Thursday, December 29, 2011

Art as Inspiration

I was browsing through Spectrum 18 last night when my fiancĂ© asked why I liked to do so. I had to think about it for a moment. My immediate answer in mind was, “because it’s got all this neat, cool stuff in it.” I knew that wouldn’t suffice. It’s too personalized of an answer and doesn’t convey anything useful to her. She likely would have rolled her eyes, muttered something under her breath and moved on to the next level of Angry Birds Seasons (yes, there are different releases for Angry Birds – it isn’t a one game deal).

So, I thought about it for a moment. Why was I looking through this book of art? First off, it was a gift. I have been receiving them as winter holiday/birthday gift for the past four years and I had just received this issue. Being that it was brand new to me and a book, I wanted to dive into it, right away! Mostly, though, I look through it for inspiration, inspiration for all manner of things. Let me explain this series of books and then I will give you some examples of the inspiration I receive from number eighteen.

The Spectrum series of books is advertised as, “The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art.” This volume and others were edited by Cathy Fenner and Arnie Fenner. The publisher on this volume (copyright 2011) is Under Wood Books. The book starts off with a word from the Chairman of the annual Spectrum Fantastic Art jury, gives us a quick blurb and photo of the jury, a nice, but brief article on this year’s Grand Master Award winner (Ralph McQuarrie), next is an article by Arnie Fenner, and finally it moves on to the art. 283 pages of art in the form of drawn, digital, or dimensional media. It wraps up with the URLs for the various artists. Sure, the words are nice to read, but 283 pages of art!

The art includes published and unpublished. The publishers give us the art directors, clients, medium, size, title, and artist for each piece. One to four pieces are on each page, supplying more than 283 works to review.

The first piece to strike me is one by Jesper Ejsing. The oil painting is of a werewolf engaging a mortal man in a hand to hand fight, a pack of wolves scatter the outside of the fight, the moon is yellow off in the distance, and the scene is flowing down a snow bank. You will never get the visual by my words alone. The mood reminds me of something I might expect from a Batman cover. The work was for the Ravenloft setting by Wizards of the Coast. I’ve always wanted to play in or run a Ravenloft game. I know so little about it that I can be safely intrigued with no ruination upon my imagination. Eastern European flavored fantasy game of horror. Sign me up!

Jason Chan’s work, Sooner Dead, is a digital entry. The depth of field is wonderful, the shear craziness of the image is wild with a human female in fantasy garb with a anthropomorphic, biker, bison riding a giant lizard with tires for wrist bracelets on the run from a biker gang of unknown origin (perhaps magpie or mouse), with power lines flowing overhead and perhaps factories in the background. The depth and detail in this let me sit back and study. I can let my eyes un-focus and notice new bits and bots. Sam Brown’s Space Station 05 does something similar, but with a hallway. Details here, details there. You will never see all of them, but you will always see something. Life is like that, there is more depth than you will ever know and just when you think you’ve seen everything, you can turn around and get smacked in the face by something else.

Artists like Paul Youll, John Harris, and Daniel Dociu provide hard sci-fi vistas that remind me of books and magazines I read as a child and teenager. These often provide me with inspiration when writing fiction or creating set pieces for games like Traveller, Star Wars, or Diaspora. Ginormous (is that a word?) space hulks, speeding cruisers, large cloud formations, and a feeling that time is running out.

There are classic art stylizations, like the comic book character Daredevil drawn similar to Japanese line art paintings. There are rifts on classic characters like Little Red Riding Hood, the Caterpillar and Cheshire Cat, the Wizard of Oz, and even Dracula. You will come across several works that were developed for video games such as Guild Wars. The old suspects like Brom, Arthur Adams, and Steve Fastner & Rich Larson all make appearances.

There are maidens and warrior women, men in space suits and men in rags, monsters human and otherwise, heroes and villains, zombies consuming economics and zombies consuming pumpkin brains, wizards and witches and warlocks abound, robots and warnings to citizens of Mongo, there’s even a sculpture of Vampirella.

All of these works show me different ways to look at things in the world and spin them for creativity. I can use them for music or writing or roleplaying. Their mood, their form and color, their smiling, fanged faces or axe wielding bodies spark ideas and lead to hastily written notes saved for later. Sometimes, those notes don’t stop and they keep going and going and going, only stopping hours later due to a cramped hand or a lack of paper to write upon... and no paper towel or napkins to supplant the stuff of standard writing paper.

I have developed games taken from music sources. Blue Oyster Cult’s songs surrounding Astronomy was the primary source material for the first Silverbrook game I ran years ago for LDB, Michelle, Randy, and MrFenris. I have story-arched a fantasy game based upon Queen’s first two albums. If I can do this with music, why not art?

Looking through the various works of what I would call hard sci-fi in outer space works, I could see designing a game around them for Diaspora. Explosions ripping a space hulk into pieces. A team of troubleshooters races to recover data. Travelling to a far away planet to experience vistas undreamed. I can see 12 session right there.

If that type of setting isn’t your thing, maybe fantasy is? If so, there are more works of art for you in this book than any other genre. If you cannot find something here to inspire you, you simply aren’t looking or may not have an eye for inspiration through art.

And that’s what I told her, kinda.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: The New Death and Others by James Hutchings

The New Death and Others by James Hutchings is a collection of short stories and poetry. Published in 2011, this eBook can be found on both Amazon and Smashwords and contains 44 stories with 19 poems. The current retail price is $0.99.

The tales within this collection run the gamut of funny to horrific, long and short, and truthful l, yet not. Readers of such authors as H.P. Lovecraft, Neil Gaiman, Robert E. Howard, and perhaps Voltaire may enjoy reading this short tome. Mr. Hutchings appears to be influenced by those authors and many more.

