhythm for myself. Putting myself out there. Trying to say something new at least once a week.

As of right now, I do have something kind of cool to announce. DriveThruRPG and RPGNow are having their annual Teach Your Kids to Game Week and Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is there. Not only are they offering the usual 50% off of digital titles, they're also giving a 20% discount to print titles as well. I think this is the first time they've run a sale that included a discount on print books.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

That's News To Me

I was hoping that the whole blogfest thing would kickstart a new burst of inspiration and motivation. It kind of worked. A few words here and there in a variety of projects, mostly an article on comedy gaming that's been in the works for ages. But that does mean that I've left all my blog followers with nothing to read right here and now.

One of the things that I've been thinking about recently is DunDraCon. I've already made my hotel reservation. The convention hotel tends to fill up quick, so we actually missed it last year. Thankfully, the DDC website has a section for people who want/need to roomshare. It also saved us some money since my wife and I only had to pay for half of the room.

But there's always the question of what to run for the convention.

I could always run Jaded City, the adventure in the back of the book. I've done it for years and it generally tends to go well. But the book has been out for 5 years (released May 15, 2010) and it might be time to come up with something new. Which means pushing my brain back into Oz mode, dusting off some old inspirations and coming up with something new.

One idea that's been kind of poking at me is the idea of having everyone in the Royal Palace in the Emerald City for Ozma's birthday or some other social function, but then a horde of Winged Monkeys flies in and wrecks the place. It's a great sort of starter scene that gives players something to immediately respond to, but I've never been able to figure out what comes after that. And with the  Winged Monkeys already appearing in the Jaded City adventure, I don't want the idea to become overdone.

Another thing that has been particularly interesting to me of late has been the Oz dungeon crawl. I don't know that I could ever get into the whole kill-loot-repeat loop with AiO (and the system is designed to rebel against that), but as I've experienced old school gaming I've picked up the idea of the "story told over space."

In an old school adventure, you are not handed the story. You might get some clues of what the story is when the old man in the tavern gives you a map, but that's not guaranteed. Instead, you discover the story like a hunter tracking game. You move through the dungeon finding traces that the thing driving the story has left behind. The lazy version of this is finding diary pages all over the place that directly explain certain things. But a well done adventure in this style can convey a lot of that through other means, like map layout, monster and treasure choices, and a number of other things.

I could run The Castle of the Mad Archmage. I've got the AD&D and Pathfinder versions (I'm currently running the Pathfinder version.) With my whole "better note-taking" methodology, I could run a new group through the dungeon as it appears in my home campaign after being modified by the actions of my players. Then go home and watch as my players discover the remains of things that they didn't do in the dungeon.

Monday, August 31, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #31 Favorite Non-RPG Thing to Come Out of RPGing

This is probably the topic I've spent the most time just thinking about. Because a lot of things have gone into the RPG hobby, but not a lot has really exited the gravitational well of the hobby.

Typically, the things that do escape carry the D&D brand. D&D video and computer games. D&D novels. D&D board games. The list goes on.

The D&D movies were interesting. I was in a position to see the first film in its theatrical release. It was a fun movie. Not amazing, but a fine way to kill 2 hours. I saw the first sequel a number of years later, and thought it was actually better. A more modest budget, certainly, but I think it had better dungeoneering than the first one, on top of better writing. I have not seen the third film and am not sure I want to. There's talk of trying again and "doing it right" in the near future. We'll see.

But to answer the topic, I think my favorite non-RPG thing to come out of RPGs is the Dungeons & Dragons Saturday morning cartoon show from the 80's. It was interesting in that, as much as it used D&D classes and monsters, the rules of children's TV at the time pushed it into becoming its own thing. They couldn't kill monsters with their magical weapons due to rules on violence and the need to keep each episode self-contained meant that the characters couldn't "level up" in any significant way. And that's really what makes it stand out in my book.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #30 Favorite RPG Playing Celebrity.

It's so hard to choose a favorite. Not because they're all so good, but because of my nigh impossible standards. My feeling about tired fantasy tropes kind of colors my view of the entire gaming hobby. So reading about this or that celebrity that "plays D&D" doesn't mean as much to me as the celebrity who's willing to talk about their broader gaming passion. I want to read about the celebrity who played Star Frontiers or Boot Hill back in the day. Who practiced their method acting skills in a Vampire game. That sort of thing.

And the only celebrity who really touches on that is Wil Wheaton. His Tabletop show has featured a couple of different RPGs, like Dread and Fiasco and his current Titansgrave: Ashes of Valkana show uses a non-D&D system in a setting that uses fantasy tropes without necessarily being beholden to them.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #29 Favorite RPG Website or Blog

The site I most typically visit when I want to see what's going on with RPGs as a whole is I think that's mostly because what's actually at is not relevant to the gaming hobby. Maybe when I get bored, I'll check out or (Wouldn't that be a hoot?) Which means, yes, I did find the site by putting "RPG" in front of standard internet suffixes until I got something relevant.

Everything else, I tend to check out rather intermittently. I follow a few blogs on blogspot, reading them as they interest me. I've got a Tumblr and check through the gaming relevant hashtags. Maybe one day, I'll kick the blahs I've got and become a creative social media machine. But that's a maybe.

Friday, August 28, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #28 Favorite Game You No Longer Play

This one is actually a little painful to write. You see, I used to run different campaigns using different systems all the time. They weren't always very good campaigns, but I had a lot of enthusiasm.

But the last 3-4 years have been something of a doldrums for me. While I have been gaming continuously through this period, I have not been as imaginative or enthusiastic as I have been in the past. I have been grateful for The Castle of the Mad Archmage, not just as an opportunity to learn about old school gaming, but also for having enough content that I didn't have to do very much to have a game ready to go every week.

My primary breaks from this routine have been DunDraCon, playing games that interest me there and running Adventures in Oz demos. But even those AiO demos use the Jaded City scenario from the core book. Another canned, low effort production.

So Favorite Game That I No Longer Play? Pretty much all of them.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #27 Favorite Idea For Merging Two Games Into One

This is a very interesting question and I'm not 100% sure I have an answer for it.

I once ran a couple of campaigns that were technically set in the same setting, but each one used a different generic system. The first one started in WEG D6 but finished using Cartoon Action Hour, the second used Savage Worlds, and the third used GURPS. It got especially fun when one player insisted on using the same character in each campaign, and so had to recreate him in each system. And not all generic RPGs are created equal, especially when it comes to magic using characters, so exactly what his magic could do varied the most.

The guy who ran the megadungeon game that I played in (that gave us the stories of Ted and Kyle), would sometimes mix things up in that campaign. One time, he broke out The Adventures of Baron Muchausen (a game of competitive storytelling) and told us that for this session, we would be the townspeople of the party's home base sharing rumors and tales we had heard about those dungeon-delving adventurers. At another point, some effect of the dungeon/the Outer Planes made things quite surreal, so we very quickly statted out our characters in Wushu (He didn't tell us it was Wushu. He just said "Describe your character in such and such a way" that I recognized as being the way Wushu does things) and played out the scene/confrontation under those rules.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #26 Favorite Inspiration For Your Game

I'm sure lots of people will tell you how much they plumb their vast collection of novels, TV shows, movies, or conspiracy theory paperbacks for gaming inspiration. My process is a little different. I tend to lean on the games themselves to inform my campaign building.

At least partly because an awesome game is one where the designer successfully communicates what is awesome about their game. So if I'm reading an awesome game, I'm already cooking up ideas of how I want to see it in action. And outside of licensed or historical settings, most of what is true about a setting is between the pages of the book itself.

