Showing posts from 2016

Fearful Rebels in Rogue One [Spoilers]

Bran thought about it. 'Can a man still be brave if he's afraid?' 'That is the only time a man can be brave,' his father told him. George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
I've just returned from a New Year's Eve viewing of Rogue One, taking my eleven year old daughter and her friend to see it.

This time around I was able to notice quite a bit more subtlety. These thoughts will be full of spoilers so let's let K-2SO keep us clear of spoilers.

Remembering Carrie Fisher

"To me, she's royalty."
- Lor San Tekka, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

It's hard to believe Carrie Fisher passed away this week, taken from us at the far too young age of 60. Like nearly everyone, I was first introduced to her through Star Wars though I've grown to greatly enjoy and admire the way in which she redefined herself after the popularity of Star Wars faded - as a novelist, a script doctor, a brutally honest advocate for mental health. And a totally engaging personality whenever she was interviewed.

Her role of Princess (and later General) Leia Organa defined for me - and probably my generation - a bad-ass princess. The story of the knight going to rescue the princess is an ancient one. But Star Wars gave us a new take on this story. Though captured by the bad guys at the start of the film, our princess was far from helpless. She hid the Death Star plans with R2-D2 and stood up to Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin. She refused to betray the Rebellion no…

Rogue One and Star Wars RPGs

As expected, recently seeing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story channeled that GM ADD fully into thinking about Star Wars games. Our Call of Cthulhu heroes are still alive for the time being, albeit trapped in a dimension with mutant dinosaurs...

[Note - discussion of Rogue One in this post will stay clear of spoiler territory.]

Rogue One takes us away from the dramas of the Skywalkers. While it's possible one or more of the heroes might be Force sensitive, if they are, they aren't aware of it. This is a story of fairly ordinary people doing rather extraordinary things - obtaining the plans to the Death Star.

The Empire we see in Rogue One is not the Empire that gets defeated by Ewoks. The Death Star is not a plot device to be destroyed but a terrifying weapon that has the potential to end all thoughts of resistance to the Empire.

Our heroes are not as pure or as certain as they ae in the main films. They're not bad people, but many of them are compromised and have done some bad…

Call of Cthulhu Actual Play: Reanimation in Greenland

Monday, June 3, 1889
The Gustav Ericsson arrived in the west Greenland port of Talluavik. On board her was the Rev. Seamus Murphy, sent by strange visions he'd been having, reuniting him with Ascott, Morton, and Pound.
With the Ericsson staying for two days to resupply a research station in the tiny port, they found an inn (the only inn - the town had maybe 20 buildings plus extensive mines) and drank the night away.
Tuesday, June 4, 1889
Drinking was a bad idea. The next morning the town was filled with reanimated corpses, many of which attacked the inn. The band fought their way out and saw the Ericsson was under attack, with the corpses being controlled by one of two British scientists performing research in the town -a Mister Travers.
The four went to the research station - an infirmity which had been giving immunizations.There they found Doctor Ian Chesterfield, a rather crazy mad scientist who had found ancient Hyperborean writings carved on metal disks in the mines - one of …

Thinking About Fate Accelerated Approaches

While I prep a dinosaur adventure for my Call of Cthulhu game, I've also been spending a lot of time going through Fate Accelerated - you can blame the recent prerelease of Dresden Files Accelerated for this. However, I've also been giving a lot of thought to how Fate Accelerated would handle Star Wars.

