Friday, 31 December 2010

Primeval

Primeval is back as of tomorrow (and here's fifteen minutes of webisode preamble) and has an RPG on the way, adapting the Doctor Who AITAS system.

While it doesn't have the anywhere-and-everywhere of Doctor Who and most of its villains are animals, there's enough to run a few sessions there, I reckon.

Probably more on the backstory than the dinosaur MOTWs, which are a great visual element but would probably be less cool to hang entire sessions on at the gaming table. (Although bringing out one's old toy dinosaurs is always tempting.) Because there's skulduggery in the present (as focused on in the previews), a disastrous future to prevent, parallel timelines which the PCs themselves might be responsible for altering...

And the still-hanging mystery of where the anomalies come from, why they're popping up so frequently here and now. Is time itself about to break down completely?

And dinosaurs.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Pondering

The president of the local game soc posted (on Christmas Day, no less) about how some games have fizzled and some players have moved and so on, so looking at new games and spaces in existing games.

Given that I missed the start of the academic year and the traditional Grab New Players Day, so couldn't get two players to rub together for anything... should I bring along my previously unsuccessful ideas, or something else?

This is partially my traditional "why don't you just run D&D like a normal GM?" problem where not all of my ideas will appeal to the majority of potential players. But, eh, I dunno.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

So, did you get anything gameable Christmas-wise?

My most remarkable gaming-related Christmas present ever would have to be this.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

How would you model the common cold?

Stamina type check, maybe buy a Willpower type check for "I don't have time for this!" determination, with failure resulting in a negative modifier to all rolls for bloody days?

Thinking a bit wider, there's a vast spread of normal diseases that player characters are never in any danger of. I don't recall ever seeing a Call of Cthulhu character with TB, or a Werewolf with lockjaw. If characters get sick, it's A Big Deal, and probably a curse or an alien bioweapon or something.

Mundane illness is generally ignored, left to the players, or maybe the GM could discuss it with them. I can see suggesting something like Buffy, Killed By Death where our hero saves the day while hospitalised with flu.

Monday, 20 December 2010

I can't find what came in at 1 or 2. So presumably actual toys.

D&D is the third best toy ever. According to an online poll. An online poll conducted by Channel 4, and a normal opinion poll as well, but an online poll nonetheless.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Stargate

Stargate Universe was sufficiently different from the setting's happy-go-lucky norm (and probably also sufficiently expensive) that it has been cancelled after two seasons, compared to SG-1's... ten? and Atlantis bumbling along for a fair while as well. This is a bit of a surprise because Stargate is one of the most TV-friendly - and RPG-friendly - notions in serialised SF.

As John Tynes explains here, it's a setup where four or so modern people (with optional weirdo PCs) walk through a door from our world out onto another planet. The basics of Star Trek but happening right now. Narnia with P90s. Doctor Who early on when the Doctor wasn't so uber, playing as UNIT but the monsters aren't usually bulletproof.

They have an adventure and go home. Bish-bash-bosh, job done, expand from there to include arcs and Earth-based conspiracy plots and other stuff if you want to but you can run just that for yeeeears.

My direct experience of it comes not from the Tynes d6 version, but initially from the Alderac d20 version, and after the second week of a single firefight another player demanded we go no further without changing system so at my suggestion we moved to the Cinematic Unisystem conversion and it went fine. I also ran it as a PBP, still fine. So, yeah, not quite yeeeears but not a bad showing.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Sleep-deprived superhero GMing advice

I wrote this at 4.37 a.m. but I think it still mostly makes sense. See what you think.

--

Unless you're writing an adventure for general use, tailor it to the PCs and their power level(s). Put in villains and situations that these particular PCs are equipped to handle better than someone else might be. If one of your PCs is The Fastest Man Alive, some of the problems you throw at him should definitely involve doing things really quickly.

Crank the villains up. Generic goons are fine, but give the villains showoff names, catchphrases, visuals and power effects. These don't have to be good, either - the players in a long-running Marvel game I played in remembered Paste-Pot Pete more fondly than most of his gang.

Include escape routes for the villains. Let the PCs catch some and put them into the unreliable supervillain prison, let others escape due to taking hostages, let your mastermind fall into his own death trap which "nobody could have survived"...

Bear in mind the reactions of the public. Unless the PCs are "plain clothes" supers or "urban legend" characters, they should be on the front page of their local newspaper (run by a larger-than-life eccentric editor) frequently, booed or cheered by the crowds depending on their actions and other issues.

And they're not alone. Unless they're set up as the only superheroes in the setting, have some of the other heroes appear in crossovers. And if they are set up as the only superheroes in the setting, keep that status quo long enough that they'll be surprised when someone else manifests powers like theirs.

