Saturday, August 16, 2014

No Soup (Gen Con) For You!

After the horrors of the Chicago 2013-2014 winter, I asked the mechanic I've taken my car to, to look it over. I knew that it was a terrible winter. It was so bad that where I work shut down for a few days because they had to do a lot of mechanical maintenance and other bits aside. My car was having trouble starting and tended to be shaky when on the expressway. The mechanic is fantastic in terms of his mechanical abilities but...

Tells me I need spark plugs. Get those.

Next day car doesn't start.

Have huge drama getting it to Auto-Zone and it's a whole story here of how I wind up buying a new battery from Tripple A and having some locals repalce my starter.

Total damage including the sparkplugs? $500 bones roughly.

So that's in like May.

Then my mom is driving the car while taking my sister back and hey, there's this awesome snapping noise that sounds like the car's been struck.

NOW the mechanic has no time for me, but gives me a recommendation to another guy he knows.

Rear brakes completely shot.

Rear axle completely shot.

Water pump worthless.

Motor Mounts gone. That was the loud SNAP my mom heard.

There was some other things wrong too and all in all, roughly $3,500 bones.

First, while I know the mechanic who usually looks at the car knows what he's doing, he could not possibly have missed all of that if he had bothered to look for it. Seriously, it can't all happen at one time.

Second, the car is twelve years old. While it was a Saturn and was still getting about 20 mph, and its paint was peeling but not rusting because it wasn't metal, I knew that it was only matter of time before some serious issues hit.

I was honestly expecting it to be the transmission. After all, it was an old car.

But that just meant that if I spent the $3,500, that was something else I could look forward to going out.

So I went out and bought a Kia Soul.

So now I'm on the hook for a few bones for many a month.

But in theory, I could have still went to Gen Con BUT...

About four years ago now, my mom was experiencing debilitating pain when walking. I almost had to carry her down the stairs and had to bring a chair to the flights between levels so she could rest. So among the many reasons I hate doctors is that they don't' know what their doing. My mom went through x-rays, MRI scans, electro-shock tests, muscle tests, bone density tests, and a lot of finger pointing from one specialists to the next.

So with her diabetes, she gets a foot infection and BAM! Half her left foot has to go. But hey, turns out that the pain? That was PAD, Peripheral Artery Disease and yeah, for almost two years no doctor could figure that out. So before she gets the foot lopped off, she has to have arteries transferred to allow blood flow to get to the foot so that the surgery to remove the infected part of the foot actually works.

So then it's four months of physical rehab. The place isn't bad for the most part, but the food is downright atrocious. So terrible that she doesn't eat unless I bring food to her, so that meant for about a third of the year I was going to the rehab place every day, but hey, it was only a few blocks away so that was win.

But in talking about my hate of doctors, they give her a shoe that is visually not good. Where the front meets the back, there is an obvious overlapping section. They insist that she wears it. Hey, it gives her newly healed foot a blister. A wound on the amputated food of a diabetic.

So for the last oh, eightteen months I've been taking her to see a wound specialist. The meeting is before I'm off work so lots of vacation time used up there. Mind you I've used vacation time on some of my own things, because lord knows I get sick myself, but the majority of my vacation and floating holidays, went to taking the mom to the doctor.

So with little money and only a few days of vacation left, which I break into half days to take mom to the doctor, at least four times a month, I made the decesion to skip Gen Con this year.

On one hand, it's a bummer. I enjoyed running games and seeing all the great art and meeting the creators and getting Con exclusives.

On the other, well, I still haven't painted everything I bought from Gen Con last year. I still haven't played all the games I bought last year. I still haven't read all the books I bought last year. It's not that I wouldn't buy more if given the opportunity, it's just I'm not suffering from it.

Another thing limiting my disappointment with not going this year, is that, as in years past, several companies are doing sales for those that aren't going. Several companies are even selling the convention exclusives through the web store for the duration of the convention. I was going to pick some stuff up from one store, but for three books to ship it seemed an excessive charge. Perhaps it's a weird thing but if shipping three books is now $12+ dollars, it's a good thing I'm an Amazon Prime member.

Heck, some of the very late Kickstarters have even started to trickle in so there's that to keep me amused at least. Speaking of Kickstarters I'll have to do another post about that and my own recent actions with them.

Anyway, that's my sob story. I might have been able to sneak down there for a day but I wasn't going to pay $50 to wander the Dealer's Hall for one day and play a few pick up games when I have a regular group and two good gaming stores down here.

For those who did get to Gen Con, how was the trip? It seemed crowded last year but it's a big con and I suspect getting bigger with more mainstream acceptance thanks to movies and board games. Heck, Amazon has a deal of the day for numerous board games and the Fate RPG.

