Showing posts from 2017

Fiction Review: Ready Player One

Big hair from the eighties looks normal to me. My best friend from high school - she had huge hair.

This is relevant as the novel Ready Player One  is part love-letter to the culture of the 1980s - especially the geek culture. A 2011 novel by Ernest Cline, I noticed some buzz about it but never got around to reading it. Having seen a number of trailers for the upcoming movie adaptation - trailers from which I couldn't quite tell if it looked awesome or dumb - I decided to give it a read on my time off from both work and grad school at the end of the year. The audiobook is read by Wil Wheaton, which read to a bit of oddness when Wil Wheaton is mentioned briefly in the novel itself...

Ready Player One takes place in a dystopian 2040s. Cheap oil is a thing of the distant past, leading to the United States and the rest of the world suffering from a decades long economic disaster. The protagonist Wade Wilson, is the orphaned child of refugees. American refugees, as people unable to fue…

RPG Review: Star Frontiers

I was never able to get a copy of the Traveller RPG as a kid. The local hobby shop, long since departed, had the Traveller books, but I never knew where to start. I saw little black books -  Books starting with 4, Supplements, etc. But I never knew where to get the first three books. 
My first science fiction RPG was Gamma World but shortly after it I obtained Star Frontiers. Gamma World scared me a little bit. This was the early and mid 1980s. It was a time when nuclear war didn't seem all that unlikely a possibility. Yes, Gamma World was over the top and wild, but the setting of a fallen Earth always made me feel a little down.
Star Frontiers, on the other hand, was something I could get into. Gleaming towers, hover cars, laser pistols etc. 
Let's talk a little about the setting of Star Frontiers. It takes place in the "Frontier", a region close to the center of the galaxy where four species have come together to form the United Planetary Federation - the UPF. They…

Star Wars Actual Play: Takeover at Whisper Base

Based on the adventure of the same name in the Age of Rebellion Beginner Game

Cast of Characters:

Athena Ellia, Twi'lek Scout and Force Sensitive EmergentBobar Kane, Human CommandoRik Corruss, Human SaboteurSetting: The planet Onderon, shortly after the Battle of Yavin
Objective: Rebel Intelligence has learned that Imperial Moff Dardano has built a secret listening post in the jungles of Onderon - Whisper Base. This base was not for use against the Rebellion but was rather intended for use against his rival, Admiral Corlen. Not even the Empire knew of it. The Rebel Alliance has sent a small commando team to secure the base as a forward Rebel base. They must cut off its link to a communications bunker and prevent any Imperials from escaping by shuttle.
Capsule Summaey In the entry garage, the Rebels cut the communications link and dealt with a group of Imperial security personnel that responded to the cut cable.The Rebels deactivated an old Clone Wars era droid that was cleaning the ga…

Cracking Open Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars Games

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm teaching my younger daughter how to game using Fantasy Flight Games' incarnation of Star Wars. I'm thinking of doing a few posts where I do a bit of an examination for their incarnation of the RPG.

To begin, FFG does not have one Star Wars RPG but rather three. They are Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny. Each is focused on a specific lens of Star Wars gaming. Edge of the Empire deals with "civilians" - smugglers, bounty hunters, colonists, mercenaries, nobles, etc. If one wanted to run a game like the Firefly TV show or all about characters like Boba Fett, this is the game to use. Age of Rebellion on the other hand, is focused on the Rebel Alliance's battle against the Evil Galactic Empire. Finally, Force and Destiny deals with Force-sensitive characters. All the games provide for potential Force-users, but in Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion you are dealing with very basic Force users. The…

The Next Generation of Gamers

Watching season one of Stranger Things, I was thrilled to see the kids playing D&D. As I've said before, I was the same age as the kids - in fall of 1983 I was 12 years old, in the 7th grade. I'd been playing D&D since the end of the 4th grade in one form or another.

I probably wasn't all that good at it when I started. Heck I'm still learning.

My younger daughter is in the 7th grade. She's the geeky one of the two girls. Both my daughters are awesome, but when it comes to Stephen King, Star Wars, Doctor Who, and superheroes, she's the one. Quick aside - older daughter and I also share a lot as well. It was she who actually introduced me to Stranger Things, we both love New York City (and subway trains), Disney, and while little sister loves comics and superhero movies, big sister is the fan of the Arrow-verse shows.