While Fate Core quantitatively stats out a character using skills, Fate Accelerated makes use of approaches. Approaches define how your character does things. The default approaches are Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick, and Sneaky. A character starts off with one at Good (+3), two at Fair (+2), two at Average (+1), and one at Mediocre (+0). When your character does something you use an approach. Now one might think you'd always use your best approach, but sometimes your best approach is not practical - for example, if you need to outrun a boulder chasing you down a tunnel (like in Raiders of the Lost Ark), you'd have a very tough time convincing a GM that you a…

Fiction Review: Storm Front

With the Dresden Files Accelerated RPG in preview release, I decided to take a break from the rather lengthy Alexander Hamilton audiobook to re-listen to Storm Front, the first novel of Jim Butcher's urban fantasy Dresden Files.
I've heard people suggest that the series really picks up in the third and fourth novel, with some people outright disliking Storm Front. I'll agree that the series greatly improves with time but to be honest, I really enjoyed the first book. In audiobook form the entire series is narrated by James Marsters, best known as Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He does a splendid job as the first person narrator. 
I'm not a major urban fantasy reader - I enjoy the genre but most of my reading is in other genres. In the 1990s I was a big fan of Charles de Lint's Newford series and I tend to enjoy most of Tim Powers' works (such as Declare, Last Call).
So with all that out of the way, what can you expect from Storm Front? It introduces us t…

Fiction Review: Journey to the Center of the Earth

I recently finished Journey to the Center of the Earth, written by Jules Verne and translated by Frederick Paul Walter. This translation can be found in the omnibus Amazing JourneysWhen reading Verne outside of the French he wrote his works in, it is vital to have a good translation. One of my most commonly hit posts (and one of my earliest), Jules Verne Translations That Don't Stink, provides a good overview of what is available in Verne translations. It could probably use a refresh - many of the books I listed as being available as print-only are now available in e-book form and there is some new material available. It is still what I would consider a good resource.

The novel is about the narrator, Axel, and his uncle,  Professor Otto Lidenbrock, a scholar of geology, on, well, a journey to the center of the Earth. Lidenbrock finds a manuscript which leads him to believe there is a tunnel from an Icelandic volcano that provides a rapid path to the center of the Earth. Lidenbr…

Dresden Files Accelerated Lives!

Much to my surprise I received a Kickstarter update for the Fate Core Kickstarter, completed and delivered years ago. It was a link to the near-final draft of Dresden Files Accelerated.
The Dresden Files RPG was, to the best of my knowledge, the final Evil Hat Fate release prior to Fate Core. After having read Fate Core I was, in some ways, a bit disappointed that Dresden Files came first - it is an awesome game but very much on the crunchy side. Fate Core simplified things greatly and Fate Accelerated even more so. I had initially questioned whether Fate Accelerated would work as a full game but the Young Centurions RPG showed what an amazing system it could be.
I've only just begun digesting Dresden Files Accelerated but my early impression is this the Fate game I've been waiting for. One of my favorite settings with a much lighter rules system than the original Dresden Files RPG. Don't misunderstand me on the original Dresden Files RPG - it is an amazingly well done pr…

Call of Cthulhu Actual Play: The Scuttling

Based on the adventure "The Scuttling" by Todd A. Woods and Kevin A. Ross from Chaosium's Sacraments of Evil

Friday March 15, 1889

Ascott, Morton, and Pound are hired by railroad tycoon by Nigel Stander to acquire a 16th century bust of Lady Jane Grey from Misters Weiman and DeMarco in New York City, with Ascott to work as his agent. Agent suspected his brother wanted to get him out of the city for a few months but a trip to America seemed entertaining. Mister Morton saw a potential story and Pound accompanied him to make sure he stayed alive.

Sunday, March 17, 1889

The characters travel to Liverpool and depart on the Christabel under Captain Dan Holley. There is some confusion when the Gustav Ericsson is in her berth but they make it aboard eventually. It is a long journey as the Christabel is an older ship without steam engines.

The crew tries to scare their passengers with tails of monsters (i.e. squid).

Monday, April 15, 1889

The Christabel glides into New York harbor,…

Other Things Distracting Me, Late 2016 Edition in a Galaxy Far, Far, Away

I noticed I've been flipping through my Star Wars books over the past few days, both the old West End Games resources and the newer Fantasy Flight Games ones.

Must be a new Star Wars movie coming out.

It's been about a year since I played a Star Wars game so the stars could be right for that this winter. But it seems I really need to be independently wealthy to have time for lots of campaigns. I'm a bit jealous of those people who are able to participate in or, in some cases, even run, multiple campaigns.

