Saturday, 28 February 2015

Spock and Vulcans

Thanks to Leonard Nimoy’s presence as Spock, and his care in developing the role and working with the writing staff to keep him consistent, Vulcans were the first alien race to develop defining cultures in the Star Trek universe. This kind of thought helped create both a believable alien culture and an individual character standing apart from it, a race well worth studying as an example when creating a setting and a character to look at when choosing to play something you will define.

Vulcans have a well-developed philosophy, a sense of history and glimpses of a rich culture, as well as a reason to befriend humanity and join them in their adventures. The individual role of Spock goes a long way to define Vulcan culture, but also stands in contrast to much of it. Other Vulcan characters, like his father Sarek, Xon in the abortive Phase II, Saavik in the films and T’Pol on Enterprise, defined themselves partially by difference as well as his example. Playing a Vulcan without making it a caricature can be a challenge, but the depth of the society and portrayals to follow can really help. Some features created for the sake of drama fit awkwardly (see Amok Time for an obvious example) but all in all Vulcans presented a culture and an ethos I could believe, and Spock himself contrasted with it as he did with humanity, bringing the wisdom of the outsider to both sides.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy, who defined the outsider looking in for generations as Spock in Star Trek, has died. His last message to followers on Twitter, just four days ago, read “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP.” Live Long And Prosper.

The Year Without A Summer

To my surprise, another one-line idea for Dark Eras is up for voting - Promethean in the year Frankenstein was conceived. Along with six other appealing ideas. Drat.

Edit: It won! That feels strange.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Innocents in the Blitz

I was (possibly) the first to suggest the Blitz as an Innocents setting for World Of Darkness: Dark Eras. It has now lost two polls, so, okay, I get the hint.

The hint being do it myself. :)

Conpulsion games are coming in (though more be needed!) including, oddly enough, an Innocents game set in the Blitz, by someone other than me.

Plan Nine From Red Square

When a Russian bio-bomb turns most of the men in America into flesh-eating zombies, women and children have to fight to survive using any available means. A Romero-style zombie apocalypse hits city centres in the 1950s in Dead Scare so most of the survivors are out in the suburbs - women, children and the elderly or disabled.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Congratulations to The Watch House producer and star Cat Tobin, now Managing Director at Pelgrane Press!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Secret identities?

You know that bit at the end of Iron Man where Tony Stark has been briefed with a secret identity cover story and then just says “I am Iron Man.” It was a pretty big surprise at the time, as secret identities are pretty standard operating procedure for superheroes and this had carried over into previous movies. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has largely followed Tony’s example and gone for public identities, apart from those actively working covertly and the Hulk. Note all the unmasked faces.

In the modern age of surveillance a secret identity would be hard to maintain without some hacking and trickery. This is how Finch and Reese operate in Person Of Interest.

Or would Batman just post his work on Facebook?

For modern melee armour, see also these guys who look like obscure 90s Marvel Night Thrasher.

(For my 1337th post, ninjas seem appropriate.)

The Owls are not what they seem

Cocktail bar with live owl entertainment to open in London. (Via Steve D)

The Strix openly revel in mortal worship!

... Actually, that’s a pretty good plot hook for them. Monsters who don’t care about the Masquerade are certain to clash with those who strive to stay hidden.

Police issue APB for the Snow Queen

Okay, as Kit Kindred notes, there has to be a plot hook here. (Besides other supernatural cold characters being annoyed about Elsa getting the blame.)

Monday, 23 February 2015

Most heroic things your PCs have done?

I started this RPGnet thread in late 2007, apparently. It was in response to a thread about the most evil things PCs had done, which got kind of scary. The “most” in the title led to a lot of stories about heroic sacrifices, as those are hard to top.

What about you, O readers?

Oscar Game Night, Part II

Another alternative:

What would a session of your game centred around an awards ceremony or similar event be like?

This is easy enough if your PCs are entertainers or other public figures likely to given awards - the medals at the end of Star Wars provide one model of how to end a big adventure, one rarely played that straight since.

