Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Game Table Team-Up

Turns out the only comic I actually bought on New DCU Launch Day was issue 1 of Angel & Faith from Dark Horse and Mutant Enemy. (I probably would have bought the new Batman or Action Comics, and have some others tagged for interest, but never mind.)

Angel and Faith have only worked together briefly on-screen, so while giving them a shared byline makes sense due to their connection, it still looks slightly odd on the cover.

Which, inevitably, got me thinking...

What do you do when you only have a couple of the players from the group? Not enough for the regularly scheduled adventure. Assuming you have enough warning not to be sitting there with the adventure ready and wondering where everyone is, you can put a bit of focus on the players and PCs you have.

Would the PCs work together successfully without the others there? (Hopefully the players would...) What can they do in a crisis when the others are unavailable? How much of an "odd couple" would they be?

Then hit them with an adventure that brings out the best and/or worst of them, possibly hauls up any conflicts between them and generally lets them air things they wouldn't with the whole group there.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Universe Is Slightly Different - But Why?

Following on from The Universe Is Slightly Different, we reach the end of Flashpoint and the start of the reboot-in-some-places-renumbering-in-others-try-not-to-think-about-it DC Universe.

One thing I didn't discuss last time was reasons why the universe is reshuffled. Obviously it has to be some pivotal event right at the start of the change, or several events changed deliberately, to have such wide-ranging effects.

i.e. not really what Flashpoint did.

So yes, come up with a solid reason which makes sense, even in a Butterfly Effect kind of way. A central change or changes where the connections hang together logically. If this reader's first reaction is "but that makes no sense!" then it's not a good sign.

Oh well, it did lead to some amusingly wonky not-very-parallel alternative scenarios like "Alaska, Land Of The Undead".

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Pilot Season

I just got back from seeing the pilot of Once Upon A Time. It's a very low-key urban fantasy, apart from some big “wow” flashbacks to the storybook world most of the cast hail from, with nothing much fantastical bleeding into the real world... yet. Still, the people who have been trying to adapt Fables to TV must be spittin’.

But anyways, it got me thinking about recruiting for games, taster sessions, connected or unconnected one-shots and stuff like that. Round these parts (these parts in this case meaning GEAS, the university games society) games run by the academic year, and the first session every year is generally given to one-shots.

I seem to be in a minority here because I tend to run one-shots of the same games I want to run from then on. This seems logical to me at least.

“That was fun, are you running it next week?”
“No.”
“...”

But how much do you put in an intro session, “sizzle reel”, pilot, whatever? Pregen the kinds of PCs who’d star in the game generally, or focus on something else in the setting?

For example, when I tried out my Heroes-y plainclothes supers setting Next Step, low-grade superhumans on the run from sinister government agents was the obvious way to go as that’s what the game would have been about.

But for The Stars On Fire, a military SF game that starts with just-about first contact, should I put that in the not-necessarily-canon intro session? Well, I never ran an intro session for that one, but if I had I’d have done one of the previous contacts where (almost) nobody survived. The game started with the PCs finding one survivor in a wrecked ship, who could have been a PC in the imagined “prologue” game.

Way back when, The Watch House replicated Buffy accidentally a bit more than intended, when in the first session I discovered that generating four characters can be done in half an hour, and needing a plot I stole one I didn’t intend to use. When I lost one of the original players (grrr) and picked up a couple more (yay) next week, I reset with the canonical first episode. Had I actually been planning something like that, I'd have run a Buffy one-shot in that slot instead.

Equally, you want it to be a fun one-shot in and of itself. So my theoretical Buffy one-shot would have involved plenty of monsters, very possibly a BIG monster, and probably the TV characters for ease of use. If I’m running a game like a TV show, the intro week one-shot is less likely to be a “first episode” pilot than a big blow-the-budget standalone episode of the show. More The Christmas Invasion than New Earth. A reasonable taster of the show, but tending to have more monsters and explosions than an average episode.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Genre Awareness, Or Lack Thereof

This page comes from the first issue of Warren Ellis's run of Secret Avengers. Note the character descriptions.

