Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Art of War in Italy 1494-1529 by F. L. Taylor

The Art of War in Italy 1494-1529, written by F. L. Taylor, is apparently a classic in the genre. I didn't know this. Rather, I was drawn to the book thanks to my viewings of Borgia and Borgias, seasons I caught up on Netflix that provided two different takes on an infamous family of the pope Borgia and his family.

This book isn't a book on those battles mind you. It mentions then by name and date, it provides who was where and who wrote what, but that is not its focus. Rather it is a discussion of the evolution and changing nature of war in this time and how those living at this time either embraced these changes or didn't and suffered defeat and lose of status as some mercenary companies grew in power and reputation and others didn't.

It's a relatively short read and provides some good grounds for why warfare changes. Those who've seen the military might of America, one of the greatest spenders of funds on military, change from it's roots in one type of warfare to counter terrorist methodology, know that war is ever changing.

In terms of role playing games? Some potential here or at least some things to provide fodder for.

1. Names. I've mentioned it before, but history books are a great source of authentic sounding names. In addition, they are great for names with titles attached to them. For example, "Gonsalvo de Codova, known to his contemporaries as The Great Captain." or "Lautrec the stormer of cities". You read a few of thoes and you're like, "No, go ahead and keep your nickname, I've seen worse."

2. Scouting: One of the things that comes up, is how vital knowledge of the landscape is. See, if you're using canons and horses, you need to know if the terrain will support their use. You need to know how quickly you can deploy them. You need to know if there is any fodder for the animals around. You need to know if the enemy can quickly get to you or you to them. Mastery and knowledge of the landscape provides those things to you. Characters that can scout out the terrain may encounter guards. They may encounter random monsters. They may encounter terrain difficulties that they can lead the enemy into. They may discover old abandoned mines that lead under the city.

3. Changing Methods: One of the things that frequently bores me about most fantasy games, is they love full plate mail and all of the other neat stuff of the times, but seem to forget how early guns actually get into history. They also tend to completely ignore all of the specialized forces in their own settings. In the real world? Well, if your enemy is using new guns to shatter your castles, you need to figure out a way to make better castles and make better methods to repel the invasions.

In addition, the changing field of battle may encounter remnants of the past in terms of social outlook. For example, one of the nobles would cut the hands and blind any gunners because he felt it wrong that a commoner would have the ability to kill someone nobly born.

Some found that attacking a foe while he was down after defeating them in the initial combat, was wrong and allowed their foes to retreat as opposed to destroying those forces and ending future conflict.

Imagine a scenario where orcs that routinely gathered in hordes started to use hit and run tactics, keeping the larger portion of their forces in reserve to destroy those that came after their own retreating forces? Imagine orcs that use some native herd beast to stampede them into a conflict against armored paladins. Imagine where they poison the landscape so that mounted knights can no longer give chase because their horses die when eating the grass.

4. War: One of the other things that tend to be boring in most fantasy campaigns, is that they're based on some of the harsh times of history, but usually have a few 'evil' countries, a few 'evil' organizations, and the rest of the setting is m'eh in that it's usually a bunch of good individuals and countries taking up the landscape with the threat of 'real' war very rare. Smash your setting. Have skirmish level combats breaking out all over. If you don't want to have it be nations, have it be monsters. Have things from other planes, like good ole Feist and Magician coming into the setting to take resources and supplies. History is violent and full of opportunities for clever individuals to make their mark on history.

The Art of War provides numerous observations on how and why warfare changed from armored knights on horse to canons and gunners whose role goes from supplemental to becoming part of a machine that must work together in unison with all other parts in order to achieve victory.

Warhammer Weekly Notes 3!

Ah Ty-Ku. My favorite drink they make, is the coconut sake. Unfortunately, my local Jewel grocery store only carries the small bottle and it's just under $10 a bottle and well, I'd need two of them at least to start a buzz.

So I went over to the local Binny's and they had only two of the varieties, the 'silver' and 'black' bottles.  Picked up the silver bottle there. While driving back, ran into a local liquor store. They had all of the Ty Ku drinks and all of them BUT the coconut in the large bottles! Shakes fist angrily at the air. They were also undercutting Binny's price by a few bones so I picked up the black bottle with the gift wrapping that came with a few glasses and some chopsticks and instructions on how to drink the sake via Kampi!

So next week back to the black Ty-Ku! If it makes in in the fridge for a week...

Got there a little early so busted out the Cthulhu Flux. It was a surprisingly long game. I can tell the guys I played with, including myself, are WAY out of practice forgetting to read the abilities of Creepers and Keepers as well as screwing up a few of the rules here and there. There are some fun cards here. For example, there's one where you speak one of your personal fears and get an extra card and the ability to play it.

I thought I had a lock in on the win for sure because I had like ten keepers but nope, one of the guys managed to get a play of cards in the right order and snatched victory from me.

After that we were still waiting for an amigo show up so we played a hand of Monty Python Flux. This one is pretty classic. We even pulled the sing a Monty Python song and get another draw. We were left staggering after about three songs though because we're all getting to be old and know only some of the bits these days as opposed to actual songs but yes, Sir Brave Robin was sung out as well as Every Sperm Is Sacred. Thankfully the game ended before our sanity was destroyed by our poor singing. This one was a draw as our amigo managed to make it to the game.

