General Ramblings


While I despise the rest rules in Dungeons & Dragons that allow characters to power through a major, life-threatening fight and slough off the damage with a wee nap, the concept of giving the players a break in the action is a well-advised one. Much like in a movie, keeping the tension and action ramped up often doesn’t have the effect you might think. When the action doesn’t break for a moment of levity, character development, or to give the audience a rest from the sturm und drang of noise and fancy visual effects people aren’t pumped up…they tend to get tired or bored. A classic example is Quantum of Solace, in which the action scenes were not punctuated with moments of quiet and character development…the movie wound up being dreadfully dull despite a fusillade of action.

Similarly, when running a game, there’s something to be said for amping up the danger and action; sending them from one threat to the next. However, that can leave the characters unable to regroup, heal, or get their bearings. A good example was a recent Alien game a ran where the characters had reached the denouement, finding a secret lab working on the Engineers’ black goo. Things went predictably wrong as the big bad released some of the results of their work to prevent word of the lab from getting out. In the ensuing fight anf flight that took two sessions, the characters didn’t get a chance to stop or heal — bad guys and critters were everywhere, and there was the threat of the lab’s experiements reaching a nearby mining settlement. Their ship was lining up one of the company transports with an eye to blowing it’s reactor and destroying everything in nuclear fire.

Great set-up. But the characters were failing stress tests left and right and were no longer in control of their characters — they lost agency because I didn’t give them that necessary breather in the action. They couldn’t heal up, they couldn’t relieve stress, and what should have been exciting became a bit of a slog.

Rest — even a break from the action to “talk about their feelings” or get their wits about them is important.

Well, that’s another day I missed trying to push out RPGaDay posts. Which brings me to the prompt: Stack.

One thing you can count on is life not stopping. Sometimes, it doesn’t even slow down. Occasionally, it accelerates. August is usually a bad month for me. School and college start up and I’m prepping classes and teaching. Often, Black Campbell Entertainment is in the final stretch of prepping a book for publication (in this case, The Marvelous City — our guide to 1930s Rio de Janeiro), and there’s the attendant kid raising issues. Fun, or even some side project like knocking out a few hundred words on the blog, can get lost.

Thrown in the stack, as it were.

None of us like to comb through the stack — being it the overflowing Inbox of email (or actual mail), the to do list at the house, shopping, errands, kicking out a plan for the week’s adventure(s) with your game group. Currently, I have two groups: the “nerd night” crew of 6 overgrown adolescents; and the mom & daughter group. That’s two D&D games to plan for, not to mention the not as regularly played Star Wars game for the girls and a guy from the nerd night crew.

But fun is necessary. It’s not just gaming — it’s relaxing, it’s fun, it’s social, and especially with the the plethora of kung flu madness circling the globe in news-fueled fear and idiocy, it’s a needed distraction from the adult world.

Make time for it.

Today’s prompt is an interesting one. Let’s start with a definition for Tribute:

