Showing posts from 2017

Fiction Review: Lovecraft Country

“Arkham,” Atticus said. “The letter says Mom’s ancestors come from Arkham, Massachusetts.” Arkham: home of the corpse reanimator Herbert West, and of Miskatonic University, which had sponsored the fossil-hunting expedition to the mountains of madness. “It is made up, right? I mean—”   “Oh, yeah,” George said. “Lovecraft based it on Salem, I think, but it’s not a real place . . . Let me see that letter.” Atticus handed it to him and George studied it, squinting and tilting his head side to side. “It’s a ‘d,’” he said finally.
Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country is an unusual novel - it is a collection of interconnected tales about Atticus Turner and his friends and family in the 1950s.

Atticus is an African-American from Chicago. He is from an upper middle class family, with an uncle who owns a travel agency and publishes the Safe Negro Travel Guide, based upon the real world Negro Motorist Green Book which provided African-American travelers advice on what businesses would service thei…

Reflections on the Passing of Chris Cornell

Andrew Wood. Kurt Cobain. Layne Staley. Scott Weiland. And now Chris Cornell.

Grunge music really took off late 1991, the start of my junior year at the University of Connecticut. I graduated in May of 1994 (taking five years due to time spent on co-op). For the second half of my time at UConn, the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, and Soundgarden provided the soundtrack. I loved classic rock like the Beatles and Queen and I'd yet to fully discover the greatness of David Bowie. But the grunge music of the early to mid-1990's inevitably brings me back to my early twenties. I don't think I could ever explain what a seismic change those opening chords of Smells Like Teen Spirit marked for many in my generation. And now so many of them are gone. It's not a unique phenomenon -  earlier generations experienced the losses of the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, John Lennon, and Janis Joplin.

Like many of his musical generation, Cornell su…

Fiction Review: The Dead Zone

It's been a long time since I read Stephen King's The Dead Zone. I believe I received it as a Christmas gift in a boxed set back around 1987. First published in 1979, The Dead Zone isn't really a horror novel - it is more a crossover of a political thriller and a tale of a man gifted/cursed with psychic powers.

What I found striking was how the book both worked as a period piece and how it is relevant today. It tells the story of John Smith - yes, that's his real name. Ever since an accident he had as very young boy (one he has no memory of) he's had the occasional psychic flash. This is illustrated in the beginning of the novel, set in October of 1970, where he and his girlfriend Sarah, both first-year teachers, are at a carnival and he has a wild streak of luck at the wheel of fortune. However, his luck soon turns ill as he gets in a car accident which puts him in a coma with nearly no chance of recovery.

We follow Sarah as she meets Johnny's parents, Herb a…

The Old Ones Shall Be - Planning the Next Cthulhu Campaign

After some discussions with my gaming group and time spent in creative pondering it appears that up next is some form of the Cthulhu Mythos. I'm in the process of drilling down to see just what that means.

We could continue one of two previous campaigns, a traditional 1920s game and a pulp Gaslight-era one. While the Gaslight-era was fun, my inclination is to return to a more traditional 1920s or 1930s period. New characters might be in order as our group has gotten a bit smaller since then (truthfully I found the group a little too large for Call of Cthulhu though it did help when the body count got high).

I'm considering three possible campaigns. The first is your "traditional" 1920-something era campaign, most likely set in Lovecraft country. I found my players tend to do very well when faced with the "impossible" odds a normal Cthulhu game presents. That's not to say such a game is safe - far from it.

We did enjoy a number of pulp elements in our Gasl…

Wayward Kickstarters May 2017 Edition

I was updating my backed projects on Kickstarter with projects I've received and I decided it was time to do an update as to what projects are way overdue...

First, the good news. There were some Kickstarters over the past several months that I finally received overdue rewards on. These include:

The Encyclopedia of Golden Age SuperheroesCthulhu and Zombie Mugs and Cups Production Run!The Dracula Dossier - I'd actually received almost all of the rewards ages ago but there was one final reward, The Hawkins Papers, which recently arrived, closing this out. Pelgrane kept the backers well-informed as to what the issues were and their statuses.Blue Rose: The AGE Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy - Like The Dracula Dossier, I wasn't particularly worried about this one. I've had the PDF for a while and was kept well-appraised as to what was going on.
Next, the products for which I've not yet received the full set of awards and are considerably overdue. In some cases I&#…

