Tuesday, May 29

A PC is Killed and I Find it Refreshing

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. - Thomas Jefferson

The PC's had chosen their fate. Three paths of adventure I layed before them and they argued, debated and settled on a course of action. I had lightly prepped each course of action ahead of time so I would have baked-in player agency. Mostly being; if I am using one cool idea on this track, and different ideas on the other the player's choice actually makes a difference. It forces me to stretch my imagination to come up with different themes, locations and adversaries. One way to overcome the face-melting monster is not encounter the face-melting monster. It is also fun to come up with choices which have subtle and not-so-subtle possibilities and opportunities. The game is Clockwork & Cthulhu so the choices are not as easy as deciding which will net the greatest haul of treasure. The PC's have cultivated relations within the campaign and I like to think their choices are being made upon in-game motivation originally instigated by themselves. I only have to serve up grim opportunities of death and terror, the PC's take care of the rest.

It also makes the death of a Player Character "easier" on myself. I want my players to enjoy themselves and I want the "good" guys to win, but I don't want it easy and I want misfortune to befall them because the trail is hard and the dice impartial. By gosh if a PC is laid low, takes that last earthly breath choking on a confluence of their own blood I want the blame to be laid at the feet of the adventure, not a rail-roady GM gloating over getting one over on their players.

PC's built on the Renaissance system look pretty robust on paper. This is tempered actually by the fact the NPC's end up just as tough. I'm using one of the optional NPC rules to give the PC's better chance surviving combat damage than their adversaries. Basically if they damage an NPC who is in negative Hits it is a kill. If they cause a Major Wound which takes an NPC into negative Hits I roll a Grave Wound instead of Severe. 

In this last episode which resulted in a character death the party had survived their encounters with the big bads and through their judicious use of guts and wit achieved their goal and were set to move on to the next horrible situation complete with concerns and loose ends. The group was worse for wear, and feeling the pinch of time pressure lets just say getting stuck on a boat for three weeks, even if financed by a satanic sorcerer, seemed like a welcome break. But they got into a fight. This was going to happen. Maybe if they pushed on through the night, no I would have had the encounter. Sometimes you just need to have a guy with a gun come in the room. Granted this "guy" stepped into a bear trap the PC's had laid out so there was one NPC buggered from the start. Pistols, axes and clubs, Cut-throats and oaths! It was four on three, the enemy had numbers as well as higher Close Combat skill than any of their opponents they have crossed yet. The NPC's gun combat was kind of shitty, but the dice are cruel. One of the NPC's did miss with hand to hand attacks, three 99's in a row, but still a PC went down with a knife to the heart.

What is refreshing is the game turns on the play of the PC's and now relationships and dynamics are in flux. I like to think a PC has meaning in the game when their special light can be snuffed out at the turn of a die. From my end of the table I see players going from ah shit I need to make a new character to cool I can try something else. Then comes the work of slotting the FNG into the existing group, the current band of brothers, which have soldiered together for years. Doesn't matter they all have been playing together for years, their new PC is still the FNG. 

Friday, May 25

North Texas Game Convention Mass Combat

I will be debuting the new Mass Combat rules for Deluxe USR Sword & Sorcery at this time slot and there are a couple of seats available.

No dungeon crawling, no city intrigue, no ordained gease delivered by angles. 

Just heavy metal field of slaughter fun as God and Gygax intended!

One of the holes in my TTRPG experience has been delivering the thrilling event which is a set piece battle for the involved characters. I'm not saying this is a difficult design challenge, I'm saying it is an encounter I never found rules which made me sit up and say fuck yeah that is straight up Supernaught.

Oh yeah there are plenty of Mass Combat rules available for your role playing game you are saying. Yes they are. But they are all shit. Gygax and TSR fell back on their wargaming roots. I don't think they could have come about it any other way. Dungeons & Dragons was born by leaning on reverse engineering miniature wargame rules. Not all of it, there is a hot streak of brilliance which birthed the whole hobby, but there seems to be a fall down with all creators of table top rpg's shoving a mass combat encounter back towards a structured mechanic. Every. Single. Method. for mass combat in a role playing game is glued to a figurine. I've never got over the disconnect this kicks me with. If I can sit and talk for over two years with my players and go on the most amazing adventures why the hell do I need to field a battery of painted miniatures and codified dense rules and tables for an event, an encounter, which is in the grand scheme of things, brief?

Think about it, role playing games took off because the gaming experience expanded like the big bang when the rules dropped. It is easy to get into confused thinking on this. The current political climate shows what an aggressive disease language can become. How it can hold down and bad drunk road accident flash thought. I just got back from a trip to Washington D.C. and I viscerally know what a Constitution means to me. A scaffolding and framework of brilliance which moves and breathes with a populace because it was put together by smart people. Then the rest of us come in and cast bronze and idolatrize. Walking through Mount Vernon and Monticello in the same day I know which house I would hang my hat. The founders lifted a suggestion brilliantly knowing it becomes transcended by live play, understood that it would.

I believe Deluxe USR Sword & Sorcery's new mass combat rules get rpg's one step closer to this ideal of immersive, emergent table top play for a mass combat encounter, a reliable tool for the harried referee to kick it fast like any other encounter the group starts to get good at. Why am I so confident? Cause I didn't make it. Because I asked for help, professional help, and paid for it. 

Come be the judge. Sit down and battle early Friday my wild eyed Valkyrie!

