Saturday, March 29, 2014

Inspiration: Gadget Man

Gadget ManI'm fond of telling detail in RPGs -- little bits of detail that help flesh out the world. It may be innovative, it may be weird, or it may be downright domestic in that quirky, but very human "that's stupid but so true" way that we almost never think of but recognize the veracity of when we encounter it.

TV shows and magazines are my go-to source for these types of things, especially lifestyle bits and cutting edge technology.

I recommend Gadget Man (Season 01 has Stephen Fry, and Season 02 has Richard Ayoade as host) for some particularly interesting bits of lifestyle gadgetry that can be extrapolated -- or added in straight as 'old technology' -- for Science Fiction and Cyberpunk games.

My personal episode favorites so far are:

  • The one where Mr. Ayoade takes us through a gaggle of gadgets aimed at making child care easier. The origami stroller (a self-folding and unfolding stroller) and the Puzzlebox Orbit (a mind-controlled flying toy) will definitely trigger ideas in the devious GM. Oh, and the automated rolling spycam to keep tabs on your children.
  • The space-saving episode, chock full of ideas that could be stolen for your cramped starship or space-station... or just a Cyberpunk sarariman's home.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Confederation Chronicles: A Gumshoe Sidestory

I've been reading through Ashen Stars and began looking at ways to integrate it into the Stars Without Number setting. I suppose it's due to my curiosity about Gumshoe's focus on both investigation issues in RPGs AND about tackling the procedural format in gaming sessions.

My original concept for the Confederation Chronicles tackles an all-out exploration / expeditionary approach to the Stars Without Number setting & system.

The setting is different, but not campaign shatteringly so. There are echoes of Stars Without Number here, and the mystery of the Mohilar war certainly has resonances similar to the Scream of SWN.

In the end, it's the campaign framework I'm looking at testing, and having Lazers trolling the Bleed to solve mysteries and uphold justice on the frontier does have a nice feel to it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Things I Learned From Champions: It's okay to RetCon or Reboot or even Re-invent!

Like any other RPG campaign, there's a potential for an ongoing campaign. Unlike other genres, however, it's arguable that super-heroic campaigns have the greatest leniency for changes to established canon or campaign history -- and it's because of the source material.

Comics themselves have a long track record of forgetting / ignoring things like character histories, established universe rules, and even character deaths. And that was before things like the establishing the multiverse, and those oh-too-often universe-wide retcons known as "crises" in the DC parlance.

In-Session Fixes

Now, while my old gaming group was very much dedicated to the 'death by the rule of the dice', there were instances when certain things would be replayed or adjusted.

For example, the GM forgetting to inform a PC with a set of extra-normal senses (that are always on) about a crucial clue that would've changed the outcome of a situation. Or the incorrect calculation / interpretation of a rule in combat. These -- in my group -- would've triggered a re-roll or a re-play before the events were committed to campaign canon.

These changes could be likened to editorial fiat of comic books, before the book gets published and distributed to the masses.

Next Session Fixes

Now, if you imagine that a GM is equivalent to a given creative team or perhaps another comic book entirely, using the same characters, then you might find some disagreement over what happened to shared characters.

Similarly, if a cosmic-powered villain run by a bloodthirsty guest GM that ended up killing a PC or two, then one could expect that game to be entirely ignored canon-wise (but experience points retained, of course). Or perhaps certain villainous NPCs were portrayed / played incorrectly -- they would be revealed as fakes or copycats. Or if a PC had played out of character (a rare occurence due to personal reasons), then perhaps the copycat rationale or a mind-control subplot would be hatched -- that the player and PC would then have to endure for a series of sessions until resolved.

Of course, there are some game sessions where everyone -- including the GM -- agrees that a certain character, or series of events, or the entire storyline was an abomination, and never happened. I know I still do that with certain comic book storylines or details -- Cable, I'm talking about you.

A Character Revamp

These can range from a simple updating of a character (much like the shift from the "first citizen" version of Batman to the "dark avenger of the night" Batman during the run of Neal Adams in Detective Comics), to the creation of an alternate / upgraded version of that character in "another universe" -- like the Barry Allen Flash instead of the Jay Garrick Flash, or the Hal Jordan Green Lantern instead of the Alan Scott Green Lantern.

This could be due to many reasons:
  • a new GM who didn't like the old character's build;
  • a new ruleset that mandates (or gives an excuse) to refine the current character's build;
  • boredom with the current character concept, or an insight into what the player really wants the character to be;
  • a new movie / TV series / cartoon / comic book gives a new spin or take on a character archetype and a player wants in on that.
Often, a player will rebuild the character in a more optimized manner than before, due to perennial problems that are encountered during play and also to expanding rules knowledge and expertise. However, sometimes the rebuild breaks the effectiveness (or even appeal) of the character -- much like an upgrade of software that somehow ignores a certain sweet spot of a build that was heretofore unknown.

But, like comic books -- this may all be necessary to keep the characters, the game, and the campaign fresh and relevant to the players and the GM for years to come.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Things I Learned From Champions: A Power Fantasy Has A Cost

About this time last year, I wrote about power fantasies in RPGs.