Fate Lessons #3: Star Wars Campaign Evaluation

Last night we wrapped up our Fate Accelerated Star Wars game, at least for the time being. We ended at a good breaking point, with our heroes escaping from Alderaan as the Death Star destroyed it and broadcasting footage of this act of terror across the galaxy. Sure the Empire initially wanted to be very public with the Death Star, but after its destruction they'd have preferred keeping it hush-hush. It's hard to intimidate the galaxy with a weapon you no longer have. A write-up of the adventure itself will be forthcoming but since we decided to try something else next game (with the option to come back to it at a later point) this is a good time to reflect on our first completed Fate campaign, albeit a short six-session one. I've played and run Fate games in the past but this is the first time we kept on to a conclusion.

To begin, and this is related to the Fate Accelerated variant, the size of the rulebook was quite an adjustment. The rulebook is very short. Now as the …

FAE Star Wars Actual Play: Operation Shadowstrike

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away....
Star Wars: Tales of Rebellion
Episode IV: Operation Shadowstrike

The Rebel operative code-named Prodigal One has crashed in his Y-Wing on the planet NCW-781. This agent had been gathering intelligence information about double-agents embedded within the Rebel Alliance.

Gaven Stark, Marcus Doha, and R2-C4 have been dispatched on a U-Wing fighter to NCW-781 to retrieve Prodigal One's information and, if possible, the agent as well. While the Alliance has managed to distract an imperial Strike cruiser into leaving the system, elite Imperial Deathtroopers are searching for Prodigal One.

To evade detection as long as possible, the team must risk a high-altitude drop and fly to the surface in stealth-enhanced combat paragliders...

Cast of Characters:

R2-C4 - Rogue Imperial assassin droidGaven Stark - Idealistic former Imperial army officerMarcus Doha - Veteran Clone Trooper who has lived an active life since the Clone Wars Based on the advent…

Time for the Jedi to End

“Give evil nothing to oppose and it will disappear by itself.” -  Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
It's been a rough journey for Luke Skywalker. He's gone from "I am a Jedi, like my father before me" to "it's time for the Jedi to end".
With The Last Jedi not out for several months I find myself unable to avoid some fanboy speculation regarding Luke's declaration.
It seems unlikely that Luke is totally ending the idea of an order of Force users who protect the galaxy. After all, from the teaser we can see he is training Rey. There's been some speculation that he'll bring balance to the Force by embracing both the Light and Dark Sides of the Force. I think there's something to this, but not in the sense of some order of "Grey Jedi". I'm pretty certain that Luke will remain a good guy - he was tempted by the Dark Side of the Force and survived by learning not to fight. 
Looking at the Jedi Knights it seems they are a flawed organization…

How Is Fate Working for Star Wars?

I've had the opportunity to use every official Star Wars RPG out there. I've played all three incarnations of the West End Games Star Wars RPG, all three of the Wizards of the Coast, and an Edge of the Empire Game that borrowed material from Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny.

I've had fun with all of them and if I were in another group that proposed any of those games I'd be fine playing any of them. It was a bit unusual for me to take a stab at going my own way with a home-brew Star Wars game. I'd thought about using Savage Worlds in the past and did a one-off Wushu Star Wars game once but Fate was a bit out there for me given my earlier experiences with it were a bit so-so - I liked it but I was unable to really grok it.

What I wound up doing was deliberately avoid other adaptations of Star Wars for Fate. Now that I've been playing it for a while I've gotten more comfortable checking out what others had done but I wanted to start as minimalist as po…

First Thoughts on Fate Accelerated Vehicle Combat

One request I've received for our Fate Accelerated Star Wars game is the inclusion of some space battles. I've shied away from them as I got my handle on Fate in general.

As I consider this, my inclination is to stay true to Fate Accelerated and keep things simple. Probably the most important factor in Star Wars vehicle battles is the pilot. Han Solo takes a freighter through an asteroid field that destroys smaller and presumably more agile TIE fighters pursuing him. Anakin Skywalker manages to "land" a battleship that is literally falling apart.

With this in mind, I want to stay clear of giving a vehicle full stats. Rather, I will focus on aspects. If a freighter is clunky, that can be realized via aspects. Consider this possible realization of the Millennium Falcon:

Fastest hunk of junk in the galaxyProne to breakdownsArmed with twin quad lasers and antipersonnel gunsSmuggling compartments This series of aspects would allow the crew to realize most of what we see t…

Fiction Review: The Magicians

I first read Lev Grossman's The Magicians when it first came out. I've been on a bit of an urban fantasy kick lately and have begun watching the Syfy series based upon it. I just finished a reread.

