Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Fall 2016 Gaming Thoughts - Cthulhu Strikes Back?

“The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them. They walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen.”

- HP Lovecraft

Ghostbusters continues to be a fun campaign for us - it works especially well given we've had a number of sessions where just 2 players plus me have been able to make it of late, with real world issues often causing us to be missing 3 players (our group is currently 5 plus me).

Icons was a reasonably fun game, working better than most superhero games I've done but I don't think I've found my "one true superhero game" as yet. Earlier I reflected on BRP being a system that works rather well for me so I might at some point repurpose the campaign material I developed for Superworld from Chaosium (which apparently was the game that George RR Martin was playing that led to the creation of the Wild Cards series).

I've been thinking about a setting that I can call my own. I'm enjoying Ghostbusters and I've definitely not worried all that much about "canon" Ghostbusters material. A nice thing about Icons was developing my own superhero universe. This doesn't mean I want to avoid any premade setting, but I do want to stay clear of any that have a large metaplot, extreme detail, or major characters who can rival the PCs in purpose.

That's led to me thinking about Call of Cthulhu. It's been about two years since I've last played a game making direct use of the Cthulhu Mythos. Yes, it is an already established "setting" so to speak, but I view the Mythos as more of a genre than a setting. There are so many different interpretations of the Mythos, so many authors who have put their spin on it, that is is pretty safe to play a Call of Cthulhu game of your own. There's a few lenses I'm contemplating...

First, there is a campaign that we put on hold, in late 1919. The characters had just survived an expedition to Greenland and uncovered evidence of lost Hyperborea. I'd made a decision that I would feel free to violate Lovecraft's stories, making the assumption that Lovecraft was an unreliable narrator. This would allow our investigators to take the place of luminaries such as Randolph Carter and Henry Armitage. I might take advantage of the passage of time and bump the campaign to 1921, allowing the characters to be a bit more settled in their post-Great War lives. Advantages to this include a ton of already existing adventures and Chaosium's organized play materials. Very handy for someone whose fall semester will be starting in about two weeks.

There's also the possibility of going pulpy with Pulp Cthulhu. This would necessitate new characters, as the previous campaign has already been established to be very deadly, with a number of fatalities and one character slowly slipping towards madness. I've only skimmed Pulp Cthulhu so I'll need to give it a more thorough read. I will say that it is a very well put together tome and I give Chaosium a ton of credit getting the damn thing published - it was originally to be a 2002 or 2003 release! I was fairly certain it would never make it our the door.

I've been incredibly impressed by the Delta Green Agent's Handbook. It is the player's rulebook for Delta Green, with the main Delta Green RPG due out, if my memory is correct, towards the end of this year. It's definitely playable as-is, with the caveat that much of the official secrets of Delta Green will be found in the full rulebook. This has me somewhat torn - there's a lot of adventures already published in PDF, probably enough to keep me going until the official main game comes out and Arc Dream has a pretty flexible interpretation of canon in any case (see for example Directives from A-Cell 107: Firing the Canon). I'm also slowly working my through the novel Through a Glass Darkly which I'm told tells how the Delta Green organization regains its official, albeit black ops, status. What I really like about the game is it oozes atmosphere - I really felt the effects battling the Mythos would have on your personal and professional lives and the rules reflect it.

Finally as a bit of a joke I mentioned the the players the possibility of doing "Cthulhu in Space". I was surprised when the idea met with a lot of approval, so I'm giving some thought as to how I could pull this off as a campaign, especially one that does not require a ton of work for me. I'm not certain I could pull this off right now, but I'm having some fun poking around - I'd been in a bit of a science fiction kick of late, binging through The Expanse, rewatching Alien, etc. I might not go all-out Mythos with such an option but rather allow them to serve as an inspiration. I really like the setting in the Hero Games Alien Wars setting, covering a Terra that is beginning to lose control of its many colonies while at the same time finding itself at war with aliens (exactly what it says on the tin). I might actually go with a Traveller game with my own frontier setting, covering the early years of humanity's expansion into space and running into a number of lost bioweapons, alien artifacts, etc. while facing pressure from megacorporations back home which effectively control the government and the suggestion of unfriendly alien governments in the neighborhood. Again, not quite the Cthulhu Mythos, but something I could likely pull off (as opposed to fully integrating the Mythos, which I suspect would be more than I could handle at this time). Fate is actually nudging me a little bit, telling me that it would be a great way to dynamically build the setting with my players, so that's also an option I'm considering.

Regardless, we still need to finish off Ghost Toasties in our next game session (writeup for part 1 forthcoming) and in two weeks I start my 4th class towards my master's degree in strategic analytics. Looks like a lot of math this time around...

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 30: Describe the Ideal Game Room

Money is no obstacle...

I've been primarily a virtual gamer over the past few years so my tastes will largely skew in that direction. We've got a nice desk with three monitors on it - want to make life easy for me on the virtual tabletop setup. We've also got on the walls a lot of shelf space for books, boxes, etc.

I'd also like to be able to support a physical group as well, so we've got a nice large table, with room for books, papers, munchies, recreational beverages, etc. Lots of power outlets to charge up laptops, tablets, etc. And since I'm not big on miniatures, I'm thinking in the center of the table a nice, large, touchscreen monitor with active stylus support - even if we're all together a virtual tabletop can make for a nice tool.

And a refrigerator for those all-important recreational beverages.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Ghostbusters Brooklyn Resources

Just because the Ghostbusters RPG is a bit on the humorous side doesn't mean I don't do some homework. Our game is set in the 1980's and based in Brooklyn, NY. Though I lived in Connecticut throughout the 1980's, I still had family in Brooklyn and spent many summers there.

