Thursday, August 28, 2014

If Only More People Were Like Me...

Now that the pretty hate machine known as "consultant-gate" is dying down, a new machine is being built: the Anita Sarkeesian hate machine. Unfortunately, this one is not nearly as amusing as the manufactured outrage over the last one. This one is actually pretty frustrating, because it's so against what I do as a gamer, myself.

I'm all about inclusiveness. If you read this blog even casually, you'll know that my number one goal as a tabletop gamer is to bring as many people into the hobby as possible. And when I say "people," I mean people. Not white people. Not male people. Not heterosexual people. Just people. I will do whatever it takes. If, for example, a woman told me "I have a hard time getting into Dungeons & Dragons because of the way women are depicted," my first thought is "What can I do to help you not feel that way?" I've held games in public libraries to bring people out of the woodwork. I refuse to use accents in my games because I'm afraid of sounding rascist. And you know what? It's not hard. My games aren't any worse off.

That so very few people in the videogaming hobby seem to feel that way is truly disheartening. That they can't even entertain the thought that you can love something but still take issue with parts of that something, is crazy. I hear gamers on the WoW forums all the time, bitching about some of the most inconsequential shit. But a woman says something about the way her gender is depicted in game? Oh HELL no...

Okay, so, I'm not trying to say that I'm some kind of pillar of equa....screw that; you know what? I am. I AM fucking saying that. I don't care if you are male, female, white, black, blue, green, turquoise...I don't care if you're heterosexual, homosexual, transsexual, whatever-sexual...come sit down and play some goddam games with me! If somebody doesn't feel the same way? I am better than that person. There. I said it. It's been said. More motherfucking people...especially people into videogames...should be like me.

Whatever makes you a special little snowflake is not to be found in how you spend your spare time. It's found in how you spend time with your fellow human being. So stop acting like the Big Evil Feminists are trying to cut up your favorite binkie. Play nice, for Christ's sake.








Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mini-Meta Me

(Disclaimer: Just so we're clear here, these are my definitions of "mini-game" and "meta-reference:"

Mini-game: a system of rules that exists outside of the central mechanic, theme, or idea of the greater game.

Meta-reference: a game's reference to, inherent understanding of, or exploitation of the fact that it is a game.)

When I was younger, I hated mini-games and meta-game references. I felt like they took me out of the world of the game I was playing. Whether it was a little subsystem in a tabletop RPG, or a segment of a videogame RPG, I thought of them as cheap tricks to pad the quality and quantity of a game's content, or inside jokes made because the writer couldn't hold the story together. I remember in particular hating all of the minigames in the older Final Fantasy titles (the racing sequence in 7, especially), and the meta-references in Metal Gear Solid (the mind-reading boss you could defeat by plugging your controller into the second player slot)

But, as is often the case, taste changes with age. Now I quite enjoy meta/mini-games. In fact, I'm pretty sure one of my trademark moves as a GM is in bringing mini-games and meta-reference experiences into a game. Looking at my Firefly campaign, I made it a point to include mini-games and meta references in literally every session. From guessing Q's kill switch to an actual meta-episode, Firefly was virtually defined by the stunts I'd pull from one session to the next. Now, currently as I work on World Gone Mad, I notice I make all kinds of meta-references. My "shotgun blast" move requires the player to make a chik-chik sound, like he's pumping the shotgun. My "grenade" move requires the player to mime pulling a pin and throwing the grenade. Numerous moves require the player to act out scenes as part of the trigger to do the move.

What's changed? I think I've come to realize that, although meta/mini games can pull players out of the experience, they can also put players more fully into the experience. As far as meta-references go, being aware of the fact that you're having an experience can in fact make that experience more special. Like sarcasm with comedy, these things have to be carefully timed and sparingly used. But also like sarcasm with comedy, when used properly the absurdity of their existence can paint a big exclamation point on the moment itself.

I'll end this entry with a list now of my favorite mini-games or meta-moments from gaming, whether tabletop or otherwise. Please feel free to contribute your own favorite meta/mini experiences, too!

-World Gone Mad: Okay, it's a little cheap and self-serving to reference my own game, but I'm really happy with the level of player participation a lot of my moves and mechanics bring into the game with their meta-level references!

-Pet Battles, World of Warcraft: I'm not a big fan of pet battling games like Pokemon. But somehow, World of Warcraft manages to do it right. It's the perfect thing to do to break up the rhythm of that game's grind, while waiting for a battleground or dungeon queue, or to have something unique to earn.

-Adventure Cards, Savage Worlds: I've never actually used these, but I love the idea of them. Savage Worlds is already a fast-paced, wildly versatile game, and those cards add another dimension to all of that without weighing the game down at all!

-Cattle grazing, Aces & Eights: Another game I love but have never played, Aces & Eights is THE definitive game of the Wild West. Not some "Weird West" that's afraid of embracing history, but an actual simulation of what it'd be like to be a bandit, bounty hunter...or cattle wrangler. The rules for beef quality and directing your herd are complex, but they're part of what gives this extraordinary game its flavor.

-Bonds, Apocalypse-engine games: I technically consider this a mini-game because it falls just a little outside the core mechanics of these games. Their simplicity is astounding. It's amazing how just a few fill-in-the-blank sentences can pull a group together and begin the fun even before the first die hits the table.

-Playsets, tremulus: I've already gone on and on about how much I love this little derivative of the Fiasco concept within a full-on RPG, so I'll just leave it at this: I'd buy tremulus for this idea alone.

-Drug dealing, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars: I remember virtually nothing about the plot of this game, I spent so many hours just running drugs from one part of the city to another, buying low and selling high, and avoiding sting operations and driving away to safety. It was awesome!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sandboxing

In what looks like this week's theme, I'm continuing to work on my zombie apocalypse Dungeon World hack, World Gone Mad. Today, I've been working on sandboxes.

World Gone Mad is designed to be run like a sandbox RPG. The players have their own plans, and the carrying out of those plans forms the meat of the session. The Zombie Master (ZM's) responsibility is to portray the world the characters inhabit, and to direct the flow of the action so that everyone is having a great time and contributing to a fun, albeit grim, story of survival horror.

The way I try and achieve this goal in design comes in two parts. The first part I've talked about before: Character Moves. These moves, which are a part of every playbook, are a little bit like quests in a console RPG. They're things that are important to your character, their "motivation" for doing the things they do. By design, a lot of these character moves require the players to do some questionable things to each other, and so these moves are set to create conflict, drama, and tension.

