Friday, June 28, 2019

Brick & Mortar: Stratagemma (Florence, Italy)

Last month I had the pleasure of visiting Italy with my family and some friends. As is my habit, when visiting any new country, I try to find a local gaming store and check out the scene.

For Italy, it was Stratagemma (located in Florence, walking distance from the hotel we were staying at -- and very close to the Duomo, apparently). The visit really drove home several things to me:

  1. the web and its tools make finding such places, and managing your expectations, so much easier than in the past. I was able to find the location via Google Search, got directions to it via Google Maps, and was even able to enjoy online virtual tours of the locale.
  2. getting new blood into the hobby / hobbies is important for any store (and any hobby). They were having some kind of Pokemon card game introductory tournament when we dropped by, and boy was my son excited! He started chattering animatedly at the boys (roughly his age) who were playing. They politely listened, but perhaps understood as little about what he was saying as my son did about what they were saying. But the enthusiasm was reciprocated until I stepped in to let them continue with their tournament.
  3. different locales have different preferences. I had no real understanding about what was popular in Italy, much less in this particular corner of it, but I was surprised by some things nevertheless: a Cyberpunk 2020 RPG (reprint) prominently displayed in the window, and apparently a call for players on the bulletin board; the absence of Pathfinder and the dominance of D&D 5th Edition; some local RPGs in Italian, but also some international RPGs in English on the shelves.
I would've loved to stay to discover more about the sub-culture, but museums, sights, and food were calling us to other parts of Italy.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

RPGs: an aggregator of my fandom interests

At some point, gaming became a focal point of all my fandom. There were two main reasons for this:

  1. my fellow gamers were part of that fandom -- we didn't share the same exact interests in Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Crime, Horror, Humor, Comics, TV, Movies and the strange intersection that snags the interest of fandom, but the constant exposure helped broaden my own fandom beyond what I would have learned of on my own. And their enthusiasm was infectious.
  2. games allowed me to express and reference my fandom -- character homages, plotline riffs, setting elements cobbled together from many sources, madcap canon theories discussed and dissected in the middle of games (and sometimes long after them) all helped to refine and catalyze my general fandom is a rich broth of imagination and experimentation.
It is with this in mind that I return to RPGs in the middle of this year, with some goals:

  • to continue my son's RPG experiences either through our current Champions series (PowerPuff Girls: the Shadow of Krypton);
  • to finish reading a number of RPG books that I've purchased and would definitely see regular play had I but the time and the game group;
  • to understand the shape that this hobby (and -- dare I say it -- art form) has assumed in the modern era.

The last goal would seem to entail both a review of the current topics of discussion on blogs and RPG news sites across the field. The second goal would seem to involve a strict schedule of reading (and character building, my preferred way of learning both RPG systems and settings). The first goal would entail some more discussions with my son, now that we've had a number of sessions under our belt.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Gaming with the Kid: Fighting Crime Trying To Save The World (part 1)

I truly enjoy the SuperTeam Family blog.
The Powerpuff Girls, it turns out, aren't a pure rip-off of the Kryptonian power set. Each of the girls have their own unique powers -- and that's just from the original series. I won't go into the two other series that have aired since then.

In order to build the girls in the Hero System, I'd follow the following process:
  1. create a base PPG template of powers
  2. add in the individual powers and abilities of each girl
  3. tweak the stats and complications for a completed character sheet.

1. the Base PPG template

Fortunately, has DC Heroes character sheets for each of the girls:
These will not only help to build my base template, but will also help in the next step on how to add in the individual powers of each girl. However, not everything necessarily will be reflected in these stats, so I'd have to go to a Wikia page for an 'in fiction' explanation of those abilities.

2. Individual Powers and Abilities

It turns out that Bubbles has the ability to talk to animals, and that Buttercup is the fastest of the trio, and that Blossom has both fire breath and freeze breath. Thank goodness for fandom wikis which keep track of this sort of thing.

