Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Let's try that again, shall we?

It was twenty years ago today... that the original Buffy movie came out.

Have you ever had a game go so off what you wanted that you would try it again with a different group?

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Crossovers and canon

So, is the Olympic opening ceremony canon for James Bond, or the Queen, or both? Probably not, due to Churchill. But it probably is for Mr. Bean.

(Sadly, a celebration of British TV was cut due to overruns, so we didn’t get to see what they’d show while playing the Doctor Who theme to four billion mostly confused people.)

When considering a ("proper", not faked) crossover or a “guest appearance” by characters from elsewhere in the game’s setting or another bit of popular culture, you should consider whether it counts as canon for the PCs or not - and indeed for the other side of the crossover. In-universe crossovers are more likely to “stick” but not always - Warren Ellis once killed off a Wildstorm superhero team during an Aliens crossover. And a bigger setting can absorb a smaller one - Sherlock Holmes being real in the Whoniverse transforms the former but is no big deal for the latter.

So then we get multiple continuities and connected-but-not-integrated universes and the way John Munch exists in all timelines, even ones which are explicitly fictional in his prime universe and in one case meeting the real person he was based on.

An adventure which you flag up as “an imaginary story” without adding “aren’t they all?” may or may not appeal to the players - it can be freeing not to worry about ongoing character and setting consequences and do something clearly different, or it may feel like a waste of time playing an adventure that “doesn’t count”. Something to consider and perhaps discuss beforehand.

Of course, the question of canonicity is easily answered if your players do this...

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Re: Reboot

A year on, DC’s New 52 strategy has paid off in sales terms for many of the bigger books, although there have been casualties along the way, and they’re still trying some weird niche books as well. But the partial reboot of the setting still bothers many. Hardly anything changed for Batman, Green Lantern or the Legion, while Superman and Wonder Woman are as different as Ultimate versions might be.

So what changes, what meshes, what doesn’t fit? When the different imprints already bring in multiple continuities, why not run with that?

(Here’s a random example - the Superman of the last iteration of the universe fought a Predator in a licensed crossover. So is this guy an homage, or is this a Predator from the New 52 universe? ;) )

Something to think about when restarting a game with some or all of the original players around the table. If everyone else is new, you’re free to use the old series as a “sourcebook”, to retool slightly or consider it all canon or to ditch it entirely, but what if someone wants to play a favourite character, or a variation of one?

Lists Of Strange

10 Scientific Missions That Became Action Adventures

Because sometimes a space mission ends with fending off wolves.

10 Civilizations That Disappeared Under Mysterious Circumstances

Because... we don't know, really.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Stop That, It's Silly!

A current thread on RPGnet posits that comedy RPGs are particularly difficult, which I haven’t found. The third RPG I ever ran was TOON, and it was the first one that really clicked (due to its light rules that supported the genre) and I ran Ghostbusters on and off for a couple of years - at one point also running a TOON parody of it every month or so for the same players, for ideas that were a bit too weird.

Ghostbusters has quite a lot of what is being discussed - weird situations played straight with the main characters providing most of the humour. It could work as a straight action-horror movie (with a redesign on Slimer and a different "form of the Destructor") but the characters’ response to it moves it into comedy. However, the adventures for the Ghostbusters game mostly involve comedic situations because it can’t guarantee you’ll have Bill Murray at the gaming table. It plays a bit lighter than the movie by default, more like The Real Ghostbusters cartoon.

Humour in the book and in adventure ideas is the easiest way to make a comedy game work, giving the GM something to work with rather than relying on the table for all the laughs.

But if the table will provide the laughs, go for it. While running TWH for years, following the model of Buffy, only a couple adventures every season run from a comedic situation - the archaeological dig for an episode of Time Team unearthing ancient evil, going behind the scenes of the TV show we were supposedly creating, a typical apocalypse cult being totally incompetent - while the majority were straight urban fantasy plainclothes superheroics where the funny arose from the dialogue. The main tools in the setting’s comedy portfolio are the PCs’ genre awareness and their ability to backtalk and joke about life in-character. Most players will do a bit of this anyway, but the Buffyverse is a setting where a snarky response to a monster’s threat can naturally be delivered by the character rather than kept to player table talk. Most sessions, all I did to create humour as a GM was join in with bantering NPCs and provide the occasional villainous feed line.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Onyx Path

The schedule for the next thirteen months is up and includes the new Mummy, a new Demon, the W20 line, Exalted 3, adventures, fiction.

