Saturday, 28 January 2012

Oh, The Weather Outside Is Frightful

Today’s Google Doodle wildly exaggerates the size of the world's largest snowflake.

Granted, a snowflake fifteen inches across is still pretty big, but rather less so than one fifteen feet across.

(An expansion of a previous post.)

Strange weather can pop up across various genres, particularly when a magical or sufficiently advanced power can influence it. Fantasy has weather control turn up pretty often (maybe because it’s such a common fantasy in the UK), horror is full of dark and stormy nights, broad-strokes SF gives entire planets weather systems.

The Flash fights the Weather Wizard, one of the classic you-should-really-just-patent-that technological supervillains, Storm leads the X-Men, the Mummy controls sandstorms, Ming the Merciless started hitting us with Hot Hail, Weather Control is an important job in Mega-City One, and the Doctor once made it snow with the TARDIS just to make a point.

And PCs can do it too!

Weird things raining from the sky are among the standard Fortean events, so always pack an umbrella for an Unknown Armies game in case of frogs. And watch what you’re saying about the gods while wearing copper armour in the rain.

Even without something strange behind it, bad weather can change an adventure. Compare the sunny glorious Agincourt in Olivier’s Henry V to Branagh’s muddy horror. Running away from the battle of Hoth could mean dying from exposure, and if the Rebels hadn’t escaped when the power went down the Empire wouldn’t need to round them up.

And that’s before you get your killer snowmen.

So who is threatening the town with killer snowmen? (Probably a stretch for Sunnydale, but I wrote a short story for Cambridge in The Watch House. And it’s been done in Doctor Who fiction as well as a couple of terrible horror movies. And I’ve used these beauties before too.) Clearly there’s something magical or sufficiently advanced going on, and if people are under attack it behoves the heroes to deal with it. You can knock their blocks off, melt them and refreeze them (which might stop them, slow them or make them more dangerous), take their coal eyes out, but they keep coming, and if there’s enough snow around they can build their reinforcements, so you have to find how to really stop them. And soon.

Or maybe, just to be equally weird but less action-y, a nice living snowman turns up instead. Does he need your help? Do you need his?

D&D press ad, 1982

An image that stuck with me, over thirty years

The players look delighted and the PCs look miserable.

I'm sure this says something about my GMing style.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

So, how would you describe your game?

A letter from Angel and two pages from Joss Whedon previewing the show's fifth season, demonstrating how to amusingly not give much away about a seasonal premise, while setting up the main plot, some mysteries and the comedic tone very efficiently.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Michael Sands has created an Apocalypse World variant for modern monster hunters called Monster of the Week.

I'm sure it's a fine game, but that's a term I and others use when talking about games, so I didn't get it was now a title of a specific game until I saw a third RPGnet thread on it. Like if somebody called their fight game "Hit Points".

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Line It Is Drawn

I just tripped over this column where Comic Book Resources Twitter followers get to suggest things to a gang of waiting artists on a weekly theme.

Such as the reason for the stumble, Team-up or mash-up comic book characters with characters from Doctor Who! Which is, y'know, relevant to my interests. And a couple of those could totally happen, of course.

Anyway, there's also heroes out of genre and this week heroes out of time as also here. And if that Ancient Greek Hulk isn't tempting...

So take a look, see what you could crash your game into sideways.

Aah, curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!

How best to Showcase the Treachery of Evil (tm)?

My suggestions all come from game experience.

The kill-the-Fake-Big-Bad-cutscene was around the middle of The Watch House S2. I also had one group of villains wipe out an unconnected group of villains in S6, also off-camera. It helped to establish the new Big Bads' scary credentials, and in both cases killed off human villains who the PCs wouldn't be willing to kill.

The play-the-villains one-shot was the first (or second) convention game I ever played, one I still recall fondly. We were archetypal supervillains meeting to discuss a plan to Take Over The World, but we each had enemies at the table and other secret agendas, one of us had sold his soul to a demon who naturally turned up at an inconvenient moment, another was secretly Brooding Black-Cloaked Hero in disguise, and so on. It duly ended in violence, recriminations and blame-passing in-character. The tricky part was not having that happen right away.