Decide if you're going kitchen sink or not. Even in a shared universe, Blade tends not to meet the Hulk or go to the Shi'ar Space Empire. (Although the former would be awesome...) And either way, ask the players for what kinds of future "issues" they'd like to see. You can add your own ideas and interpretations, of course.

And remember, above all else... everything's better with a monkey.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Shakespeare

Watching Macbeth last night spurred on a few ideas, as it always does. Mostly visual ones in this case, as the production is heavily stylised and riffs on the Russian Revolution and Stalin's reign of terror, but it's as good an alternate setting for the events of Macbeth as any.

So, what else could we borrow from the Shakespeare tragedies?

Usurpers: He was fascinated by usurpers, rightful heirs exiled and all that. A good hook for any plot with people in power and people expecting to inherit or claim it afterwards. (A bit inconvenient for the classic power-politics game, Vampire, of course.)

Crimes so dreadful that nature rebels: Signs and portents, storms, horses going mad and all that business. Caused by regicide in Macbeth but these days largely reserved for supernatural activity that draws a supernatural response.

One murder is never enough: As also seen in the work of the Coen Brothers, the killer's best chance to get away with murder is to keep killing people who know too much or ask the wrong questions, and this can spark off a few other motives for killing as well, and eventually the rest is silence.

Prophecy: Being able to write what he will without the players going off in different directions makes it easy to weave in prophecies and have them pay off. A GM generally has to have at least a couple of possible meanings for a prophecy. (And even then, Macduff obviously spent a few Drama Points to "reveal" he was born by C-section. J.R.R. Tolkien so disapproved of this unguessable un-foreshadowed twist that he restaged the final battle with Eowyn, after having the wood come to Saruman's castle much more literally too.)

Ghosts, or possibly not: Most of the time, only the haunted character sees the ghosts... Hamlet's father appeared to other people to begin with, but later only to him, so maybe some of his appearances were just in Hamlet's mind. How to do that with a PC? Talk with the affected character's player away from the others?

The sympathetic monster: There's nothing like a bit of extra time on stage to let us sympathise with the villain. If all we see is the results of his actions, and then meet him at the final battle, we aren't going to see his point of view. Of course, this needs players who don't roll initiative at the first sign of an enemy, like Macbeth and Macduff only have that one scene together.

The unsympathetic sympathetic monster: So, having set things up so that the players spend time in-character with the villain, you have to make sure they still know he deserves stabbing/poisoning/beheading when the time comes. So he's a regicide, he steals his late brother's wife, he spends all his time telling the audience how clever he is...

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Further thoughts on Non-Urban Urban Fantasy

Having now seen Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1 it does in fairness have a couple of standout scenes of the mystical world interacting with the Muggle world - a Star Wars style broomstick chase and battle drops down to earth and carries on along a motorway, and a wand battle in central London - along with long-to-the-point-of-avant-garde periods in isolated wilderness and a chase in a chilly blue-tinged woodland that wouldn't look out of place in Twilight.

Which is another interesting example, viewed from a safe distance. The vampires have divorced themselves from city-based undead society and gone off to a small town in the sticks, keeping their heads down to avoid being smashed to chunks of quartzmeat by the local werefolks. Since it never goes beyond those two monster types AFAIK, the town never needs more areas than a regular small town to contain them credibly.

Unlike, say, Sunnydale, which expanded Springfield-like to become a university town because it needed more room for everything magical and bad to happen there.

Trivia: Twin Peaks has a small-town feel and was apparently originally meant to have a population on its sign of 5,120. This went up by a digit when the show aired, but the town still felt small, despite all the creepiness going on in it, because everybody knew everybody.

When starting a new Buffy PBP, I set it in a semi-real location with a population of 35000. Hopefully, that'll be sufficient.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Well... huh.

Blade: The Series just finished its belated Freeview run last night, and... yeah, it could reasonably be described as a damp squib. Obviously they didn't know that they were going to get cancelled, but Blade not killing the Big Bad when they get into a (very short) swordfight was particularly galling.

On top of the fact that Blade himself was the central character in, what, three of the thirteen episodes, while the rest of the show was about Krista the sad vampire and the Ventrue House of Chthon.

I could also make snarky asides about the Prince boss being an Evil Brit called Marcus Van Sciver, where "Skiver" in British lingo means "habitually workshy", or the fact that the doors make the same sounds from Bloodlines, or that the Geoff Johns episode features the gratuitous impaling death of a minor character, or the assassination of the elders at the Concl- no, it actually is called a Conclave...