I do miss the food trucks through. Well I ain't missing no meals I assure you, the novelty of the food trucks and the variety of food is great. I wish we had them here. Chicago politicians seem dead set against actual capitalism despite the defense of that word whenever they want to stomp on someone, 

Anyway, tell me of the good stuff you bought. Point out some great threads of Con loot. Post some links to the awesome!




Sunday, August 10, 2014

Leftover Soup Webcomic and the Class of Setting Creation

I tend to read a lot of web comics. One of them, Leftover Soup, http://www.leftoversoup.com/, has some gamign involved along with the other bits.

In the current series, the group is sitting down and discussing their characters and the background of the setting itself is coming into the forefront of the game. Mind you, this is even BEFORE they've started their characters or started out down the road of playing.

It's not going well.

There are certain assumptions built into the campaign that some of the players find distasteful for different reasons and none of their reasons are inherently bad in and of themselves, they just clash with the assumed nature of the campaign.

This is interesting to read as both a GM and a player. As a GM, I'm currently setting up a super hero setting for Hero 6th edition. I had the players start off with 500 points (includes 75 for disadvantages) but depending on what they make, may kick it up higher.

It's a  world where it assumes a lot of things in comics are correct.

Like what?

Well, world population would be down, in some instances fairly dramatically from invasions from space, other planes, alternative universes, etc...

The technology level would be higher, almost universally sci-fi. Heck, if you look at the things they are testing NOW in 2014, it seems that things are very sci-fi.

Massive surveillance state which effectively ends the ability for players to have secret ids unless they have a really good reason/excuse for it. Part of this may be living in Chicago where speed cameras, red light cameras, and dozens of other bits of surveillance technology are a hated, but well, accepted part of daily life.

Magic and psionics and gods are known to exist. Most of these are still 'unknown' for the most part as I've decided that most pantheons left Earth for the stars as mankind continued to move up the ladder and magic never lends itself well to mass consumption.

Fights between groups of supers are potentially very damaging to the nearby environment. Imagine if in Man of Steel, that was a weekly, or a monthly thing. How many billions would it take to repair? Would it even be possible? Would society itself be set back to the stone age after enough such battles?

Bit of 'false utopia' going on, nicked in part from movies like the recent Captain America Winter Soldier, to shows like Minority Report and Psycho Pass where society is able to use predictive technology. I know that again, it may seem sci-fi, but a lot if it is actually in use now: http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/09/tech/innovation/police-tech/

There are some other bits I'm working on. I'm thinking that I'd snag a bit of the recent Guardians of the Galaxy storyline where Earth was essentially marked off limits. The reason being is that in most comic series, it has WAY more value than a dirt ball should and I think Green Lantern's take of things, during the whole Black Lantern War, is a good reasoning for the significance of it.

The 'fun' part? I told the players to be inspired by the Fate system and come up with what the current menace is, what the future menace is, and how their characters know each other and how they'll be working. I've left a lot of options open to them ranging from fighting against the system to working for the system to being agents of Earth on the reaches of outer space.

So yeah, as I read Leftover Soup and see the players arguing, intelligently, their points, I wonder what I'm going to run into with my own players. Mind you, as I've giving them a bit of the world building handles in terms of characters, NPCs, etc..., I think it'll be a little smoother.

As a game master, have you ever run a campaign where you had conflict with the players about it? I find that I try to appreciate a campaign for what it is as opposed to what I think it should be. I'm not always successful mind you as most fantasy campaigns, especially as I get older and read more, tend to make me annoyed. Vikings alongside English flavored Bowmen alongside German styled knights in full plate alongside sword and sandal barbarians alongside wizards and in most cases, it's 'guns' that are seen as too technologically advanced.

Ugh.

Still, I tend to keep that part of my brain off and admit that when I do my own in house writing, I tend to avoid them as well. I think it's just the dissonance of the gun versus the sword.

Ah well, back to enjoying a lazy Sunday!





Monday, August 4, 2014

Savage Sword of Conan Volume Seven

Again, as I read through these old classics, I have to give a nod of thanks to +Dark Horse Comics . Not only did they make buying these long out of print magazine compilations possible, but they also put out a huge digital package that made buying all of them affordable.

This is another huge volume, collecting issues 72-84 with art by the likes of John Buscema and others. John's art tends to be larger than life and it's another excellent example of an artist who shames a lot of the current crop in the field these days.

Don't misunderstand me, that's not even a 'good' full page spread by John, but it's another example of how John was able to make so much of the setting pop for the casual reader.

In terms of the cover, I hate to say it, but AGAIN I think Dark Horse blew it. When you have not one, but TWO covers done by Joe Jusko, what the hell would you pick the one they did for? I mean look at this one.