I ran something somewhat similar at Propulsion the year it was KillCon, where there was a suggested PVP theme for all the games. Star Wars with six would-be Sith apprentices in their final trial. The trick there was that the trial was dangerous enough that no one apprentice could make it all the way through alone, so they had to work together... mostly...

Friday, 20 January 2012

Indiana Jones And The Easy Source Of Adventure Ideas

Right then. A good ten points (out of fifty or sixty or so) at the Conpulsion pub quiz will be determined by Indiana Jones And The Title Round in which contestants have to work out the original character name in a movie title which has been replaced by Indiana Jones.

So, easy example, Indiana Jones And The Philosopher’s Stone.

Of course these will all be answers where replacing the titular character with Indiana Jones would make a cool movie. But then this is the case with most movies.

It could also be applied to books, as it is in that example - a friend has previously joked/threatened running Indiana Jones And The Mountains Of Madness.

And yes, this is also how I write Buffy convention adventures.

So, naturally, I could use this to come up with adventure (and indeed Adventure!) ideas too.

What would Indy hunting for the Philosopher’s Stone be like? Obviously there are rivals looking for it as well, a mysterious figure who may be immortal, and probably a clue in a castle in Scotland which may or may not now be a boarding school.

(And that's not the weirdest put-Indy-in-a-movie idea I ever had. That would be Indiana Jones And The Last Of England. Indy travels to London during the Blitz to help the removal of key works from the British Museum, and discovers a mysterious map on the back of a Durer painting of the Virgin Mary. Teaming up with a brilliant art historian (Tilda Swinton) he travels first to Switzerland, a hotbed of intrigue, and then to partially occupied Norway in search of a prophecy that might mean the Allies cannot win the War!)

Thursday, 19 January 2012

My idea might be too big

So we're setting up to play a new Marvel SAGA game on Fridays, about covert heroes undercover as villains. So I come up with a shapeshifter, but that's too convenient, it's perfect for the team and really useful generally, I want something which isn't quite as ideal.

Then I come up with someone who can control multiple purpose-built bodies (one at a time) with a few superpowers per body. Lots of story hooks there, I think, like where the tech came from and who else might have it, and having to drop one body in a crisis to use another, and ways to get stuck in one body for a few issues, and so on. I can imagine him being a usefully versatile support team member. Or a low-level-supers solo hero, like Automan or Knight Rider. Or something less 80s, but that seems to be the era for such characters getting their own shows. And the multiple bodies would totally work on TV. Hrm.

Of course there are a couple of other could-be-solo heroes in the group.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Monday, 16 January 2012

The Big Crossover That Isn't

Which got me thinking... Who are the PCs in this picture? The three at the bottom? If so, what if you're playing Batman?

A few weeks ago, our Star Trek crew found all their weapons and shields mysteriously failing, in violation of the known laws of Treknobabble physics. Contacting Starfleet we discovered the problem was fleet-wide, and we had to fight a boarding action while our defences were down. Finally power returned, and we learned that another Starfleet ship had been arguing with a Godlike Being that humanity wasn't a race of savages and that our weapons were for self-defence. The GM explained that this kind of thing must happen all the time in Starfleet.

I was amused, but I wouldn't want it to be a regular thing. (This was one session out of a two-year run.)

When you're really crossing over with something else - like The Watch House was in the same time as Buffy - then having events from the other stories affect yours is a good call.

When you're not - this wasn't a particular episode of Trek happening offscreen - then it's just the GM simulating a wider world of stories, and the players could reasonably expect a role in resolving things that affect them. After all, we have plenty of uncontrollable external factors in games already, and in life, and this is one area where the guy responsible for "acts of God" is across the table.

Throwing in complications the PCs can't really affect is fair enough, not much different than weather or other such conditions. Having the world end because a bunch of NPC heroes failed to save it would be a bit much...
A Phil Jimenez poster for an earlier plot for Infinite Crisis

What's going on? I don't know... but it looks like the old previous-Earth Superman has the key role and Donna Troy is involved in some major way and the Spectre is the Big Bad? Whatever it is, it's pretty evocative.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Random superpowers not random enough?

Try the Wiki!