The other part to this equation are the Sandboxes. A Sandbox is my hack's equivalent of fronts and threats from the other AW games: they are a collection of threats, settings, important NPCs, and events that can happen throughout the course of play. Fundamentally, these are tools the ZM can use to maintain the tempo and pace of the game being dictated by the players. If the players are a little hesitant or not sufficiently motivated to make things happen on their own, the various elements presented in the Sandbox can be used to sort of prod the characters into action. The story always comes from the characters; the Sandbox provides background elements to set the tone, pace, and/or theme of that story.

Further down the road, I want to try and work with a more modular structure to the relationship between sandboxes and character moves, to make an AW hack that's adjustable for longer campaigns, shorter one-shots, more structured stories, or looser collaborative stories. One idea I have for this is by playing with balance. For example, if I removed all the character moves from the playbooks, and instead made "story moves" available in the sandbox that generated XP upon their triggering, then the characters become motivated to activate those triggers by interacting directly with the sandbox rather than each other. If I wanted to emulate a more "mission-focused" zombie apocalypse, I might want to do something like that.

So here is the link to my basic, rough draft of Sandboxes; what they are, what comprises one, and two sample ones. This is all rough draft-material, untested (yet), and I'm eager to get it to the table at some point. Please, Dear Reader, look it over whenever you have time and give me your thoughts (though also bear in mind that what you see is more "proof of concept" prototype material and less "factory ready" final product).

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1L2kzJw_BhpOtK54-1eb-8NyGoV48QKSj5bgG8V9ldtU/edit?usp=sharing

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Head of the Household

Yesterday, we played the beginner game of Star Wars: Age of Rebellion. It didn't go too well. Everyone had fun, so I'd call that a win, but I was playing this "learn to play RPGs" adventure with six veteran roleplayers, an adventure designed initially for four. Throw in some incredibly hot dice rolls, and the players just steamrolled their way through Whisper Base. Again, it wasn't a bad time, but it left myself and my players a little unsatisfied.

Pressed to come up with something on the fly, I pulled out World Gone Mad, my Dungeon World zombie apocalyse hack. That turned out to be much more satisfying. Within minutes, we had players scheming with each other, disasterously-entertaining plans, and zombie-splattering action. In light of how much fun we had in the short few hours we screwed around in this world of zombies, I'm now considering using World Gone Mad for my next campaign-level game.

The strength of my hack continues to be its flavor. A few players remarked on how so many of the moves are just dripping with theme. I'm particularly proud of that. My lack of artistic talents means I have to make up for it with vivid writing and creative ideas, and it seems like that's working well. The weakness also continues to be the lack of layout. Perhaps once I'm out of grad school, I'll devote more time to being a little crafty with production and layout, so that I can better organize and present this game. Putting all those moves on cards, in particular, I think, would really help this game stay organized and fun.

I'm ending this brief entry with a link to the 12th playbook that I wrote this morning. Inspired by yesterday's successful session, I finally took my idea for this playbook and put it down on paper. The idea behind most of the playbooks is that I want each type of survivor to bring a chunk of story with them. This isn't Call of Cthulhu, where the players are investigators and are thrust into a story; this is a game where the story comes from their presence. They are the story. I tried to set up each playbook's various moves to make that happen. In an ideal game of World Gone Mad, the players will drive the story in the pursuit of their own agendas. This frees the ZM to focus on the world. This seemed to work pretty well in yesterday's game, and with a little more tweaking of a few playbooks and rules, as well as some basic prep, I think I can make this happen.

The end result of this hack is to be a sandbox-style zombie apocalyse game, where the players dictate what kind of story is told, and the ZM has tools to accomodate that story. Prep for a ZM in this game will look, essentially, like a giant playground, with all these attractions the players can manipulate and play with for their own purposes. Of course, the ZM could also have some events planned, things that can trigger over time, but overall the narrative thrust of the game should come from the players in pursuit of their own goals. Whether the players want a grim, survival-horror game or a campy zombie-bash, I want World Gone Mad to be able to do either.

More on this later, of course, but for now, I present to you The Provider:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1SXGMMwBMORb4oXDjckZbHxfI5LLuld23rfA-9DBKLGE/edit?usp=sharing

Friday, August 22, 2014

A New Hope, Pt. II: An Even Newer Hope

Yesterday, I wrote with fond nostalgia about West End Games' Star Wars RPG. Today I'll talk about the new Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars RPGs, and basically about how awesome they are.

I've written before about my love for the Warhammer FRPG. I think it's one of the most underrated RPGs of all time. So when I discovered that FFG was going to use the system from Warhammer to power Star Wars, I was delighted. The system, informally called "the narrative dice system," consists of special, custom-made dice with success, failure, advantage, and disadvantage symbols on them. You roll a pool of the dice for whatever task you're doing. Difficulties and obstacles to your success are "evil dice" added into your dice pool. You roll the pool, and if you have more success symbols than failure symbols, you succeed. If you roll more advantage symbols than setback symbols, you have a bit of good news; a silver lining in the case of failure, or an added bonus in the case of success. Vice versa if you rolled more setbacks than advantages.

The two great things about this system jump out right away; no math, and results open to interpretation. Whether you're firing a blaster at a stormtrooper or swinging across a ravine, this system gives you all kinds of stuff to work with, without the math. A critical hit is simply rolling enough advantages with your hit. Coming up just short on the jump but managing to grab the ledge is simply a setback on the dice. There are plenty of mechanical dials you can adjust, too, if you'd rather have something more substantial. For example, characters suffer from Strain, a form of fatigue damage that can knock you out when you hit the threshold, but it heals rapidly. Recovering Strain or taking Strain is an easy, mechanical way to reflect advantages and setbacks on the dice, if you can't think of anything else or if you simply want to keep the action moving.

The fun, fluid nature of the system flows to the dice pool as well. A player comes up with a clever one-liner before he punches out a traitorous Bothan? Give him an advantage die! A player tries to fast talk an Imperial officer while drunk from rotgut? Give him a disadvantage die! Similar to Cortex Plus, giving a die is less precise than a static bonus, which not only makes it more fun, but it also makes it easier to assign without worry of breaking anything.

I love the storytelling aspects of a role-playing game, but I'm also keenly aware of the game aspects, as well. Doing one without the other is, more often than not, a recipe for disaster at the table. FFG understands this, and has gone to painstaking lengths to marry storytelling with rules at nearly every turn. An example of this is in what I call "background mechanics." In Edge of the Empire, each character has a debt of some kind, with various tables to help randomize the amount of debt, what it's for, and to whom one is indebted to. In Age of Rebellion, each character has a Duty, which represents their ideals and why they fight. These mechanics have actual impacts on gameplay. They're not just there for flavor; however, the mechanics of these backgrounds usually tie into the storytelling/narrative aspects of the game more than the technical/gameplay side (though they can do that a little, too).

