Saturday, April 25, 2015

Do you like movies about gladiators?

We rented the "movie" Pompeii from the library. When it was over The Wife turned to me and asked, "Why did you do that to me?"

It wasn't even 'so bad it's good'. Sometimes you can really feel when a movie has been over produced and audience tested. Any sense of tension, sex or blood has been bleached completely away, which isn't the best way to go in a film about gladiators in ancient Rome against the backdrop of one of the most infamous volcanic eruptions of all time.

Kit, "you know nothing' Harignton plays Milo who, despite his Conan-like origin and reported skill as a gladiator, still grows up to look more like your sister's emo boyfriend.
He really gets 'Vampire Weekend', you know?  
Through an unlikely series of coincidences, he is forced to fight in the arena of Pompeii - at exactly the same time as the Roman Senator/General who wiped out Milo's childhood village just happens to be in town to ... buy the arena? I think that is his plan. Anyway, all of this happens during the same week as Pompeii's fateful eruption. A game but wasted Keefer Sutherland chews the scenery as best he can, but it mostly falls flat and a little fey. The love interest played by Emily Browning isn't given much to do except consistently look like a bland, confused baby bird.
Cheep! Save me! Cheep!
The whole thing is as boring as trying to come up with yet another simile for boredom. The gladiator fight scenes are rote and not nearly as exciting as any given fight in Game of Thrones, and by the time they actually get to the eruption, most of the CGI budget was spent on arenas and fireballs falling from the sky, that there clearly wasn't enough to make the actual eruption in any way spectacular.

So how much of the film is useful in a gaming setting?

Mostly this guy. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaj plays the improbably named gladiator, Atticus (which means, 'man from Attica, or the Athens peninsula'. Does he look like he comes from Athens? That fact check me 30 seconds on Google. Professional screenwriting producers are morons).

He happens to be one of my favourite 'hey that guy!' actors, and he's great for character or NPC portraits.
This is is from a much better movie! Use this instead
And there are maybe a couple of screen shots of the city or area might help if you need something like that in a game, but there are lots of better films and even real life images you could use instead.
Definitely use this instead.
The most useful thing about the movie, game-wise, is the concept. As far as I know, there is no adventure module out there that involves a mission during some sort of destructive, city wide calamity, but there probably should be.

Final Recommendation?
Watch the Doctor Who episode 'The Fires of Pompeii' instead. Its much more fun, has a lot more ideas and it is considerably shorter.
Just watch this instead.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Prince of the Apocalypse

I swear that one of my old gaming group ran us through a variation of exactly this during an Amber campaign. So in honor of his birthday, dearly beloved, we post this here today 2 get through this thing called, life.
The Artist

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Savage RIFTS: Do the Rules Make the Game?

We played the shit out of RIFTS. In retrospect, that was the only way to play it. The whole thing was a masterclass in nineties awesomeness where you could happily mash together anything and have it still make sense in context. The premise of the ame was that a world-wide nuclear war creates so much death that the resulting psychic fallout re-opens the dormant, magical ley-lines that crisscrossed the glob. And where those lines crossed, extra-dimensional Rifts opened to allow anything to cross through. That was the whole point. Wanna play a psionic, cybernetic Elf? On RIFTS Earth, that was strictly amateur hour. 
Put this in the pilot seat of a mecha made of alien dragon hide, and you're getting closer. 
It was awesome.

It also had some of the worst rules I have ever played and we played it for years. I ran campaigns that lasted for months, I played in dozens of my buddy's games, we created spin offs (one was a fighting game we simply called Arena) ... and after all that and I could not even begin to tell you how it was played. We usually just rolled what we thought was best. I do remember that mega-hit points were called MDC, player characters were called OCC and RCC (big on acronyms), and that skills were percentile rolls, and that my main character was a four-foot round, teleporting circus acrobat that could summon a blazing psionic sword and I am absolutely not kidding about that. 

