Thursday, 30 August 2012

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Agents of SHIELD

SHIELD TV pilot from the Whedon House Of Ideas!

And there was much rejoicing.

And immediately, here, there was some thinking about how it could work as a game. Secret agents in a superhero universe? Sure thing.

I ran an Alias-style superspy Adventure! game, and played an agent of SHIELD in a Silver Age Marvel SAGA game, and their lives can be plenty complicated and dangerous all round, as seen in the Spy-fi subgenre of action with a hint of the impossible.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain

Ian Livingstone on the 30th anniversary of Fighting Fantasy

“In many ways paper and pencil role-playing creates a much deeper gaming experience than many video games. The narrative is made up as the game is played out rather than along a predetermined arc written by the games designer. This unstructured format of role-playing on the big screen of the imagination can’t be bettered in terms of unique user experience.”

Batman: The Scroll Of Destiny

A slightly confusing mix of abstracted martial arts cartooning and classic pulp and Batman

Relocating to 1930s Shanghai, because 1930s Gotham isn’t enough?

I did like Catwoman’s outfit though, and the at-one-remove fight scene.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Space Opera NOW! may be the answer to the question of "what are you GMing this year?"

Now to find a system...

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Look up.

Neil Armstrong has died.

Of course, people like Neil Armstrong don’t die. They go beyond, they become more than we can imagine. Legends in their own lifetimes go on long after, forever.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Star Trek Phase II episode guide

Always interested in things that almost made it to the screen, I recently acquired a book on Star Trek Phase II. Big pictures, some in colour, of the designs by the likes of Ken Adam, Ralph McQuarrie and Matt Jeffries, the full script for the pilot which turned into The Motion Picture, and a copy of the series bible, containing time capsules like this:

“How much science fiction terminology do you want?”
“The less you use, the better. We limit complex terminology as much as possible, use it only where necessary to maintain the flavour and encourage believability.”

GMs will probably be most interested in the plot breakdowns of each of the unmade episodes.

In Thy Image became TMP (with a different ending, and more synthetic probes in the form of Earth animals) and The Child and Devil’s Due were adapted to The Next Generation, The Child removing much of the panic and freaking out (and being remade, with panic and freaking out, by the Phase II fan series) and Devil’s Due making the female Devil figure make a move on the Captain (shockingly not included in the Kirk version) but other than that...

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Bradbury Landing

For what would have been his 92nd birthday, NASA have named the Curiosity landing site after Ray Bradbury.
I’ve been asked three times what I’m GMing this year. Twice tonight. This may be a sign that I should reach a decision of some kind about that.

There are several possible answers, but for various reasons none of them go “THIS!”

I should see what the three or so likely holdover players would like. One has already said “I trust you to run something cool” which is lovely but doesn’t narrow it down none...

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Hell Is A City

Vampire: The Requiem and the new World Of Darkness are eight years old tonight. So...

Notes towards my 2011-2012 chronicle Hell Is A City Much Like London.

Not using the Cull as mentioned here and there in the sourcebooks, but looking sidelong at it, at how vampire societies don’t last...

Actual Play coming soon. Not a full-bore transcript, but enough to follow.


RPG Team-Up: The Played And The Rolled

An idea from Siskoid about famous canon characters as PCs, inter-setting crossovers and other such breaks from the norm.

Magic system 101

A fantasy author asks twelve questions about what magic can, can’t, does and doesn’t do in fantasy settings.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Getting the party together

RPGnet thread of relevance

Many RPGs and many groups have an implicit code of “all the PCs should be able to function as a party, usually”. Sometimes, this has to be explicit.

Vampire’s focus on personal storytelling often gets sufficiently personal that some has to be put on hold to focus on the things the coterie members are doing together. There are better places for extensive one-on-one play than surrounded by other players waiting their turn. Believe me, I’ve taken it too far in the past.

And then there’s the decision of whether to keep OOC secrets, or play the dramas out at the table. Each depends on the preferences of the players, and each relies on everybody to play fair. I often find that players will cheerfully throw their PCs into more trouble...)

My GMing style has evolved to accommodate splitting parties, intercutting (often aiming for dramatic cutoff points) and cross-party communications. With modern games I now assume the PCs have phones. However, I’ll also set out ways for the characters to work together to at least some extent.

