Friday, September 20, 2013

Just a test

This is just a test to see if blogger wil work with my new device.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

HEY KIDS, COMICS!- The New Crusaders

NEW CRUSADERS
Red Circle Comics (Archie)
w Ian Flynn
a Alitha Martinez


The NEW CRUSADERS comic is the latest attempt to revive the classic Red Circle/Archie superheroes, including such characters as the Shield, the Web, the Comet, etc...

You may be unfamiliar with these characters, as they seem to have always been "second tier" superheroes, but nonetheless they do have a publishing history going back to the 1940s, including being published by DC Comics in the 1980s and again just a few years ago. Despite being relaunched by writer  J. Michael Straczynski, that version of the Red Circle heroes only lasted about a year at DC.

The newest version of the Red Circle heroes acknowledges their long history by making the main characters the children and heirs of the original characters.  Long retired, the original heroes are all killed when their greatest enemy - The Brain Emperor - returns to seek vengeance upon them. The only survivor of that original generation of heroes must take the new generation under his wing and teach them their parent's secrets.

The series is currently on issue #4 (as of mid December).

Personally, I feel the series started rather weak, and I was prepared to quit reading, but by issue 4 the characters are getting well developed and I am now enjoying the book enough to have it added to my pull file. The artwork is definitely towards the cartoony side of the spectrum, resembling DC's animated series comics such as Young Justice or Batman Beyond. Mostly the art is well suited to this book, though some individual panels are still a bit rough.  Similarly, the writing and dialogue left me a bit cold at first but has improved as the book rolls along.

I would rate this book a solid B list title, equal to many a Marvel or DC series with better name recognition.

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As a set up for a teen superhero game, New Crusaders works wonderfully.  You have a whole group of heroes who your players are probably unfamiliar with.  Pass them out and let your players generate legacy characters based on these new-to-them heroes. They inherit the heroic mantle, a tragic origin, and an ultra powerful nemesis all in one fell swoop.


If you don't want to play the teen heroes, than the New Crusaders also work wonderfully as NPCs. If you have the time, establish the parent heroes first, then kill them off and have their offspring appear asking the PCs for help, or perhaps causing problems due to their inexperience.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

HEY KIDS, COMICS! - Green Lantern

I'm trying to get into a steady writing habit, and reviewing the comics I read - and attempting to use them for gaming purposes - seems like a quick and easy way to get some words flowing.


GREEN LANTERN #13
Green Lantern continues to be one of the stronger series in the DC New 52, which is ironic since it's major continuity was barely touched by the reboot. Sure, some origins were tweaked and the timeline was condensed here and there, but for the most part everything from the SInestro War onward appears to still be in continuity.

The current - controversial - story arc deals with a new human green Lantern named Simon Baz, an American Muslim car thief suspected of terrorism and on the run from the federal government. Some folks are offended by certain parts of the character design - the 'ski mask' like facemask, and the pistol prominently featured on the cover of issue #0 that the character never has in the actual book seems to play into the 'scary Muslim' stereotype.

Simon is an American Muslim, and so far is portrayed as a beleiver in his faith, but not neccessarily a strict adherent to its rules.  I'm not sure if this is a cop out (he can be a hero 'cause he's not a devout muslim) or a good change of pace (most Muslims are depicted as being very fervent in their beliefs, but there must be a spectrum of belief and behavior in the Muslim community, just as there is in the Christian and other religious communities). Simon is also out of work, like many middle class Americans, and turns to car theft to help support his family. Criminal behavior, but certainly understandable in a cinematic fashion. In the course of his thefts, he getting involved with a bomb and a federal investigation, and ends up accused of terrorism.

Simon receieves a Green lantern ring empowered not by the Guardians of Oa, but by Hal Jordan and Sinestro. Simon has also been warned not to trust the Guardians, as they have turned on the Lanterns and are trying to destroy them. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the distrust we have of our own governemnt, fearing our own leaders are betraying us for their own ends.  Perhaps not. One supporting character is a federal agent assigned to track down Baz, who almost loses his cool and goes too far, possibly a good man doing bad due to his fear of terrorism.  Perhaps another metaphor, maybe just another stock character.

All in all, an interesting new development in the Green Lantern story arc.

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For gaming, the Green Lantern Corps and mythos presents an easy way to structure a campaign, whether superhero or otherwise.  Whereas most genre stories center on a singular hero, the Green Lantern Corps presents an organization of heroes - space cops in this instance - whose powers and superheroic identity are all tied into one central orgamization.

For most campaigns, choose a group or being that could benefit from having agents, figure out how these agents are granted power, how they are chosen and what their duties are, and this will answer many campaign questions.  Some genres work better than others, though.