Lots to be excited about, and plenty of surprises - perhaps the most surprising being an adventure with a back-to-basics Year One reboot of Samuel Haight.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

It depends on who's saying it.

Need eight villains?

And they all have something heartwarming to say, too.
By Tom Gauld


And I'm sure General Mortuus would be willing to negotiate. No mere screaming animated corpse he, he's an officer!

See also his cast for an epic. Is there space in your game for The Headless Man?

Or these 26?

And I suspect some of the lost fairytales are better than others.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

"Reed Richards should always have exactly this much gray."

Joss Whedon on serial versus one-shot storytelling, adapting works across media, and other stuff that is at least somewhat relevant here, where we're usually charging ahead with a serialised game with very few chances to edit and reconsider, and the "audience" is also steering things.

"The trick is always knowing what things are sacred."

Finland Back Again

So it turns out Peter Jackson didn't make the first live-action adaptation of Lord Of The Rings. Just the first in English. And very possibly the first that was actually legal.

Hobitit - Finnish for Hobbits

The unfamiliarity of the cast works in its favour, as does the "twice told tale" structure. Ninja Boromir, not so much.


Continuum 2012 is this weekend, which I confess I had forgotten until Robin D. Laws blogged about arriving before it. So I won't be able to attend, unfortunately - Sandy Petersen and Angus Abranson are among the other guests, and there are plenty of games in place, in some cases with mini posters of their own, which is a cute idea I'm tempted to swipe.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

As forwarded by Justin Achilli: What computer games could learn from TT and LARPs and suchlike. Including a couple of recent controversies in the gaming sphere.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Fame And Fortune

Tony Stark visiting Comic-Con

Iron Man ended, surprisingly, with Stark deciding not to keep the source material’s secret identity. Iron Man 2 ran with it, as has The Avengers less directly. So now the character is a huge star who you could see coming to Comic-Con just like that.

Most superheroes default to secret identities - the Fantastic Four being a rare exception - and most superhero games follow suit. Fantasy adventurers and spaceship captains tend to have public identities, but their fame doesn’t spread as widely or quickly as it could in the modern age of camera phones and press conferences, so most modern-day games follow superheroes in having the PCs and their enemies act in secret so that the world still largely looks like the one we live in. Some noteworthy exceptions include Demon: The Fallen and Scion, which starts with demigods and the like secret but the PCs can break that right away and have little reason not to, and Aberrant, where the secret broke ten years before the game begins and the celebrity culture around superhumans is a major focus.

And in a culture obsessed with celebrity and novelty, how would you feel about being yesterday’s news?

Fame isn’t necessarily welcome, of course. It’s obviously going to be problematic for PCs engaged in covert or criminal activities, or members of secretive groups. And more importantly, not all players want to deal with press conferences. If you don’t like public speaking, even in-character public speaking with only your gaming group as the real audience can still trip you up.

See also Sherlock series two for an example of fame proving more trouble than it’s worth.

A permanent change in the status quo, caused by the PCs or by other forces, could significantly affect how the game feels. Maybe no-one will mind, but as ever it’s best to check with the players before going with something like that. Having a reset button is often a good idea in case a campaign-changing idea doesn’t really work out. Look at how open the world of Doctor Who became, and then it went quiet again due to Cracks In Time.

A temporary change can make for an interesting change of pace with no such repercussions. Your team of superheroes could be zapped into a parallel universe where they’re world-famous, and deal with stardom as a novelty for an issue or two. Or your urban fantasy monster hunters are hit with a spell that removes the setting’s in-built Masquerade for the duration of an episode, so everybody they meet can work out what they’re doing, and they probably have to find a way to switch it on again.

Having action figures of your PCs is cool. Your PCs seeing action figures of themselves can be very strange indeed.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Spinoffs, Prequels, Untold Tales

Neil Gaiman is returning to tell an untold tale of The Sandman. It should be out for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first issue.

Before and especially since the series ended, it has produced a variety of unconnected stories, spinoffs by other writers, and some previous prequels like The Dream Hunters.

I’m not averse to spinning off - The Watch House is a spinoff of Buffy after all, and I borrowed its hook from SteveD’s The Night Watch. (I had other series ideas as well, that long-ago first session.) And I wouldn’t be opposed to prequels or sequels if I could get the band back together. There are a few episode ideas that never happened, after all.

