Thursday, July 31, 2014

Defining the gamer

I had dinner last night with my best friend.  He is a relatively new gamer, one I brought into the fold. Earlier in the day I had made an indirect criticism of how he named his characters and how it diminished my suspension of disbelief in the games we played together.  I could tell he took the comment to heart when he made an analogy about his time as a football player.

He stated that he understood that his level of commitment to the gaming hobby was not at the same level as mine and others he knew.  His level of commitment made him less of a gamer than others who devoted more time and energy to the hobby.  It was like when he played high school football.  It bothered him at the time when others would say "I am a football player," but what they meant was that sometimes they played catch with their dad or friends on the weekend.  They weren't football players, HE was a football player.

I get where he is coming from there.  Indeed, I have been guilty of this kind of thinking often in my own life and hobbies.  Looking at the situation as he presented it last night, I see the huge flaw in that argument.  Where does that elite sort of thinking end?  Does a college football player get to tell my friend that what he was doing wasn't football because it was only at the high school level?  Does an NFL pro get to disqualify the college player from the ranks of football players because he plays on Saturdays instead of Sundays?  Does a player with a Super Bowl ring get to tell the bench warmer on a last place team that he is not a football player?

The answer, for me at least, is no.  Those guys playing football in their backyard are playing, and enjoying, football.  

The same goes for my friend being a gamer.  Certainly, I will continue to discourage him from naming his characters so flippantly.  But I think the definition of a gamer is: someone who enjoys gaming.  That means the guys who make games for a living.  It also means the game masters who belly up to the table every session and have their beautiful plots and schemes ripped apart by callous players.  It also, also means the players who get together every week, month, once in a blue moon to roll some dice/flip some cards/do rock, paper, scissors to resolve conflicts.  It also, also, ALSO means that poor soul who has dice and cannot find a group.

The only real definition is this: If you want to game, you are a gamer.  

The less time we spend worrying about the definitions, the more time we get to spend gaming.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Test Pages

Last Week's voting was useful.  "Colonies of the White Coast" is the current working title for my project. Actual writing on the project has hit a bit of a standstill, but I am switching to writing a different section of the project in an effort to work around the current impasse.  Working out details of the world, and how the details will be put into print, however, has continued.  The end result may be terrible, but it will not be because I did not put a lot of thought into what I was doing.

As a bit of an inspiration, I thought doing a mock up of a couple of pages might be useful.  The text, of course, is still subject to editing.  Indeed, this may not be what the end product will look like at all, but it is what I think it will look like when I am done.  I have even done a test to see how the pages will convert to .pdf and it looked pretty good for a completely self-taught amateur.  Take a look and tell me what you think.

I think I have enough stock art to limit the
number of pages of unbroken text like
this one.
The Obelisk art: Some artwork copyrighted by Robert Hemminger, used with permission.
The Page Background: Publisher's Choice Quality Stock Art copyright Rick Hershey/Fat Goblin Games

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Play Test

So far in July, I have run three play test sessions of my work-in-progress fantasy campaign.  Things have gone pretty well.  As I am writing the world, I am making it system-less, but when I run the game we are playing Savage Worlds.  I am trying very hard not to think too hard about game mechanics, but when I do I try to relate game concepts into SW Edges, Hindrances, Powers, and Skills.  Most of the concepts should easily transfer to other systems without too much heavy lifting.  I will, of course, leave that up to anyone else who ever runs a session of it, should that ever occur.

Each session has had three players, but not always the same three.  I have been fortunate, so far, in that I have had players almost no gaming experience and those with decades of table play under their belt sitting down for these sessions.  It is good to get both perspectives, and something each player has done has provided useful feedback, even it the player did not know it at the time.

One of the best results of this endeavor, however, was to see my wife dust off her dice bag and play in two of the sessions.  Gaming was the first interest my wife and I had in common, so it was a bit of a downer when she decided to quit playing a few years ago.  Her primary reason for quitting stemmed from our central game group's heavy concentration on the political intrigue inherent in Legend of the Five Rings.  L5R (at least the first edition of it) is a great game, but what interested most of my players at the time was not my wife's cup of tea.