I've written about the original D6 Star Wars system a number of times and had a chance to explore its predecessor, Ghostbusters, this summer. It's far from a perfect system but it has the virtue of being incredibly easy to play. Fantasy Flight Games' versions of Star Wars is a lot more crunchie than the D6 incarnation - in my experience prepping takes a bit longer, though it does make for some rather interesting characters.

Oddly, while I played the numerous …

Remembering Joe Dever

Joe Dever's Lone Wolf gamebooks were incredibly popular among my circle of friends in the 1980s. The 1980s were a great time for gamebooks - I remember devouring Bantam's Choose Your Own Adventure series but the Lone Wolf books were my favorite by far. Throughout the series Dever revealed more and more of the world of Magnamund. A simple combat system added an element of randomness to the tales.

An amusing irony about the books is though they were for solo play, they encouraged a lot of socialization among my peers. We discussed the world, used elements of it in our D&D games, traded books with each other, etc.

Dever passed away this week, far too young at the age of 60. I'm glad he got to see his creation endure beyond the gamebooks fad of the 1980s. Cubicle 7 recently released a beautiful adaptation of Lone Wolf as a fully realized RPG. It's nice to think his words and his creations will live on. There are probably people adventuring in Magnamund as I write this…

Doctor West Will See You Now: Zombies in Call of Cthulhu

While I've been examining zombie gaming possibilities, I've got a late 19th century Call of Cthulhu game going on. Some of the players in my group suggested we do a zombie Call of Cthulhu adventure.

While we've got the pulp dials cranked up pretty high, I do want to keep the game Lovecraftian. I'm a huge Jules Verne fan and can  see at some point doing a Victorian-era adventure and/or horror game in the vein of Pinnacle's Rippers or Cubicle 7's Victoriana. But for this game I do want to stay grounded in Lovecraftian horror.

Which brings us to one of Lovecraft's least favorite creations, Doctor Herbert West, the "protagonist" of his serial "Herbert West - Reanimator". This serial examined West and his obsession with reversing death. To quote the first section of the serial:

In his experiments with various animating solutions he had killed and treated immense numbers of rabbits, guinea-pigs, cats, dogs, and monkeys, till he had become the…

Brains: Thinking About Zombie Apocalypse RPGs

I recently posted some of the games that are distracting me, causing one player to ask me "what about a zombie apocalypse?"

So... What about a zombie apocalypse? Truthfully, I've never done an all-out zombie apocalypse game, though I have rather enjoyed liberal use of zombies in D&D games.

I've actually always wanted to do such a game, though truthfully I find it a little bit on the intimidating side - while a one-shot zombie apocalypse game is pretty easy to do, the challenge is in keeping the campaign interesting. Obviously, game after game of killing zombies would get rather boring.

One of the inspirations I'd take would be Max Brooks' World War Z. While I found the movie to be so-so, I found the book fantastic. Its premise is it is written several years after a zombie apocalypse has been contained, with the author being the interviewer of numerous personalities. Most of the interviewees appear in only one chapter, others are revisited throughout the …

Fake News of the Future

I've been avoiding talking too much about the recently completed US presidential election. I've some very strong opinions on it but it's motivated me to relaunch my political blog where I can have a place to focus on it and leave my geeky blog here relatively nonpartisan.

One aspect of the recent election that has caught my eye which does have applicability to fiction and RPGs is the prevalence of "fake news". For example, I saw the following on my Facebook feed a few gazillion times:

The problem with that quote is Trump never said that. For good measure, here is a quote that Clinton never said:

These sorts of fake quotes were a serious problem during the recent election, as were news sites which treated them as real. And partisan news sites that took a real story and slanted it beyond recognition to fit a certain world view.
As our world becomes more and more digital, this will become a greater problem. How hard would it be to inject a totally fictional charact…

What's Distracting Me Now: Fall 2016 Edition

So we've a few Penny Dreadful Call of Cthulhu sessions under our belt right now. Our adding the pulp rules definitely add a bit of a twist - our most recent session had a character survive a blow from a Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath that would have been fatal in a non-pulp rules set.