Our game continued where we left off in the swamp. In a short period of time, we got to find some strange swamp worms, an immobile tree that still managed to incapacitate one of us through surprise, a few chaos mutants, a few more mutants, and then terrorized some thugs and low lives.

One thing I didn't miss about Warhammer 2nd edition combat? How swingy it is. Ulric's Fury can be quite nasty, but even without it, if you're facing something that has a 3 strength and rolls a 9, that's still 12 damage. Now for more experienced adventurers who might have some armor, say, 2 armor points and a toughness of 5, that's still going to be 7 wounds, which can be quite a few. Mind you this swing works both ways though and well, the players have Fate Points and we even remembered to use our Fortune points this time around which was good!

One thing I like? Even with the number of combats we were involved in, these combats go quickly. While I'm one of the few people I know who actually enjoyed 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons, I know the combat in that edition is fairly long. All the options and interactions and non-standard moves. Warhammer? I don't know if it's we're not using maneuvers or that we've only got so many actions to select from in the first place or what, but those combats fly quickly.

We haven't started using miniatures or anything yet and we've been ribbing the GM about it. It's okay because we're not really a huge missile using group and haven't been in any situation where cover might be an issue and haven't fought any weird creatures that were hiding from us so it's worked out in that aspect.

The amount of investigation we've been doing so far has been impressive. My character though isn't necessarily too worried about it as I think our group is sooner or later going to decide to quit looking for information on this 'heir of Sigmar' and just take care of business. We've heard from several people already about various unpleasantries involved with the 'golden child' so I imagine we're heading in that direction already. Only thing is some of the other players are worried we're going to miss some weird clue like a secret weakness so the investigation will continue!

For those playing Warhammer FRPG now, any particular favorite bits? Anything you'd warn other people of? When you play, do you use miniatures or skip those?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Jormungand (Anime)

Continuing my viewing of anime new to me via +Hulu, next up on the list was Jormungand, the wiki can be found here.

I'm a little torn on this one.

I like the character designs.

Many of the individual stories are well done and provide a nice sense of action and information.

The characters almost each get at least one episode to shine through as we learn more about them.

I like the animation style and art.

I like the soundtrack.

Hated the payoff. The whole payoff of the series is, for me at least, essentially counted by the main character's brother who spells out what's going to happen regardless of what Koko does.

If you want to see an anime about weapon's dealers that looks like it's part Nicholas Cage Lord of War and part post modern, Jormungand is for you. There are some observations about the modern world that are getting more and more referenced. For example, in a recent James Bond movie, the whoel sleight of hand of the incident being oil when it was really water? Referenced here in that water is going to be the biggest resource people will be fighting for. Overall I enjoyed it because the character interaction and friendships that develop are nicely done.

If you want to look at a series and think, again, you might enjoy it.

But if you want to see some of the grand scheme come to actual payoff? Nope. Nowhere near as bad as Berserk when it first came out mind you as the manga for that wasn't even locally available but still kinda of a "Well now the story's actually starting" bit for me.

Spoilers below!

The series is broken up into individual missions with an overarching mission for Koko, the leader of the mercenaries who act as her bodyguards. The viewpoint character here, is Jonah, a child soldier whose parents were killed by weapons sold by a weapons dealer but he's a good soldier so while he hates what he does, he accepts it.

Koko and her various guards and allies, include a wide variety of characters which makes a nice change of pace from everyone being super skilled at everything. For example, the 'driver' is a former mafia member while some of her other 'standard' guards are former members of various specialty units.

In many ways, this would be the perfect adventuring group and scenario. They have a powerful patron who values them. They are paid well. They have access to some of the most modern and devastating weaponry on the market.

They also have a constant source of enemies. Their patron needs them precisely because she is worth a lot of money and because a lot of people would rather she be dead. This gives the character many unique enemies to battle that are as bright and colorful as they themselves are.

The patron even has her own goals and has the wealth and allies to at least try it.

In this case, which to me is a perfect super hero challenge, she is crafting Jormungang as a quantum level computer and intends to use it to ground mankind from the sky. She feels that without the ability to travel via the air that it'll make things more difficult in a 'flat world' and hey, only some odd 700,000 people will be in the air or crushed by planes falling out of the sky at the time to achieve it.

Imagine the characters have to knock out satellites orbiting the earth in order to stop the deaths of almost a million people. And of course in a super hero or even super spy campaign, those satellites might have armed defense systems ranging from lasers and missiles to even more gonzo stuff the higher technology the setting has available to it.

Her brother, Kasper, doesn't mind. He goes on a little bit about how he's a weapons dealer and he'll use boats as his ancestors used to. He'll sell them guns until there are no more guns, and then knives and then clubs because he's a weapons dealer. And to me, it's a strong argument that all those people are going to die for nothing.

The viewers get a hint of how terrible the world is becoming in the last episode when Jormungand is activated, but then the series stops. We don't get to see how things actually play out. Some people love that. It sets up the whole thing  either for the reader to make up what happened in their own head, or leaves room for a sequel down the road. Me? I wanted to see the payoff of gathering all those scientists and going through all those betrayals.

Jormungand is two seasons and I'm unsure of how closely it follows the manga as I haven't read that yet. Only problem? I think it's a little expensive. Season one and season two are a little over $40 bones each. Ouch. While the commercials are indeed annoying, I'll stick with Hulu on that.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Zetman (Anime)

I'm continuing my journey through +Hulu and its anime selection. Next up on the list was Zetman. The anime feels a little rushed being twelve episodes but it does feel complete in and of itself. The wiki is over here for those who want a breakdown, but note that appears to be the manga Zetman wiki and I didn't see one for the anime proper.