One of my favorite sorts of inspiration is the No-Prize. I don't know if Marvel still awards No-Prizes, but for a while they gave out No-Prizes to fans who not only pointed continuity flaws in their comics, but also proposed explanations for how it wasn't really a continuity flaw after all. Is that character's energy blast the wrong color? Rather than blame it on the colorist, maybe it's a new application of that character's power and it makes sense for it to be that color.

So I look in my games for interesting questions that the setting proposes, but doesn't really answer.

One of my favorite adventures that I've come up with was for the GURPS Technomancer setting. The main idea of that setting is that magic replaces the atom as the force that changes the latter half of the 20th Century. In the book, they describe the effects of Ambulatory Necrotic Plague (aka zombie-ism), which is spread by an undead bacterium. It explains that zombie brains continually degrade, but that this can be forestalled by eating brains from other people.

But what if someone with a high IQ stat gets turned into a zombie? If their IQ was high enough, they might have several days before they even dropped below average intelligence. They might even be able to plan ahead and ensure a steady brain supply so that their intelligence will last longer.

I decided that this was going to be my villain. He was a doctor researching ANP who became infected and turned into a zombie. He began a program of abducting people both to keep his brain supply up and as test subjects to hopefully cure himself of the condition.

And that's when our heroes step in.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #25 Favorite Revolutionary Game Mechanic

Meta-point bribery.

All those little story/drama/whatever points that bribe players into buying into your setting or genre. If the genre or theme you're trying to support with them is clear, they are a great addition. I use them myself to support the theme of friendship in Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road.

Sometimes, I'll award them as "Make the GM Laugh Points." Especially if they're not there for a specific genre or theme, but as a form of "cinematic cushion" to give larger than life heroes an extra leg up.

Monday, August 24, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #24 Favorite House Rule

I'm not much of a house ruler. I like to at least see what the designer wanted me to get out of the game before I adjust anything. And every designer has an agenda. Even Gary Gygax. If I were to tweak and hack games into shape before trying them out, I think I'd miss half the fun of the games I want to try.

One thing that I will do is award my players a little bonus XP when they give me something to eat. There was a period I did not, because my players were 2 or 3 people who regularly brought food to share during game and 1 guy who was down on his luck. The guy who was down on his luck point out how unfair this could get. I realized the wisdom of it and stopped. Now that I'm not gaming with him, I've handed out a few XP for a cookie here or there.

Not sure if this counts, but one thing I've been doing with my games is keeping a calendar. It started with my old school megadungeon game with notes on graph paper. I've since upgraded to a computerized method which allows me a bit more room for notetaking than those little squares. This is the program I use. While it would be nice to have something that can deal with custom calendars like so many fantasy worlds have, adding notes for month transitions and other details on a numerical timeline is fairly easy.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #23 Perfect Game For You

I'm sure there are people who will be surprised and disappointed that I'm not going to say GURPS here. It has seen me through many fun campaigns and there might be even more GURPS fun in the future.

But I also don't really believe that there is a perfect game that will fill all my desires for every campaign ever. There might be a perfect game for a given genre, tone, setting, or any other category. But even that can be subject to debate.

I like to think that I've designed the perfect Oz RPG. At very least, I think it's safe to call it the best Oz RPG currently on the market. It was definitely the first.

I'm tempted to say that some version of Fate might edge into a fairly high place in my list of go-to games for a variety of settings. I like an awful lot of stuff written for Fate, but haven't really had the ability to give it a serious try. Once I do, we'll see how it shakes out.

In the meantime, I've got lots of games on my shelf that have yet to see some use. My ultimate goal is to play them all!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #22 Perfect Gaming Environment

I can't say that I've ever encountered my perfect gaming environment. There have been a few very neat setups, sure. But perfect?

At DunDraCon, each scheduled game takes place in a semi-private room with a nice large round table. It's up to individual GMs to provide props, such as maps and minis. That's pretty sweet.

The gaming store I go to is also nice, with a room off to the side of the main gaming area with a large table and a very large battlemat. But I haven't used it since they decided to charge for the space.

To get better than that is going to require personal attention. Like the First Edition DM that I know who collects miniatures. Mostly the cheap plastic prepainted kind, but he's got a ton of them. If you ever need a monster, he's very likely got it. If not, it's something close.

As I'm actually learning to accept technology, it's being incorporated into my gaming. So my ideal gaming setup should include at least power, and maybe wi-fi for my laptop. While some people may swear by wi-fi, I am willing to admit that it's as much a distraction to me as anything else. Unless I start adopting that whole "cloud" idea. We'll see.

Though I do also enjoy physical books, so my perfect game space would necessarily include bookshelves. Books are also easier to share with players during game if they need to lookup rules for any reason. This also means that I can limit the books that players can reference at my table without limiting myself (Keeping PDFs of bestiaries and setting notes on my laptop).

Dice towers and projectors aimed at my table are totally optional, but might be fun to have.

Friday, August 21, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #21 Favorite RPG Setting

One thing that irks me about the modern RPG publishing industry is how often they say "setting," but actually mean "campaign."

To clarify, a "setting" is a place for adventures to happen. A "campaign" is the answer to the question: "Who are the characters and what do they do?" The Discworld novels are a great example of this. The Discworld as a whole is a setting. But the series has not one, but several story threads running through it. Each with a unique set of characters who live in different places in the world and do different things. So even though all the stories take place in the same setting, Rincewind, Granny Weatherwax, and Moist von Lipwig are all effectively playing in separate campaigns.

I don't know how long this trend has been going on, but I started noticing it a few years ago. The first time I spotted it was the FantasyCraft Adventure Companion. It promised 3 settings, but all it really offered was campaigns. Sure each campaign took place in its own setting, but the opening paragraphs of each section were from some sort of in-setting mentor figure giving you the Big Speech about how you're going off into the big bad world to do X. While the X was usually pretty broad, and in one case was simply the wandering adventurer as respected social role, the rest of the material was presented in such a way as to support that specific campaign.

But what if I don't want to be a wandering adventurer? What if I want to be a merchant? Or establish a homestead out of the frontier of the world? If I want to use this so-called setting as an actual setting, I'm going to have to do at least half the work that buying a packaged setting was supposed to save.

Fate Worlds has this sort of problem as well. It promises settings, but delivers campaigns. And the majority of those campaigns are simply hacks. Rather than offering anything resembling a setting, we get mechanics to support a given campaign style. So rather than telling us a little story about Jack and Diane, we are instead given different rules to detail how Jack and Diane (for any given value of Jack or Diane), can interact or relate to one another.

Please note that I am not calling these products out as flawed designs or bad products. I simply feel that they are mistakenly marketed. If something calls itself a setting, I am presuming that it will be well-written enough to support multiple campaign types. If all you are offering is a campaign, please do not call it a setting.

I think it also sets a bad precedent. A while back on Facebook, I saw an established publisher of third-party Pathfinder material post in a Pathfinder group "Help! I'm writing a setting, but my playtesters have just figured out that it's really just a campaign!" I am paraphrasing, but that's pretty much what he said. Needless to say, that guy's not getting my money.

Maybe I'm just spoiled on the way GURPS does their setting books. They have a reputation for being bland, but thorough. And I think that a portion of this is that they do not assume a campaign. There are suggestions and ideas for different campaigns and adventures throughout the book, but it doesn't assume you'll follow any of them. (Considering my Discworld example above, it makes remarkable sense that GURPS Discworld is a thing.)

(I do have lots of cool settings on my shelf, as well as a few campaigns. But this rant has been brewing for some time and I thought I'd take the opportunity to get it out.)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

RPGaDay #20 Favorite Horror RPG

Unfortunately, I am not a horror gamer. It's not an experience I particularly enjoy.

