Monday, 30 April 2012

Star Wars: When And Where

I may be running Star Wars on Sunday. (Using a tune-up of d6, or CineUni.) Here's what I sent to the prospective players.


Two main possible settings: the Rebellion or an era some centuries away from it.

The Rebellion has the obvious advantage of familiarity - I think "Star Wars" and I see Rebels and Stormtroopers - but there might be too much, and there can be a struggle for the game's heroes not to be overshadowed by the films'. What's this guy's story? I don't care. To avoid this, I'd like someone in the PC group to be Really Important in some way. This would of course have to be discussed.

A different era might feel less "Star Wars" (although look at the trailers for The Old Republic, they go too far the other way so that three thousand years earlier everything looks just about the same) but also allows more freedom to be the stars and go a bit wilder. A "Star Wars feel" will be retained by pacing and style, and some specifics like lightsabres and the Force.


For the curious, I've had a "future Star Wars" setting in mind for three years now that I'd like to get some use out of. It changes this and that (more, I think, than nearest equivalent Star Wars: Legacy) and gives the PCs plenty of room to be front-and-centre in a big mad universe.

Geist 1.1

The cleaned-up version of White Wolf's Geist: The Sin-Eaters is out now and in a very nice move it's available free to anyone with the original pdf, or who sends a photo of themselves holding the original book.

Where's my camera...

Friday, 27 April 2012

Some Assembly Required

Joss Whedon's The Avengers (Assemble) was the most fun I had at the movies in months, possibly years. Best superhero team movie yet made (good as they are, even the first two X-Men movies are really Wolverine movies). The problem for Marvel now will be topping it. Can't wait to see what comes next.

It's also a pitch-perfect example of giving everybody spotlight time. It's a great Captain America sequel, a great Iron Man episode, a great Black Widow movie - everybody gets something vital to do in the final battle in particular.

Monday, 23 April 2012

The ZX Spectrum. Some rambling.

It's also the thirtieth birthday of the ZX Spectrum. My first computer was a Spectrum+. I didn't cut me teeth programming my own games and so didn't go on to found a software house, but never mind, I still had fun with it. And the games' limitations often got me thinking about how much further they could go and how much more choice they could offer, which fed back into my early GMing.

The visuals never quite lived up to the Oliver Frey covers for Crash magazine - off to reread The Terminal Man...

Even so, there were some great games, notably the adventure games and the bigger arcade-adventures (now there's a phrase to confuse younger gamers with) like the Wally Week series, a version of The Hobbit that can still make me wince at the memory of "Thorin sings of gold", the BBFC 15-rated adventure version of Dracula, my introduction to the story of Cuchulainn in Tir Na Nog, the spectacularly insane Frankie Goes To Hollywood and more. As well as things like Elite obviously.

Hmm. A game based around the lyrics and iconography of a band... or a highly unfortunate car mechanic and his pub darts team...

World Book Night, among other things

My 300th post here -

As Neil Gaiman puts it: Happy #worldbooknight. Happy Shakespeare & Cervantes birthdays. Happy St George's Day. Fight dragons & windmills, read books & quote wisely.

Even though it was World Book Day six weeks ago.


While you're doing that, consider St. George. Best known around here for fighting a dragon, in eastern Europe he's also the protector against vampires.

Or there's always a bit of mileage in swiping a plot from Shakespeare.

Borrowing from Cervantes somewhat less so, although "it seems the fantasy hero is actually deluded about the whole series" is a plot hook that crops up fairly often in episodes of ongoing series, although as Neil Gaiman said of Emperor Norton, "his madness keeps him sane". It's almost as common as "the hero alone can see the threat and everyone thinks they're deluded" plots, and more common than "the hero is deluded, which makes him a hero".

(And "The Impossible Dream" from the musical is the perfect Player Character song.)

Saturday, 21 April 2012


RPGnet's Cheesy Preboot Thread resurfaced today, and it's always fun to reimagine things in distorted shapes.

(Yes, I'm avoiding thinking about what kind of game to run tomorrow, how did you guess?)