Still, there were nice ideas tossed out through the run, the odd nice fight, one of the Bladecentric episodes (the one where he's trying to get a pregnant girl across Europe) is a great example of a "make your Lone Wolf PC look after someone" adventure, and the bit where we see a vampire explode only as reflected in Blade's sunglasses is nice.

And it's a closer adaptation of Vampire, particularly Masquerade, than its own TV show was. Inevitably.

(Also late night, we had the season finale of Merlin. Much better swordfights all round. Great Smallville game using Pendragon as a sourcebook to riff off.)

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Railroading

"Railroading is a pejorative term for a game in which something is accomplished."
Kenneth Hite, Dragonmeet 2010

I suppose it is these days. And yet I still use it. And I use it to mean this:

The GM pushing the players and their characters through a plot that they would otherwise leave.

By this meaning, a plot can be linear of "on rails" without being railroaded, since as SteveD puts it, "Nobody minds the railroad if the view from the carriages is pretty and the destination is Awesome Town." It's a question of whether the GM is dragging you along.

I've been guilty of this... and equally guilty of being entirely reactive and leading to the common joke around our table where the PCs' action is "we wait for external stimuli".

Monday, 29 November 2010

Now is a good time to buy ICONS on PDF. It's one dollar.

Six staples of SF/F series

According to Den Of Geek just about every kitchen-sink genre show hits these six at some point.

The Bodyswap
The Time Loop
Ascension To A Higher Plane Of Existence
Alternate Dimensions
The Doppelganger/Double/Duplicate
The Dream Episode

I only did three of them in the course of The Watch House and the Bodyswap wasn't actually my idea. Mostly because I was sticking with the Buffyverse and there had already been high-profile Ascending, Dream and recent Time Loop episodes. I did do some less common ones, like a Descent Into The Underworld. And admittedly I hit Alternate Dimensions a few times, and that's where our Doppelganger/Double/Duplicate came from. (Which Buffy did as well.)

I naturally had a Time Loop in my Doctor Who game. Who being back as of 2005 might have stopped me doing one in TWH.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Reboot

Tonight, the Buffyverse is in turmoil. And not the fun in-character kind of turmoil either, but the grumpy-inducing out-of-character kind.

Here's why.

Look, if you want happy, go read my Doctor Who blog. It's a birthday over there.

But in a feeble attempt to scratch a bit of silver lining off this big old cloud, let's look at the idea of reboots as they relate to media-type games. They could make for a fun session or miniseries with the same players, as well as the obvious example of running the same game premise for a different bunch of people and using your old game as prep.

Of course, with the same players, a fairly straight retelling wouldn't be much fun, so go with one of the weirder reboot ideas...

--

That Was Then

The simplest reimagining looks back at a real-world or other dynamic setting and moves the characters from the then-present to the now-present. Play up changes in style and attitude.

This is probably funnier done in reverse. What would your modern Vampire game be like in New Wave Requiem, with the players taking on the roles of their normal PCs' sires, and the Prince talking on a phone the size of a book?

--

Darker And Edgier

Hey, it worked for Battlestar Galactica. Look at a grim, dark, or even GRIMDARK element in a less gloomy premise. So a Buffy game becomes World Of Darkness monster hunters, fighting horrific and at times sympathetic horrors in a rainswept city, but turned up to at least 11.

--

Brighter And... Rounder...?

Or go the other way - take a doomy and brutal game and run the cartoon spinoff or not-previously-mentioned cheesy 70s original show, where the characters are happy-go-lucky types and the villains don't kill anybody on-camera.

--

The Summer Blockbuster

Throw your game through some other kind of genre shift for a week or so. For example, crank up the Weird Level and the special effects budget, blow more stuff up, up the pacing of the session drastically. Use a more action-y ruleset. Or do a session of the game as Tim Burton would direct it.

This could even fit into an ongoing series, but might lead to a Jump The Shark moment as the players feel like nothing that follows can top it. (Could you accept Scully rationalising things for another three or four years after The X Files movie with her being stuck in an alien birthing pod in a giant Gigery spaceship in the Arctic? Really?)

--

A New Creative Team

What would the game be like if one of the other players was the GM? There's a danger of learning more than you wanted about how your settings, plots and NPCs are viewed, but seeing your world from the other side of the screen is bound to teach you something. Decide in advance, or in retrospect, if it's canon or not.

--

What If...?

