Saturday, 30 June 2012

Time travel trouble

If I run Primeval, and I might, I’ll probably use human history more than the series does. Only two episodes have really featured it. Sure, we’ve only existed for a tiny fraction of Earth’s history, but anomalies are getting closer together, so there’s a rationale there. Not as often as Doctor Who, but maybe once every six-to-ten-episode series.

And I’d definitely want the PCs to have trouble keeping a low profile. By way of example, tonight Matt did very well alone in Victorian London - imagine Connor and Abby stumbling around there instead.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Anomalies are starting to appear...

Primeval has reached preorders and is due August, hopefully in time for GenCon, and about in time for the end of the current ITV run.

I'm Batman, and I can breathe in space.

I recently discovered Youtube hides entire episodes of Andromeda, the not-Trek-honest spaceship show I once saw a few episodes from season three. (Starships & Spacemen should have totally gone for the licence.) So I watched the pilot and it's... well, the stunts are good. And the core concept - idealistic Federation captain dropped into post-crash future. But for no clear reason, it's the most 80s-looking show produced in the year 2000.

And I wonder if it's a coincidence that the main enemy races are (1) bat-faced barbarians and (2) superior engineered transhumans whose only external sign of not being normal-for-TV buff handsome people is the three retractable bone spurs on their forearms in the style of Batman's gauntlets.

And now I'm imagining a space opera where all the space civilisations are based on Batman characters. The Joker is tricky - although I could imagine crazy situationist space pirates. The Scarecrow - a terrorist group who use fear as a weapon... hmm. Bane - steroidal nutjobs from a prison planet who want to test themselves against the best the other worlds have to offer. Killer Croc is easy. R'as... totally works as a pulp space overlord.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

For my birthday I went to the zoo. I saw the pandas (who were sleeping, as they do sixteen hours a day, but nice enough to sleep facing the visitors) as well as those penguins who haven't been moved while their enclosure is fixed, a Sun Bear who is clearly Batman, and a month-old Barbary Macaque really wanted to climb that fence, much to the chagrin of the adults who spent five minutes prising it off and getting it down.

The Macaque was apparently curious about climbing so high because he could hear the parrots in the next enclosure.

That kid's an adventurer.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Happy birthday to Joss Whedon, without whom my life would be substantially more meh and my gaming career would be very different too.

Friday, 22 June 2012

It's Bruce Campbell's birthday. Why this isn't a national holiday is beyond me.

Accidental co-creator of Deadlands and inspiration to a generation of not-entirely serious horror heroes.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Build A Setting 4: Fighting With Fantasy

Swords. Dragons. Wizards. Quests. You know the drill. So how to make it sing?

I admit to uncertainty here. I’m generally the guy running the other game. I’ve never run a “straight” fantasy game since high school, partially because of early exposure to The Lord Of The Rings leaving me intimidated by his level of world-building. I can GM as a passable impression of George Lucas, and if not Joss Whedon at least an acceptable Jane Espenson or Tim Minear, but with Tolkien I feel less like I’d be playing with his toys than getting my grubby fingers on his priceless creations.

Whedon lead to the closest I’ve gotten to straight fantasy in twenty years actually, a bit of a subversion as Season Six of The Watch House had an Arthurian fae sorceress raising a sleeping dragon to wipe out humanity and a quest into the underworld. This kind of thing happening in the here and now, with heroes who know the stories, is different enough to feel fresh.

So look to another tradition? The knockabout pulp action of Leiber maybe, or the portal fantasy of Tolkien’s friend and colleague Lewis.

Do we want characters from our world or the fantasy? It could strengthen the characters, or undermine the world.

How important are the PCs? Everything the Fellowship does matters, and their final actions decide the fate of the world.

Who and what are we fighting? Do we want a Dark Lord? Or some other omnipresent threat, or a lack thereof? “Anything and everything” can make for long games with plenty of variety, but do you feel like you’ve accomplished anything when you know that monster was just visiting from the Random Monster Table?

How high does the Weird Level go? A Song Of Ice And Fire, the most successful straight fantasy in the media since the Rings trilogy, is pretty much the Wars of the Roses with some special guest dragons and zombies. It would be just fantasy enough to allow changes in the timeline and not to scare off players who don’t want a pure historical RPG.