I was admittedly a bit surprised when she accepted my offer to play in the first playtest session.  I probably shouldn't have been.  She has been very indulgent of my hobby over the last twenty years even when she was not a player, and I presume that she was humoring me.  When she began pouring over the playtest characters and latched on to the goblin rogue, though, it looked like she had an actual interest in the character.

As it turned out, this character is one of her most memorable.  In a four hour playtest, she managed to instill  more personality into Reggie the goblin than any of her previous characters.  Reggie was an enthusiastic, if not altogether successful thief.  More importantly, my wife seemed to really enjoy playing her.  Enough that when I started working out the second play test session, she was eager to play again. In the second session, we learned that Reggie was deadly with a crossbow, loyal to her friends,  and whisper quiet when left to her own devices.  Of all her positive characteristics, however, my favorite is that Reggie might just be the right goblin for the job of getting my wife back to the table again.  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Give it a Name

I have been working diligently on my new game world.  In the last week or so there have been two play test sessions of some of the material that went pretty well.  Another session is on tap for Wednesday, one in which the players will get to explore some of the largest city.  Writing ceased for most of the past week while I was on vacation, but there was a lot of brainstorming done, which should translate to written work in the coming week or so.

While I was off, however, I did encounter a bit of a stumbling block.  I have been calling the whole project "The Colonies" which is both simple and explanatory.  Unfortunately, it is also a bit generic and I am afraid it is a tad dull.  Also, there is a bit of a problem.  Unbeknownst to me when I came up with the original name, Fat Goblin Games has a series of products as part of their line called the "Shadows over Vathak: Colonies."  A quick perusal of the previews of their stuff on DriveThruRPG indicates to me that there is no real similarity of content.  Under ordinary circumstances, I would not really worry much about this. EXCEPT. Fat Goblin Games has also produced a number of the publishing products I will be using in my project including the cover base, the page backgrounds, and some of the interior stock art.

Since they put out fine products that I like, I am thinking it might be a good idea to change my project's name to be more distinctive.  To that end, I am considering naming the entire project for one of the central geographic features of the new land.  When the humans reach the new land, they land on a long stretch of beach they dub Costa do Branco:  the White Coast.   It is the white coast they return to in their first colonization efforts.  A quick search of that term also seems to indicate that no one has used it as a project title yet.  It seems to still be simple, if not quite as explanatory.  Also, Costa Blanca is a real place in Spain that has some inspiring architecture:  fully in keeping with the spirit of this project.

There is a poll feature that Blogspot seems to allow.  It should be over there ---->.  Vote and tell me which you prefer.  If you do not like either one, comment below and tell me what you think I should do instead.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The First Step is Admitting You Have a Problem

The Long View.  I did the best I could to
 get it all in.  I was standing in a  closet
 to get this.
I have been a roleplaying gamer for a long time.  Over the years, I have accumulated a considerable collection.  In 2012, I bought five(!) bookshelves to put it on.  The thing about RPGs, however, is that they are heavy.  Ridiculously heavy.  Break the bookshelves level of heavy.  After unfortunately multiple collapses, two of which dumped the contents onto me and one that I thought for a moment might have buried one of the cats, it seemed like time to obtain something sturdier.

Three of the bookshelves survived the crushing weight and the best two now house my actual book collection (right there on the left).  The three new shelves are industrial plastic shelving units rated to hold nearly 900 pounds each.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

This Post is Cancelled

I planned to post about something different today.  In fact, I already had two paragraphs written and was churning right along.  Then I got a call.  Yet another call.  Yet another in a long line of calls.  Yet another in a long line of calls cancelling my game.  A game that has been cancelled more times this year than it has been played.  Suddenly, I do not much feel like creating content for others at the moment.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Five Free RPG Systems on Drivethru RPG

This week I have done a lot of the mental lifting on my project: The Colonies.  Thus far a rough draft of the first chapter, written last week, was polished up a bit.  The first half of the second chapter, which I anticipate to be the longest, has been put to paper as well.  In all a little over 8000 words so far.  My original goal was about 30 to 35 thousand words.  After seeing how quickly I blew past the 25% mark, and how much more I think I have to do, that number seems small.  Looking at the how long it took me to get to this point, however, I figure it will take me until the end of August to finish the first draft.  Then to editing and layout etc.  This is turning into a much longer project than I had first imagined.

