Sunday, February 26, 2012

Massacre: Clone Wars 4.19

When you watch episodes like Massacre, you know why people want to play the bad guys in role playing games. When you look at the design on the characters, on the good guy side, you have the jedi. For the most part, they have the cool, "I'm ominous and dark" thanks to their cloaks and hoods. But outside of that? They dress in rather drab colors, don't have a lot of variety to them and well, are boring visually.

Now look at some of the most iconic figures in the Star Wars setting like Darth Vader and Bobba Fett. It's hard to remember that Fett was punked like a tool in his second official appearance when you see exactly how popular his is now compared to what he actually did.

But more then that, this episode provides some interesting guidelines in how exactly an evil campaign can work and it boils down to the 'evil vs evil' camp.

One one side, we have General Grevious. Here's another character with a sharp visual design but another one who suffers the plot effect. He's a super ultra bad ass until he's not needed to be then he gets jobbed like any other mook. But the appeal of watching a cyborg run around with four light sabres is still strong.

Then we have the Night Witches. They make a nice interesting visual contrast with the reds against the background of their dark planet. While none of their designs pop out to me like Grevious does, they are still a good variant on a mystic order, like the jedi.

In terms of conflict, when Grevious and Ventress get to challenge each other, the Game Master could set different goals here.

1. Survive X amount of rounds in order for your back up to arrive. While it sounds 'cheating' and its something done in video games, having a timer to survive against lets the players know that there are tough times coming around here.

2. Steal A Tank. Who doesn't want to steal a tank eh? Once Ventress gets the tank, she's able to push through to the front and punch a hole into the enemy.

3. Engage the Enemy One on One. Now this is pretty much the simple that players normally do anyway but by adding the other two elements in there, you have some quick goals that the players have to meet and follow to survive.

Evil campaigns that pit evil characters against one another are often easier to run because at the end of the day, it's not about watching evil triumphant, it's still about watching evil getting its ass kicked one way or another.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Circle Orboros

Another 'cheat' post where I get to talk about my love of miniatures with my interest in role playing games.

I've been playing Dungeons and Dragons for a long time. I know there are man, many people who started before I did around 85', but I'm just putting out my own reference point here. One of the things I remember when I first started gaming, was how different druids were back then.

I don't want to say that druids have become some green peace hippy thing but it seems to me that a lot of focus on druids being the old religion so to speak, the old ways, the old gods, is left by the doorstop in order to make druids a still useful part of the game. Even in the old Village of Hommlet, the druids were on the way out. The reader could easily get the idea that the only reason that the druids were there at all was because it was an out of the way location that bordered on the wilderness.

And part of the problem with this is that D&D is so enmeshed in making things equal that you'd almost never know that druids are on the way out in the setting proper. They tend to be everywhere adventurers are. The urban druid is actual a thing now.

I think part of this borders from the way the alignment system works. Good and neutral faiths aren't necessarily going to go out of the way to crush the old ways and replace them.

So what does this have to do with the Circle Orboros? These druids are some of the first I've seen where they have a very detailed structure and have their own allies and enemies. Some of which can port over to almost any fantasy setting. Unlike the steam driven side of Warmachine, the druids here rely on monstrous allies, both unique or rare beasts and humanoids who fit that criteria. They train their soldiers off away from the beaten paths.

But they have deep religion on their 'side' too if you will. They are not peaceful. They are not content to tend the woods. They have ties to the ley lines of the world. They see the rise of man, of civilized man as something that must be pushed back and rendered out. But prior to that, they have numerous invaders from other venues and have issues with creatures that blight the very land itself.

This makes them an interesting faction in that they consider their goals noble, they wind up often fighting those who are vile, and they have internal politics where some of the factions are actually noble but are caught up in others intrigues.

When looking at druids in a standard Dungeons and Dragons game, how do they fit in the overall setting? Why do they fit? Ask if these druids are really necessary and make them earn their keep. If you're running a campaign on the borders of civilization, its much easier to rationalize why druids and their standing stones and sacrificial stones would be up and about but when adventuring primarily in a city based dwelling, why are they there? Other 'wilderness' based classes aren't necessarily religion based so the barbarian may be uncouth wherever he goes, but he's still a warrior. A ranger may not feel comfortable around the civilized world, but depending on how you look at the ranger, as original done, someone who gives up the comforts of civilization to safeguard civilization or a tree hugger who couldn't cut it as a druid, their city life may be a natural fit.