I enjoy most of the character designs. One of the 'heroes', Alphas, looks like a cross between Iron Man and Moon Knight in a white and blue armored outfit. The main hero, Jin and his human outfit are 'street' but his 'hero' form is the one I actually dislike. The good thing is that there are a few varieties to it and its not in heavy rotation as he's actually human most of the series.

The villains really have some great images here though. For example, the Sweeper? Classic hooded style enigmatic entity. Not all of them are 'hits' though. Some of the lower end ones are just well, goofy looking.

The series follows Jin who is Zetman. In this series, most powers are explained through the genetically created 'Players' who have a host of different abilities and different levels of power. These players were created by the ultra rich who bet on gladiator battles. Sounds incredibly inefficient to me but I'll accept it as the premise.

Jin is created to destroy the Players but is taken by 'Gramps' who wants the boy to have a normal life and its not until he's older and already encountered two of the 'Players' that he learns what he is and that he isn't a fully realized creature but has some evolutions to go through.

Now I did say most abilities come from genetics right? The other player here, Koba, is a young man obsessed with fighting evil doers. He's often called a 'cosplayer' because he's in weird uniforms, including the eventual Alphas outfit. He has different methods and styles than Jin and the two handle justice and saving individuals in a different way.

The anime puts both Jin and Koga through the ringers to showcase what they are made of and their eventual differences and how they handle the Players around them.

The series does a nice job of showcasing how people can want similiar goals but approach them in completely different ways.

For those looking for super hero style action, Zetman has you covered.

In terms of themes?

Rivals: Jin and Koga aren't necessarily rivals in the sense that they're both trying to do exactly the same thing, but both often wind up in the same place at the same time and have different ideas of how things should be done. In addition, both continue to gain in experience and abilities as they mature in the series.

Ulterior Motives: There are many mentor style individuals in the series to both Jin and Koba and both have their own reasons for doing what they do. When providing mentors and allies to the players, make sure that you know what their own reasons are for doing what they do.

Secrets: While the 'Players' and their existence are relatively unknown to the public, many try to keep it that way and have developed technology to keep it that way. When players and those around them have their own secrets that they have to keep from each other, how do they do it. Do they have different explanations for why they do what they do?

Limited Origin: I mentioned with Tiger and Bunny that if you want Mutants like the X-Men but don't want to call them Mutants, just come up with a name. For example, Tiger and Bunny uses 'Next' while Zetman uses 'Players'. Both stretch a little past that though as both series have technology playing a prime role in making things equal to the 'Player's or even providing more abilities to those that have them.

On bluray, the series runs a little under $44 from Amazon and is not available on Amazon Prime but is available on Hulu. In terms of the manga, maybe a kinder soul than I can make sense of what Amazon's search shows as I find the Spanish and Japanese versions but didn't see the English one.

For those watching anime, are there any series out there that you'd recommend on Hulu? I've been impressed with the depth of the selection on Hulu and its modernity in contrast to Amazon or Netflix.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Warhammer FRPG: Thousand Thrones

Yesterday I managed to get in another game of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd edition. I even remember to bring my own dice this time. Since I didn't go out with my work amigos yesterday, I brought some sake, Ty-Ku, with me. I like Ty-Ku because it's one of the few sake I've had that can be drunk cold. For whatever reason, I like my sake cold and a lot of them cannot be drunk in that fashion.

Anyone have a favorite when gaming in terms of the old alcohol? I'm fond of beer and stuff like Ty-Ku in part because it's not a high alcohol content. When the hard liquor comes out I'm afraid it's time for someone else to drive so I can truly enjoy it.

While playing WFRPG, I was struck by how different it is than the standard Dungeons and Dragons game. For instance, no dice were rolled in combat. Sure, there were a few opportunities for combat which my character, a troll slayers, sought to instigate, but cooler heads prevailed.

While I've heard some criticisms on Thousand Thrones, and I've never read it myself, the GM +Tom Wright did a nice job of letting us wander around and pick up various bits of information after giving us a 'patron' that provided us a quick reason to do so.

My character, Orzad Gottri, doesn't have a lot of non-combat skills. His main contribution to the group that night was being very mean looking. I came up with two habits for my character. One, running his thumb along a very sharp two handed axe when asking questions. The second, running his hand along his bright orange mohawk. Similar habits that reinforce one another. Makes it easier to get into character and have a 'catch' so to speak.

It also helps that the TV show Viking's has been on. While dwarves aren't necessarily Norsemen in and of themselves, there are a lot of nods in that direction so it gets my mind into the proper state for it.

The one skill I do have that is useful in gathering information? Intimidate. Well, that and Consume Alcohol although the GM didn't call for any tests on that one.

For once, I also got to use Street Fighter. It's a skill that provides a bonus on your Weapon Skill when fighting unarmed as well as a bonus to damage. My elf comrade decided to move a body atop a hallucination inducing mushroom that exploded in his face and he then decided to attack us and almost cut the arm off the new play before we subdued him. And he failed some test and got another insanity point. So far that's two for him.