How serialised or episodic a game is can be a factor as well. The Lord Of The Rings and Mission: Impossible are both about a group of specialists trying to accomplish vital missions, but one keeps the same party for three books while the other trades PCs in and out weekly. Something like this may be decided due to external factors like player availability. The IMF would suit a large society with players popping in and out better than the Fellowship.

And where and when do you start? If the characters are already running from an angry mob when the game starts, it creates a different feeling than if they’re gathering at the inn where adventurers might hire on.


With Adventure! on the Onyx Path, they marked its eleventh anniversary today:

“Adventure! was released 11 years ago today. Time flies! What have you been doing with it in that time?”

I covered plenty of what I’ve done with it in the 10th anniversary post a year ago, but I didn’t mention using it as an Alias-style modern superspy game, modernised by adding Computers to the skill list.


Patrick O’Duffy has wise words on challenging the Man of Steel, and as a result other characters of high power levels, and latterly any character.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Boba Fett: A consistent look across the multiverse

Need some strange Boba Fett redesigns? Of course you do.

Star Wars: Edge Of The Empire

First clear word on FFG’s Star Wars RPGs comes from GenCon.

They combine the “one power level per book” design of the 40K games with the lots of different kinds of custom dice used in their version of WFRP.

Oh well.

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Onyx Path

The question of “What is The Onyx Path?” has now been answered.

Quoting Richard Thomas: “Well - at last the news is out: my new company - Onyx Path Publishing has been explained as official WW tabletop game publisher. Yeah!”

Licensing on the new and original Worlds of Darkness, Exalted, new owners for Scion and the Trinity universe.

There are some pretty happy fans out there today. Speaking as one of them.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

In Diana Jones news

This year's Diana Jones Award for excellence in gamer fields of any kind goes to Nordic LARP, a book about the Scandinavian live-action scene. Previous winners include Fiasco, Boardgamegeek and Irish Conventions' Charity Auctions.

(The pun is where the name comes from.)

Person Of Interest

... is the breakout hit of the US TV year, apparently. From JJ Abrams’s production company, with Jonathan Nolan on pilot duty.

And it’s... apparently very straightforward. Apparently.

Creator of system to track major threats by all electronics to public safety decides to deal with minor threats (to one person per episode) which the government overlooks because they want it to track major ones, so he recruits an ex-superspy to be his Equalizer by proxy.

Could get much more involved as it goes on - it already has flashbacks to our hero’s tragic past, and advertising here points out how scary the constant monitoring is, even as the heroes apparently use it just for good - but it could also stay as POI-of-the-week more often than not.

Is it gameable?

Sure. Recruit a small team of experts rather than a single agent. The only hard part is making the POI-of-the-week and their life complex enough to sustain a session. Multiple reasons they’re in danger, or someone close to them is, including a red herring or two. Locations for the PCs to surveil, people for the POI to meet with. Throw in complications from the PCs’ lives and their director’s agenda, and add headbutts and leg shots to taste. Plenty of suitable action-hero systems are available.

More generally, “mysterious source sends you to look into a problem without quite enough information” could describe... oh, about a fifth of all RPG adventures?

In this case, there’s basically no information at all, even less than Angel Investigations had to go on with short headache-inducing visions. So it would make for a very investigation-heavy game due to the initial near total blank.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Alien in-visiting-for-some-other-reason

Some Key Signs That You Might Have Misunderstood An Alien’s Intentions with hilarious/tragic/apocalyptic consequences.
Harry Harrison has died. Guardian obituary by Christopher Priest.

An SF writer on my bookshelf from early on (thanks to The Stainless Steel Rat, also adapted in 2000AD) which helped my lifelong affection for shifty people still being around in bright futures, suspect Galactic Heroes and Galaxy Rangers, crime capers and complicated stings and more.

During the height of the gamebook craze, he wrote You Can Be The Stainless Steel Rat, which looked askance at the idea, and always had me wondering what other writers could do with the format.

Monday, 13 August 2012

The Olympics

Right then. The 2012 Olympics are now over, so I can casually discuss them as a source of plot hooks. (As opposed to the opening ceremony, which could fuel a game with a suitably high Weird Level for months.)