With that in mind, a few decisions have been reached. The team is based in the Kings Plaza Shopping Center, the mall that was closest to my grandparents old house. I've many memories of my grandfather looking for a parking space as there was no way he was going to pay money to park at the mall...

Through a little eBay scouring I managed to snag a copy of a map of Kings Plaza, circa 1990, a few years after the game is set, but good enough for gaming our purposes. Below is a so-so scan of the map - the document is a bit too long for my scanner to accept it so I'm resorting to a phone-camera-scan...

I've not been to the mall since around 1998 or so but I imagine many of these stores are gone.

As it turns out, one can find all sorts of interesting things about a mall from the leasing company's website, including floorplans. Alas, the New York Department of Buildings doesn't seem to have blueprints showing the mall circa 1985. I imagine I might be able to get some with a phone call, but that is probably more effort than I want to go through...

One note regarding the site plan is where there is now a Lowe's was once a parking lot. The garage still existed in the 1980's though. Below we can see the ground floor of the mall as it exists today:

And the second floor shows us:

While convenience tells us the Ghostbusters would like a storefront near the exits, there is a certain humor in picturing them running through the mall on Black Friday...

Going with wild guesses as to scale, I went ahead and sketched a map of what their headquarters might look like:

The back door would be dependent on the store having back access, which not all of the stores do. I'm pretty sure this would violate a few gazillion zoning laws, what with the proton accelerators and bunk room. But they are cleared by the Walter Peck...

What have we learned? We've learned that Dan has a high level of compulsion for details, even in a humorous game.

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 29: If I Could Game Anywhere on Earth...

That's a bit of an odd question. Generally speaking, if I'm thinking of travel, there's other things I'd want to do besides gaming.

However, let's suppose I'm thinking of a place to live for the gaming community there. Obviously, since gaming is not my profession and I have a family here in the Boston area, I'm not going to be doing such a relocation. But there are a few "gaming scenes" I'm curious as to what it would be like to be a part of...

  • New York City - I'm a Brooklyn boy originally, so it would be nice to go home. Being a huge city there's a lot of gaming taking place there as well as part of the Autarch team being based there.
  • Atlanta - Original home of White Wolf, I'm told it's a good place for some World of Darkness Gaming.
  • Seattle - A lot of gaming companies in the area plus culturally I'd probably fit right in there with my latte-drinking, liberal secular lifestyle...

Sunday, August 28, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 28: Thing I'd Be Surprised That a Friend Hadn't Seen or Read

Actually I've had this happen to me recently... Given my group has some folks younger than me, I've gamed with people who have never seen Star Trek in any incarnation.

That's not too shocking once I gave it some thought. Star Trek: Enterprise debuted in fall of 2001, some fifteen years ago. And it was not a particularly popular Star Trek. Someone who is thirty now would have been around fifteen then. And Voyager debuted in January of 1995, so you're talking being under the age of ten for that!

There's certainly a things I've not read or seen that are on other people's "I can't believe you've not read/seen that" so I've no judgment. With that caveat, there's a few other things I'd be surprised a gaming friend hadn't seen - Butcher's Dresden Files, the classic Star Wars trilogy (I know a number of people who swore off the prequels), Lord of the Rings (whether in film or novel form), and A Song of Ice and Fire (novels) / Game of Thrones (television). And Lovecraft. Gotta read some Lovecraft...

Saturday, August 27, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 27: Most Unusual Place or Circumstance I've Gamed

Probably when I first started gaming there were some unusual circumstances and places.

My first gaming group met at the Howard Whittemore Memorial Library in my hometown of Naugatuck, Connecticut. I was in middle school at the time and they hooked us up with a meeting room located near the children's section of the library. Of course we always got yelled at for being too noisy to the point we were pretty sure the sound of dice rolling would earn a "shhhh". Admittedly, it was a library... It did get a little bit awkward when part of the room was dedicated to storage and we had to maneuver our way to the table. I did make some friendships which lasted for many years.

I also remember occasionally being granted permission to play in study hall back at City Hill Middle School. By then we'd mastered the technique of rolling on hardcover books to muffle the sound of the dice rolling. Back in the day we had to have book covers on our textbooks. Fun fact - a Dungeon Masters Guide with a book cover on it is indistinguishable from a textbook from a distance... The study hall gaming typically involved a single encounter rolled on the spur of the moment. I still feel guilty about killing that unicorn...

Friday, August 26, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 26: Hobbies That Go Well With RPGs

Really any when you think about it. Just looking at some of my own:

  • As a software engineer/data scientist I'm awfully good at using and making digital tools
  • As a history geek, I've got a wealth of information that gets a good outlet
  • As an amateur cartographer, I can make a reasonably good map
  • Though I've not hiked much since having kids, once upon a time I spent a ton of time up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire - something which gives you an appreciation for wilderness movement rates...
I've gamed with people skilled in art, always an asset in RPGs. Alas, my drawing skills are limited to purple Risus stick figure dudes...

Thursday, August 25, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 25: What Makes a Good Character

Once upon a time I might have a long-winded answer to that. Nowadays my answer is as follows:

  • Someone you want to play
  • Someone that fits in with the group
  • Someone that can be used as a launching point for adventures
I don't need a forty page background story. On the other hand, if you've got a forty page background story, cool, we'll be sure to use some of it. Just please don't write that background for a pre-funnel Dungeon Crawl Classics character...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 24: Game I'm Most Likely to Give as a Gift

I really hate giving gifts when I don't know the recipient. Does he or she own a ton of games and I want to present something unusual? Or do I want to break someone into gaming? And is money an object? Is being in print one?