Now that's a Conan at his barbaric level. Axe dripping blood, shield overflowing with arrows and that look? Oh yeah, that's not a look you want coming after you.

And the art in and of itself, with all of the covers reproduced internally, although only in black and white, is one of the best reasons to own the book. It provides a lot of visual inspiration.

The 'bad' news of this volume? Like previous volumes, it's only the Conan direct stories that are printed. Some of the covers hint at some of the other material that was included in the magazines but alas, those sections have been lost to the ravages of licensing.

Many of the stories within are so 'simple' that they could easily work as one shot adventures. For example, Conan seeks to steal the treasure from a temple. The statue is of course alive!

Conan seeks out the lost heir for a throne. Turns out that one he was lead to is nothing more than a cat's pawn to lead people away from the true heir!

Conan seeks out some female company in an Inn (several times) and it leads to violence!

Conan comes across a member of an elder race that is drying! Can Conan survive the intrigues of such a creature?

Conan helps fulfill a dying king's wish by collecting a variety of components for a statue. Each of which is guarded by a unique monster!

As always, some of the stories are stronger than others. There is an effort made to give Conan a recurring foe but it feels weak, especially when we've seen this sort of thing done before. Conan's enemy is defeated by a hand other than his, and look! That son of a bitch is still alive issues later!

One of the most interesting things about Conan though, in terms of world building, is that the authors really don't care.

I don't mean that like anything at all is possible, but there are scenes where Conan meets a pair of cyclops and it's like, 'Yeah, no big. I'm Conan after all'.

Other situations involve him fighting against an alien race that is out to feed his blood to giant mount sized vampire bats and again, it's like, "Well, these aren't the first aliens I've dealt with."

And still others Conan meets some weird creature that appears to be one of a kind and it's often, "Wizard did it."

It's a good sign that perhaps when building up these worlds and settings that fun is more important then internal consistency.




Sunday, August 3, 2014

Dresden Files: Recapping some thoughts on Jim Butcher's Modern Mage series

Summer Knights is book four in the Dresden Files series.


This time we get Harry dealing with the Fey in a larger more involved manner in which we've seen in the past. Like previous books, the reading is quick and easy. Harry himself remains a bit of a rough spot but is always trying his best to do what's right for people and this often puts him on edge against his fellow wizards.

In addition, as the series continues to go, the mythology of the series, and the events of previous books, continues to pile on. In this instance, Harry's work against the vampires in previous books has lead to war between the wizards and the vampires.

All of this is on the down low however and is somehow not caught by 'modern man' despite a plethora of growing technology and ability to spy on people at any point and any time.

One of the interesting twists here though, is that Harry's 'contract' if you will, to his 'Godmother', is bought out by another Fey who offers to let Harry out of his obligations but it's in exchange for three favors. Doing something like this in a role playing game allows you to switch up the pace a bit.

For example, in the Punisher comics, for a long time Frank was pretty much a solo act. But then he got Micro and had a line in to getting high tech weapons and other bits. It brought something different to the character for a while.

Changing things up isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Death Masks is book five in the Dresden Files. 

Jim Butcher hasn't been afraid to throw actual religious bits into the Dresden files in the past and that remains true in this volume as well. Where previous books have had a focus on the undead, werewolves, wizards, and the faeries, this volume kicks things up a notch by bringing in demons.

Turns out those 30 silver that Judas got back in the day were possessed! Each coin with its own specific demon and each demon able to bond with a user providing knowledge and power in exchange for enslavement and well, your soul.

The demons are also on a higher power level than many things then Harry has fought in the past and he's forced to rely on allies to get through the day again. In this case, it's the three users of the swords that are empowered by the Nails of Christ as they search for the Shroud of Turin.

One of the bits that is 'stealable' from this would be how Harry needs a 'second' in a duel with a vampire. This 'second' would normally be a friend of Harry whose gone to bat for him many times, but at that particular time isn't available.

But someone who respects that person, deeply, and trusts that person, deeply, comes out and says, "Well, if it's good enough for him..." And that's an important factor. Sometimes if a resource isn't available, there should be a secondary, but still viable way to do something. If your allies and friends respect the player characters enough to fight and die for them, it's possible that some of their allies would be like, "You know, if they need help, I will provide it." 

It was a nice touch.

Blood Rites moves us into book six of the Dresden files. It, like others in the series, continues to build on the Vampire versus Wizards roles. It also continues to showcase how odd it is when a 'professional' wizard is brought in to handle a 'curse' and yet Magic isn't really thought of to be real. Sigh. One of the things that I have a hard time dealing with but I understand that's my own personal take on it.