I've got the next 2 adventures pretty much ready so of course I've been flipping through other gaming stuff on my shelves.

The Star Trek RPG playtest is coming up - we've had some thoughts of trying that out. The playtest materials should be out soon so we'll see how that looks.

The Golden Age Champions Kickstarter just funded so at some point in the future we'll be trying that out, either with the Hero rules or with another superhero rules set - the product itself will include material for Mutants & Masterminds and for Savage Worlds so should the Hero System scare me too much we'll have other options. Some Nazi punching may prove rather soothing after a stressful election …

I Think I've Failed an Aging Check or Two

Most RPGs have aging tables, typically for long campaigns, where a character's ability scores over time. Often there's a bit of a balancing act where older characters tend to have more experience and influence, at the cost of diminishing ability scores. In games like Pendragon, your first character is pretty much doomed to die - even if he survives every battle, the length of a Pendragon campaign spans multiple generations. One of your first goals in Pendragon is to have a son and heir who will take over upon the death or retirement of your first character.

I've had a few rude surprises over the past few years as I've entered my mid-40s. As my optometrist predicted a few years back, my improving distance vision was not a good sign but rather one that my near vision would begin declining. I'd reached the point where I'd find myself removing my glasses to read really small print. I'm now wearing progressive eyeglasses which improve my reading vision as well …

Call of Cthulhu Actual Play: The Case of Mister Nichols Part 2

Part 1 is here.

Patriotism in America

There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured with what is right in America.  - Former President Bill Clinton
How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore
And a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot
In the Caribbean by Providence, impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar? - "Alexander Hamilton", Lin-Manuel Miranda 
Fun fact - when I was looking for the source of the first quote  above I was fairly certain it was actually said by President Reagan, not Clinton.

Some of my European and Asian/Pacific friends are puzzled by American patriotism, seeing it as strange to be proud of something that is an accident of birth. And some of my more conservative friends wonder how liberals can consider themselves patriotic, always complaining about the bad things the United States has done.

Let me give you my own view. It is strongly informed by the Catholic social justice teachings I received at Sacred Heart High School as well as a member of Saint T…

Fixing the Poison of American Politics - Cleaning Up Redistricting

I'm writing this the night before Election Day in the United States. Once the votes are tallied, a sizable percentage of the population will be convinced that the country is doomed.

Cards on the table, I'm definitely a partisan. Though a fairly liberal Republican in my 20s and early 30s, I've transitioned to liberal Democrat. That probably puts me in a minority of people who voted for both Bush and Obama. Basically, as I've grown older I've come to the conclusion that not everybody gets an equal shot and some people have horrible luck - whether in their parents, their genetics, their choice in careers, or what have you. And I believe that the government has a role to play in smoothing out the extremes of wealth and poverty.

With that in mind, I suspect people of any ideology will agree that American politics are in a very sorry state. If you ask me for my opinion as to why, I think the biggest answer is that politicians get to pick their voters. This is probably mo…

The Next Generation of Comics Readers

"It's not a comic, it's a graphic novel."
- Jasmine (my 11-year old daughter)

Today Jasmine and I went on a comic hunting expedition. While my daughters have accompanied me on comic books in the past, this was rather neat in that she was the one who wanted to go on it. Over the past several months she's begun reading comic books. I have to confess to being rather proud. My late uncle told me used to be a comic reader in the late 1950s, being a big fan of the Flash. It's nice to see a third generation enter the hobby.

