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RPG Roundup

First, a bit of background:  I am a second generation gamer.  By which I mean that my dad, his brothers, and my mom all played D&D when I was a kid (I was born in ’74…same as D&D, or so the story goes).  I remember sitting up at night leaning up against my bedroom door which opened onto the living room, listening in on their adventures.  It was therefore no big surprise when I took an interest in it myself.  I always borrowed my dad’s books and loved nothing more than to flip through the Monster Manual and Fiend Folio.

Once I got to the point I could buy things on my own, I started buying any RPG that caught my attention.  GURPS (second edition) was my first.  Cyberpunk2020.  Rifts, Palladium Fantasy, D&D (of course), and on down the line through a who’s who of RPG gaming goodness.  I played Star Frontiers, Gamma World, three different versions of Star Trek, and even took a peek at the old FASA version of the Doctor Who RPG.

If this were High School, and I was a cheerleader, you might call me a slut.  And it continues to this day.  I’m always looking over the next big thing.  I contemplated trying to put together a group for the latest round of Warhammer 40K games.  I found a copy of Victoriana when I heard that Abney Park (an awesome band, if you like steampunk) was using those rules to do an RPG based on their songs.  I’ve made my share of Shadowrunnners, usually either a street sam or a rigger.  I played first edition Earthdawn.

You could say I’ve forgotten more about role-playing than most of the latest crop of players has learned.

And RPG’s weren’t the extent of it either.  I have a (mostly) complete set of Star Fleet Battles, and have no problems with the tax code rulebook.  I can allocate energy for an entire fleet in the time it takes most players to do so for one ship.  I was a member of BLADES, the local game store’s Car Wars club.  We never made it to the regionals, but we had a hell of a time trying.

Then of course, there’s all the different editions of Battletech.  When I wasn’t playing, I was building.  Either I was creating terrain pieces, or arena maps, or just building characters I might never get to use.

My “Book of the Dead” would be a sight to see.  In it you’d find my elven Ranger, who faced Tiamat, and survived (saving the rest of the party at the same time).  Then there’s Valentine Victor Vargas, gnomish thief extraordinaire, and expert at the expeditious retreat.  Sir Eglemore, the undead skeleton knight determined to find the dragon that cursed him into undeath (and roasted the flesh of his bones at the same time).  Captain Crunch, the custom built pick-up designed for tournament Car Wars play, which could take a 150 mile per hour collision and allow the driver to survive.  Or how about his cousin, flambe?  He was a tournament legal, survivable car bomb.  Most memorable are Toog, Padaras, and Lady Charity.

Toog was a half ogre.  He adventured to prove his worth to the goddess of beauty.  He thought that if he earned her favor, she would make him handsome.  She never did, but he learned to overcome his handicap.  Now he runs an inter-dimensional fighting pit.

Padaras was from Monte Cook’s Arcana Evolved.  She was a Sibbecai who had grown up among a street gang, and then fought her way out of that gang to earn her self respect and redeem the crimes of her youth.  With her bow, Bloodharp, she could shoot anything almost from any distance.

Lady Charity was the daughter of nobility.  She ran away from home to become a pirate, and would have made a name for herself as ‘Queen of the Seas’ had she not been bitten by a ghoul, and turned undead herself.

Latest is Jonah.  A gunslinger on a desert world.  The game is like steampunk, but with a lot of cowboys and indians for set decoration (the indians are actually aliens), and with demons for bad guys.  He died in a gunfight, just exactly the way he wanted to go.

So if we ever meet one day, after the introductions (and please, forgive me if I act like a hyper child when I find out you read my blog, I’m not really like that in real life…it would just be cool to meet one or all of you), don’t be surprised if I act the part of the grizzled veteran with a whole lifetime of war stories.  Because on paper at least, that’s exactly what I am.

Yesterday, in our Hero 6th edition game, my gunslinger was shot to death.

Too many gunfights, too close together.  As a result, my son’s character (the pilot) is now captured and being experimented on.  We failed to get the masks out of the laboratory, so the bad guys can still go ahead with their plots, and we’ll very quickly find out what the bad guys are up to.  They claim they are wanting to just ‘help humanity become better.’