It's why I have a hard time with super hero comics that take place in a contemporary setting. There's too many ways to observe and track people for secret identities to be anything other than a nod to the genre itself.  Six hundred million people in the United States alone and how many of them probably have cameras? Monitoring devices of all sorts going up in major cities all the time, and Harry Dresden lives in one of the most monitored cities of all.

But again, that's part of the genre that Jim Butcher is creating here.


The 'twist' on this series, is that Harry's past, which has been teased at, and has been brought into play in bits and pieces, comes a little bit more to the front here. 

This volume also brings out a different aspect of the vampires with the 'White' branch. These are more like the emotional vampires in that they feed off of passion as opposed to blood. They're not as powerful as the Red Court or the Black Court but at the same time they can walk around in the daytime. Thankfully though, they do not sparkle.

Be creating three courts early on in the series, the author has allowed himself some leeway in how things can be taken in the series. It allows each court to have its own feel and presence in the series. By setting up those differences early on, it allows the path of each court to flow more organically then if it were just lumped out in one huge dole.

Dresden Files Dead Beat is volume seven in the series.

While the wagon has circled around a little bit here, as in this volume, we're again dealing with Wizards, it puts the focus on a different aspect of the wizards, that of necromancy!

The bits about me having a hard time taking the whole 'unseen world' aspect hit a little harder here. The stakes are bigger than they've been in the past with uber powered necromancers attempting to summon a host of spirits and undead in effort to eat them and become a demi-god in power.

Now that in and of itself is an adventure seed for a Mage game, a super hero game, or even a fantasy game.

Necromancers attempt a ritual with enough juice that if successful, they will become gods. Stop them!

The fun thing about Jim's writing, is that he continues to beat Harry at almost every opportunity. The poor guy can't catch any breaks. Even when he wins, it's basically a default win by not dying.

The volume is now in the thick of things and continues to build up on previous works.

At this point that includes the following:

Demons: Harry picked up one of the silver pieces and now has a demon presence in his head.

Warders: The warders are the 'fist' of the mages if you will. Harry's relation with them is not good to begin with, but at the same time, he's now been drafted into their ranks.

Fey: Harry on rare occasions, seeks out information from his faerie Godmother. In previous instances, he's been offered the role of one of the Knights of the fey and has turned it down. Those temptations are still being provided.

Vampires: The war with the vampires is continuing and the wizards are losing. Hints are that its due to inside traitors and that I'm sure is further built up on in future books.

We also get a little bit of a look at how Harry is perceived outside of himself. As these books are all told in first person, it's not that unusual for the focus of the story to be on the person doing the telling, and Harry's experiences with the Council aren't all that often and don't take place all that much but as he's called in help0 here, we get a little peak at that.

For one, Harry is considered powerful. Now mind you, that despite having his ass handed to him on several different occasions throughout this book alone. In some instances, merely surviving and moving onto the next thing are good enough.

For another, Harry is seen as a 'rogue' of sorts and isn't' the traditional type of mage that the the council is comfortable with. This makes him something of an icon or hero to the younger generation of wizards coming up in the ranks.

It's a nice change of pace outside of seeing Harry be broke, almost dead, or just considered more trouble than he's worth. It sets up the stage for future material I'm sure. 

The thing is though, Jim Butcher just didn't put this novel out first. There is a LOT of build up, heck, six previous volumes worth, to get Harry to this stage. When playing out such efforts in a role playing game, the temptation to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks can be high, but in a long term campaign, one that doesn't come out of a prewritten adventure or sourcebook, allowing the world to flow with the actions of the players will provide more opportunities to expand that game in ways that interact directly with the players and their actions.

As you can tell, I managed to knock out these books between my two posts on the Thousand Thrones campaign I'm in. Told in first person, the Dresden Files are quick reads that could be the basis of their own game. Heck, even now the role playing game is going through some play testing and is in prep for a new edition to head down the line.

For those who aren't using the Fate system, have you modeled a similar setting to the Dresden files using another game system? Or is everyone still using the original World of Darkness to handle all of the different bits out there?

For me, I'm done with the Dresden files until I hit a sale or something along those lines.

I enjoyed the reading. It was light and quick and each tale builds on the whole of the previous series.

But...

I have dozens of other books to read. Going to book sales in Chicago for years for example, as well as store closings, like Borders, has provided me with enough material to last for at least solid months of reading if ALL I did was reading.

Hopefully I'll be able to get back to the series one day because I'd like to see where Jim takes the demon bit, where he takes the Fey bits, where he takes the war with the vampires. But until then...









Saturday, August 2, 2014

Warhammer FRPG: Thousand Thrones Sidequest and Infighting

Looks at blog... last post was last week. In the meanwhile I've read the last of the Dresden Files books that I own. I think it was like up to book seven or something. I'll either hit the library or the used book store because when I buy seven volumes for $1.99 each and see the next one at like $7 bones or something... pass!