However, I'm going to make a few assumptions. I'm going to assume this game is a gift for someone who is into some moderately geeky stuff but isn't a gamer. And I want to get him or her hooked.

With that in mind I'm going to go with a game that I've used to introduce lots of people to gaming - the West End Games incarnation of Star Wars. Back in the day, I'd have a new player, usually a friend of someone in the group, show up for a game at my apartment, and within about fifteen minutes I'd have explained the rules and had a character ready for them. The D6 incarnation isn't flashy and it does have its flaws, like any game, but it is incredibly easy to grasp, slides out of the way, and feels appropriate for the genre. It doesn't have a lot in the way of bells and whistles and isn't big on narrative control, so for some experienced gamers it might be a bit on the bland side. I've found that these bland games often make for awesome gaming experiences.

As far as the version I'd give, I'd be giving the underrated Star Wars Introductory Adventure Game boxed set. It's a complete game that dials back a lot of the 2nd edition's added complexity (not that it was super-complex) but is a much tighter and robust game than the 1st edition was. I also liked it stayed clear of most Expanded Universe material, focusing just on the films. If West End Games had had an opportunity for a 3rd edition, it might have been interesting for them to have used this as a starting point. It's got sections teaching the rules, character generation, and a nice series of adventures making up a campaign.

Honorable mention to Evil Hat's Young Centurions, a great presentation of the Fate system.

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 31: Best Gaming Advice I Was Ever Given

Probably the best piece of advice I was given in gaming was in college - it was actually a criticism and I'm not certain if it was kindly meant or not. The criticism was that my adventures had a funnel-like quality - whatever course of actions the players took there was a preordained outcome.

Probably a fair criticism, though given it was the early 1990's it was the era of plot-driven adventures, going to such an extreme in the Forgotten Realms Avatar Trilogy that the players got to watch gods fighting and escort mortals who were the real protagonists.

What I've learned to do over time is let adventures get "wrecked" by my players. In last night's Ghostbusters game the players followed their rule - of the three equipment cards each character takes, one has to be "useless". In last night's game a player took alpine gear as their equipment as they went into a middle school gymnasium to investigate a possible Mesoamerican demon visitation. In the mayhem that followed a possessed kid opened a portal some twenty feet above the floor. The encounter was designed for possessed folks to float through it and spectral hands to toss students through it - but not player characters, who would have to take the long road... But... one character had alpine gear. Now I could have ruled "no, the portal closes before you go can climb through it" but really, it just seemed too cool not to reward the fact they brought alpine gear into a school gymnasium.

That's not to say I've no idea how an adventure is likely to end - usually there's a "default" ending that I realistically suspect will be the outcome. But I've learned not to require that to be the case.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ghostbusters Actual Play: The Couch Potato


In early August 1985 the Brooklyn Ghostbusters were nearing the official launch of their franchise. Doctor Mike Slade was down in Washington, DC, receiving mandatory EPA training for the proper and environmentally proper containment of ghosts. A possible office had been located in a vacant storefront in Kings Plaza. Physicist Billy Robertson and grunt/romance novel cover model "Chilli" had joined Ethan Sharp in the main office. They'd been nervous about opening a franchise so close to the main headquarters. but given they'd yet to actually see Venkman, Spengler, Stantz, and Zeddmore outside of VHS training videos. They'd seen Janine Melnitz, who forced them to answer the phone at the firehouse...

A call did come in - "Ghostbusters! Help us! Our television sets turn on when we're not there! We can't see Dallas or Miami Vice! The landlord won't help us! We're the tenants, and we pooled our money, and you can have it all! Just get rid of our spook!"

And so as the sun began to set they arrived at 66666 Flatbush Avenue. Super and wannabe Ghostbuster Don Davidson met with them, explaining how televisions in the building seemed to be forced on and fused to Channel 6, WBOR, all reruns all the time. Don did indicate how he'd be a great asset to them, an electronics whiz temporarily out of work. Indeed in his mess of an apartment they saw some fragments of a picture tube - from an old Zenith television he'd been restoring. Their PKE meters took them to an apparition, sitting in a non-existent chair, eating non-existent popcorn, and watching a rerun of My Mother the Car on an existent television. He fled before their proton packs opening fire, going through the ceiling. 

Upstairs was aspiring "actress" Sirena LaCoque, she of the crocheted caricatures of poker playing canines and the animated bed. She was less than pleased to have them witness that and kicked them out. Just as well, as the PKE meter indicated the ghost was even further upstairs. They bypassed Mrs. Pogoni's place to Doctor Hunter Panama's apartment, investigative journalist and nutball with boarded up windows and a quintuple locked steel door. They managed to bluff their way in (he thought they were selling girl scout cookies) but he was a frightening character - very paranoid, fond of guns, and possessing bowls full of "vitamins". The ghost was in his scientific research room - a room filled with ultraviolet lamps and a variety of illegal plants. And a ghost whom they opened fire on. Unfortunately they missed and took out one of Thompson's plants, causing him to open fire on them. Fortunately, high as a kite, his aim was poor and they were able to chase the apparition down to the basement.