During the investigations, we got to meet and interact with a lot of NPC's. One part involved finding out some information on an orphanage. Ironically enough our 'adventurer', a hedge wizard we don't know is a hedge wizard, was going to try and pass off the halfling as a child in order to get into the orphanage when her plan to hire some local children to go in failed to pan out.

One of the things that I found funny, is that I haven't played 2nd edition in a long time. So long in fact, that I forgot about Fortune Points. See, in 1st edition, you didn't have any of those. On the other hand, I believe you also bought up your advancements at 10% increments, not 5% so there are some trade offs. One of the players was a little upset at the GM for not telling him about these things.

I'm of mixed feelings on it. On one hand, is it the GM's job to provide all the rules and nooks and crannies to the players or are the players responsible for at least reading the core rule book and having a good understanding of the game?

I think some games have gotten to the point of player-GM information separation so much that the GM is expected to handle X, Y, and Z, and the players A, B, and C as opposed to having the players and GM's working off of the same set of rules. Some could argue that even 1st edition was like that, but most of the stuff in the Dungeon Master's Guide wasn't player oriented, as opposed to stuff that could happen around, to, or around the players.

For games you haven't played in a while or you're new to, what do you do? Do you go back and fully read the rule book? Do you rely on the GM to point out things you should know?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Psycho Pass

Still chugging along on my +Hulu subscription. One of my amigos recommend Psycho Pass in the anime category. The Wiki is over here.

Animation? I dug it. Soundtrack? Again, good without intruding on the show itself. Storyline? Wow. That was powerful stuff. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for some Utopia plagued society bits that has a ton of elements from all over that somehow conspires itself into one kick ass tale.

Apparently its so well done that there will be a second season, novels, manga and other bits. Things to look forward to.

The character designs are well done. One of the main characters, Kogami, has that 'Spike' look and seriousness to him and is well placed against his new nemesis, Shogo who is platinum blonde with long hair while Kogami has short cropped black hair. Our new police officer, and hence, the viewer's guide to this new world, is Akane, who is a slender youth with short brown hair. She stands out in vast contrast in terms of thinness to the other women of the show, especially the cyber expert whose a buxom, flirty blonde.

The guns, Dominators, are also slick. Their appearance changes depending on what mode they're in so that you get a few different varieties of the weapon.

The non-spoiler review is over. If you like anime, you might enjoy this if post modern stuff hits your pleasure centers. Below I'll be discussing very specific spoilers and why I think it's a fantastic set up for any modern role playing game.

1. Cyberpunk but not: When I was growing up in the 80's and 90's, Cyberpunk meant Cyberpunk 2020. It meant people with bionic limbs that lost their humanity the more cybernetic they became. It meant missions for one mercenary company against another. Psycho Pass has elements of isolation to it. It has elements of the society not caring about its fellow members. But it does so on the positive side of such a coin. The isolation and sterilization of modern man, isn't done by cybernetics, its done through the elimination of things that may lead to revolutionary thoughts and ideas. Corporations aren't the issue, it's big, no, super government that only has society's best interest at heart, even if that means failing some of the people.

As a matter of fact, Shogo's last big plan? To destroy the capability of Japan to feed itself, is so awesome farming itself so rarely touched on in traditional Cyberpunk stories, it is a perfect bit to directly steal for a cypberunk game for anyone who hasn't seen Psycho Pass.

In this instance, it would be the introduction of a virus into the crops that is supposed to protect the crops from other viruses and insects. The players would have to find out where the automated farms are, where the 'brains' of those farms are, how to work around or with the security, and then stop the eco-terrorist.

2. Minority Report: The police of the setting use guns called Dominators. The dominators are capable of reading a person's 'psycho pass' and their crime coefficient. The higher the later, the worse the former. People can be taken in before they commit any crimes because they are capable of committing the crimes. Highly reminded me of minority report.

Another big nod to future corporations or media involvement, was that everything is networked. For example, the guns the police use? They have to have network access in order to flash their scan back to the databanks in order to get that reading.

People are surrounded by holograms that promote a better life. Their clothing for example, can switch to different images and outfits, as can their furniture, as can outside furniture, like benches or water fountains. There's a 'hidden' layer of reality beneath it all.

3. GIGO: Despite everything being 'jacked' in, there are huge voids in the grid. Whole areas that are not on the grid, or at least on the 'official' grid. For example, underground railroads that were supposed to be discontinued long ago. The 'eyes' of the city stopping in certain neighborhoods because its not efficient to go and fix them over and over again. When the data going into the system is bad, the police sometimes have a hard time compensating for it.

4. Ministry Chosen Professions: One of the things that's fascinating about the setting, is how things are doled out. For example, people take tests that determines where they'd best fit into society. If you're not that smart or not that capable, you wind up in low paying jobs with little opportunity for advancement. Some of the 'free spirited' things like say, music creation? Heavily watched and controlled by the government. Other professions like criminal profilers? Due to the stress it puts on people's 'psycho pass', are gone.

How about farmers? Well, here's the thing. The country genetically modified wheat and does all of the farming with automation so there are no farmers. A whole profession wiped out by automation. Anyone looking around at how farming is done today in say, America, might be thinking, that's not necessarily a good idea. Turns out in Psycho Pass it isn't either.

