Category Archives: talk

More One Shots!

Well, we’ve been doing one shots this whole year since Wrath of the Righteous wrapped up.  In February I reported on the first few in One Shots!  Since then we’ve played (I may be missing some):

The Gaean Reach, by Bruce.  A GUMSHOE game based on the writings of Jack Vance – yes, of course it’s authored by Robin Laws.  I missed this one, sadly.

Firefly, run by Paul.  I got to play Kaylee!  Trad system, but fun.

Monster of the Week, run by me. Another Powered by the Apocalypse game, went down well. Meant to be like Supernatural or X-Files or whatnot – you know, monster of the week!

Lasers and Feelings, run by Paul. A free one-page game where basically you have two stats, Lasers and Feelings, and they both add up to 6 so one goes up at the expense of the other. Fun, but very freeform.

Fiasco, run by me.  An interesting very narrative game where it’s more about building the story than looking out for “your” character. We did the wild west playset thing and everyone ended up sad and/or dead.

Nain for Reign, run by Tim. Reign is Greg Stolze’s current One Roll Engine game, and Nain is a Gormenghasty setting for it. We enjoyed this too.

Paranoia, run by Paul.  Who doesn’t love Paranoia!?!  I’m hazy what rules we used for this, or if we just used one of the random light systems we’ve been using for many of these one-shots.  In fact, I think maybe it was Cypher System.  Yes, yes it was. Good times.

Alternity Dark*Matter, run by me. We played a big Alternity campaign so everyone knew the system already.  I ran the demo adventure “Exit 23” and murdered nearly all the PCs.

Shadowrun using the Cypher System, run by Paul.  Everyone likes the idea of Shadowrun, no one in their right mind wants to bite off its huge rules system. (Even they have realized this and just rolled out some more rules-light engine for it.) So we did it with the Cypher System from Numenera et al, and it worked out well.  I’m mildly concerned whether that scales to a campaign just because of the “one-shot” nature of the cyphers… Shadowrun is usually aggressively sim.

ICONS, run by me. Random superheroes! The heroes did quite well in beating a time-travelling enemy, Tempus Khan, from  the RetConQuest adventure.

Gods of the Fall, run by Paul. More Cypher System, I missed this one.

Demon: The Descent, run by Tim. Some World of Darkness 2.0.  We had fun demoning it up, but as with all WoD games it’s more like superhero combat.

Unknown Armies, run by Paul – the third edition that we Kickstarted and got an early version of! Always fun, and we all had some magick. We got to play New Inquisition agents mainly because I love the Lawyers, Guns, and Money supplement for 1e so much.

Only War, run by me.  The Warhammer 40k Imperial Guard game!  I used a Free RPG Day quickstart adventure.  We ran out of time at the end and they got killed by Naval orbital barrage, which everyone agreed seemed fitting.  IN THE GRIM DARKNESS OF THE FAR FUTURE THERE IS ONLY WAR.

Savage Rifts, run by Paul . OK, some people manage to bother with the real Shadowrun system, but RIFTS?  Good lord. Luckily, there’s now a Savage Worlds version and I’m happy to report it’s very playable!  We had a glitterboy, a juicer, a cyborg, and a mystic knight and we romped on our opponents (the juicer died of generally being a juicer, but not till the end).

Paul kept trying to run Dramasystem but never got enough people to show (I missed once but not because I was avoiding it).  So, we didn’t get hands on that, but we got to mess with a lot of the cool new systems – Cypher System and Powered by the Apocalypse were the favorites.

We talked and said maybe we should get back to a campaign soon.  So after a 5e one-shot, Paul said he’d be interested in running:

  • Shadowrun using the Cypher System
  • Savage RIFTS
  • Dungeon World, using a Paizo AP

After some talking, the “Paizo AP” part swung us over to Dungeon World.  Pauls ent out a SurveyMonkey to vote on which AP and results will be in soon. We’re interested in how it’ll play out without the “level 10+ turns to shit” syndrome of using Pathfinder itself, and how we’ll balance being player driven with having an AP plot around. Feel free and share, if you’ve done so!