The Circle Orboros provides a lot of thought not only in how such an old faith might worship, but what allies it might have and since its free of the tech, is easily ported to most fantasy based campaigns.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Retribution of Scyrah

As I've mentioned in the past, I'm a bit of a miniature painter as well as a traditional role playing fool. One of the games I own a lot of figures for but don't play is Warmachine. I've owned several sets since it first came out at Gen Con many many moons ago. Some of them I still haven't painted. When I'm not playing a game I'm not as pressed to paint something for it as I would be if I knew I was going to be using it in an actual campaign.

What does that have to do with anything? In terms of gaming, its easy to get bogged down into a standard. Elves are always aloof mysterious masters of arcane magics better off forgotten for one. While there are many of those elements present in the Ios force known as the Retribution of Scyrah, they are also some of the most technologically advanced people in the setting.

In some aspects, this makes sense to me. Progression is usually based on a timeline. Elves are most often some of the oldest races in a setting. Too often it's an elf sitting in a tree picking his teeth like some hill folk with a sense of serenity about him. Warmachine takes the Iosian people in a different path. They have power. They have technology. They have advancements undreamed of by men. Their war machines are slick and sleek and things of wonder to behold. they are not lunkers and stumblers spewing forth black smoke and steam onto the battlefield.

By making this contrast but keeping other elements, such as having a small population, being fairly isolated from the mainland, and other bits, the authors are able to take the standard with the fantastic and make the Retribution of Scyrah something different.

When making your races in your setting, look at see what the Halflings in Eberron are like, peak around at the Skaven in Warhammer, noisy about at the Tyranids in Warhammer 40K. There might be something worth stealing for your own campaign.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dungeons and Dragons Next: How will minis fit? is another blog I'm a part of.

I love miniatures. I know they're not for everyone but here are some things I would like to see.

1. No core races that are rare or very rare. Yeah, I'm looking at the Dragonborn here. The only way to get a 'common' one, was to buy the resculpt in the visible packages that was overpriced compared to what had come previously. Why WoTC decided to make a brand new core race and not have a ton of figures out for it right away I'll never know. If there were sculpting problems, get better sculptors. They're out there. I don't need to post to dozens of sites to prove it. What's worse was at the same time we were still getting dwarves and elves that absolutely no one needed.

2. Adventure Support: Call me crazy but having a miniature of some of the big bads come out a year or later after the adventure has been out doesn't strike me as good marketing. Having an adventure come out that has immediate support with miniatures on the other hand? Especially if they are well done and can be used in other venues? Win.

3. Dreamblade. What the hell? Miniatures of a similar size but with prize money that blew anything the D&D miniatures were hosting out of the water? Well, we all know how that ended but man, talk about trying to have your cake and eat it too. If you're going to make another miniature game, make sure it either doesn't compete with your other one, or make sure that it it extremely useful to the other miniature game and doesn't require people to clip the miniatures off these massive oversized bases.

4. The China problem. Some people hate the idea of anything being made in China due to the various human rights issues. Some people look at current events and see that American workers appear to be more productive, that there are real savings to be had on transportation costs and that the lead time is cut down by months thanks to that improved transportation time. Might be time to you know, start making things in the US again as labor costs on the overseas markets increase. Be a good PR move as well.

5. Bags of miniatures. There has been a Zombie game out for years that allows you to buy a bag of zombies. They have a few other bits as well. These zombies are cheap. Well, relatively cheap. Why WoTC hasn't been able to make something like this is once again, beyond me.

Anyway, that's some things I'd like to see as there has been some talk of miniatures coming out 'soon'.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Last Mythal by Richard Baker

So over here Amazon has the Last Mythal omnibus edition in Kindle format for $9.99. It's not as great as 99 cents or $1.99 but it is exactly the type of behavior I want to see Wizards of the Coast taking so I'm supporting it by buying it again, even though I have the original trilogy in the box set.