On a related note, how serious are we? There are some Deadly Serious fantasy worlds out there, but for example Middle-Earth has the Hobbits’ laissez-faire response to adventuring and Gimli’s disapproval of Legolas for showing off. Warhammer is pretty much an extended run of snark about Middle-Earth. An utterly po-faced world is likely to attract jokes from players at its expense.

Are the standard fantasy races here? What about gods? A land of the dead? Was there a Golden Age that ancient beings keep getting nostalgic about? Where do magic items come from, are they common or rare? How much of the Bits Box are we using?

Is the campaign episodic, a series of short stories about the same band of adventurers, or is it all one quest taking months or years to tell?

In short, what makes your fantasy world fun?

Okay, enough talk. Example!

An Arthurian game that isn’t Pendragon. More like Bernard Cornwell’s Winter King series, or indeed Robin Of Sherwood. The Weird Level is dialled down but not all the way to zero. Camelot is a “point of light” in a land of barbarity after the fall of Rome, dealing and trading with outlying tribes, trying to bring them into the kingdom peaceably. Plenty of room for totally mundane adventures - arrogant warriors looking to prove themselves, bandits kidnapping heiresses, invading Northmen. But also strange mystical things which are never really defined - a white hart that seems to purposely taunt knights hunting them, whispering voices pursuing murderers, a sword that does amazing things on occasion but shouldn’t be relied upon. Mud and blood and wooden shields, to make the miraculous stand out even more.

And if you want to loosen things up a bit further, have a PC sit on the throne.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Build A Setting 3: Urban Monster SF

Predator has now gotten to the point where you could make one the straight hero of a movie. The first one was a bad guy all around, but nowadays they have twisted senses of honour, they ally with humans if need be, they clean up their messes, and in Predators one is the brave underdog fighting the super-uber-Predator who captured him.

So what could you do with that? It probably needs some humans, so maybe set it on Earth. Put a Predator between them and something more threatening, and give it a reason to defend them. (Not Alien, it’s been done, and only done well in the comics.)

This could be expanded on further - let’s say there are small numbers of not-that-humanoid aliens operating in secret on earth, pursuing various agendas. Since they don't look like people, give them cloaking devices, and a hard time making alliances with humans - although not impossible, especially if somebody wants to play a human ally. Put government departments on their trails, so they have to act in secret or end up in Area 51. (You can always do an “Escape From Area 51” episode too.) Ramp up the danger later on, so we have to get involved.

A lone “outsider” fighting for humanity is pretty common for superheroes and superhero-y urban fantasy, so why not modern-day SF?

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Build A Setting 2: Space Opera NOW!

Lifting the Tyranny out of part one, making it a whole setting rather than a one-book aside in a superhero universe.

It’s a Standard Scifi Setting but it’s happening above our heads right now.

Borrowing a lot from Flash Gordon and the like (obviously) as well as its modern-er equivalent Star Wars and the modern-people-in-space-opera hooks of Doctor Who, Farscape and Stargate. In a superhero universe it would play a lot like Marvel’s Starjammers or Annihilation.

Rules-wise I'd use a pulpy or slightly-superheroic system rather than a full-on supers game. I've played a 30s Flash-style Adventure! game before.

Like Flash and Dale and Crichton and O’Neil and Star-Lord, the PCs get to be genre-savvy about the setting, once they get over the culture shock, and the players find out about it with them.

--

In the depths of space, the armies of the Tyranny assemble to ravage and conquer another world. Dozens of species work as slaves in the depths of their black and purple starships, powered by chained black holes, and the scientific minds and strong backs of humanity will be a valuable prize to the Tyrant and his council of backstabbing advisors.

Opposing them is a rag-tag fleet of escapees, other strange alien beings, and long-lost travellers from Earth...

And at some point, the PC strong guy will end up in a gladiatorial arena fight with the Tyranny champion and/or a captured rebel hero.

--

So we have a wide variety of aliens on both sides - free, enslaved or employed by the Tyranny. The Tyrant and his main forces are probably generally humanoid to make them relatable, but humans are a rarity. Human PCs are an obvious option, but there’s room for aliens, cyborgs and robots and the like.

The Tyranny has backstabbing advisors to allow for multiple enemy factions, and there’s room for feuding potential allies, shifty neutrals like Space Pirates, and other threats like Psycho Robots and Ancient Chthonic Evils to join in as well.

I imagine the PCs crewing a beat-up little spaceship, flying hit-and-run missions against the Tyranny armada, piloted by Amelia Earhart.