Have you ever been in a superhero game like that? Have you ever been in a superhero game not like that?

I've seen my share of players and characters who stick out like sore thumbs. Generally this is a most significant issue in genre-simulation-y games, which are the kind I run. But then all games have genres, even if they're genres that only exist in those games, and I'm as out of place in a classic dungeon crawl as classic dungeon crawl styles are at my table. But hey, I know that.

Maybe it's because I've played a lot of superhero games, but these seem particularly prone to That One Player. Perhaps because "superheroes" is purposely all-encompassing, in terms of tones and styles as well as powers and backgrounds.

I've had some out-of-kilter PCs in Buffy but I've never had someone try to play a costumed superhero, whereas I've seen plenty of plain-clothes vigilante PCs in superhero games that were meant to be four-colour.

I've seen game-crashing moral dissonances in several games (some which killed games in one session flat) but I've rarely seen a superhero game that didn't have any.

It seems some people hear "you can play anything..." and not "... that would fit into this comic." And so we get 90s antiheroes in retro-60s games, uberbeings in games about street-level heroes, murderous vigilantes in city-sponsored rescue teams.

So yes, bit worried about offering super-y games this year. But fortune favours the brave. And the bold.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Sort Of Progress Report

Okay, still drawing a blank on a system for Of Gods And Men and it might need a particular mix of players, so might go more straightforward and do WWII Adventure! instead. Something I can do pretty casually by comparison.

Also, dinosaurs and planes.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Beware The Moon!

And today is the 30th anniversary of An American Werewolf In London. Which isn't all that gaming related, but is awesome.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

And today is the seventh anniversary of the new World Of Darkness and Vampire: The Requiem.

Which I'll run tabletop someday, I swear.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Adventure! Tenth Anniversary

... is also today!

Gratuitous fanart!

Ten years (admittedly mostly in the first year, alas) of fighting the Ubiquitous Dragon’s unstoppable minions, stopping Doktor Zorbo’s quest to destroy the surface world, teaming up with Houdini to discover the secret of the Screaming Skulls, uncovering the Holy Grail, hiding the Holy Grail, wielding the Spear of Destiny, punching Nazis before everyone was doing it, strapping yourself to experimental rocket packs while diving out of a zeppelin, influencing later Dramatic Editing systems and being the game I wanted when I bought the Indiana Jones RPG when I was twelve.

Thanks to Ian Watson for the reminder, and thanks to everyone who got that game in my hands, and everyone who played it with me.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lovecraft.

You crazy old bigot/misanthrope, you. Thanks for all the hours of gaming you would doubtless find baffling and inappropriate.

It's also James Marsters's birthday, and I'm sure he wouldn't mind gamers nearly as much. I'll spare you my Spike impression, though.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Coming soon. I should really check my plane tickets have arrived.

V20 on MTV Geek with new big looks at some of the Bradstreet photo/illos.

The Who's Who of your universe

Via Siskoid, DC Fifty-Too, in which independent comics folks come up with another 52 DC Comics before the relaunch.

A sideways look at former PCs and lesser-used NPCs could prompt reappearances. What have the survivors of Evil Cult X been up to for the last two years since the PCs blew up their half-manifested god? Is the first supervillain they took down still in jail, planning to break out with a new power upgrade to seek his revenge? What about that guy that dropped out of Wizard School? The street-level vigilantes to your public superhero team? The minor friendly NPCs? Or the PC whose player decided not to play after all?

Once a setting has been around long enough, you could run a one-shot with the players taking the roles of other characters we don't see very often.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

How mysterious do you want your mysterious groups?

V20 (that's the 20th Anniversary edition of Vampire: The Masquerade) has spurred (a) new supplements and (b) a lot of chatter. Some nostalgia, a lot of edition wars, but also people picking the games up and looking at running them. I just commented on a couple threads at the WW forum about Sabbat packs and the like. Which reminded me of this...