By offering the books individually, it allows the user to 'sample' the series. I've seen some initiatives where the first book is either free or at a greatly reduced price. The thing with Wizards of the Coast though, and I'm not saying this for one hundred percent truth, is that they generally do not offer their ebooks in collected editions.

By offering their collected editions in ebooks at an affordable price, if they at least have an author you like, such as Richard Baker or Mel Odom or Richard Lee Bryers, you can get some great deals. But only if they continue to offer these types of collection.

If you want to see this type of behavior continue, make a purchase and then let WotC know that you purchased it because the price and format was right.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Elric The Balance Lost by Roberson-Biagini-Downer

FIrst off, let me talk about two things I don't like in the marketing of this book. The first is the dreaded "Michael Moorcock's" bit here. I love Michael's work and owe a huge nod of thanks to White Wolf when they reprinted a ton of his work many years ago. Having said that, this is NOT written by Michale Moorock but is just kind of noting that you know, Elric is Michael Moorcock's character. Don't want to put the actual author on the cover or anything you know because who the hell is that guy?

The other thing is the 'Afterword by Neil Gaiman." Uh... no. That is not an afterword. That is a lie. That bit by Neil is from a book published in 2008 and reprinted here talking about how awesome Michael Moorcock is.

I get the need for marketing but people aren't blatantly stupid and that marketing is. It's just bad and pisses people off.

On the other hand, the company Boom made a free issue for free comic book day so that's not all bad.

But what about this trade draws inspiration? For one, the book collects the covers of the series and they are awesome. Some great talent here. Art is not always an inspiration for me, but when it strikes, it can motivation me in ways that text alone cannot. It's one of the reasons I'm always puzzled by people who would rather have RPGs with minimal design and no art in exchange for a lower price. I live visual candy. It's one of the reasons I still watch those Walking With X series. (Just finished the Walking With Monsters, only three episodes but hey, giant scorpions with two sets of claws!).

Another thing I thought interesting though, was that as more characters are introduced and some die, the idea that the 'Eternal Champion' doesn't always win, and that whole worlds if not universes are destroyed thanks to these failures, that if the players fail to do something in your own campaign, you should allow that failure to stand. I've seen some Dungeon Master's who are so concerned with their setting that they won't allow anything big to happen to it that derail's their 'story'.

While I can understand that thinking process and lord knows, when I was much younger, was probably in that boat myself as I tended to use the same campaign setting with the events of previous campaigns evident upon it, as I get older and game less constantly in one campaign, I'm more willing to see where things go. To see what happens when characters fail.

Such options for failure are also great when running a one shot that's high powered. If the player's are given individuals who have rune drinking swords, can summon demon gods, and have alliances with higher powersl eft and right, allowing them to fail and letting them know that such failure will cause the end, can put some extra motivation on the players.

This volume of the Balance Lost is well illustrated if somewhat slow going and I'm curious to see where it winds up. If the e-versions came in a collected edition or were less expensive, I might go that route but as long as I can get the trades for cheaper than buying the individual issues and I continue to churn through my own collection to make space... well, those e-versions will just have to wait.

Friday, February 10, 2012

No Quarter: A Roake Hesit by John Wick

I have not read any pure fiction from John Wick. I have read a lot of his gaming material though and it rarely fails to entertain or provide value for those funds. No Quarter reads a little like a Sin City novella at a premium price.

When I say premium, I mean for myself in comparison to other products of a similar nature. For example, those who've been reading my blog note that I often point out free ebooks, Amazon's little monthly $3.99 or less list and of course, the various books that go on sale on a daily basis, as well as other bits. Even throwing those out though, this isn't a full novel, but a novella. The PDF weights in a 82 well spaced pages. But electronic editions are tricky. I read mine on my Toshiba Thrive as an e-book on the Aldiko software and it was a little over fifty pages.

I recently made some notes on Elaine Cunningham's novellas featuring the elf Honor and the new setting she's working on with clock work and alchemy. Those novellas were $1.99. Here John's charging $5.00 even for a book that while it comes in either epub or PDF, is too short, in my opinion, to justify that price. The good news is that this isn't some book on a shelf. John can mess with the pricing or keep it exactly where it is if the sales meet his forecast and needs.

