Friday, January 30, 2015

Brainstorming through Rumors

Years ago (I was still in Japan, so eight maybe?), I started writing down random rumors for a dungeon on the back of an unused worksheet during a break period.  The list grew over the next two or three days, and in the end I went through it and started using the ideas to work up my first attempt at a Megadungeon.

That first attempt wasn't very satisfactory, but when I went about re-creating the dungeon, that list of rumors remained the core of many of the ideas in the version that saw play a couple years ago.

Starting with rumors was a novel innovation for me.  Usually, I'd create the dungeon from general idea to map to key to rumors.  Starting with the rumors gave me more creative freedom.  Not only did I have lots of cool ideas (and some not so cool) to work with, but I didn't have to waste any of the extra ideas, as the ones I didn't use could be used as false rumors.

Now, I've just about finished my house rules for GamMarvel World, and I've written a few rumors and have finished the first location (map thanks to Dyson Logos, key by me) based on one of the rumors.  Because this is a wilderness sandbox, I want all of the rumors to at least point to some sort of adventure (even if the rumor is partially or completely false), so I'm not creating nearly as many.  I've got a handful at the moment, and plan to come up with more over time as some rumors get followed, and others are decided not worthy (or the players miss their chance).  A half-dozen or so rumors leading to some sort of interesting place or ruin of the Ancients or faction stronghold gives plenty of choice to the players.  Plus, they always have the default option of just loading up on supplies and striking out for parts unknown.

With XP for exploration and loot acquired instead of monsters defeated and loot acquired, this final option may end up more popular than it normally would be.  Of course, that means I need at least a skeleton of an idea about certain important locations, and an ability to come up with minor adventure sites on the fly.  I may try to prep a few small encounter areas and NOT put them on the map just for that purpose.  Then I can add "Unknown Ruin" to the wilderness encounter charts and pull out one of these when the players run across them.

All in all, I think this campaign will go well, as long as the players' interest remains high.  And I'm hopefully striking the right balance between too much and too little prep.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A trippy idea

This is an odd train of thougth post, and I'll try to keep it brief.  If you don't like odd train of thougth posts with little to no game mechanics support, feel free to stop reading now.

Scrolling through my blog list, I see this picture:
It's the cover picture used for the Pits and Perils game (I don't have it yet), reviewed by Brendan at Necropraxis.  This post here has nothing to do with Pits and Perils, but the picture is important.

In old tales, in particular some of the Arthurian tales usually included with the Mabinogion, sometimes the heroes really are larger than life.  Yes, the heroic characters are literally LARGER than everyone else.  I don't have my Penguin edition handy because I'm at work, but I remember one story where Arthur appears some time in the future and remarks on just how small the knights have become compared to his time.  View it as a "things were better in all ways during the Golden Age" sort of mindset.

What if, in games like D&D, this were also literally true?  Why do adventuring types like the PCs gain experience points and get more powerful?  Hardier in combat and better able to dish out damage?  At higher levels, able to go toe-to-toe with dragons and giants?  Could it be because they're just plain different from everyone else physically? 

"Rolf the Mighty stood 10' tall if he stood an inch!"

I'm not proposing any sort of game mechanics changes related to this concept.  It would all be "fluff" but it could be evocative fluff for the right sort of "mystical, mythical, fairytale" sort of game environment.  And my mismatched scale collection of minis would sorta make sense finally.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Where are the bullets?

Josh, of the old Board Game Group, is planning on running a post-apoc game via play-by-post, and I've signed up to play.  He selected the Darwin's World RPG, a game based on d20 Modern, as his ruleset.  He likes it because it dispenses with a lot of the silliness of Gamma World, like mutant plant and animal characters.

I've gone over the book (in .pdf) and created a character.  So far, it looks like a decent mod to Modern, which is a d20 game I always enjoyed, even if most of my play-groups back in the heyday of d20 System preferred D&D (and now Pathfinder). 

The thing is, this is the second game I've looked at recently in which the price of bullets/ammunition is nowhere to be found.  The first was the free OSR Western game, Go Fer Yer Gun!  GFYG is a nice little mod of BX D&D to the Western genre.  I'd like to take it out and play sometime.  Again, most of the people I play with like to stick to fantasy or SF though, and I've got other plans at the moment, so I'm not gonna be running it soon.

So, neither of these games tells you how much your bullets cost.  Darwin's World goes a bit overboard on the d20M gun-porn thing, giving all sorts of firearms (luckily not all of the Ultramodern Firearms book's guns though).  But no where can you find bullets for them.  GFYG is simpler, giving general classes of weapon (light revolver, heavy revolver, etc.) but still no bullet prices.