Looking at sites like Goodreads and Amazon one discovers opinions on The Magicians are extremely varied. I'm definitely one of the people who greatly enjoyed it but definitely be aware there are people who hate it just as much...

The Magicians takes us through several years of Quentin Coldwater's life. We are introduced to him as a 17-year old high school senior in Brooklyn. He is a super-genius, heading for a likely Ivy League education. He's never particularly happy for long - the television series has him formally diagnosed with depression and having seen enough of it in my life I would agree with that diagnosis. He is a great fan of the "Fillory" series of novels - 1930s novels about a group of British children who find their way into the magical realm of F…

What's Distracting Me in RPGs - April 2017 Edition

The good news is I'm still giving thought to the current Fate Accelerated Star Wars game. May 4th is close and it'd be a massive shame to not be playing Star Wars close to it. I'm thinking of ways to tie into Rogue One, perhaps having the characters be meeting with Bail Organa as he readies Alderaan for war, only to find themselves on the run from a space station the size of a small moon... To be honest, I've still a number of ideas and there's a request for some space battles in the game (which I've shied away from thus far).

We did take a break for this week's session - having just come back from Disney World there was no way I'd be prepped so a member of the group ran a session of No Country For Old Kobolds. I'm pleased to say my first Kobold, LeFou Gaston, died a heroic death, killing two flying turtles after being launched from a giant spork (alas he and the second flying turtle mainly died from falling...)

I've been digesting Dresden File…

Back From Disney

There was a bit of a delay in my normal update cadence due to the family vacationing in Walt Disney World in Orlando. Alas, it is time to come back to the real world - especially as such vacations seem to directly attach themselves to one's finances...

I know a number of people aren't big fans of Disney World as it isn't "real". I can absolutely understand that criticism, though I suppose the escape from reality is much of the appeal we find in the trip. According to my handy Gear S3 watch we walked a few gazillion miles and despite eating rather well I seem to have dropped a few pounds (albeit with a number of pounds to go).

As a gamer, I find lots of shiny stuff when I go on vacations - visiting Colonial Williamsburg, for example, gives me all sorts of ideas for games set around the American Revolution. One thing that Disney World does is present illusions. Walking through Star Tours and one feels one is preparing to board a Star Wars spaceship. Daughter Jasmi…

Fate Lessons #2 - Tossing Death Troopers off the Cliff

In this week's Star Wars adventure, our heroes were on a mission to extract a Rebel agent who had crashed on a planet and was being pursued by the Evil Galactic Empire. It's based on the old West End Games' Stat Wars adventure "Operation: Shadowstrike" contained within Instant Adventures.

My previous post on lessons I've learned in GM-ing Fate was rather popular and I found the exercise useful for myself as well so I'm continuing that idea here.

I've had some discussions on the use of sticky notes and marking up of the map. There's one reason I do that - if not I doubt we'd be doing much with Aspects. Most of us having been gaming for a long time and are got our start with more "traditional" games. As a result, it's likely we'd totally forget what Aspects were in play - it's something I ran into playing Atomic Robo a few years back.

One encounter in our adventure wound up having a nice combination of environmental Aspect…

Fiction Review: It

He touches his wife’s smooth back as she sleeps her warm sleep and dreams her own dreams; he thinks that it is good to be a child, but it is also good to be grownup and able to consider the mystery of childhood . . . its beliefs and desires.   - Stephen King, ItIt defeated me the first time I attempted to read it. I was introduced to Stephen King by a classmate in, if I recall correctly, in my junior year of high school. I borrowed a number of her copies and acquired my own from the local Waldenbooks. For whatever reason, I was never quite able to finish It. I made it through many of his books (The Gunslinger and The Stand were my favorites at the time) but It was a bit too much.

