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Showing posts from 2017

What's Distracting Me in RPGs - April 2017 Edition

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Background
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

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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

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[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 …

Film Review: Hidden Figures

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As a kid who obsessed about the space program back in the 1970s and 1980s, it's embarrassing (but not surprising) that I had no idea who Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson were. I became familiar with Mrs. Johnson when President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. The three were African-American women who worked as computers at NASA and its original organization, NACA. This was the era when a computer was a person, not a machine.

Hidden Figures, based on the book of the same name (which I've not read but is now on my list), is the story of these three women. It's fictionalized, with some composite characters, some events reordered, but at its core it shows us three remarkable woman who were essential in getting the United States into space. Its primary focus is Katherine Johnson, who was a master of celestial navigation. We see the challenges they faced with the casual sexism and racism of the era. The film has a ton of heart - in…

The Legacy of Ned Stark

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As part of my Master's program in Strategic Analytics, I'm taking a management class on Organizational Leadership and Decision Making. I'm working on a research paper which has to include characteristics of leadership and a leader, either someone we know or someone famous, who exemplifies them. I'm writing about Abraham Lincoln but I have to confess I was sorely tempted to write about Eddard "Ned" Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire. (Spoilers for A Song of Ice and Fire through A Dance with Dragons).

Ned gets a bit of a bad rap. He certainly made mistakes and wound up paying with his life for those mistakes. But his mistakes were mistakes of being an ethical man, a man who would do all he could to spare the lives of children, even the children of his enemies. And he was determined to do what he felt was right, such as supporting the claim of Stannis over that of his brother Renly even when it would have been to his advantage to have supported Renly.

Ned is rem…

Crew Accommodations on Star Wars Vessels

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Back in January I wrote about how in the Star Wars universe, hyperspace travel seems more akin to an airplane trip than a trip by ship. You are typically not talking a journey of days - several hours most likely, with a worst-case trip being akin to a trip from say New York City to Tokyo. A direct flight would be around 14 hours, something with connecting flights would be perhaps a day and a half.

What does this mean for starships in a galaxy far, far away? If you look at deck plans of such starships you will often see a lot of crew accommodations. In many cases, I'd argue they are unnecessary or, at the very least. more than is required. If you are, for example, a light freighter captain, you are something akin to a truck driver. A bunk or two is reasonable - you might have an overnight trip or you might find yourself in a very crowded spaceport or you might just need to save a few credits. But a large portion of your ship dedicated to crew accommodations cuts into your cargo sp…

Improvement Through Study in RPGs and the Real World

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Some RPGs, such as Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying, have a mechanism by which you can improve skills by a program of study, costing both time and money. Similarly, in some versions of D&D some training is required to move up a level.

As a kid I must admit I thought that was a pretty easy way to get improvements. The main caveat is such characters cannot be involved in other activities during that period. As I near the end of the fifth class in my Master of Science in Strategic Analytics, something I am doing while maintaining a full-time job, being a husband and dad, gaming, and blogging, I've got a real appreciation for just how difficult accomplishing that is. I've a side blog dedicated to politics that I've needed to put in stasis as I work on keeping up with all of this - not for lack of ideas, but for lack of time.

Now that I think of it, there are a few games or supplements that actually take place at a school. I remember Last Unicorn Games has a Starfleet Acad…

Film Review: Rogue One

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This post is loaded with spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars story. 


Having had some time to digest Rogue One I've discovered it ranks up there among the top tier of Star Wars films. I'd rank it up there with Empire Strikes Back and would say it simply a great movie. I have to confess my expectations weren't terribly high when I saw it - I thought it would be an enjoyable movie and I did take the whole family opening night (actually a 7 PM "midnight showing" the night before it opened).

What is it that worked so well?

First and foremost, it was a movie that told a story. It wasn't trying to build a cinematic universe or making certain it had hooks for sequels. I think, for example, that Amazing Spider-Man 2 was so focused on building a franchise it neglected its first priority in making a great movie. As a result, Rogue One was able to focus on delivering a great movie. It was able to be brave and let the characters sacrifice their lives for the Rebellion.

It…

Thoughts on Fate Accelerated Superheroes

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I certainly could be mistaken, but to the best of my knowledge there's not a Fate Accelerated Superhero RPGVenture City, a type of cyberpunk superhero setting, and Daring Comics RPG, a more traditional superhero RPG for Fate. Admittedly. Fate Accelerated is a variant of Fate Core, but I think there's a great opportunity for a Fate Accelerated Superhero game. Fainting Goat Games does have a Villains Accelerated supplement which is a listing of supervillains in Fate Accelerated, giving a good example of how one might realize such characters.
. Off the top of my head, I can think of two main Fate Core products -

Like most Fate campaigns, it would be important in a Fate Accelerated superhero game to get general agreement on the type of game you're looking for. One could have cosmic superheroes like the Green Lantern Corp down to street level superheroes such as Batman and Daredevil. Of course, comics like Justice League have put Batman and Green Lantern together, but that to…