In the basement they managed to get the spook out of the Zenith tv it hid in, getting it into a ghost trap. Unfortunately in the process they started a fire. Fortunately there was a tank of water they could open to put out the fire. Unfortunately all they did was start an electrical fire. Fortunately there was a second water tank - a hot water heater. Unfortunately rupturing that filled the basement with steam. It was time to leave and call the fire department. Unfortunately they had neglected to get Don to sign a damage waiver. Fortunately LaCoque had some grateful friends without necks who both enjoyed her work and were also pleased to see some paperwork in the building basement get burned and flooded, providing them with several thousand in payment. Unfortunately that just about covered the damage costs.

Our spook had died in the 1950's while watching My Mother the Car, being in the process of modifying his Zenith television and getting electrocuted. He was awoken when Don began trying to restore the television set. As it turns out, My Mother the Car was a real television show, about an adult dude whose mom died and was reincarnated into... a car! It lasted all of one season.

This was based on the West End Games adventure The Couch Potato from the Ghostbusters boxed set, though I did move WBOR from Channel 5 (real in New York City) to Channel 6 (fictional).

The Ghostbusters certificate at the top of this post is from Nerdy Show's Ghostbusters Resurrection. It's a pretty neat site. They also have other Ghostbusting gear for sale, including Ghost dice (many showed ghosts in this adventure), equipment decks, and possibly even some digitized rules. Check it out...

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 23: Share a "Worst Luck" Story

Ghostbusters has a "ghost die". It is the predecessor to the West End Games Star Wars RPG's wild die. 

In Ghostbusters the ghost die is rolled as part of all tests. If your skill gives you five dice, four will be normal dice and one is a ghost die. On the ghost die the six is replaced by a ghost. If you roll it something unfortunate happens (and the roll counts as a zero). You still might succeed, but if you do something went wrong. Now the odds of something unfortunate happening being one in six is actually rather high, but since Ghostbusters is a humor game, it is appropriate for the genre...

With that in mind, in our most recent Ghostbusters game the characters had the ghost cornered in the basement of an apartment building. Zap. Success, but with a ghost die. OK, the ghost is caught in the trap but... a fire has broken out. We'll just use the water tank to put out the fire... Oh dear, a failure with a ghost die. The fire is now an electrical one... And so it continued...

In the end the building was saved, but with such damage the cash made was more than offset by the damage done to the building. In the future, always get the liability waiver signed.

Monday, August 22, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 22: Supposedly Random Event That Keeps Occurring

A robot in our Icons game had a limitation that it could short out after any usage on a 1 in 3 chance. 

I don't believe there was a single instance where it did not short out. Now 1 in 3 is something that we should have seen with some frequency certainly, but not every single time...

Sunday, August 21, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 21: Funniest Misinterpretation of a Rule in My Group

I've got nothing.

I guess that means we're all perfect in my current group.

Honorable mention would have to be our epic attempts at understanding just what the hell speed factor was. We had incidents of daggers striking a gazillion times when facing two-handed swords due to one attempted ruling. It wasn't until the 2000's when I finally understood what it was used for in AD&D 1st edition. That said I think AD&D 2nd edition had a great rule for that, where speed factor was added to initiative (where low rolls were preferable).

Saturday, August 20, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 20: Much Challenging But Rewarding System I've Learned

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him. I'll chase him round the Moons of Nibia and round the Antares Maelstrom and round Perdition's flames before I give him up! 

One thing I've learned about my own gaming style is for me, simpler seems to be better. I talked about that yesterday in a non-#RPGaDay post. While that's been a trend, that's not to say it'll always be the case. Some day I'll master Champions.

That said my current white whale is the Fate system of RPGs. Truthfully the rules aren't that complicated - Fate Accelerated is a glorified pamphlet. But the application of those rules represent a bit of a shift in thinking that I'm still working on. It reminds me a little bit of when I had to learn the Lisp programming language back in college. It was so different from the other languages I knew that in many ways I had to start anew - it was almost as if my previous knowledge was a hindrance. I feel that way about Fate - I've a hunch it'd be easier to master had I less gaming experience.

Even though I'm not there yet with Fate I'm likely to give it a few more tries. When I have run it or played it and it clicked, I could definitely see how useful it is for a certain style a play. It's currently used for two licensed properties that I greatly enjoy - Dresden Files and Atomic Robo. I don't care as much for the Dresden Files adaptation - it's a beautifully done game but I find it too crunchy for my tastes. Atomic Robo is gloriously adapted though. I had a moderately successfully Atomic Robo game and I'd love to take it for another spin.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Keeping it Simple: D6 and BRP

 I don't blog a whole lot about systems but when going over some older games and adventures I've picked up lately I came to the realization I seem to have a lot more luck in games that have a certain level of simplicity to their rules - especially the D6 System and BRP-based games. I always get a kick out of the fact that the Chaosium team that wrote West End Games' Ghostbusters RPG is made up of people who had major roles in developing RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu, and Pendragon, all three of which are BRP-based games.

While the two systems are fairly different from each other, they both have in common a very straightforward and unobtrusive system. I've explained games like Ghostbusters, Star Wars, and Call of Cthulhu in minutes to new players.

I'm the last person in the world to preach the virtues of "one true system" - or even "two true systems" for that matter - I've got some Gumshoe and Fate in my future I'm pretty certain, as well as another Dungeon Crawl Classics Game. But in my middle age I'm starting to get a better feel as to what games are a better fit for my own style. I've also come to have a respect for how well those systems work - at least for me. Maybe next superhero game should whip out the old Superworld rules. That's what gave Wild Cards its start after all...

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 19: Best Way to Learn a New Game

Obviously playing is the best way, preferably with someone who has some familiarity.

That said, I'd have to say that there's definitely an advantage to actually reading the rules, even if in a condensed or simplified form.