Fast forward to 2011 and I finally got around to completing It, reading it in audiobook form. What's really odd is what a gap was. My recollection is I tried reading It in 1989 or so, so it was about 22 years later. It itself takes place in two time periods, 1958 and 1985, with the 11-year olds of the 19…

Some Lessons From a Semi-Successful Fate GM

While I'm still quite a ways away from achieving Fate system mastery, I'm definitely getting the hang of it - so much so that it's making me resist the shiny call of trying some other games (though now that I think of it, I could do Dresden Files Accelerated).
Looking at the map from a recent game the first thing I'd say I've learned is it is vital that everyone know the Aspects that are currently in play. Even though I play using a virtual tabletop in Roll20, I've gotten into the habit of using sticky notes to list the aspects of all of the NPCs as well as writing down the environmental aspects. One thing that's been challenging for me mentally is including aspects that the characters do not know about - the players still know about them. Now, if they want their characters to be able to get a free usage out of them they'll need to have their characters perform an action to "discover" that aspect. 
I've also learned to be cautious about o…

Old School Stuff That Bugged Me Back in the Day

DM: "Black Dougal, you find out that you missed a tiny discolored needle in the latch. Roll a saving throw vs. Poison, please!"  Dougal (rolling): "Missed it!"  DM: "Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."  Fredrik: "I'm grabbing his pack to carry treasure in."  Rebecca: "I'm giving Black Dougal the last rites of my church." - D&D Basic Rules, 1981, p. B59.
As an older gamer, I tend to like a lot of aspects of the Old School Renaissance. As I began having children, discovered that spending a lot of time balancing encounters, making sure I gave out just the right amount of treasure, calculated stats properly, etc. was not how I wanted to spend my time. Indeed, I often didn't have the time. It really made me appreciate many of the tropes from the beginning of the RPG hobby. That's not to say I don't enjoy new-fangled stuff. I'm enjoying running a Fate Accelerated Star Wars…

Thinking About Time Travel RPGs

It occurs to me that one of the genres I've not gamed in for years is that of time travel. I'm pretty certain I've had the occasional time travel adventure but I'm thinking more a game dedicated around time travel. I had a Star Trek game about a starship that bounced from one parallel universe to another that was rather fun, but that was in the late 1990s/early 2000s - nothing since then as far as I can recall.

That's a bit surprising, as I love both the time travel genre and history in general. I think one of the things that makes it challenging is how to handle such things as paradox. The game I'm most familiar with as far as handling situations like this is Pelgrane Press' Timewatch which makes paradox a gameable mechanic. It's in your best interests to avoid outright paradox while dancing around it. For example, if your characters were to be imprisoned, it would be quite the paradox to have your characters just vanish from their prison cell. On the…

FAE Star Wars Actual Play: Gallisport Recruitment

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away....
Star Wars: Tales of Rebellion
Episode II: Gallisport Recruitment

Having captured the Clone Wars-era shipyard of Admiral Bayran, the Rebellion is searching for a worthy person to convert the Separatist yard to production of Rebel craft.

Reviewing intelligence data with their sponsor Bail Organa on Alderaan, our freedom fighters discover that the woman they want may be in the system they just departed - in the city of Gallisport on Shesharile 5. There, Rayne Toruna, an aging Twi'lek engineer, leads a swoop gang known as the Mynocks.

During the Clone Wars, Toruna was one of Kuat Drive Yards lead engineers, having created the Delta-7 and A-Wing fighters. She left KDY after seeing what the Empire was using her creations for. If Toruna could be persuaded to join the Rebellion, the Separatist Shipyard could soon be producing fighters for the Rebellion against the Evil Galactic Empire...

Cast of Characters:

R2-C4 - Rogue Imperial assassin droi…

Thoughts on Lankhmar as a Campaign Setting

I first encountered Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar in the 1980s in the pages of TSR's Deities & Demigods book for AD&D followed by their Lankhmar: City of Adventure sourcebook. I had a pretty difficult time finding collections of Leiber's stories - my recollection is they either were out of print or not at my local Waldenbooks, in these days before Amazon. It was shortly after I graduated college that White Wolf released a series of hardcovers compilations that I finally managed to read all of the stories - and it's been an awfully long time, it might be time for a reread.

Lankhmar has found its way into a number of RPG properties. TSR released a number of Lankhnar products - AD&D wasn't a horrible match for the setting but I feel it needed a bit more tweaking than they gave it. Mongoose Publishing did two versions of Lankhmar for RuneQuest but to be honest, I was less than impressed by those efforts, though I think RuneQuest is a very good match for the sett…

Adventuring in Sunnydale, Derry, and Hawkins

I've been digesting the Dresden Files Accelerated RPG off and on over the past several weeks - an activity balanced by family, work, finishing my graduate class, and running my Fate Accelerated Star Wars game.