The Mythos Trek scenarios that I've played in at DunDraCon the last couple of years are inspired by the Chthulhu Mythos (hence the name) and sometimes other horror films. But they've generally been great fun. I might be the one derailing the horror experience with my humor and nerd references, but the guy who runs them has never complained about having me there. He's also a fan of AiO, which might give me some slack.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #19 Favorite Supers RPG

I've got a number of superhero RPGs on my shelf. Marvel-licensed games. DC-licensed games. Games set in their own universes of superheroic action.

I'll say that I like a lot about the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game. I'll also admit that it's one of many games that I have only read and not played.

But the main things that interest me in the supers genre are not the superheroics, but the "people with powers" stories. One of the reasons that Spider-Man is my favorite superhero is how relate-able he is. He has a very complex life as Peter Parker and his role as Spider-Man often winds up complicating things further.

Some of my favorite TV shows feature characters who have superpowers, but never put on a costume. I loved the first season of Heroes, though I think it went downhill after that. For vintage TV fans, who remembers Misfits of Science? A short-lived show in the 80's featuring one of the girls from Friends and the guy who wore the Predator suit in the first movie. More recently, the British show Misfits traveled this same sort of territory, with darkly comic results (mature viewers only, please!).

The Wild Cards setting (based on mosaic novels edited by George R.R. Martin, and part of the story of how I met my wife) explores this idea as well. And since I own the GURPS adaptation of this setting (Though there's been a more recent version for the Mutants & Masterminds rules), it's been my go-to system for this concept.

The current Fourth Edition of GURPS handles super abilities much better than previous editions. The last time I ran a game in the Wild Cards setting, I was able to do so with only the Basic Set for rules. While they have put more support out for higher powered heroics, I don't know if I'd use them for this style of play.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #18 Favorite SF RPG

While I do have a number of sci-fi RPGs on my shelf, my heart will likely always belong to Star Trek. I have collected all of the Star Trek RPGs I can. I've got the FASA game from the 80's that used percentile dice. I've got the class and level based game from Decipher. I even have Prime Directive, the RPG spinoff of the Starfleet Battles starship combat game.

But I think my favorite overall Star Trek RPG is the one produced by Last Unicorn Games. While other other games did one thing or another really well, LUG provided a Star Trek RPG that did everything competently. It actually provided 3, with core rulebooks covering the Original Series, The Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine.

Of the three, since we insist on narrowing things down, I find I prefer the Original Series corebook. Not just because I'm planning a campaign in that era. Maybe it's just the fact that it was the second corebook released, but I feel like it has a lot more polish that the TNG game. Or maybe they did TNG as an "all encompassing" game and once they did the other core books, they allowed themselves to be more focused. It just feels like everything from the way the rules are explained to the GM advice is much more finely tuned.

Monday, August 17, 2015

RPGaDay #17 Favorite Fantasy RPG

“There's something terribly weird about the standard fantasy setting--not least of which the fact the phrase "standard fantasy setting" can be uttered without irony.”
Yahtzee Croshaw

 I think Yahtzee really nails my feelings on fantasy RPGs as a whole. Fantasy, at least as it applies to gaming, is fairly standardized. Elves and orcs and magic swords. And every new take or reinvention of those tropes just feels like more of the same. My favorite fantasy RPGs are the ones that actually do something different, something outside of this box.

Talislanta is one of my wife's favorite games, and definitely worthy of mention. Famously promising "No Elves", the Talislanta setting owes more to Jack Vance than J.R.R. Tolkien. It is exotic, diverse and magical. (Pro tip: Click the link. You can get everything about Talislanta free and legal on that site. It's awesome.)

Exalted is another fun fantasy game that breaks from the classic mold. Inspired by epic fantasy, and illustrated with an exciting anime/manga style, it's a game about human characters granted immense power. As one of the Exalted, your character is imbued with vast power to change the world from Day 1. I've run a few campaigns with this game, but never long enough to really run into the problems with the rules that everyone seems to crow about on the internet.

And of course, Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. (If you thought I wasn't going to mention it pretty much every time it's vaguely applicable, you're on the wrong blog). It's a game where a little girl is a totally valid character choice, because it's not about how big your guns are, but how big your heart is.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #16 Longest Game Session Played

While my megadungeon campaign went on for a long while in calendar time, each session was actually fairly short. Between 4-5 hours once things got started. Every now and again, someone gets the idea to do a "gaming til dawn" sort of thing, but I've never seen it actually come to fruition.

The longest gaming sessions I believe that I have personally participated in were at DunDraCon. When I run Jaded City of Oz, I will only reserve a 4 hour slot. But in 2014, I ran an 8-10 hour session of Castle of the Mad Archmage for the DDC Teen Room. The guy who runs the very awesome Mythos Trek games typically reserves 10-12 hours for his sessions.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #15 Longest Campaign Played

Well, long-time readers will probably know this one. For a little over 4 years, off and on, I ran an old school campaign using Castle of the Mad Archmage from BRW Games. Who knows? I might even come back to it, but I think it's really dead this time.

That campaign has taught me a number of this, both about the old school of gaming, but also about managing long term campaigns. For one thing, long campaigns require lots of content. Prior to starting my megadungeon, my campaigns were very seat-of-the-pants affairs. I'd start with a basic idea, but then place just enough scenery around to keep the players busy for a session or so. Sometimes less. If the players managed to get out of that prepared zone, I would have to improvise madly to keep up with them (and I have learned that I am a terrible improviser).

Moving forward, my primary intention is to level up my content creation for the campaigns I run. I've been building notes for a Star Trek campaign concept for about a year now, as time and energy allow. It's not quite ready for players, but when it is, it should be capable of running for quite some time.

Any other campaign I create will receive similar attention.

Friday, August 14, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #14 Favourite RPG Accessory

While big heavy books are one of the things commonly associated with gaming, the other thing is all the fun little toys we play with. The funny dice, the little figurines, and all that business.

The thing is, I've always been a gamer on a budget. When Wizards of the Coast put out prepainted plastic minis to compete with WizaKids, I was all over them. It didn't matter if they were randomized packs. As long as we understood that this was Steve's character, this was Carla's character, and that over there was the monster they were fighting, everything worked out.

While I talked up the Noteboard a couple of months ago, I admit that I haven't really used it. I absolutely love the idea, and the price point. But it's actually competing with something that I've had for quite some time.

Back in the day, this was an actual physical product. It came with 6 two-sided sheets, blank save for a grid, square on one side, hex on the other. Over time, I've gotten all 6 sheets laminated so I can mark them up with my wet-erase pens.

I actually have a "proper" battlemap, but the Great Salt Flats sheets have the advantage of being lighter and offering a higher overall surface area, with a side bonus of that surface area being reconfigurable.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #13 Favorite RPG Podcast

Up until a couple months ago, I would not have been able to answer this question. Maybe I'm just old and having a hard time integrating fancy new technology into my life. I've had MP3 players, but I've typically used them to listen to music. It wasn't until my MP3 player decided to play only on one earpiece that I was prompted to change. I refuse to listen to stereo music unless it's in stereo.

My first podcast was Welcome to Night Vale (awesome, by the way). Not really a gaming podcast, but the story isn't over yet. You see, although there are a goodly number of episodes on that podcast, and it's not topical, dated content, having even that much content on repeat was getting a little tedious. (Don't let that put you off if you haven't listened to it yet.)

So I went looking for another podcast. And I figured that it should be a gaming podcast, with me being a gamer and all. I knew that Ken Hite, being the awesome guy that he is, had a podcast with fellow awesome game designer Robin D. Laws, but I hadn't really given it much thought. But now looked like the perfect time.