"Okay, I can... solidify air! Ooh."
"Yeah? Well, I can... mimic the undead!"
"... How is that helpful?"
"Uh... depends on the undead?"

Saturday, 14 January 2012

The (Classic) World (Of Darkness) ended eight years ago.

Specifically Vampire: the Masquerade with the release of Gehenna.

I always liked the offering of multiple apocalypses depending on how weird your game had become, from the quietly bleak "and then one day they were all just... gone" with a few vampires having a chance to become mortal and survive, all the way up to Antediluvian War with a few people having a chance to survive.

Still, it was weird to pick it up and open it, thirteen years after the game was announced, particularly after a run of great Revised supplements (including the Players Guide which is a gold standard of player and GM advice, and just came out about two months earlier) and not knowing what would follow.

Curse The Darkness open playtest

Matt McFarland's grim superhuman apocalypse game of hope and loss

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Mysterious Figures

This started as a Whoblog post, but as it's very much on the outside of Doctor Who it migrated to the more general blog.

Who is the Mysterious Woman passing through every first issue of the New 52? Who is the Observer? Who is the source of the classified documents? Who is the old man with the map in the corner of the tavern?

The unknown is a key part of many genre settings, and it can be spun in unexpected ways. The X Files thought a lot about why Deep Throat and his successors passed on secret information, while The Old Man With The Map is largely dismissed as a cliché but could become rather interesting if he were treated the same way.

What are their agendas? What are their origins? Why are they being so mysterious anyway?

And how would those on the outside perceive the PCs and their circle?

Monday, 9 January 2012

When your story becomes a fairytale

The Hobbit, the slightly animated storybook film from eastern Europe in the 60s. Complete with Bilbo in a bow tie, undue prologue, twelve missing Dwarves and a spare Princess.

See also the Soviet version that looks like early woodcuts.

Imagine how your PCs might feel about their exploits being rendered like that.

Or what the real people behind fairytales might turn out to be like.


Speaking of new editions with open development...

link and pictures and things like that.

So now you can have a copy that you can let players get their grubby little paws on.


Coming soon, with open development in some areas and/or a wide open playtest.

As previously noted, I didn't start with D&D and didn't play it until over a decade after I started gaming, so I have no nostalgia for it and dislike lots of it. Despite this, I've played 2, 3 and 3.5 (which should really be counted numerically considering how long it lasted) so I am as ever the curious onlooker.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

"I dunno, I'm making this up as I go." Indiana Jones, patron saint of PCs.

First time seeing Raiders Of The Lost Ark on the big screen since it came out. The print looks to have been from around then, complete with BBFC A Rating. Scratchy and turning brown rather suits it, fortunately.

In other news, I found a nearly pristine copy of Adventure! in a charity shop for £2.50.

I think the world is trying to tell me something.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

So how would this character deal with that plot?

Shown at New Year (and I just discovered free on the BBC iPlayer until Monday afternoon) Race To Witch Mountain retools the 70s kids’ SF as a vehicle for Dwayne Johnson, alias The Rock. UFO cover-up agents chasing spooky alien kids in the modern world colliding with Johnson's affable asskicker. I imagine this is what Doctor Who fans fear when they imagine An American taking over the show. Thing is though, it’s great fun, mostly because hanging out with Johnson as he elbows bad guys in the face usually is, particularly when he’s doing it inside an out-of-control flying saucer heading for Las Vegas.

Compare and contrast Paul, which is pretty much the same story but featuring a much more expensive alien, and with the heroes being Simon Pegg and Nick Frost playing up their geek cred to about 150%. The results are totally different but also highly entertaining.

It’s another reason why recurring plots like the Six Staples keep cropping up - every new bunch of characters approaches them in a different way, and part of the fun is seeing these familiar stories getting a new spin.

Possible New Year Projects

A Season Of Vampire. Sure, Vampire isn't a TV show (it was, sort of, briefly, but let's not go there) but it's a good structure for dramatic gaming.

A Season Of Star Trek. I pretty much have one lying around ready to go.

A Series of Primeval. Which is what, seven episodes? I can probably manage that.

A box set of Adventure! movies.

Applicable requests considered.