3. Finishing off the character sheet

I'll be honest in that I'll be trying to not only be faithful to the builds based on the two sets of source material above, but I'll also be balancing them against each other, point-wise. This is partially due to my longtime Hero System habits of wanting to know the point totals, but also to show my son how allocation of the same amount of resources can result in very different results... and different options for play.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Kult: New Apocalyptic Power?

When you read the copy of Kult, it's not unreasonable to jump to the conclusion that it somehow involves the Book of Revelation.

KULT: Divinity Lost is a reboot of the highly acclaimed and infamous contemporary horror role-playing game “Kult”, originally released in 1991. This, the 4th edition of Kult, features a completely new rule-set, and the setting is updated to present day. Escape your nightmares, strike bargains with demons, and try to stay alive in a world full of pain, torture, and death.

In KULT: Divinity Lost, the world around us is a lie. Mankind is trapped in an Illusion. We do not see the great citadels of Metropolis towering over our highest skyscrapers. We do not hear the screams from the forgotten cellar where hidden stairs take us to Inferno. We do not smell the blood and burnt flesh from those sacrificed to long forgotten Gods. But some of us see glimpses from beyond the veil. We have this strange feeling that something is not right—the ramblings of a madman in the subway seems to carry a hidden message, and, when thinking about it, our reclusive neighbor doesn’t appear to be completely human when we pass in the hallway. By slowly discovering the truth about our prison, our captors, and our hidden pasts, we can finally awaken from our induced sleep and take control of our destiny.

A real feel of the End Times, yes? And as a fan of the game from the first edition , I was more than a little bit surprised to see that it had hit the 4th edition with its latest release. Flipping through sections, pre-reading before a full read, I see something about gamemaster “moves”.

Now, moves are something associated with Powered By The Apocalypse games — and probably a system more approriate for the type of stories that seem to be suggested by the progressions and in-game fiction listed in the original copy that I owned. But my experience with PBTA is limited, so I am unsure how much of a fit this variant of the ruleset would be for gameplay.

But it does amuse me that the subject matter is aligned with the name of the system.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Gaming with the Kid

I wanted to get my kid into gaming. Not only is it one of my favorite forms of recreation -- I believe it taught me a great many things due to the nature of at-the-table game play, and all the reading and preparation between games.

And I had a plan.

Pokemon Investigators in Spaaaaaaaaaaaace!

He had demonstrated an interest in Pokemon... well, okay. He's a recovering Pokemon fanatic with near-encyclopedic knowledge of Pokemon up until he stopped following them. And he's still thrilled when we play Pokemon Go on occasion.

Plus, he really likes the Space Mice series from the Geronimo Stilton mega-franchise of books. To keep things simple, I decided we should play...

Ashen Stars meets Mutant City Blues, except instead of superhuman police, we have Pokemon Trainers-turned-Investigators sent out on Lazer-like missions, with a twist towards the Bubblegumshoe creation of a Solar System "neighborhood"!

But then I realized the work involved, and came to my senses.

Then he started asking me about how the Cartoon Network heroes might be able to take down Superman or any of the other DC animated heroes and I began to look at Hero 6th Edition. And that's where I am now. Figuring out how the decoupled HERO System, which I've never played, might be the gateway for my son's gaming interests.

Hello, old friend.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

On the Radar: SF RPGs (2 Science Fiction, 1 Speculative Fiction)

Here are a trio of RPGs that are currently of interest to me -- two of them are science fiction (one harder science than the other), and one falls into the broader genre of speculative fiction.

The Expanse RPG (Quickstart)

The full RPG for The Expanse isn't out yet, but you can avail of this quickstart to try out the AGE system as applied to this setting. For those who haven't really tried out any of the seasons of The Expanse, nor read the books that the TV show is based on, you may wish to hop online to get a briefing (but beware spoilers).