--

Overheard in a Camarilla classroom:

"Why were the Anarchs even fighting us? Why wouldn't they look to be more civilized?"
"I hear they're diablerists!"
"That's only Sabbat."
"Sabbat aren't real!"
"Full well they are!"

--

This links on to a current RPGnet thread on use of cutscenes and presenting completely OOC information to the players.

How in the dark do you want to be?

Obviously this varies from genre to genre, but also group to group and player to player. During The Watch House I got so into cutscenes, "next time" trailers and discussing plot possibilities with the players that one of them became a regular co-plotter while another asked specifically not to be spoiled on future events.

Are the on-stage Sabbat more interesting than the original unknown threat? Well, I have some issues with what they were like, but they have their own fans.

Would you play a mystery game like Columbo where you know who the murderer is and have to work out how to prove it? Maybe occasionally, but not regularly for the years Columbo ran.

Would you be more likely to play a Doctor Who one-shot called - Of The Daleks than one with a less on-the-nose title? My one-shot games tend to have attention-drawing titles these days, so I suspect that one's a "yes"...

Con-Quest Crikey

Bumping into Darran's RPGnet sig, I found the RPGs being run at Con-Quest in April are already starting to fill up.

By comparison, this week's Consternation has less games posted on its equivalent page and less info per game.

Certainly puts the requests for blurbs two to three months ahead at Conpulsion into perspective...

Greg Rucka outs himself as a gamer

Perhaps not a huge surprise as he's a comic writer as well as a prose author, but still. He talks about Space 1889 in the commentary for his steampunk adventure webcomic.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Time Loop!

SFX on twelve Groundhog Day episodes.

This was mentioned in the Six Staples Of SF/F Series but it seems rather apt to go over it again...

This would be a tricky one to do at a gaming table.

Obviously the PCs are the ones aware that time is looping (or most of the PCs, if some of the players are game enough to go along with playing ignorance).

You'd need a lot of notes for what the "Whoa, déjà vu..." moments are, and probably a big dramatic rocks-fall-everyone-dies ending to the day for them to fight against rather than the go-to-bed-in-a-bad-mood example of Groundhog Day itself.

They'll try various solutions and mad ideas, you'll have to consider what carries over for them if anything... and someone's likely to try the "let's make everything perfect" trick.

Doctor Who listed because, well, yeah.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Worf Effect

So-named on TV Tropes for one of its most frequent victims, a new character appears and flattens a character who is reputedly a badass to prove how dangerous they are. It happens to Worf enough that his badass-ness looks pretty questionable, but used occasionally it can be pretty effective.

But generally not on player characters.

Where a PC is built to be really good at something, there's a good chance (not 100%, but good) that the player will be annoyed if someone trumps them in it. They'll go after the offending NPC and pour any roll-boosting resources they have into hammering them into the ground.

So maybe ask first. "Is it cool if Ubervillain knocks out Brickman?"

Having a new threat demolish an enemy they've had trouble with can work as effectively and doesn't step on the PCs' personal shticks.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Who Am I? The Mysterious Past, AKA Plot Hook #1

The thread I refer to here about character-centric games also concerns a PC with amnesia, where the player asked the GM to come up with her backstory. A player saying "can you give me a mysterious past?" can be a chore, but it can also be one of the best darn plot hooks you'll get. If it’s good enough for Luke Skywalker, River Tam and Jason Bourne...

Of course, it's up to you (with or without some input from the player) to make this interesting.

Back when White Dwarf was about RPGs, issue 75 had an article about mystery in games, including PCs being mysteries to each other and even themselves: "The classic example is the character with no parent(s) - who are they? This poser is not very interesting if player characters aren't special - he may be the heir to... a baker's shop!"

The trick is knowing how far to go. This can vary with the game, the genre, the character and the player.