And it is indeed glorious.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #12 Favorite RPG Illustration

This is gonna be a fun one. Considering the previous topics of this blogfest, I wonder if he really meant to say "illustrator," for which I don't have a strong answer. But my single favorite RPG illustration is something I do have an answer for.

L. Sprague de Camp wrote the Planet Krishna novels as an attempt to redeem the "sword and planet" genre (John Carter of Mars and its imitators) in the face of increasingly "harder" science fiction. And one of the features of such stories was casual nudity.

So when Steve Jackson Games got the license to do GURPS Planet Krishna, the illustrations featured a surprising number of exposed breasts. I know the World of Darkness books like to maintain their edgy appearance by sneaking in exactly one nipple per book, but this book had nipples all over the place. Maybe they got a pass because they're all alien boobs rather than human boobs.

Those of you who might be expecting this book to be some sort of gamer Playboy are likely to be disappointed. The nudity in the books illustrations is treated as a very mundane part of all sorts of activities, rather than titillating boudoir scenes (or mundane activities that are somehow also titillating boudoir scenes). One illustration features a Krishnan woman wearing a very loose fitting robe with one breast exposed, but the reason the robe is in disarray is because she has been shot by an arrow which can be seen poking out of her body directly beneath the exposed breast.

My favorite example of this nudity without defaulting to sexiness (and my favorite gaming illustration and therefore the topic of this post) is on page 76 of this book. It is a Krishnan warrior woman wearing sandals, loose pants tied just below the knee and held up by a broad belt, and a sort of open halter top that leaves her modest breasts exposed. She is also carrying a slightly curved sword. Her pose is one of confidence. Not "My boobs are made of confidence" confidence, but "I could kill you if I wanted to. And I'm considering it" confidence.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #11 Favorite RPG Writer

Now I could cheat and talk about the same person I did yesterday (me!) but where's the fun in that? Besides, there's someone else out there that deserves some kudos.

I would have to say that my favorite RPG writer, who I find a joy to read, is Ken Hite. He is a master of alternate histories, horror and any combination of those elements. As well as being a genius, he is also remarkably prolific. He's written multiple GURPS books (this is where I first encountered his work), worked with Last Unicorn Games and Decipher on their Star Trek RPG lines, wrote a few small features for Dragon magazine, a couple of things for White Wolf (though my collection of that material is not terribly deep, I have seen his name there) and a wonderful list of things that I (amazingly) do not have on my game shelf.

He is also a joy to listen to. As long as I've been attending DunDraCon, he has been there as a guest and given many wonderful seminars on a variety of topics. He also does a really nifty podcast with another cool game designer, Robin D. Laws, called Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff.

Monday, August 10, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #10 Favorite RPG Publisher

I like myself. It's important to like yourself. So my favorite RPG publisher is myself.

Though I wish I did more RPG publishing. I haven't put out a new product recently. I wish I had more product support for Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. I wish I were able to bring any of the other ideas I have to fruition.

Hopefully, this writing burst will turn into some actual productivity. Time will tell.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #9 Favorite Media You Wish Was An RPG

This one's a toughy. There are so many media properties that have received the RPG treatment. If I wanted to, I could stake vampires with Buffy, Harry Dresden, or the Winchesters. I could fight supervillains with Superman or Spider-Man. I could dogfight in space with Luke Skywalker or Starbuck. I could explore strange new worlds with Captain Kirk, Captain Picard or the crew of the Red Dwarf. I could wander the wastes of the Dying Earth or the steaming jungles of Planet Krishna. I could fly in the TARDIS with 8 incarnations of the Doctor and their companions. Heck, I could even follow the Yellow Brick Road along with Dorothy and her friends.

And that's just with books on my shelf. Nearly every media tie-in RPG I want is already there.

Except one.

When I was a kid, I was a big science fiction reader and my favorite author was Isaac Asimov. He was a very smart guy and wrote some very intelligent stuff. He could lean towards the zap gun-type stuff if he wanted to, but even that showed thought and effort that not every writer put out.

If there was one universe I would want that has not yet received the RPG treatment, it would be the universe of Isaac Asimov's writings. I don't know if there's a formal name to that universe, where most of his major work seems to belong. Certain sections of his body of work have collective names, like his robot stories, or the Foundation novels, but I don't know if there's a word that means the whole connected future history that he created. Whatever that word is, I want to see it on a gaming book full of well-though out science fiction goodness.

My wife's vote is for the world shown in the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. That would be cool too.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #8 Favorite Appearance of RPGs in the Media

I've never been a fan of the media portrayals of RPGs. First off, you had the "Satanic Panic" of the 80's, where RPGs were the ultimate evil. The TV movie Mazes & Monsters was the high (and low) point of this phenomena.

While most of that has worn off (though it's still around in some circles), gaming is still considered a weird geeky hobby. While this sort of portrayal is arguably better, it's still not actually good. Having the gang on Big Bang Theory play D&D just reinforces their nerd cred and demonstrates their outsider status.

I would like to see a show where the game is more normalized. The players aren't ubergeeks, but regular people. People with jobs, spouses, kids, drama, comedy, and all that. Like the people I game with. Like, what if everyone on Seinfeld played D&D? What if they had a weekly game night on Friends? That sort of thing.

Until that show appears, there is Titanfall: Ashes of Volkana. It's a very well produced show that is really quite watchable. The people are very normal-looking. Attractive, even. Half of the players are female (and I think one of the male players has a female character) and nobody bats an eye. The game is run very rules light, with helpful graphics so the audience can follow what's going on. The players are all clearly having a blast.

That's the kind of gaming media I think we need.

Friday, August 7, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #7 Favorite Free RPG

Free is such a funny word.

Some games are freely available for the downloading. Just find the right link and go. I'm not trying to condone piracy here. Only pointing out that there are games that the designers released into the wild for no charge. My favorite here would probably be Lasers and Feelings. It looks light and fun, as well as being inspired by a really fun song by the Doubleclicks.

Then there are the SRDs. When the Open Gaming License became a thing, it meant that system designers had to take the first step and release some of their content so third-party publishers had something to work with. Thus was born the SRD, or System Reference Document. For Wizards of the Coast, the SRD was a different beast than their actual rulebooks. Their intent was to release enough information that 3ppublishers could use, but not so much that they lost their ability to make money from their own content. So their SRD did not contain rules for character generation or advancement for players, and a couple of the more iconic D&D monsters from the first Monster Manual were left out.

Later publishers have been less strict about what they include in an SRD. For example, the Diaspora SRD pretty much gives you the entire game. But the most open Open Gaming Content would have to be Paizo's Pathfinder PRD. Every time they put out one of their hardcover rulebooks, the content winds up on their website a few months later.

The final category would have to be Pay What You Want. Evil Hat started this trend with their Fate Core project, but a lot of other people have jumped on the bandwagon (including me!). And $0.00 is a valid price, so they could be said to be free. In fact, both Fate Accelerated and Aether Sea (from my Day 3 post) are PWYW in PDF, so you can pick up that Complete Gaming Package I was talking about for a song (or less).

Thursday, August 6, 2015

RPGaDay #6 Most Recent RPG Played

Well, the most recent session I participated in would be a session of the Pathfinder version of the Castle of the Mad Archmage. But I'm the GM, not the player, so you might not count that.

As a player, I most recently played 1st Edition D&D in a friend's campaign. That was actually a few weeks ago. My character died after being stomped by an immense giant (Last words: "You're ugly and your mother dresses you funny!"), though I've been told that it was all some sort of magical holodeck and that my character is actually fine.

