Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Baron Who Would be King

A land in the midst of a dark age. A generation ago, maybe more, the Horde descended upon the people of the seven nations. The brought death and destruction. The king and his dukes met the khan and khanate upon the fields of plenty where our lord and master was slaughtered. For thirteen long years, the Horde ravaged the land.

No one can point to a single specific reason for the Horde's departure. Some of the barons claim it was their battle prowess versus a foe more numerous. Elders in villages across the land claim a curse placed upon the Horde by druids led to the foreigners' demise. In the end, all that mattered was that the Horde was gone and a decimated people could try and rebuild.

Rebuild homes, rebuild keeps and castles, rebuild roads and bridges, rebuild farms and families. With the Horde gone, the old enemies returned. Creatures of the night, disputes over land and women, and the Old Gods looking for sacrifices. 

It is into this world our heroes step. Into a barony with a need for strong leaders. A barony with a baron who desires so much more for his people, his land, and himself.

A baron who would be king.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

7RPGs as a Player

I started as a player, so here are #7rpgsplayed
  1. D&D 2nd edition
  2. Vampire the Masquerade
  3. Star Wars
  4. World of Darkness mashups
  5. Traveller
  6. Lowell's fantasy hack
  7. Freeport

For those that have never gamed with me, I will start by stating that I prefer to run games, not play in them. I cannot speak to as why. Perhaps, it is due to playing in bad games. Perhaps, it is due to playing in games with bad players. There are games not in this list that I have played and enjoyed moments therein, but they did not provide me with the level of experience that I gained with those within this list.

I discussed my experience with D&D 2nd edition
here. Playing in a game set in the Empire of the Petal Throne was my first real foray into a campaign. It was a very good experience. I was playing with seasoned veterans and a good GM. I was unfamiliar with the setting, but had read my share of fantasy novels and as many D&D books that I could get my hands on. This game connected many of the dots I did not grasp or did not know existed in the D&D rules. I would later play in other D&D games I did not enjoy with players and GMs I did not enjoy. I played in an 1st edition Oriental Adventures game while living in Memphis that I enjoyed. I also ran a 3rd edition game years later that was fun. I even played in a few 3rd edition games with a group of friends, all older than I, that was enjoyable. Still, there was something about D&D and my experiences between EotPT and my 3rd edition game that turned me off of fantasy and D&D, in general.

The next campaign I remember experiencing was Chicago: by Night for Vampire: the Masquerade. From rolling d20s to the concept of dice pools was a change that I enjoyed. We played in a friend's basement, we started after nightfall, and made it a rule to end before sunrise – we were gother than thou. This was in the early 1990s and we were all in college. We compared all vampire movies to the game, we eschewed non-vampire horror films, and White Wolf had yet to expand its game line out to Werewolf, let alone Mage, Wraith, and Changeling. It was a good time to be alive and we spent Friday nights participating in skullduggery and Clan warfare.

When we were not playing White Wolf products, we were busy playing West End Games' Star Wars. Sometimes, there were plots, sometimes, there were not. Many of the games I first ran were pickup games that were barely more than cause mayhem, shoot it out with storm troopers, get to the ship, fight tie fighters in space, blast into hyperspace, and then do it all over again on the next planet. After I moved to Memphis, I played in a game that was built around many of the characters and situations from the old Marvel Comics Star Wars comicbook series. At one time, I had owned the first 90 or so of those comics. I loved the series and where it went. I gave it away to a friend, but have since gone back and picked up a few of the collected graphic novels. This game taught me that there could be much more to a Star Wars game than simply run and gun. I would further experience that through conversations with a friend that I made after moving back north. He ran a Star Wars campaign that culminated with the players running the Battle for Endor, following the movie's characters had been caught and executed on Hoth.