Example: In the Marvel Universe, the Vishanti are a distant and obscure group of extra-dimensional beings who usually interact solely with the universe's Sorcerer Supreme.  For reasons of their own (not neccesarily altruistic ones), the Vishanti wish to keep humanity alive and thriving. Using alien logic, they reach out and empower a small number of agents, granting magical powers in return for service. Their strictures are few, the duties they demand are sometimes confusing and often extremely dangerous, but the power they grant is real and they pretty much let their agents do what ever they want unless it threatens world destruction.

Example: In a typical cyberpunk world, a group of disparate rogue computer hackers are contacted by a mysterious patron that seems to know all their secrets.  The patron is willing to hook them up with cutting edge computer code and hardware, in return for secrecy and services rendered.  Unknown to the PCs, their patron is a hidden emergent AI manipulating the world-net for its own security.

EDIT: I was remiss in not mentioning ION GUARD by Radioactive Ape Games, a great little supplement that covers the same Green Lantern homage ground I was going for above.  Available in both BASH and ICONS versions, and well worth the US $4.99 price tag.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Campaign Sourcebook I Like - Neverwinter Campaign Setting for D&D 4E

The Neverwinter Campaign Setting (Wizards of the Coast, by Matt Sernett, Ari Marmell, Erik Scott de Bie) is a D&D 4th Edition Forgotten Realms campaign sourcebook designed to handle Heroic Tier (levels 1-10) characters. The northern city of Neverwinter was devastated by a magically-caused volcanic eruption 28 years ago, and the campaign centers around the various factions trying to dominate and rebuild the city, or take advantage of its descent into chaos and ruin.

The sourcebook presents a wide variety of allies and foes, including human and demi-human occupiers, aboleths, demon worshippers, drow, and barbarians.  By picking and choosing which plot lines to emphasize, the campaign could be very political and urban, or focused on ruin-based dungeon crawling, or even wilder expeditions into the wilderness and other planes.  In my opinion, this book contains at least two or three times more material then could be used in a single campaign. However, that is not to say that the campaign is handed to you on a silver platter.  Rather, the sourcebook gives you information on the various factions, including their leaders, goals, typical activities and which monster stats to use.  The game master will need to put a fair amount of work into building the campaign, but a very useful skeleton is provided here.

For me, the idea to steal from this book is the use of character themes to help define the campaign and tie the characters into the various factions of the city. (Character themes are a D&D 4E option that combines a background story with a few mechanical features such as skill bonuses or additional character powers.)  The book provides 13 themes that players can choose from. The “Neverwinter Noble” is a scion of the cities noble families, and his very existence embroils him in the political maneuverings of the city.  The “Devil’s Pawn” is marked by the Lords of Hell, and his adventures in Neverwinter will assuredly be watched by the cult of Asmodeus operating in the city.

With a party of 4-6 characters, each with an appropriate theme, the game master has a great tool to pick and choose which of the many plots offered by the book to focus on.  If no one chooses the “Devil’s Pawn” theme, then the game master can feel free to de-emphasize or completely ignore the cult of Asmodeus operating in the city.  If someone chooses the Dead Rat Deserter, then the game master knows to give greater emphasis to the were-rat thief’s guild setting up operations in the city.  While some plots will always be present, by altering the secondary plots the game master can more easily weave a unique campaign for his players.

In my opinion, the Neverwinter Campaign Setting sourcebook is a very good product if you are looking for a campaign that centers around a single city.  While designed for D&D 4E, the sourcebook contains more fluff than mechanics, and I could easily see running the campaign with any other edition of D&D, or another fantasy system such as Runequest or Savage Worlds.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A book I like - PLAY UNSAFE by Graham Walmsley


PLAY UNSAFE by Graham Walmsley, purchased as a pdf thru Lulu.com:  An 82 page essay on how to apply the lessons of improv theatre to your role playing games.  The book is divided up into five main sections, though the exact separation of ideas is a bit inexact.  To be fair, I like and agree with many of the ideas presented, and therefore review them positively.  Someone who prefers less “story telling” and more “gamism” may be less impressed.

Play discusses an improv style of play achieved through such ideas as “stop working so hard”, “don’t plan ahead”,  “hold ideas lightly” and “be obvious”.  Many of these ideas are aimed more at the GM, but are also interesting for players to think about as well.  Embracing this section would create a more free-flowing, reactive style of GMing for anyone who could pull it off, and I would enjoy playing in this sort of game.

Build centers on the improv idea that you should never negate what another player says, but rather should respond with “Yes, and...” (though as a GM, I think an equally strong answer is “No, but...”).  This section discusses the log-jam that happens when players and GMs keep negating each others ideas (The example used is the classic “castle with a single way in”.  The players must guess the riddle at the gate to get in, and no amount of searching will discover another way in, the walls cannot be climbed, the guards cannot be bluffed, etc).  I think this section and the section before would make excellent reading for any RPG player looking to improve their game (and by improve I mean improve in the narrative, story telling vein of gaming, if such is your thing).