Also, thinking about the project has left me less time to think about what I am going to write here.  I would rather not post than post some inanity just to keep up with a deadline.  So, if I cannot write anything about the hobby that is thoughtful each time out, at least maybe I can post something useful.   And so, I present the following:

DrivethruRPG has a ton of roleplaying material for sale.  Some of it is wonderful, some of it is crap.  Most people reading this probably already know this by now.  What you might not know, though, is that they also have a TON of free stuff there as well.  Much of that is not all that great either.  Some of the free stuff is really good though and here are a few of the ones that I think are most worthy of spreading the word about.  This is likely to be the first part of a series of entries.  Today, I will be focusing on complete RPG game rulebooks.  Later entries may cover things like free minis, adventures, etc.  My criteria here specifically excludes Quick Start rules systems, Kickstarter previews, and scaled down "basic" rules systems.  Some of those are good too, but what I want to focus on are games you can download and use without thinking: "Now I have to buy something else!"

Atomic Highway: There are a lot of post-apocalyptic RPGs out there.  Despite being free, I consider this one to be one of the best.  Certainly, it is one of my favorites.  It was not a free product when it was originally released, but the author decided a few years ago that he had made all the money he was likely to make on it and made the PDF free for everyone else.  It is not a complex game, and does have some simplicity in the rules (especially for ammunition) that might drive some players to distraction.  It make up for these things by packing a lot of cool ideas into a compact package and telling the GM: "Here is what we have for you, take it and run with it!"  My favorite part are the scavenging tables.  Much of the stuff on the list is just junk, but it is creative and interesting junk.  I want my players to find old 8-track tapes and then figure out a use for them.

Swords & Wizardry: For the old school D&D Fans, here is one of the better first edition clones on the market.  Like Atomic Highway, the complete edition of S&W was not originally a free product.  The folks at Frog God games, however, made releasing this edition for free a stretch goal in one of their successful kickstarters.  Frog God products are usually of very high quality, but at a wallet busting price point (e. g. Razor Coast).  Swords & Wizardry gives you the high quality without the second mortgage. Plus, it gives you some funky Erol Otus cover art for that extra nostalgia kick.

Stars Without Numbers:  This one violates my "no scaled down" versions a bit, but only back handedly.  This edition came out and was the complete game and then the author expanded it for the current for sale product.  Even without the expanded material, however, this is a complete game.  And a damn fine one at that.  In fact, it is probably the best game I will mention here today.  This one takes old school rules, adds some intuitive skill systems, and throws in a unique sci-fi setting.  Then it pitches the whole concoction into a blender and turns the setting to "atomize."  It is mind boggling how good the final result is.  Gameplay feels old school and new school at the same time.  What is more, his creation of a system for creating content for the game is innovative and amazingly effective.  For the GMs out there:  if you take nothing else from this post download this and look at the "World Tags" section.  This is truly useful stuff for thinking about how to world build.

D6 System: This is recommendation is a bit different than the others because it is a series of books instead of a single product.  You will note that most of the stuff on the link page is free.  All of the free products are worth your time.  Once upon a time there was a company called West End Games.  They made a several  very influential games: Paranoia, the first Star Wars RPG, and TORG.  Later they made a bunch of other games, some of them good, some of them not-so-good.  Then they lost some of their high profile licences, ran into financial problems and sold out.  They new buyer seems to have been a poor businessman and the various remaining properties were sold off piecemeal to other companies.  The core d6 system that was so central to many of their successes was turned into an open source project and the d6 books were released as free product.  They seem a bit dated now, but in the right hands they can be a very useful system.  And the price cannot be beat.

CJ Carella's Witchcraft: This last one is a bit of a stretch.  Not because I do not think it is a good game, but because I only have anecdotal evidence about it.  Fact: CJ Carella has written a number of things that I have really liked over the years including three of my favorite GURPS works (Martial Arts, Imperial Rome. and War against the Chtorr). Fact: Witchcraft uses the Unisystem, the game system also used by All Flesh Must Be Eaten and Terra Primate.  Two games that I own and am fond of.  Fact:  This game got a lot of good press when it came out originally.  Fact:  I am generally uninterested in this type of game but I know that some of my readers like it and others might.  Opinion:  It is a complete and free game, so given the facts presented above, if you like this sort of genre, what do you have to lose?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Making Room for the Next Hero

If you will indulge me for a moment (and I presume since you have taken the time to come here and read the words I am writing that you are predisposed to do so), I am going to mix my interests for just a moment.  Sunday night BJ Penn, an MMA legend, lost what most consider to be his last fight.  In the post fight press conference Penn, rather emotionally, announced his retirement.  Now, Penn has retired before, so certainly he may rethink this decision in the next few days and months.  Somehow, however, this retirement seems different.  It seems like maybe he means it.