1a: something given or contributed voluntarily as due or deserved especially : a gift or service showing respect, gratitude, or affection a floral tribute
b: something (such as material evidence or a formal attestation) that indicates the worth, virtue, or effectiveness of the one in question the design is a tribute to his ingenuity
2a: a payment by one ruler or nation to another in acknowledgment of submission or as the price of protection, also : the tax levied for such a payment
Now, I could get very political with this post, which is the new meow for many; shoving their opinions and gripes in your face at every turn…but I’m not going to do that because this is about fun. So we’re going to pay tribute to “that game” — the game that really sealed the deal for you. The best system or setting. The one you’re playing 10, 20, 30, 40 years later. The one that inspired you in strange ways. The one that just came together right. We all have one. Here’s mine:
Dungeons & Dragons was my first RPG and the one that created a love of telling stories. I started playing when D&D was considered the gateway into satanism and possibly heavy metal music. Which one was worse, you can decide. these were the days when trying to find other players was like being a politician in a rest stop men’s room, tapping your foot under the stall…hey, kid: you like D&D?
We played the hell out of D&D and AD&D, and a bunch of other games from the other TSR offerings like Top Secret and Star Frontiers to Traveler and Universe. But the d20 system, to me, has always had serious flaws, especially for damage and healing (looking at you 5th ed!) Then in 1983, the one hit:
James Bond: 007 by Victory Games. The first system to really capture the flavor of the source material. From damage being tied to how well you did (Quality Result), to “realistic”ish damage in combat; from the product placement quality of having different guns and cars, boats and planes have different performance; to bidding for who went first in chases and rules for seduction (be still by teenage heart!); to designing your character and not randomly rolling — JB:007 was a sea change in how game mechanics worked. It was my first system “love” and I used it non-stop until the late aughties, when having worked in intelligence I was somewhat (okay, very) cynical about the business. I used it for cyberpunk. I used it for a Stargate: SG1 campaign. In many ways, the heavy research I did to try and to give our games verisimilitude led me into the field.
Space: 1889 by Games Designer’s Workshop. This game spurred y love of history, again because I wanted to get the setting right. I wound up specializing in European Imperialism for my bachelors and masters degrees in history. I ran an 1889 campaign pretty much non-stop until about 2007, when I shifted to Hollow Earth Expedition, paralleling my doctoral studies in the interwar period.
The mechanics for Space: 1889 were, to be kind, execrable — but the setting was superbly inventive and fun. With the release of Castle Falkenstein, I ported our 1889 campaign into those rules set, but with the terrible combat system replaced with a kitbashed version of the excellent Lace & Steel rules. It was rereleased in the Ubiquity rules that power Hollow Earth Expedition so returning to it wouldn’t be hard for my players. And it is a setting i keep wanting to return to; there’s just so much to run, right now!
Battlestar Galactica and other iterations of “Classic Cortex” by Margret Weiss Productions. Starting with the solidly good rules for Serenity, the first RPG set in the Firefly universe, I have loved the Cortex system second only to JB:007, and depending on the day, more so. There was some baggage from the original Sovereign Stone  ruleset by Jamie Chambers. It would power a couple of licensed product lines, including Demon Hunters and Supernaturalbut for me it was Battlestar Galactica — with the change to how Traits and Complications were addressed — sealed the deal. I wound up running an epic 5 year campaign that you can find the play reports for in the blog. It was one of the best bits of GMing I have done and it was one of the most fun and engaging games I’ve run. It’s the only campaign I miss.
Cortex got “Fate-ified” when Cam Banks took over the games for MWP, and I was not impressed by the following Firefly, although the new Cortex worked beautifully for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying — which wona few awards and was killed off by the Marvel crew far too early. It combined simple basic dice pool mechanics with lots of wiggle room for using Hero Points to do things, and it captured that freeform feel that the old Marvel Superheroes game from the ’80s had.
So there is my tribute to the games that guided my play for the last…too long. If I were to crown a game the “best” I’ve played, it would be a tie between James Bond and Cortex; my favorite original setting is easily Space: 1889 (which got even better when Clockwerk had it and expanded the world with more Germanic setting information.)
So…what’s your “first one”? That game that really hooked you? That one that you want to play again, or maybe get your friends to stop whinging and try?

Four post in one morning — Caught up!

Today’s prompt is Vision. When you first start up a new game campaign, everyone has a vision for what the game is going to be like. Maybe it’s just the character you want to play — what is he/she/it going to be like? Maybe you have an idea of how the universe is going to look, or how the system is going to play. In a game based on a property, like Star Trek, or Altered Carbon, or even one of the canned universes for Dungeons & Dragons like Greyhawk or Theros — there’s some expectation you have for the game world, the mechanics, and the characters.

Often, those visions are very different between the players, and the players vis-a-vis the game master. Occasionally, those visions can work together and bring real uniqueness; sometimes they are in conflict and can sour a new (or even existing) game.

Usually, I write these things from the standpoint of a GM. It’s the role I’m usually given for gaming. I love, so I don’t mind. But vision is something that players should have when creating a character. It’s fine if you want to limit your character building to “he’s a bad ass half-orc barbarian who likes to macrame” or “I’m the hot shot pilot that’s so good the commander puts up with my screwball antics.” But to give them more — where are they at in their life? What do they want? Where do you see them going?

We’ve got an excellent example of both sides in a current character in our D&D game. Artun is a oread — a rare male nymph paladin who is the son of Ishtar, the goddess of war and love. He’s a raging bundle of hormones and need to prove himself. He can’t get through a sentence without invoking his mom’s name. He’s setting up shrines and trying to get her worshippers everywhere he goes. He’s rolling hard into the new Path of Glory that the Mythic Odysseys of Theros. The basic game idea has been woven with (and is heavily improved by) the player’s vision for the character. What is the vision — fame, fortune, and glory. He is hoping to one day be worthy of standing by his mother’s side (or sharing her bed — yes, I know, but it is Greco-Roman myth time, so roll with it.) The vision is both very direct. “I want to be Ishtar’s number one fan” and open enough that earning glory to get there doesn’t interfere with other characters’ arcs.