For those of you looking for your own inspiration, I think you will find it in these pages. Mr. Hutchings relives tales from Robert E. Howard’s Kull in “The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune,” giving us a new take of the same story. He also delves into the world of Lovecraft with “Under the Pyramid.” He provides gods, monsters, and men – complete with desires base and unseemly.

Mr. Hutchings modernizes old tales, such as Rumpelstiltskin. He brings them into the 21st century and introduces old concepts to new, with tales such as “A Date With Destiny” (internet dating), “The Jeweled City” (we are but the thoughts of an author in a Microsoft Word document), and “The Auto-Pope” gives us a story of robots.

Commentary on today’s world of love moves beyond internet dating with “Compatibility” while “The Uncharted Isle” gives way to “Weary Love” wherein Commerce takes over for Love at the call center. Yet, Mr. Hutchings does not stop there when it comes to love. He delves in to the realm of concept-gods, ala Neil Gaiman, and reveals that even the gods have trouble in the world of love.

Mr. Hutchings does not shy away from any topics. He dives into politics with “Monsters” and reminds us of our modern horrors. Rumpelstiltskin’s tale doubles as commentary upon what one can do for work, when one can do nothing else.

He even includes ninjas.

The medium-length tales in The New Death and Others do little for me. The voice of the story is oft times lost on me and the voices of the characters too often sound the same. I lost my place looking at the text of these stories for too long. Mr. Hutchings should work on establishing voice as quickly in these medium-length tales as he does in his short pieces.

The shortest works are better than their more medium sized brethren. They are quick blurbs about a topic and often meant to be funny. Taken in small doses, they help to break up the monotony of their larger cousins.

The best works in this book are those of more significant length. Mr. Hutchings does a fine job telling tales through prose or poetry, when he lets himself become long in the tooth. In these stories, he does a much better job of bringing forth the horror and mystery reminiscent of Lovecraft and Howard. In some of these tales, he also delves into the world of Teleleli, a world he has created and continues to develop in his blog. “The God of the City of Dust” is set in this setting, called Teleleli. It describes the actions of three priestesses, the followers of a rival deity, and what comes of converting from one deity to another.

The tale of “Todd” reminds me of something I would expect by John Shirley or Jack Ketchum. The story begins nice and neat and becomes a bloody mess by the end. Or, at least in my mind it becomes a bloody mess. We are not really told what happened to Todd and Kimberly, but I guarantee you it was not a nice thing to write home about.

Overall, the quality of material is a steal for less than one dollar. I think Mr. Hutchings should continue to work on his prose and poetry, continue to expand his ability to wax verbose, and continue to write. His writing in this novel comes across as very “common” and no yet refined into a style of his own. It is obvious that he loves his work and for a first outing, this collection of writing is not a bad one.

Fans of Vertigo comics, early fantasy authors, and role players looking for ideas should enjoy this book. However, if none of the topics I have mentioned throughout this review are of interest to you, I cannot recommend picking this work up.

I have attempted to provide you, the reader, with not only quick glimpses into the material contained within this volume, but also with my thoughts on the author’s abilities.

I would give this book a rating of 3 out of 5 stars. The topics at hand are good, but the writing itself needs more development.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What I'm not reading

Not too much, actually. I started The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, but it's painful. I mentioned it here. I'm done with trying to read it. I don't know how far I made it into the book, but it's just too dreadful to continue reading. Less than 100 pages, I know that much.

No rpg books lately. My rpg world is in a standstill. This idea looks odd, could be good could be bad, but I'd have to read it first.

I'm in the mood for some horror. I hear The Thing "prequel" is pants. That's too bad, the trailers looked nice. I will have to catch it on Redbox. Zombies sound tasty. Maybe I'll Redbox The Walking Dead this weekend. 6 episodes should be easy to fit in on a weekend afternoon. Or, I could introduce PJ to Millenium. The weather today reminded me of season one.

A zombie rpg sounds like fun, too. Maybe I should look into running a miniseries? I have plenty of rpg systems to choose from: AFMBE, Storyteller, Pathfinder, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, Dark Heresy, Obsidian, or even Human Occupied Landfill. I've contemplated running something set in the world of Left 4 Dead. Word on the interwebs is they are working on a 3rd game. I heard Dead Island was crap. (Guess I'll pick up Batman once we bore of Gears of War 3). Maybe I'll just outline it and post it here.

That and all the other zombie stuff I've written, but not published.

In past years, I've spent time reading Lovecraft around this time of year. Before him, it was Bradbury. I find myself not all that interested in reading them this year. I don't know why. The taste is there at the back of my tongue, waiting.

What I am reading is two things. The first is Lowell Francis' Robot Zero. Everyone who knows me knows that I am not a huge fan of classic, 4 color, super hero stuff. I like darker comics, more sarcastic comics, or just not super hero comics. Lowell fills two of those voids for me with this series.

The thing I'm reading is Glen Cook's Chronicles of the Black Company. I have less than 200 pages left in the third book, The White Rose. I'm not sure if I will continue on after this one. I need some pick up and go with this story. It is slowing down too much for me. The first book was slow, but gave me a solid feeling about the setting and the characters. I don't need that now, I need action. I'm getting setting history. I've heard the rpg for this series was good. I may pick it up one of these years if I see it in the 2nd hand pile for sale.

The Black Company series is not horror, but it has some horrible characters in it. It is a gritty look at a fantasy campaign at the trench level. Where I loved George RR Martin's A Game of Thrones for being a great top-down approach to storytelling great characters, this series is more of a bottom-up approach.