I have played and run several World of Darkness mashups. I ran one for several years we referred to as the “Creature Feature.” The game was set in the area in which we lived and the players portrayed fictionalized roles of themselves. I would later discover that many other groups had run through similar campaigns. Other WoD mashups would be run and played. I played in several of MrFenris' and one of Lowell's. For the most part, we all had fun with them. They allowed us to create our own settings or play in others' settings. Something like the Matrix wasn't far off from several of our games – especially those that involved sci-fi elements. Lowell's game would even involve elements from Highlander.

Traveller: The New Era was a game I purchased while I still lived up north, but would not get a chance to experience until I moved to Memphis. It would be a year or two until I discovered the history of the game with the Little Black Books and the controversy of the virus. One of the first games I played in Memphis was a Travellergame. The GM gave everyone a secret that no one else knew, but would be drawn into the game. The game was gritty, nasty, and used completely unfamiliar rules. Psychics mimicked those in movies and books, at the time. The entire game was unfamiliar territory and it allowed me to try new things as a player, to go in directions that I had yet to experience, and I think much of that was due to the make up for the group. These players were much more experienced than I and brought a great range of diversity to the table.

After moving back to the north, I would play in a fantasy hack that Lowell put together. For rules, it combined elements of GURPs, Rolemaster, and Unknown Armies. There were seven or eight players and this was a high fantasy game – something I was not overly familiar in playing. This campaign lasted seven years and would earn the moniker of “The Freakish Band of Adventurers.” Elves, half-elves, a former demoness, assassins, cat people, dog people, and a lone human made up this group. The campaign moved from location to location as the players tried to put together what happened during a lapse of amnesia, the recovery of land that fell from the sky, a murder of elves, a battle on the moon with Ratkin, and a return of ancient evils. The rules felt wonky at first, but I think over the course of the first year, we figured them out, and did not have any problems with them over the course of the next two years. Lowell's notes on the game several posts in his blog.

Lowell puts together good mashups. I did not realize this at the time. At that time, percentile systems and high fantasy were not something I was comfortable with – I liked the idea of the former, but didn't realize quite why I did not care for the latter. Lowell has gone on to mash up several different games, both for settings and for rules. Everything from L5R to WoD to Changeling:  the Lost to Fate and Fudge to making up his own rules using cards. I do not have images from the old Freakish Band of Adventurers game, so I'm using an image from his profile from this entry.

Steve over at Kaijuville put together a group to take on Green Ronin's Freeport using the True20 rules. All of the players had played various forms of D&D and wanted something better than that. We agreed the True20 rules set would give us the freedom to play pirates appropriate to the setting, while still allowing the GM the freedom to pull from as many sources as he wanted. Steve did a great job of keeping the group together. The players in this group were as divergent as the characters from The Freakish Band of Adventurers. We would lose two players over time, but the core stayed in the game until the monstrous end. Steve's notes on his game can be found on his blog. Steve combined Pirates of the Caribbean and the Cthulhu Mythos to make this a bang up game. I do not know how much of the material we experienced was his own work and how much he pulled from Freeport, but I also do not care. I had fun and found that I could enjoy a game that used a d20 and was fantasy. It was not high fantasy, but it was fantasy and Steve did include some standard fantasy tropes.

I have not played in a game since Freeport and if I can find one that really interests me, I may play one next year...


The #7rpg meme is making the rounds. I am a week behind in participating, due to a well placed honeymoon in the month of December. To make up for the fact that I am behind, I thought I would do three memes related to the #7rpg meme. The first meme I will discuss will cover rpgs that influenced me in important ways. The second will cover games I have run and the third will cover games I have played. You will see some cross-over between the three.

My first encounter with rpgs was the D&D red box. I played it three times. In all three experiences, there was the GM and myself, that's it. Two of the three games were run by the same friend. While these experiences spurred my muse, I would not say they played an important role in my development in the world of rpgs. The rpgs that that have impacted me the most are:
  1. Worlds of Wonder
  2. D&D 2nd edition
  3. Vampire the Masquerade
  4. Traveller: The New Era
  5. Kult
  6. Conpiracy X
  7. a/state  

The first rpg to make that impact was a boxed set from Chaosium Games called Worlds of Wonder. My father brought it home and introduced it to me and my brother as a tactical game. My brother and I did not understand the game very well. It did not last very long as a “play thing.” However, I would spend hours pouring over the three settings and core book in the boxed set. I was confused by the fact the core book had artwork that best fit Magic World. I had no clue that D&D and Worlds of Wonder were from the same world of games.