Build A Setting 1: A Superhero Universe

Since I'm currently building a Doctor Who spinoff over thataway, it's got me thinking about DIYing settings, as for example Steve D's Campaign Toybox.

So I reckon I'll post some settings here.

To start with, a bit of recycling, from here, and previously from some games I've Actually Played (the Tyranny never arrived in-game, though):

A Classic Superhero Setting

Future, the Archetypal First Hero, could fly, was really strong, wore a cape, fought in World War Two, and was loved by all for his altruism and caring. And unless someone wants to play him, he died saving the world a few years ago or went missing while going out to stop a rogue asteroid that was going to destroy the planet.

The Darkness, the Archetypal Sinister Vigilante, is an urban legend, punching out Dick Tracy style villains and leaving them tied up for the police in Deprived City With Gargoyles.

Sergeant Power, the Archetypal Patriotic Supersoldier, was supposed to be the first in a production line, but something went wrong and he became a single, remarkable player in the theatre of war.

But unless someone wants to play them, they're all off-stage. It's time for the PCs to become the stars of this setting.

--

Just to be different from the Big Two, Atlantis is full of people who aren't particularly good swimmers, but they build great submarines. And it's ruled by a Senate, rather than having a brooding Prince who talks to fish.

--

Lyonesse also reappears, full of Arthurian knights. The Time of Endings has arrived, and the Once and Future King will ride out to save the world again. If someone wants to play him, this is important, otherwise it'll be a crossover event next summer that the PCs play a surprisingly major part in.

(A couple of these subsections could be pulled out and made into related-genre settings of their own.)

--

SABER - Senate Advisory Bureau on Extranormal Research - has been around since Archetypal First Hero appeared, formed by the agents who'd dealt with Pre-Comics Pulp Daredevils and Mystery Men. Agent G-5, who first battled The Secret Of The Orient in the late 1920s, is still in charge despite being over a hundred years old and he doesn't look a day over forty-five. If one of the PCs is a SABER agent, they'll be important, otherwise they're there for occasional crossovers and to drag away international villains after the PCs whomp on them. Optionally, they could provide a supers liaison, who bears a passing resemblance to a popular superspy character of whichever decade we're talking about such as Mrs. Peel or latterly Sydney Bristow.

--

Overlord was once a man. A brilliant physicist, engineer and alchemist, he had seen too many wars fought for twisted or perverted ideals, and sought to conquer the world for its own good, the ultimate meritocracy. He fought Future, SABER and The Science Five repeatedly over the years, striking from his floating base "Overwatch", until he died in a battle with the Five and (the predecessor or parent of a legacy hero), when they failed to save him from the deathtrap he meant for them as Overwatch's thermic reactor exploded. And then, six years later, rumours began to spread that Overlord still lived, risen from the dead and seeking revenge on his enemies and all the world. Some say that his baroque battle armour is empty, driven by the alchemist's ghost or the machinery he created...

--

On a much smaller scale, Edgar Drake is the untouchable head of Deprived City With Gargoyles' most powerful crime syndicate - and two of its main competitors. He keeps any potential threats to his reign in check by having them fight each other. He presumes that eventually Darwinism will lead to one winning, and on that day he will be glad to relinquish his power to the stronger man. In the meantime, he is a charming and affable society host, a trustworthy business partner, and willing to snap your neck without blinking should you threaten to expose his secret or endanger the life of his daughter, DCWG University star student Celia Drake. Protecting her from the harsh realities of his life is his highest priority, having sworn it to his wife on her deathbed.

Drake's foremost rival is The Snake, the yellow-eyed, double-jointed, fork-tongued maniac believed to have started his life in a travelling show before killing the abusive ringmaster and escaping at the age of ten. Pathologically incapable of empathy, the Snake is a master thief and a literally cold-blooded killer, who could have retired years ago but finds his only pleasure in the intellectual challenges of crime.

--

Meanwhile, in the depths of space, the armies of the Tyranny assemble to ravage and conquer another world. Dozens of species work as slaves in the depths of their black and purple starships, powered by chained black holes, and the scientific minds and strong backs of humanity will be a valuable prize to the Tyrant and his council of backstabbing advisors. Opposing them is a rag-tag fleet of escapees, other strange alien beings, and long-lost travellers from Earth. If you're playing them, this is important right away. If not, it'll crop up when the Tyranny fleet reaches our solar system and SABER nudge the PCs into a spaceship to investigate. And at some point, the PC strong guy will end up in a gladiatorial arena fight with the Tyranny champion and/or a captured rebel hero.