But what else?

“And the winner is... urk!”
Murder At The Awards
Perhaps an obvious suggestion, also available as a murder mystery party, but a big high society event would be the perfect setting for a murder mystery. Some similar crime, like the theft of the big award (or the main picture at an exhibition opening) could work too. In any case, there’s plenty of room for backbiting, gossip, shocking secret revelations, and possibly a killer disguised by Oscar-quality effects makeup!

“Me? Oh, uh, I’m here for... Adapted Screenplay...?”
Undercover On The Red Carpet
Even without a murder or some similar crime to focus attention, PCs from outside high society having to mingle with it can always find ways to get in trouble. Forced by circumstance, escorting a celeb, hunting a lead... spies have to do this a lot, and so do vampires... And of course, one of the PCs has to end up on stage (see below) at some point.

“Let’s go steal an awards ceremony.”
Leverage: The Statuette Job
In Leverage S1 the crew steal a movie to get an aspiring actress to wreck a fake adoption scam, and in S2 they use a fraudulent scoop to bring down a tabloid TV anchor and a borrowed fashion show to close a sweatshop. So let’s say the heroes of a heist game want to ruin a studio head who stole a script? Making up an awards ceremony of their own would be the easiest way, but why go easy? He’d love a shot at prestige - maybe an award that isn’t totally tied up, like Best Short Film, could be stolen... And Neil Patrick Harris would totally help.

“Just doing my job...”
The Heroes Get Awards
Public hero types like superheroes and world-saving fantasy adventurers might sometimes receive due recognition... and may be targeted by villains who want to literally rain on their parade. The players will certainly expect this. Maybe hit them with an awkward press conference instead!

“And the prize for Villain of the Year goes to...”
The Monster’s Choice Awards
The idea of a secret awards ceremony for supervillains or monsters would work for a suitably weird superhero or urban fantasy setting. It’s a slightly more insane spin on the classic villain auction setup, with a bunch of high-end bad guys in a single room all vying for the same thing, just a rather trivial prize. (Although it could be a world-threatening artefact or gadget...) It would fit the LA setting of Angel perfectly.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Oscar Game Night

Not about playing Oscar bingo or drinking games or anything... looking at the Best Picture nominee stories for plot hooks.

The tricky part here is looking at all the real-life stories and not just going with Doctor Who. I will admit I have once. (Best Animated Picture is so much easier there...)

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Warhammer 30,000?

Games Workshop is apparently bringing the End Times to Warhammer Fantasy Battle, and bringing back much-loved early ideas (like Genestealer cults and Eldar Harlequins!) and plastics for the ancient Horus Heresy to 40K. Appealing to old-school fans is a pretty sound policy - those Harlequins are the first non-third-party 40K figures to tempt me in over a decade...

Winter Keeps Coming

It’s been a long but not-too-snowy winter here, but in the USA and Canada it’s been crazy. You can’t quite walk across the frozen Hudson River, but it’s not far off it.

Weather control is a fairly low Weird Level, so that if this kind of thing happened it would be someone’s fault and you could go and punch them until they stopped. That would be nice right now, if climate change had a face you could punch.

Friday, 20 February 2015

RPG contests

... some with really tight deadlines. The Strange one has until 8am tomorrow UK time. At least the D&D one is running all week.

Possible lost Sherlock Holmes story?

The Brig Bazaar, written for a charity fundraiser that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attended in the Borders, features a journalist attempting to imagine an interview with Holmes and Watson. So probably not canon...

Experts reckon not by Conan Doyle either. Oh well.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Settlers Of Catan: the... film? TV show?

The Settlers Of Catan, vanguard of the Euro boardgame renaissance, could be on the way to TV or films.

I don’t get it. It’s about trading in a pre-industrial island.

Can you spare a monster?

Urban fantasy author Sara Amundson needs monsters. I’m sure some of you have some spare...