I've also gotten around to playing Fiasco a few times. That's GM-less, so I got to be a player even though I'm the one who owns that game and said "Hey guys! Let's try this!"

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #5 Most Recent RPG Purchase

My overall game buying has slowed down, but on my wife's insistence I do maintain a subscription with Paizo for their hardcover rulebooks. So a week or so ago, I received their latest book, Occult Adventures.

Occult Adventures looks like Paizo's official take on psionics. As I mentioned a couple of months ago, I have never been impressed with the way Wizards of the Coast handled psionics for D&D 3.x. It never felt like psychic powers from any other media.

Paizo nailed it. They lean a bit closer to horror movie tropes than my preferred science-fiction approach, but it finally feels like someone actually looked at how psychic powers work in media before writing a big expensive book of psionics rules.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #4 Most Surprising Game

It's kind of hard to think of a game as surprising. I mean, sure, somewhere in all of that D&D merchandising back in the 80's there must have been a pop-up book with monsters that jump out at you. But a regular old game book?

Well, maybe a few things have surprised me.

I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed reading Monsterhearts. While I don't know that I could really go for the PVP/teen drama style of play, I liked how it encouraged thinking about supernatural powers as a metaphor for puberty, queerness, or both. Being the awkward kid who didn't fit in at school when I was younger, that resonated with me.

Diaspora was another game that surprised me. It's a small book that is mostly rules, but nearly everything about it is brilliant. The overall setting is very broad, with relatively few hard facts. Because of how the FTL drive of the setting works, civilization is divided into clusters, groups of solar systems that are connected by hyperspace links. The play group is assumed to create their own cluster, randomly rolling the stats for each system and deciding exactly what that collection of stats looks like.

It offers spaceship combat and tactical squad combat that work in the FATE milieu and are playable as separate minigames if you want to. But the real kicker is the social combat system. Most other social combat systems I've seen are not very different from the game's physical combat system. But Diaspora's social combat is more about positioning and maneuvering. The result feels much more like a system where you're trying to change someone's mind rather than just whacking away at their resistance to doing what you want.

Monday, August 3, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #3 Favorite New Game Of The Last 12 Months

Games I have purchased in the last year is a fairly small set. Games I have purchased that were released in the last year is an even smaller set.

Picking a favorite, I would have to say Aether Sea, a space fantasy setting for Fate Accelerated that I purchased at DunDraCon. Not only is it written for Accelerated, it's also a slim, inexpensive volume itself. The pair of books come to a total of $15 in print (both are Pay What You Want PDFs), making them a handy Complete Gaming Package. Proper Fate Dice do add some to this total, but it's still a pretty darn good deal.

It's nearly as good a deal as my own game, Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. Though AiO has a better sample adventure, IMHO.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #2 Kickstarted Game You're Most Pleased You Backed

Unfortunately, this one doesn't really apply to me. Among the things that have been dragging me down has been a slowing down of the cash flow, so I haven't been able to throw any money at all of the things that strike my fancy.

There are, however, a small number of items that have made it onto my shelf that have benefited from being Kickstarted.

The one I have gotten the most mileage out of has been Adventures Dark & Deep. I had been running Joe Bloch's original version of Castle of the Mad Archmage for some time, so he already had a reputation for quality work in my book when he announced the Kickstarter for Adventures Dark & Deep. While I didn't have money to throw his way during the Kickstarter period, I did put it on my wishlist to pick up when money did present itself. So about 2 years ago, that three volume set became my birthday present to myself.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

RPGaDay 2015 #1 Forthcoming Game You Are Most Looking Forward To.

Now to see if I can get any kind of groove going on with this. I've been in too much of a rut for too long and I want to try to kick it.

To address the first topic of the blogfest, the forthcoming game that I am most looking forward to would have to be GURPS Discworld, Second Edition.

I have been a fan of the novels for quite some time, owning most of them. It's one of the only fantasy series I will pick up on my own. I also own the prior edition of the game, as well as the supplement, GURPS Discworld Also.

Considering the reputation for boring realism that GURPS has, it might seem surprising that such a system would be used for a comedy setting. But I think it fits. The one character who has appeared in every novel in the series is Death. Now, we all know that Death's not a bad sort of fellow at all, but if you're going to have a setting where he pops up with any regularity, a "slapstick" system that denies his presence seems like the wrong way to go.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Sorry About The Hiatus

Has it really been that long since I last posted here? Well I guess it has.

No excuses. No epic tale of woe. Just a giant case of the blahs.

It's taken me this long to get the energy and mental focus to tell those of you who are still paying attention that I did some more voice work for The Royal Podcast of Oz on their annual L. Frank Baum tribute. Wow! Was that 2 months ago?

I should also mention that, as of not very long ago, customers who bought their copy of Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road from a Friendly Local Gaming Store can now ask their retailer about the free PDF they can get in their email from the Bits and Mortar initiative. (Check here for retailers that sell games from Indie Press Revolution and here to locate stores that participate in the Bits and Mortar program. I expect that there will be significant overlap.)

My own personal gaming life has taken a small twist. Although I declared my Castle of the Mad Archmage megadungeon campaign dead about this time last year, it did get revived. It trudged on in a Frankenstein-ian fashion until a month or two ago. Maybe it's the fact that my primary players are a married couple with a teenaged daughter, and therefore get kind of derailed in the summer. Who knows? Maybe it'll get revived in the fall when school once again sets a parent's weekly rhythm.

In the meantime, I'm running a little something of a side game. It's actually the Pathfinder version of the Castle of the Mad Archmage. But I'm looking back on all of the mistakes I feel I had made with my primary campaign and working to correct them.

For starters, I'll be keeping better records of the goings on in the dungeons. Because of my loose initial setup and other poor record-keeping, my players wound up with better records than me regarding where they have been. That's right, I have been depending on players keeping the map and not going where they have gone before in order to run my dungeon. (The main thing that has caused my campaign to halt is that the responsibility they demonstrate being parents means that the married couple tends to be the people who keep the map between sessions. If they're unavailable for whatever reason, my knowledge of where the party has been is also unavailable)

Not only that, but because I'll be keeping better records, I am also planning to repopulate the dungeon behind them.

The other thing that I felt the old school campaign lacked was a sense of place outside the dungeon. Which is totally my fault. I assumed that once the campaign starting getting legs the players would flesh out the city they lived in. Buying weapons from Billy the blacksmith rather than picking them out of the book. Taking up with Bessie the barmaid. Things like that. But alas, the city next to the dungeon took on the amusingly vague name of Ambiguityville, the town with no distinguishing features.

While I don't have the full city of Greyheim sketched out yet (and I'm making it a bit smaller than the vast city of Greyhawk to keep the detail down to a manageable level), I am building out the town, developing the services that the heroes need and the names of the people who provide them.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Annual Review

Now to tell you all about the awesome stuff I picked up at this year's DunDraCon! I know it's been a while, but once I got home, the daily grind has just been really grindy. I do have a couple of other things in the pipeline that I hope to be able to get out, but getting this out is kind of symbolic.

We do often pick up a number of non-book items at the con, and this year we decided to show them off a little.I've been feeling my Star Trek fandom rise in my breast lately, so I picked up a Stat Trek t-shirt with all of the main ships from the Star Trek TV series' (on the left end) and a Star Trek dice bag with the classic Enterprise and logo (roughly center). My wife got the rainbow dragon dice bag on the right, and between my shirt and dice bag are a couple of shirts that she got representing the D&D classes of monk, rogue and wizard.

I was actually able to round out my GURPS collection a bit.