Finally, one of the last things I love about FFG's Star Wars that I want to talk about is the production quality. I am a sucker for fancy art and colorful layouts. FFG goes above and beyond, delivering these big, beautiful, full-color books that are just a joy to look at. Brilliantly, FFG realized that photo stills from the movies can look dated, so they had artists actually hand draw several scenes straight from the movie. This creates a brand-new pespective of the entire Star Wars universe that gives these RPGs a unique look and feel while still being totally, completely Star Wars. These are the kinds of RPGs I want to show off in public, reading in coffee shops and playing in library conference rooms. We live in a time where anyone with even amateur tools can publish their own work, and that's fantastic. But every once and awhile, it's nice to just plunk down a chunk of money and walk out of the store (or have delivered) an honest-to-God product. 

Granted, it is entirely possible that FFG might go too far, as they have certainly proved in the past. Already the amount of supplemental material for Edge of the Empire is staggering. Age of Rebellion looks like its going to be just as robust. And even though Age has only been out for a month or two, the purchaseable beta of Force and Destiny is already out in the wild! Personally, this is not a problem for me; my policy is almost always "core books only; if you want it in the game, buy me the book!" but I can see how collectors and completionists might pull their hair out over the quantity of content that FFG is producing for its game lines.

Nevertheless, I think these Star Wars RPGs are the best books to bare the name yet. I am greatly looking forward to running my one-shot of Age of Rebellion this Sunday. May the Force be with you!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A New Hope



When I was about 14, I got the first edition of West End Games' Star Wars RPG as a Christmas present. Like the Christmas before when I got the AD&D 2nd edition Players' Handbook, I immediately ran down to the basement alone, sat on this musty old recliner, and dove into the book with an eagerness only children can naturally have.

Needless to say, an RPG set in the Star Wars universe was a guaranteed home run with my friends. That following year, I probably played more of the WEG Star Wars RPG than any other game since I first got into D&D. I loved the elegant simplicity of it: you roll a bunch of dice, compare it to a target number, and you either suceeded or failed. That single, unified mechanic was mind-blowing to me at the time, as I was used to old-school D&D, or even the Palladium games, with their myriad of various sub-systems (casting spells, combat, non-weapon proficiencies, thief skills, etc.)

We had a whole campaign built around this alternate universe where the Rebellion lost the Battle of Endor. Luke had turned to the Dark Side, he and Darth Vader struck down the Emperor, and as Vader himself prophesized in The Empire Strikes Back, they ruled the galaxy as father and son. One of my biggest adventures back then was the battle against the armed and fully-operational Death Star. The New Rebellion had stolen the plans to build their own Death Star laser. As it charged up in a valley on a rocky planet, the Rebellion had to hold back waves of TIE fighters and AT-ST Walkers trying to bomb the canyon. Another memorable adventure had the players escape from a prison onboard a Star Destroyer. The entire adventure saw the PCs hiding, disguising, and fighting Imperial troops all over the Star Destroyer while they tried to get a distress signal out to the remnants of Rogue Squadron. I've probably even forgotten more memories of that old RPG and the crazy hijinks we had while playing it. Looking back, it was definitely the highlight of my teenage years of roleplaying.

The d20 version of Star Wars came out during what I now call "The Dark Times," where lack of friends and an unhealthy obsession with videogames resulted in playing virtually no tabletop RPGs for most of my 20's. I did have the first version of the book, though. I remember being unimpressed. To me, I always thought of Star Wars as a game of high-flying heroics, epic adventure, and bold stunts. d20, with its tactical combat and endless feats and skill lists, seemed like an awkward fit to me. Again; I never actually played it, but I was also never particularly excited to do so.

But now, Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) has taken up the mantle with their latest Star Wars RPG. For those not in the know, FFG has released two standalone Star Wars RPG corebooks. Edge of the Empire emphasizes the seedier, fringe-elements of the Star Wars universe, with stats and abilities suitable for smugglers, bounty hunters, and the like. The second book, which was released not too long ago, is Age of Rebellion, and covers more of the Galactic Civil War, with stats and abilities covering Rebel agents, spies, and such. A third corebook, apparently titled Force and Destiny, will be coming out next year. These books are all standalone, you don't need to own all three. All three books are also meant to be played during the years of the original trilogy (though I'm not sure how they plan on doing this with Force and Destiny. Maybe that one will be in the prequel times?)

The question that naturally comes up is this: do these new Star Wars RPGs compare well with WEG's classic incarnation? Well, my answer to that is this: they are better. 

But I'll talk about that more in the next blog entry...


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Three Knows

Last Sunday, my group finished our Firefly RPG campaign. In over 20 years of role-playing games, this is the first campaign I finished completely. Granted, it was only seven adventures spanning just four months, but still, this is the longest consecutive streak of playing one RPG in my life. Even when I first got into roleplaying, at the age of six, we threw in a game of Star Frontier, GURPS, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles here and there.

To my recollection, we only broke away from Firefly once, to play a one-shot of Shadowrun. Otherwise, we got together every two weeks, for four months, knocking out one episode of Firefly after another. I consider this a big achievement, for me.

Not having completed a campaign was a monkey on my back for a long time. I have played literally hundreds of role-playing games at this point, and never once took one through the whole campaign experience. Sure, there have been numerous attempts at campaigns, but they all previously ended in failure, many of them sputtering to a quiet death just three, two, or even one adventure in.

What changed? What worked now that didn't work in years past? When people ask me how to run a good role-playing game (or when I wonder to myself about how to do the best game possible), I always come back to the three knows: know your players, know yourself, and know your game.

First, and arguably most important, is know your players. They were passionate about their characters, passionate about the game, and urged me to keep going. Their genuine enthusiasm...not just with the game, but with enjoying each other's company...gave me a strong, deep pool of motivation throughout the campaign's length. That pool went a little shallow towards the end, but there was more than enough to provide a satisfying finale. Knowing what they were looking forward to, and knowing what direction they wanted to take their characters in, always served as a compass for me when designing the next adventure.

Then comes know yourself. I was keenly aware of my gamer ADD the entire time we played our campaign. Rather than fight it or resist it, I embraced it and channeled it into the campaign itself. That's why every one of our adventures had different mechanics or "gimmicks;" I wanted every adventure to feel like something new, fresh, and different, without losing the consistency of a campaign. The challenge of building adventures around concepts rather than plotlines was a fun challenge for me. That I had great players who had three-dimensional characters helped, too; it freed me to focus on concept and trust that the details would emerge through character interaction, history, and play.

Of course, it's also great to have an RPG that can accomodate such unconvetional play, so that's where know your game comes in. Cortex Plus is one of the most flexible, fast-paced, and fun RPG systems I have ever played. The mechanics were loose enough that I could graft strange ideas...like meta-game play, concurrent adventures, and backwards time structures...into play, but there was enough grit there to still feel like we were playing a game, rather than some dirty hippie "let's tell an interactive story!" drum circle thing. I'm taking a few months off to let some of my friends run campaigns without any conflicting schedules (not to mention focus on my graduate thesis), but when I return, the temptation to just stick with Cortex Plus for these reasons is very strong.