Anyways, while younger one was in the hospital recently, we were talking about Star Wars - and she expressed an interest in trying a Star…

We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties

I've put this blog on a brief hiatus. We had a bit of a health scare with one of our daughters at the end of October, requiring a hospital stay. We're past the immediate crisis. I'm playing catch-up in my life, including a research paper that I need to book some solid time on.

Hoping to resume posting in another week or two, we'll see.

Child and Adolescent Protagonists in RPGs

I'm working my way through season 2 of Netflix's Stranger Things. I've commented previously that one of the things I find fascinating about the show is I was the same age as the characters at the time the show takes place - in fall of 1983 I was 12, just like the characters on the show.

With an 12-year old with a massive taste for reading (some very advanced stuff), I've had cause to reread It to make sure I was able to discuss it with her. It's caused me to reflect on the amount of fiction, film, etc. where some or all of the protagonists are children - preadolescents to adolescents. Just from media consumed in the past few months I can think of:

The main protagonists of Stranger ThingsThe Losers' Club of ItEllie in The Last of UsMark Petrie of Salems' LotBuffy the Vampire Slayer (Seasons 1-3) I'm also contemplating the overlap of these with young adult fiction - both feature children - typically of early to mid adolescence - while young adult fiction …

Trying to Grok Champions

With the release of the new Golden Age Champions, at some point in my future there's a Golden Age superhero campaign (not this calendar year though - still adventures to do in Hyperborea). Though much of the writing and art of the Golden Age of comics is extremely juvenile (with a much younger audience in mind), I've always liked many of the "big ideas" of the era. I'd love at some point to do a game that establishes a superhero universe from the start.

I'd like to get a good campaign going with Champions itself - the Hero System, of which Champions is a part of, is one of those games that have been on my bucket list for some time. One additional hindrance to me is given I use Roll20 for gaming nowadays and there's only a basic Hero System sheet there. Mind you there's none for our current game of Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea at all, though I sometimes think of trying to tweak an AD&D sheet into one. My hunch is I'll want…

On Realizing the 1980s Have Become a Historical Setting

Back in my day we didn't have cell phones or text messages or Snapchat. If you wanted to make plans with someone you called their house, maybe asked their parents or siblings to get them on the phone. And you had to plan out where and when to meet like you were planning an amphibious assault. And we liked it. We loved it!

I've been looking through some old 1980s games, either old ones from my collection or new acquisitions. I've realized if I were to, for example, play a game of 1st edition Chill or Top Secret, my inclination would be to run it as a historical game as opposed to running it in the present. Chill has a modern day 3rd edition and a new, modern day version of Top Secret is being made. But to me, those classic games really feel rooted in the eras in which they were made. That's not to say they couldn't be adapted to modern times - and Chill would also work great as a Victorian-era game.

Not all games from that era scream their time periods as much. For…

Chill 1st Edition First Impressions

It's very strange doing a "first impressions" type of review of a game from 1984 but Chill was one of those games that I never managed to get ahold of when it first came out. I remember the numerous advertisements in Dragon magazine at the time for Pacesetter Ltd. RPGs - they all looked interesting to me but alas, my middle and high school funds to did not allow me to pick them up. Though for some reason I was sorely tempted to splurge on Chill so I could get the Elvira adventure compilation. I suspect puberty may have had something to do with that...

I've recently had the opportunity go through the original game. It's definitely an old-school game, based around percentile-based ability scores and skills. There are two types of task rolls, general and specific checks. A general check is a straight percentile roll, looking to roll equal to or below your stat. With a specific roll you do a lookup on a table to see how well you did, using your margin of success to …

Saltmarsh in Hyperborea

In our Hyperborean campaign I've been adapting the AD&D 1st edition Saltmarsh series for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.

There's spoilers here for the entire series so if you're unfamiliar with the adventures and have reason to want to stay that way, you might want to hold off reading.

Alrighty... So the Saltmarsh series is marked by a series of discoveries:

A "haunted" house is being used by smugglers.Those smugglers have been selling weapons to a group of lizard men alarmingly close to Saltmarsh. The lizard men were kicked out of their original lair by sahuagin. Who also pose a threat to Saltmarsh...The lizard men have been assembling an alliance of aquatic folk against the sahuagin. So how does this fit in Hyperborea? With its long winters, Hyperborea is a horrible place for cold blooded creatures like the lizard men. I posit they must go into a long torpor as their swamps freeze over. 
In the current 13-year cycle, these lizard men ha…

Adventure Writeup: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh Part Two

Based on the TSR adventure of the same name written by Dave J. Browne and Don Turnbull. Tweaked to fit in the Hyperborean setting.