I’ve done so already a little, and resisted the temptation to comment on the cyclopean duo of Wenlock and Mandeville (lest they see me) so what else might I observe?

A big event like the Olympics, the New Year countdown, Glastonbury, the Edinburgh Festival or the like brings together hundreds, thousands of people who might otherwise never cross paths. There’s room for all kinds of drama there from Die Hard In A Stadium to a more public than usual monster attack to a romantic comedy of just-missed connections. (Why hasn’t somebody made a romcom set in a music festival? Think of the soundtrack sales!)

The Olympics in particular started in Ancient Greece (although there was quite a big gap until 1896) so they’ve seen the rise and fall of great nations, scandal and horror, courage and fellowship, that time when a guy tried to win the fencing by putting a fake sensor in his sword...

Characters proving themselves in contests of skill and strength is one of the ancient plot hooks, slightly behind the less voluntary version where the characters are forced to be gladiators. As a player, I’d love a chance to do that bit with a combat character.

But even if they’re not in the centre of the stadium themselves, they could still get caught up in a big event going on all around them.

What kinds of events might another world have?
Joe Kubert, comics artist, teacher and inspiration, has died. Take a look at the gallery of just 25 of his covers, and come away with at least one great idea.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

The unmade movie of your series

100 Wonderful And Terrible (genre) Movies That Never Existed

From multiple Star Trek prequels to several Doctor Who adaptations to The Tourist to Guillermo Del Toro’s At The Mountains Of Madness there are plenty here to mourn - as well as a few to breathe a sigh of relief over, like the grossout comedy Green Lantern and the 80s Spider-Man that probably would have made the 70s TV series look spectacular.

As well as a source of unused plot hooks and the odd link to great shelved concept art, the idea of a radical reinterpretation could make for an interesting session in a suitably narrative-y game, where the players are happy to mess with their characters at an authorial distance. In a game with a sufficiently high Weird Level, it can even happen in continuity.

Friday, 10 August 2012

The New Death and others

Following on from this request from the author James Hutchings, I did indeed take up the offer to look at “The New Death and others”.

I’m tempted to suggest you get it just because he asked, and it’s really rather good value at just under a penny a page for the price of a can of cola, but I’ll do as he asked review its contents anyway.

I’m not going to try and cover every piece, because it’s 94 pages in pdf and the works vary in length from shorter than this post to several pages, and it’s a grab bag of fiction in various styles, new and revised fairytales, poetry, and quick jokes. So I’ll focus on the areas of gamer and otherwise geeky interest.

A new (extinct) human species

Homo Rudolfensis

How many of "us" were there?

Thursday, 9 August 2012


A new adventure for Ashen Stars by Robin D. Laws

Characters "who know enough not to touch the gooey stuff or take off their helmets in an untested biosphere investigate the demise of a survey crew doomed by the above mistakes".

I feel like this blurb is referring to something. I wonder what...

Perhaps this is a clue of some kind? Hmm...


Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Monday, 6 August 2012

Mars Curiosity


Favourite bit (apart from the achievement itself, of course) must be the unstuffy geekiness of modern-day Mission Control.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Seeing both sides

It’s a strange experience to play an adventure you came up with.

(I once found myself playing a published adventure I had run before, and that was strange enough, but anyway. Fortunately I happened to be playing a precognitive...)

This time I had sufficient warning, having discussed the idea with the GM and having suggested running it myself during a session when the GM was unavailable.

(Not something I offer often, but this was for Distant Stars, a Star Trek like space opera setting with an episodic structure, where a great variety of possible one-shot adventures can happen and have no major effect on the series continuity. The idea was recycled from The Watch House as the Buffyverse is similarly flexible: since one of the PCs is a runaway from an alien noble family, shunt her and the other PCs into a timeline where she didn’t run away and is now princess of a solar system, with hilarious consequences.)

I did my best to provide helpful nudges only when the rest of the players were stuck, and suggested a couple of complications (and simplifications) to throw in. There were inevitable moments of thinking “I would have done that differently” of course, but it was entertaining to see how it unfolded, and most importantly the other players had fun with it.