But how's the work itself? John uses a little bit of unique language to give the setting some feeling. This is important and can be overplayed if used too much. I've sat in games of Planescape where the GM was overdoing it with almost every word part of the setting speak. I've also seen some people use elements from say, Gary Gygax's Canting Crew to sprinkle their language with 'thug life style phrases.

John's description of the setting itself through the character's eyes is good in providing the reader with how things work in the city and how the characters should work in it. Magic is a known thing and is purchasable and can be used as a 'get out of jail' free card, but that's not something unusual in this type of story where some one knows someone who can do something or has some tech toy that the reader couldn't be expected to know ahead of time.

Now I'll be getting into spoilers in terms. If you don't want any spoilers, read no further. I'll be discussing what I think a Game Master might want to take away from the book and, like my rambling on Breaking Bad, it concerns the characters in the book and how Game Masters can take the characters in this book as cues.

In my blathering of the novel, Prince of Thorns, I mentioned how you treat the NPC's can have an impact on how the setting is perceived. One of those methods is making the setting dangerous. In this case, the main character is the only survivor of a job that has gone wrong. His partners are all dead. By the time the novel ends, his new partners are also already dead. This is a fairly good indicator that life is cheap and that people will come and go. Now the novel is too short and ends before we can see if there are any long term effects of the main character going through two crews so rapidly, but as you plot and pilot the world with characters for the players to interact with, don't get too attached to them.

If there is a reason for those characters to die, and this can range from the players being given a warning by another character in the setting, to that character not being prepared to take on the challenges they did, to that character getting killed because the player screwed up, then let those characters die.

NPC death can have a lot of consequences but in all ways, shapes, and forms, NPCs are very easily replaced and sometimes, it allows the GM to push the NPCs in a different direction. If other people GM anything like I do, when a new source book comes out, you might get that gamer ADD and want to use it right away. A shake up of NPC deaths' may allow you to showcase some of that material. For example, if you get a new source book on a Viking style land but the players are pretty comfortable where they're at, imagine if the village/town/etc... they're at comes under raid from some of these vikings who retreat back to their home. In their wake the vikings leave a lot of dead people and capture a lot of slaves. If the players are of the heroic sort, they'll probably go after those vikings and bam, you're rolling on the random encounter table for far north adventurers.

But GMs also make characters. If you get a book on rogues and it has all sorts of options and other interesting tweaks for rogue characters, you can have the current thieves guild crushed by some new upstarts. Of course this only becomes an issue if the players are allied with or know of the thieves guild. Perhaps they've used some of the thieves guild men for information, trading ill gotten wealth or other minor services like escort service through a maze like neighborhood. Using such tactics serves to put the players on alert.

In this short story, Roake has an ally who does everything on the up and up. Fair trade in magic and other bits is this individuals game and if you don't have the funds for it, you're not getting anything. If you do have the funds and more, you'll get treated well and more importantly, fairly. This type of character is often valued by all sides because no matter who you are, if you do right by such a character, they'll do right by you.

Outside of the character types, there are a lot of nods to the noir genre here. The characters are continually finding themselves thrust into new situations caused by other characters deciding to take things into their own hands. These double crosses happen frequently enough that it can be part of the genre and is another reason why having a 'steady' ally or patron or merchant to buy from can be so important.
No Quarter sets the stage for a fantasy Sin City and I'll be curious to see if the novellas will be collected, put into some type of RPG format or are going to only exist as a fiction line on ye old Drivethrurpg and RPGnow .

Breaking Bad Season 3 Character Archetypes

Breaking Bad season three continues to build things from many angles and allows some characters that may not have had a chance to shine previously more showtime.

One of these characters is Mike. A former law enforcement agent, Mike is a 'cleaner', such as those in old assassin movies like The Professional or the original La Fem Nekita. He is the one they send in to get answers and eliminate issues. In many role playing games, the players will probably be characters like Mike. They will be the fist in the iron glove. In some though, especially those that might be role playing focused or heavy into allowing characters a great deal of custimization that doesn't rely on combat, it might be possible that the players will run into someone like Mike.