Hey look, I finally posted something in October.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hard Boiled - men and women

I've been reading detective yarns as of late. I just finished the third volume of The Mike Hammer Collection.

I liked this one more than the second volume. The writing in the second volume's collection felt forced. Too much hard sex, too much brutal violence, as if it was there just to have it there. I know sex and violence belong in the genre, but it has to have meaning or it loses its place.

Like Robert E. Howard's work, not all of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer stories were published in the order he wrote them. Yet, this book series (the collections I've read) are set up as published in history. I think I would have rather read the stories in the order Spillane originally intended.

Whatever way you cut it, though, I've enjoyed reading all three volumes in this collection and wouldn't mind rereading the first two volumes, again.

I picked up The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps as something to read in order to tide me over for the time being. I've been shopping in book stores and that normally does nothing o depress me. Barnes and Noble may be good enough for the commoner, but for someone who wants more than what the current distributors are pushing hot and heavy, it ain't the place for me. I've just started the book, so no opinions on it, yet.

In the mean time, I'm thinking on new to me hard boiled fiction to read. While cruising the 'net, I came across a quick, nice article on Modesty Blaise, Ms. Tree, and Tara Chace. The article is by a feminist and actually spans three posts. I'm linking to the second post, which begins discussing the characters. The first post discusses the pedigree of the blogger and another that gave a presentation on (strong character) detective females. I've heard of all three of these characters before. I am probably the most familiar with Modesty, but not that much. I do know to skip the 1966 movie, unless I'm watching Our Man Flint and In Like Flint in the same sitting. I'm intrigued by the 2004 release My Name is Modesty: A Modesty Blaise Adventure that was produced overseas. There's also a TV series that I know nothing about.

The article gives me enough info to tease me into wanting to know more about these characters. I've been tempted to pick up something with Modesty in it. I think I will keep an eye out for novels or trades of the original comic series. I much prefer the source material than I do the continuation of the stories following the authors retiring the characters (often the authors' deaths). I am curious to see these depictions of women as hard boiled characters, ready to strike out with guns and quick with the dialogue. If they are half as fun as the characters of Spillane, Chander, or Hammett, the books will be worth the price of admission.

And if all of this has bored you, go check out Inspector Tequila in Hard Boiled

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Meme - Blog Rating

I must not be trying hard enough.

OnePlusYou Quizzes and Widgets

Created by OnePlusYou - Free Dating Site

And yes, this is all in fun. If you know me, you know I don't overly worry about what others rate me as.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

First Times, part two

A Kind of Magic
The scenario was designed for a party of 1st level adventurers. I wanted to keep it simple and show PJ what it was like to start from the start. Let’s face it, if you are going to start playing, you don’t get to start at 10th level, or 6th generation, or what-have-you. You start at the ground level and you build that character up.

The characters were all invited to a yearly, end of summer party at the baron’s manor house in the Village (read: outskirts of the Village and a mansion). They were friends with one of the baron’s daughters and she routinely invited them out early for a little pre-party…and kept them around for the after-party. Hey, a girl likes a party, you know?

Upon arriving at the manor house, all is dark and quiet, except for the servants’ quarters at the rear of the property. Investigating the manor house they find a set of specific clues in this order:
• Footprints belonging to a small, non-player character race in the grass leading up to the home and in through the front door (Goblins of Golarian sitting to the left of me on the table may have been a give away, but it was a good, fun read).
• Two dead bodies, one chair, and swirling patterns drawn in blood on the wall and floor. The bodies were of the baron’s daughter’s handmaiden and (gasp!) the baron’s daughter.
• The entire manor house had been tossed from 3 feet and down.
• Occasional spots of blood leading from the room of death out the back door, over the fence at the rear of the property (which the party noticed kept the perps mostly out of view from the servants’ quarters), to a stand of trees, where they appeared to mount giant rodents (goblin dogs).

The party took the time to do what I would consider light to medium investigation at the scene of the crime. They were afraid to mess with the blood on the wall and floor, even though those small footprints walked (ran amok?) through it. They, therefore, were not able to get as many details from the bodies as they could have otherwise. They went through all of the rooms of the manor house and then questioned the main servant. They figured out the two patterns in blood were for summoning and binding an unknown something.

Following the trail led them to a small farming community. The idea here was that I wanted to give them a chance to interact with the little people in the setting. The party had been on the road, by foot, for close to 12 hours. This would give them a chance to rest and recharge spells. It did not go so well, but that came out of role play, not roll play. The players latched on to a few details and would not let go of those details, even though the NPCs claimed no knowledge. It reminded me of the old computer/console rpgs where you could choose from a specific list of questions, ask every NPC in the game those same questions, and if you didn’t ask them all, you would not get all the answers you needed to complete the game. It is a little like beating a dead horse. I need to figure out how to get players to move on from those situations. (Note: Maybe more out of game knowledge from me about the NPCs or community?)

The party moved on to following the goblin dog tracks to a river crossing. Being close to dark by this time, they chose to head downriver to River Town and rest in a safer environment than an unknown wood where thar be goblins. The River Town sequence went quickly, which was good. It was not designed to test the players’ abilities. I threw in a few familiar-to-me faces which allowed for some easier role-play. It also gave the players a chance to stretch their legs with local law enforcement. They were told by the Sheriff’s sergeant to either keep their weapons in their room at the inn or in the Sheriff’s office. They opted for their rooms and then promptly to the tavern.

They caught on to their mistake 30 seconds before I was going to have the sergeant and a couple of the town watch walk in the door. I let them recover their situation and quickly spirit away their weapons to their room at the inn. It was nice to see the group do this. I was afraid I would need to drop a higher level NPC on them and relive nightmares of 2nd ed. PCs running amok killing everyone that disagreed with them in the setting.

