Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What I've Been Doing, Week of June 15, 2011 Edition

What I've Been Playing:
None on the RPG front, though I'm beginning plans to run a Skype Call of Cthulhu game...probably Delta Green, but that's to be determined.

Working to revive a long-dormant Skull & Bones game that started as a one-shot, but will probably become a campaign. Also prepping another Star Wars adventure and possibly a Call of Cthulhu one-shot for the two week vacation coming up.

Still working on A Feast of Crows. I've been doing so much game prep that it's been put on the back burner, though I am about a third of the way through it.

Finished up True Blood, Season 3.
Currently watching Season 2 of Supernatural.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Games I'm Running, Part II: Midnight: Dawn Breaks

I've talked about this one on Facebook from time to time, but I'm running a D&D/OGL 3.5 Campaign using Fantasy Flight Games' excellent Midnight setting.

For those unfamiliar with Midnight, the mythology of the setting posits a dark god, severed from the planar home of the Gods, who falls to Earth (Aryth, in the setting) but in the process, severs the world from the rest of the Gods. This means that the only divine magic on the world is that of the priests (called Legates) of Izrador.

The fallen god, Izrador, then begins to gather the forces of darkness, to enslave the peoples of Aryth so that he can accumulate the power to return to the immaterial planes. His intentions are basically to take the life and magic of Aryth, chug it down, and then toss the world over his shoulder like an empty beer can.

Through the course of millenia, he launched three such invasions. In the first two, he was resisted and thrown back to the frozen North of the world in a desperate and bloody fight by a coalition of elves, dwarves, and humans. The third time, however, in a fight marked by the betrayal of several key allies, Izrador wins. Imagine a Middle Earth where Sauron wins, but only after much of the Fellowship betrays its own races, and you get the idea.

Midnight picks up 100 years later. The human lands have been conquered, subjugated, and humanity enslaved. Minions of Izrador ruthlessly crush opposition. Merely forging a weapon is a capital offense. Magic items are destroyed when found. Arcane magic users are hunted down and executed if too dangerous, reeducated to serve Izrador if still useful. Elves and dwarves are ruthlessly exterminated where found.

Still, some resistance remains. In the West, guarded and buttressed by the enchanted forests of Erethor, the Elves still resist, slowly losing a battle of attrition against the forces of the Dark God. In the East, the dwarves have gone underground, and still resist in places against the orcs and other foul creatures.

In the human lands, restlessness has led some to resist, forming raiding parties, offering passive resistance in the cities and towns, and more active resistance where possible.

This is where the players begin. After recovering an important artifact from dwarven lands, they have linked up with the elves. In the process of the long journey, they come upon a woman who claims to be the widow of a descendant of the last King of Central Erenland. They have escorted her to safety, and in the process, befriended her. It is here that they have begun to gather followers to coalesce into a resistance group in the shadow of the great forest of Erethor.

Against the backdrop of the next great invasion of the Elven lands, they must fight to preserve the forest, and their hard won freedom.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Games I'm Running, Part I: Star Wars Saga Edition, Anakin Takes a Bullet

I was pulled into the Star Wars RPG by the video game Knights of the Old Republic, a wonderful RPG by BioWare. Frankly, I consider it to be the best bit of fiction to hit the Star Wars Universe since The Empire Strikes Back. A strong story, with deep characters, and so replayable that you really don't do the game justice until you play it as both male and female characters, as well as dark and light.

As a result, I got into Wizard of the Coast's (WotC's) d20 Star Wars RPG right about the time of the transition from Original Core Rulebook (OCR, built on a modified version of WotC's D&D 3.0), to the Revised Core Rulebook (RCR, built on a modified version of WotC's D&D 3.5). I ran a lot of games with RCR, but liked when Saga Edition came out even more. It was simple, and the character classes a lot more customizable.

One of the things that has always dogged me about running Star Wars games set in the time period around the six movies is what to do about breaking canon, and what to do about the main characters and villains of the film. There's a wide variety of opinions on the best way to handle canon.

Some GMs quietly herd players away from the big events and characters of the films. As a player, I wouldn't personally find that to be satisfying. Having the players making diversionary raids in another system while Han, Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, Lando and Wedge are blowing up the Second Death Star in orbit around Endor just didn't seem fun to me.

Of course, other GMs will let their players run into movie, novel, comics, and TV series characters, which sometimes will lead to the GM going into shock when the players kill Darth Vader in the First Act...or worst still, giving him an implausible escape rather than let him die in the First Act.

I decided to avoid all these dilemmas, and throw the A-Plot of most of the films out. I thought the way I did it was rather clever. For those of you who remember Episode I: Too Much Jar Jar, not enough Jedi, er, The Phantom Menace, one of the big scenes is Anakin's podrace on Tatooine. There's a great sequence where a group of Tusken Raiders (Sandpeople) are standing on a bluff well above the course, and taking potshots at the racers as they pass the location. One of those shots grazes Anakin's podracer, but he manages to keep it under control...and this is where I blow things up.

In the immediate prologue, I described a sequence to the players where that bullet instead strikes Anakin through the right temple. While the shot might or might not have been fatal with Star Wars Medical Technology, the resulting rather fiery crash when Anakin loses consciousness and control of his vehicle is.