Geek Recreation Day: Boozin’ and Streamin’

man_high_castle_tv_series_mapIn a somewhat-of-a-stretch Beastie Boys homage, I thought I’d bring you all a geeky report on the televisual marathon some of our gaming group just had…

  1. The last episode of the first season of Man In The High Castle, the “the Axis won” Amazon alternate history series based, as is everything else, on a Philip K. Dick story. The series is pretty good, we want season 2 to come out!  The finale was – well, not quite as murderfesty as the end of a Mario Puzo novel, but still reasonably dramatic. For this, we drank two Apple Brandy Spritzers (pronounce it really German-ey! Apple brandy and club soda.).  Last time we watched this series we went to the liquor store trying to find German and Japanese booze, and it was an eye opening experience, because they don’t have any that’s any good.  (Beer and sake don’t count). We’re not frat boys so we’re not drinking Jagermeister or Goldschlager, so some questionable German brandies and some sake were all we could muster from our friendly Twin Liquors.  Even in the show the Nazis drink “American brand whiskey.”  Perhaps their lack of decent distilled spirits was the bond that brought the Axis together (same deal with the Italians – Galliano?  Campari?  They all taste like ass juice.). The powers of gin, vodka, and whiskey came together to tamp their evil asses back into place. Let that be a lesson to you.
  2. Next, a shot of Patron Roca tequila and the pilot of the Amazon series of The Tick.  A lot higher budget and more actioney than the previous ill-fated Patrick Warburton live action adaptation.  Not quite as cool as the cartoon version – the actor for the Tick only 80% sold me on it. He was saying the quotes, but saying them and not feeling them. I’d like to see a full season, but with some Tick improvement.
  3. Then, some Courvosier and the Amazon pilot of Jean Claude Van Johnson, a weird show where JC Van Damme plays himself, but himself as kinda retired and washed up, both from movies and from being an actual black ops agent called “Johnson.” He gets back into both chasing an old flame, to mixed results.  It was entertaining enough but it was a very odd tone – and I don’t think that tone would be sustainable over a series, I think it would inevitably go goofy serial Burn Notice or something, so I don’t think it is a go.
  4. We decided to graduate to movies.  The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse was entertaining since I was a Boy Scout in my youth, and zombies, and just enough boobs for an R rating.  Champ from Anchorman is the scout leader and the ginger from Workaholics is the first zombie kill, and Cloris Leachman is the crazy cat lady. That’s it for people you’ll recognize. Not quite Shaun of the Dead, but not Zombeavers or Zombie Strippers bad.  For this, more tequila, now sipping not shooting.
  5. Next up was The Sasquatch Gang.  Like Napoleon Dynamite but not as good, but vaguely entertaining. We had to turn on the closed captions since the blond shirtless guy mumbles the whole way through Boomhauer-style and the chick gets her jaw wired shut and then hiss-mumbles the rest of the way through. It has the kid from Live Free Or Die Hard and a bunch of other people you don’t know except for a cameo by Napoleon Dynamite. (The similarity to N.D. is neither accidental nor subtle.)  It’s about finding Sasquatch tracks and some small town geeks who do the foam-sword thing and Carl Weathers shows up in a cameo as some glory-chasing cryptozoological expert. For this we had to break out a custom drink I call the Krusty the Klown – it’s Southern Comfort and cherry juice.  Tastes like cherry cough syrup.
  6. And finally, P-51 Dragon Fighter.  This is a goofy made-for-SyFy type movie where Allied pilots in North Africa fight the newest Nazi weapon, dragons, complete with swastikas tattooed on their wings. By the guy who did Jack the Giant Killer and Sand Sharks (man, Sand Sharks sucked).  This was weirdly uneven.  Some of the acting was really good. The sound work was pathetically awful.  We had to turn off the closed captioning nonetheless since it lagged the movie by a full minute. The CGI was halfway decent.  But the costuming budget was approximately $200 total.  They managed to cobble together one halfway decent Nazi uniform and had sadly blank ones on the two other high ranking Nazis; none of the Allies wore anything other than a tan shirt as best as I can remember. Those who had to drive couldn’t drink for this one; luckily it was at my place so more Krusty the Klowns sufficed till the SoCo was gone.