There's got to be some turning point where you had an idea for what would have happened if X hadn't done Y or the PCs hadn't blown up the bridge or... A session looking at the effects of such a change could be interesting, as long as the players involved don't feel like their effect on the game world is being lessened.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Invisible

So I was watching The Spiderwick Chronicles, having previously leafed through some of the books (ooh, ahh, Tony DiTerlizzi art) and (a) it's a modern fantasy out in the country that still includes a fair bit of modernity through the simple use of cars and (b) it features a bit where one of the heroes has to fight invisible goblins using a seeing stone. This a few days after watching Coraline where the film has one of those as well, albeit not in a neat little steampunk eyepatch contraption.

Invisibility and variable visibility is a good visual effect, of course, and using it in the largely verbal medium of RPGs rather lessens the impact. But it can certainly add to a mystery, and as seen here can definitely add to a fight scene.

And of course, in the right circumstances, having the characters having to pass around a seeing stone, or use one in public = fun.

Here's one I made earlier.

Since I'm linking to it over on The Door In Time, I should point to an article on RPGnet about Christmas Specials for games as wot I wrote eight years ago. Most of the links are dead now, of course, and I have since discovered that A Very Star Wars Christmas was thankfully a hoax.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Urban fantasy... or not.

Remember the trailers for the last Harry Potter film with the Death Eaters swooping down on central London and wrecking that fancy foot bridge we keep seeing in Spooks? With the portentous voiceover saying the danger would cross over into our world? Then watching the film and discovering (if, like me, you stopped reading the books when they got bigger than dictionaries) that this was all the wizardy folks did in our world, on their way to trash Diagon Alley?

And I think it was the fifth one that had trailers showcasing a bunch of them on broomsticks flying past Parliament... which was the only shot involving a real-world landmark.

Well, today I saw a poster for HP7.1 with Hermione looking moody in front of Tower Bridge and the tagline "nowhere is safe". Even though I know perfectly well that most of the big action takes place in the Scottish countryside around Hogwarts, I still want to think that it might come through.

It seems that someone making these trailers and posters is (a) out to mess with my head or (b) is, like me, more interested in the juxtaposition of mundane modernity with classic fantasy stylings than J.K. Rowling herself is.

I suppose what I'm getting at is that it makes it feel like a lost opportunity. If you set a fantasy story in the present, keeping most of it in an ancient castle and the misty woods surrounding it rather lessens that impact, even if the viewpoint characters are modern people. I suppose this is why it's generally called "urban fantasy" rather than "modern fantasy", even though the former could easily be construed as including non-modern genre stories about non-modern cities.

Because that last trailer made me want to see a story about an evil wizard in modern London, opposed by the SAS or something. Because that could kick major ass.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Putting down some ideas for Vampire

The Council in charge of London all have their own problems, keeping them from working together as well as they once did. This has given the renegades (a coterie that looks a lot like the Council in demographic terms, but averages a few decades younger) an in to oust them.

Both sides are Invictus.

The Holy Lance of the Hawksmoor Churches and the Circle will probably take opposing sides because of each other rather than their political purposes.

No Carthians or Dragons unless someone wants to play one. Other power blocs in the city (the drug lords and slavers) are covenant-free.

I have a page about prominent mortals in my notebook.

And a page about VII... which is deliberately left blank.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

More on Vampire: smile, you're on camera.

Justin Achilli considers how modern technology could mess up a vampire's existence, while Russell Bailey adds how it could help.

With Requiem specifically, there's the issue of vampires blurring in mirrors and photos, something I'd likely houserule away, particularly for a game set in the UK where we have the most CCTV cameras per head of population of anywhere in Europe. (Or was it the world? Anyway, we have a lot of CCTV cameras.) So you aren't bending the Masquerade every time you step out of your haven, but could potentially break it and be caught clearly on video every time you do something vampiric. So you don't have to be careful just out walking, but you do have to be very careful out hunting.

(It also stops people using cameras as handheld vampire-detectors, as seen in Channel 4's Ultraviolet.)

It's a reminder of why so many horror films these days have that shot establishing that the characters' mobiles don't have any signal, and Let Me In was set in the 80s. And Paranormal Activity is made entirely out of security camera footage.

Icons, then?

Yes kids, Icons. Really simple superhero gaming, complete with an idea-prompting random generation system. It's like coming home, really - the third or fourth game I ever got was Golden Heroes and my first campaign as a player was Marvel Super Heroes Advanced - ah, The Ultimate Powers Book...

So obviously, pretty different thinking than Vampire. I could run both on the same day and they probably wouldn't affect each other notably.

Apart from three months GMing Doctor Who where the short time kept me from going really mad, it would also be my first time returning to GMing a big Kitchen Sink game since running The Watch House. Even more throw-it-all-in, even. "A game where a mutant can team up with an alien and a skilled normal to stop an army of ghosts invading Ape City and that's not an unusual session."