Alas, I most-likely will not do that. When I run my next campaign (and I must do this again; going back to just one-shots feels so hollow now, you know?) I want to experiment with tighter structure. My chief complaint about the Firefly campaign was how I often felt like the entire damn game was just one bad day away from being a listless, directionless mess. The meta-adventure, "The Fourth Wall," was an idea I came up with less than a single day before the session. The adventure before that, "Hillfolk," depended on collaborative scene collection from the players, and they didn't sign on to run this kind of stuff, so obviously it turned into our weakest episode. I don't want that stress or mess in my next campaign. So what I want to do is take a published, established adventure...something big and beautiful, like one of the many Call of Cthulhu campaign-level adventures, or those awesome, hardcover adventure books from Fantasy Flight's Star Wars games...and stick to that structure, freeing my mind to study the rules, describe great scenes, and interact more with my players and their characters. On days where the motivation isn't there, I can just "stick to the script" and run the game straight. On days where I want to do something more wild, I can branch off the book and perhaps even create a sub-plot spinoff tangent, returning to the original campaign when that motivation dies out.

But, thanks to fantastic players and the silver lining of experience that comes with age, I know that whatever I run, whenever I run it, with this group, it's going to be awesome. 




Monday, August 18, 2014

Firefly RPG, Episode Seven (Finale) Recap: "Play it Again, Sam"

Yesterday afternoon, we concluded our Firefly RPG campaign with our seventh episode, "Play it Again, Sam."

The episode took place several years in the future. The new crew of the Serenity had discovered the secret of the Reavers (as detailed in the Serenity movie). The outrage across the 'Verse resulted in a second Unification War. The crew split up and went their seperate ways across the Black.

Being Kitt's episode, the finale began with her. Once again a commander of a Browncoat cell, Kitt's mission found her on the colony of Ilsa, where her group was supposed to receive a prisoner (Colonel Kensington!) from another Browncoat cell. Kitt was with a fellow Browncoat named Cole. It turns out Cole is Kitt's lover. We find out in a flashback (technically a "flash-forward," since it's still happening in the future but not in the future of the OH YOU GET IT) that Jack and Kitt were on the Serenity as it was being shot down by Alliance gunships. Kitt was blown clear of the explosion and landed in a lake, but Jack was still on the ship...

Kitt arrived at the rendexvous point where she'd meet the other cell's leader, Lucy. The point was a bar called Rick's. The bartender, to Kitt's surprise, was Peaches. In a conversation with Kitt, we discover Peaches left the crew several years ago to be a "straight" businessman, and his ventures eventually landed him on Ilsa. When Alliance cronies show up to capture the Browncoats, they escape and hide at Peaches' place.

Cole, however, got captured, and ended up in jail. His presence sparked the attention of Ilsa's ruling council, one of the members turning out to be Cricket. Cricket went AWOL from the crew in the months following the Miranda scandal. She'd grown weary of all the violence and chaos surrounding the crew, and just wanted to settle in to a quiet, constructive life. After years of farming, she earned the trust of the people of Ilsa and began to represent them on the council.

The council, however, were divided. One of the council members wanted Ilsa to throw in with the Alliance. One of the members was in favor of supporting the Browncoats. The others were dedicated to keeping a neutral stance. Hoping to get evidence one way or the other, the council interrogated Cole. At the same time that happened, Kitt and Peaches showed up at the jail to try and convince the authorities to release him.

Cricket kept her knowledge of these folk a secret, for the moment. The following morning, she went to Peaches' place and had an argument with Kitt. Kitt was angry about her leaving the crew. Cricket just wanted peace and quiet, and demanded that Kitt and her Browncoats leave Ilsa before someone gets hurt.

Meanwhile, Q and Ira arrived on Ilsa. Hearing that Colonel Kensington was on the colony, the two were eager to question him themselves. Their crusade to expose the Academy was going poorly; in the years following the Miranda scandal, the Alliance pulled a bold PR stunt with the Academy, exposing a few of their agents and painting the Academy as this wonderful place where the potential of the human mind gets unlocked. Hoping to get solid evidence of the insidious nature of the Academy from the Colonel himself, the two arrived on Ilsa and hoped to get him for themselves.

But they weren't the only ones looking for the good Colonel. Kensignton's two most loyal agents...Echo and Yankee...arrived on Ilsa looking for them, as well. The four ex-students met each other soon after, where a psychic kung-fu battle was waged across the streets of Ilsa. The brief fracas ended with Ira and Q in jail, prompting yet another visit by the council.

With the Alliance everywhere and the Ilsa militia in disapproval, Kitt and her Browncoat crew needed a safe location to do the prisoner hand-off. Reluctantly, Kitt reached out to Cricket for help. Cricket knew exactly where they could go: a scrapyard outside of town, run by Enzo. Enzo had become an anti-social recluse after being beaten nearly to death by an angry mob for his involvement in the Miranda scandal (Enzo had built the distribution systems that administered the chemicals, although he had no knowledge of exactly what he was doing).

The episode climaxed, of course, with chaos and battle. The handoff was humped from the start; Echo and Yankee learned the location of the drop, and ambushed the Browncoats with the help of a few dozen Alliance units. Enzo was ready for them all, however; in his paranoid brilliance, the scrapyard was a clockwork fortress of defenses, right down to an automaton army to engage the troops!

Kitt was surrounded by Alliance troops...it looked like she was going to fall...and then, Jack showed up. Turns out he was one of the Browncoats in the other cell. He had cleared the explosion too, and thought Kitt had died when the Serenity went down.

So the crew, reunited, fought their way out of the junkyard, made it back to Ilsa's ship bay, where Enzo had even managed to put together a new(ish) Firefly-class transport for them to fly away on. The end!

I'll write more later on my final thoughts about the campaign, but I'll say now that this was hands-down the best game I've ever run, for some of the best players I've ever known.

Friday, August 15, 2014

ARRRRRRGH!!!

I want to go to Gencon SO BADLY!

I have never been to a convention before. I had a chance to do AwesomeCon this year, here in D.C., but I passed. I want to do a tabletop convention, dammit! Gencon or bust, baby!

And when I DO get a chance to go to Gencon, I want to run a game there. Anything, really. I feel like GMing a convention gig is like a public performance, like a concert for RPGs. I could meet so many new people, including several "in the biz." I've said before I don't really want a job in the industry, but being on a friend-basis with some people in the business would be awesome.