 Jasmine is quite the fan of Harley Quinn and has begun branching out into the Batgirl of Burnside series. I think the nonconformist nature of Harley has a certain appeal to her. She dressed up as Harley Quinn for Halloween this year. I've been steering her clear of the more intense comics for the time being - she'd asked about The Killing Joke, knowing it featured Barbara Gordon (though not as Batgirl) but I suggested that that would be…

RPG Review: Golden Age Champions (1994)

The version of Golden Age Champions that I have dates back to 1994 and was published by Iron Crown Enterprises for the 4th edition of the Champions RPG.
The first 30 pages deal with the campaign premise. It discusses possible campaign lenses such as a more Dark Champions campaign (with characters more like the Spider, the Phantom, etc.), super-patriotic games, and something in-between. It gives a brief history of the Golden Age of comic books, different types of package deals for characters of the period, a discussion of draft deferments for those characters who will not be participating in World War II, etc.
Next up is a large section of historic source material. It covers people and organizations of the period, a glossary of WWII and homefront terminology, and three parallel timelines - the real world, the Champions universe, and and "Axis Victory" universe. Regretfully these timelines only cover up to 1946 - it would have been interesting to see them go a bit further to …

Go Support Golden Age Champions

High Rock Press currently has a Kickstarter going for Darren Watts's Golden Age Champions. You should go support it. It needs about $5000 more over the next two weeks to reach its $20,000 goal. 
I'll offer my own reward... Assuming no hiccups in my regular gaming, I'll run a Golden Age Champions campaign and write about the experience. It should make for interesting reading as while I've read a number of Hero products and played in a few games in college, I've never run a Hero game. Champion Complete peels away many layers of complexity from the 5th and 6th edition Hero games - fine games, but games whose crunchiness really started loading up. My impression is that while Champions Complete is based on the 6th edition of Hero, it seems to be closer to the 4th edition in complexity (the version I played a few times). I've got some Golden Age maps of Port Henry to break out - the Earth-38 version of Port Henry of course.
High Rock Press did a great job delivering…

F--- Anxiety

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that F**k Anxiety was actually a book title. I checked it out last week, it's actually rather well done, especially the audiobook version read by the author, Robert Duff. I've dealt with Generalized Anxiety Disorder for the past 12 or 13 years. I've not had a horrible case of it - even when it's at its worse I manage to still perform well at work, maintain hobbies, etc. Every once in a while it decides it wants to take another try at kicking my ass and over the past month or so it's decided to make another run at making my life miserable. While I managed to juggle the misery of worrying about everything with my job, family, and schoolwork, I noticed that I missed my October 31 blog posting. For those who haven't noticed, I have an odd fetish for making blog updates on prime numbered days. It's not an OCD issue (something I've learned quite a bit about) - I've made posts on other days as well, I came up with the…

Music Review: Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

We move under cover and we move as one
Through the night, we have one shot to live another day
We cannot let a stray gunshot give us away
We will fight up close, seize the moment and stay in it
It’s either that or meet the business end of a bayonet
The code word is ‘Rochambeau,’ dig me?
You have your orders now, go, man, go!
And so the American experiment begins
With my friends all scattered to the winds "Yorktown (The World Turned Upside)"

What first got my attention about the music from Hamilton was how bad-ass Lin-Manuel Miranda and his cast made The Battle of Yorktown sound. I love history in general but the founding of my nation has a sepcial place in my heart. The music of Hamilton captures this era so well - how a bunch of rebels against incredible odds managed to found a nation. How that nation needed a federal government and how fortunate it was in its first president was a man who understood the importance of refusing power - of teaching a nation "how to s…

Non-Fiction Review: The Proud Tower

Though it's an older book, Barbara Tuchman's The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 makes for a very readable presentation on what the world of 1890-1914 was like. It is worth noting her focus was on the western world, centered around the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Germany, and the United States, as well their interactions with other countries.

Tuchman noted that she deliberately does not discuss World War 1. It's an interesting choice, given how well we know it is looming over this book. As she explained it, given the people she portrays were not aware of what was to come, she wanted to present their world free of it. That's not to say they were totally ignorant of the possibility of the coming war - many times she mentions the feeling that various personalities she covers have about an upcoming war - often looking forward to it with a nationalistic pride. But clearly, none could know what a disaster for humanity the war would prove t…