Penn V Edgar 3.  These men spent 64 minutes and 14 seconds
doing this to one another.
I was not a big Penn fan over the years.  Too often, it seemed, he was fighting a guy that I considered one of MY GUYS.  In fact, that was the case Sunday.  Penn's opponent was Frankie Edgar, an accomplished fighter in his own right.  Edgar is the kind of fighter I usually get behind, not flashy, usually quiet and respectful, and one who goes into fights with heart and determination that may or may not be backed up by the necessary skill to defeat the fighter on the other side of the cage.

While I might not have been the biggest Penn supporter over the years, his presence in the sport is undeniable.  His was a persona writ large all over the sport of mixed martial arts for most of the last fifteen years.  His name was so ubiquitous that even my wife, who politely nods and feigns interest when I talk about the sport, could point him out in a crowd and stopped reading to watch his fights when he came on.  Even though I was never a huge fan of his, I was always ready to watch him fight. His record, like many of the old guard fighters is a mundane looking 16-10-2, but those are just numbers.  A deeper look at his opponent list is a veritable Who's Who of other important names in the sport.  Virtually every one of his fights was an EVENT.

Mmm.  Tastes like chicken.
His personality was just as large as his fights.  He would fight anyone, at any weight.  Sunday's fight was contested at the bantamweight limit of 145 pounds.  Penn held UFC World Titles as 170 and 155 pounds, but was unafraid of stepping up.  In Japan he once fought Lyoto Machida in an openweight fight.  Machida, a former UFC World Champion at 205 lbs. weighed in that night at 224, while Penn weighed 191.  That thirty-three pound weight differential was insane especially for a fighter who normally competed at 170!  But Penn did it and held his own with the very dangerous Machida all the way to a decision.  He was never one for truly over the top antics or smack talk, but he did do some crazy things.  Like lick the blood of his opponents from his gloves.  Repeatedly.  I once cribbed this maneuver for a PC without even realizing I was channeling Penn until after the fact.

What does this have to do with gaming?  Well, Penn's career reminds me a lot of a role-playing character's.  Especially a beloved character, one who has progressed through a truly amazing campaign.  Penn career was one of awesome battles with truly worthy opponents, much like a PC.  Unlike a PC, however, Penn's abilities began to deteriorate with age.  Penn's last seven fights consisted of one win, one (dubiously judged) draw, and five losses.  While some role-playing games have some makeshift rules for character stats slipping as they age, does anyone ever really use them?  As a result, a player character could conceivably go on forever, or until the GM finally runs the encounter that kills 'em.

Neither of those things seems like a truly fitting end for a legendary character.  I have made variations of this point before both in conversation and even with the Wagon Train analogy in an earlier post. Still, I think it is important enough to consider again.  Even the most beloved player character comes to a point where there are only one of two above scenarios that can play out.  Either the GM cannot create a situation to challenge the PC, or the GM creates the situation that kills the (beloved, remember the beloved part) character.

Or, like Penn, the beloved legendary PC can retire.  In both the cage and at the game table, that retirement makes room, potentially, for the next legend to stake his claim.  

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The "Lost" Star Trek Campaign Pitch

This is normally the time of week when I would make a "Colony" post.  Those who interact with me personally know, however, that I have decided to turn that into an actual PDF book.  Writing on that has proceeded apace.  I should have the first chapter done by the end of the week.  That has left me little time to think of something interesting to post. 

One of the original goals of this blog was to present campaign pitches for potential future games in my game group.  The whole first month of posts was dedicated to that concept.  Below is a pitch I made to the weekly group that did not quite make the cut at the time, but I think still has potential.  It did not make it into the first month of campaign pitches either, mostly because I ran out of days before I ran out of ideas.  I don't have a lot of preamble to this one.  Everyone knows what Star Trek is.  And so I present to you...