The following day, they travelled back up river and continued their hunt for the murderers. They came across a temple in the Haunted Wood wherein goblins were chanting appropriate goblin songs about eating people and killing horses and dogs. The party did a little set up for the situation, but did not completely organize themselves for it. The lack of organization made them rethink their actions. I think you have to expect such things in one-shots, first time games, and low-level games. I know I play characters that way, at times, and build them as such for one-shots at cons.

The combat went well overall. I brought out the hex-map (your square maps are rubbish) and we did it up with figs and wet-erase markers. The fighter would eventually go down under the swords, arrows, and scimitar of the goblin warriors. The sorceress would eventually stop shooting things with her bow and stepped into combat with only a dagger. She managed to roll a critical hit on at least one of the goblins and nearly slice his head clean off (thank you critical and botch charts via Ars Magica 3rd ed.). The cleric was able to beat up on some of the goblins, collect the belongings of the baron’s dead daughter, and with the sorceress, get the fighter out of the collapsing from fire temple (thank you gnomish ranger!). The ranger and half-elf were able to handle their own in combat, providing good 2nd tier fighting abilities (aka not standing directly in the line of fire). By the end of the fight, the cleric was out of spells and had to use the Heal Skill to stabilize the fighter, who was bleeding out.

The party then escaped to an area where they could hopefully sleep and recover spells. That evening, they looked over the contents of their “loot.” Three items of note were within it: bloody dagger with the baron’s seal upon it, the baron’s daughter’s jewelry, and a scroll. The scroll was written in an unknown tongue (probably Abyssal or some such) and while the cleric and sorceress could not figure out what it said, the cleric failed a Willpower Saving Throw. They did see the blood patterns from the manor house on the scroll, as well as a third. The cleric decided to not burn the scroll, in case it would blow up, release a creature, or do something evil in general. She would take that to her order in Port City to see if they could help.

That was the end of the game. At that point, we were on hour 5.5 and anything else I would have thrown at them would have taken several more hours. I did have that material ready to go, though, in case the party made it through the scenario quicker than I expected.
• What, exactly, was going on in the room where the bodies were found?
• What was the third pattern for and why wasn’t it found?
• In what language was the scroll written?
• Did the goblins really kill the baron’s daughter?
o If not, what were they doing there?

While I did enjoy running the session, Pathfinder will not become my go-to game anytime soon. It runs well enough that if PJ or enough other people wanted me to run a game using the rules, I would not mind doing so for a short run (2 years or less playing every other week). I had much more fun with it than I did 3.0. I need to finish reading the books I have for it, including the GameMastery Guide, Beastiary, Goblins of Golarian, Curse of the Crimson Throne: Edge of Anarchy, and oh yeah, the Core Rulebook. All of the books have high value in their creation and I like that about them.

Would I continue the current group? Absolutely not. I may use the story as a seed for a future game, but I would not re-use all (any?) of the characters. I’m also not sure I would use my homebrew setting. The amount of work that goes in to the crunch of a Pathfinder game may be more than I’m willing to do. Several of the adventure paths look like they would work for my tastes, specifically Curse of the Crimson Throne and Carrion Crown.

I examined game play in this game versus my prior game. In my prior game, there was a lack of NPC interaction at times. I played this up to the players being young to my style of gaming. In watching the interaction in this one-shot, I think more of it has to do with me. My skills are rusty and need to be re-honed. I noticed that I glossed over or completely did not describe the NPCs. More details about what they looked like would lead to better understanding of their place in society to the players. Clothing often makes the wo/man in a fantasy setting. Another thing I think I need to do, and I will need to re-examine this in the future, is think more about how I speak for the NPCs. What would the NPC know/do versus what does Derek know and want the end result of the interaction with the NPC to be? If the NPC is seen as a boring computer, it’s going to be treated as such. There is some counter to this that experienced players already know or understand to be tropes that inexperienced players will simply not get. Those things also must be drawn out in game play. Otherwise, they do you no good.

I’m calling the game session a success. PJ got to play in her first rpg and as nearly as I can tell (“I loved kick’n goblin a$$.”) had fun. I found the system easy to use and was able to adapt personal material to it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

First Times

Sunday was the first time PJ played in a group rpg. It was also the first time for me to run Pathfinder. I think overall, things went well. Here’s the break down.

Greatest Hits
• All of the people playing had played before, besides PJ.
• One of the other players hadn’t played in awhile.
• No one at the table had played Pathfinder before this session.
• Scenario and setting are mine, not pulled from anyone else.

A Night at the Opera
PJ decided she wanted to play an half-elf sorceress. We also had an half-elf rogue (female player), human cleric (female), gnomish ranger (male), and human fighter (male).

The player of the rogue, the two guys, and I have all played various forms of D&D, including 3.X editions (but not D&D5e).

The player of the cleric (Lori from Marimba and Ice) had not played in quite some time and also needed assistance. Not a problem for this group of players. In fact, gamer_girl from Girly Nerdy Gamer as the rogue immediately took over keeping PJ and the Cleric on target with their abilities. This was nice to see, as she had been somewhat quiet in my previous game.

The downside of having the two most inexperienced players at the table playing magic users was that there was not much spell-slinging at the table. Even when reminded why her character was being hit by goblins, PJ chose to attack and not cast Mage Armor on herself. Given PJ’s aggressive personality, this does not surprise me. I wish I would have done a better job reminding the two of them of their buff spells, but such is life.

Steve from Kaijuville did an awesome job as the human fighter and looking for the tropes I used in the game. I’m not big on using standard fantasy tropes, but he knew I would be using a few of them. He went after them hoping the spell casters might follow along.