Via experiments and mutations.

Still, I’m not concerned.  We’ll play that game again in three weeks, and I have time to create a new character.  Not sure what I’m going to do now, but I’ll think of something.  The funny part is, I felt it was a good character death, but my son was almost in tears over it.  I guess I played Jonah just a little too well.

We also got in a bit of DnD, in Planescape.  In that game, my son is playing a sorcerer.  He’s finally branching out and learning what other classes can do.  I don’t think he’s impressed much, but that is one of the risks of playing a 2nd level Aasimar Sorcerer.  I, on the other hand, have a Githzerai Monk.  Yeah, I got conned into a d20 game, despite how much I’ve burned out on it.  But I had fun, especially when the bar brawl broke out, and I jumped from chair to tabletop to the shoulder of a bad guy and from there jump kicked the boss in the teeth.

It was so cool.  Of course, I didn’t KO the boss.  It could have been cooler.

I was knocked out twice in that game, and reduced to 0 the third time.  That third battle, I didn’t do too badly at despite it all.  I maxed damage with a concussive blast that killed one of the attackers in one shot; and I didn’t flee from the phantasmal force spell (unlike my partner, the sorcerer, who fled for his life leaving me outnumbered).

Once I fully figure out all of the details of the monk, I just might have enough fun to stick with it.  Next week, we pick up the adventure from the library of last week.  We are converting the PC’s from Palladium Fantasy to Basic Role-Playing by Chaosium.  I now remember why I sold my Palladium books back in High School.  Too many wonky and missing rules.  I expect the conversion to be pretty simple.  In other words, I’m not going to do to much (both systems are d% systems with a 3-18 ability score spread).

St. Martin’s Press, 2010

An Unsolicited Review

As I approached the end of this book, I immediately wanted to turn around and start it again.  This is the first book to do that to me ever.  It will join Starship Troopers and The Lord of The Rings as “books I’ll re-read for the rest of my life.”

Imagine you’re an artist.  You’ve tried for years to realize a specific project, only to have the final result come close to what you intended, but never actually quite manage what you are after.  It has become your personal quest to find out how that piece fails each time you attempt it, and so you start over and over again, and fail to find the voice that speaks to you about it.  You can’t figure it out, but you know that it must be possible to realize, if you could only figure out how.

Now, you go to a gallery, and in this gallery is another artist who works in a similar medium, and he is also interested in your subject.  But as you look over his attempts, you realize that it works.  He has captured everything about the subject despite the limitations of the art form.  You can’t find any flaw in the work, and it is a perfect, absolutely beautiful version of the project you’ve struggled with for so long.

Now, when this happens, there are two things you could do.

You could give up.  You could wallow in despair that you were never able to bring your art to that level.  You could get angry that someone else did it before you, and that once you take what you’ve learned from experiencing his work, you’ll just be a copy-cat with no originality.  You could give up your art (and in extreme cases, your life) out of the despair born from the knowledge that you failed to accomplish what this other artist has accomplished so easily.

Or you could become inspired.  If one person can do this, then two can.  If two can do it, then several can, and if several can, there is a good chance that somehow, you’ll be able to do it as well.  You can leave the gallery, pick up your tools, and finally create the masterpiece you’ve been trying so hard to accomplish now that you know it is possible to do it.

I choose the second path.  As a writer yet to be published, I found this book to be very inspiring.  Reading this book, I finally found the voice I wanted to give my characters.  The blend of modern tightness, with an older, more illustrative style.  The book reads like some older books, where the authors not only tried to tell the story, but to also be captivating.  Nearly every page contained at least one (and often several) passages that were a delight to savor.  Were I not reading a library copy, I would have highlighted passages as I went – something I’ve only done once before, in ‘Johnathan Strange and Mister Norrell.’