It can be doubly entertaining to mangle a game in progress, as long as it has a suitably high Weird Level. Discussed over here from around the time the thread was new, among other ideas for rebooting games.

A historical flashback episode would fit into most games more easily, maybe looking back on formative experiences for the PCs, or their parents or other ancestors, or further back into the historical or legendary ages of the setting.

Still, a weirder game's preboot recasting everyone and emphasising the low-budget early effects could be briefly amusing.

(And now I'm imagining Anneke Wills as Milli in The Watch House circa 1968. We did stranger things to our Buffy group about once a year...)

(And a "classic era" episode of my Doctor Who game.)

The question is, ultimately, will the players be able to go back to the game as-is afterwards?

Friday, 20 April 2012

My Vampire: The Masquerade retrospective piece went up on Flames Rising in March. D'oh. Thanks to Matt M, and sorry I missed it - I was looking at the White Wolf thread on the retrospective, not the site itself regularly.
RPGnow and Flames Rising have organised a charity RPG download bundle for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Lots of good stuff, including World Of Darkness: Innocents and Little Fears, some in-theme, some not. All for a very good cause.

Dracula, Vampires, And Vampire

Bram Stoker died one hundred years ago today, leaving behind a variety of short stories, some largely forgotten novels, and of course Dracula.

While Lord Byron brought "vampire" into the English language and Polidori popularised it while pretending to be him, and Carmilla was out of the gate a quarter-century before the Count, the idea only really took off with Stoker, and especially with Bela Lugosi up on the screen in a very loose adaptation. (Looser than Nosferatu, which was close enough for Stoker's widow to win a lawsuit and have almost every copy destroyed.)

Still, for a century (give or take) Dracula has defined what a vampire is in popular culture and other takes react to it. Louis dismisses it as inaccurate fiction, Buffy fights Dracula and later teams up with him (and Spike never gets his eleven pounds back), Eric Northman views him like the Great Pumpkin.

Vampire: The Masquerade gives him an entire clan (even though the Gangrel and Ventrue would do the job fine) and Requiem a covenant (complete with multiple interpretations of him), while also addressing the impact of the book on the Masquerade. (I always wondered if Nosferatu exists in the Masquerade setting, as it's a much bigger breach...)

But, I feel, he doesn't really fit into those worlds. Dracula is the vampire as a singular thing, with only himself and those he turns. Having another vampire going about his business in the next valley along might make good fantasy worldbuilding but lessens him as a creature of horror.

How did Dracula become a vampire? Answering that question makes him less unique and frightening. Quantifying your monster inevitably makes it less monstrous. It's even more significant in a setting with lots of vampires because then he's just a big name in a crowd.

Masquerade made him self-siring and Requiem made him a sireless anomaly, but personally I'd address his existence if asked but wouldn't answer anything definitively or bring him on-screen unless it was to do something radically different. I'd say Count F****** Dracula qualifies as radically different. Like Buffy Versus Dracula it's partially a joke about fame, copycats trading on the name and the like, and if he really is Count F- Dracula about the burden of expectations of a highly successful ancestor...

Dropping him into another genre entirely, like Kim Newman's Anno Dracula making him the archvillain of a historical adventure story or Marvel Comics' use of him as a stock villain who only sometimes goes up against specific vampire-hunting heroes, is more likely to surprise than having him turn up in a game where vampires are expected.

(Being the PCs and many of the NPCs they'll meet, vampires in both iterations of Vampire are often taken for granted. Playing a vampire somewhere else can be a very different experience, and I make sure to include mortals in major roles and other ways to keep players guessing when I run Vampire.)

Put a vampire on a spaceship and you've got a plot hook. Not necessarily a good one, but it will stand out.

The Cabin In The Woods

It's probably okay to talk about The Cabin In The Woods by now. But I'll put a !more in here just in case...

Friday, 13 April 2012

The Gazebo

The Gazebo is loose! Run for your lives!

An RPG magazine (sadly not in actual print form) and of course a grab bag of things and stuff. I haven't read all of it but among other things there's an interview with Angus Abranson, reviews of new products (a bane on a print magazine) and think pieces. Seems to be a lot of steampunk too for some reason.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Titanic, disasters and more

A hundred years ago, the Titanic sank and became one of our legends.