El Ranchero from Meanwhile, back at the Ranch did a great job with the gnome. I have enjoyed playing with him in all of the games we have played together. He does a wonderful job pulling out character from the sheet.

The Game
I’ve heard Pathfinder described as D&D 3.75 and D&D done right. I think the first is definitely apt, I’m not sure about the second. I haven’t touched it enough to figure that out and I am also not sure it is a phrase I would ever use, not being the world’s biggest fan of D&D.

The books are great to look at and feel really good in hand. The page count for the three main books is in the thousands. Picking up the basic book reminded me of picking up a copy of Champions.

The basics of the system are the same as D&D 3.X rules. The last version I read was 3.0. I ran it for about 3 years using the core books, the basic class books, and a couple of handouts. I played it for a year or so, as well. That was over ten years ago, if my memory serves me correctly. Jumping into the rules would prove easy enough.

Character creation still works the same. Paizo (makers of Pathfinder) added flavor to the races and classes to make them their own. I think they round out the classes a bit better. I think it helps balance out the low level characters or at least make them more useful in combat.

It feels as if characters do not get as many skills per level that they should receive. However, taking ranks in your class skills gives you an additional bonus. That helps characters really excel at doing what their class should be able to do well. It looks weird on paper to me, though.

Basic “tests” still work the same – roll a d20 and add the appropriate modifiers.

Combat has a few tweaks, but nothing that wasn’t easy to pick up on. I like how combat maneuvers work in Pathfinder more so than 3.0. You receive a bonus to your attack that is the same for each of a list of maneuvers. The enemy’s defense will be the same for each of those maneuvers. These numbers are calculated for you on the basic character sheet so you know what yours will be when and if you ever decide to use them.

Feats are similar with tweaks, including when some are available due to either level or prerequisites. Nothing too outstanding here.

There was not a lot of spell use in the game. I chalk that one up to unfamiliarity of how they work (system), not sure when to use them (new to gaming), or how to use them (system and setting, per se). Clerics have access to a laundry list of spells. There is simply no way a newer player is going to pick up on how to use each one from memory at the first sit down. That’s expected. I mentioned PJ not remembering to cast Mage Armor earlier. That’s a pretty standard action that I am sure she would have done within a game or two. If not, she may have learned the hard way by needing to create new characters, if it was a killer GM game, or by the other players yelling at her to use her spells instead of stepping up into combat (wherein she rolled more d20s than the rest of the table combined). When I talk about how to use a spell, I mean what is the time and place for it? You have to know how the spell works, the effects of the spell, and how it will interact with your scene. A good example from the session was whether or not to cast Detect Magic at the crime scene. Detect Magic is all about whether or not there is something magical right there with you. You can expand out the distance a bit and the time frame can be stretched, but that’s it in a nutshell. By not knowing how old the crime scene could be with only blood, a chair, and two dead bodies in the room, it didn’t seem pertinent to let the party lose a spell for the day by casting the spell. Could have I done so and let them “learn on the go?” Yes, absolutely. However, this was a one-shot amongst friends; it was not a Pathfinder Society Game or a long-term game I was planning to run. It seemed more prudent for me to influence them to not use it. Instead, I let them think about the situation and follow the simple clues that were on-site.

Combat itself ran smoothly. In fact, I think it ran more smoothly than I remember 3.0 running. That could be learning curve on my part, though. It could also be than the people I ran 3.0 for had yet to play it or to my knowledge, any D&D recently before the 3.0 campaign. It probably helped that PJ and I created the characters and that the scenario was designed by me for the characters.

I think the system sets out what it intends to do: fix up some holes in D&D 3.X and add in flavor for the Pathfinder setting.

The Miracle
The setting was a combination of two other games. The deities were from one of my old rpg settings called “Origins.” There are ten on the side of light/good/neutral and ten on the side of darkness/evil. I set it up that the players would have no knowledge of the dark deities without a Knowledge (Religion) check of 30+. I want those deities to be old, forgotten gods from a time of darkness. Those deities would also not be important to this scenario. If I ever use them in a Pathfinder game, they will stay barely known. What information the cleric gleamed from making that roll at one point was little. It simply pointed them in a direction they could have jumped to without it.

I did not want to use the Pathfinder deities for two reasons. The first is that I wanted the deities to be in the background. By making the deities familiar to me, but not my players, I found it easier to gloss over the details. Second, by making them deities with familiar names, but not found in the book, I didn’t have to worry about anyone sticking their nose in the book all session or nerding it up by quoting specific items from the book that I may have missed.

The land is actually my modern Port City setting, but done in fantasy style, with one addition. I even printed out major NPCs from Port City that could be used if needed. Port City is a coastal town, in this case the head of a barony. Nearby towns of Lanark, the Village, Rivertown, and Fog Warren all made appearances. Rain Town was somewhat represented on the map, but not in the game.

My main use of Port City was for a police drama I ran called ISU #3 (Investigative Special Unit Number 3). It was a great game whose major influences were the TV show Millennium, friends from the Abyss Group (I had worked on Kult-related materials with them), and letting my mind go gonzo when needed. This game is probably the number one setting I would resurrect from my gaming past if I could do so. The tension and dynamic at the table was awesome. It also included two of the players from my Yeti Private Investigation game, which also included Lowell from Age of Ravens.

The additional material I added to the setting was the inclusion of the Winter King. While he and his kingdom didn’t make an appearance in the game, they were on the map and briefly mentioned in one scene. I thought I had something about him posted here in the blog, but I can't seem to find it. I will have to find it and post it.

Using a predesigned setting like this made the set up much easier. I was able to work through what kind of activities would be going on where and which NPCs would be available for interaction. This cut down on some of the prep-work for setting up the game. While I only used locations from the map, it gave me an idea of the world and made it easier for me to figure out who was what was where.