I can use another of this particular player’s characters from Hollow Earth Expedition to show how a vision of a character might start off okay, then warp, or even fall out of sync with the vision of the game storylines. Le Renard or the Fox is a cat burglar in Shanghai by night, but during the day he’s the elegant B-movie (for China) bad guy in popular films. He’s looking to be a big box office draw, but is also a man of action who just wants to have fun. He gots wrapped up in the adventures of other characters and the gentleman thief side of him just didn’t get play. He started getting into tantric magic that was being used by the villainess and the vision of the character changed. He started to get very powerful, and was steadily being drawn in to the villain’s orbit. He was mostly staying with the good guys because he was hoping to get closer to the big bad. When the campaign went on hiatus, the character had not run his course, rather he had run off the rails. He was not what the player had envisioned; he had been changed by the storylines — the vision of the GM and other players — and was no longer really the character he had saw for himself.

You see this from the GM perspective, as well. You have an idea for a campaign. You have an idea of the story waypoints — the parts of the story that “have to happen”, but can fit inside the direction the characters take so as not to railroad them. you might have a very specific endpoint. When I ran a Battlestar Galactica campaign over five years and multiple changes of players, I had certain events that “had to happen” but could be done with variations on a theme (mostly riffing off of events from the “new” show.) There had to be a successful Cylon attack, a finding Kobol moment, the discovery of Pegasus, something to possibly bring the enemies together (or really fire up comflict), and I had hoped to end on Earth with a discovery that pulled together the whole universe. Events in the game were driven by the players and took us way off track from time to time, but ultimately, the main points happened and the end was what i’d hoped for. The vision of the game world and the point of the story were clear in my mind, so that i could roll with the punches as players came in or left, requiring me to change or drop plot threads. This campaign, as a result, was hugely successful.

My Hollow Earth Expedition campaign did not have a solid vision. I had a few ideas about what I wanted to see happen, but mostly I followed the characters’ leads…which lead to the game not having a solid through line, no real “point” to the stories, and ultimately, it got a bit boring for me.

Not every universe you play in needs to have a goal, and not every character needs to have some kind of destiny. But if you have those visions in mind and you can get them to work together, it can make for a truly special game.

What visions have or do you have for a game setting, a character, an adventure?

So this started out as a joke drink, thanks to all the online stupidity at the start of the current stupidity that has engulfed the planet. There were internet rumors that Tito’s vodka cured the ‘Vid, and i figured, “well, Vitamin C is good for the flu”, so here it is, the Quantini:

What you need:

2 measures of Tito’s Vodka (for the joke, really any vodka or gin), a measure of sweet vermouth (dry is fine but loses some of the citrus), 1/2 measure of lemon juice for Vitamin C, a few shakes of orange bitters (normal is good, too. Combine in a shaker over ice, and shake. You could stir, but that makes you a alcohol heathen.

What you’ll get a nice smooth libation with a nice citrusy, sweet flavor and a nice kick.

Enjoy.

The Ubiquity version has been approved by the printers and I’m waiting on the proofs to come in. The Fate version had an issue with the cover which has been corrected and I am waiting on the approvals before ordering a proof. ETA for print version two-three weeks, at most.

Here’s the link for the Ubiquity version.

 

 

We have two works in progress as the school shutdown has me out of work for three weeks: We’re continuing to expand the Thrilling Action Stories line with The Marvelous City: A Guide to 1930s Rio de Janeiro for Fate and Ubiquity, but we are also looking to expanding into the 5E realm with The Olympians, a sourcebook of the Greek gods.

Greek gods, people!

The art cost on this one is gonna be crushing.

Here are the NPCs that have been turning up in our campaign connected to Lasalle Bionational.

EDINA LASALLE

3FA79D8B00000578-0-image-a-1_1493655969819Edina is the heir to the Lasalle fortune and the new CEO of the company her father built. Her mother, Shana and her father are both of Irish decent and Edina has a slight accent when emotional. Unlike her siblings and father, she does not view Lasalle as a “Texan” nor “American” company — nationality is a dying thing to her. She has been doing an audit of the company since taking over, digging up a lot of dirt, and investigating the disappearance of certain key scientists and other mysterious events tied to the Special Projects Division.

Nowhere as tall, strong, or attractive as her half-siblings — the “test tube twins” as she privately refers to them — she is still highly intelligent and ruthless. Edina still confers with her father on the direction she is taking the company, and her siblings are often jealous of the close relationship between their father and their half-sister.

She is considered one of the most eligible single women in the world and it is rumored she turned down an offer of marriage to the king of the Three Worlds Empire.

ATTRIBUTES: Strength 3, Agility 3, Wits 5, Empathy 3

SKILLS: Command 3, Comtech 1, Manipulation 3, Mobility 1, Observation 2

TALENTS: Cunning, Personal Safety, Take Control

SIGNATURE ITEM: Ring once part of the Royal Jewels.

BUDDY: Brendan Lasalle

RIVAL: Mercedes Lasalle

MICHAEL LASALLE

25-Chris-Hemsworth.nocrop.w710.h2147483647The face of Lasalle Bionational’s operations, Michael Lasalle is also a walking advertisement for their “designer child” line. He and his sister Mercedes were the first truly successful products of the bioengineering division at Optima Reproduction.

