Saturday, August 16, 2014

No Soup (Gen Con) For You!

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

Tells me I need spark plugs. Get those.

Next day car doesn't start.

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

Total damage including the sparkplugs? $500 bones roughly.

So that's in like May.

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

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

Rear brakes completely shot.

Rear axle completely shot.

Water pump worthless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I went out and bought a Kia Soul.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Leftover Soup Webcomic and the Class of Setting Creation

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

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

It's not going well.

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

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

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

Like what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Ah well, back to enjoying a lazy Sunday!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Savage Sword of Conan Volume Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 3, 2014

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

Summer Knights is book four in the Dresden Files series.

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

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

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

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

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

Changing things up isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Death Masks is book five in the Dresden Files. 

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

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

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

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

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

It was a nice touch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dresden Files Dead Beat is volume seven in the series.

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

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

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

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

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

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

At this point that includes the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Warhammer FRPG: Thousand Thrones Sidequest and Infighting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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