Up next: the scenario and notes!</>

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

GM & Player Badges

Stuart at Strange Magic has posted GM Badges, designed to tell potential players about your games. It looks like a fun idea, so here's what I came up with about my games. Keep in mind, there are categories I'm not including here, as I've used multiple techniques from the selections and they would conflict with each other.

The idea here is to display for potential players what type of games you like to run...or conversely for players to show which games they enjoy playing.

My games will tell an interesting Story

My games will be scary

My games focuses on Exploration & Mystery

I will Mirror back player ideas I think are interesting in the game

My games include Disturbing content

My games focus on interesting Characters and Drama

I'm sure everyone's experiences in my games differ and aren't completely represented here. However, if I think upon my best run games and those games that I enjoyed the most, this is the list that is most representative.

Interestingly, The Warlock's Homebrew has posted a Players version of these badges.

Hack and Slash! I like to kill things and take their stuff!

I like to role my character. I am my character!

Keep me away from torches and barns.

My character's actions are not for kids under 17 or sensitive ears at the table. Yeah, I'm that guy.

I like to explore the wilderness.

Wine, women and songs! Towns are for me!

I enjoy gritty pulp adventures!

It's all in fun and just a short bout of thinking.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Running a 1:1 Game for Someone Who has Yet to Play

PJ (my fiance) has wanted to try out roleplaying for a few months, now. She's never done so, despite having friends that have and a brother that is in to World of Warcraft. It started as a joke, but eventually became a serious thought. I tossed the idea of what to around in my head for quite some time.

She's read Shelly Nazzanoble's Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress, which uses Dungeons & Dragons as reference points. Due to that, I thought the best bet for PJ's first gaming experience should be a d20-based, fantasy game. I don't own any of the current incarnations of D&D. I own several 1st ed. products, as well as some of the retro clones in .pdf format. Alas, I did not own any core books. I've heard nothing but bad about 4e and remember very little awesomeness to WotC's 3.X product lines. So, I picked up Pathfinder. Several friends play it and enjoy it.

We worked through making her first character as a first level sorceress. It took a couple of hours and was painful at times. From there we moved through making up the rest of the party that will be accompanying her. We did a couple per night and spread it out over a week's time. We created characters of various races, arcane magic users, divine magic users, a rogue, and a fighter. She is by no means a master at character creation, but she gets it.

PJ wanted to get to know roleplaying before playing in a group setting. This would help her learn as many of the rules as possible and make her more comfortable come time for the big show on Sunday. I'll be running an one-shot for her and some friends.

I decided that for her 1:1 sessions, I would have her make up a gestalt style character. she went with a cleric/rogue. This would allow her to function in city situations, cast magic, and have some fighting abilities.

I also decided that I would use one of my own settings, instead of using a produced setting. My thinking is that I can tailor everything I need to fit where I need it to fit. I don't have to worry about what really belongs where and who is actually this person or that person.*

Important Notes:
I have noticed that I tend to gloss over details that we history & arts type nerds know by rote. These very details can be very important to setting the scene. I know how far apart towns and villages would be and why. I know why different arms and armors would exist, what would lead to their development, and which cultures might even eschew them. All of my players do not.

You cannot assume that the player will know any of the conventions of the setting (or any setting). We all know that when you stay in the inn at the edge of the big, scary forest, you have to eat dinner in the common room. After all, you don't hear the good rumors or get in a fight by staying in your room eating your trail rations.

New players don't know to ask to roll to see if they know any local history. Therefore, they don't know that the big, scary forest, is a big, scary forest until they arrive at the big, scary forest and you describe it as a "big, scary forest."

Let them control the story. Let them describe some of the set peices in scenes. It gets more buy-in from them and makes them feel involved. With a 1:1 game, it also shares the responsibilities (and talking) in the game.

The first session went okay, after I got the story moving. I think she had fun, after all, she wants to play more this week and is looking forward to the one-shot on Sunday.

My game mastering in a recent game was lacking. Part of it was due to my waning interest. Another may have been that I had forgotten that while the above notes are very important to a new player, they're still important to seasoned players, as well. There were other reasons, to be sure, but these two may have led to my personal downfall in the game.

*And I can put my goblins wherever I damn well please.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Catching My Wind

Well, it's almost over. Vacation, that is. I've been off work since last Tuesday night. I go back tomorrow, Wednesday. As always, it's too short.

I've spent little time being productive in a written manner. I've wanted to, but I just haven't spent that much time here in front of the computer. What time I have spent has been checking out more of Google +s features and cleaning up this blog. There are some things I'm still trying to figure out on Google +, and the mobile app for the iPhone is helping me understand it better. This blog had a lot of old crap in it that I cut out. I've also gone through and labeled, then re-labeled, and then labeled yet again posts. I think I have it at the level I want it at, for the time being. I also added that nifty new picture. The picture is of a Mexican wolf at the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo. I took it while there on vacation.

I hope to find time to talk about and show you my vacation. There was the zoo, the Elevator Room for steak and beer, comics to be be read, and friends to be visited. I could talk about cleaning the house, but do you really want to read that? I'm not Anne Rice, I simply cannot dedicate 20 pages to describing how I vacuumed up dog hair.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

GoW Depressing?

I thought this article from April was an accurate take on Gears of War. I'm not saying the author is correct, but that they make some sense. If you look at the setting from this standpoint, it's very depressing.

In thinking on the article, I was reminded of many of the games I tried to run in the late 1990s-early 2000s. They were very much like what the author describes. Given the group I was running for, I can see why the games failed. I don't think I knew how to phrase what I was trying to run and most of the audience would not have been receptive to this style of role playing game. You must sell it correctly, sell it to the right people, and make sure everyone (including yourself) understand the tone of the setting going in.