Yesterday's game involved much iced coffee as well as some 'generic' chips from Sam's Club. It's a huge bag, like 24 ounces, and we couldn't actually finish it. But we did manage to knock out one of those dips, and I believe it was the cheese one. The Star Bucks iced coffee was pretty good. Since the alcohol consumption is still at zero these many weeks, coffee must replace it!

The game was delayed because we joke way too much. I don't have a problem with it mind you because I'm one of the people doing the joking. This is in a way bad though because I only see these guys the one time a week and I only RPG one time a week, most weeks. So the desire to socialize and talk trash wages war against my desire to sling some dice.

One of the funny things though, is that last week the player told the Game Master something that amounted to not knowing how certain things would effect the characters and the Game Master was like, "But I'm the GM. Of course I know" which has lead to us calling him "Tom Snow" and telling him, "Tom Snow, you know nothing." We'll probably burn that meme out in a week or three. 

The game itself though was a mix of slog, side quest, and death!

My dwarf giant slayer has been suffering from yellow fever and I was down -25 on all primary stats. If my Toughness hit 0, I'd die. Well, use a fate point but the GM thought it'd be a good opportunity to throw some Skaven at us in a side quest. The quest for herbs!

Unfortunately, one of the other players, the one playing the sniper elf, decided to try and take a potion to reduce his insanity points. It instead knocked him flat out. Our bright wizard, who the elf has constantly ribbed and even shot and killed once when the bright wizard was possessed (fate point!), has held a grudge against him since that time.

So the bright wizard takes the elf and throws him in the stables. Where hs is promptly robbed. On one hand, I suppose that the guy playing the elf is lucky that the GM didn't tell him that he lost a fate point and had his throat slit. On the other, the guy playing the bright wizard didn't want anything 'bad' to happen to the elf and just thought it would bruise his ego.

But in Warhammer, gold and magic items are not like they are in Dungeons and Dragons where even low level adventurers are swimming with filthy lucre and magic. The lose of over sixty gold crowns REALLY pissed off the guy playing the elf, who honestly, hasn't liked the other guy as a person in the entirety of the campaign.

Upon awakening the elf tries to find his money with some gossip tests and some fellowship tests and discover who dragged him into the stables. He then tries to steal his money back from the wizard at night.

I personally can't stand that whole interparty war nonsense. I can do all of that much better and more efficient online. I asked both players flat out if this was how it was going to go and they seemed pretty determined to do it until the wizard woke up during the robbery attempt at which point they actually talked out the differences to apparently both of their satisfaction.

Which made me very happy because like I said, for most 'standard' games I'm playing in, unless it's directly about politics or inner circle things where the party isn't part of the same group, it's just not my thing.

So there was some other nonsense going on, but eventually we went off to search for herbs to cure my disease and it was then that we encountered a large group of skaven.

For those who don't know, skaven are rat men. They are one of the most original things I think that Games Workshop added to the greater body of fantasy. They are technologists, psychopaths, ninjas, masters of genetic manipulation and so much more.

And we had to fight a few of the rat ogres, ninjas, handlers and lots of the slaves. Thankfully there were no wizards or warp stone cannons.

But that didn't matter. I forget which one caused fear, and with my penalties to primary stats, I blew my roll. Now mind you, I'd already shaven my head because of running away from a bloody room. My fellows joked that I'd have to shave my body after this.

What's worse, as I'd never healed up from the previous fight, I took two negative wounds, and each one was essentially knocked down. At one point the rat ogre used me as a boulder against the bright wizard.

Unfortunately for the bright wizard, the rat ogre then closed into melee. On his two attacks, he rolled a 10 for damage the first time, and a 10 for damage the second time. Unlike me, his critical hit resulted in death and well, he'd already burned through three fate points before that night, so the rat ogre essentially beat him to death with his own limbs.

Eventually the rest of the skaven fled when we killed the handlers and the rat ogres and at that point, we managed to make it back into town where I was cured of my yellow fever. 

So now the player of the bright wizard is unto character three of the campaign while almost everyone else is at character one.

Oh well, the GM is off next week so it'll be a few weeks before the campaign gets updated. That's assuming he decided to pick it up.

We killed the mutant boy last week and one of the options for the campaign at this point is "Hey, good job. Campaign over."

And guess whose next up to run? Yup, that'd be me. A Hero 6th edition campaign with a build of 500 points... already seen a few characters but I'm stealing a page from Fate and making the players tell me what type of campaign they want to run by having them decide the menace now and the menace to come as well as some of the NPCs, etc....