The good news is that society as a whole has a remarkably lowered crime rate. The bad news is that the people aren't necessarily better off. For example, where there are riots, its difficult for the police to react quickly and effectively because there are so few of them. In addition, as anyone working today at the 'standard' nine to five can attest, having a job does not mean you have happiness, but its worse in this series because you don't have opportunities to get out of those jobs.

For example, if you work in a factory in this future, you don't even get internet. You get to work, eat, live, and well, probably die in your factory. But hey, you have a job man! Good work.

What's worse though, if your psycho pass gets 'cloudy', they throw you in an institution until it recovers or well, they leave you there or you are eliminated from there. Those who have a certain aptitude are put to work for the police as enforcers as opposed to detectives.

5. Software: One of the interesting things about the series, is that it embraces the flawed software model and acknowledges that no system is perfect. For example, those 'Dominator' guns?

Well, the internet access thing is a bit annoying but in a fully wired city where wi-fi is generally not a problem? Not a big problem. But when the gun is not able to read certain types of people because of their abnormal brain function? Individuals that might be called sociopaths in today's society?

Well, you have no standard gun, you have no knife. What now? Another potential problem, is that software can be tricked. In the series, one inventor creates a helmet that mirrors the 'psycho pass' of other nearby people so that your own murderous intent and ability might be hidden by someone else's lower rating.

The interesting twist to it though, is that not a lot of the 'criminals' have guns or other weapons either. They have to do with things like construction nail guns or with hammers or other objects of everyday use.

6. Characters:

At the end of the day, Psycho Pass is all about characters and how they interact and sacrifice and what they can and cannot change about themselves. For example, the inspector Ginoza, keeps heading down the path that his father and partner took in that the more he tries to handle, the worse his psycho pass and crime coefficient get until he winds up serving not as a detective, but as an enforcer. Masaoka doesn't have a 'huge' character role or arc, but he plays mentor to Akane, appreciates the depths to which Kogami works, and tries to kept his son, Ginoza safe in the system. He doesn't necessarily get all of those things done.

Psycho Pass has a lot of themes running through it involving isolation, society, government, individualism, and things that make you think and look around. It packs enough punch that I'm having a hard time thinking of how a second season is going to live up to the depth contained in the first season.

Psycho Pass is broken up into two packages on bluray/dvd combo. The first  and second parts are $29.96 and each is supposed to be over 50% off. Sheesh. On Amazon Instant, the episodes are available, but aren't part of the free pass so here's where +Hulu has an advantage of Prime.

Check it out.

For those other big fans of anime out there, are there any other series you'd recommend in a similar vein? I just finished watching Darker Than Black Season 2 and was like, yeah, they should've left it alone at the first season. Tried watching Skull Man but started dozing into the second episode. Did it get better? Psycho Pass and some other recent anime like Attack on Titan have me excited for the future and hidden gems I may have missed.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Return to Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd Edition

I don't play every game out there. Some like the World of Darkness, I'm just not into. I get their popularity, but all spectrums of the hobby don't engage me. Not a big fan of the whole 'monstrous genre modern times' thing to be honest. Strangely enough 'horror' on the other hand I can dig quite a bit and enjoy a lot of Brian Lumley's stuff or at least did when I originally read it. The whole WoD thing seemed way too off for me though.

But my friends moved on to playing Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd edition by Green Ronin. I know, some may go, but what about Fantasy Flight's version? I kid you not, if Fantasy Flight wants to send me a copy, I'll ask my amigos to give it a try but several of us have a lot of the Green Ronin books and some of the original 2nd edition books started out by Fantasy Flight and we enjoy them. Not only that, but WHAT is that game costing from Fantasy Flight? I know that it's changed formats and all that but no one at the table was even remotely interested in checking it out.

The session consisted mostly of making characters and allowing the 'newbies' a chance to test out some combat. The GM allowed us to make three rolls out of the normal book and one out of the career compendium. I had two options I find appealing due to my previous play of such characters.

The one was a human bounty hunter. One of my favorite characters was a human bounty hunter although damned if I can remember his name now. Don't know if that's old age, senility, or alcoholism taking over there. The other was a troll slayer.

Went with the troll slayer. Man I rolled like crap on many of the things that I should have been top dog at. Still, with you get that free advancement and can take it in Attack? Yup. That's a good thing for me.

I remembered more about the layout of the book than I thought I would. For example, even the GM couldn't remember where the 'real' starting equipment was. In your career you get some starting equipment but there's also a baseline of actual starting equipment and some random gold to go with it that's in a separate part of the book.

I also was surprised by how much the book reminded me of 3rd edition. Ganging up on people for a small bonus, breaking actions up into different parts and other bits. Mind you, that's just from my own poor recollections of 3rd edition at this point and the contrast/compare isn't necessarily 'fair' as a lot of things in Warhammer were either already there, like the different careers, or are still different enough, like the % parts of the system that the two games may have some similairites but are worlds away.

While I have a Weapon Skill of 40, and a Strength Bonus of 3, the real benefit being the dreaded Great Weapon and rolling two dice for damage and picking the better of the two, the real 'hero' of the fight was the halfling slinger. That dude with the 3 + 1d10, managed to take out three of the enemy while I injured one and killed another. It was good to see how things went and that combat and especially character creation, went VERY quickly.

Looking over my old bookshelf, I see that Green Ronin did a fantastic job of supporting the game. It'll be interesting to see where the GM takes us but I'll be more curious to see how the group gels. I'm so out of touch with actual play and we have a new player I haven't played with before, and another I haven't plaed with in a long time, and a few of the 'regulars' that I usually do okay with.