At times such a character can appear to be on the player's side, especially if both the 'cleaner' and the players have the same patron and employeers. At other times, especially if the cleaner is someone whose loyalties aren't to the players but to a patron, they may clash. In such isntances, it should be made clear that this is an individual whose skill set goes above and beyond the standard. If the players can witness it in action, they will have a good idea of what the character is capable of. If they go drinking with such a character, he should have horror stories for them.

One way of showcasing how skilled player character's are, is by showcasing another individual with a similiar but inferior talent. In this case, Walter works with Gale, a fellow chemist. Gale seems fairly standard in terms of his skill set, but he knows great work when he sees it. Gale, without knowing Walter, is impressed by the skill inherent in the 'cook' that Walter performs when Gale gets some of the drugs. This is not the first time Walt's skills are noted upon, but when there is a character that can do the same thing, but not as well, it allows the player character to have a little bit more of a stepping stone.

Another interesting use of characters here, is in moving the stars into action. Jessie initially starts off intenting to sell the meth to recovering addicts. His 'crew' find it difficult to do so. Jessie decides to show them how its done. The woman he approaches to do so has a child. This challenges Jessie's belief in what is right. His encounter earlier with children of drug addicts still weights on his mind.

When players or their characters showcase certain attributes, you can look at it like a flag saying "I want this" in the game. This may not always be true, but if the character does involve himself with orphans, their care and feeding, the Game Master can quickly use that as a hook by threatening the children. If one of the players is a weapon's collector, when he hears of a new ambassador from a far away land who uses a wide variety of exotic weapons, this should perk that character's interest.

NPC's should be there to expand the setting and fill the world with opportunities for the players to interact with it.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Breaking Bad Season 2 by AMC: NPC Archetypes

Breaking Bad Season 2 continues the exploration of Walter and his associate Jessie as they continue to run the drug game. Spoilers will follow as I discuss various characters from the show and how they might be incorporated into role playing games.

Saul: This season introduces Saul. When spoken of by Jessie, it's indicated that Saul isn't a real 'good' lawyer but he is a real good criminal lawyer. Not necessarily a lawyer specializing in criminal cases, but a lawyer's whose methodology makes him a little too suspect in anything that happens around him.

In many ways, Saul is the perfect NPC to assist players in almost any type of setting. His outlook is one motivated by the reality of the situation and a lack of morality. If it earns him funds, he can look into it. He is a man who knows others. He is a person who can connect people to the other right people. He can look death in the eye as an option for an associate if it's going to save a better associate from prison. He is able to create frame jobs for those who need a fall guy. He is able to break barriers between things that have happened and their root causes.

When creating an individual like Saul in a role playing game, it's all in the context. For example, when he first meets Walt, the good chemist is coughing. Later on, when Walt and Jessie kidnap Saul at gunpoint and threaten to kill him, when Walt coughs, Saul recognizes it and begins the negotiations in earnest. Observation is a key skill for Saul in this instance. His physical aspects may not be much and his actual charisma may not be much, but when it comes to getting people what they want and earning himself a nice profit, that aspect is not a problem.

Saul is also brutally honest. He remarks several times to the duo that their efforts thus far as made of fail. That they need to just handle working their own formula and allow others to handle the different aspects of things, like the marketing and selling because their own efforts at doing so far have landed them with very little cash.

Other characters may not play a huge role in the series in terms of longevity, but their utility in moving the characters is huge. Take for example Jane.

Jane is a former drug user who rents Jessie, a current drug user an apartment. You can already see where this one is going right? But how can you use someone like Jane in a RPG?

Such characters almost fall under the 'DNPC' or Dependant NPC (non-player character) where they're almost there to cause more problems then they are worth. But they have some hook or tie to the main character.

For example, if the group has an alchemist or magician or other type of individual that does some type of lab work, perhaps she used to be an alchemist herself but found the urge to mix certain types of chemicals too much? Perhaps she uses these same chemicals on others because she wants to share her joy and ecstasy in them?