Star Fleet Academy Blues (Star Trek RPG)

The game will begin with the characters’ entry into Star Fleet Academy, follow their careers through four years of classwork/adventures, and finish with the player’s first assignment, the Graduation Exercise, which will determine their future Star Fleet Career, if they can complete the exercise with their lives.
Extra Character Points for the first PC to blast that smirk
off Riker's face.  With a phaser.  Locked on the KILL
This game will consist of five distinct story arcs.  The first four will be three to four week stories each detailing the unusual occurrences the cadets undergo in their Academy career, one for each year at academy.  The last story arc will be slightly longer, and at the end of the Graduation Exercises (and the game), the PCs will be split up and assigned to their first true Star Fleet deployments.

Because this game is so episodic, it allows for a really wide variety of adventures.  While past events will have ramifications in the future episodes, the time that passes between episodes allows for the PCs to move from one story to the other easily.  Also, since Star Fleet Academy is about exposing cadets to a wide variety of experiences, that variety will translate to the adventures they become involved in.

This game may draw from the Star Fleet Academy box set by Last Unicorn Games, but some of my players may have already played through that material, so it will be mostly used for background and not for the adventures contained therein.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ode to a Fat Bandit

I bought my first paper miniatures back in 1986 or so, but I never really used them in at the table much until I started playing Savage Worlds a few years ago.  I had a player who really benefited from the ability to see the relationships (and especially distances) between characters that miniatures provided.  That it took me 30+  years of gaming to determine that this was a good idea probably speaks volumes about my lunkheadedness.  <--- That is a word right?  The minis were part of a series by Steve Jackson Games called Cardboard Heroes.  The originals are long out of print, but you can buy them in PDF form from their web store. The first sets were fantasy based, but they expanded over time to include some Autoduel minis, Science Fiction, and eventually a couple of Horror based sets packaged with some floor plan maps in the late 90s/early 00s.  In the modern age there are a number of companies that make paper miniatures both in PDF and as print products.  Some of them are quite good.  In my old man's heart, however, the Cardboard Heroes will likely always be my favorites.

While I did not use those first miniatures at the table, they did become part of my gaming experience in another way.  The art on many of those first miniatures was inspiring.  These little dudes (and dudettes) were less than two inches tall, but they were incredible line drawings.  They had real personality.  What is more, they were much more detailed than the crummy lead miniatures of the day and  a load less expensive.  The Cardboard Heroes were so detailed that I found myself using the miniatures as models to create NPCs in the fantasy games I ran.  I found myself even creating adventures specifically to include the creations these minis inspired.

Size isn't everything.
  This guy looks awesome
when he is 2" Tall.
My favorite of the original Cardboard Heroes was named Fat Brigand by the company.  With great affection, I dubbed him Fat Bandit (for versatility dontchaknow?) and he became a regular fixture in my fantasy games. Looking back on things, I don't wonder if bandits didn't become one of my favorite It's-ok-for-the-players-to-just-kill-these-guys enemies because I got to include Fat Bandit in the ranks of the enemy.  Fat Bandit was so much more than... er a fat bandit to me.  He has been a pirate captain,  a travelling merchant with an attitude, urban criminal overlord, and more.  Other minis in the series provided the same sort of NPC inspiration.  Only rarely, back in the day did I ever get to play as other than the GM, but at least once I created a PC based on one of the Cardboard Heroes as well.

When I went on my no-fantasy hiatus, this practice of minis as NPC generator fell a bit to the wayside.  When I started running traditional fantasy again a few years ago, I found that paper minis were far more available than in the good old days.  I have purchased a bunch of those, both fantasy and modern, since I started using miniatures at the table.  I have even found a way to make some of my own which has been a great addition to the game.   If there is any interest in my process for that, sound off and I might make it a future blog entry. Even with all the other options, however, the Cardboard Heroes still figure prominently in the mix whenever I run a fantasy game.

Remember that lunkheadedness I mentioned before?  It was only as I wrote this that I considered the notion of creating a PC for Fat Bandit.  Now if I can find a fantasy game to play him in...