When an entire group is learning a new game I also find it helpful to slowly role out rules where possible.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

#RPGaDay Day 18: Best Innovation RPG Groups Could Benefit From

While there's a number of technical innovations possible, one innovation in the legal space I'd like to see is a revision of copyright law.

Currently US copyright law appears to be based around the proposition that "Steamboat Willie" can never enter the public domain. Though it'll never happen, I'd love to see a major reduction in copyright law. Once upon a time the term of a copyright maxed out at 28 years. If that were the case today, any RPG written prior to 1988 would be in the public domain. This wouldn't stop Wizards of the Coast from having a copyright to new incarnations of D&D but it would allow ancient versions to enter the public domain.

While that's a dream that'll never come true, hopefully copyright term will not be extended again as 2019 approaches (when the copyright extension act begins allowing works to enter the public domain). Moreover, the works of HP Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard have a fuzzy copyright status. Allowing some of these works, in copyright for nearly a century, to finally enter the public domain unambiguously would allow for some fascinating applications.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Introducing the Brooklyn Ghostbusters

After some initial training at the Ghostbusters HQ in Manhattan, our bold Ghostbusters have been asked to relocate and open up their franchise. It certainly has nothing to do with them nearly burning down the apartment building at 66666 Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn (writeup for that forthcoming).

Our game has been established as taking place in 1985 - it's now August of 1985 in our game. The team is officially opening their franchise in Brooklyn. There's two prime pieces of real estate up for consideration. There's the Miami Vice route of living off a boat at a pier - perhaps in Sheepshead Bay (my grandfather and I used to walk to Sheepshead Bay from his house on Avenue W). And then there's the possibility of opening the franchise at the Kings Plaza Mall. Though as another member of the group has pointed out (also born in Brooklyn, left at an early age, but still had family there), parking is a royal pain in the ass at Kings Plaza.

Sheepshead Bay

Kings Plaza

Where are the "real" Ghostbusters and why are they ok with a franchise so close? I just don't see Venkman wanting to do a day-to-day job. And Egon would like to do soulless science stuff. So they will be perfectly content to collect franchise fees and let this franchise do all the hard work. Plus, should we start pushing the timeline a bit, the original Ghostbusters have a restraining order in their future, per Ghostbusters II.


#RPGaDay Day 17: What Fictional Character Would Best Fit in My Group?

Let's see... We'll want someone who is not supremely intense - able to have a laugh while gaming. But not someone who is a total goofball. (Hey spellcheck accepted the word "goofball". Good to know.) No hateful beliefs. Someone who isn't shy but also doesn't need to dominate everything. Plus if he or she is already a gamer...

I'm thinking for my first choice I'm going to go with Harry Copperfield Dresden of The Dresden Files. Dude is a gamer already. Despite being a supremely talented wizard in "real life" he is perfectly comfortable playing a barbarian. And I'd love to try some of the brew from McAnally's Pub. The only caveat is he is remote. Chicago is only an hour behind us so in theory Roll20 would be an option but in actuality, he seems to have a negative effect on any technology much beyond that of the mid-20th century. I'm guessing he and a virtual tabletop would not get along very well..

I suppose if he couldn't make it due to technology problems some others on his crew would be fun as well. I wonder if Molly Carpenter or Waldo Butters would like to join us...

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 16: Historical Person I'd Like in My Group? For What Game?

I gotta be honest... There's a lot of historical people I'd love to meet. But I imagine after sitting down with the likes of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Augustus Caesar, etc. I'd probably be talking about stuff other than gaming.

So for gaming I'm probably wanting to be with someone more from the arts. I'll stay clear of recent figures... I think I'd really love to play in a game with Jules Verne as the GM - can you imagine the settings and adventures he'd build. That man had such an imagination.

Verne was definitely a simulationist type of person - he was definitely a believer in the possible. I don't think he'd go for a narrative system like Fate. I'm thinking the man was definitely a GURPS gamer... We will not be playing steampunk though - I suspect he'd roll his eyes at that. We will be playing 19th century technothrillers of course.

We'll close with Robin Williams hanging with Jules Verne...

#RPGaDay Day 15: Best Source of Inspiration for RPGs

Generally speaking, for me the best inspiration is books. I'm definitely a bibliophile. One of the best parts of my commute is the ability to listen to an audiobook for an hour - a half hour on the way to work, a half hour on the way back. Between walking and running during the day I can usually get another hour in easily. Plus I'm often reading digital books as well - more for pleasure between semesters, as during the academic year I'm busy reading books about data science...

I read from a variety of genres - history, religion, horror, science fiction, nautical, classic literature, fantasy, etc. Sometimes what I read winds up being "research" - learning about the Prohibition era comes in handy for Call of Cthulhu games. Other times the inspiration will strike tangentially - a science fiction short story providing an idea for a Star Trek adventure, a villain's mannerisms providing inspiration, etc.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

#RPGaDay Day 14: My Dream Team of People I Used to Game With

This is one of the questions from this year I'm not all that crazy about. I really like my current group and in all honesty that's what I'd go with. Given we're a virtual group, I'd love to have a transporter room so we could get together every two weeks...

It is worth noting that I do miss the gaming group I had before my friends and I began having kids. Like I said, I'd not use the term "dream team" as I really enjoy my current group, but I'd be lying if it wouldn't be fun to get that gang back together. I'm a bit curious as to whether I'd get along with the me of the late 1990's and early 2000's. Don't misunderstand - I wasn't a jerk or anything - I'd like to think I've always been a reasonably pleasant person. But the Dan of 15 to 16 years ago was a different person.