But in and of herself, her ability to influence isn't that great until we come across her complications. In many instances, like Gwen Stacy from old Marvel Comics Spider Man fame, her ultimate role is to die in order to push the character she's attached to in a different direction. In this case, that would be her father, Donald. Turns out that this air-traffic controller has the property rights to where Jessie is living and even worse, has the dreaded cell phone and can call the police at any time if Jessie doesn't vacate and leave his daughter alone. This ability is because he has power over Jesssie.

In a role playing game, what type of power can a relative hold over the characters? This could range from trading rights if the players are land owners, to higher taxes, to calls to banish the characters because they are quite literally a threat to the city.  This type of character should be a contest that the players generally can't just walk up to and murder.

Another aspect of Donald's character though, is that when his daughter dies of an overdose, he is grief struck. Despite that, he still goes into work and manages to get a lot of people killed. Imagine that this alchemical assistantt dies and that her father, an archemage is one of a handful who can renew spells and rituals and locks on a dark and demonic presence and that in his current state of mind, he blows it and this winds up killing a lot of people.

While Jane and Saul are interesting character in their own way and right, it's when we get to individuals like Gus that make things potentially interesting. Gus, like Saul, is a businessman. Unlike Saul however, Gus is on a much higher level with a much deeper game. Running someone like Gus can be difficult because it requires the GM to almost cheat at what he does with the character. Someone like Gus needs to be something like a head of a guild or the head of a noble family. He needs to be someone who has a lot of influence and isn't afraid to use it.

In his real job, so to speak, he's the owner of a chain of restaurants. In his real illegal job, he's a distributor that has chains in many states. This could be problematic in a role playing game that isn't modern or futuristic in that transportation in the dark ages can be a bit problematic, relying on well worn road ways and sea ways. However, its not impossible. If the players go from town to town and keep finding the same Inn or the same Tavern run by people who actually have their own uniforms, code of conduct, and similar recipes, they should know that there is something different about the owner.

An individual like Gus would take full advantage of his setting. In a magic based setting, he might have magic items that protect him from divination magics. He might have potions or rings that are one shot items that allow him to make a hasty retreat or summon aid.

He's also someone that the players should have a very difficult time getting hold of and someone who has multiple groups of agents throughout the realm. If playing using the Pathfinder RPG and setting for example, he might run several lodges of Pathfinders, each group reporting to him, perhaps not even aware of the other groups.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Clone Wars: The Box season 4.17

If you've never watched the animated series The Clone Wars, a Star Wars series, then sometimes, if you're a fan of 'gonzo' Dungeons and Dragons, you're missing out. The latest free episode to watch is The Box.

I'll be doing some spoilers below so if you're not watching the show, there will be spoilers for that episode so read no further if you want no spoilers for this particular episode.

In this episode, our lone jedi Obie is in disguise as a bounty hunter. The Star Wars setting has a special place in its heart for bounty hunters. This hails back to the 2nd movie, The Empire Strikes Back and a classic line, "No disintegrations." where Darth Vader is speaking to a list of bounty hunters who, outside of one particular hunter, don't really do much.

Here though, these hunters, are assumed to be the best of the best of the worst of the bounty hunters for a very special mission but they have to earn this mission. To do so, they must overcome 'The Box' If you've ever seen the movie 'The Cube' or any of its sequels, you'll know what follows next. The hunters go into this death trap to prove their strength and are then treated to such threats as poison gas, fire, and walls that jut back and forth with what appear to be light sabers at the end of them. It's good fun stuff and should provide some quick visuals for those who like their dungeon crawls.

The other drama of the setting continues to build. The individuals like Bane, the bounty hunter, and Doku, the semi-leader of the Separatists force, continue to interact while another jedi looks to learn what happened to his mentor. These little slices of the setting are useful in connecting episodes from one to the next.

The Clone Wars is an excellent back drop for heroism, villainy and all the shades between.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Breaking Bad on AMC

"therefore it seems to be that our best course of action would be chemical disencorporation. Disolving in strong acid...."

"Ah man, that's messed up."

And that pretty much sums up Breaking Bad for me.

There are some great elements to the show that can be added to any role playing game. Below will be spoilers from at least the first season so if you are interested in the series, haven't watched it and hate spoilers, read no further.