Year 576 (Tempest), Month II, Day 26
Cast of characters:

Aaron Cèampach, Kelt WarlockHoom Feethos, Hyberbrean ThiefMorrow, Pict DruidSaratos Ochôziakos, Ixian FighterSarukê thugatêrOchôziakos, Ixian WitchWilliam "Billy" Welsh - Common Human PyromancerHenchmen hired by Saratos and Sarukê:

Tai, Medium InfantrymanZell, Heavy Infantryman
Random tied-up dude found in the upper floor of the house: Ned Shakeshaft, "thief" (or is he?)
See also Part One.
Peeking their heads up in the attic the adventurers didn't find anything of interest (and in so doing, avoided a nest of stirges hiding up there) and went down to the basement. The basement was a wine cellar, though alas all the bottles and casks were broken. Investigating a dead body, Tai was infested by a rot grub which, despite Billy's pyromancy, proceeded to kill him. Searching further, they…

"The Last of Us" from an RPG Perspective

With a two week break between classes at Brandeis, I had a little bit of time to goof off and make use of the PS4 I received as a birthday gift last month. I finally made my way through Naughty Dog's The Last of Us. This isn't really a review of the game, there's about a gazillion out there on the internet - though I will give a brief overview of it. I'll also note there are spoilers about the game in this post so if you've not played it and want to play it unspoiled, you should read no farther. A bit unlikely for a game released in 2013, but just in case...

The Last of Us tells the tale of Joel and Ellie in a post-apocalyptic world. Joel is a survivor of the original outbreak in his late forties. Ellie is 14 and for unknown reasons, is immune to the infection.

In September of 2013 a mutant Cordyceps fungus wipes out civilization. Cordyceps is a real kind of fungus and is a parasite, with some species able to alter the host's behavior. Luckily for us, Cordyceps…

First Impressions of "The Orville"

I'd not really been plugged in to the fact that Seth MacFarlane had created a science fiction show until I started seeing people on my Facebook feed talking about The Orville - some people claiming it was the "real" Star Trek show as opposed to Star Trek Discovery. 

The Orville is a comedy-drama science fiction show strongly inspired by the original Star Trek. That's not surprising given MacFalane's well known love of that show. I'm not a huge MacFarlane fan - I've probably only caught an episode or two of Family Guy though I will acknowledge Ted as a guilty pleasure. I'm sure Mila Kunis starring in that had nothing to do with it...

As of this writing, The Orville has aired four episodes, so it's still a little early in the run. It is about the crew of the exploration ship Orville - no big surprise there. Her captain is Ed Mercer, a once up and coming officer whose career stalled after his divorce. The only first officer available to him is his ex…

Actual Play Review: Cthulhu Dark

With a brief break from our Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea game taking place due to some travel going on in our group, we recently had the opportunity to try out Cthulhu Dark. It was just three of us, myself and two players, which in my experience can work pretty well for horror games.

Cthulhu Dark is designed for Lovecraftian horror. It is about as stripped down a set of rules as I could imagine. Your investigator has a name, a description, and an occupation. He or she has one stat, Insight, which begins at 1. If it reaches 6, your investigator is pretty much insane. Game over, man.

How do you resolve tasks? It's pretty straightforward. If your task is something a human could do you doll a d6. If it is related to your occupation, you roll another d6. Finally, if you are willing to risk your mind to succeed you can roll an Insight Die. You pretty much always "succeed" unless Failure Dice are bing rolled. Your overall roll is the highest of all your d…

Thoughts on Final Frontier Gaming

It's been a very long time since I've played a Star Trek RPG - around a dozen years I'd estimate. I'd flirted with the idea of playtesting the new Star Trek RPG but we were in the middle of a campaign I was rather enjoying. With Star Trek Discovery about to premier I've been flipping through some of my old Star Trek stuff as well as the new RPG.

There's a lot to recommend the Star Trek universe for RPGs. The original Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation are great examples of episodic adventures. While I often dream of a 200-part campaign of tightly interlinked adventures, reality tends to make such things difficult in the extreme. A Star Trek campaign offers characters a mobile "town" that can visit adventure locations. One adventure can be high-octane adventure, the next can be an exercise in diplomacy, the next a murder mystery.