We all change, when you think about it, we're all different people; all through our lives, and that's okay, that's good, you've gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this, not one day, I swear. I will always remember when The Doctor was me.
  • Last words of the 11th Doctor

Saturday, August 13, 2016

I Ain't Afraid of No Ghosts: Setting up a Ghostbusters Franchise

With out group due for at least a few sessions of Ghostbusting, there's some important decisions we need to make - when and where is our franchise?

A little background - the premise of the Ghostbusters RPG is the characters have their own Ghostbusting franchise, located wherever the group chooses to place it. After all, the key to being profitable in Ghostbusting is in the franchise fees... There is also the matter of when. The RPG assumed "the modern day" but it's worth noting that that represented the mid-1980's at the time the game was published.

Our previous session took place in the mid-1980's in New York City. The idea was the original Ghostbusters were not in town and it fell to our heroes to fill in for them.

We'll be figuring out the "permanent" timeframe and location for our game in our next session. My best guess is we'll go with modern day New York City - given we're located along the eastern seaboard of the United States, there is no "home city" for us to use. New York makes for a good home city - there's a basic familiarity with it for most and two of us were actually born there.

Time period is a little bit up in the air - something we'll discuss further. Early betting seems to favor a modern day game. This would be in the original Ghostbusters timeline, not in the reboot, so that it can have been many years since the city was threatened by ghosts. We can also assume that the original Ghostbusters have retired, giving our heroes a chance to man the iconic firehouse - at a time that seems like there's no more Ghostbusting to be done... Should we set the game in the 1980's, the original Ghostbusters are far to busy doing important work like talk-show interviews to waste their time hunting the supernatural...

#RPGaDay Day 13: What Makes a Successful Campaign?

I'd say the biggest component of a successful campaign is compatibility. The players get along with each other and everyone buys into the rules and the assumptions of a genre.

I suppose this seems obvious, but I've been part of campaigns that didn't meet these requirements. Players not liking each other is probably the most destructive to a game.

Friday, August 12, 2016

#RPGaDay Day 12: What Game is My Group Most Likely to Play Next? Why?

I just recently posted some of the shininess that's calling to me but I'll try to narrow it down a bit.

For at least a little while we're going to be playing some Ghostbusters. Given the number of times I've mentioned thinking it's a short-term game, I'll be rather amused if we're still playing this a year from now...

However, in all honesty I do think this will be more of a mini-campaign, though perhaps one that can be revisited from time to time when we're in the mood for something on the goofy side.

I've been thinking a lot about Lovecraftian horrors a lot of late, which makes a game of Call of Cthulhu or Delta Green up there in possibility. I really like some of the additions that Delta Green brings to the table - beyond your sanity being at risk, it maps out the way your whole life can fall apart. Cheerful stuff.

Playing Ghostbusters has really brought back my appreciation for the D6 System and with that in mind a Star Wars campaign involving the Rebel Alliance using the one of the old Star Wars games has a lot of appeal.

I'd mentioned Traveller recently and I've been checking out the new Mongoose incarnation of the game. I've had my issues with a number of previous Mongoose products but they seem to have done a first rate job with this new incarnation of the game. Should we want out own science fiction universe this would be a likely way to go.

If I were to bet I'd be betting on Star Wars, but I'd not count out any of those.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 11: Which Gamer Most Affected the Way I Play

Another one I get to punt on... It seems a little awkward to say "everyone" but in reality, that's pretty much the case. For example, in college I had the experience of playing in a Rolemaster oneshot with a GM with an amazing command of Beowulf - and brought it amazingly to life. I've gamed with people who are masters of systems, who are my age with similar gaming experiences, my age with totally different experiences, younger gamers whose first gaming experiences are totally different from mine, etc.

Kickstarter Deliveries and Other Late Summer Shininess

I've been deluged by Kickstarter fulfillments over the past several weeks. And I've also been looking over other shiny things and checking out some older games. That's what happens when I'm between semesters in grad school apparently...

So what's been at top of mind lately...

  • Ghostbusters - I'd originally intended a single game but I think we're going to do a mini-campaign at the very least. 
  • Star Wars - I hear there's a new movie coming out...
  • Call of Cthulhu - In all honesty, it's not quite at the top of mind but it is a game I always find myself going back to and it's been a while since my last Cthulhu game. The stars may be aligning...
  • Delta Green - The new Delta Green game is rather awesome. While it clearly and proudly shows its Call of Cthulhu DNA it is definitely its own thing. I'm kinda hoping that the full core book comes out sooner rather than later so I can get more information on the organization that is Delta Green.
  • TimeWatch - I wrote about this a few posts ago and it is definitely a fun looking game and as a lover of history it might be rather fun to get some time travel under our belts...
  • Atomic Robo - Not a new game, though I did just get the notification that my Atomic Robo Reprint Regalia rewards have just shipped. And that'd allow for dinosaurs...
  • Traveller - Amazingly, I've never got around to doing a Traveller game. The new Mongoose incarnation seems rather nicely realized, though a bit on the pricey side. After binge-watching The Expanse I definitely have a bit of a science fiction itch. 
  • Stars Without Number - For many of the same reasons as Traveller, with a bit of a D&D flavor.
  • Firefly - For something a bit more narrative and less "hard" science fiction, there's always Firefly.
  • 7th Sea - I've recently received this corebook as well. My own interests are probably a bit more along the lines of the upcoming New World supplements which will be coming out. But I always regretted never checking this game out in the 1990's...