That said, I'm still more than willing to run a bleak setting like this in an rpg. It doesn't bother me one bit. I'm also looking forward to GoW3, reading more of the books, picking up the board game from Fantasy Flight Games, GoW4/Exile for the Kinect, and maybe even checking out the comic book series if it shows up in graphic novel format. I do love me some Gears.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


The city of Lanark was a small community until the end of World War II. At that time, the government installed housing for the returning men and women of the armed forces. With the influx of people came the need for work and food. Local farming communities, such as the Village, hired men from Lanark to work the very farms that were feeding their city. Manufacturers from Port City and River Town set up plants in the area to capitalize upon the need for employment. The small town soon became a city, complete with civil service departments and the problems that come with them.

The outward image of Lanark is one of freedom and the opportunity to make one’s mark in the world. The truth of the matter is that the city is filled with corruption and a lack of true leadership. The corruption is so deep that the chief of police has let a Eastern European criminal group set up a half-way house from bringing slaves into and out of the country. Sheriff Lucas has even gone so far as to bring the magistrate of the county in on the scandal, so that the magistrate can receive monies that allow him to stay in office.

For a town gripped in corruption, there is relatively little (reported) crime. The police are swift to crack down on any criminals operating independently and the courts are swift to look the other way when cries of police brutality are spoken. What crime that does get reported is low-end, usually non-life threatening: home burglaries, drugs, some prostitution (often with men from surrounding towns and cities), and the occasional barroom fight over a woman. What often is not reported upon are those crimes related to the Chakarova family.

What is hard for Sheriff Lucas to cover up are Markus Anthony’s gang bangers that drive up from Port City to hit Tiberius Chakarova’s family. Markus has learned he can’t take the family out when they are in their countryside homes, there is simply too much security. Instead, Markus has begun targeting Tiberius’ places of business within the city limits. These include prostitution dens with foreign girls working in them. Eventually, some of the girls are picked up by reporter s or police. They end up with the police if the reporters pick them up. The police will release them once Tiberius’ lawyer arrives to bail them out or simply represent them. Once released, the girls are taken to a country home and moved out of state to another community where they can be put back to work. Markus Anthony hopes that by attacking these locations, it will either scare Tiberius and his operation away or expose Tiberius to reporters who would dig into the background of the prostitution. Thus far, neither has occurred. In fact, Tiberius is in the process of bringing more muscle from Yugoslavia to America to help provide more muscle.

The Village

The Village is a tourist trap. It is essentially a quaint, one part New England-chic, one part Midwestern-quiet town. The town is mostly shops and a few bed and breakfasts, interspersed with homes. The last census ranked the town as a hamlet, with only 1574 living souls.

The Village began as a farming community at the turn of the century and never grew larger than a hamlet. In the 1990s and early ‘00s, moneyed individuals began buying up property and setting up businesses. After the stock market crash, many tried to sell their property before the banks began foreclosing. It didn’t work and most of the houses that once were summer homes to the rich in Port City, now stand empty.

Outside of the tourist seasons, the town is mostly empty. The only shops that remain open are owned by those who live in the Village. Once Halloween rolls around, it’s almost as bad as Ghost Town. Come Thanksgiving, the place opens again for the holiday season. By New Year’s Day, it’s as quiet as Snow White awaiting her spring apple.

You have probably seen parts of town on different travel and food programs. The Tree House B&B has won several awards for its design and use of natural elements in the building. Dave’s Diner is often featured as the best restaurant you’ve never visited. Angel’s is known for their award winning steaks that are “the best this side of the river.”

The library is a quiet building full of classical reads and a few of the more modern New York Times bestsellers. While there are fewer than 20,000 books on the shelves, the library contains town records going back to the founding of the Village. The genealogy section of the library contains birth records and family trees for all of the households that have lived in here for more than two or three generations. In fact, the stewards of the genealogy department are often requested as presenters to genealogy clubs, state universities, and other libraries in the area.

The center of town features Independence Park. It’s a classical park featuring a large green and gazebo that’s perfect for weddings. The town puts on a nice Fourth of July festival, complete with a grilling contest, games for the kids, and a fireworks display. It’s not as large or fancy as what you will find in Port City or Lanark, but it is a family tradition for many.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


The new home for Runequest is . I haven't looked into it, yet, but I know a few of you are fans.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ideas for a Neuro Tarot

Taking an idea from Lowell Francis, I’m working through a neuro tarot as a means to help me with the games I run.  He defines it as, you could make a your own version of a tarot deck reflecting the ideas, images and concepts most important to you.” You can find his article here. There are two articles that go into the concept further here and here. I am probable to use it with the concepts presented in Microscope, as well. Lowell walks us through using it in a session here.

I’m not going with my own thoughts/ideas for this quite yet. Instead, I’m going to combine ideas of things I like. The major cards will be represented by the Tree of Life, as represented in various schools of thought…Gnosticism, Qabbalah, etc. The minor cards will be various ideas that I want to incorporate in some manner. These are largely just concept cards and represent the first stages of my own neural tarot. The suit cards are based on 5 of the angelic orders.

Please keep in mind that this is a work in progress and nothing is near finalization. I still have much work to do with the imagery and definitions of each card.