An amnesiac character in Vampire suggests dark secrets, possibly removed from her mind deliberately, an absentee sire, as well as the potential shock of meeting those who knew her as a mortal... or indeed learning she has not been a mortal in a lot longer than she thought. Doctor Who has its own variety of possibilities. A high-fantasy amnesiac could also discover that her memory loss was mystical, but is less likely to be appalled by what she learns. The heir to a baker's shop would suit Warhammer but not Star Wars, but not everybody who says "can you give me a mysterious past?" wants something as big as "no... I am your father."

One option would be to sketch out some possibilities, perhaps in deliberately vague terms, for the player to consider.

Of course, all this makes the revelations a surprise to the player as well as the character. This makes for more natural reactions, but there's a lot to be said for the player being in on the joke. They'll often make things far worse for their character to be more entertaining if they know what the "worse" would be.

Character-based games, an ideal, and an issue

A thread on the White Wolf forums (here) concerns three Vampire players whose characters don't mesh. I've been there. When running Vampire at college, there was rarely a reason for the PCs to be in the same room, and as such rarely a reason for the players to either. Especially when the PCs' reasons sometimes clashed, so the players wanted to advance those in secret.

Some is fine - some is great, in fact. I was always happier with character-centric plots than mission-based games. I'd love to play a game as character-heavy as that at times. But there are limits. About a quarter of an average session, say. More than that and you should look at Skype. (Happy 20th birthday, World Wide Web!)

Friday, 5 August 2011

Gen Con 2011 reports

I'm not there. But I have agents abroad, relaying information. And, y'know, RPGnet.

So far, we've got the FFG Star Wars announcement, MWP doing a Cortex+ Marvel game, a big White Wolf docket including a paranormal romance book for Vampire, a new Mummy game and the never-finished Convention Books for Mage: the Ascension, Delta Green apparently to become a standalone game... looks like there's some interesting gaming times ahead.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Star Wars RPG System IV: A New Hope?

FFG have the licence for Star Wars hobby games.

This'll probably mean a big lots-of-nice-plastic-minis game like Descent at some point. Maybe chasing around the Death Star, with lots of cardstock corridors and white plastic Stormtroopers, temping me to buy it even if I never play it?

And it might mean a shiny Dark Heresy type RPG. Or a lots-of-little-bits-for-players-to-lose game like their variant of WFRP. Still, it wouldn't be the first time Star Wars has been attached to a system I don't get or want.

It's also the most hacked licensed setting, seems like just about every game gets the "can you do Star Wars with it?" test at some point. I've played it in first and revised edition WEG, first edition d20, Feng Shui, Cinematic Unisystem, boffer LARP, non-boffer LARP...

What about Star Wars makes it the benchmark setting for adventure-ish RPGs? Well, for me, it's up there Lord Of The Rings and above the likes of 2000AD, Marvel and DC, Doctor Who and Star Trek as the myths of my childhood. And unlike Middle-earth, I feel like I can do it justice. I don't have to describe the setting as evocatively or thematically as JRR Tolkien, just sketch it in and get to the action as fast as George Lucas. Back when George was fast.

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Star-Spangled Man With A Plan!

Damn it Marvel, you got me with Thor, now after Captain America I want to run a pulpy WWII Golden Age superhero game.

I figured this was possible - after all, my one year of Adventure! had Rocket Man as a PC and I felt I could go back and do more there - but yep, darn it, totally worked.

I've followed war before (most successfully in The Stars On Fire, following the PCs from first contact with a hostile alien race to nuking their battle station, in a grim Galactica by way of Elegiac Halo Adverts sort of way) so I know the setting works, with PCs generally as irregulars (and possibly out-and-out oddities like Cap) doing commando raids and entangling with NPCs on various sides so it's not just mission after mission after mission...

And of course I've given some PCs the chance to fight Nazis - in The Watch House itself I grabbed the chance while Milli was in Hell, while in Doctor Who Series A I had a slightly more nuanced approach with good and bad German soldiers, a heroic traitor and, yes, some out and out mad scientists Hellboy would be happy to clobber.

But there are always more Nazis to fight.