What adventures would you run if you could revisit a game you’ve concluded?
Well, I think I was reasonably helpful all round. She ended by ending the session, not running away, so I take that as a good sign.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Edinburgh Interactive

The Edinburgh (Video) Games Festival this year features Dark Harvest mastermind Iain Lowson on characters, and Ian Livingstone on going back to Fighting Fantasy with a zombie apocalypse gamebook.

New GMs

Tomorrow, I’ll be playing a Vampire: The Masquerade oneshot, my first non-convention World Of Darkness game with a new Storyteller in... oh, about ten years.

This being her second go at GMing, she’s understandably nervous. I’ll try not to be too much of a “wise mentor” - focus on the specifics of the adventure and create a suitable character, not grab the plot and run off with it too fast, comment if asked.

When I was starting out, my first players were my contemporaries, family and school friends, with a mutual interest in Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and the like, making that system a good choice, using published adventures. And still pretty much sucking. I was also twelve. I found my feet within a year or so, after some amusing-in-hindsight detours. I didn’t have a previous generation sitting there staring at me...

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Think your game's theme club is too weird?

Think again.

19th Century French Goths did not do things by halves.

You could drop this into Vampire and it might be considered a bit much. Actually, you could drop this into Dark Harvest and it might be considered a bit much.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Modern Swashbucklers

So there’s a thread about 7th Sea on RPGnet at the moment, and the traditional talk about ahistory versus theme park history versus fantasy, someone noted that its different-countries-are-centuries-apart style means that it covers a broad expanse of swashbuckling adventure stories, from Robin Hood to the Scarlet Pimpernel.

Which, coupled with reading The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 2009, got me thinking that’s not something we see a lot of today.

Sure, we have urban fantasy heroes with an array of magic swords, planetary romances, and period pieces (which The Three Musketeers was from the beginning) but not a lot of cinematic-but-mundane ones happening in the here and now. Is there room for a dashing rogue in the present? Superspies are close, but not quite the same. Charming scoundrels a la Leverage maybe?


New and improved spacesuits, on Kickstarter.

Support tiers from “we’ll send you a postcard” to “we’ll make a suit for you”.

That’s fairly strange.

Now, how to make them flattering?

Being out in a spacesuit (or diving suit, or any kind of life-support system that someone could open up with a small knife) is an acutely vulnerable position. Unless your character can survive re-entry unassisted, of course. Looking cool shouldn't be a concern. But of course, being fictional characters, it often is. If you’re going to risk life and limb wearing something, you don't want it to look dorky.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012


So it’s the Fourth of July, and once again I find myself wondering why there isn’t a good American Revolution movie. (Seriously, the closest is HBO’s excellent John Adams, and it focuses on the diplomatic efforts on the side as it follows the titular second President with the first getting only a cameo role. The Patriot is slightly less accurate than Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.)

A revolution is a key turning point in a country’s history, and of course also a source of potential drama. Family, friends and neighbours might be divided by the conflict. Scarce resources become strategic lynchpins. Battles with a lack of set uniforms get dangerously confusing.

And it shouldn’t be viewed in isolation. Thirty-one years earlier, the Jacobites’ second attempt to put a Stewart on the throne ended disastrously, and many of them were among those sent off in early the Highland Clearances, some making their way to America and Canada. Look back or forward a generation or two when deciding on a major event, at what factored into it and what followed as a result.

And, of course, you can always throw the PCs into a revolution...

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Primeval is out!


I just got my preordered copy of the PDF. (And my name is in the Special Thanks bit! Some of my observations have made it in, so I can feel a bit smug about the whole thing.)

Big, bright, clearly laid out, lots of pics (some of them amusingly juxtaposed, the Equipment section opening with a picture of Danny wielding a handrail from a bus), lots of examples for all the required rules especially the new Threat, exposure, paradox and Temporal Damage rules. I could run this quite happily.
Gar Hanrahan on Primeval, now on video, interviewed by Jon Hodgson. Mild spoilers, it says. Actually, if you're just starting the show now, the one spoiler is fairly substantial...

Monday, 2 July 2012

Print the legend

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a fascinating folly, taking that premise entirely seriously (there are literally three other jokes in the film) to the point that its blaming historical tragedies on vampires without a hint of levity is at least dubiously tasteful. It takes pains not to blame slavery on vampires, while happily blaming them for other things.

Still, at least most of it is in focus.

Mixing up fantasy and reality should always be done with care, in case the specifics or even the general idea of doing so offends.