Show this to a member of my old gaming group, and they will cut you.
Things came to a head when we realized that even basic combat would take entire game-sessions to resolve, consisting of endless rounds of dice rolled in a race to see whose 6D6x100MDC mega-rockets would deplete the opponent’s 200,000MDC armour the fastest. I think the last straw was a fight were we realized that the entire battle was played out as two mega-alien-cyborgs standing five feet apart and just unloading nuclear missiles at each other.
Like this, only boring. 
The rules were clearly too fecked to play anymore, but by this point we'd spent thousands of dollars on supplements and had racked up some crazy gaming stories to bore our spouses senseless with when we get together for summer BBQs. So what did we do? One (clearly sexless) month, a buddy and I came up with a conversion system that took the glorious hot mess that was RIFTS into the relatively streamlined rules of our other main game; WEG D6 Star Wars.

Then we played the new system and it actually worked. In fact it worked better. WEG system has to take into account Jedi and Star Destroyers and Ewoks, so the system already has rules for scaling up or down, and this had the side effect of making humans and other 'squishy' (RIFTS' actual term for non-superhuman races) characters a playable option, probably for the first time since the game was published.
According to the official rules, this happens exactly six seconds
after you choose to play a regular human character. 
I think we played it for about a term. While it was fun, something about it just wasn't RIFTS. By streamlining the rules, the gonzo quality that had been part of the game was gone. It wasn't conscious decision, we just kinda stopped playing it and eventually none of my RIFTS books survived my cross country move.

Why bring this up?

According to the rumour mill RIFTS is going Savage Worlds. But will it survive? Just how linked are a game's world and it rule-system? Will new players even care that it used to have a completely unworkable rules system? Will it still feel like the same RIFTS to veteran players? This is going to be a very interesting development to watch.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Roll 4/20!

Topless Robot has 8 Nerdy Strains for you to to enjoy on 4/20

And this blew my mind. Who said stoners can't be productive?

On Being a Gaming Hipster

I was expressing some unkind thoughts on the new Star Wars trailer when The Wife called me a 'Geek Hipster.' She was trying to illustrate the fact that all my geek interests are at least 20-30 years out of date ... 

.... so obscure as to be almost non-existent,
The Middleman
No Heroics
... or both.
Blake's 7
Wizards and Warriors
She isn't wrong, but what I was really lamenting was the lack of anything NEW in geek culture (I know I'm generalizing here, so go easy browncoats). Even the current glut of super-hero films and tv, while surprisingly good in some ways (and terrible in others), are often just re-tellings of comics that I read a kid. There is also a cold marketability in these things that I find off-putting, and this is coming from one of the generation who spent every Saturday morning for 14+ years watching six hours of toy commercials.

Then I saw my game shelf, which looks something like this,

The difference is that while I feel that mainstream pop culture has started to eat its own tail, the gaming industry is producing new games almost every week. I watch kickstarters and read reviews and am constantly amazed by what is produced. So why don't I collect them instead of older stuff? I think it comes down to three reasons.

The first one is that I don't have the time to play with group anymore. I moved away from my old group and I've been to busy to find another group. As much as I might like to, there isn't much point in hoarding Pathfinder materials unless I had someone to play with. 

The second is cost and storage. When you're younger, it seems easier to blow your paycheque on movies, and DVDs and new games. When you have a mortage and a car and bills, that seems to get harder and you begin to become a little more discriminating in what you collect. And despite some pretty massive purges, I've still got boxes of books, toys and games in the garage that I need to sort through. 

Finally, there is pure nostalgia. I'm generally not a fan of rose-coloured reflection, but I like re-reading, re-exploring old game books. There was an anything goes quality to the rpgs in the early days that lasted up until sometime in the mid to late nineties when irony and /to-the-xtremeness/ became the norm. By then, the original gamers were too old to spend Saturday nights in their parents basements or form D&D clubs at school. Besides, did you know they had this thing were you could use your computer to call other computers? It wasn't until (the corrected date of) 2000 when D&D3 was released that the hobby experienced any sort of renaissance. Only now the designers knew what they were doing; the concepts of what made an rpg had already been mapped out and people are now more conscious when they tinker, restore, stretch or ignore those established elements. While it has produced some amazing stuff, the spontaneity feels gone. 

Or maybe I'm just old.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Sometimes, You Don't Want the Loot.

"What is it?" asked Lumbar the Dwarf. 

Thakko the Barbarian shrugged and pulled another one of the strange and twisted items out of the case.   