Plans are apparently afoot for a TV version of Jim Starlin’s Marvel Epic (and various other places like First and Malibu Comics) SF series Dreadstar, which was one of the wilder “comics don’t need to worry about the budget” space operas to come out in the wake of Star Wars. It has the man who killed the Milky Way fighting a sinister intergalactic church, backed up by a catman, a blind psychic and a lich. (By comparison, Mike Grell and John Ostrander’s Starslayer only killed our sun after being abducted by time travel from his home in Celtic Britain, and acted like that was a big deal.)

It’s a fine example of setting up a space opera setting where the main characters make a major impact... in one issue the heroes fight fifty gold cyborg royal guards (each individually designed by the writer/artist) and that’s a minor side point.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Taking the places of the stars of a setting

I’m currently playing Dragonlance, and none of us took on the roles of the canonical / pregenerated characters directly as we make our shambolic way through events somewhat familiar from reading the first trilogy of novels decades ago.

We do, however, have a player who has read the books playing a Red High Sorcerer of suspect motivation, the defining shtick of one of the standout characters, and another who hasn’t read the books playing a half-elf would-be Solamnic Knight who started with the staff of healing and became a healer following the good gods - the defining shticks of all three characters on the cover of the first novel. His player stepped onto all of them quite by accident, and her character makes sense with each, but it’s still kind of odd.

I myself don’t really fit any of the main characters, and purposely ducked out of being a leader type. (If I fit any character’s defining shtick, it’s Han Solo.) This is a deliberate choice on my part, for one thing not wanting to deal with the magic system or any complicated classes, and for another not wanting to push the game down the rails the books ride on. I have picked up a relatively minor plot complication - a foe from the past being an ally, a reverse of the Kitiara problem - so I’m not totally out of place.

If you replaced the protagonists of an existing story rather than playing alongside them, how would you do it? Do you follow their style, think “what would I have done differently?” or try to keep knowledge of plot, setting and characters out of your head?

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Casting a famous NPC

In my current games I’m using photography to provide reference images of NPCs, as there are quite a lot of them to keep track of. In Buffy some are famous and most are borrowed from YA shows and films (and some are monsters - thank you Face Off!) while in Vampire: The Masquerade I’m generally avoiding overly familiar faces as it dents verisimilitude. About a third of the recurring cast are borrowed from Person Of Interest.

But now a situation has come up where the PCs might get a flashback glimpse of the founders of Clan Tremere. This seems like a moment to bring in a big “guest star” particularly for Tremere himself. I don’t know who, though...

There’s art available, but it would be an obvious break in style - especially when I’ve managed photos of the Nosferatu (thank you Blade II, Left 4 Dead cosplay and Face Off again indirectly, the direct link being pretty strange!) so maybe I should keep him as a glimpsed silhouette.

I can say that most of the sequence will (at least in my head) look a lot like Dracula Untold.

Not least because the end of Dracula Untold looks a lot like Vampire: The Dark Ages.
While Tremere in particular never came up, I have previously considered making a trailer about the Vampire Revised signature characters. I just never got any further than Eva Green as Lucita...

This relates to a recent Onyx Path thread about playing such notable NPCs. I tend to go for less-is-more here. Tremere may well not speak in the flashback, while his coven Etrius and Meerlinda might do so. A lot of my really powerful NPCs stay silent...

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Time Of Your Life

High school time travellers, from Back To The Future to Life Is Strange, in TimeWatch.

“Teen time travellers are less likely to try and assassinate history Hitler as they are to avoid embarrassing themselves in front of the cheerleaders, get revenge on a bully or find a way to cheat on an important test.”

Friday, 13 February 2015

Friday The 13th Age Sale

A flash sale on PDFs of the rulebook and major supplements for 13th Age. One day only. Lucky for some.

Cold War Spy Boardgames

From io9’s Spy Week, ten espionage-themed boardgames from the Cold War. I love how gritty and serious the box art gets as the list moves from the 60s to the 70s. We had (and maybe still have) an incomplete copy of Spy Ring...