The story could be called ‘Steampunk’, but I prefer ‘Post-Steampunk.’  In the world of the story, there are mechanical men, recordings are still made on wax cylinders, flying machines often take the form of airships.  But at the same time, the mechanical men can do almost anything. Imagine everything that you think of when you hear the word ‘Steampunk’ but then continue forward to the modern day as if that style of technology had evolved instead of computers.  The world would be a very different place, and you’d be imagining Dexter Palmer’s world.

But the story is not directly about him , or his daughter, Miranda, whom he keeps locked away from the rest of the world.  It’s about Harold Winslow, a humble writer of greeting card messages.  The story is about Harold’s life from the age of ten as his path continually crosses those of Prospero and Miranda.  It is Harold’s memoirs, written to an unknown future reader as he remains trapped aboard the good ship “Chrysalis”, an airship of Taligent’s own design.  Harold recalls how he was invited to Miranda’s tenth birthday party along with ninety-nine other children.  He recalls how he encounters Miranda ten years later, rescuing her from kidnappers, about his last day before being trapped on the zeppelin, and then how he came to decide to kill Propsero in the moments before boarding the zeppelin.  These are not spoilers.  Harold tells you up front that he has killed Prospero, and the story builds to that final decision.

This book has many strange scenes within its covers.  Scenes that would more accurately be described as surreal, or dreamlike.  An automatic bronzing, a real unicorn (not a machine!), mechanical monsters, men dressed as the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz.  And as each section closes, the world has changed a little bit more, becoming more dependent on Prospero’s machines, a little louder, a little dirtier.

But through it all is a love story.  Harold’s love for the Virgin Queen (Miranda), and the length’s he’ll go to to save her from the clutches of the villain.

I could go on about this book for ages.  But I run the risk of seriously spoiling this book for you.  Go, read it.  Enjoy it.  Leave a comment here if you liked the book, or if you did not, either answer is fine.  We are all, after all, different.  Myself, I am glad I read the book despite the cover blurb, which is the only part of the book that disappointed me.  I picked it up on a whim, and gave it a try.  That’s all you have to do, to Dream of Perpetual Motion.

The last time I mentioned our weekly games, I mentioned that one of the systems we’d take out for a spin was Palladium Fantasy.  We had a pretty solid time last night, so much so that everyone told me they liked the adventure and their new characters.  A lot.

When we made the characters in preparation for this session, I followed the rules and let them take the Elven language because the rules said that for the Palladium world, that was basically the common language.  However, in the intervening time, as I prepared* the scenario, I switched worlds, and it turned out that Elven was not the common language.  But that was a minor issue, and could easily be explained away.

*By prepared, I mean to say that I decided what the broad strokes of the story were going to be.  I didn’t write anything down, and winged it through the rest.

The world I went with (instead of Palladium) was a homebrew a friend of mine and I wrote way back in the early days of DnD 3rd edition.  I decided to use this world because I know this world, and I haven’t yet finished reading all of the Palladium fantasy books.

First, the characters: (Remember I have a two player group, though I am open to finding more players should the opportunity arise.  If you are in/near Herrin, Illinois, let me know!)

Osric Arduin, Gnomish Bard.  Now, remember, this is Palladium fantasy, so the bard in this tale does not inspire others, or have any psuedo-magical abilities.  He’s just a wanderer looking for new tales and songs.  (and something of an oddball, since in Arrylon, most gnomes like to invent things.  Their inventions are generally harmless to anyone but the gnomes themselves, or anyone within 10′ of them when they explode.

Borodin the Learned, Elven Diabolist.  This is our rune mage.  In Palladium fantasy, the diabolist is an expert at creating runes and wards, which when touched by another person, causes all sorts of nasty effects.  In Arrylon, the elves are treated pretty much universally with disdain and suspicion.  You see, they’ve tried to conquer the world several times in the past.  No one likes them, because they tend to think that everyone is below their notice.

So, I brought these two seekers of knowledge to the Twilight Isle.  In Arrylon, there is one center of knowledge.  It is the Bard’s College, also called the Twilight Campus.  All books and scrolls eventually end up here.  The college has an annual festival to determine which new prospective bards should be considered for admission to the college, and so the entire island becomes the biggest party in the known world.  Our two characters come here for an opportunity to peruse the library, and our group is ready for the adventure to begin.