I'm returning to that well once more, because I was thinking about what lessons I'd learned from playing Champions with my old group of gaming friends.

Many of them dealt with the power fantasy that some would say are inherent in comic book heroes. More than mere wish fulfillment ("I can fly!" or "I can see through walls!" or "I am the best fighter in the world!"), there's also the desire of a child or adolescent (and some would say, adults) to have a greater ability to make a difference: to become someone respected or feared, to save lives, to stop injustice, to change the world.

But in a point-based system like Champions -- which can reflect a need for the 'fair-play' mentality in a supers game, wherein everyone has the potential for roughly equal efficacy in the game, as well as a way to keep the powers at a manageable level for a desired campaign -- you routinely run out of points for your desired character concept, especially early on.

And when you hit that ceiling, that's when you start negotiating -- sometimes with the GM, mostly with yourself -- about how to realize that power fantasy embodied by your super-heroic character concept. Here are some approaches and the lessons they taught me.

Approach 01: Cripple yourself Physically, Mentally, or Socially to get more points

Veterans of point-based games know this trick. There's a famous article in an old Adventurer's Club magazine concerning uber-powerful cripples that were clearly built to abuse aspects of if the Champions system: powerful beings lacking arms, legs, and sight; dangerously insane; hunted by everyone and their grandma.

But after the initial rush of having been able to 'break the system' by getting ridiculous amounts of points, and perhaps allowed to play a game or two with your PC, there is the dawning realization that your character just isn't the suave, sophisticated hero; the even-tempered, full-limbed bastion of reason, or the hyper-competent polymath that you tend to enjoy reading about in your favored graphic novels.

There's a point that (well, some of you) realize that there's an additional cost to this type of rules abuse: the inability to play the character you really wanted to.

Approach 02: Bend the Rules Until They Break

This covers applying as many ridiculous limitations to your powers to reduce their costs (even though they're clearly not limitations due to the rarity of the occasion), combining powers and advantages and limitations in strained configurations (often devoid of a serious special effect or an attempt at a concept), and even straight out ignoring the rules that state you can't do certain things.

Again, after the rush of getting away with it (maybe once or twice), the one-trick pony character you've created loses its luster, and you end up wanting a more well-rounded, fun to play character. More likely, however, you find that the ideal situation that your character will be a nigh-unstoppable combat monster in never comes up, and you hobble around trying to make an impossible set of circumstances take place.

Approach 03: Hide from and Lie to the GM

This familiar approach, with a near-infinite number of possible variants, often ends with the realization that you're only cheating yourself because you know you didn't earn your victory. Or it ends with your GM (and possibly other players) pissed not only at your violation of rules, but also the trust of the gaming group and you find yourself reprimanded or kicked out.

Ultimate Realization: Choose Your Character Concept and Pay the Price

At some point, perhaps in a flash of grudging insight or in a slowly evolving philosophy of character creation, you accept certain things, like:
  • you don't have enough points to realize your character as he / she would be at the zenith of his / her power, but you can build him / her at the beginning or early part of his / her career;
  • the power levels of the current campaign are inappropriate for your superheroic concept, so you shift to another character concept that you're also fond of;
  • you will not take on disadvantages that will lead to you violating the spirit of your character for the sake of points, thus helping your GM understand what you're going for and avoiding irreversible reputation-damaging incidents. No more Berzerk: when in an enclosed space (almost guaranteeing an avoidance of elevators, vehicles, and narrow corridors);
  • psychological disadvantages will serve to help define your character, rather than act as a crutch to be overcome for the sake of points. Psych Lim: Never Leaves a Teammate Behind (Total Commitment) isn't even something you'll ask to roll to overcome, you play it as such -- pretty much ensuring that your other PCs will have to force you to do so in-game;
  • you accept that your GM will bring your power limitations into play with a given frequency, and thus choose them according to how often your want that disadvantage to rear its annoying head -- dropping them (by paying points) when it gets old;
  • you play straight with your GM, perhaps doing real negotiations with him / her to get certain concessions or approvals -- a word of honor to eschew rules abuse and to roleplay true to type. For example: promising to adhere to the moral codes of Batman or Superman in order gain lenience for restricted or banned powers or power framework constructs.
  • agreeing to regular peer reviews of character pointage to keep you and your players honest (and error free).
Of course, your gaming group and mileage may vary. But, in my experience, this has been the path of Champions character creation enlightenment for my fellow players and GMs -- though some achieved enlightenment earlier than others.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Fading Suns: A Priestly Path -- Part 01

"Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men's real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil?" -- Father Brown

Two From Life, One From History, One From Fiction

In a past post (also titled A Priestly Path), I talked about creating new characters using the current version of the Fading Suns system -- inspired by real priests.