The theme lends itself to adversarial play, of course, as well as the light deduction of a Cluedo or stealth, and games with lots of bits and gadgets.

Today, the Cold War is a matter for historical gaming, and Twilight Struggle has been at the top of the Boardgamegeek poll for years now.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Sword Coast Legends

On a related note: Coming soon, a D&D multiplayer computer game with a Dungeon Master setting. A nice idea that I’ve seen attempted by the likes of Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption, taking the maths out of combat and providing all the virtual miniatures and scenery you’re likely to need.

What's that in Copper Pieces?

Another DriveThru PDF sale, this time for prior editions of D&D. (The core rules for 5th edition are still free of course.)

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Victorian Age Vampire

The Victorian Age Vampire line is on sale this week, with the PDFs 20% off at DriveThru - the sourcebook, its supplements, the novels, the live-action rules and even the Kindred Of The East spinoff.

I got the main line as they arrived, and they’re great books that I haven’t had much chance to use. I got London By Night signed by two of the authors at Dragonmeet in the city - with one of them finding the other as he had never been asked for that before!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Ghostbusters: The Board Game

A mere thirty years after the film came out (and twenty-eight after the RPG) comes a modular miniatures boardgame Kickstarting for more and bigger monsters. The Zener Card die is a nice touch. The heroes are represented by the IDW Comics versions, presumably for ease of likeness rights. I imagine you could sub in certain other miniatures if you so chose.

Spy Week at io9

Real or fictional, brilliant or blundering, a week of articles about spies and spying. Plots and characters ready to drop into an espionage or investigative game, like the list of great female spies - the list of real espionage blunders would seem too far-fetched for most games...

Mordor calls for aid

Inspired by my not knowing what was going on in The Wheel Of Time rights-securing pilot, I got the idea that one of an old hero’s enemies came to visit, not to gloat about his belated victory, but to seek his help.

A villain has spotted that a much bigger threat is on the way, so putting personal issues aside, contacts the forces of good. Can they fight together? Can the heroes work with an archenemy while always expecting their Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal? How well do their concerns really align, and how long until Spike grabs Dru and abandons the heroes to the final battle?

(This doesn’t literally work with Mordor, obviously, but I saw a pun...)

And does it depend if the villain is a player character?

The Wheel Of Time

The Wheel Of Time series has long been tangled up in licensing and now a low-budget TV presentation has aired to secure the media rights (like the Roger Corman version of Fantastic Four) which, for this viewer unfamiliar with the books, has some horrible CGI but gave me a pretty interesting plot hook (which is not actually what’s happening) where a villain calls on a hero for help.

RPGs are good for you

Social skills, problem solving, getting out of the house, that kind of thing.

Chances are if you’re here some of this has already occurred to you, but you can always pass the link on.

Monday, 9 February 2015

What is best in life?

Conan is coming back to RPGs, from Modiphius.

With just two days to go for a multi-million-dollar Kickstarter for a board/miniatures game from another company, it’s a busy week for him.

(And a busy week for makers of fleshtone paint for miniatures. Sensibly-dressed Conan and friends are absent among the variant figures.)

Adventuring warriors in fantasy worlds are not exactly underserved by RPGs, but there’s a space for Conan because straight fighter types are often outpaced by magical characters. The TSR and Mongoose versions actively discouraged magic-using PCs in various ways.

Adaptations tend to up the fantasy spectacle content - my introduction to the character was the Marvel Comics version wrestling with an enemy on a beam suspended over a pit with a giant spider in it, and that didn’t seem like a big day for him.

Whenever a Conan story starts, I wonder who the Prince being addressed is. (Dark Horse Comics offered an answer when they picked up the licence in 2003, so it’s not just me.)

The art of Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending is by most accounts an impressive film to look at but not to listen to. But the concept art (contains a spoiler, apparently) has all the impressive and not much of the plot. The cyber-angels could make good visual references for Demon: The Descent, among other things.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Conpulsion needs YOU!