Sunday, May 20

The Cursed Chateau and The Complete Strategist, a review

Of all the game stores you've dragged me into that was by far the worse. That was gross.” the delightful Ms. Doesn't-Game-at-All announced when I debouched from The Complete Strategist. Not the esteemed flagship off Times Square, but its deformed clone down in Falls Church, Virginia. And she was right. I clutched The Cursed Chateau in my hand, my latest LotFP acquisition and purchased to conclude my latest game master mission. I've been on a haunted house kick lately because my Clockwork & Cthulhu game has swung in this direction for the latest set piece location. My first grabs were right from my own game shelf; Tegel Manor and Castle Amber. Two rpg classics from yesteryear. Not that I thought they are a best representation of such a setting for a haunted house background, but more to pick out fractal nuggets to give guidance for the next scene in the game. Anyways, this particular adventure arc was coming to its fateful conclusion, my gaming instincts served me well and I had some decent homespun horrors, but I still wanted to conclude my haunted house studies and The Cursed Chateau by James Maliszewski had made the list.

Truth be told the real horror of the day was the game store and not the purchase. 

The floor was dirty, black mold on the walls. Every surface was sticky. But the bathroom,” here my lovely young companion visibly shook, “Pubes, there were pubes!” If she was one to shriek on a sunny southern street in public, she would have here, now, she was so unnerved. I couldn't argue the point. I've gotten used to the failed retail experience which is the usual FLGS but this was something spectacularly awful.

The Cursed Chateau gave me my vacation reading material and is a spectacular showcase of the design talent of Jez Gordon. The artist and graphic designer has done top quality work for Lamentations and his print publication chops are on unfettered display here. For myself this is the best I can say for the adventure as a whole. For twenty bucks I just got a tutorial on spot on game book layout and design. How to place your maps, how to write out your NPC's, where to place your random tables and how to add reference pages. Any DIY publisher or amature aficionado of game design should study this book.

I'm sure James is a marvelous game master at the table. From reading his old, voluminous blog on early game products I get the feeling he does what good game referees do; take a few fabulous bits and work off the actions of the PC's. But the haunted house content struck me as rather pedestrian. Maybe the “haunted house” set piece works best in play with player investment and therefore requires an extremely personal presentation. While Castle Amber, Tegel Manor and The Price of Evil can all give useful bits for the referee, I achieved my horror house building off inspiration created from the game to date. Find a place to use this classic trope in your game when you can, but I implore you embrace the loneliness of your task and rely on yourself.

Friday, May 11

Review Weapons Law, Solomon Kane, and Frostbitten & Mutilated for Utility

I went on Noble Knight to purchase Frostbitten & Mutilated, the new Lamentations of the Flame Princess hardback by Zak Smith. While there I took a peruse through the online clearance section. I have a serious gaming fetish for finding cheap gems of unforgotten, who knows what the fuck gaming lore which can be found in a bargain bin. This is because this is what I did at a game store when I was eleven. Generally you will be disappointed. Like scratch tickets. But there is a high achieved when you score. So I am told. Not surprising I find the dream of hotness usually comes from my own fat fingers. Actually it comes from online interaction with other table top role players.

So here is my breakdown; Weapons Law is old. It is nigh unusable because the type font is way too small. It shows its age with a ton of mechanical ambulations coupled with primitive production methods and making it all fit onto some format divorced from actual table top play. I guarantee  Rolemaster products came about through a competent game master in live play. A mushrooming of gamine thought. Pirate the PDF, much more useful. So early eighties game material is really only useful as a random table. That is if you know how to use random tables.

Savage Worlds Solomon Kane; how can I hate thee. Veryly much so. It retails for fifty bucks and I got it for fifteen. Graphic presentation plus volume makes any gamer willing to pay. Seriously, the cover is gorgeous.  I've read Kane for like real. Off the back of Howard's hot car interior pistol spray. I love me some REH. His vision of the character is not to be found within Pinnacle's paid for production values. I get it, the book opens right, no I don't get it. I know what I'm after.

So there I am left with Frost Bitten & Mutilated. Thumbing through the black and white pages rubbing off the failed silver embossing and enjoying the READ. I rub some more. I am a fidgety bitch so flaking off embossed script should only concern those who finger-nail chew. The art is savage. If you are going to do heavy metal sword and sorcery you better be savage. Just what I picked up from old original text. There is a reason Michael Moorcock lives in Cross Plains (he has cash) and I for the life of me do not know why he isn't  carried into North Texas Game Convention on the backs of broken thinking white dudes without  clue, lashing as a lightning Jesus...

Utility my friend. If you are a player well you are not my friend. I speak only to the referee, the game master, the keeper. Once again +Zak Smith provides a useful tool filled with content beyond what is usually available today. Seriously, it will take some time, sober time. to get your head around it. Patrick Stuart and Scrap Princess are the only ones who can keep up. Run it hard.

Monday, May 7

State of the Press!

Vanishing Tower Press has finally put the POD copy of Anthropomorphic USR to bed. This new file cleans up some typos, fixes the graphic images which didn’t print and adds tables at the back. I also added Character Advancement and Experience Point rules to the game. This is a 5” x 9” formatted book and packs a lot of game in a small package.

The big news for me, as well as the Press, is I completed my certification exams last week and no longer have to study for real life corporate stuff. More money in my pocket and more time on my hands, hellz yes!

The commissioned work for Deluxe USR Sword & Sorcery is starting to trickle in and I am excited about this game book. Original art and original content are going to make this beast shine! I have in hand completed mass combat rules and they will get their debut play test at the North Texas Gaming Convention. There are only three seats left in one of the games I will be running so if you want to get your savage sword of mass battle on sign up now!

The Big Black Book of Sorcery is being taken up again. This is going to be an amazing piece of Heavy Metal Sword & Sorcery which will make another gruesome POD edition to the USR S&S line.

Somewhere in all this Fear & Loathing in Fat City and Broke Down in Bug Town will get completed. My intent is to have my editor sort out the existing rules for Fear & Loathing USR and Western USR then bolt on these two introductory adventures. All this will be combined into one POD book of awesome sex and guns for the discriminating table top rpg’er.