In terms of player motivation, our main hero is thrust into the spotlight by a life changing alteration to his standard day to day ritual habit. In this case, a life threatening disease. Once the daily routine is shattered, things have to change one way or the other. In this case, Walter decides that best way to make money is through the creation of Crystal Meth for the purpose of selling it in order to have a nest egg for his growing family.

But its not just motivation. Its opportunity. Walter is in a situation where he is able to use his contacts with his brother in law in order to view an actual raid on a meth house. The idea might not be fully formed in his mind at this point, but when he sees an old student of his whose actually responsible for the drugs? Well, there's the opportunity.

To encourage certain types of behavior in players, if they already have the motivation, if they've come through to some ideas they'd like to pursue if only they have the means, its up to the GM to move those means into place. This doesn't necessarily have to be some easy push over thing, it can have complications that create tension and conflict in the game.

For diseases in role playing games, its important to look at whats actually happening here. At least in the first few season I've watched, Walter's disease is something that advances on its own pace. Its something that doesn't impact him in most situations.It's there to add depth. It's there to add pathos. It's there to be an excuse for Walter's actions.

In a combat situation? In a skill check situation?  For role playing purposes, this should probably be true here as well. If a character, in a short term campaign, shouldn't have any gaming effects of the disease as its a flavor element. In longer term campaigns that don't provide a solution or cure, then things may get a little... grimer.

In terms of character outlook, well, when you're a chemist, all things tend to follow that pattern. For example, while there are probably many ways of dispoing of a dead body, but who a chemist would think its time to disolve the body in acid? Well, many gamers would but their characters? Another instance involves his encounter with a drug czar named Tuco. After his partner is put in the hospital by Tuco, Walter decides to pay Tuco a little visit and brings in a crystaline substance that appears to be more meth. Surprise, in this case, it's actually an explosive. Another instance involves water creating a method to melt through a powerful metal lock. When all you have is a hammer, all problems start to look like nails.

But in RPG terms? Well, he's an effective character. Don't need to worry about a thief in terms of cutting through locks or doors. Don't need to worry about a wizard in terms of creating the explosions. Don't need to worry about bodies being animated into the undead because there will be no bodies left. In some ways, it paints a somewhat plausible reason for alchemists to have some level of surviability in gaming. Without the horrid side effects, the enchanced physical qualities those who take drugs might be another method of boosting such a concept.

The 'alchemist' as a player is an old one and I can remember the old purple 'the Compleat Alchemist' from Bard Games in line with their Compleat Adventurer and Compleat Spellcaster that were wink wink for use with any fantasy role playing game that just so happened to be Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Other companies have taken the concept and made it into something that works in the game. Others have used it in their fiction line such as Elaine Cunningham's latest  fantasy series where it partially takes the place of magic.
Lastly, let's not forget about misunderstandings. At the end of the first episode, Walter is ready to kill himself in order to avoid going to jail. He's ready to fire a gun unto what he thinks are oncoming police. Not only is he ready to kill himself, with gun under his chin, he pulls the trigger. But it doesn't work.

The fates are smiling though because its not the police but a fire department and they aren't even coming to put out a fire Walter started but something completely unrelated. It creates a sense of tension with things happening that the characters have no control over. With things that look like they're raining doom. With things that look to put the characters in a crucible that will break them. Only its none of those things.

This is something that happens a few times. Apparent opportunities arise and fall. Threats that spell absolute doom and entrapment, turn out to be red herrings. These elements build the suspense and the sense of danger.

Another potential use for a series like Breaking Bad is the family unit. Even the lowly former student turned mule for Walter, has a family. In that family, the parents love their oldest son very much despite his low life status. His younger brother is a prodigy who apparently masters everything he does. But he's also a drug user and from his persepctive, his parents love the oldest brother more because he's all they ever talk about and from the older brother's perspective, the yougest is best loved because of his vast potential.

Family is a great way to add role playing to a campiagn. When looking at Walter, he hides his disease from his family until essentially forced to give up the secret as a means of saving his status in the family or leaving the family. When he does so though, he doesn't let his own mother know. Or at least, not in the first season. This larger net allows the setting to be bigger, to have room to expand. It allows the viewer to ask questions.