I want to try out all the new games. I want to double my luggage size with new tabletop stuff, Gencon-exlusive swag, and other various memorabilia. I want to eat at Steak & Shake. I want to take a bunch of pictures with my phone and post them all over G+ and Twitter. I want to take selfies with sci-fi authors and cosplayers. I want to watch panels and nod my head appreciatively. I want to gawk at extraordinarily detailed and expensive miniature models. I want to make comments about how weird it smells in the crowded convention hall. It all just sounds so alive. In a hobby all about person-to-person contact, a convention feels like a living, breathing thing that transcends even the collective experience of gaming with others.

Anyways, that's all for today.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

My Thing with Cthulhu

Last week, my buddy Stephen posted an entry in his blog about his love of Cthulhu/Lovecraftian horror. He talked about how it was the personal level of the horror that he enjoyed, much moreso than the whole pantheon of Old Ones "Extended Universe" stuff that became super-popular towards the end of Lovecraft's life.

Though I totally see where Stephen is coming from, and for the most part I agree, I have a different take on it. What I love about Lovecraftian horror is that Cthulhu and his cronies are the ultimate arch-nemesis of today's society. In this day and age of tweets and re-shares and social media, the very idea that there is knowledge that we shouldn't know...that there's just information out there that should absolutely not be shared...is an alien, almost blasphemous concept in today's world.

This, to me, is why it's such a shame that in all of its years in print, the Call of Cthulhu RPG hasn't made any "modern day" sourcebooks. I know the current edition is coming out soon, but that book's page count will probably be too full of rules and "how to play" to address how today's society is achingly vulnerable to cosmic horror. What happens when a sanity-rending spell is shared across the Internet? What happens when hundreds, thousands...millions of people watch a YouTube video of a byakhee ripping someone apart?

I've been slowly pecking away at an epic adventure in the style of Masks of Nyarlathotep where these ideas are the central point. The adventure, called The Right to Know, spans seven chapters. The first chapter, "The Digital Tome," is available on my Google Drive (if you're one of my players, DON'T look! If not, send me a comment and I'll give you the link). I have finished, but not yet played, the second chapter, "The Sudden Knife."

For a modern campaign, I wanted a modern system. Though I love Call of Cthulhu, I wanted something fresh, without the baggage of 30 years worth of supplements from the 1890s and 1920s. And so I wrote a quick, simple Cthulhu hack for Fate Core. That, too, is available online in my Google Drive.

I've had a lot of fun, exploring these concepts of cosmic horror and putting together this pet project of mine. Perhaps someday soon, I'll even get to play it!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Dark Cloud

Robin Williams' tragic death has hit me especially hard this week. Not necessarily because of the man himself, but because of the way he died. Suicide, stemming from a decades-long battle with depression. He had just about everything one could ask for...family. Friends. Money. A successful, legendary career, complete with some of the highest honors in his profession...and none of it was enough to beat back the demons within his own head.

If he can't make it, with all he had, what hope is there for me?

Of course, I'm not nearly as depressed as he was. I have dysthymia, a low-grade depressive disorder that more or less hovers perpetually over my head, like a storm cloud. I've described it to therapists before as a constant feeling of being bummed out, even when things are really good. I take Wellbutrin for it, and that seems to help. I'm supposed to see a therapist about it regularly, too. I don't, for the usual bullshit reasons...blah blah blah no time in my schedule, blah blah blah hard to find a good therapist, blah blah blah. It all sounds especially petty now.

Despite the medication, occasionally the dysthymia gets to me, anyway. Today is one of those days. I just woke up feeling bummed. I slept fine. Work isn't too bad. I've got a good cup of coffee here. Nothing really to explain it. It's just there. It always is. 

I'm grateful that it's not worse. Suicide has never once entered my head. I don't have a very addictive personality (a nice side effect of my gaming ADD), so I've never had a hard time with drugs or alcohol. But that's the insidious thing about depression. It never feels as bad as it could be. It never seems like something you need to talk about. And the way it skews your perception, you never really know if you're doing as bad as you think you are. In fact, from my experience, people who are depressed are typically the ones who have the hardest time accepting that depression is a real thing. They just think life normally sucks.

I've learned to cope with it, through lessons learned both in therapy and just as I get older and stay cognizant of the fact that I have a condition. Of course there's the fundamental, important stuff...good friends, supportive networks, getting out and walking every now and then...but I have some more specific tricks, too. Like just talking about it. I have dysthymia. It's not who I am. It doesn't rule my life. It's just a detail, as much a part of me as being half-Thai, or left-handed, or being fluent in Tagalog. Another defense mechanism I've learned is to trust my emotions. If something makes me happy, I do it, no matter how silly or impractical it is. If something makes me feel terrible, I avoid it at all costs. This all sounds real basic, but when you're depressed, sometimes you forget just how much control you have. The words Have to, could, and should sometimes feel like prison shackles.

Another defense mechanism...perhaps the biggest weapon in my arsenal...is my hobby. Gaming, particularly tabletop gaming, is my life. It allows me to make sense of the world. It gives me something to connect myself to other people with. It helps me get over myself and just exist. Feelings of loneliness, and a self-fulfilling prophecy to be alone, is something I fight with alot. Gaming gives me something to rally behind. So it's not just a hobby or something silly I do to waste time on a rainy afternoon. Gaming is a tool for my very survival.

I don't think it is at all coincidential that as my life has gotten more complicated...grad school, a full-time career, a strained marriage...my hobby has picked up a lot. Most of the time, I am grateful and happy for it. But every once and awhile, a day like today comes up, and I wonder: is it enough?


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hodgepodge

Rather than having a somewhat focused blog entry today, I'm going to write about several smaller topics. Here they are, in no particular order whatsoever:

1. Today was the latest session of my critically-acclaimed Boardgames at Lunch (it is not, in fact, critically acclaimed). We were supposed to try out Space Alert, but I dropped it at the last second because I haven't played it yet, and with only an hour to play, I didn't want all of us to be fumbling through a brand new game, especially one that looks a little tricky, like Space Alert does. Also, only two people showed up anyway, so it would have been weird. We played Dixit instead, which went over pretty well.

2. It may finally be time to start looking at interesting two-player boardgames. If attendence continues to be shoddy at Boardgames at Lunch, I may need to be ready to have a good time with whomever shows up, even if it's just one other dude. I ain't callin' it, though. Never. You hear me, Boring Office Assholes? I AIN'T GIVING UP! I'll sit there and play Pandemic by my goddam self for an hour, if I have to. Someone's bringing a little fun into this place, and it's going to be me. 

3. Planning for this Sunday's Firefly finale is going very smoothly. I've got at least a little something in the works for every character. If nothing else, no one should be able to say "I didn't get to do much" for this session! My biggest obstacle right now is structure. Structure has been a bit of a thorn in my side for the entire duration of the campaign. Part of that is because of this campaign's avant garde structure, but part of it is just my own personal laziness. I really want to finish strong though, so hopefully I can get over myself long enough to look down a nice, solid structure for the finale!