GFYG I don't mind so much.  First of all, it's a free game.  I tend to cut free games some slack.  Hell, there are mistakes and ommissions in Flying Swordsmen I plan to fix eventually.  Nobody's perfect.  Also, since it's historical, with a bit of research I could probably find out how much bullets actually cost back in the 1880's if I wanted to.

Darwin's World is another story.  First, some of you might be saying, "Hey Gwydion, it's d20 Modern based.  Just look for the prices there!"  And here's why that won't work.  d20M uses an abstract Wealth Score system to avoid having to figure out how much your college loans, credit card bill, mortgage, allimony, etc. run you each month.  It's a heroic (cinematic) system and accounting is rarely heroic or cinematic.  Darwin's World, being post-apocalyptic, uses cash.  And I've got a feeling just converting the "purchase DC" to cash wouldn't be right, since bullets would be premium items in the post-apocalypse. 

The real reason DW's ommision bothers me where GFYG's ommision doesn't is the fact that DW is a game you have to pay for.  It's $12 in .pdf or $30 in print (2nd edition).  If you're gonna charge people money for your game, I'd expect such a glaring error to be fixed before it goes on sale.  Am I expecting too much?

Or maybe it's there somewhere but I'm not finding it due to the nature of skimming a .pdf.  It's not on the equipment tables.  It's not in the gun descriptions (Flying Swordsmen does 'hide' ammo costs there -- I did that to save space with the charts).  I've done a search for "ammunition" and got plenty of descriptions of guns that use odd ammo, but no prices.  If anyone who has (or created?) the game knows where they are, please let me know!

Anyway, it's Josh's problem to fix for his game.  I just hope my telekinetic mechanic Rastafarian can afford some bullets for his M16 before the game starts.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Of Linguists and Linguistics

In D&D, and to be honest every RPG game I've played where I can remember the rules for languages, it comes down to a binary distinction regarding languages.  You either know the language, or you don't.

Of course, as a language teacher and language student, this it completely unrealistic.  I'm at the moment studying to take the TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) next Sunday, and my goal is to pass Level 3 of 6.  Not super high, but I'm about at that level despite living in Korea for just shy of seven years. 

My parents both speak Spanish (they met at a Peace Corps recruiting seminar, where they were both speakers about their experiences - Dad in Bolivia and Mom in Peru), so I picked up a smattering as a kid.  Slightly more than the average American picks up due to what's been appropriated into U.S. English.  Not a lot.

In High School, I took two years of French.  I don't remember much, but every now and then I can figure out a bit of written French on the side of a cafe's mug or on someone's t-shirt.  [I may be a 4th level Thief?]

In college, I took a year of Spanish, but I was in the non-major/minor course, with all the soccer players and whoever just needed some language credits to pass.  Using my childhood vocabulary and high school French vocab/grammar, I got "A"s for two semesters, and my Spanish is about as poorly developed as my French.

After suffering/coasting through those two Spanish courses, I switched to Japanese.  Talk about a change!  Japanese was a challenge, but I persevered through three years (six semesters) of Japanese.  Then I went and lived in the country for a decade.  During that time, I managed to pass Level 2 of the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) [In Korea, high is better, while in Japan low is better].  Not too shabby.  If I hadn't been lazy, I probably could have improved to JLPT Level 1 (near-native level).  But I was lazy and Level 2 is pretty darn good for someone not working in translation or other fields where mastery of the target language is necessary.

When I hit Korea, my first son was just about to be born (my wife, who is Korean, wanted to be with her family when she gave birth so we left Japan), and I entered an intensive Korean language course.  For 20 weeks, I crammed two years worth of Korean study into my head.  It was too fast of a course, and spending three months back in the States after it didn't help cement what I learned in my mind.  I've struggled to improve my Korean, but the struggle is mostly one of motivation.  Koreans don't seem as willing to help foreigners learn their language as the Japanese are, and with my wife as a crutch, I can get by on my just barely TOPIK Level 3 language ability.

Why all the personal history of my language study?  How does this apply to gaming?  Yes, I'm finally getting back to that.

If I were an RPG character, which of these languages would be on my character sheet?  I'm functionally fluent in Japanese, so that would definitely be there.  How about Korean?  I'm able to perform basic functions in my day-to-day life, sometimes with a bit of effort.  But I only get the gist, if that, of what they're talking about on the news or the plots of TV dramas.  Is that enough to count in a binary "know it/don't know it" system like D&D?  French and Spanish are languages I'm only passing familiar with.  They probably shouldn't be on the sheet.  But yet, every now and then, I can understand a bit, or remember a song or a few basic sentences.  If I were to travel to a country that speaks either language as a tourist, I'd have few troubles shopping, finding landmarks, etc.

Now, here's the real question.  In an RPG, is this level of granularity of detail worth the effort it takes to implement?  Does it add to the fun of the game? 