Now mind you, these opportunites to push the role playing boundies have to be appropriate. If all the character do is dungeon crawl, they might not be concerned with one of the character's sisters being a master thief unless she's stealing either for the characters or from the characters. NPCs are not an essentially part of the game if the majority of the game consist of dungeon crawling. There is nothing wrong with either option. For every hour spent unraveling the rivalry between Walter and his brother in law, that's an hour not spent killing orcs. Every group will have their preference.

Another interesting thing about Breaking Bad, is the framing device. A normal season for many shows is twenty three. A normal season for an HBO show is usually eleven or twelve. The first season for Breaking Bad is seven episodes. These aren't even an hour long. By having such a tight focus though, it puts the entire operation under a microscope that has to be on all cylinders at a time. If there are several bad episodes or several where nothing happens to move the plot forward, then the whole season could be considered lost. When looking at your own games and planning them out, how long is that game going to last? Is it going to go past it's prime like the TV show Lost? Is it going to be derailed due to timing issues that continuously hamper it? The strength of shorter arc stories is that they can end in a way that feels organic.

Breaking Bad is an entertaining show but is probably not for the faint hearted.

Honor Bound by Elaine Cunningham

Book Two in the Tales of Sevrin series by Elaine Cunningham provides more action and revelations in the setting of Sevrin. For those who don't know, this is a novella sized book in a new setting that has some of the traditional elements of fantasy through dwarves, elves and magic, but puts the authors own spin on them through the use of different racial abilities for the dwarves, a deeper link for the elves to nature, and the mastery of magic on the downside but not gone, more like substituted for clock work and alchemy.

Book two is faster paced than the first one. I finished it rather quickly and it has a heavy feel of being 'the middle' part of the story. I suspect that when its all said and done it'll make a nice full sized novel but might not be for those who enjoy the massive super epics of Robert Jordan or others so keep that in mind. At the cost though, I was willing to make the reading for an author whose work I enjoy.

In terms of gaming though... let's take a look.

One of the things I failed to mention last time around about Elaine's previous book in the series, is the Thorn. This is an artifact level item in the shape of a dagger. Its power would be hard to put into game statistics and this is what makes it an interesting item. I've mentioned before that I think in its efforts to achieve 'game balance', that Dungeons and Dragons has wandered so far from the cool that magic items have been reduced to merely shopping components set about to min-max characters or worse yet, to keep characters only equal to the appropriate challenges they'll face for their level.

When running your own games, when possible and opportunity strikes, think about throwing in your own artifacts. These don't necessary have to be world breakers and their nature should be mutable to allow them to leave the players care and control when necessary, but as things to shake up a campaign, they can be quite useful. At some point, the players might even be afraid of the power these items wield. For example, Elric hangs Stormbringer up several times not because he doesn't like the power and freedom the black blade grants him, but because he knows that the blade has its own agenda and isn't afraid to kill any and everyone in order to achieve it. In the Wheel of Time series, Rand even puts away his own crystal sword because he's afraid of the vast power that it contains. These are good role playing elements and should be treated as such when you have players who can appreciate them.

Another thing in terms of world building, is the elves and their communion with nature. Here, their hair and eyes change color with the seasons. It's a minor thing and certainly not worth any 'disadvantage' points in most games, but in some like Hero or GURPS, it might be ranked into with say Distinctive Features. When you can tie the characters into the game in ways that don't necessarily result in higher bonuses to hit and damage or spells of attack and destruction, you have more opportunities to immerse characters and more importantly, the players, into the setting.

Elaine Cunningham sets up the story for a great finished in the next volume and I'll be curious to see where it goes.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Amazon Feb Kindle 100 Books

I've mentioned before that at the start of every month, Amazon has a bit of a sale on 100 books selected by their editors, staff and the great ghost of Gatsby.

Gotta say, when I reviewed the list, I didn't see anything for myself. My mother who is a big horror and thriller fan may have a few books to pick up, but nothing stood out for me.

Anyone see anything good or recommend anything from the old list?