Deep Space Nine showed that a 173-part campaign is possible in the setting of Star Trek, as an outpost becomes the…

What's Shiny? September 2017 Edition

Continuing the occasional series of shiny stuff that is capable of distracting me...

The fortunate thing is there's a new edition of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea that just came out. It's good when the shiny is actually what you are currently playing - and that it's backwards compatible.

We're going to be down to just three of us for a few games in late-September early-October so we might be doing a standalone adventure/two-parter. I've been giving some serious consideration to Cthulhu Dark as I'm curious how we'll find the extremely lean rules system.

I've been doing a lot of espionage viewing and reading over the past month or so. It's resulted in me flipping through Top Secret a lot - though I am finding the hand to hand combat rules a bit tough on the brain. I've also been thinking about Cthulhu and company in such a setting. There's a bunch of games and/or supplements designed just for that... I've been reread…

First Impressions of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea 2nd Edition

I just received my backer PDF for the 2nd edition of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. Often when a backer PDF is released I'm playing something else so sometimes it may take days or even weeks until I get around to downloading it. Since I'm actually GM-ing an AS&SH campaign currently, I actually downloaded it right away.

I've given the original version of the game a review as well as a more recent actual play impressions. This isn't a full review of the new edition - I've only had time for a quick skim. But from that skim it's worth noting that the game hasn't changed - there's some rearrangement here and there, some tweaks, and a bunch of additions. So it's important to note that my earlier reviews are still very much applicable. Indeed, unlike many games, the fact that this is a new edition isn't even advertised on the cover. This reminds me of the way revisions to the D&D Basic and Expert sets were released in the…

Film Review: The Falcon and the Snowman

I was discussing grittier spy movies with a member of my gaming group and this film was recommended to me. It's one of those movies that I have a vague recollection of - it might be from hearing the basics of the events this film is based on or it might be from catching it on television. Released in 1985 it is based on events that happened in the 1970s (which is when it takes place).

Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn play Christopher Boyce and Daulton Lee, young adults who have a friendship going back to childhood back when they were altar boys together. Boyce has just dropped out of the seminary and his father gets him a job at RTX, a government contractor. Despite having only a high school diploma, Boyce is very bright and does well at the company - and having an ex-FBI guy as father helps. He eventually gets assigned to the "Black Vault" stores top secret documents and receives secret transmissions. Boyce becomes very disillusioned as CIA teletype transmissions are occasi…

Reflections on the 9/11 Memorial and Museum

A few weeks ago, my older daughter Victoria and I paid a brief visit to Manhattan. Vicki's been giving some thought to going to New York's Fashion Institute of Technology (still a few years to go for that) but one thing we wanted to make certain of was that she'd be comfortable with the city itself - she'd only been there once before, and that almost ten years ago.

Overall it was a great trip. She fell in love with the city. I got to meet someone from my virtual gaming group for coffee - it's always nice to really meet with people I initially get to know via email, social media, and webcams. I'm looking forward to meeting a number of people next June at North Texas RPG Con.

One thing I wanted to make certain we did was spend some time at the World Trade Center. For Vicki  (and her younger sister, Jasmine, who chose to stay home in Massachusetts with mom), 9/11 will always be a matter of history. We first found out Vicki was on the way on the Saturday after 9/1…

Adventure Writeup: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh Part One

Based on the TSR adventure of the same name written by Dave J. Browne and Don Turnbull. Tweaked to fit in the Hyperborean setting.

Year 576 (Tempest), Month II, Day 26
Cast of characters:

Aaron Cèampach, Kelt WarlockHoom Feethos, Hyberbrean ThiefMorrow, Pict DruidSaratos Ochôziakos, Ixian FighterSarukê thugatêrOchôziakos, Ixian WitchWilliam "Billy" Welsh - Common Human Pyromancer Henchmen hired by Saratos and Sarukê:
Tai, Medium InfantrymanZell, Heavy Infantryman
Zell told his employers about the legend of a haunted house near his hometown of Saltmarsh, a fishing town located about.a day's sail from Kromarium. There might even be a reward from the town council.

Seeking adventure, the band traveled to Saltmarsh, a moderately sized town of approximately 2,000. To quote the original adventure...

Four miles east of Saltmarsh, just inland of the old coast road and looking out to sea, stands the Haunted House. Until twenty years ago it had been the residence of an aged alchemist/magi…