4. My heart aches for Robin Williams. I have a hard time thinking about it, honestly. I, like many others, deal with depression on a pretty routine basis. Not only that, but some of my closest friends and family have it, so I know what living with someone who struggles with it is like, too. It's a sad, tragic thing. And if you happen to disagree? Go ahead and "block" me right now, before I do it to you. I already fucking tore apart someone who suggested the old "suicide is selfish" bullshit. I don't want to hear it. A great man died. That's what matters here.

5. My gaming ADD continues to thrive. Now that the end is in sight for Firefly, my mind is reeling at the possibilities of what to run next. I'm definitely going to take a few months off to plan, prepare, and let my friends run their own games for awhile, but when I come back, I want to come back hard. I've decided I do want to run another campaign, but I want to run something structured around a full adventure or series of adventures, a solid framework to build off of instead of improvising/creating stuff as it happens. My number one pick right now is to return to the Call of Cthulhu classic Masks of Nyarlathotep, but we shall see...


Monday, August 11, 2014

Firefly RPG, Episode Six, "The Fourth Wall"

Well, yesterday's episode was definitely the most bizarre adventure I've ever run.

(It should be noted, though, that the previously most-bizarre adventure...and the most bizarre adventure before that...were both from this season of the Firefly RPG. So I guess, in retrospect, this should not be all that surprising).

The crew of the Serenity desperately bobbed and weaved their way through a ship graveyard, Reaver ships all around them. They emerged from the graveyard, it looks like they're about to get away...

...and a director yells "CUT!"

The "camera" pans out, and the players realize they're on a soundstage. Then, Joss Whedon walks onto the set. He tells everyone to gather around. And then, he proclaims "Hey, everyone, thank you so much for your hard work. But, I'm sorry to say, Firefly has been cancelled...again."

Thus began "The Fourth Wall," episode six of my Firefly RPG campaign. The "gimmick" for this episode? The players rolled up stats for the actors who played their characters on the show. The adventure followed a week in the lives of these actors, both on set playing as their Firefly characters, and as actors struggling to come to terms with the reality of the show's cancellation.

 To do this, I used a "parallel adventure" structure for this episode, similar to Episode Four, "Breakout." The idea was that the "Firefly" adventure and the "real life" adventure ran as two separate, though connected, realities. The players were able to use assets and plot points from one character to the next. Everything that happened in the Firefly universe was made to sound like it intentionally was written that way.

At least, that was how it was supposed to go. In reality, the game almost immediately degenerated into meta-level shenanigans. Paul Giamatti, who played Peaches, was an angry drunk who was pretty wasted in about every scene he was in. Nathan Fillion was hovering on set, constantly trying to insert himself into the show, convinced his appearance would save it. Evan Rachel Wood, who played Kitt on the show, cussed and swore at just about everyone, to include Joss Whedon and his shitty attempts at revising this tired sci-fi garbage.

And that was just the beginning. The original Firefly cast competed against the new Firefly cast on Ellen DeGeneres' "Celebrity Game Night" show, resulting in the players doing three rounds of Charades with each other. (I played the charades game as a conflict between the collective crews, with the size of the dice the players got to roll dependent on how quickly they got the answers). Peaches was scheduled to do his death scene, so I laid on the floor while Kitt's player cradled my head in her hands and screamed "NO!!!!" Well, she did, eventually. It took several minutes of laughter before we could keep a straight enough face to complete the scene. A crazed fan stormed the set during Cricket's space race and proposed marriage to her.

Throughout the "week" that the episode spanned, I took each player outside and did a video interview with their actors about how they felt about the show and what their future plans were. I then concluded the interviews with a group photo:



From left to right, that's Leslie (Kitt), Jesse (Enzo), Jen (Cricket), Stephen (Ira/Dr. Montgomery), Mary (Q), and Boomer (Jack). Except when otherwise noted, I do not remember what actors played each character. If you guys are reading this, post your actor in the comments!

The episode's climax (such as their was one) took place during "WhedonCon", a convention specifically for all of Joss Whedon's shows. The new Firefly cast did a panel. The players, roleplaying as fans, asked questions to the various actors.

I can't remember why, but at one point during a tangentially-related question about superheroes, I had a drunken Paul Giamatti blurt out "True story: during The Amazing Spiderman 2, I took a dump in that Rhino suit." Kitt's player laughed so hard I was afraid she was going to pass out.

I had the adventure end on a happy note, with executives from Netflix approaching Joss Whedon about the possibility of picking up the show from FOX.

Overall, the general consensus was "We had a blast, this was awesome...and don't ever do it again!" I agree. The whole idea for this adventure came from my dawning revelation that I'm ready to move on from Firefly. When I briefly considered just flat-out stopping the series cold, I thought "Man, if this were a real show, EVERYONE would be pissed!" And from that little notion, came this episode.

I think, if I were to ever pull a stunt like this in the future though, I could pull it off. The trick, as it always is, lay in good prep. I didn't have any specific storylines going in...I just thought the novelty of the concept would get us through the afternoon. And it did. But if there was an actual storyline cutting across both "realities," then this whole adventure could have transcended being a bunch of meta-skits and jokes and turned into a real RPG experience. I envisioned it in my head as such, but as soon as the first few meta-scenes played out, I gave into instinct and just improvised the entire adventure.

It's tempting, to give into that instinct. Tempting to the point that whole games have been designed with embracing those instincts in mind. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but when I think about my long-term goals as a GM...in playing games where great stories emerge...I'm going to have to start doing my homework. I'll write more about that later, since this entry is hitting my cap as it is, but I'll just end with this:

Any similarities between any actual people, living or dead, starring in The Amazing Spider-man 2 or not, is purely coincidental.


(Also a quick note: Next week, I run the final episode of the series. Though we as a group have decided this little meta-plot will be part of our personal canon, the finale will be a "normal" adventure, fully within the Firefly universe).

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Currency of Good Manners

In the freaky, transhumanist sci-fi setting of Eclipse Phase (which, as I've written before, I kinda like), there is no money. In a world of replicators capable of making anything, money can't be measured the same way it is these days. Book-readin' types call that a post-scarcity economy.

So you may have a question: what differentiates, say, a good restuarant from a bad one? How would a bad restaurant, or barbershop, or masseuse parlor, or whatever, be able to survive in a world where there's no money? Wouldn't everyone just go to the best? How do we evaluate the quality of goods when money isn't what it used to be?

(Please, bear with me, here, my love of Eclipse Phase is making me take a scenic route to my point...)