Status is the third section of the book, and in my opinion it does not fit very well.  It gives tips on how to play high status and low status characters, and how to make changes in status into good stories elements, but it does not really seem to fit the “improv” theme of the rest of the book.  However, it does have some interesting ideas on its own.

Tell Stories is the next chapter, and delves into techniques for the Game Master or Story Teller.  It gives advice of how to set up routines in the story and how to reinforce them and break them; how to stage a scene, then “tilt” it to create conflict or tension; and a number of other issues.  My favorite reminder is to “deliver on your promises”.  If you describe a town as a “wretched hive of scum and villainy” then the PCs better encounter some scum and villainy when they explore the place.

The last section is Work Together and covers the ideas of playing so that the other players enjoy themselves, losing gracefully, and trusting the other players.  This would be a good section to discuss out loud with a group of players having problems, to see if any of the advice here would help solve those problems.

All told, an interesting book with many specific and general kernels of advice worth heeding, even if I do disagree with some of his suggestions (screw with each other, and let your guard down both sit uneasily with me).  For certain styles of games and gamers, the advice in here is wonderful, useful and somewhat obvious once stated.

I give this book a solid B, and would recommend it to anyone interested in improv style gaming.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Game Mechanics That I Hate

Really, just a filler post.  This was originally written for inclusion in Alarums & Excursions #388 back in December 2007 or January 2008.  However, the opinions are still valid, so I have done some minor updates and will launch it into the blogosphere.

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Currently, the only RPGing I have been able to engage in is D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder.  I am not a D20 hater, nor am I a D20 fanatic... I think it’s a fine system, sometimes a bit too crunchy and tactical, but certainly robust enough to hang a game on.  I prefer D20 derivatives such as True 20 or Mutants and Masterminds to straight D&D.  Games I like but have not played recently include Savage Worlds, Runequest,  Tristat/Big Eyes Small Mouth, Feng Shui, Over The Edge, Unknown Armies, PDQ and Spirit of the Century/FATE.  I seem to be seeking two completely opposite games – one a robust, detail oriented, crunchy system with lots of tactical and character advancement rules, and the other a fast, rules light, detail light system that can be run on the fly with minimal references and red tape.

Some things I hate in a game as far as mechanics go:

1) Having to reference charts to determine the results of rolls (this kills games like TORG, Mayfair’s DC HEROES and ROLE MASTER for me).  I don’t mind an occasional “look up a critical hit” effect, but when you have to look up a chart to determine weapon damage or how far you jumped... that kills the fun for me.

2) Games where the combat sequence forces you to declare actions as a group, then roll dice, then determine what happens (GODLIKE, WILD TALENTS and REIGN all do this, as does WYRD IS BOND and a few other cool games).  To me, this not only slows down the combat round, but when you have four or five highly competent heroes fighting several equally competent villains, plus a dozen or so mooks, by the time everyone declares who can remember what anyone said?

3) In-elegance. <is that even a word?>  Games where sometimes you roll high and sometimes you roll low, and sometimes you roll percentile, and sometimes you don’t.... I’m not saying that everything has to be tied to one die mechanic, but the fewer exceptions the better for me.  This is one of my primary reasons for disliking AD&D in any edition, and I think that the Kenzer's Hackmaster and Aces & Eights games both suffer from the same flaws.

There are probably a few other things that really bother me in a game, but these are the main mechanic flaws that will lead me not to play a game.  How about you?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Kobold Quarterly #22 - a mini-review


Up front, let me say I am a Pathfinder player, and a fan of Kobold Quarterly magazine, so I am inclined to be positive about KQ right off the bat.  That said, issue #22 (Summer 2012) is – in my opinion – a solid, workman-like issue but lacks any real stand out features this time around.

The write up of Barbatos, Archdevil of the Avernus, is good and creepy – creepier than any other game product I’ve read lately – and presents an interesting bad guy deity for your game, however to me it really never gives any nuts-n-bolts details to hang an adventure on.  Perhaps I’m being lazy, but something along the lines of “10 evil plots for evil cultists of Barbatos” would have been nice.  My other complaint for this article is that I really do not see a devil that wants to break down the laws of civilization, and tempt mortals to violate morals and taboos, as a Lawful being.

The issue also has an article on Dragonkin for 4E, a new Rogue archetype for Pathfinder, some converted monsters for Castles and Crusades, Firearms for Dragon AGE, some new spells, some new magic rings, an encounter area, a guide to part of Golarion, and some editorial features.

Most interesting to me was an article on the Escalation Die mechanic from the upcoming 13th Age RPG, an essay from Monte Cook on why PCs are more interesting when they are created thru play instead of created at a target level (i.e. a character you have played from 1st to 5th level is more varied and quirky than one you generate at 5th level), and an article on how NPCs will react to being interrogated.

In sum, a good issue, worth the price, but not a great issue.