Here's the product blurb:

Don't Wait For A Countdown. Launch Right Into the Action.
We've got the crew assembled and ready. Strap into your ship and go full-burn toward adventure across the Solar System. The Expanse Roleplaying Game uses the AGE system to explore the science fiction universe created by James S. A. Corey. 

The Expanse RPG Quickstart includes everything you and your friends need to play your first game except some six-sided dice and pencils: condensed rules to help you learn how to play, six pre-generated characters ready for action, and Cupbearer—a complete adventure that sends the crew on a job aboard Ganymede Station.

I myself am curious about how they handle explaining to folks who may not be as versed in hard science fiction (or, indeed, real-world physics) how deadly adventuring in space really is. I'll be downloading this shortly.

Star Trek Adventures: Science Division Supplement

I've been waiting for this one to come out before I pick up all the division supplements and review them. And is that a Kzin on the cover? Hope so -- it would be interesting to see a crew with Klingons and Kzinti represented -- especially with a certain short story that was turned into a ST: TOS Animated Series episode involving them. They certainly weren't part of the Federation at the time...

Here's the product blurb:

The Sciences Division supplemental rulebook provides Gamemasters and Players with a wealth of new material for use in Star Trek Adventures for characters in the sciences division. The Sciences Division supplemental rulebook includes: This book requires the Star Trek Adventures core rulebook to use.

Detailed description of the sciences division, covering both the science and medical departments, Starfleet Exploratory Division, Starfleet Science, and Starfleet Medical.

  • An expanded list of Talents and Focuses for science and medical characters, as well as new character creation choices for cybernetic and genetic enhancements.
  • Guidance on creating truly strange and unique alien species, as well as advice on including spatial anomalies,parallel universes, the Q, and time travel in your adventures.
  • A list of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals, and rules for their inclusion in Star Trek Adventures.
  • Advice on creating plot components that focus on their scientific and medical Player Characters, as well as information on including counselors in a campaign.
  • Rules for creating new, truly alien species, introducing hazardous and hostile environments into scenes, and new mechanics for suffering or curing diseases.
  • Detailed descriptions and game statistics for a range of Science and Medicine focused NPCs and Supporting Characters, including Carol Marcus, Noonian Soong, and Zephram Cochrane.

The Star Trek Adventures supplementary rulebooks and sourcebooks require the Star Trek Adventures core rulebook in order to play.

TM & © 2019 CBS Studios Inc. © 2019 Paramount Pictures Corp. STAR TREK and related marks and logos are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Over the Edge (3rd Edition)

I never bought the 2nd edition -- all my print materials (which I've hung onto) are 1st edition, and it's thrilling to see how they might've updated the system and the setting for the modern era. A lot has changed -- greater geopolitical awareness, shifts in societal norms, and a greater preponderance of weird fiction in popular media. I'm getting ready to buy this while it's on sale...

Here's the product blurb:

During your stay with us, please remember that Liberty is Job One, Disarmament Means Peace, It’s Polite to Speak English, and, of course, Paranormal Activity is perfectly legal.

Thank you for your consent.

The Edge is the weirdest city in the world. Get into trouble. Question your place in the crazed multiverse. Transcend mortal limits. Join a cult. Fight a baboon. Along the way, you might find out who really controls humanity. Unless, of course, you’ve been working for Them all along.

Over the Edge is the classic RPG of counter-culture conspiracy, weird science, and urban danger. For its third edition, the game comes roaring back in a completely reimagined relaunch by its original creator. Everything old gets a new take. Nothing is a retread. Every conspiracy, every neighborhood, every major gamemaster-character is portrayed with a new spin. It’s not “25 years later.” Everything on the Island is reborn to surprise new and existing players alike.

Pick it up if you're got an itch to see Al Amarja again for the first time.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Things I Learned From Champions: Maximum Movement Determines The Limits of Your Sandbox

In my early days of RPG play, the limits of where you could go were defined by the walls of the corridors and rooms of the dungeon map. You often had a handful of choices at most in any given room, when you wanted to decide where to go next.