He is now the Chief Operating Officer of the company, and assists his “natural-born” half-sister Edina run the company. He is cunning and observant, with little empathy for other people but an excellent eye for their behavior. He has been learning his half-sister’s strengths and weaknesses in an ongoing effort to learn how to effectively manipulate her and improve his chances of eventually taking over the company. He is also dedicated to the idea of making genetic engineering of humans a respected and accepted thing.

While he disapproves of some of his twin sister’s activities and shortcomings, he is devoted to her.

ATTRIBUTES: Strength 6, Agility 5, Wits 5, Empathy 2

SKILLS: Close Combat 1, Command 2, Comtech 2, Manipulation 3, Mobility 2, Observation 2

TALENTS:  Personal Safety, Second Wind, Take Control

PERSONAL AGENDA:  He wants to make bioengineering a thing.

PROBLEM: When pushing roll, gains 2 stress.

SIGNATURE ITEM: Father’s ring.

BUDDY: Mercedes Lasalle

RIVAL: Edina Lasalle

MERCEDES LASALLE

3157550F00000578-3510081-image-m-48_1458950973226Brilliant and beautiful, ruthless and sociopathic. While she has little empathy, she can “model behavior” of others quite well. She is tall and deceptively strong and fast. She is a practitioner of yoga and jujitsu.

Mercedes is the head of the Special Projects Division of Bionational. Like her brother, she is one of their original “designer children” — physically and mentally superior to most humans…and she knows it. Unlike her brother, she stays out of the company limelight and prefers to be involved in the day-to-day research, but has crafted an image as a socialite to create the impression of being unserious and shallow. She has been romantically linked to a number of men. She is generally underestimated and she likes it that way. They rarely see her coming…

She has been slowly moving to discredit her sister so that she and her brother can take over their father’s kingdom. This has involved shady operations, the investigations of dangerous alien technologies, unethical experiments, and the disappearance of those that might cause her trouble.

ATTRIBUTES: Strength 4, Agility 6, Wits 6, Empathy 2

SKILLS: Close Combat 2, Command 2, Comtech 2, Manipulation 2, Mobility 2, Observation 2, Science 5, Stamina 2

TALENTS:  Flyweight, Second Wind, Take Control

PERSONAL AGENDA: Power…raw power.

PROBLEM: When pushing roll, gains 2 stress. She is sadistic and violent when crossed.

SIGNATURE ITEM: Necklace w/ her DNA profile.

BUDDY: Michael Lasalle

RIVAL: Edina Lasalle

We’ve been focusing more on the corporate intrigue end of things in the Alien universe and we quickly saw a move toward a more cyberpunk-styled world, to fit with the ’80s vibe of the Aliens period setting. (We even have two characters, brothers, appropriately played by Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen ala the late ’80s.)

The company that has been up front and center in the game has been LaSalle Bionational, and I added a slightly Blade Runner flair to LB by making one of their main product lines “designer children” for the rich and powerful.  To that end, some of these designer babies are now adults.

GENETICALLY ENGINEERED HUMANS

The designer children fad hit in the early 2130s, and was spearheaded by the Lasalle Bionational Corporation through their Optima Medical division. Created by genetic manipulation and artificial insemination, these children, while physically and mentally gifted, were often plagued with particular emotional issues. Some of the early children also had unexpected genetic abnormalities. Optima Reproductions stepped back their more ambitious research, focusing on more reliable assisted reproduction technologies, but the designer baby services remained available to those willing to chance the risks. NDAs and legal release agreements are typical for customers of the Advanced Biomanipulation Technologies division, now directly under the Special Projects of Lasalle.

These characters receive a +2 to two attributes, but their Empathy score cannot be raised above a 3. Additionally, they receive +2 stress when pushing a skill roll, and suffer a permanent mental trauma of their choice from the list on p. 101 of the Alien RPG rulebook, or the following:

Generalized Social Disorder: The character has some form of processing disorder that makes it difficult for them to connect with people. They receive a -1 die to any Empathy-based skill test.

Memory Disfunction: The character has a short or long-term memory disorder that causes them difficulty. -1 die to Wits’-based tests.

The player can also choose some form of behavioral issue that can be roleplayed but which does not have a mechanical impact, such as kleptomania, sadism, masochism, obsessive lying, self-aggrandizement, etc.

Despite hectic and sometimes crushing schedules, The Sublime Porte, our guide to 1930s Istanbul is moving toward completion. The game book will be available for Ubiquity and Fate, both in print and PDF.

Here’s a taste:

IstanbulStreets7

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