It seems to me that those elements from Fate can be used in any role playing game and function well to bring the player's a bit more into the campaign and setting than just telling them, "Here's what's up!"

Anyone else steal that methodology and if so, how did it work?

Here's to hoping the next game runs smoother and starts earlier!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Warhammer FRPG Thousand Thrones Snack Attack Recap

This week was particularly strange. One of my gaming friends died. His mom called me up because my number was in his phone. The memorial service was... not to my taste although I can see it's benefit to the mom. Hung out with several friends way too late and because it was a work day, didn't have a drop of alcohol.

Heck, because of the last attack of gout, I haven't had any alcohol in about a month now. Ugh. Sobriety is not to my liking.

A few of my gaming amigo's friends got together after the memorial and talked about the guy. It was interesting in that for a few of us, including me mind you, that he was so quite, there wasn't a lot we could add to the conversation. For me, it was interesting to hear about the guy's life and what he did when he wasn't around.

In terms of the type of gamer he was, he was a min-maxer. Mind you he learned, as many people do, that what looks fantastic on paper, doesn't necessarily work out in the game. I remember a 'side quest' the group was running during a Shackled City campaign I was running for 3.5 that allowed people a lot of free range in what they could use. He had a mojh magister. This is a dragon man spellcaster and he had some unique bits to him.

In this side quest, it was one of the Goodman Games Dungeon Crawl Classics where I put a magic item that the group was researching. In a random encounter the party encountered some drow with a pslelcaster and the drow won initiative, the spellcaster hit out with a fireball that did almost max damage, and well, that magister was toasted.

Stuff like that never discouraged him though. He just went back to the drawing board to work out what his next masterwork would be.

Some thought him a little... rule lawyer like too. I particularly never had that issue with him, but at the 'peak' my my 3.5 days, I could probably recite whole passages of the game system without needing to reference the book. I also made sure to have handouts of what the changes were to the core rules at the start of the game so there were rarely moments where someone would go, "I didn't know you did that, otherwise I would have..."

One of the reasons so few of us knew anything about him, is outside of making characters and showing up to game, even in the game, he was quite. It wasn't that he couldn't role play or that he didn't engage when spoken with, he just didn't volunteer a lot of that of himself at any particular time. If an NPC had questions for him, he had answers and had no problem role playing out the encounter. If someone asked him how he was doing, he'd talk about it, but they were short answers. He was there to game, to see the mechanics of one part of the system clash with another part.

It sound stupid I'm sure, but one of the things that I'm going to miss about him is seeing him apply that analytic mind to the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons.

It was nice to have his other friends around to talk about him and the characters he made and some of the goofy mistakes he made and for me, it was great learning a little more about the man behind the mechanics.

Still, even without alcohol, being out past ten lead me to be exhausted the next day at work and the following day, which was game day. So I pulled out some different snacks to help me overcome.

Now this was one tasty beverage. One of my friends brought a coconut coffee something or other last week and it was good. This wasn't as sweet being far more espresso and coconut, which in and of itself isn't really that sweet, but hey, two of these and I was good.

And here we have some of the snacks. I had gone to Dick Blick art store in Evanston to look at the wet palletes they had. They are  far too big to use at my standard painting area. So instead I wandered over to the nearby Costs Plus World Market and picked up some snacks.

The wasabi soy almonds were tasty but the first bite always had a little more kick that I expected The sauce in the middle is a fresh habanero hot sauce. Very good on chips. The salsa is a hot chipotle that was more paste like than chunky, but I enjoyed it. Not shown are the chips and the chocolate covered espresso beans. The beans made it through the game, but the chips were gone in a matter of minutes.

We were short two players for the game. My dwarf was still badly wounded. Our Empire Bright Wizard, not badly wounded, but injured. Our elf bowman in great health. The benefit of being an archer when nothing actually gets up to you. Our 'hedge wizard', who in like twenty sessions we still haven't seen directly cast a spell, was in fairly good health.

We continued our exploration of the grounds with a few random encounters here and there and traps. One of the traps was exploding mushrooms. The insanity points were flowing fast and freely at the den of Nurgle. I got like five in one blast of mind warping insanity that caused me to forget everything. That was fun to play as I went about type listening to one player after another tell me what my character was like and being aghast at the whole thing.

"Dwarves send their people off to die when they make mistakes and yet are in decline? Dwarves don't sound too smart." The elf and his continued assurance that despite the fact that I wasn't as good as an elf, as a dwarf I was far superior to a human. The 'hedge wizard' assuring me that the bright wizard was nothing but a charlatan. It was great.

The final fight was VERY interesting for future games. The main thrust of the game has been the mutant child and his mutant ability to influence those around him. We were in this Nurgle manor in order to prevent the child from being bonded and controlled by a magic item.