The first game campaign I played in was based in M.A.R. Barker's Empire of the Petal Throne, published by Judges Guild, using D&D 2nd edition rules. The game was run by a local teacher, from a school I did not attend, and held at a friend's house. I was the youngest player at age eighteen and a senior in high school. While I had read many different editions of D&D between Worlds of Wonder and Empire of the Petal Throne, there were many things I had not put it all together in my mind. I may have even read other rpg materials and not realized they were not for D&D. This game put it all together for me. The group was very much a classic D&D rpg group, in my mind. Everyone played their roles and played them well. I learned the nuances of how to play and how to calculate THAC0.

I would leave that game for Vampire the Masquerade, 1st edition. Another friend was running it and the crew were all my age. This group would be another classic example of stereotypes. We would not begin playing until after dark (mostly due to everyone's jobs) and would play all night, finishing before daylight. Players and even the Storyteller had to be awoken at times, falling asleep during the game due to being overly tired. Characters did not trust each other and we all plotted with and against each other. This campaign would last a year or so. The World of Darkness would become my go to setting and rules system for many years. The Vampire group would dabble in other games throughout the years, but nearly all of them were published by White Wolf.

I spent a year in college and then moved to Memphis. I was introduced to a gaming group by my roommate, who did not play at that time. The first game I came to love within that group was Traveller. They were playing The New Era edition. I had purchased that book before moving to Memphis and was excited to have a chance to play it. I knew that this edition was not the first, but I had no experience with those. After discovering the Little Black Books, I feel in love with the history of this game. This group played three times a week and often played two games a night. GURPS, Marvel Superheroes, DC Heroes, D&D Oriental Adventures, and Vampire the Masquerade were all games this group would play. I would even run VtM for a few of them before moving back to South Bend.

Kult came out and no one in my group noticed it, including myself. I discovered it through the old White Wolf house magazine in a series of articles called, “The Jail of Night” by Paul Beakley. The articles combined Kult with the World of Darkness. It intrigued me enough to pick up a copy of Kult. After reading the book, I understood why someone wrote the articles. The game just did not appear to be playable. Kult introduced interesting concepts that I had not considered before. It pushed the limits of gaming in ways I had never experienced. I spent hours and days combing the Internet for ideas on how to incorporate the material into other games or even how to run the game as written. Those things I read on the Internet would go on to be used in my special Halloween games. I pride myself on the fact that I nearly made three players quit those one shots due to the mental imagery I encouraged them to imagine. At that point in time of my life, Kult was about finding a way to get to the player through the character. What would cause the player to mentally react and be pushed towards, nay past, their person limits? I could not relate to Call of Cthulhu at that time and I desperately wanted a horror rpg. This was it for me. I have used the background of Kult in many games over the years and I still go back to it. Even in the current game I'm running.

The next game to make a large impact in my life is the original edition of Conspiracy X published by New Millenium Entertainment. My roommate of the time and I drove up to Kalamazoo to hit up a few stores we were told to visit by friends. I poured through this book on the way home. Conspiracy X filled the gap in my rpg world that wanted something like Scanners and other movies or comics I was into at the time. I think I was even watching The X-Files by then. I skipped out of the first two seasons, as it conflicted with gaming. Priorities and all of that. At the end of the book, or maybe it was one of the supplements like The Bodyguard of Lies, there as an ad for people who might want to help the company with things. I jumped at the opportunity! Alex Jurkat responded back asking me how I thought I could contribute. I inquired about play testing new material for the game. As it turned it, there was nothing ready at the time. However, the (new) company had another game they needed help with - All Flesh Must Be Eaten.