Eventually, after leveling up in power and stature, the edges of the adventuring world were pushed back -- flight and dimension doors allowed you to break out of dungeon edges. Wilderness adventures allowed you to choose any direction in which to travel -- though you were limited by how far you could travel in a turn, or an hour, or a day. But eventually, with the right equipment, the right spells, the right artifacts, you could break through these limits too.

But in Champions, you can pour a lot of your points into movement as a beginning character and already push back the edges of the gaming sandbox to a degree that might stun some beginning GMs.

A Staggering Selection of Movement

Even if you forego pumping points into a single movement power, the type of movement power can already chip away at those sandbox borders:
  • Jump can allow you to hurdle impassable crevasses or leap out of a deep gladiator arena (much to the surprise of whichever would-be emperor is maligning your heroes);
  • Tunneling will allow you to make your own corridors (and even close them up after you, if you pay the points);
  • Flight allows you to not only overcome nasty traps like pitfalls or slides, it also allows you overcome barriers like mountains and impassable rivers;
  • Teleport obviously allows you to bypass innumerable types of barriers without traveling through the intervening space (which could be filled with gas, invisible traps, monsters, etc.)
In fact, if you think about iconic heroes, a great part of their character is associated with a given movement power: Superman has flight, the Flash has running, Aquaman has swimming, Spider-man has swinging from a web, and so on. This freedom of movement is one of the defining aspects of super-heroism.

Faster than a Speeding Bullet

But overloading points into a single movement power also grants freedom of movement. Putting enough points into running will allow you to go anywhere on the hexgrid map in a single phase. Adding MegaScale to your flight or your teleport will allow you to go anywhere in the world (at the cost of a little / a lot of accuracy.

In other words, enough points in the right movement power will shatter the walls of your sandbox:

  • "The only other person who knows the secret is halfway around the world."
  • "We'll never get this kidney to the East Coast on time -- we have to find another way!"
  • "How will we check the entire northern border of the state for the lost child?"

Control for Control's Sake?

Of course, we're all familiar with the frustrations of a DM who didn't allow you to go beyond the edges of the sandbox because of a weak reason. We all know the human limits on all GMs that prevent them from creating an infinitely detailed, fractal world -- but we don't like it when the borders of reality are so obviously arbitrary. We want some kind of consistent level of verisimilitude before we'll agree to the edges of a super-hero sandbox.

So we learned to talk to our GMs about the types of games they wanted to us to be able to play. We'd accept in-game, temporary reasons to nerf our powers for a single session (happens in comics anyway). We'd not play certain characters for certain adventure types -- all for the fun of the game.

But we'd never permanently allow that movement power to be taken away, as it was central to the character's concept.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Campaign Frame: Metahuman Investigations

In trying to come up with a campaign frame that allows (a) players to rotate through different characters; (b) some players to appear occasionally; (c) a coherent story throughline, I looked to a series of books for inspiration:

Sugar & Spike: Metahuman Investigations collects the stories of Sugar and Spike (all grown up now), as they solve cases and problems for some of the biggest names in the DC Universe (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman). It's a mix of embracing stories from the Silver Age and carrying them forward into modern day -- and how to address any lingering consequences from things like old bat-costumes and an island in the shape of Superman!

From this, I'd take the premise of being hired by known movers and shakers from the meta-human realm and addressing smaller problems of theirs that may have grave consequences for normals caught in their particular kind of gravity. It's a variant on the old triskaidekaturion campaign frame that I wrote about before.

The benefits of this campaign are relatively low-powered starting characters, a way to drip feed aspects of your world's history through an active investigation, and some interesting enemies and allies that you meet along the way.

Chase was a comic book series starring an agent of the DEO (Department of Extranormal Operations).  The DEO was interesting, since its remit was to identify, monitor, and neutralize any metahuman threats to national security.