All went according to plan – as we got more drinks in us, worse and worse movies were entertaining and not trying!  I am not sure any of those three movies are watchable fully sober, and I know the latter two certainly are not.  I feel like I’m not remembering some other drink we had, we did something else sippy with ice early on, but I fear the other 8 or so drinks have elided it from memory. This is over like 8 hours though, so it’s not like we were ultra-snockered. Some ice water and cheesesteaks were involved partway through as well.

Reavers on the Seas of Fate – Season Four Retrospective

I called this season “Family Matters” because it was so family friendly!  Well, OK, it wasn’t family friendly at all.  But the major theme was family.

  • Serpent and his (serpentfolk) wife Samaritha had their egg!
  • The PCs go to help Wogan’s sister and baby nephew in Nisroch!
  • They go back to Staufendorf Island where a would-be wife awaits Sindawe, Serpent’s long lost mother (well, kinda), as well as the bastard children of the pirates from their last raid.

I must say, those who leave family, marital relations, etc. out of their games are missing out. We had some great drama this season of a much more nuanced version that “bad guy gonna blow up world go get ’em!”

This season took more than a year and a half, realtime. In fact, it contains the five year mark of the campaign!

Things I really liked about this season:

  • The PCs returning to Riddleport as conquering heroes, and partying up the place as real pirate players, instead of the hirelings and minions they started out as; dealing with Clegg Zincher as equals, etc. I meant for it to feel gratifying, and like a graduation of sorts. They left as pirate noobs in Season Two and this is their homecoming having made a legendary-scope pirate voyage. They’re unlikely to be back there ever/for a long while so I wanted to wrap it up and put a cherry on top.
  • All of Nidal. It’s crazy spooky and I tried to use every GM technique to bring the suck to life. It’s so bad that even though they could have sold the info for good money, the Araska and Dagger command crews basically agreed to not tell anyone about White Estrid’s approaching attack fleet because “this place needs to get wiped off the fucking map.” And then them having to skedaddle in the middle of the invasion when it all went down!
  • The return to Staufen Manor, and all the bizarre and horrific goings-on, from the erodaemon preying on their greatest desires (including Serpent’s lost mother), to the aasimars who have had iron masks welded to their faces by envy-haunted Amalinda Staufen, to the lacquered bodies of her family and their baby-feast, to the dungeon of amputees that provide meat to feed her new “Ravenous” template. All super jacked up, *and* with the pleasant frisson of the PCs being somewhat to blame for it all.

I liked the Deepmar module OK, but in the end it felt a bit more like filler.  But, I guess the PCs liked it, since they refused to leave before exploring every single nook and cranny of the island. And they got a new love interest for the celibate Wogan – half-orc barbarian Klangin and meek fledgling Nidalese cleric Rucia now both have their eyes set on him, much to his discomfort.

The pacing was also nice, with periods of good honest pirating between the landlubber adventures. The Teeth of Araska and its crew are a major character in their own right, and the PCs spend a lot of time interacting with, training, disciplining, etc. their crewmates.

Sources I used putting together Season Four, besides homebrew:

That’s not a huge amount of published page to get a year and a half out of, but it was well leavened with the PCs’ own plots and my fantasia upon all the published Golarion lore I can get my hands on from the various guidebooks, NPC books, etc.  The deep Golarion lore forms a kind of base layer it all sits on; every trip somewhere has some point of interest or whatnot… Heck the PCs even feel safe asking.  “Oh, what kind of things do they ship out of here?” “Well, lumber goes downriver, primarily darkwood and strangle tree wood.”  “Whoa cool!  Let’s buy some!”  Nowadays for session prep I really just need some notes in Evernote and a Hero Lab portfolio with some NPCs and critters in it, and it all just runs itself.