Charles Addams and Family

A hundred years old today as marked by Google.

The original goth comics, the Addams Family moved to TV in the 60s and then animation, the cinema and lately Broadway, and seeing the series daily after school one year may have affected me at an impressionable age.

Plenty of his short strips could go straight into the starts of stories, and the Family themselves could be inspirational. A whole family of monsters going about their daily business in a skewed version of normal life? Sounds like a plan, possibly a background for a whole table of PCs.

An early connection was to Ray Bradbury, when he illustrated "Homecoming" and Bradbury's eerie Eliot family nearly became a picture book. Only that first picture was ever done, becoming the cover for the collection From The Dust Returned in the US. (Which makes me rather annoyed to have a UK edition.)

And the man himself always had a crossbow handy. Just in case.

Friday, 6 January 2012

"They're odd, aren't they? People."

Eternal Law, from the creators of Ashes To Ashes, is a quirky legal drama. About angels. Rumpole vs Wings Of Desire.

Angels and demons out in the world (here very much on the QT) is a common fantasy motif, but in this case it's particularly about looking at the human condition from an outside perspective, with the law cases letting them in to see new people every week as well as giving it a (slightly disconnected) cops-n-docs drama narrative to hang the fantasy elements off.

There are angel and demon games out there, as well as games like Promethean where the PCs have no human pasts to compare to their inhuman states, but they can be harder to play than formerly-human characters like vampires or human-plus mages and the like. Still, having one in an ensemble (like Spock or Data) can add to a mixed group in a thoughtful game.

Jeanne D'Arc

The Maid Of Orleans was born 600 years ago.

She's one of those remarkable characters history throws up, a peasant girl turned knightly commander and saint, a GURPS Who's Who shoo-in, an exemplary Paladin, a good candidate to be the slayer...

How would your PCs deal with an epic hero? If they're worthy of the title themselves they might be glad to meet a peer, even if their goals conflict. If they're nobodies, or even villains, it could provide a telling contrast.

Having a living legend around for any length of time risks the shadow of the GMPC, but a single guest appearance could put the PCs and their actions into perspective.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Want to be in a Vampire: The Masquerade book?

Children Of The Revolution open call

There has to be someone you can put up for that...

And in related news, Justin Achilli thinking about the True Hand. Of whom I was never a fan, but I can see the appeal of the bits he highlights.

Monday, 2 January 2012


Tonight ITV are showing Endeavour, about the future Inspector Morse's first murder investigation. Besides having to work as a period crime drama, it risks not measuring up to a much-loved classic.

And on that note, if you say "the prequels" around genre fans you're sure to get a reaction.

Ever run a prequel to an existing game, as a break-from-the-norm session or elsewhere?

It affects action sequences since we know X can't die here (assuming death is on the table in the game anyway) but what other changes does it bring?

What session-friendly things happened in the PCs' or the setting's past?

Will revealing some of their past lessen the mystery of a character's origins and motivations, or will it add depth to their portrayal? And do they want to play the obvious antecedents or something different? (The same question goes for sequel games, naturally.) What would the players really want to explore?

Same system or something else? If it's the same PCs a few years earlier, the same system would be easiest, but if it's a new and different group like the current PCs' parents (or the previous crew of their starship, or the previous holders of their mystical artefacts, etc.) you could change to another system that better evokes a difference in play style. Or a previous edition of the regular game, just to be that bit more meta.

Who do the players play if all the current PCs (or their parents, or whatever) aren't around?

Andy's player in The Watch House once suggested running a session about when the PCs' parents were students, since several of the PCs were the children of Watchers and other in-the-know types. He never actually did it, but it still lead to discussion of who was around, who they'd be played by as de-ageing the grownup actors would be cheating, and which players would be which characters.

Meanwhile, I did once run a prequel to a Vampire: The Masquerade game with one of the same PCs, just with some dots crossed out. Having first appeared in a 40s game, he went on the return in another game set in the 90s (then the present) and then pre-return in the 70s. He didn't have anything kind to say about the cars of the decade.

Of course, a more dramatic prequel for a Vampire game would involve the PCs as mortals, or the players as their normal PCs' sires, for example.