The answer: reputation. In Eclipse Phase, your reputation is a computational, mathmatical thing, which you can use as a currency. A high-end dance club that only wants to cater to certain clientele may require a reputation rating of X before you're allowed into the door. An experimental weapon that the government doesn't want just anyone carrying around may require a reputation of Y before you're allowed to make one. You can gain and lose reputation in all the usual ways: social media, word of mouth, etc.

So in the future of Eclipse Phase, your reputation is your livelihood. Making an ass of yourself could get you barred from places you'd like to go. Being polite, smart, and sophisticated can get you surrounded by the finest a post-scarcity economy can offer. In a world where everyone's got similar resources, what you have becomes far less important than what you can contribute. 

Where could the game designers possibly come up with such a wild idea? And finally, we get to my point:

We already live in a post-scarcity economy. It's called the internet.

The anonymity of the internet puts everyone on equal ground. Information, entertainment...all of it is fairly easy to acquire, if you know where to look. The difference, the quality of the experience, now becomes the new sign of prosperity. For an RPG fan, for example, knowing Monte Cook's intention when he designed a certain mechanic in Numenera isn't impressive to anyone with access to Google. Actually getting to talk to him on your podcast about it, or visit your blog...now that's impressive.

And getting him to do that requires being a good host, producing fine content, and not being an asshole. Because why would anyone want to waste their time on you if you're an asshole?

So I'm sorry to say, Dear Reader, that you've read this entire blog post to come to a very simple "The More You Know" message: don't be a dick on the internet. Be awesome, instead. Because being awesome can open doors for you. Being a dick keeps them shut.




Thursday, August 7, 2014

Meet Brock Bauer and his band, Fungal Bloom!

Brock moved to Apache Springs a year ago with his mother. His father left the home when Brock was five years old. Brock doesn't acknowledge it, but he has some serious abandonement issues over this. This abandonement also may or may not influence his excessive flirting.

Brock's motto is "anything with a pulse." He will shamelessly flirt with any girl, whether they're in a committed relationship or not, whether he's in a committed relationship or not. Brock will flirt with girls he has no romantic interest in, merely because that's the only way he knows how to relate to women. Brock is most-drawn to girls who hate him, hence his infatuation with Joce. Brock also parties hard and drifts in and out of every social circle in the school. He is a wide receiver for the school's football team. Brock's a gifted athlete, but his lack of discipline will doom him from ever making anything out of it.

Beneath the shallow exterior, Brock does have a strong moral code. He will not use his illusion powers to make copies of people he knows. Brock is honest and fiercely loyal to his friends and his mother. Personality-wise, Brock is extremely laid back and go-with-the-flow. Brock's main hobby (aside from chasing girls) is watching TV. He's a movie fanatic and has a guilty pleasure for game shows and reality TV.

Brock's other big hobby is his band, Fungal Bloom, though his interest in the band is more about gathering groupies than making music. Not including Brock himself (who's lead guitar, singer, and considered the leader of the band), here are the core members of Fungal Bloom:

-Chad "DJ Brometheus" Lee, keyboard/DJ (also the only band member with actual musical talent)
-Todd "the Bodd" Hendricks, bass guitar
-Stewie"STFU" Fairfax, drums

Other classmates frequently rotate in and out of the group in various roles. Virtually all of Brock's ex-girlfriends have been backup singers at one time or another. One of Brock's long-term goals is to convince three of his most-talented ex-girlfriends together to all sing backup vocals at once. Unfortunately, they all hate him.

DJ Brometheus took a vow of silence freshman year and has not spoken since (he's a junior now). He does break the vow to occasionally speak to his closest friends and his parents, but he makes them promise not to tell anyone else he's spoken. Although everyone in the group knows how to play their instruments, only Brometheus has actual talent, and a potential future in music (along with the passion to back it up; the other bandmates are more in this for fame and girls). What little success Fungal Bloom has is chiefly because of him, a fact Brock acknowledges but the rest of the group denies. Brock and Brometheus are good friends.

Todd "the Bodd" is ironically named. He's a scrawny runt of a kid who looks like he can barely pick up the huge bass guitar he uses. His diminuitive size is a sore spot for him, as he's constantly teased/harrassed about it. Stu loves to push his buttons. Though they don't actively hate each other, Stu and Todd rarely get along, and have fought each other in the past.

Stewie "STFU (pronounced "Sta Foo")" Fairfax is a hardcore geek. He plays drums in marching band and gets straight A's in class. He's a big sci-fi nerd and plays Pokemon and Magic the Gathering, a LOT (he actually prefers Pokemon, but reluctantly plays more Magic because "it's cooler"). The entire band was his idea (the name coming from a Magic the Gathering card), originating as nothing more than a ploy to become popular in school. STFU is deeply insecure and ashamed of his own nerdiness. He's jealous of Brock's charisma (and also that he's considered "leader" of the band) and Brometheus' talent. He thinks he's cooler than Todd the Bodd, and so picks on him often. His nickname, short for "Shut The Fuck Up!" is a phrase commonly yelled at him in response to his whining and complaining.

Fungal Bloom's music is all over the place. It is mostly an amateurish mishmash of rock, punk, metal, and electronica. One of their songs, "Audie Oodie," went viral. The song, a techno beat that cleverly samples the yoddeling mountain climber music used in the Price is Right gameshow, went well into the hundreds of thousands of shares and likes across social media, before the band received a cease-and-desist letter from The Price is Right. STFU refuses to let the song be played ever again (partly out of fear of a lawsuit, partly out of jealousy, as Brometheus did the song almost entirely by himself. Todd even suspects Stu might have tipped off the network about the song, following how in some circles, the song was being referred to as "Audie Oodie, by DJ Brometheus and Fungal Bloom").

Fungal Bloom's logo is two green, mossy circular growths smushed together, with the band name in green across the top. Depending on who you ask, the logo looks suspiciously like either a pair of women's breasts, or men's balls. The band denies any resemblance.






 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Slow Burn (out)

This weekend, our Firefly RPG resumes with its next episode. Though I know the direction I want to take the campaign, I'm having a hard time fitting it right into the flow of things. We've established this lighter, action-adventure tone with most of the episodes so far, and I'm wanting to take the series into a more epic, dramatic direction. I'm not sure if I can pull it off, though.

Frankly, even if I can pull it off, I'm not super-excited about it. Overall I'm finding myself starting to get a little stifled with Firefly. It'll be time to move on soon. Honestly I look more forward to hanging out with my friends than actually playing the game. Still, my naturally-dark tendencies are beginning to besiege me. I'm feeling the urge to return to Call of Cthulhu, or some kind of zombie game, or something.