Miscommunication can be a good tool for creating dramatic tension or comedy, but is it fun at the table?  Would a system of unfamiliar (0), familiar (1), functional (2), fluent (3), native (4) be worthwhile?*  How to adjudicate it? How to keep it fair when the DM can just decide that while my Harpy is "functional" the harpy's Common is "native" so we just use Common?  How do we adjudicate miscommunications when the goblins are yelling at us, but my Goblin is only "familiar"?

I think the answer lies in the fact that for forty years now, D&D games have been going on just fine with a binary "know it or not" system of language.  Just like how on TV, the aliens or foreigners always seem to speak English, it's a convenient time-saving device that allows us to get on with the fun, rather than stop the action to figure out just how much of your broken Giantish the Frost Giant understands before he tries to pound you into pulp.

*I remember reading a system like this either in a d20 game, or just as a home brew system to implement for d20 games on, I think, the forums back in the heyday of d20 System.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Year in Movies

I don't remember if I got around to this at the beginning of 2014 or not, but I do like to take a look ahead each year and post my thoughts about the upcoming sci fi, fantasy, horror or martial arts movies that I'm looking forward to, or that are getting talked a lot about. 

First up, in February, is Jupiter Rising.  Now, to be honest, I've not seen the trailers for it, or read much about it, but I've heard from friends that it looks good, or at least interesting.  Military sci fi is something I enjoy so this should be a no-brainer for me.  We'll see if the child care schedule allows me time to go see it, as I'm not sure it's something I'd take my older son (just shy of 7 by the time this comes out) to see.

Unless I'm missing some info, there isn't anything else I'm primed to see coming out in the Spring until Avengers: Age of Ultron (May in the U.S. but I think the Korean premier is scheduled for late April).  This is pretty much the big, gotta see it movie of the year for me (yes, even counting that other major franchise piece coming in December which I'll get to shortly).  And my older son, as well.  He was born just before the first Iron Man movie came out, and pretty much from the time he was old enough to watch movies, he's been watching the MCU.  If Whedon and crew do as excellent a job with Age of Ultron as they did with the first Avengers movie, I'll be in heaven.

Right on the heels of Avengers 2 is Mad Max Fury Road.  This also looks like it's going to be an adrenaline-pumping action extravaganza, and well, I'm in that "prepping for Gamma World" post-apocalypse sort of mood.  The only hang-ups will be that it's so close to Avengers, and that I doubt I'll take my son to see it as it looks too intense for him.  While I'd love to see this on the big screen, I'm afraid I may have to wait for a small screen viewing at my leisure later in the year or sometime next.

In June, B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations looks like a good kid-friendly movie to take my son to (although the plot seems to be heavily reminiscent of RIPD).  However, the big June movie is Jurassic World.  My boy has only seen the first Jurassic Park so far but he enjoyed it.  Maybe I'll find some time to work in JP2 and 3 before this comes out so he'll be up to speed (not that you need to be to enjoy dinosaur rampage movies).

July gives us Terminator: Genisys.  A soft reboot of the franchise, using the built in time-travel/manipulation of time lines theme of the originals to recreate the first movie with a meta-twist?  That's actually a great way to do it, IMO.  Plus it will be fun to see Arnold as the Terminator again after all these years. 

Ant Man is also coming in July.  Not sure on this one.  It's MCU, so I'm sure Flynn and I will go see it.  And they're using the second Ant Man, the thief/electrician rather than Hank Pym, which I guess is because it will make the character more sympathetic.  Hank Pym is a royal ass in the comics, which is why I'd love to see him in the MCU, but maybe it wouldn't fly in the 21st Century with wider audiences.  Not super high on my 'must see' list, but I'll probably try to check it out just to stay up to date on the MCU's "stage three."

Oh, and they're remaking Poltergeist.  I'd rather rewatch the original than waste time on an "update" of this classic.

In August, we have the Fantastic Four movie.  From everything I've heard about this, it's going to be a piece of shit that makes the Jessica Alba/Michael Chiclis/Chris Evans/whoever it was that played Reed FF movies look good (I found them just barely entertaining enough to not feel cheated, but not overly impressed).  This new one is the first movie from a Marvel-related franchise that I'm skipping on purpose since Amazing Spider Man.

Now later in August, will come Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2: The Green Destiny.  That's a major must see on my list, but I'm afraid I'll have to wait a bit.  Locally I'm sure it will only play in Chinese with Korean subtitles.  I'll have to wait for an English sub or dub (preferably sub) version.  Bummer.

September, nothing looks like a must-see.  October as well.  The Frankenstein remake with Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) as Igor might be interesting, but I'm guessing that will be a "wait for VOD" type movie for me. 