If any gazillionaire wants to send me a few billion I can quit my job and play all of these. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 10: Largest in-game surprise I have experienced

For me, the largest surprises are the sessions that go amazingly well. I'd like to think that for the most part my sessions are fun. But every once in a while everything just clicks perfectly, and to be honest, those are never the sessions that I'd have anticipated.

The fact that our one-shot of Ghostbusters went so well is up there - we'll be doing another adventure next week as a result.

Going back to around 1998 or 1999 would have to be the Star Trek: The Next Generation adventure "Virginia Jones and the Sentinels of Iconia". What's that? Well, before leaving work on a game night I discovered we were going to be missing some key people - the planned adventure was rendered unusable. On my drive home I mentally prepped an adventure on the fly, adapting, from memory, what I recalled of the TSR Indiana Jones adventure "The Icons of Ikammanen". I turned it into a holodeck adventure for the characters we did had, with one of them taking the role of interstellar archaeologist Virgina Jones and the other being her faithful sidekick. With no notes, no outline, we had perhaps the goofiest adventure I've ever been in, one part Indiana Jones ripoff, one part Princess Bride, and one part Lexx (it was definitely on the naughty side)...

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 9: Beyond the game, what's involved in an ideal session

As a mainly virtual gamer over the past few years, my needs have shifted a bit... We used to usually have a meal before the game, have a few drinks with the game.

Generally speaking, I like gaming with people I can have fun with. I'd like to be able to talk with them, have a few laughs. I'd probably be a horrible tournament gamer...

Party People Image jennylund, Creative Commons 3.0

Monday, August 8, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 8: Hardcover, Softcover, or Digital? What is My Preference?

Can I do a write-in for cuneiform?

Generally speaking, I'm more of a digital consumer - especially with the advent of tablets. Things have come a long way since using a Kindle DX to read a PDF (and learning how certain PDFs could take several seconds to execute a page-flip). In the interests of not consuming my house with more books, I definitely appreciate the utility of digital gaming products. I especially like it when the creator/publisher makes a player version with a gaming group license available as well so I can share the product with my group. If they like it, they might buy a full copy. If not, well at least we've got something to use for the game so that everyone has a copy and no one's intellectual property rights have been violated. I was a software developer for most of my adult life and even now with me being more involved in quality and data science, I still depend on software for my livelihood, so I appreciate the need to get people to actually pay for all those 1's and 0's.

For games I get a lot of play out of I'll often go for a physical as well. I generally prefer hardcover, but perhaps even more important to me is good quality binding. I want to lay that book flat on my table without hearing horrifying cracking sounds as the binding decides which pages to let go of.

Given I often don't buy the physical book, I generally don't balk at a decent price for the digital version. I do, however, appreciate it when the digital book is offered with the physical book, either for free or at a reduced price.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Simplifying the Hardness of Hard Science Fiction RPGs

I'm binging my way through The Expanse right now. I've not read the books the series is based on but I've added them to my reading list.

The very short version is settlement of the solar system has begun, with Mars colonized and a rival to the UN of Earth and the Moon while the asteroid belt is a place that gets exploited for its resources. And the political situation of the solar system is getting rather explosive.

One of the things I like about The Expanse is it is hard science fiction but it doesn't bore the viewer. Ships have gravity based on their acceleration - if they're not accelerating the crew is in freefall. On a spinning colony, poured water does not drop straight down but is affected by the Coriolis effects of the spinning. Characters don't spend time discussing the complexities of orbital mechanics.

I'd love to see a science fiction RPG that pulls this off without making players and GMs cry. Games like XXVc, GURPS Space, and Traveller have included rules for fuel consumption and interplanetary travel but the complexity can be rather discouraging. I could see an RPG being released with apps for platforms like Windows 10, macOS, Android, and iOS that handles such things so that the hardness of reality doesn't cause wailing and gnashing of teeth. You could, for example, enter in a given date and see how long it would take to get from Mars to Ceres at various accelerations and see whether your ship could make that trip. It could automatically update fuel consumed, life support impact, etc. and PC skill rolls could modify these outcomes.

This isn't the sort of thing you need in all science fiction RPGs but rather for cases where you are interested in such a setting. I'd imagine you'd not need this in a Firefly sort of game and you'd laugh hysterically at the thought of using it for Star Wars, but The Expanse is the perfect example where such a tool might be handy.

Mars Image by ESO/M. Kornmesser - Artist’s impression of Mars four billion years ago, CC BY 4.0,

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 7: What Aspect of RPGs Has Had the Biggest Effect on Me?

I don't know about you, but for me it has to have been the magic powers I've gotten through it. Make a few sacrifices, destroy Black Leaf, and you're good to go.

Beyond the great powers one can get at the Temple of Diana, I've been exposed to a ton of literature through RPGs - I'd have encountered Tolkien on my own, but also Leiber, Lovecraft, Norton, and countless others. I've also gained a heavy interest in history - way more than I'd ever need for gaming research, but just out of my own research.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

#RPGaDAY 2016 Day 6: Most amazing thing a game group did for their community

That's a bit of an odd question - my inclination in some ways would be to say "nothing". In a sense it sounds a bit like asking what you and your racquetball partner at work did for your community.

As far as my own gaming group, contributions for the community are at an individual level. I know for myself I make certain to give to a number of charities that I believe in and I've gamed with a number of generous people.