Lumbar stood up and looked towards the tall elf who was examining a large glass tank filled with a bubbling green liquid. Something large, pale and bloated floated inside. "Hey Uros, what was this guy suppose to be again?" the Dwarf asked.

"I believe Natu referred to him as a biomancer." The elf said, not taking his eyes from the tank.

Thakko stood up, his hands full items from the case. "What does it matter?", he asked. "A sorcerer is a sorcerer. He's dead now anyway. I took his head clean off with one stroke of my axe, Luwanda. So it's not like he can complain. Hey Lumbar, you think any of this stuff is made out of platinum?"

"Bioz, meaning 'life' and manci meaning, 'magic'. Both derived from the ancient Senilean. This mage studied life itself, Thakko, and take piece out of your mouth." Uros said as he turned to face his companions. "Judging by the creatures we encountered, and from what we have seen in these laboratories, I would guess he had experimented with hybrids, even creating new monsters of a like never seen before."

Lumbar nodded. "Makes sense. That thing that ate Natu was pretty strange. Even for us." 

"And how does one create new life?" Uros asked.

The two stared at him for a moment. 

The elf sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose with two long fingers. "I will give you a hint. Lumbar has a longstanding arraignment with a certain redheaded barmaid at Mrs. Fubb's Parlor. Thakko is much less discriminating, especially after a few rounds and on one memorable occasion was once caught with a stuffed bearowl." 

Lumbar frowned. "Yer a sick elf, Uros. You know that?"

"My own preferences are not relevant here as they are not likely to result in offspring." 

"You mean, all this stuff is for ...?" Lumbar trailed off.

"I believe so, yes."

"What are you guys talking about?" Thakko asked.

The Dwarf looked at him "Put the stuff down. We're leaving." 


"Now, Thak!" 

"Lumbar, I would suggest you to keep your voice down, if I were you." Uros said

"What the hell for? Thak, get that piece out of your mouth!" 

"Because," Uros said, his voice strained. "You don't want to wake him up."

There was a loud crash as Thakko dropped the armload of items back into the chest. "You mean that time with the bearowl when I .... that's what this stuff is for? Why didn't you tell me?"

"What do you mean, 'wake him up', Uros?" Lumbar asked, his hand going to the long knife tucked into his belt. 

The elf drew the long, thin sword from the scabbard on his hip and began to back away from the tank. "I mean, dear Lumbar, that I believe the thing we killed was at best a simulacrum, perhaps a cutting like one might do with a plant. Our real foe is still here. Stand ready, look!"

It was then that the pale, bloated thing in the tank opened all of its eyes. 
Note the spikes

Friday, April 17, 2015

Choice of the Petal Throne

There is a gamebook set in the Empire of the Petal Throne! It's called Choice of the Petal Throne and it is available here.

The reviews I've seen have been largely positive, most siting the density of Tekumel's setting, history and language as the only drawbacks.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Dungeoneer Your Own Fighting Fantasy films! Part 1

“Now you and your friends can create your own fantasy movies! Imagine that you are the director and your friends are the cast of heroes. Will you send them to battle with the evil wizard or recover the Dragon's hoard? The choice is yours, and Dungeoneer makes the exciting world of fantasy roleplaying accessible in a thoroughly user-friendly manner.
“You can start straight away and introduce more complex rules and scenarios as you and your friends gain experience as director and actors. So, are you ready? Then let the camera roll...”

Dungeoneer is an odd book, but a fun one. I’m not even really sure why it exists as there was already a rule book for turning the Fighting Fantasy Gamebook rules into a proper tabletop rpg. That original book seems to be almost impossible to find nowadays, but there was a reboot done in 2011 that I am keeping a very eager eye out for.
The Holy Grail of 1984
So what is Dungeoneer? It is about as an ‘introduction to roleplaying’ manual as you could find. It was intended as a manual for transitioning kids from gamebooks to full-on rpgs. The entire book is structured so that first time players and ‘directors’ can get a game up and running in the Fighting Fantasy world of Titan. It actually does this surprisingly well. The approach reads as a bit hokey, comparing running a game to ‘directing’ a movie, but this really isn’t a bad way for first time gamers to look at it. They set up scenes and learn to build tension, and plot while learning what to cut out. It also makes sense when you remember that this was published in 1989 and invoking images of Conan, Hawk the Slayer, Krull, Willow, Dark Crystal and other films of the time is surprisingly effective. I would have been around just the right age for this when it first came out, and I would have eaten this shit up like Dunkaroos.
I gotta stat these sugar-crack dealing Kangaroos at some point. 
After the standard 'what is role-playing' introduction (girls can play too!), it launches right into a generic adventure called, generically enough ‘The Tower of the Sorcerer’ . This is designed to get the group rolling without the tedious task of learning the rules.  This works well as Fighting Fantasy is relatively rules-lite, and it is always more fun to learn by playing than reading or listening to the GM explain everything.  The adventure itself is pretty bland (climb the tower to rescue the princess. There isn’t even a maze, just a long corridor with optional rooms) and would be a major turn off even for an introductory adventure, except for three things: 