Eden Studios had already published the core book and the Zombie Master's Screen. They had a Western source book almost ready for testing. I jumped into the Yahoo Groups, picked up the AFMBE core book, and prepped my group for what was to come. Western zombies, kung fu zombies, fantasy zombies, sci-fi zombies, the group suffered through them all. Fistful O'Zombies would my first writing credit in the rpg world. I had no idea who this Shane Hensley guy was, but over email he seemed pretty cool. (He's even cooler in person.) While we were play testing Fistful, Alex reached out and asked if I could attend the Origins Game Fair to run demo games. I said, “Yes!” without thinking about it. I had already booked a hotel room and bought a badge, but had no idea what I was doing. I had planned to run two games of Conspiracy X. As it turned it, one of the other GMs could not make it and Alex asked if I could pick up those games, too. I agreed to pick them up. I really had no idea what I was doing, but running six sessions of Conspiracy X didn't seem like much. In the end, I ran two sessions. Most of the other sessions did not have players, let alone more than one or two players.

This was the beginning of my foray into the rpg world. I would meet many wonderful people though Eden Studios. Not just Alex Jurkat and George Vasilakos, but also CJ Carella, Derek Guder, the aforementioned Shane Hensley, Ash Marler, Matt McElroy, Monica Valetinelli, Angus Abranson, and more. These would lead to meeting others, such as Dominic McDowell, Andrew Peregrine, Malcolm Craig, Jason & Julie Vey, and more (and more and more and more). I have met a number of great people in this industry, whether they work in it, volunteer in it, or are just fans. Many have become fast and close friends.

My next accomplishment within the rpg world would be the forming of Eden Studios' demo teams. Our primary goals were to run games at Origins and Gen Con. Derek Guder was my right hand man and boy could we put together rockin' events. Players would go back to the booth clamoring for product. This lead to my joining Eden Studios at cons to actually help run the booth and only coordinate the GMs, not run games. My teams accomplished a great many things. Derek Guder and I introduced adult concepts and crossing over game lines to players who were blown away by the stories we wove. The teams introduced women to gaming, women who were only interested due to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer license, and made them feel comfortable at the table (several demo games were filled with only female players). I worked with a local comic book writer and game designer, Lowell Francis, to create a highly enjoyable demo game for the never published City of Heroes rpg. I then coordinated more than twenty GMs to run the game at GenCon, including se7enteen events that all started within two hours of each other. Several of those four hour demo sessions had more than the advertised six players playing in the games. 17 x 6 = 103 people in the room for this one game!

The work with Eden Studios also opened the door to help with the Glorantha project. Before Hero Wars was published, many volunteers took old scans of Greg Stafford's original works and retyped them. Being able to read through these old manuscripts was an awesome experience. To see the creative process occurring in someone else taught me that I just needed to put word on computer screen and create. I had been doing it for years, but to actually see someone else's work, finished and unfinished gave me a push.

I would go on to put together six products for Eden Studios. For AFMBE, I coordinated the Book of Archetypes 1 and 2, then Eden Studios Presents (ESP) 1-3, a generic house 'zine, and finally Worlds of the Dead. George and Alex gave me opportunities to shine and fail. I did both and am appreciative of them for giving me those opportunities. They are great guys and while I currently am not running anything published by Eden Studios, the Unisystem remains my house system for any game not tied down to another system.

The next big thing to rock my world was a/state by Contested Ground Studios. This was the first indie game that I picked up and actually enjoyed reading. The dystopian world, combined with various technology levels, and a giant city that no one could eve leave was an interesting twist. The setting was combined with a take on the BRP percentile system and given well produced digital art by Paul Bourne. I would go on to meet Malcolm Craig, help with play testing both Cold City and Hot War. The group of people Malc associated with helped to win me over on the fact that there were, indeed, cool indie games being produced.

Next up: #7rpgsplayed!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012