I also appreciate the fact that Bundle of Holding puts a portion of their income into a charity of the choice of those who made the games they offer.  For example, Steve Kenson's choice of supporting the Trevor Project for the Icons Bundle encouraged me to make an additional donation to them, as it is a charity I believe does great work and have supported in the past.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Wrapping My Brain Around Gumshoe

On my list of games to try at some point is some game from the Gumshoe family of RPGs. I've got a bunch of them - though I've never played one outright they are all wonderfully done and have a very high density of useful ideas, even if you never play one of those games outright.

However, I do want to get around to playing one of them at some point. High on my list is the recent TimeWatch RPG, followed closely by Night's Black Agents, especially it's Dracula Dossier.

For TimeWatch I'm generally a fan of the time travel genre and more importantly, at least for me, a huge fan of history. I hope at some point to be able to visit Istanbul and see the capital of two great empires, to see the pyramids in Egypt, to see the canals of Venice, etc. I doubt I'll ever be able to go on a history world tour but some of those destinations are definitely in reach (alas no trip to the Royal Navy Museum in Portsmouth next year - the girls really want a trip to Disney...)

Dracula Dossier... I absolutely love the novel Dracula as well as fiction that has been built around it, such as Kostova's The Historian.

One of the things I've wrestled with is the Gumshoe system itself. It's not a particularly complex system. It has a number of traits that separate it from most systems:

  • It is geared towards accumulating clues - if a clue is present and you have the proper investigative ability (which could be scientific, interpersonal, etc. - it's not always finding a scrap of paper) you get it. The interesting thing is supposed to be what you do with these clues.
  • The game is very much a resource-based game, with all abilities measured in points that refresh under certain conditions (often the end of an adventure). While you automatically get clues with your investigative abilities, spending a point from that ability adds extra awesomeness. For example if you interrogate a gang member to learn about his boss you get the needed information automatically. But a point spend might, for example, also get him to contact you with additional information later.
  • In addition to investigative abilities, general abilities are used for things like combat, athletic ability, etc. General abilities are random with your action determined on a 1d6 roll, plus any points you spend.
There's a bit of weirdness here, at least from the perspective of more "traditional" RPGs.

The biggest has to be the whole mechanic of auto-finding clues. It's definitely a switch from the whole "make an intimidate skill check" or "roll against spot hidden". 

The other is the task resolution. There's a few things here to wrap your brain around. The first is one that a player in my group mentioned to me and it crystallized something I'd been contemplating - 1d6 just seems a little bit... dull. That's a qualitative objection but I understood exactly what he meant. I'm not saying it's like this in practice - I actually imagine what works would vary from person to person and group to group. But it certainly is one of those things that seems odd from the outside.

Similarly, the spending of points from a finite pool seems a little unusual, given most games provide you with a static bonus based on how skilled you are. The character certainly doesn't know how low in points he or she is getting but the player does. I imagine how much you accept that is somewhat key in how well the game would work for you..

I'm probably sounding a bit negative on the system - to be honest, I'm not. But I am giving some thoughts to the areas that I find challenging. I imagine that this is a case where actually trying out a system is critical and listening to an actual play recording might be worthwhile as well. I'm definitely still giving some thought to trying out TimeWatch.

#RPGaDay Day 5: What Story Does My Group Tell About My Character?

So I usually GM, so it's an NPC that has become a bit legendary, even though the bulk of the group wasn't even in the game at the time. It's gotten passed on.

I made a bad guy that I'd hope would be recurring for our D&D 3.5 Eberron game. He announced himself to the PCs... "I am Ahz Liqor".


Hysterical laughter.

Dan learns you always, always, always sound out funky NPC names before you use them

The Ass Licker never did appear again...

Thursday, August 4, 2016

#RPGaDay 2016 Day 4: Most Impressive Thing Another's Character Did

I'm usually the GM so I'm always focused on other characters... Truthfully, in almost every game I walk away impressed. I'm a big believer in embracing the surprised GM and I've been fortunate to have players who often surprise the hell out of me. It might be that I'm not that bright and am therefore easily surprised, but I don't think so.

Sometimes the surprise is in awesome characterization - droids fighting against biological oppressors, haunted artists slowly losing their sanity fighting the Mythos... Sometimes it's an intelligent use of abilities at just the right time, like a ranger charming a T-Rex, bypassing a climactic encounter. Sometimes it's just a hysterical die roll, like an archer shooting across an arena to take out a foe everyone else had been bashing at for rounds. Sometimes it's awesome goofiness - "The goblin king? The goblin king!"

I'm kinda copping out because to be honest I can't think of one single event - every game features my masterplans spread to the four winds by instances of awesomeness.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

You Need to Have Dinosaurs

It might be the little kid in me but it's seeming increasingly likely my next campaign is going to feature dinosaurs. The new game TimeWatch is in the running but so are a few others - I've been rereading Atomic Robo lately as well.

In the interests of obsessiveness, I got to thinking about some of the games and settings in which dinosaurs play a large part (or at least have the potential to). Off the top of my head I can think of the following, though I'm almost certainly missing some:

  • TimeWatch
  • Atomic Robo
  • Doctor Who
  • Spaaace!
  • D&D - various lost world settings such as Isle of the Ape, Isle of Dread
  • Eberron
  • Dinosaur Planet: Broncosaurus Rex (I think it's time for Goodman Games to revisit this...)
  • GURPS has its fair share of dinosaur books and lost world settings
  • Rifts - Dinosaur Swamp
  • Torg - The Living Land
  • Hollow Earth Expedition
And two additional ones which were suggested to me after this post went up:
  • Primeval (sadly seems to no longer be available)
  • Transdimensional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (another licensed game no longer available, but probably not too difficult to find in hardcopy...)