Player Reflections

Chris (Sindawe) says:

  • I enjoyed the minor missions and the party in Riddleport. But I also enjoyed leaving that place — I had the sense that it was a place we were permitted to touch but not break. And as with all social structures, most PCs don’t have the patience or time to penetrate them without murder and arson. [GM – Heh, it’s pretty appropriate as pirates that being around large settlements where there are consequences for e.g. arson is undesirable. The PCs always needle me about Riddleport being a pirate-started city and it still not letting people go on murder-sprees or burn stuff down… But that’s why the deep blue’s out there!]
  • I liked Deepmar – it had a mystery that we could solve without having something held hostage. Fighting crazy derro was memorable. Mitabu had several moments to shine. [GM – Yeah, this taught me to continue to have a strong exploration element in the game because they really took to it.]
  • I am disappointed that Ed and Ashley didn’t continue gaming with us. [GM – Agreed, Ed hadn’t left quite yet by the end of the season but I think Ashley had, I’ll cover this in a later blog post.]
  • I enjoyed the return to Staufen Manor, though I had hoped to find a baby Sindawe. [GM – I briefly considered this but thought it would be too dark and uncomfortable in what was already one of the darkest sessions to date, apparently I was wrong!]
  • I enjoyed Nidal’s redneck country side and the story around Wogan’s sister. Patrick was given more face time than he wanted and he handled it well. I regret not having Sindawe bathe in the “golden god hot springs”. I also regret that the PCs were not called upon to commit atrocities that guaranteed the sister’s noble position. [GM: Yeah, Patrick is a quiet player and I wanted to put him in a lead role for a little bit, worked out well I thought.]
  • We got away with murder in Nidal, which was nice. [GM: Quite so. Seems like a good vacation shirt slogan. “I got away with murder in Nidal and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”]

The other guys didn’t comment in email.  Their feedback is in summary 35, though, where I asked everyone what they wanted less of, liked and wanted more of, etc. going forward.

Red Markets Kickstarter

Another Kickstarter I can’t live without – Caleb Stokes of Role Playing Public Radio has been working on Red Markets, an economic survival zombie horror game, for a while…  Check it out here!

I like the premise, once you get other people and settlements in your “survival horror” then it becomes less pure struggle and more economic/class struggle… I’ve been playing a lot of Fallout 4 and it’d be nice to do similar stuff with more realism wrapped around it.

It’s already funded, and it’s all about stretch goals from here on out. The previous two I backed were successful; Savage Rifts made $438k and Unknown Armies made $266k.

Savage Worlds Rifts and Unknown Armies 3rd

Finally the gonzo world of Rifts is not tied to the criminally stupid Palladium system. Savage Rifts is coming and you can get in on the Kickstarter now!

Also, the third edition of the great RPG Unknown Armies is in the offing, also on Kickstarter.

One Shots!

Well, I’m still running regular sessions of Reavers on the Seas of Fate – and session summaries are posted regularly. After we finished Wrath of the Righteous however, we decided to do a series of one shots instead of another campaign on the alternating weeks.

So far we’ve had:

Paul ran a Trail of Cthulhu scenario, Sisters of Sorrow, we were all German WWI U-boat crew. We liked the GUMSHOE rules fine, though less fine when combat started. The jury’s out whether plain BRP CoC is just as good. In general this felt like any Cthulhu scenario, which is good for those of us that like Cthulhu!

I ran a high concept game – XCrawl (dungeon crawling as modern spectator sport) using the Dungeon World rules. All the characters were tributes to recently deceased celebrities, so we had The Goblin King (David Bowie), Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), Rochefort (Christopher Lee), Mirror Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Rowdy Roddy Piper (himself), and LEMMY!!! (Lemmy Kilmister).  It was fun, though of course very “dungeony,” we discussed that a campaign of XCrawl would need to have a lot of “between the crawls” segments  to be engaging. The Dungeon World rules were good (game fiction focus, GM doesn’t roll) but we felt them kinda sparse for long term play, and the 2d6 vs flat # mechanic seems like it’ll tip to “succeed all the time” once a couple levels are gained.  We enjoyed it for a one shot however, and I feel that like Feng Shui, this is a game you play to improve how you run/play other games.