Anyone else find that years later they wind up picking a game up and running with it when a group happens to decided, "Hey, you know what would be cool?" I enjoy those moments I tell ya. Maybe 4th edition will be like that one day. We'll all be looking at it and be like, "Hey, remember when Wizards didn't completely dominate the game and clerics weren't mandatory?" Ha!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tiger & Bunny

Super heroes are my favorite role playing genre right after fantasy. In terms of reading, I'd say that might be true as well if we count comics as 'reading' material. My comic collection was so vast at one point it took up a whole room in and of itself despite stacking those boxes way higher than they should ever have been.

So while I have +Hulu I figured I'd hit up two of my favorite bits as Tiger & Bunny is an anime tale about super heroes in a futuristic city. The Wiki page over here does a pretty good job of breaking down Tiger & Bunny.

Seeing as how this isn't a new anime and it's streaming in a few places and has already had a few movie tie ins and a mangan, I'm going to hit some of the high points.

The setting, Sternbild City, is visually appealing. It's a true technological miracle of tomorrow. But like all such things, it is a bit well, comic book stupid. For example, they build up and those higher buildings are supported by columns which are easy to attack as we discover later on. When developing your city and other setting bits, are there things that shouldn't work, but because of the setting itself do?

In terms of character origins, if you don't feel comfortable with the word 'Mutant', just make up your own classification like they did here with 'Next'. In part, that's one of the things I like about the show. While it's not 'deep', the show does have bits that resonate with any X-Men fan in terms of the Next thinking their superior, the Next being treated differently, and many of the Next just not having abilities that are all that useful or powerful.

Another nice nod to comics, was that time marches on., In this instance, we have super heroes, but they also rely on technology. For example, Tiger is initially seen in a suit that would resemble something like a humours Batman. When he joins with Bunny under a new corporation, he gets a 'hardsuit'. The suit has all sorts of technological bits to it and is very difficult to damage, being shown to withstand high degrees of heat for example, like from a flamethrower.

But on the flip side of that technology, comes androids. One of the themes running through the second half of the series is that with the right technology, the Next themselves are obsolete.  Having a variety of enemies and options to draw from allows anyone who wants to run a game like Tiger & Bunny a little more leeway than having normal villains or just rogue Next be the bad guy of the week.

In terms of campaign twists though, the whole corporate sponsorship is an interesting one. While not a brand new idea by far and in super hero comics, we see many corporations with their own super powered individuals, not necessarily heroes mind you, but body guards and enforcers, the idea here is that these corporate sponsored heroes fight crime and earn points based on how good of a job they do. Their costumes incorporate company logos and they are connected via network to a specialized television program that highlights their adventures and assigns points on them.

Nick names and catch phrases have their place here. For example, the series title, Tiger & Bunny, comes along because Tiger gives that name, Bunny, to his partner, Barnaby, because of the 'ears' on Barnaby's suit. Not to mention that it's pink. Blue Rose, a female super with the ability to create ice, has a catchphrase "my ice is a little bit cold, but your crime has been put completely on hold."

Heck, the Bunny nickname actually winds up saving Tiger when Bunny is mind-controlled into attacking him. You see, Barnaby hated it so much he recalls that and snaps out of it.

Tiger & Bunny may have a silly name but it's a solid anime and fans of super heroes should check it out.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

I was fortunate enough to pick up Red Country in hardcover at Half Price Books not that long ago for a cover price of $12.99, but it was during one of their many sales so I think my final price on it was well under $10. Not bad considering the hardcover at Amazon is just under $20 and the kindle version is just under $10.

I've enjoyed Joe Abercrombie's previous works. I like how he takes certain assumptions of the genre, like the 'good wise ancient wizard' and turns it on its head. I like how certain characters wind up threading through the different books in different capacities. Having read the others in the series, of which this book is the next chronologically, I was looking forward to seeing what he did here.

I've heard the book described as a fantasy western. To a point, that's a good description. We have frontier towns. In many fantasy settings, those in and of themselves are not that unusual. Anyone who has played the beloved Keep on the Borderlands knows that it's a staple of the genre.

There are a native people whose technology doesn't quite match that of the 'civilized' nations. Again, this is old hat if you will with fantasy games. One of the most famous characters in fantasy literature, Conan, for example, comes from such a people and others like Kull, make their way into kings.

Outlaws and grudges abound. Anyone who knows about westerns knows that grudges especially are a popular bit from that lore, some of them going back generation upon generation. Looking at other parts of the world though where tribalism is the main standard, it's not necessarily a western only element.

Then we have the setting itself; the great plains. Now this is an element I don't see get a lot of airplay in many other genres. The flooding, the difficulty of survival out in the open? The vast night skies? Those are Western for sure and haven't been co-oped by many other genres.

More important than that though, is the gold rush. The West, with a capital W, came about in many ways due to the unslakable thirst of people for 'easy' money. This leads to those dangerous frontier towns and to many a dangerous situation. The drama Deadwood is perhaps one of my favorite shows in terms of playing out characters and factions against one another.

While those elements are present though, they are minor as opposed to the main quest of Shy and her step father, Lamb. They are not seeking treasure. They are not bounty hunters. They are not lawmen. They are not settlers.