Conpulsion Overboard is eight weeks away. Eek!

So some GMs (and other kinds of volunteers) would be welcome...

This is (hopefully) my last time as RPG Coordinator, so bear with me.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Game Masters

Currently at the National Museum of Scotland here, Game Masters is a pretty big history of video and computer games with over a hundred playable. It’s a big hit, so much so that this is not a personal review as we couldn’t get in today... Phil Harris managed to, reviewing it for Bleeding Cool.

Part of me wants to try and run adventures based on some, if not all, of these. Some of the plots are rather too straightforward (like for the dance games) but it would be easy to grab a story hook, or a visual, or a specific problem from a variety of games and stick them into another genre, How would your group deal with seemingly endless waves of monsters attacking from the sky?

“That man is playing Galaga. Thought we wouldn’t notice. But we did.”
The Avengers - before Tony has to hold off a swarm of alien invaders from the top of the screen.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Two World Of Darkness links, both historical in their own way

An interview with the team behind Dark Eras.

A forthcoming Bundle Of Holding for PDFs of mostly second edition Vampire: The Masquerade books.

It takes a village to create a world

Idle worldbuilding idea:

Ask every GM you know to throw in some ideas for a fantasy setting. Putting them in a hat and shaking them optional.

A shared world could be an interesting experiment, even if the multiple GMs and players contributing never take a turn running it. The result is bound to be more diverse than one GM can manage. There is a risk of incompatible ideas and varying Weird Levels, so the person actually running the game would have to have final say, of course.

I’ve dropped plenty of ideas into other GMs’ games as a player, often involving my PC but not always - I suggested the basic concepts for two major alien races in Distant Stars and then played a human, which left me feeling a bit proprietary about the setting, guest GMing for it during the initial series and considering running it myself.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Map projection for GMing

Suitable for miniatures and the like.

Would seem to fit an SF game more than D&D but never mind.

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy

The original outline for the trilogy that would become A Song Of Ice And Fire has emerged and it makes for interesting and in some places highly odd reading. For one thing, Sansa could have had it even worse.

How much do you prep, how much do you reconsider, and how much do you leave in the hands of the fates and/or players?

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Game Of Game Of Thrones

The return of Game Of Thrones looms large over geek culture once more, and with it my thoughts once again turn to epic fantasy, deconstructions and reconstructions.

I know I keep thinking about this and not doing it, because it would be a lot of effort to make an interesting world for the players to run amok in. It would have to run for quite a while as well, an academic year if not longer, to build up enough that when the armies march and the dragons fly it will seem to matter. This is entirely possible, but again, a lot of work.

I wouldn’t want to do the level of action fantasy RPGs usually feature, with a fight or two every session and dead orcs by the dozen. Intrigue, politicking, socialising and romance might feature more heavily - so when swords are drawn it has a bit more impact. Maybe not go all-out deadly, but consider long-term wounds like Pendragon as a deterrent. And of course saying that it’ll be low on action before we start.

Then again, “Intrigue, politicking, socialising and romance” pretty much sounds like Vampire... but hey, that rarely escalates to marching armies and flying dragons. Sometimes, but rarely...

Tuesday, 3 February 2015


A new stretch goal for Dark Eras, and this time one of the possible settings (Innocents in the Blitz) was partially my idea. So a vote would be nice. But the other settings look cool too.

Vampire: The Miniatures

Nosferatu-type Ghouls here. In hoodies (like Hunters in Left 4 Dead) and clambering out of sewers. Found while searching idly for Buffy miniatures, through here.

Not that I use miniatures (a) more than about once every five years or (b) ever for World Of Darkness games, but I still likes the toys, I does...

Nosferatu are the trickiest clan to get suitable figures for, of course, although there are plenty of original Nosferatu Orlok himself. Mantic Ghouls are lovely multipart figures for less modern examples.