--

Also, consider some more stock elements.

The Nationals, April 2013

... is looking for GMs.

The Great Work begins again!

Oy.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Hometown Heroes

So as I learned through the WW forums, a Glasgow fanbook for Vampire is coming.

I couldn’t resist suggesting that Something is buried under Red Road, about to be released.

I've never been too keen on setting games in or around home - too easy for everybody to lose suspension of disbelief, to go “that’s wrong” if I change something, or indeed get something wrong. London or Cambridge are close enough, in terms of the kinds of stories I could tell there. Of course, I can also see the appeal of having years of experience of a setting, all its foibles and quirks and stories, of being your own sourcebook.

London and Cambridge in my head look rather like Edinburgh, too. (Which having visited them both, I can get away with.)

Do characters have a “home” where their adventures start and end, or happen? Are they rootless wanderers or townies? How does the environment impact on the series?

Primeval is back (on ITV, a year after showing on Watch)

No news on anything after that run, either.

If not, it's a good end point, and indeed a good start point for new stories and adventures, as for example the RPG.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Fictionspace!

A videogame movie worth seeing?!

Well, sort of.

A bit like Reboot but with the serial numbers left on and given a polish, Wreck-It Ralph follows a videogame bad guy who gets tired of being beaten and booed for doing his job and goes to see what other game worlds there are out there.

And of course I could see an RPG version. Borrowing a joke from Paranoia, antagonist NPCs meeting at the Wandering Monster Table. Signature NPCs, maybe? Might make for a good convention one-shot.

A Jasper Fforde style fictional multiverse where characters hop from story to story or into the real world (as a discussion I had recently goes) would be more sustainable and less in-jokey (while still being plenty in-jokey).

And a game with a high enough Weird Level could take in a character who is supposed to be fictional in the game's regular setting. (Buffy gameifier CJ Carella once suggested this as a possible origin for a PC.)

Be nice to your recurring antagonist NPC. Let him do something other than wreck it.

Stargate Universe

As discussed previously, the Stargate universe makes for great gaming. But how about Stargate Universe? It’s just started on non-subscription TV here, hence the asking now.

It keeps the “modern characters, could be anyone” appeal of the setting while cutting them off from Earth, and to begin with it mostly concerns itself with the practical issues of spaceflight in a knackered out-of-control Ancient starship. Separation from Earth means supporting characters and redshirts have to be there from the start, leading to uncertainty as to which non-stars might make it to the end of a given episode.

The main difference, though, is one of tone. These by and large aren’t characters who want to be on an epic space adventure. Like Lost in space, and indeed Lost In Space (and to a lesser extent Voyager) they’d really rather be going home now, thank you. And that makes them less game-ish right away, I think. It’s less “what’s the adventure?” and more “what’s the holdup?”
No Grand Masquerade this year, sadly.

I could always buy this instead... (via Cat)

What do you put in a monster-hunting kit? Is the pistol a good use of space when you're after vampires? Perhaps if, like Dracula, they have minions. And what's holy earth anyway...?

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Snow White And The Huntsman is a lot of fun, as well as apparently the first film influenced by the director playing Warhammer as a kid.

It's an object lesson in re-genre-ising a story, in this case into big fantasy action with a lot of mud, especially when compared with Mirror Mirror or the more straight horror Snow White: A Tale Of Terror. Or the inversion of Snow, Glass, Apples, or the lightness and contrasting mundanity of Once Upon A Time...

How would you spin a story like that?

The Illustrious Man

Ray Bradbury has died, aged 91. He was one of the greats.

I've mentioned his work in passing over yonder, specifically Something Wicked This Way Comes, but you could draw as easily from the dystopia of Fahrenheit 451 or the American Gothic whimsy of From The Dust Returned or the treacherous time-travelling of A Sound Of Thunder or...

Why he wrote about Mars, from just two days ago.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

WW news

Victorian Lost is out.

I haven't read through it yet, so I don't know if Eddy Webb the developer used my semicoherent but enthusiastic suggestion of a sidebar about Richard Dadd. Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, the Kickstarter for a deluxe version of Children Of The Revolution nears both its end and its stretch goal.