They are seeking Shy's younger brother and sister who have been kidnapped and so must follow those who've taken them into 'The Red Country'.

Joe does a solid job of making this an easy to read book. There are numerous characters that are dragged together by circumstance who might otherwise never have met and it's good to see some of the old friends, like Lamb, even if they are never called by their... 'proper' name. Which to me is a bit of a waste. Whenever someone recognizes 'Lamb', well, it doesn't tend to end well for them.

If you're looking for a rousing action packed fantasy, Red Country by Joe Abercrombie hits that nail on the head fairly easily. I'll be talking about some specific plot points and spoilers below, so for those who wish no spoilers, read no further.

We have the old hero coming out of retirement for one last big showdown. In many instances, I think people would like to compare 'Lamb' here to say, Clint Eastwood's character from Unforgiven. That to me is a very false comparison which I'll discuss when I get to spoilers. The old hero though? It's also a classic of the genre. We have, what I'd consider the 'modern' version of this archetype thanks to David Gemmell and his classic Legend, as well as others like Kell from the Clockwork Vampire Chronicles.

One of the nice things though, is that Joe Abercrombie doesn't blather about how old, weak, and ineffectual Lamb is while then going on to describe how dangerous he is. No, when the initial switch happens at the start of the novel, Lamb goes from one entity altogether to another with few complaints about the aches and weariness he faces. For this, I'm grateful. As I've mentioned before, there is no use bemoaning how crippled up the characters are if in every single action sequence they act like none of that matters.

For other archetypes, we have Sweet, who is in many ways, a ranger, a frontiersman who leads people back and forth between the old civilized world to the new world. Sweet's role is that of scout, of reader of weather, of outdoor survivalist. His skills in dealing with the natives and knowing what their moods are, are all things that rangers would traditionally handle.

I mentioned up thread that I wouldn't compare Lamb, aka the Bloody Nine, to William Munny because it takes WIlliam a long time to get into gear. William can't shoot at first. He's a 'real' family man. He is unsure about the mission. He's doing it for money for his family, but for money. He's not going out to save them from slavery. He also suffers a sever beating initially and it isn't till later on in the movie where his 'real' persona clicks.

Lamb? Not quite so much. As soon as Lamb see what's happened to the farm, his dead friend, and the missing children? It's on.

And that's great. But it's what makes Lamb the Bloody Nine and a killer right off the bat, not like William Munny who has to gradually assume that form.

In terms of role playing games? I like the Dragon People. Not because they are the 'Noble Savage', but because they bring children in from outside their bloodline because they are all sterile. In a role playing game, this would be a fantastic background element to showcase different races raised together. For example, need a reason why dwarves, elves, and half orcs are all part of one group? They are all part of the 'Village' so to speak.

The idea of the book itself could easily make a role playing session of three in and of itself. Players could either have their relatives or family members captured and taken for slavery purposes, or players, most of whom are damned lone wolves to begin with or would relish at the though of those damned NPCs being slain, could be hired by other NPCs to find and bring back their family members with the reward dependent on how many NPC's are returned alive and unharmed.

Sidetracks could happen such as that of the duel, where the players are pitted against another group of adventurers of similar powers and abilities. They could be hired to perform this task, could be 'tricked' into it by being called out say, by the other group that wants to make a quick name for itself out in the frontier town.

The environment can play against the characters as well. The threat of storms showing up from no where and creating flash flood situations, lack of shelter, the heat, and of course, the native hazards such as snakes and other inhabitants of the plains should be on the character's minds.

For those thinking about staying in the long term, outside of the whole prospect of building a town or joining an already existing one, there is always the prospect of mining but then the characters have to deal with the natives who are already there. Natives who may have their own gods and goals.

A way to make it more uncomfortable for the players? Give the natives some means or measure that the players need that the players initially don't know how to use. Some type of ritual or item that requires specialized training. Will the players throw away such a tool in exchange for some quick easy treasure? Red Country has one answer, players in a long term campaign may have another.

Red Country has a lot of potential adventure seeds and tons of quirky characters that a Dungeon Master could easily yank out and place into any frontier town like The Keep on the Borderlands.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Rare is the time I get to see a movie while it's in the theater. Yesterday however, while visiting Adepticon to pick up my Kickstarter rewards from Tectonic Craft Studios, my amigos and I had some time to kill and visited the local AMC Theater and saw movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Very good movie and while I'm not sure it's the 'best' super hero movie or even the 'best' Marvel super hero movie, it's well worth watching.

One, while it uses a good deal of humor and has some catchy bits, it's also got a lot of gravitas to it. The situations are taken from many concerns people have these days in terms of security versus freedom. It may not be a movie of the times, but it is certainly reflective of the times.

Two, the action sequences are fantastic. I'm not one of those who mourns the death of 'shaky' camera when it comes to fight scenes, nor was I ever a fan of seeing little of the action in exchange for seeing some dude's face grimacing in pain and wondering what the hell was actually going on. The scenes are shot in enough detail and speed where you get the 'full effect' so to speak.

Three, the scenery. Not all of the action takes place in exactly the same spots. We have a battle on the freeway that is worthy of comparison to the Matrix II as well as many other great scenes.

Four, the characters. While this is a great Captain America moment, the 'secondary' characters like Nick Fury, Black Widow, and the Falcon, all have great moments of their own. They might not necessarily have the 'character' moments that Captain America himself does, but they get their share of the action.