In November, we have SPECTRE, Daniel Craig's latest Bond flick (his last, I think rumors have it).  I still haven't seen the previous one.  I'm kinda over Bond.  I was big into him in the years just after college.  Now, meh.  Then again, if they're bringing back SPECTRE them I may just want to see it anyway, but again probably not until VOD.

Finally, in December, we get the other "biggie" of the year, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.  Hell yes I'm going to see this, with Flynn of course.  I'm looking forward to it.  The prequels were crappy, but had a lot of fun elements to them.  I'm not overly fond of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movies, but hopefully he can do better with Star Wars.  Fingers crossed this will be good, and get Star Wars fever going in a new generation of kids.  And not having invested much mental space in the "expanded universe" of comics, novels, games and what-not, I couldn't care less how much it meshes or not with all of that.  It'll be Star Wars on the big screen again, and I hope it's fun.  It'll be Flynn's first chance to see a Star Wars movie on the big screen as well, so how could I miss it?

There you have it folks.  Movies I'm likely to see this year, and a few I will skip or wait to see.  Lots of sci fi, not much fantasy.  How are your expectations for movies this year?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Tale of Trees

Last night, I participated in my first gaming session of 2015, and the first game I'd gotten to play at all in a while.  This was Dean's 4E Eberron Game, which is a weird, fractured fairy tale Eberron, using 4E rules but without a grid.

I reprized my character from...what, a year or two ago?...Ryuden Kenjumon, a Githzerai Swordmage whose Astral Monastery has materialized in Eberron.  One nice thing about 4E, it really allows you several options for wuxia style characters.  The Swordmage is a Fighter-type class (Defender) with the ability to spontaneously enchant their sword with elemental magic effects. 

Jeremy was playing an Orc...surprise!  He was using the 4E Essentials Fighter/Slayer build to be more of an "orcish assassin" with a huge honking blade.  If you know Jeremy's art work from his Omegapointilist Studios, you'll know what sort of vibe he likes.  Big muscles, bigger weapons.  [And I like to tease Jeremy on this.  I'm actually cool with him playing the big muscle-bound dude with big weapon almost all the time.]

The other two players have been playing in Dean's game a long time, but it was the first time I'd played with them.  Brad plays Rhea the (Human?) Witch.  Not sure which actual class he plays, but she's ancient and feisty and swears like a sailor.  Jason plays Jade the Half-Elf Ranger. 

Our adventure had us on the road to the Tower of Prophecy, but there was this huge, semi-unnatural tree along the path.  The tree had leaves with arcane symbolism on it, and after much debate and experimentation, we finally climbed the tree (well, Jade and Ryuden did) and we saw an enormous bear heading toward another tree in the distance.  We collected some leaves and acorns and headed on our way.

That next tree was all sparkly and "fae."  It had a sickeningly sweet odor to all but Jade, who thought it was excellent.  This was an oversized apple tree with glowing rainbow colors and firefly-like sparks in the air around it.  We gathered some fruit from it and continued on after a brief debate about whether to camp under that tree or not (we decided not, obviously).

The third tree was a strange, dead thing with screaming faces in the trunk.  Surrounding it were ghosts, including that of Ralex the haughty NPC Fighter from our Vaults of Ur game and one of Thidrek's chickens.  Rhea's ghost also appeared, as did a drow that attacked the Orc (trying to remember his name, Azog or Atrog, or something like that).  The attack froze him in ice, but a timely assist from my Swordmage and a critical hit ended the ghostly threat.  We gathered a branch and set out to the next tree.

This one was a hellish, burning thing.  And it was inhabited by demonic birds.  There was a crane-like ground runner, a gorilla-owl, a flying squirrel-turtle, two baboon-sparrows, and two monkey-birds.  This was the big set-piece combat encounter for the night, and true to form for 4E, even without the grid the combat took a long time.

In fact, it took so long that Jason had to log off (we play on G+ Hangouts) after only one round, so Dean decreed that his PC ran off, horrified by the tree, and one monkey bird thing followed him.  That left three of us versus the remaining six bird-demons, and it was a tough fight.  We were all low on HP at the end, with Ashrog having dropped and recovered due to a 20 on the saving throw.  We put our various powers to good use, though, with Rhea "controlling" the enemies, Atorg "striking" for big damage, and Ryuden "defending" with his good AC and high hit points.

The Prophecy in the game involves the "Seven Realms" and these trees were obviously representative of the first four, Eberron, Faewild, Shadowfell, Underworld.  So we've got trees for the Dreamlands, Far Realm, and Celestial Realm coming up before reaching the Tower.  While I don't like how slow 4E combat can be, I think I'm going to try and make it for the next session just because I dig Dean's quirky take on Eberron.