GURPS Ogre is a roleplaying setting book for the popular miniatures combat game Ogre, also by Steve Jackson Games. It has a very tough job ahead of it, since the Ogre supertanks that the setting gets its name from exist on a level far above any mere player character. Loaded with weapons up to and including tactical nuclear weapons, going up against one in anything less than another supertank is an epically bad idea. And although they are artificially intelligent, and therefore, theoretically, playable as a character, they would only really fit in a party made up of Ogres.

GURPS Espionage is another really interesting book that tries to balance the trademark GURPS detailed research with the expectations we get when we watch a James Bond movie. It succeeds for the most part.

GURPS Cyberpunk Adventures is probably the first GURPS adventure book that I've managed to get my hands on. It is of particular interest to me as a historical artifact. While I've never gotten the opportunity to play in the cyberpunk genre, I have read things on the internet by people who have. One of these things I have read is that current cyberpunk games (Shadowrun, as it's pretty much the only cyberpunk RPG still standing) are more focused on interacting with megacorp politics, while older games and adventures focused on protecting the little guy from megacorp politics. And not just in a broad way, but by helping a specific person against the machinations of an evil megacorp. Two out of the three adventures in this book are very much in that mold. The third is a identity-questioning mindscrew that I would probably have to run to fully understand.

Ultimate Psionics was my wife's pick this year. I've never been impressed with the psionics rules that have come out for D&D 3.x. It feels like an alternative magic system rather than anything that I would call psionics. But if you're going to use an alternate magic system in Pathfinder, this does look like the book to get. It's actually a couple of prior books from Dreamscarred Press rolled into one, given a slight update and using the font that Paizo typically uses for the titles of its books (as well as the word "Ultimate," which has appeared in several Paizo titles) to make it look a bit more "official" even though it isn't.

The Emerald Spire superdungeon was released as a tie-in to the upcoming in-development MMO Pathfinder Online, and it intended to be something of a preview of the game's content. The main way this shows through is in the listing of "quests" to be completed within the dungeon. I came away from the product rather unimpressed, if only because it's merely a superdungeon rather than a full megadungeon. Sorry, but I find that I'm spoiled on that front.

Noteboard is a simply brilliant product. It looks like a sheet of notecards laminated together into one piece. And that's pretty much what it is. But that's what makes it brilliant. It folds down small enough to fit in your pocket. One side is printed with both a square grid and a hex grid, so it can work as a battlemat. Because it's so inexpensive, you can do things to it that you would never put your battlemat through. Tack it to your wall. Cut off a piece. If you need a bigger mat, just buy another one for another $10 and double them up.

Fate Freeport Companion is one of those chocolate and peanut butter ideas; Two great tastes that taste great together. Bringing the fantasy setting of Freeport to the Fate system. The Freeport setting has been around for quite some time, first appearing in a trilogy of modules for the then-new Third Edition of D&D, and expanding outward. I did pick up the original adventure trilogy, but very soon after got burned out by the d20 glut of the early Aughts, so I haven't seen all that the setting really has to offer. Like a lot of other Fate products, it uses a "hack" of the Fate Core mechanics, trading out Fate Core's skill list for the classic D&D ability scores. Race and class are loosely supported, with suggestions for race and class stunts and aspects, but the book insists on nothing.

The only thing missing from the book is Freeport itself. Readers who want to explore the city of Freeport are recommended to the Pirate's Guide to Freeport. I can't say I feel cheated, though. The mechanical gimmicks provided can be used for a wide variety of fantasy games using the Fate Core system. There are stats for several monsters and a loose conversion guide for bringing over any monster from the D&D monster manuals that you want to.

The next two items are minisettings for Fate that were produced as part of the Evil Hat Patreon project. I find myself liking them a bit more than the slightly flashier Fate Worlds product they put out as part of their Fate Cote Kickstarter splash. For one thing, they hack the mechanics a bit less. When I looked over Fate Worlds, they had some really interesting ideas, but most of them had their own skill lists and other custom mechanics. It felt like I was learning a new game every time I changed setting, which seems like the opposite effect from what a universal system should achieve.

The Secrets of Cats is a game of playing cats as the secret defenders of the human race. All of the nasty horrors you've ever dreamed of are out there, and it is up to the neighborhood's Parliament of Cats to stop them. Cats can also learn certain magical skills to protect their humans. While the book claims a diverse number of inspirations, the main thing it made me think of was the Bunnicula series.

Aether Sea features magically empowered sailing ships in space, but it feels only a little bit like the Spelljammer setting, and a bit more like a reskinned Traveller. There's not so much swashbuckling against evil and more of a focus on running your ship and keeping it together in classic "Free Trader" style. It is intended to be used with Fate Accelerated Edition and uses the Approaches method of building characters. Fantasy races are implemented by giving each race a "favored Approach," including humans (who get "Flashy"). Rather than providing a bonus to make your favored Approach more awesome, it instead provides a safety net. You can never score a result of less than 0 when you use your favored Approach.

Beyond the Supernatural is an interesting beast. On the surface, it looks like a "follow the leader" game, tracing the footsteps of Call of Cthulhu. It's billed as a horror game, and there are rules for insanity (or at least an insanity table). But if you actually read it, it feels more like proto-Rifts than anything else.

Most of the setting flavor comes from a single narrator within the setting. Here it is paranormal researcher Victor Lazlo, while Rifts would get historian Erin Tarn. The discussion of ley lines, places of power and dimensional rifts sets up the pins that Rifts would knock down a few years later. The psi-mechanic class also seemed to presage the Techno-Wizard from the Rifts RPG.

I'm not sure I could really call it a horror game. I'm sure people have gotten some awesome horror experiences while playing it. It seems more like a game of psychic investigators (both investigators who are psychic and also the fact that they investigate psychic stuff) that hang around near ley lines waiting to get sucked into other dimensions.

Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space is the newest boxed RPG that I own (as well as the second Doctor Who RPG). There are boxed D&D campaign settings on my shelf, an old FASA Star Trek RPG boxed set, and the Pathfinder Beginner's Box (the previous title holder). It is a very densely packed box. There are 3 books in this box, the Player's Book, the Gamemaster's book and an Adventure book. I got the Eleventh Doctor edition, so it came with character sheets for the Eleventh Doctor, Amy, Rory and River Song, as well as a number of partially filled sheets and some simply blank. Below that are perforated sheets that break down into item cards representing major pieces of gear from the Doctor Who universe and Story Point chits. There are 6 six-sided dice packed so tightly that the box doesn't rattle at all. I get the feeling that, if I ever played the game and broke down the perforated sheets and rolled the dice, I would never get it to fit neatly back in the box again.

There are rules for making your own character that do not involve arm-wrestling the GM (a particularly amusing rule from the other Doctor Who RPG I own). Although the rules do feel like Eden Studio's Unisystem, there are apparently enough differences that neither C.J. Carella or Eden Studios are mentioned in the credits. You can create Time Lord, as well as simply human, characters. Although the game does not assume you will be playing the Doctor and his companions, there is the assumption that your characters will have the run of space and time to adventure in.

Doctor Who: Fourth Doctor Sourcebook uses a rather interesting conceit in how it presents the material. It is formatted mostly like a series guide, going through the Fourth Doctor era of the show story by story (Not episode by episode, as each story took between 2 and 6 episodes to tell). But along with the story synopses, it includes notes on adapting each story into an adventure for your group, along with stats for major supporting characters and villains. They even suggest twists in case your players have actually watched the show and know what's going to happen. There are also story hooks for further adventures based on ideas presented in the televised stories.

The book also includes playable stats for The Fourth Doctor and his companions, including Nyssa and Tegan, who I don't really count because they only appeared as his companions for his final story. I think of them more as Fifth Doctor companions who were introduced early.