Once Firefly concludes, that might be my last stab at long-term campaign play. It's just not what I do. Short-term, open-ended games...from one-shots to about four or five sessions...is my thing. This is disappointing, of course, because many games are built for much longer commitments, but my gaming ADD is way too severe. I'd much rather have an exciting, fun series of one-shots than a campaign that sputters and dies. Part of how I've even kept Firefly going for so long is in all the "gimimcks" I've been using each episode, tricking my brain into thinking we're playing a different game every session. And now that my ideas are circling the drain, so too is my motivation.

I do have a couple of ideas to fight this, if I ever want to give the long game another try. One is to try out a "sandbox" style RPG, a game designed to more-or-less follow the players' whimsy, rather than being pushed forward by me. I just recently picked up Stars Without Number, an incredible little sci-fi sandbox game (though I'm actually more excited about its post-apocalyptic spinoff, Other Dust). My concern with this has always been an inability to control momentum. I realize as a GM that it is my responsibility to control momentum, but that's much easier to do when the entire adventure/campaign is of my own design. I remember my failed attempt at a Fate Core sandbox urban fantasy campaign. We spent an entire afternoon, collaboratively designing the characters and every aspect of the world. By the time it was all done, we had a pretty impressive setting...and absolutely no friggin' idea what to do with it!

Games of a more collaborative nature are another idea. Stuff like Apocalypse/Dungeon World, or Hillfolk. Games where the story is formed through play, with the players. I'm less optimistic about this approach, as this is basically what I'm doing now with Firefly, but maybe with a change of scenery and a different attitude, it'd work?

I've also thought about "open" campaigns. This has been my default idea in the past. It's never panned out, but it's such a good idea, in theory. In an "open" campaign, the game and the characters are designed in such a way that the game can be played whenever. Each adventure is its own, closed-off session, with little carrying over to the next one. Shadowrun and Mouse Guard are two games that do this by their design alone. Theoretically, you can do a Shadowrun mission, complete it, and come back a year later with the same characters and play without missing a step. Like I said, this idea has never panned out however; my suspicion is, without any compelling motivation to return to the game, the game never gets returned to.

I've also thought about long-term adventure campaigns. Stuff like Masks of Nyarlathotep, which I was all prepared to run before the separation and then never went back to. I figure, once the whole adventure/campaign has been studied, all I need to do is follow it, and be ready to wing it as necessary in-session. This is the most appealing option, but it comes at a strong cost: prep. Lots of it. Ironically more prep than an adventure made from scratch, I've found, as I find the need to read all the material and have it organized and ready for play. This was a problem I ran into in the early stages of planning for Masks; above and beyond all else, reading that entire 200-page adventure was important, and having it all fresh in my head to jump around if the players don't follow the "default" plan was daunting.

So, that's what's going on in my brain at the moment. If you are one of the cast members of Firefly, worry not; the show WILL continue!

Unless, you know, you all are getting tired of it, too. Then, you know, we can talk. Because I can totally do something else...






Monday, August 4, 2014

B-Rock

As I said before, I delayed my episode of Firefly to give myself some more time to prepare the story arc for the final three episodes. So instead, one of my friends took the opportunity to begin her campaign for Cortex Plus Dramatic yesterday. In her campaign, we all played high school students who suddenly have superpowers. My character, Brock "B-Rock" Bauer, is a skater/stoner who's a shameless flirt. His power is creating illusions. The other characters were:

-Anna, the student government activist girl, who's power escapes me at the moment (if you're in my group and reading this, let me know!);
-Alan, classic pocket-protector-type geek with the power of density control;
-Iggy, a giant Hawaiian who can control electricity;
-Joce, rebel girl and object of Brock's infatuation (a techno-empath);
-Ash, a soft-spoken weird girl (think Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter), who can control light and shadows

Our powers were choosen randomly. The session was just supposed to be character creation, but we were so into it that we just had to play a few scenes out.

Being a player again, it was really fun. A hell of a lot more relaxing than GMing! I did kind of miss the authority, but I also really enjoyed the lack of responsibility. Only having to focus on myself, and not the entire group at once, was almost a vacation of sorts. I'm really happy that we have created an environment that's fun and comfortable, enough that other players in my group feel good enough in it to start running their own games. This thing could only go so long with just me at the helm, always a bad day or head-cold away from ruining the afternoon, so it's good to know now that the players have other options!

As a system, Cortex Plus Dramatic is significantly different from Cortex Plus Action, as used in our Firefly games. Character creation was a beast. We did the full Pathways thing, with the Relationship Map. It was a glorious, chaotic mess, just as I imagine the designers wanted it to be. I wish I had re-read the rules so I could be a little more up to speed. I felt behind in the character creation process, and not really sure what I was supposed to add to the map. But it all worked out in the end, and I think our GM's got plenty of material to work with for a campaign full of angsty, teenage drama.

I'll write more on all of this later...a little tired at the moment, but I wanted to write something down before I forgot too many more details...but needless to say, I'm really looking forward to this campaign!






Friday, August 1, 2014

Strategic Retreat

"Know your limits, Mr. Wayne," said Alfred to Bruce in The Dark Knight. Though I am by no means Batman, it is something I try to keep in mind, as well. This Sunday was supposed to be my next episode of the Firefly RPG. I postponed the episode to next Sunday. Mainly I postponed the episode because I am not ready enough. I emphasize "enough" because I am never truly ready to run a game, and in some games like Cortex Plus, being completely ready is impossible.

However, this week's episode is the third to last for this spectacular campaign I've been a part of. I want to go out with a bang. So I want to ramp up to a spectacular finale. And I don't feel like I'm there yet, and I wanted to give my group plenty of time to develop an alternate plan, so I called it. If this were a regular game, I would have just proceeded as planned, confident I'd come up with something minutes before the first player walked through the door, as I've done for almost every episode since the pilot. One of my friends emailed me after the announcement and told me it was okay, and that it didn't have to be perfect. He is right, and I'm glad he told me; however, I'm not worried about being perfect. I just know I can do better, and another week should be all I need to make that happen.

With no game to run this Sunday (another player will be kicking off her campaign, which I'll be playing in and am quite excited about), I was planning on going to my regular boardgaming meetup this evening. But I'm feeling a little under the weather, partially because of my own decisions (was out late last night seeing Guardians of the Galaxy which, by the way, is awesome!) and partially because I think I might be coming down with something. So I cancelled my RSVP there, too.

I always feel guilty about doing stuff like this. I've always been a flake when it comes to plans. It's one of my more regrettable faults. In my older age now, I accept it as just a part of who I am, but it still bums me out sometimes. I wrote before about how love is work and showing up is the hardest thing and all that, but sometimes, I just don't have it in me. So tonight, I'm going to go home, probably play a little WoW, and go to bed early. All the while, I'll try not to think about all the fun I'm really missing.