Monday, April 29, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 1

1: Analyze the Source Material

Saddening as it is I suppose I have to bow to reality and accept that comic books are less and less likely to be the primary vehicle for super-heroic adventures. The blockbuster movies that we had hoped for for so long have swallowed the comics whole and now much of the Marvel and DC heroes are much better known for their screen exploits than their page ones. (Plus as a child of the 70’s it’s been a long time since the big two publishers have produced something that strikes my fancy he way that the mid 70’s to late 80’s comics did – too much of it is decompressed and occasionally incomprehensible to me. Call me an old fuddy-duddy if you like.) Those movies, increasingly popular and no longer sneering at their source material, have become the way new gamers know the genre, and so I must turn my attention to adapting that to gaming.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Full Metal Jackets

So last weekend, pre-vomiting bug, I took the family up to see the Higgins Armory collection in Worcester MA.The museum is closing down at the end of this year as it can no longer afford its building, though the collection is fortunately moving in toto to another local museum. Once there I not only marveld at the intricacy of the armor but of how little gaming (and movies and books) prepared me for the reality of people fighting in armor.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Musings: Sickbeds

We here at Casa de Kudzu have been laid up with a nasty vomiting bug this week, so this is a short post to discuss illness in RPG. How often have you used them? did you ever rely on the dread 'random chance of infection' table from the 1st edition DMG? What's the coolest one you've ever had in game?

In my cases the answers are 'seldom', 'not more than once before the players rebelled' and... well, there's a longer story to that.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Monsters, part 2

Back in the dim misty recesses of memory (i.e. nearly a decade ago now) I ran a V&V campaign that was set in Boston. After the first couple of sessions of generic super-hero city stuff the players requested a greater use of actual Boston geography. So I gave it to them in spades - they caused a ton of collateral damage in Faneuil Hall, they flew through the Citgo sign, they stopped the theft of rare artifacts from the MFA, they fought animated lions from the the steps of the public library, they even had someone hijack a Duck Tours boat. It was all good clean fun, even if it veered a little dark and villianous from time to time.

As you can imagine the events at the Boston Marathon hit a chord with me because of that.

We gamers, especially those working in contemporary games, make a lot of use of violence as the story conflict. It's not necessary, but it's part of the hobbies formative period - it might not be in the dice's DNA but it's clearly the predominant environment. And sometimes that's good clean fun. Other times, well, we might want to look at a more extensive use of other conflicts to drive our stories. Romance. Mystery. Social Conflict. Exploration. My just completed Mech & Matrimony (the game of Jane Austen Romance and Giant Robot Combat) could, in retrospect, have skipped the giant robots and worked just fine with social concerns as the conflict. Hufflepuff & Ravenclaw is, for most of it, devoid or real violence but possessing a sizable threat of violence. One of my top sessions of my Star Trek game had plenty of threats of damage but none of violence as the USS Carter struggled to understand the plight of an alien species and then assist them. I plan on spending the rest of the year helping young kids learn to bash goblins and loot dungeons and I'm comfortable with that, as long as it's not all we ever do.

As for the events in Boston, I'll reiterate something I put on my Facebook page - terroist acts are attempts at being an allergen. They're designed to get society to turn its defenses on itself, to overreact, and therefore cause more damage to society than the otherwise limited terrorists could do on their own. The bombers are not monsters - they're criminals. Monsters are things that we fear. Criminals are things that we have civil strcutures to locate, neutralize and deal with in a way that keeps out culture intact. They WANT to be monsters.

Don't let them.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Musings: Monsters

One interesting bit about the design decisions in OD&D and AD&D 1E was that for all of the monsters that exist in the game world - from dragons to mind flayers to drow - was that the most dangerous and powerful one in the generic game world was Humans. Seriously. Not the rank and file 1-4 HP commoners but the sheer power available to high level characters, especially high level spellcasters, that no other monster could reach. And with the inclusion of level limits on non-human races not even communities of elves - cool subterranean evil spider elves or not -  would match the power and versatility of a group of suitably high level PCs.

This was, by accounts I've seen, a deliberate decision by Gygax, and one of the places where the games pulp fantasy origins (were non-human protagonists were pretty much non-existent ) shine out over the Tolkien influence of mixed fantasy race parties. He wanted humans to be the focus of the game (hence the level limits for non-humans making them unattractive), and he allowed that this made them both the best heroes and the best villains.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tying in to reality

I find that when I'm running games set in the (ostensible) real world I have a strong desire to tie in parts of the real world to it. Players in my various V&V games are well familiar with my decision to set the games almost exclusively in the 1980's (or flashbacks, or time leaps forward) because that was when I started playing with the world. This gives me a lot of real world events to tie into, the ability to have people invent 'super tech' that's actually late 20th/early 21st century tech, and various other advantages. While I might lose some current world opportunities I think it's a pretty fair trade off. If I were to start a new supers universe I would likely have it run from late 2001 to 2012 to have the same effect - a decade where we know what major things did happen so everyone can see the effect the PCs (and other super-heroes) have on it.

Likewise when I'm setting something in an established genre property (not just aping the feel for it, as i have in the first two campaigns here) I get pretty obsessive about working within the lacunae of the canon (to give the players maximum freedom of action within the setting without violating 'history') and explaining away violations of same when I have to in designing  compelling story. The players in my Star Trek (Christopher Pike era) and Marvel Super Heroes (X-Men circa 1984) will doubtless attest to this insanity.

I'm not entirely sure why I do this. I think in part because my own sense of history is tied in to the fictions that I read set in and around history. Yes, I can tell the real from the fictitious, but it came to mind Monday when reading about Margaret Thatcher's death. My first image of her was not anything from her 'real' history, but her five panels in Alan Moore and John Totleben's "Miracleman". In my head it's all of a piece.

Gaming did this to me. Gaming and comics. And TV. OK, maybe I was like this already.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Musings - your strangest character

I suspect that everyone likes to design and play the occasional odd character. Of course your definition of 'odd' may vary from mine. Personally I still want to play in an Atomic Horror game where my character has the ability to summon musical sequences - he can swing his guitar off his hip and give everyone the ability to dance in a musical number of that wacky rock and roll. I'm not sure what the in-game benefit would be (it doesn't even have the get more done during time compression montage effect that a Disney Princess' 'summon musical number' power does(, but I just think it's cool in the genre.

Let see... in one fantasy game in which I was to be an intermittent player my PC was actually a personality inside an amulet that would possess whoever put it on for short periods. Whenever I wasn't there the body became a combat ineffective commoner who the GM would not feel obliged to role play or make combat decisions for. The other cool part was that anyone I explained this too took POW damage and potential insanity, which meant that I could be all strange and mysterious and say "don't ask questions you don't want the answers to" and then when someone insisted, Player Character style that I absolutely tell them I could say to the GM "I tell him" and he'd roll for damage and describe the PC collapsing into a ball of blubbering temporary insanity. I don't know why I found that ability to whack at someone who insisted on trying to remove my PCs aura of mystery so enjoyable, but I did.

There was also my character in Tom's Bureau 13 game, a Banshee who felt really bad about past actions but had attended a twelve-step program and internalized that her wail was a prediction and not something she was causing and had to feel responsible for. She also dressed like a male dandy and each session I would slowly find a use for each handkerchief, pocket watch chain, silk tie and so on until at the end she was inevitably in a state of deshabille.

Those are a couple of mine - what're yours?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Open Game License

Since I'm spending this month working on a version of D&D I should provide a copy of the System Reference Document to make it completely legal. Let me take a moment to thank the people at WotC who set this up in 2000 to make it possible for me to do work on this system and to share it openly with others.