13th Age looks like an attempt at "epic" D&D, from one of the designers of D&D 3rd Edition (and a bunch of other guys, none of whom are Monte Cook). It's very streamlined, with very little of the traditional D&D bean-counting. No worrying about rations or torches and spell-casters have rather small, but potent spell lists. Characters do not even track experience points to determine when they level, but instead simply gain a level whenever the GM decides that they've earned it. While they do offer some rough eyeball guidelines, the fact that each class only has 10 levels means that each level is a significant jump in power.

It does have some interesting bits to it. Most notably the idea that each character has "one unique thing." This is not really a power, but instead is something that is always true about the character. This can have impacts on the setting, like declaring that your character is the One True Fizzbin, or the Only Schnozzwanger in the World, but mostly feels like color.

The other neat thing about the game is the idea of Icons, major NPCs that run the world. And every character has some relationship to at least one of them. This doesn't mean that one of the most powerful people in the setting is your buddy, or even your friend. Just that you're on each other's radar.

Remnants is an interesting, but very small post-apocalyptic mecha game. The world achieved an incredible Golden Age, but was then cut down. All that's left now are Remnants, pieces of the previous world. Some of them still work, others don't. The most common functional Remnant is a slightly-larger-than-man-sized mecha, known as a Battle Remnant. They are self-repairing to an insane degree and are even able to adapt and change in response to circumstances. The longer a single individual holds a Battle Remnant, the more powerful it becomes. But if the Battle Remnant changes hands, it reverts to its "factory defaults" and it will customize itself to the needs of the new pilot, whatever those may be.

The setting provided is fairly loose, with many unanswered questions for the GM. It even leaves the nature of the apocalypse and the Remnants as open questions. Was the Golden Age a technological paradise and the Remnants built of adaptive nanotech? Or was it a magical wonderland and the Remnants are extremely powerful magic items?

Legends of the Wulin is a game that tries to emulate the Wuxia genre. I'm not a fan of the genre, mostly due to lack of exposure, so I can't really comment about how well it accomplishes that goal. The setting is conveyed very loosely in the form of "Loresheets" which can represent factions, philosophies, or locations. The idea is that characters can purchase them during character creation and draw various benefits from them, from privileged information to special kung fu moves.

I feel like I would have to play it to give it a proper grok. The entire book is written is a fairly flowery style, probably trying to emulate Chinese poetry. The mechanics seem simple, but the way the books' language breezes along, I'm sure I'm missing some details.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

DunDraCon Days 4 & 5

The past few days have been so packed that I haven't been able to take the time to tell you about it.

When last we left our intrepid hero, he was just about to run his adventure for the Teen Room. When I got there (yeah, I know. As fun as that opening line sounded, I don't think I want to write this whole thing in third person) I found a full table waiting for me. Including the two presenters for the seminar where nobody showed. I had the time to talk to them about the game as part of our conversation that night, so they decided to give it a try.

Overall, the game went well, and the party came up with an amusing solution to the final problem. There's typically some variation in how the players handle the problems presented in the adventure. Most groups come up with fairly typical solutions to the problems presented, but the final encounter is very open ended and demands a unique solution.

The Jaded City of Oz is a city so magical that they're not entertained by much anymore. In order to get into the city, the players have to demonstrate that they have something unique and interesting to offer. That night, the player who had the Shaggy Man (I use the Characters Pack to provide pregenerated characters to play) used the Love Magnet to romance the guard into opening the gate.

We started at 7 PM and finished the adventure at around 10:30, which wound up being bedtime for me.

The next morning was nice and easy, with very little to do. I wasn't scheduled to run my game for grownups until 2 PM, so I took advantage of the morning to get some shopping done. I'll tell you a bit more about what I got and what I think of it in another post, once I've had proper time to digest it all.

I had a full group by the time I showed up. One player had announced that he would not be arriving, and I believe that one other person who signed up simply did not arrive, but I had two girls turn up to see if any slots were available. Since there were, and I wouldn't have minded squeezing a few extra players in anyhow, they both joined the group. That left us with 4 females and 2 males (a father and son team if I'm not mistaken) to start off the adventure.

Both of the guys picked the Soldiers, Omby Amby and Private Files, and I got the feeling that they were expecting a more traditional, action oriented adventure. They did find some action and eventually got into the swing of things.

The girl who picked Prince Inga played him as haughty and overbearing, but it was fun because she kind of expected the trouble she caused. Between the encounters in the Winkie Country and the Gillikin Country, Prince Inga was such a mess that they were allowed to enter the Jaded City because they'd never seen a Prince who was covered in so many egregious substances.

One of the things about the Jaded City of Oz adventure is that it never really takes as long as I schedule. On at least one occasion, I've had a group clear through the whole thing in only 2 hours. The average time is actually closer to 3. It's just that the minimum amount of time I can request on the schedule is 4 hours.

So once the players completed the adventure after 3 hours or so, I checked with Game Registration to see what game I had gotten into. I had 2 selections that were at about the same time, so I decided to let the con's computerized Sorting Hat make the decision for me.

It was a Fate game set in the Star Wars universe. Even though I've got all the books and several sets of FUDGE dice, this was my first time actually taking it for a test drive. The GM was really awesome and the game was very visually and cinematically oriented. He had pictures of every character and background images for every place we went. He had Star Wars theme music loaded onto his tablet for background music, and even started off the proceedings with a title crawl.

The characters were pregenerated, but we were allowed to choose their gender. The GM had pictures of the character whichever choice we made. I decided to try playing the female version of my chosen character. There was a female player in the group, so I told her that this was my first time cross-playing (as I've heard it called), and I was relying on her to correct me if she found I was doing it wrong. (I don't know if I've told you any of my horror stories of when male players have tried to cross-play in games I've run, but I do have a couple.) She told me that the fact that I was worried about doing it wrong meant that I was very unlikely to do it wrong, which made me feel much better about the proceedings.

We also got to fill in some of our character's backstory. Most of it was already established and we were given a sheet that laid out the major formative moments of our character's lives, but also leading questions about the specifics of how those moments went down and what they meant to us. It was the first time I've had to put that kind of thought into a con game, but I think it did help the experience a bit.

One of the characters was a really exotic looking alien (an Ithorian, for those who know the Star Wars universe) and whenever the player spoke in character, he would speak so that the air blew over the top of his drink bottle. It was a really cool effect, making him sound a bit like he was using Stephen Hawking's voice synthesizer, but with far less technology.

The GM's cinematic focus came through not only by the way he described scenes and scene transitions, but also how we required us to roleplay. Rather than simply letting us say things like "My character is suspicious of that guy" or "I think about it, but decide against it" he would make us describe our character's internal monologue as if we were characters in a movie. "Okay, you're suspicious. What does that look like?" "How can we see the decision process? Tell us how that decision process would play out visually so the audience can understand it."

It was an interesting and exciting challenge. The GM has apparently run the scenario several times, and might do so again, so I'm not going to go into detail on the plot, but I had a lot of fun.

That started at 6 PM and we kept at it until about 2 AM. Everyone was having a blast, but we were all pretty wiped out near the end of it. On top of that, I knew I would be facing a busy morning. The last day of the con, we would have to be packed and out of our hotel room, while making the last sweep of the Dealer's Room, which would only be open for a few hours.

It was rough, but we managed to get out and catch the transit bus and then the BART very smoothly. We did run into trouble at the Greyhound station, however. It seems that with all of our purchases, our checked baggage wound up exceeding the weight limit. We juggled some things and packed them into our carry-ons so that our luggage would be under the limit.