Card Count – 68
Major Cards – 10
Suits – 30 (5 suits of 6 cards each, could be expanded to 7 cards each using the concept word)
Minor Cards – 28 (4 sets of 6 cards each and 1 set of 4)

Major Cards
words in parenthesis are a current array of imagery

Kether/Thaumiel  (the king) – Unity, kingship/Duality, anarchy, corruption of leadership
Chokhmah/Chaigidiel (the queen) – Wisdom/Arrogance, confusion
Binah/Sathariel (the knight, female) – Understanding, revealing/Judgmental, concealment
Chesed/Gamichicoth (the page, male) – Kindness, mercy, youth/Ruthlessness, laziness
Geburah/Golab (the hardboiled man) – Severity, strength/Prideful destruction
Tipareth/Togarini (the femme fatale) – Beauty/Falsehood, the dead
Netzach/Harab-Seraph (the samurai) – Eternity, openness of love, victory through honor/Death, rejection, victory through betrayal
Hod/Sammael (the merchant) – Splendor/Rotten, barren, desolation
Yesod/Gamaliel (a group working together in a field) – The word, foundation/Misshapen and polluted, destruction
Malkuth/Nahemoth or Lilith (a group planning together around a table) – Kingdom, kingship/Lacking in unity or purpose; frightening sounds in strange places, causing strange desires

Suit name is in bold, concept of the suit is in italics, cards are plain-faced

peace & order
physical realm

organization/large groups
freedom to act

order (maintaining it)
freedom (of the soul)
balance (of the spirit and body)

justice and authority
stability amongst people
the planets

workers of miracles
heavenly bodies

Minor Cards
Alchemy (not sure about this one)

No movement



Life (can these be worked in somewhere else?)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fog Warren

Reality is changing

• Violent crime is on the rise
• Crimes that appear to start as non-violent, are becoming violent
• The number of criminal cases that remain open has increased just as much as violent crime's rise
• The inability to solve these crimes is due as much to law enforcement’s inability to determine whom are the sources of the attacks, as much as, the weapons of the attacks (missing body parts of the victims, bodies torn wide open, etc.)
• Neighbors either band together or turn on each other
• Neighborhood watch groups begin propping up the local law enforcement, casing the streets for criminals and perceived threats
• Gun sales are on the rise

The city is dying
• Ten years ago, the town was blooming into a real city
• Retail businesses were on the rise
• Manufacturing companies continuously poured money into the area
• Corporations looked at the town as a good place to set up small offices
• Population is now on the decline
• Retail struggles to make enough money to keep the lights on
• Manufacturing jobs are few and far between
• Corporations and other sponsors are leaving as quickly as they can
• Funding to the school corporations is drying up as the tax base leaves
• Police and fire employees are leaving due to poor wages

Welcome to the government town
• Government is now the largest employer in the county
• Micromanaging is the practice of the day in town hall
• Monies meant for school and police often go to initiate failed programs that “just need one more opportunity to be successful.” This includes joining the technology band-wagon after the tech-industry’s melt down
• The county-run penitentiary is now accepting criminals from state-wide in order to gain more funding
• One of two hospitals has closed.
• The first, privately owned, closed before it could not pay off all of its debts. The building now stands empty
• The second is partially funded by government grants
• The state university is doing all it can to attract students, including foreign students
• Tech colleges sprout up for a year and then disappear
• The local private university is struggling to keep its client base
• The local ports struggle with upkeep, jeapordizing future business

This isn’t my neighborhood
• The streets are more narrow and in disrepair
• The alleys are filled with debris and derelicts
• Long shadows stretch from the bad side of town into every nook and cranny
• Neighbors are missing or found in the local mental hospital
• Homes for sale don’t sell and often stand empty

Tooth and Claw
• The news showed the remains of a bear attack at the local grocery store.
• The little old lady that lives behind me was found with a bloody butcher knife and the remains of her daughter in law on the kitchen table. Bite marks were reported on the thighs. The grandchildren and father were found unconscious in another room
• Coyote attacks on local farms are increasing. Local ranchers speak of selling and moving down the coast
• Homeless are being found without their eyes
• Applications to own pit-bulls are increasing
• A pack of feral dogs just ran past chasing a small boy and no one is bothering to call for help

Other Towns have the same problem
• Hunger City
• Rain Town
• And now Fog Warren

Maybe it isn’t

edited July 23, 2011 by Derek to correct a city name and then I changed it back

Thursday, February 17, 2011

First Blush: Eclipse Phase

The article is interesting, because they break down numbers, but also discuss their business model a bit. This rpg was released in .pdf and print. The .pdf is available for free using the Creative Commons license.

Looking at their sales numbers and print runs, it doesn't look like they are fairing too poorly. They seem very excited by the numbers and if they are encouraged to produce more and it sells for them, then game on. The cover prices appear high to me, but I may be out of touch. The first print run sold through fairly quickly. I think it came out in a year when there weren't a lot of new non-D&D games coming out. That always helps.

Any way I look at it, though, the product looks successful and I'm not sure why it is so. The game doesn't strike me as anything new or great or wonderful. It's been done before. Maybe there isn't a current game in print that speaks to Stargate with Uplifting with Bio-engineering with who knows what else and they are hitting on all necessary cylanders to win fans. Maybe it's a big sandbox that has rules that really allow you to do just whatever you want.

It could be that their Shadowrun fans are interested in the product. Being a rabid group of fans, much like AFMBE fans, they may be migrating over.
They do some marketing by running demos, but not a lot. They go to a few cons, but again, not a lot.
Looking through the book, not at the words, but the layout, it appears to play to video game imagery. I'm reminded of Dead Space, portions of Coruscant, or perhaps even Gears of War. I'm not overly keen on the text to non-text ratio, but they do a good job on the layout (it looks very pretty).

Maybe it's just good product. Does it really take much more than that? They're good people and good people have a natural tendancy to put out good work.

I just may need to pick this one up next time I see it on the shelf of my FLGS.