Different from the premise above, this assumes a government interest in keeping the world of normals safe from the metahuman realm. It also suggests an active role from government agencies seeking to gather information about all metahumans, and quite possibly strike teams and assassins tasked with taking out threats that super-heroes can't or won't address in a way that the government would prefer. With something like this, can't imagine that the Joker would stay alive for very long -- unless he somehow manages to fool them with misinformation or is a far greater threat than we understand.

Both of these deal with low-level (or lopsided) metahumans or talented normals attempting to keep the normal world safe in a world of metahumans. There's a rich tapestry of allies, neutrals, and enemies as individuals and organizations across a historical context that can make adventures less of a sequence of clashes, and more of an unfolding mystery that culminates in a climactic resolution.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Note to Self: The Armchair Gamer Blog Cycle (Q1 2019)

Trying to set up a regular set of containers for blogging, until I'm back in the habit again. My current areas of interest are:

  • all the superheroic material on TV and the big screen
  • comics (classic and new) and their multi-faceted canon
  • return to Enigmundia (my alternate takes on the Mystara corner of the D&D multiverse)
  • the Hero System
  • all these FATE and PBTA game systems which run counter to my decades of more traditional gaming tastes
  • cross-time / cross-dimensional RPG settings
  • space opera / science fiction gaming
Seems like a lot, and am trying to get a good handle on each so I can set up a notes-and-outline incubator on my apps, so I can easily write from them.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Mining the Titans: S01E01 "Titans"

"Mining the Titans" is a series of blog posts about using elements of the TV show Titans for your superheroic RPG campaigns.

The TV show is definitely a grittier rebooted version of the comic book The New Teen Titans. There are elements familiar to fans of that original comic book: some of the original cast (Robin, Raven, Starfire, and Changeling), the Trigon / Raven conundrum as the primary reason for the team's formation, hints about an older team (Wonder Girl, Hawk & Dove), etc.

Introduction of Characters

It's interesting to see this as a super-heroic team forming with a variety of backgrounds:
  • Dick Grayson (Robin) as the experienced PC, clearly with a long backstory that is referenced and drip-fed throughout the series along with Dick Grayson's subplot of trying to define his identity apart from Bruce Wayne / Batman.
  • Rachel Roth (Raven) as a newly minted PC with a traumatic origin story that also serves as the catalyst for the team getting together.
  • Kory Anders (Starfire) as another new PC, with the "amnesia that will slowly fade" schtick serving as the hook to allow the gradual reveal of her backstory, abilities, and skills slowly reveal themselves.
  • Gar Logan (Beast Boy / Changeling) as, perhaps, an NPC hero turned PC for the purposes of this new campaign.
An interesting choice: giving almost everyone (Gar's character isn't given almost any screentime in this episode) a reason NOT to go to the authorities.
  • Robin's secret ID and vigilante status are self-explanatory.
  • Rachel seems to be the target of several people (one highly motivated 'killer for the greater good', and an apparently very large organization with members in soup kitchens and the police) who want to killer her, or use her for whatever nefarious purposes they may hide in their dark hearts.
  • Kory is hunted by an apparent organized crime group that is also interested in Rachel.
These pressures will force them together as a team, even as their personality clashes and goals might force them apart. These forces would also allow the GM to define and reveal the hostile, neutral, and safe spaces of the world for the individual and the team in a very organic way. In classic reboot style, many references (meta-hints for the players, not the PCs) are generously spread throughout the unfolding of the storyline.

Combat and Use of Powers

The show is more violent than cartoons: Robin's combat scenes aren't about efficiently taking out criminals -- it shows this universe's view of the vigilante using the fear of violence against criminals (short of killing them, we assume). The manifestations of both Raven's and Starfire's powers are lethal to their targets -- again, almost as if Robin's player was an experienced gamer (a more extended combat scene), while the others are beginners (not quite combat, more of an introduction on how their powers can be used in combat).

This can be an approach GMs use as well -- giving all players a chance to strut their stuff, but with the experienced ones getting a bit more challenge in tactics.

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