Mr. Chekov, Plot a Course for Trappist-1

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What an amazing age we live in with NASA reporting the discovery of seven terrestrial planets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1 with at least three and possibly all of the planets in its habitable zone.
Now that doesn't necessarily mean any of the planets have life. In our solar system there are three planets in the habitable zone - Venus, Earth, and Mars. Obviously Earth is a pretty good place to live and living on Mars is something that might be feasible some day. Not so much Venus however.
What is amazing is while the star is relatively close - 39.5 light years from Earth - it is well beyond our abilities at present to even come close to being able to make a trip. While at Warp 6 it's a little more than two months away the fastest spacecraft made by humanity thus far would take well over a hundred thousand years to get there. Bit of a bummer...
I've rather enjoyed a lot of science fiction which treats the laws of physics realistically and still manages to tell a great story…

Grokking RPG Systems

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Grok means "to understand," of course, but Dr. Mahmoud, who might be termed the leading Terran expert on Martians, explains that it also means, "to drink" and "a hundred other English words, words which we think of as antithetical concepts. 'Grok' means all of these. It means 'fear,' it means 'love,' it means 'hate'—proper hate, for by the Martian 'map' you cannot hate anything unless you grok it, understand it so thoroughly that you merge with it and it merges with you—then you can hate it. By hating yourself. By this implies that you love it, too, and cherish it and would not have it otherwise. Then you can hate—and (I think) Martian hate is an emotion so black that the nearest human equivalent could only be called mild distaste. 
Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land introduces the term "grok" which is a bit difficult to understand - I've always viewed it as a full and total understanding of …

FAE Star Wars Actual Play: The Hunt for Admiral Bayran

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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away....
Star Wars: Tales of Rebellion
Episode I:The Hunt for Admiral Bayran

It is a dark time for the galaxy. The evil Emperor Palpatine has destroyed the OLD REPUBLIC  and the Jedi Knights, guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy. In the Republic's place is the EVIL GALACTIC EMPIRE.

In this darkness, Senator Bail Organa secretly works against the Emperor, supporting the REBEL ALLIANCE. He has dispatched a team of Rebel Agents to Shesharile 5 in the Minor Cluster to meet with a rebel spy to see what help the Rebellion can give to that impoverished world.

Unknown to these agents, word has spread that the Admiral Bayran, a war criminal of the Clone Wars, has been hiding on the nearby forest world of Yelsain. The admiral's hidden shipyard was never found after the Clone Wars. If he could be persuaded to work with the Alliance, that shipyard could be used in the service of the Alliance....


Cast of Characters:

R2-C4 - Rogue Imperial assass…

Remembering Role Aids

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One of my more humorous moments explaining a gaming book occurred in the mid-1980s. I was in the back seat of my grandfather's car flipping through Role Aids' Elves book while we were stuck in traffic on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. My grandmother asked what I was reading and I showed her the book. She misunderstood the title and thought I was reading a book about Elvis, not Elves. To this day when I look at the cover of that book I keep thinking it does kinda look like he's getting ready to rock...
Since the 3rd edition of D&D Wizards of the Coast has embraced third party adventures, though they were perhaps a bit less receptive in the 4th edition era. They had made the discovery they made their most money on books that everybody bought - rulebooks and supplements. Adventures might be needed but they didn't make nearly as much money.
Prior to that, the original owners of D&D, TSR, was rather draconian about allowing 3rd party products. They did license miniatur…

Graphic Novel Review: Give Me Liberty

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I've been on a bit of a dystopian kick of late. One of the works I've read, for the first time in ages, is Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons' Give Me Liberty.

Originally published in 1990, Give Me Liberty tells the story of Martha Washington, born in the year 1995 and primarily taking place in 2009 through 2012. It takes place in a dystopian America, ruled by the initially popular President Rexall, elected in 1996. Her father is killed in protests following his election. She and her family live in the Carbini-Green housing of Chicago. In this America, it is essentially a prison for impoverished African-Americans. Rexall, a strong conservative, is re-elected in 2000 and 2004, with the 22nd Amendment being repealed. Elections are suspended in 2008 due to the possibility he might lose.

The Green is a hellish environment for young Martha - and for anyone else. She eventually finds her way out after she suffers a mental breakdown after witnessing her favorite teacher murdered - an…

Fate Accelerated and Old School Rulings

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As I thought about what to write about today, I was mentally going through my old school RPG collection as well as some of my newer games like Fate as well as thinking about some some conversations in my gaming group of late.

One of the reasons that some of the older incarnations of D&D and their clones have a certain appeal to us is the flexibility they give you in what your characters can do. Newer versions of D&D introduce a lot of detail into your character with feats and skills. I've found they work well but have also seen cases where they can inhibit outside-the-box thinking. One of the challenges on the older school side is in making rulings - when a player has a rather off-the-wall solution, there's often nothing on the character sheet that would help you adjudicate resolution.

Interestingly, I'm finding in Fate Accelerated a nice compromise. In it, the players actions tend to fit in one of four categories (overcome, create an advantage, attack, defend) bu…