Bruce ran “The Silver Mountain Shrugs,” a Runequest 6 adventure set in the Taskan Empire.  This was also fun, though the pregen PCs weren’t totally balanced.  The core RQ rules are BRP based so were mostly easy, even the spells, but then there were these “combat effects” that were a bit overcomplicated and also made magic seem flat in comparison. There’s “an app for that” apparently but I think the group overall isn’t totally sold on the ruleset. The Taskan Empire setting is fine, if turgid and overcomplicated in the usual way for RQ settings (we all just thanked the Lord it wasn’t Glorantha, mainly because Bruce’s completely incomprehensible Glorantha anecdotes cause several of us to start twitching).

Next week Tim is running Numenera, the game ‘we all want to like but have no idea how to run it because the setting’s so weird.’  Reminds me of Skyrealms of Jorune, anyone remember that?  Well crafted but somewhat inaccessible.

And more will come, including Gaean Reach and Eclipse Phase!  We’re not doing session summaries of all these, though we’ll try to do some.

D&D 5e Now Under Open Gaming License

Well will wonders never cease!  After revolutionizing the hobby by releasing D&D 3e under the Open Gaming License, Wizards performed the double (self) threat of publishing a new version people didn’t like and refusing to open license it. 5e came out a good bit ago and no word on license had been forthcoming, which led me to believe the “suits that don’t get it” were still calling the shots and it’d stay closed.  Of course, at the same time people were getting more comfortable with the real limits of copyright law and what the old OGL let you do so were happily publishing adventures and such. But now, out of silence, looks like someone (Mike Mearls?) has pulled off a miracle – and the OGL is back for 5e.

You can download a combo OGL and SRD (weird) from the Wizards site in PDF.  The format sucks, but I’m sure someone will HTML that puppy up post-haste, d20pfsrd style.

Warning to the OGL noobs: this doesn’t mean anything in the books is open, just the stuff that is designated in this SRD. But it is 398 pages worth of stuff, and that’s a lot! (See my old post Open Gaming for Dummies if you want more of an intro.)

So that’s cool news – but they have something else too. The “Dungeon Masters Guild” is more like the old d20 SRD but with a bit of the Traveller “Foreven Free Sector” license to it. It lets you:

  • Write stuff for D&D (5e only)
  • Write stuff in the Forgotten Realms (and maybe more to come)
  • Sell it via their OneBookShelf powered ecomm site at www.dmsguild.com (and split the $ with them 50/50)
  • More details here

A smart business move from Wizards?  Hell is surely freezing over.  By letting people publish, and then saying “hey… Want to use our sales/marketing channel with reviews and stuff, for a 50/50 share?” they are going to make a large amount of free money especially from hobbyists. And they aren’t doing the tech themselves, which has been the Achilles heel in every damn thing they’ve tried to do over the last say 30 years (their track record with tech is something like 0 for 12).

What do I want to see come out of this?

  • More adventures
  • More content
  • Ideally open up other IP too, for Greyhawk, Planescape, etc. (seems like mostly free money for them)
  • Them to make money so the concept of open licensing and sharing stops becoming “scary newfangled talk grognards don’t get” and becomes de rigeur

I love Paizo too.  What should they do in response?

  • Publish the cool Pathfinder classes for 5e, so I can be an occultist or witch or whatever without dealing with the rules weight of Pathfinder – my play group is starting to wander because holy crap level 16+ Pathfinder is a lot of work for 15 total minutes of real fun per game session
  • Publish Pathfinder 2e (Pathfinder Basic?) using the 5e rules (same deal)!  I’d buy it.
  • Paizo to do something exactly like the DMs Guild so people can publish Golarion stuff – again, free money and spreading the brand.

I mean, Wizards didn’t just do something good here, they are blazing new ground (well, the Traveller Foreven Free Sector license did a little of the “OK you can use our precious precious game world, but not tied to the sales and marketing channel)!  I sweat them hard when they do boneheaded things, which over the last decade has been a lot, but I give credit where credit is due, and this is awesome!