Needless to say, Anakin loses the race (as well as his life), Qui-Gon loses his bet to Watto, and therefore, the group's only means of escaping Tatooine, which now gives Darth Maul plenty of time to hunt down the Jedi there before they can ever return to Naboo. Maul fights a desperate lightsaber battle with Qui-Gon Jinn and a young Obi-Wan Kenobi. I actually statted up the characters and ran the battle as a combat. In the simulated combat, pretty much the same thing happens. Maul goes after Jinn, burning hit points, and killing the aging Jedi Master, while Obi-Wan blows a load of Force Points, and takes down Darth Maul.

That's where the players begin. Their job is to rescue Padme Amidala, Obi-Wan, and the rest of the Queen's retinue before the Trade Federation can send a boatload of droids to kill them.

More importantly though, Anakin is dead, which means there will be no more Skywalkers. The Sith are still there. Some of the supporting characters are still there (Obi-Wan is the Master to a young Jedi apprentice that is one of the players). The players can take center stage.

This is the game I've wanted to run, and have been running off and on for a couple of years.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What I've Been Doing, Week of June 8, 2011 Edition

Nothing this week.

Working On:
Picked up some used RPG books for the birthday, most notably Delta Green and Delta Green: Countdown for Call of Cthulhu, as well as a few of Green Ronin's Mythic Vistas line of campaign settings for D&D/OGL 3.5. Needless to say, I've been reading a lot of RPG books.

A Feast For Crows, Book 4 of the A Song of Ice and Fire Trilogy by George R R Martin. I just finished Storm of Swords over the weekend.

True Blood, Season 3, on Blue Ray
Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Seasons 1 & 2, on Blu Ray

We've got a road trip coming up, so I'm working on a couple of one-shot games, and am hoping to finish running Super Genius Games' The Doom From Below (a 1920's Call of Cthulhu adventure).

The Obligatory Autobiographical First Post

My story begins with a 1979 trip to the local hobby shop. In those days, in addition to the stuff you might find in one now (HO/N Gauge Trains, models and supplies, craft stuff, etc.) my local one carried board wargames (mostly Avalon Hill and SPI titles...with a little bit of GDW and other stuff thrown in). I was a board wargamer in those days (had been since picking up Avalon Hill's The Russian Campaign at the ripe old age of 12.

I had a little bit of lawnmowing money, and I went ostensibly to purchase another wargame, but stumbled upon the First Edition, Little Black Book Traveller boxed set. Like every other burgeoning 14 year old sci-fi geek, I'd read Asimov, some H Beam Piper, a bit of Poul Anderson, Harry Harrison, Heinlein, Herbert, etc. and so the idea of running SciFi games sounded fun, and on a lark, I bought it.

Yes, I was one of the rare late-70's gamers whose first game WASN'T Dungeons and Dragons, though that deficiency was rectified later that year, when my mom and dad hooked me up with the old red box D&D Basic Set for Christmas, followed by my own purchase of the AD&D Core Books (DMG, PHB, MM (the early version, with the Cthulhu Mythos stats that something of a collector's item these days, since Chaosium got medieval on TSR's a** about including Cthulhu Mythos creatures without permission.

Like everybody else, I recruited some of my high school friends, we rolled up characters, and a ran terrible SciFi games, and fantasy games. Other games I flirted with in the early years included TSR's Gamma World (First Edition), a GDW Age of Musketeers game called "En Garde", SPI's DragonQuest and Universe (I keep meaning to convert the setting from the latter to d20 Modern or maybe Savage Worlds some day), and a lot of First Edition AD&D.

Still, at the end of the day, the game that kept me coming back was Traveller. I collected a lot of Classic Traveller, everything published for the second edition of the game MegaTraveller, Traveller the New Era (which I never played, but did convert a lot of it back to MegaTraveller). I keep meaning to pick up the new Mongoose version, but never have.

The game was grim and gritty, the published setting was strong and intriguing to me, mixing feudal elements with megacorps and space travel in a unique blend. Eventually, in the late 1990's, I was given the opportunity to work on the ill-fated Fourth Edition of the game, writing for the first setting book, Milieu 0, and co-authoring with a variety of folks the new material for the hardcover version of Milieu 0, Psionics Institutes (still the go to source for Traveller Psionics), Pocket Empires (which effectively converted the old Classic Traveller board game Fifth Frontier War into an open ended system that could create a strategic wargame out of any Traveller setting), an Alien volume, and an unpublished Adventure.

That was pretty much me until the 1990s. I'd just about got out of the hobby, until the early part of the last decade, when I began searching for something to play with my own kids. Enter the video game Knights of the Old Republic. Built on a modified version of the first version of the d20 Star Wars system (Original Core Rulebook or OCR), it seemed like a fairly elegant system. Just as I hadn't started with D&D back in the 70's, my first entree into the world of OGL (Open Gaming License) wasn't with D&D either.

I never actually ran OCR, but I did pick up and run RCR, and later Star Wars Saga Edition. From there, I branched into 3.0/3.5 Dungeons and Dragons, d20 Modern, and more broadly into d20. I also scooped up Mutants & Masterminds, Savage Worlds, and most recently, Call of Cthulhu.

These days, I run a D&D 3.5 third-party Setting (Fantasy Flight Games' Midnight setting), a third-party d20 Modern post-apocalyptic setting, Darwin's World (currently on hiatus), a Star Wars Saga Edition variant campaign, along with the occasional Call of Cthulhu and Pulp-era one shot. I'm also working on creating stats for an unofficial Yuuzhan Vong-era Star Wars Saga Edition supplement as I have time and devotion.

I'm married to a loving gamer woman, with two children who also double as my primary gaming group. I may talk about gaming with family some from time to time. I may post character designs, adventure seeds, reviews, etc. as I see fit, as well as After Action Reports, if I see fit.