If you're interested in getting more background on the comics this movie draws from, I recommend the following:

Captain America: Winter Soldier Vol 1: $3.99 in Kindle format.
Captain America: Winter Soldier Vol 2: $8.79 in Kindle format.
Captain America: Civil War: $3.99 in Kindle format.
The Death of Captain America Vol 1: $3.99 in Kindle format.
Captain America: Road to Reborn: $3.99 in Kindle format.
Captain America: Reborn: $3.99 in Kindle format.

Ed's strength in the comics, is that he was able to take elements like the Civil War that was going on in Marvel at the time and adapt them to the story he was already telling. A lot of these were on sale so they make a great jumping on point for those who enjoy comics.

I'll be doing spoilers next so for those who want no specific spoilers, read no further.

First, I'd like to thank Ed for breaking the rules of 'no one stays dead in the Marvel Universe except Bucky and Uncle Ben' For decades that was an excepted rule and was rarely broke. There was much fan angst about it when it happened but damn if a lot of great stories haven't come out of the whole thing.

In addition, while issues like work for hire and ownership of things continue to crop up in the comic industry, especially as the become mega movies, if you're able to, really LOOK and experience the movie, and then look and experience the original comic books. No, not the ones I'm suggesting you read about Winter Soldier, but like, Avengers #4. You know, the one from 50-60 years ago. Those comics, regardless of how great a footstep they started, have very little to do with the movies success today. Thank the current creators and artists who've made the movies, in my opinion, that much better than the previously were in decades past.

In terms of specifics, I thought that there was some weaknesses to the movie. When you look at villains, the Winter Soldier, due to his training and his physical augmentation in the form of at least a robotic arm, make a great foil for Captain America.

Someone like that is needed due to the sheer physical power Captain America brings in the movies. At the start of the movie, Steve, good old Captain America in civis, is lapping a fellow runner over and over and not actually trying to, he's just that good.

As the movie progresses and we see just how good he is, you might wonder, what can stop him? Apparently a super soldier who Steve knows and doesn't necessarily want to fight, but rather save, is the answer.

And again, the action sequences between the Winter Soldier and Captain America aren't the problem. It's that 'Bucky' isn't necessarily the villain. He's just the hammer if you will.

The real 'villain', Robert Redford playing Alexander Pierce, is completely wasted. We don't really get a good grip on why he does what he does or even what the whole 'Hydra' mission is about. It's hard for me to take it seriously when in his current position he's always got pretty much everything he wanted. There's really no 'agenda' outside of Pinky and the Brain methodology. What exactly would Pierce get in his new world order? He also gets so little screen time that I think his talents are wasted.

When building your villains, it's always great if the players have good fights and challenging fights. If they can use the environment around them and challenge their enemies in different ways while facing threats that might not normally be part of the standard.

But if the end result is some dweeb that doesn't really have an end game plan in mind? M'eh.

Another nice thing about the movie, is that it's essentially accepted that this is the Marvel Universe. They don't spent any time on the 'origin' of the Falcon. He's a soldier who happens to know how to use a specific type of super suit. We don't have to have a special origin tale to determine how he got it, or how Bucky as the Winter Soldier has a bionic arm. We can just accept those things now.

In terms of 'big', it's also great to see that the Marvel Studio isn't afraid to shake things up. By the end of the film, S.H.I.E.D. is in shambles and things appear to have taken a very different turn than anyone would probably have assumed they would. With the 'mega' structure that brought characters together previously, how will future movies like the Avengers work? How will the television series itself continue? Marvel has a little bit of a hook here with this option.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Amazon's April Kindle Sales

One of the nice things about a new month is new sales from Amazon.

Marvel 1602: Neil Gaiman makes comics and does a great job of them. This is a popular tale of his looking at how the Marvel Universe would be in the long ago past. So popular it even had a sequel. $3.99

All-New X-Men, Vol. 1: Yesterday's X-Men : So Marvel didn't eliminate their previous history and destroy all that continuity like DC did with 52 during their 'Now' phase. They did bring the original five X-Men to present times though. $3.99.

New Avengers Vol 1: Breakout: Written by the same guy! This is where we got characters like Luke Cage taking a more central role in the Marvel Universe as well as Spider Man on the Avengers and the 'reintroduction' of the Sentry. This runs for $1.99 so is even a better deal.

Runaways Vol 1: Another comic series! One of the problems I have with Marvel comics, hell, comics in general these days, is that they are so tied into the various events. Runaways, and Young Avengers at first, were relatively isolated and very well written. Good stuff if you want teen angst in your heroes. Also at the low end of $1.99

Today's deal?

Axe Cop Vol 1. Dark Horse is not afraid to publish the weird and humorous. $1.99

Ask, Measure, Learn: Using Social Media Analytics to Understand and Influence Customer Behavior: Okay, this one is weird because it's not really Amazon's daily deal, it's O'reily's daily deal, but Amazon is matching price on it. I'm always looking at stuff about analysis so it's up my alley even though it's $9.99 but that's half off it's regular electronic price, which itself, is more expensive than buying the physical paperback from Amazon. Ah pricing versus electronic books. Bad companies.

Did anyone see anything else worth picking up that I missed? Thankfully I've got a month to pick up a few of those as I intend to head to Adepticon this weekend and won't be picking up any of those, except that last one, today.