Gaming (like fiction generally) tends to go for the big dramatic story. The Titanic is told and retold while other disasters are forgotten, because of the hubris of the "unsinkable" ship and details like the lack of lifeboats and the bungling of class-based evacuations and the band playing on.

It's far enough into history that it's unlikely to offend anyone at the gaming table if you drop in on it during a time travel game. Doing that tonight might seem crass, but it's probably fair game in general.

(The more recent an event is, the more risky it is to include it on grounds of taste. A now-notorious example is Greg Stolze's "Fly To Heaven" for Unknown Armies, an adventure about terrorists taking over a commercial flight and aiming it at a landmark skyscraper, published in 1999. It's a fine one-shot game that few want to play any more.)

However, I note that Doctor Who has looked in on the Titanic several times, but Voyage Of The Damned dodged the original and went with a saveable commemorative voyage (like the one happening right now) complete with a villain who was more talkative than an iceberg. That's more the sort of thing the Doctor deals with, and that applies to PCs in general.

Escaping a disaster and saving people can make a worthwhile evening's play, but we'd generally rather be able to avert a disaster entirely and/or confront those responsible, who caused it due to malice rather than incompetence. Gaming isn't always a power fantasy, but being completely powerless in the face of unstoppable catastrophe rarely makes for a fun evening.

Speaking more generally, a ship (or plane, or train, or spaceship, or...) is a good enclosed location, putting a smallish number of people with little in common into a plot like a disaster, or a mystery, or a smallish freeform. Fully mappable, controllable cast of NPCs, likely to attract attention from hostiles, smugglers wanting to transport something, people fleeing the country (or city or planet) and those pursuing them, and going a bit too fast and/or through hostile environments to easily get off.

This is why there are Call Of Cthulhu adventures set on the Orient Express and the Mauretania, GURPS Horror shares Flight 13 with GURPS Space, Star Wars has Riders Of The Maelstrom attack a luxury space liner the Rebels are travelling on in secret...

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Not Of This Earth

As the offspring of biologists, I’m aware in the back of my head that alien life is unlikely to be humanoid, but aliens that look like people (or people in fx makeup, or people wearing animatronic masks, or as of Battleship people rendered in CG who look like people in fx makeup...) are such a mainstay for many reasons, practicality being an obvious one in live-action media but relateability being a factor as well.

So how does one rationalise, say, four sentient species of oxygen-breathing endoskeletal upright bipeds working together?

Well, for starters, let’s assume there are another half-dozen allied species who aren't like that, and they tend not to work on the same ships as the people-shaped species.

When considering a Star Trek game and factoring some of the unused ideas into Distant Stars I suggested going a bit further but not too crazy. So the Proud Warrior Race are seven feet tall and have four arms, which is about half as crazy as the Tharks. And the Wise Old Race are insubstantial.

I still want to find a place for Mr. N though. If R2 and Chewbacca can do it, so can an NPC on the bridge.

“Suggestions, Mr. N?”
Flashes and a slight change in humming tone from the column of light in the corner.
“Agreed. Charge polaron array.”

Werewolf Translation Guide


I haven't played Forsaken, but remain curious.

Quandos Vorn - what a git.

Robin D. Laws on player-defined nemeses. And if everyone shares one, that will define a lot about him - and by reflection, the PCs.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

These aren't the voyages...

I'm thinking about Trek-style space opera again. I have my reasons.

And one result is this. I had never heard of Phoenix Five before and now I want a reboot. A smallish all-Australian crew defending the galaxy. Come on people, make it happen.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Indiana Jones And The Novelty Bonus Round

Right then, now it's done, the Conpulsion Pub Quiz questions. Just the RPG, picture and Indiana Jones rounds, although the biggest groan went to one from the Film And TV round -

Which book was on top of the pile used to weigh down the bucket containing Ash's severed hand in Evil Dead II? A Farewell To Arms.

Monday, 2 April 2012


I just saw The Cabin In The Woods last night. The following contains almost no spoilers. Less than the trailer, anyway.