1 It avoids the whole ‘you are approached in a tavern’, or the ‘starts with a battle’ stuff that has become an immediate turn off for me. Tower starts with your group being lead up towards the evil sorcerer's lair by the local garrison. After a quick explanation as to why you’re there to encourage some actual role-play, the adventure gets underway almost immediately.  

2 The art of John Sibbick. I love the art of the FF books, it evokes a real sense of place. Titan comes across as quite a classic fantasy gritty world, more in common with Thieves World than Tolkien, but with a lot more traps and haunted forests.  
3 The adventure end with the heroes stuck at the top of a goblin riddled tower, a new antagonist or two, no way home and the whole world of Titan to explore. There is also a sequel adventure, which you can launch into right away, or you can start playing in your sandbox. If the kid was already a Fighting Fantasy veteran, they would know that there is a whole wide world out there to explore (and adapt). 

Dover Castle

My mother is from Dover and I have visited a few times. Needless to say that I have spent hours exploring this magnificent castle and it is my default when picturing places like Cair Paravel, The Red Keep (before the show), and other big castles.

It was recently used as a setting in the movie, Into the Woods.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Elmore Leonard: 10 rules for Writing

Justified ended last night. If you have not seen it, I strongly recommend you do so ....

I honour of the show, I present Elmore Leonard's 10 rules for writing. The only one I disagree with is 3 (and 4). I've read otherwise great novels that adhere to this rule and I find that it can turn long stretches of dialogue kind of tedious. Nevertheless, they are otherwise good advise to aspiring writers and I love the fact that almost all of these are completely ignored by most genre (especially y/a) authors.

1  Never open a book with weather.
2  Avoid prologues.
3  Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
4  Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”…he admonished gravely.
5   Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per
      100,000 words of prose. (reminds me of what Pratchett said about exclamation points)
6   Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
7  Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8  Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9  Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

The most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

 If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Cooloola Monster

Despite its name, this strange 1 inch creature is actually a distant relative of the cricket. Found in Australia (natch'), it was actually strange enough that they gave it its own family, the Cooloolidae.

It also spends its whole life underground, which makes perfect for diabolical gamemasters. Nothing like telling the player that his 12th level fighter just got munched by a giant, subterranean cricket.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

My New Hero

Miguel Zavala is 3D printing all the monsters from the classic D&D Monster Manual, plus a few other classics ....

The cheque is in the mail!

The only way this could be more awesome is if you could get these as playsets!
Sewer Maze, complete with wall monster action!
Neon Underground Temple, complete with working escalator!
 and of course Chinatown Alley ... with the Porkchop Express!! 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Flea Market Find!

Got them all for $4 (Canadian!). 

I love Gamebooks. I'm terrible at them, but I love playing them. As a kid I hacked and cheated my way through most of the Way of the Tiger, some of the Lone Wolf books and a bunch of the classic Fighting Fantasy. I sold them all off at some point, and now like so many other middle aged men in the grips of terminal nostalgia, I am now trying to collect them again. 

Yesterday the Wife and I went to a local flea market and I found these four little beauties. I got them cheap because unfortunately most of them are in TERRIBLE condition. I bought them anyway because I didn't have any of the Sorcery series yet and because it was honest to glob Dungeoneer! 

Dungeoneer was the Fighty Fantasy RPG. Combined with Out of the Pit (the bestiary), you could run actual tabletop games with your friends in the FF world of Titan (I highly recommend Titan for any fantasy fan). I'm going to through the book and see how viable as an rpg it actually is.