Finally, last night and about 10:30, we arrived home, safe and sound. And after such a full day, it was pretty much straight to bed for me.

And that's why I didn't write this until now. But there you have it, folks.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

DunDraCon 2015 Day 3

There was one thing that I failed to mention about yesterday, which was the seminars. Aside from the Buyer's Bazaar, that's one of the big things to do on a Con Friday. I attempted to attend 2 seminars yesterday, but both of them went somewhat wrong.
The first was a GMing seminar. The problem here is that the speaker was about a half an hour late. It turns out that he was tied up getting his hotel room squared away. Once he arrived, it turned out to be a pretty good seminar. He'll be giving it again later in the con, hopefully for the full time and the ability to expand on some of the topics. I'll try to catch it.
The second was a seminar on gaming with kids. When I walked into a room with only 3-4 people in it, I assumed we had another speaker no-show. I was only half right. The lead speaker had failed to show (having gotten distracted by a game) so he left his 2 co-presenters to do their best. This was compounded by a lack of an audience. What resulted was a bit less focused, but a bit more intimate.

It turns out that the cosplayers from last night wound up doing a karaoke performance. Actually, it was more of a karaoke event run by cosplayers. Skeletor was the MC and He-Man ran the music. A few people, both costumed and not, got on stage and did some karaoke. Optima Prime, the girl dressed as a robot, performed a "traditional song of her people:" Dare to be Stupid by Weird Al Yankovic.
I only stayed for the first set, since it was getting late and I had a game to play in the morning. If I didn't have the time pressure, I probably would have gotten up on stage myself. It's been a long time since I've been able to do karaoke.
The game was, of course, another Mythos Trek adventure by Whitney Preston. I had played in his game last year and had a lot of fun being a total Star Trek nerd for 8-10 hours, so I decided to repeat the experience. While the adventure did have some Mythos elements, the main MacGuffin of the story was actully the puzzle box from the Hellraiser films.
Although he had reserved a 10-hour block to run his game, we wound up finishing a little bit early. Thanks to that, I actually have time to write this.
As much as I was looking forward to having my game sold at this con, it wound up not happening. I was tied up with my game, so my wife checked in on it for me. I don't have the details on wherewires got crossed or why, so I'm not going to make damning speculations. Needless to say, however, I am disappointed.
I will soon be going to run my game as part of the convention's Teen Room, where I had run Castle of the Mad Archmage last year. Here's hoping that goes well.

Friday, February 13, 2015

DunDraCon 2015 Day 2

The first official day of the con.

It was an easy morning. Coffee and pastries from a coffee shop is a pretty nice breakfast. If only we could do it every day. The Best Western was only a few blocks from the transit center, which is where we had gotten off of the BART last night and were now boarding a local transit bus to take us on the last leg of our voyage.

Once we had things properly coordinated with the guy who's room we were sharing, we proceeded to get some shopping done at the local Target. You may have noticed that we didn't take any pictures on our bus trip yesterday. It seems that our last digital camera had gotten fried about a month ago. The USB hub we were charging it from had surged, killing not only our camera, but also 2 MP3 players and our largest flash drive. So we went to the Target to scout out a replacement.

While we were picking up some other things, we did notice something interesting.

I have no real problem with pink tools. My wife's main comment on the color was that she would prefer purple rather than pink. But I am irked with how power tools are marketed to women. Both the pink electric screwdriver and the kit of pink tools are marked with "home" somewhere in their name or branding. As if women need to be reminded that, no matter how handy they may be, the place for their handy skills is in the home. The non-gender-branded tools do not carry such reminders.

So yes, I am calling sexism on this, but not in a "burn the non-believers" kind of way. Just in a "This is the 21st Century and the fact that we can't get past this sort of thing is the reason we haven't been allowed to invent flying cars. /facepalm" kind of way.

Digital camera and a few other needs taken care of, we went back to the con hotel to check out the Buyer's Bazaar. The Dealer's Room is not open today, since the dealer's are taking the time to set up, so the Buyer's Bazaar allows individual sellers to rent a table and sell off their games that they haven't played in ages. I picked up a few Palladium books as well as a couple of GURPS books that I didn't previously have. The list continues to shrink and one day, I will have them all. I'll tell you all about that in my annual "This is what I bought" post.

I will, however, give you a small teaser:

DunDraCon has never had a strong costuming/cosplay component, but that seems to be changing this year. There is some sort of cosplay karaoke event going on pretty much right now. I think once I'm finished with this post. I'll go get some more pictures and give you a fuller report tomorrow. But I do have some pictures to share with you right now.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

DunDraCon 2015 Day 1

No, the convention hasn't started early. This is just me trying to get back into a blogging groove by writing about my annual convention adventure as it happens. This is the second year that I've had a laptop that has been able to travel with me, and free wifi is everywhere these days, so I figured I should probably start embracing modern technology.

The majority of today was spent traveling in one conveyance or another. My wife was up late last night making sure everything was packed and ready. Although she accompanies me every year, she is really the unsung hero of getting ready for the con. She does tend to overworry and overpack, though. It's one of the things I love about her.

After only about 2 hours of sleep on her end, and perhaps a few more on mine, we gathered up our suitcases and carryons and sherpa'ed our way to the bus stop. Which is where my worrying started to kick in. I have traveled by Greyhound several times, but I always worry if the bus will stop where I expect it to. When I was a kid, there was a Greyhound station in town and that's where you went to buy tickets and get on the bus. The station closed a number of years ago and the property is now a used car lot. You can't buy tickets in town (I went to a neighboring city to get the tickets for this trip), but the Greyhound does stop where it used to, in front of the used car lot that used to be the bus station. Even so, I worry every time I wait for the Greyhound bus there, sure that the closure of the station was a sign that the company doesn't want to do business in town anymore and this time, they won't stop for me. They still do, but I still worry. Every time.

The bus did arrive and stop for us. It was an uneventful trip overall. I caught up on some reading, while my wife did some sewing. She made a pair of snowboarding mittens. Not that she's into snowboarding (she responds very negatively to cold), but she liked the style of mittens with a distinct index finger. So she cut some fleece fabric into the proper shapes, packed a simple sewing kit, and took the time during the bus ride to hand stitch the pieces together.

Once we arrived in San Francisco, we took a moment to hit a coffee shop before boarding the BART. We were both running on very little energy and trying to carry my wife's overpacked bags, so the rest and caffeine did us some good.

The interesting thing about us traveling on the Greyhound and the BART is that we simply follow both routes to the end. We got off the bus at the last stop of its route, then got on the BART train and rode that to its final destination as well.

That got us as far as Pleasanton, where we have hunkered down for the night in a Best Western. Tomorrow, we'll hop on a local transit bus to take us the rest of the way.

More news then.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

First Post of the Year

Just in case you were worried, I am still alive and still posting here.

DunDraCon is just around the corner and I will definitely be there. And so will Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. Not only will I be running AiO on the convention schedule, but I have also arranged for the game to be available in the Dealer's Room. I am very excited.

Getting things organized for the con has been more work than I expected this year. The hotel sold out in a matter of days. It happened before anyone expected, even the convention organizers. While they were trying to get an overflow hotel setup, they put up a room sharing page on their site. This is how I managed to get lodging at the convention hotel this year.

Transportation was the next major step. We've been going with my friend Mike for several years now, but he declared last year to be the last year he would do it. His car was capable of handling 3 people and their convention gear, but when we added his new girlfriend to the mix, there was not enough room. So it's back to Greyhound buses

But I did take advantage of Google Transit to figure out the local bus system in San Ramon and turn a $20 cab ride into a $4 bus fare. Modern technology is wonderful, isn't it?

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