Apparently the members in the party decided that the best way to do that was to kill the kid. Before anything else, before engaging the enemy in melee, just, you know, kill the kid. The elf missed with his bow shot, but the bright wizard completely toasted the kid.

The fight itself was brutal and I lost another piece of armor.

Before things could get too bad though, another group of enemies joined the fray, in this case, some vampires that we'd been working for and against in various parts of the campaign. They were less then pleased that we killed the boy, but in the ensuring chaos of the grand melee, we managed to escape. But the bright wizard took enough damage to burn a fate point. Two of the people who have the heal skill failed their roll and thought he was dead.

On the way out, we encountered the source of my trauma which cured me of the memory loss so I looked at the two, who have failed roll after roll in terms of making those heal checks and was like, "So... you two are telling me that the bright wizard is dead and you both looked him over?" Seeing their nods, I went back in and picked him up. Benefit of burning a fate point was that the bad guys tend to not molest you when your down.

So now the GM is reading around and ahead to see how he's going to make changes to the last portions of the book. Apparently the mutant kid is supposed to have survived the whole fight and come out with new insights.

Yeah, didn't happen.

But the weekend wasn't over!

On Saturday one of my friends wanted to head out to Games Plus in Mount Prospect. It's a fantastic store and carries a ton of miniatures, board games, card games, and other miniature related bits. As time goes on though, the physical ability of the store to carry more of the esoteric ranges of things diminishes which means I find myself going online more and more. For example, Andreas has a paint line that contains six paints of a particular color that you can use for highlighting and shading. Very handy. Another one is Scale 75. Another one is Mig or AMMO. This doesn't count the lines, like Foundry or Coat De Arms, that Games Plus has never carried.

Don't get me wrong, I know I don't 'need' any of those extra paints, but I like playing with them. For example, the store is now carrying some of the Plastic Soldier weathering sprays and primers. I've picked up the staining kit from Plastic Soldier but haven't found anything I want to use it on yet, so I held off on buying the weathering spray.

But I did pick up the Privateer Press wet palette. I've got friends who are like, "Make your own you lazy bastard or use the coupon for Michaels of Dick Blick and get a huge one for half the price!" and the 'real' one is way too big and well, I'm lazy.

I also picked up some matte black Army Painter primer. I know again people are like "Use auto primer" and a few have recommended Tamiya, but the Army Painter is usually good and isn't bad in price for the white or the black. I just finished off my Privateer Press Black Primer and I didn't like the design of the spray nozzle and it wasn't that good of a primer and it wasn't cheap so no more of that.

I also picked up some brass rod and some drill bits from Army Painter. There was a 'hobby' company bit there of drill bits, but they costs just as much as the Army Painter pack which came with the brass. An easy selection there.

After that it was off to paint for a little while. I'm showing one of the player's from the Friday game has to lay down some paint and it's more challenging that I thought it would be. Not sure if that's me being a terrible teacher or him being a horrible student. "You need to shake the paint before putting it in the pallette. You need to thin the paint. Only dip the tip of the brush in." Things that seem simple but... That's okay, learning comes from doing.

But the weekend didn't stop there. One of my friends, one who I don't see enough, was having a get together so I headed out there for some card games. We played a few hands of  Coup, a card game where the purpose is to reduce your enemies resources to zero. You only start with two and you don't get any more. There is a lot of bluffing and puzzling to do in it. It's a great and fast card game and we got several hands in. For a game I'd never played before, I'm seriously thinking of buying it because it's easy to pick up and I think can be played with gamers and nongamers with equal aplomb. Not to mention it's under $15 bones and already has some support games out for it.

We also played a game of Torches and Pitchforks. T&P is a game where you play a mob that hunts down monsters. It's a fun game but this hand was a little rough as we were all out of practice and we were very good at countering each other's ability to accumulate pint totals. I wish that Green Ronin would come out with a modern version of the game or a sequel or an add on. There's a lot of potential in it.

Outside of the gaming, it was good to have some intelligent conversation. At work it's either I'm quite because I'm in a cubicle or I'm catching up with my friends on various bits and pieces and 'real' conversation doesn't happen too often. It's one of those things where we see each other so much that b.s. is what we're best at. Seeing people you don't see that often gives you an opportunity to start spouting off and seeing where the pieces fall.

So the week started horrible and ended on a high note. Gaming for me, works best when you get to try out different games, hang out with people you haven't seen in a while, and share new food stuffs and stories among each other.

It may not be family but good gamers are as close as you're going to get and in some cases better.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dresden Files: Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

Jim Butcher has apparently struck a cord among readers looking for something different than standard fantasy. Make no mistake, fantasy in many of its varieties makes a lot of appearances in Grave Peril, the third book in the Dresden Files series, but it's fantasy layered on top of a Harry Dresden living in the modern era.