The other clans can be represented by regular miniatures painted with an undead pallor and dark clothes - trenchcoats and katanas optional.

Ral Partha actually produced official classic World Of Darkness miniatures, most of whom seemed to have their arms in the air for some reason. I got the Tremere two-pack and never got around to painting them. RAFM meanwhile produced the, er, not dissimilar Fantastique Noir: Vampyre line - the Nosferatu gangster inspired a character in a game a while later. For the new World Of Darkness there are only the clan miniatures for the boardgame Prince Of The City based on the first edition Requiem clan characters.

Were I so inclined, I’d start with this list. The trick is finding characters that aren’t leaping into action.

(And for the record, Hasslefree, Artizan and Character Options provided miniatures for The Watch House...)

Mediaeval Darth Vader armour

I repeat: mediaeval Darth Vader armour.

MegaCorpHammer 40,000

An idea mashup on RPGnet about taking the concept of corporations as nations, sending them into space to explore and conquer like robber barons, and then running with it for millennia.

In the grim darkness of the far future there is only the bottom line.

They could also make interesting antagonists for another setting. After examples like the Slitheen planning to blow up the Earth just to sell off the parts, the Doctor would not approve. Captain Kirk would not be a fan of a corporate invasion fleet either - and be rather annoyed when one of the oligarchs pointed out the history of the ship name Enterprise...

Monday, 2 February 2015

Circa 1948

Currently at the Fruitmarket Gallery here in Edinburgh, for another two weeks, is a show of various media by Canadian artist Stan Douglas, including huge blow-ups of virtual landscapes from his interactive history Circa 1948. (See one of them in bigger-than-any-monitor size at the Fruitmarket site.) A lot of his work plays with the era - a room in the exhibition is filled with noirish portraits taken fifty years after they claim to be. But stepping into them is rather... interesting.

Haunted House Horror

Advice from Robin D. Laws on haunted house horror, with suggestions on what a haunting might be in The Esoterrorists or the Cthulhu mythos, and ways to play out a haunting besides The Haunting and PC investigators, such as playing the family unfortunate enough to buy the haunted house...

What to put in an Arthurian adaptation

Less common things you could include in an Arthur story or series, according to io9. Less Arthur is the first suggestion, which might be an issue. But essentially it’s looking at what there is in the myth cycle that rarely gets a look-in.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Propulsion 2015

Propulsion 2015 was last night, raising over £180 for the Sick Kids Friends Foundation.

I was too knackered to be directly involved, but observed Gregor running The Princes’ Kingdom for the first few hours.

The Crow

Brandon Lee should have been fifty years old today.

The Crow is a classic World Of Darkness style film, while the comic has a further rawness to it, as well as more of the melancholy as he stops to talk to people on his way.

The sequels... both comic and film... well, I have a soft spot for City Of Angels (mainly the soundtrack and Mia Kirshner’s adult Sarah) and the recent comic Curare (about a detective trying to solve a little girl’s murder... with the little girl’s help) but they all pale next to the originals, especially the later films, and the TV show...

A remake/reboot/reimagining has been a long time coming and seems no closer at least three announced and departed stars later (Tom Hiddleston, Bradley Cooper and Luke Evans - personally I’d like to see someone like Emily Blunt in the lead - and apparently I’m not alone, she’s in talks for a remake of Escape From New York...) but I’m sure we’ll see it someday.

For games, a vengeful revenant is easy enough, but several at a table would be a little strange. The Risen for Wraith: the Oblivion addresses this in a small sidebar. For myself I did consider a game about four “horsemen”, but never did anything with it.

The recipients of the Crow’s power are basically unstoppable too, and that lends itself better to one-shots. Taking this power away for the final battle is pretty much traditional since the first film, for obvious upping-the-stakes reasons, but before that there’s a lot of fun to be had in knowing you can win every fight and just deciding how. Hell 4 Leather was built to tell a story like this in a couple hours and out.

Having something like this burst into an existing game could be interesting as well...