Reading through Dresden Files I've been giving a fair amount of thought to the type of campaign I'd run. I lean pretty heavily towards the urban jungle environment like the Chicago of the Butcher's Dresden Files series of novels - Chicago plus trips to Aztec pyramids, the Nevernever, and other places in our world and others. I've been eyeing re-purposing my homebrew superhero city Port Henry for that purpose.

With the 20th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer upon us and trailers for It, based upon Stephen King's novel, I've also been thinking of adventures in a smaller town. Buffy was set in the fictional California town of Sunnydale while It is set in the likewise fictional town of Derry, Maine. You've also got Stranger Things taking place i…

Entire Campaigns in a Single 24-Mile Hex Inspired by Regal Rome

I am currently working my way through Mary Beard's SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. She covers Rome from its legendary founding to the point where all free people of the Empire were granted citizenship. She closely examines the legends of very early Rome such as the founding by Romulus and Remus, the Regal period, and the early Republic. For all of these periods we have no contemporary written history, being forced to rely on archaeological evidence - any written histories of those periods were written centuries later.

What I found striking was her description of warfare in the period around the end of the monarchy. She wrote:
Military activity is another good case in point. Here geography alone should give us pause. We need simply look at the location of these heroic battles: they were all fought within a radius of about 12 miles of the city of Rome. Despite the style in which they are recounted, as if they were mini-versions of Rome against Hannibal, they were probably somethin…

Fate Accelerated Star Wars Character Stats

I thought it might be interesting to post some stats for our Fate Accelerated Star Wars characters. The game is set in the time leading up to Rogue One and A New Hope, with our heroes working for Bail Organa.

These stats are before any milestones are accounted for.

Gaven StarkRefresh: 3
Fate Points: 3

High Concept: The old ways are gone and it's up to me to bring them back.
Trouble: It may not earn me a medal but it will sure to get me noticed
Other Aspects: I know my way around a blaster
[two more aspects open]

ApproachesCareful: Mediocre (+0)
Clever: Average (+1)
Flashy: Good (+3)
Forceful: Fair (+2)
Quick: Fair (+2)
Sneaky: Average (+1)

StuntsChest full of medals: +2 Flashy attack with a blaster

Two more available without reducing refresh

Growing up at the end of the Clone Wars, Stark had an idealized vision of the Old Republic and believed the Empire was a noble continuation of it. He served many years in the Imperial Army with distinction but came to realize that the Empire…

Fate Accelerated - Thoughts After Two Star Wars Sessions

Owing to winter storms, sicknesses, and internet outages I've not gotten as much gaming as I'd like to have this calendar year. However, we've managed to generate some Fate Accelerated Star Wars characters and completed a single two-session adventure. Next game is in a few days, probably a one-session adventure.

I've not achieved perfection in running Fate Accelerated, but I'm definitely getting the hang of it. Unlike my earlier attempts with Fate, aspects are getting used frequently and there are frequent spends of Fate points. So far it has primarily been player character aspects that are getting used plus consequences so an item to work on is getting situational aspects in play as well. However, this is quite an improvement from my earliest attempts which saw minimal aspect use.

I was a bit worry that approaches would be a difficult mechanic for us to grok - mechanically it's straightforward enough, where the way you do something takes precedence over a ski…

FAE Star Wars Actual Play: The Hunt for Admiral Bayran Part II

[Part 1]

Cast of Characters:

R2-C4 - Rogue Imperial assassin droidGaven Stark - Idealistic former Imperial army officerMarcus Doha - Veteran Clone Trooper who has lived an active life since the Clone WarsScene 3: The "Rescue"

Admiral Bayran had a small treetop estate that was under assault from a small force from the Imperial Sentinel landing craft - an AT-ST, a small squad of stormtroopers, ISB Agent Kerrin Malloch, and Malloch's prisoner, the Twi'lek criminal Tel Akuna.

The three managed to distract the Imperials with a combination of explosions, fire, and blaster fire. R2-C4 used its rockets to fly up to the estate and "retrieve" Bayran - the aging Rodian was not enthusiastic to be rescued, but a blaster (set for stun) helped convinced him. There was a bit of chaos as Doha's granddaughter, bored with waiting in the ship, was checking out the battle and was nearly in the line of fire, but she was retrieved without injury. Most of the stormtroopers were …