Told in the first person narrative, Grave Peril builds on the previous volumes while continuing to expand the world and setting. For instance, Harry met vampires in the first novel, but here, they take a larger role. The name of the book, Gravel Peril, also plays off the other antagonist, a 'Nightmare' ghost that's able to push Dresden to near the breaking points.

Some of my complaints about earlier novels continue to shine through here. Magic is 'hidden' from the 'mundanes' and apparently it's only hidden because either, like the vampires, they have too much pull, or people are just so incredibly ignorant that they're willing to shrug it off. In a city like Chicago where there are literally millions of people, and most of them with cell phones that have cameras on them, not to mention all of the standard surveillance around the city, it remains almost laughable that things like Harry destroying part of a building with fire magic in two separate occasions aren't huge warning signs. This is especially true given hor paranoid America can be with things we don't know about.

Those things though, like secret ids in good old super hero comics, are part of the genre Jim's building though. Either it'll get better or it'll strain my credulity to the point where I stop reading. As I've already read the fourth volume, Summer Knight, I think it's got a while to go. Part of that is I don't take it too seriously. It's a quick read with a character that is often trying to do the best he can and getting his ass handed to him.

But mind you, it's that "Die Hard" ass beating he's suffering. Regardless of how often he's beaten down or how badly, it's rare to see him take any permanent damage. He hasn't like, lost a hand yet or anything. In addition, Jim paces the books so that they aren't flowing one against another and there are often months where Harry is essentially recovering and studying.

One of my friends did run a few games of the system but it didn't last too long. There's just too much competition in the gaming field for him to stick with any one particular game engine for that long when he's the one running it. Quite the opposite of say running a long term written campaign like the Thousand Thrones I'm playing in. One of the reasons I think that Wizards of the Coast better pick up a few more ques from Paizo and have more great adventurers out and you know, keep publishing them.

Anyway, one of the ways that the setting is built on here, include Harry's 'Godmother', an actual member of the fey courts who provided Harry with the power needed in his youth to survive his mentor's treachery. It seems to be setting up a point there as the introduction of the Godmother here leads into the next book that is heavily involved with the Fey and the Winter and Summer courts.

And as Jim builds the setting he also falls into another pattern of Harry using his enemy's abilities against him. In the previous volume, Harry used a wolf pelt to become a magical werewolf. In the volume before that, he used the villain's own monsters against him. Here he uses the whole 'ghostly disturbances' to essentially double his power and win.

These victories are interesting in that they really don't look like they are things that could be duplicated and they are often things that come with a heavy cost. When looking at your own games, try to put the players in situations that allow them to try different and even difficult things with victory over seemingly impossible odds as the rewards.

Another element of expanding the world is Harry has an ally, or I should say, another ally, whose if not on par with him due to the variety of things Harry can do, can at least hold his own against the supernatural. IN the previous volume, Harry encountered some werewolves who were 'good guys' and they continue to follow that path.

But here we are introduced to Michael Carpenter, a 'knight of the cross', a man who uses the sword Amoracchius, a sword that has on it one of the nails used to crucify Christ. In Harry's world, being a man of 'righteousness' a 'holy man', has real teeth when it comes to supernatural elements.  It's a nice way of expanding who Harry can travel with without bringing in more wizards and serves to expand the setting at the same time while raising questions that the author can handle in future volumes.

In a role playing game though, you'll need to have a lot of potential options open at the start of the campaign. It's one of the reasons why game books often have details on a setting that you'll never see, never need in the fiction or movie or television show of the same setting. A game's needs are far different than a reader's needs.

I'll try to have some random thoughts about Summer Knight up later on. I haven't started the fifth book yet and I only own six of them. However my buddy who ran the Dresden Files game? He has them all and has already assured me that I can borrow them whenever I want.

It's one of those things that when you're a fan of a series, you're glad to meet other fans of the series and to pass on the lore and discussions and ideas on what could and should have happened. It's part of having some shared references and those are, perhaps not vital to having a group that gels properly, but certainly don't hurt. If you're playing a game of Stormbringer or Elric, and everyone at the table but one guy has read the books, that guy is potentially missing out on a lot of undercurrents and references that could be made to the novels, if not the entirety of the campaign itself.

When you're gaming in a setting based on a novel, or inspired by one, do you point your players to the books and other media? For my upcoming Champions campaign, I've pointed out a few things to give the player's some reference points of what I'm tinkering with and it's allowed the players to throw some feedback my way with one player going all out on it and others being a little more conservative.

Anyway, the Dresden files continue to be a quick read and may not be to everyone's taste, but are certainly edible popcorn reading for a lazy afternoon.