I decided to pattern the first two on priests I've actually met:
  • a priest I knew in school who taught us math, and held our class to a very high standard. For most of the year, we hated him -- but toward the end, we began to appreciate his methods as we experienced a jump in our mathematical skills. He was a Jesuit, very smart, told corny puns, and was very protective of the trees on campus. He passed away years ago, and is still remembered by our class with fondness.
  • another priest associated with my alma mater who is in administration, but also teaches on campus. His path through the priesthood is very interesting: with a Bachelor of Science in Physics, he entered the Society of Jesus and got another set of degrees in Philosophy and Sacred Theology, before moving on to the U.S. to get a Master's Degree in Physics and a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Physics at two different universities there.
The next one would probably drain all possible points, unless I start him off from an earlier point in his career. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) is someone whose mark on the world cannot be underestimated -- though reading through his achievements and those of the Society sound like an epic campaign, straining credulity. Despite the limitations, I'll definitely run out of points.

The last one might be a bit more reasonable -- inspired by the literary character Father Brown.

The real trick is to tweak them so that they might be found in a noble's entourage -- or perhaps tie them all together as an adventuring party? Too bad there's no Brother Battle in the mix for combat. But I did know an ex-military man who became a priest in the U.S. at my parish...

Friday, March 14, 2014

GM's Day Finds: NeoExodus Starter Kit

You've got about two days at the time of this posting to avail of this excellent setting for Pathfinder.

Nine products, including the core setting book -- normally priced at $32.93 for a low, low price of $10.99.

Check out NeoExodus: A House Divided and buy it (along with the character classes addenda, adventure book, and spell card packs) now!

Maybe I should try my hand at converting these to Monsters & Magic...

Things I Learned From Champions: Preamble

Champions and the HERO System get a bum rap for a clustered set of criticisms. Most of them center around concerns about complexity, math, and emphasis on combat.

Perhaps it was just the people I played with, or the rulebooks that I started with, but I could never really agree 100% with the naysayers.

True, there was a certain complexity in the game system, but:
  1. I actually found it quite simple and elegant in comparison to the tables and charts and multiple rulebooks from AD&D 2nd Edition onwards;
  2. Given the challenge of addressing the breadth of super-heroic powers and environmental concerns that might regularly crop up in superheroic campaigns, I felt that the rulesets were remarkably consistent;
  3. Genre physics emulation rule systems -- very different from the narrative-driven rule systems that also emerged some time after my beginning Champions -- are very much different in terms of character creation and gameplay strategies.
As for the math, it was never an issue. I actually became better at the fundamental arithmetic involved (no quadratic equations or powers or radicals, just plain addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division), and often scratched my head at the complaints. Perhaps it was just a cultural distaste / gaming preference against math, or having calculators in a game -- but my fellow players and GMs loved trying to figure out how much casual strength would be needed to deflect the moon, so there was no fear of calculators at our table. Especially since we regularly played on the fly, making rough estimates of the mass of a given car, the energy output of a given cyclotron, etc.

And combat? Well, that's the criticism leveled at almost all iterations of D&D, and quite a few other RPGs out there. Superhero combat is a staple of the genre, and is often found in the catalog of defining elements of many a superhero storyline. But our gaming table was also fond of roleplaying, and fully fleshing out characters by purchasing both the Professional Skill and Knowledge Skill for certain core elements of our characters, seen by some ensuring that we could talk the talk AND walk the walk. And for entire games that dealt with backstory, or character development, the dice rarely hit the table.

So, in the future I'll be posting on aspects of my experience and views of this system, and maybe bring back a little bit of the magic that seems so distant these days.


Based on older posts, some of the topics will include:
  • Teamwork
  • Variety
  • Well-rounded characters (attack, defense, movement, and factor X)
  • Science and the rubber it's made from
  • Generalization, Specialization, and the trap of the Swiss Army Knife

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Comic Book Confessionals: Bludhaven Academy

Oh, I really liked this Fatman on Batman podcast (episode #051). Not so much for the warm-up banter and the really interesting friendly catch-up stories between Kevin Smith and Paul Dini -- but for the awesome brainstorming session on a TV show idea (triggered by the first Arkham Origins TV commercial).

Bludhaven Academy. Awesome idea that I wish would be created and come close to (or exceed) the potential promised here.

And it makes me think about super-heroes and mythology, and it pulls me back to my super-heroic gaming again.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lazy Post: Women in the Super-Hero Genre

I got a request for Darna in my last lazy post, but she doesn't really fit into the fantasy genre -- more of the superheroic genre. Hence this lazy post (which includes the female cosplayer pics in action / heroic poses that I could find on a cursory glance). Yeah, I'm primarily a DC fan -- but I like a lot of off-beat Marvel stuff too.

Darna 2009.
Portrayed by Marian Rivera
Darna 2004
Portrayed by Angel Locsin
Cosplayed by Jackie Ashley
photographed by DanaBelle

Batgirl aka Barbara Gordon cosplay from
cosplayer Knightess Rouge.
Photography by Janet Drake.
Model: Sarah Scott
Photography: Superhero Photography

Monday, March 3, 2014

Lazy Post: Females in the Fantasy Genre

Update: Okay, here's Xena!

There was a request for Xena, so here she is. Non-traditional Xena garb, but the attitude is awesome.