I wouldn't want to do a deconstruction - I'd want a big crazy superhero action game with a bit of heartfelt emotion mixed in with the laser sharks and exploding galaxies.

Probably a new universe.

Maybe a Golden Age setting where the PCs get to be the archetypal heroes of the piece - the Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America - the first and classic examples of certain styles in their world.

Maybe a "modern widescreen reboot" as imagined to be drawn by Bryan Hitch or made live-action with a $250 000 000 budget.

Maybe something slightly odd, like a space opera setting with modern humans interacting with superpowered aliens and fighting a Ming-style space tyrant, probably stuck in a dinky little spaceship.

I dunno. We'll see.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Vampire: The Requiem Trailer

Vampire: The Requiem

Or the 100MB downloadable .dv file version

The product of three or four afternoons over two weeks, the last image for it grabbed from a trailer I saw on Friday.

Only four shots from things that actually have anything to do with vampires, and one of those is the logo and another is people attending the ballet in an episode of Angel. (Which replaced a people-attending-the-opera shot from a recentish version of Dracula because iMovie refused to upload it.) That leaves the Nosferatu types from Blade II and the vampire episode of Alias, and that show also provided almost half the rest of the shots.

Hopefully it conveys a mood with its consistent palette and gloom, and lots of occasionally-superhuman foot chases and unflashy physical violence.

Of course, now it looks like I'm more likely to be running Icons this year...

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Blimey

DWB DriveThru RPG PDF bundle with Hot War, Exalted, Contenders and Icons all for the price of, say, Icons.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

I've been away...

... and when I got back, I found that all the evening games at my local games society were overstuffed, but then the excess players seemed to have vanished with about one exception. Which is a bit annoying, as I had some games in mind...

As a result of going to The Grand Masquerade, I was galvanised to run Vampire The Requiem.

Hell is a city much like London.
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Peter Bell The Third

Friday, 20 August 2010

Is death on the table?

I'll let you into a secret: if I like my character, the feeling that they could die at random makes me uncomfortable.

This can be somewhat awkward in a game like Vampire, where identification should be strong and the sword of Damocles should always be there... but unless you're in a LARP or a chat or some other hordes-of-players situation it should generally only drop if you bring it on yourself.

Conversely, Warhammer is about the only random-chargen game I like because it's seeped into my bones since I was twelve, and while it kicks up fun characters I never feel attached to them. Which is good, because they're doomed.

So I tend to run games where you can kick back and relax and not worry about the dice falling where they may and landing on your character.

So it's kind of odd how many PCs died in The Watch House...

Buffy provides a system where everybody should be safe due to the many ways of avoiding death provided by Drama Points. This lead to people making madly dramatic choices for the PCs including, yes, dying, usually when their player left the game but in one case several weeks of playing a vampire beforehand.

And in another case coming back and playing the same character despite her having died nine months earlier.

In many cases players weren't coming back - two of them were leaving the country - but I do wonder if death being optional made the option more appealing. Without having the constant threat of death, death becomes another narrative thing to try?

Friday, 13 August 2010

So why is it called "The Watch House"?

Because of The Watch House, by some way the longest and for emotional investment best game I ever GMed. I fully expected it to run for about twelve weeks, not six years.

A simple premise, lifted (with permission) from SteveD. Where do Watchers come from in Buffy? Their university years are sure to be pretty formative. Steve set his game in Oxford, so I put mine in Cambridge. Since the show had just ended, I set it five years in the past rather than dealing the fallout of season seven. I joked that if I was still running it in five years I'd have to worry about that... and sure enough, I was, and I did.

A lot of its success was lightning in a bottle - the mix of enthusiastic and creative players throwing in ideas - but there are some lessons a GM can take away.

The Buffyverse is like any superhero universe, open to a wide variety of stories, starting with action-horror-coming-of-age-in-a-funny-way but spreading far and wide. I ran almost-serious ghost stories, love stories, family dramas, flashbacks, flashforwards, perfect worlds, nightmare futures, broad farces, fairytales, killer robot B-movies, multiple-versions-of-a-character adventures, dungeon crawls, descents into the underworld both literal and figurative, and even a behind-the-scenes episode.

The NPC cast may have gotten too big at times, but a fair number of the NPCs were well enough defined that different PCs had different views on them and each had a point.

A system I could run in my sleep (and very nearly did in one convention game when I had a cold) helped too.

Since then I took a year and a half off from big all-in kitchen-sink games, purposely limiting settings to certain styles, and that was interesting... but also generated lots of ideas that wouldn't fit.

Since January I got back on the do-anything bandwagon, and it feels rather like coming home.