Upon arrival at the library, they are greeted by a halfling, who tells them how the library works.  You get in with a donation, preferably a new book or scroll.  They are shown around the lower levels, and in particular to the history section.  They spend the rest of the evening there, even past the time that the place closed for the night.  As they studied, a blood-curdling scream echoed down the halls.

They rushed down to the main hall to find the librarians clustered around a dead body.  No blood, no obvious wounds.  Later, as they investigated things, they found two strange runes on the man’s chest.  Runes, our diabolist recognized.  Not only that, but the art of rune-magic is so rare, that our diabolist looked to be the only one who could have created them.  For most of the day’s adventuring, it looked like he was going to swing for it.

My son was playing the Diabolist.  He was having fun, but was also irritated that all the evidence was pointing at him.  He even asked why it couldn’t have been some NPC that could have done it.  I told him it was drama.  It would not have involved him in the plot so deeply otherwise.  He didn’t like that answer much.

The head librarian, Philemon, closed the library and locked everyone in.  Among the lock-ins were a fat merchant, a wiry juggler, and a large barbarian.  (We took to calling him the Mad Russian, due to his size, presence, and the accent I adopted when speaking in character).  As the constables tried to piece together the evidence, the merchant starts to cough up blood, and he dies.  there are runes on his chest.  The diabolist knows it takes time to inscribe the runes, that they could not just appear, and that an unwilling target would make it very difficult.  But still, he is the only one who could do it, and that must mean he got to the victims much earlier, perhaps while they slept.

The rest of the people no longer want to share a room with the diabolist, so to keep the peace, the constables separate them into two groups.  Once they are alone, the mad russian tells the PC’s that he knows neither of them did it.  He’s from another land far to the east, and he’s been pursuing a killer that causes symbols to appear on his victims.  There is no way to know when he’ll strike, or how.  He hadn’t said anything because he knew that as a foreigner, no one would believe him.

The bad guy in this case, even the Russian didn’t know his name, had gotten hold of an artifact, one of the seven pieces of “Azorel’s Key.”  When collected together, the pieces of the key would form a device that could open the doors to Cairn Aedel, the home of the gods.    The key also helped you track down the locations of the other pieces.    The Russian doesn’t know which of the NPC’s has the key fragment, but he knows that they will continue to use it until they uncover the second piece, which is apparently somewhere on the campus.

The next morning, the constables took everyone aside one by one and began the questioning.  While Borodin was being questioned, the Juggler was turned to stone, also with runes on his chest.

To make a long story (and post) shorter, they suspected it was Philemon.  then the evidence suggested it was the halfling at the gate, especially since none of the halflings in the employ of the college worked the gate.  The halfling used magic to appear human because he was tired of all of the ‘short’ jokes.  In the end, it turned out to be Elder Tribune, the man in charge not only of this library, but many others across the lands.  The bosses boss.  He was a changeling.  Everyone thought the changelings were all dead, wiped out in the last inquisition.

This game was far more serious in tone than any of the others I’ve run, and I was pulling everything out of thin air as it went along.  Everyone had a lot of fun, and they all want to re-visit the characters.  Looks like I’ll be using Palladium Fantasy to explore Arrylon more from now on.  I just don’t know how to top this episode.

Part of the fun was that we played outside, in the breeze, and under a big shade tree.  We grilled out (being memorial day), and it was a very enjoyable time for all of us, even the GM.  Next week, Hero system, back in the gasoline punk world, where my gunslinger has to decide what to do now to stop the bad guys from basically nuking the entire planet.

I never really thought I’d say this.  After all the point of any RPG is that you get to escape reality for a while.  The rules are immaterial, so long as you can get into your character and vanish for a while slaying dragons or zombies, or what have you.

Been there, done that sums up my feelings pretty well.  Never mind it’s been the 800 pound gorilla for the last 10 years, there’s just nothing new about it.  Last night, at our latest game session, we decided that as a backup game (should we really not want to play in the Gasoline Punk game I described last time; or if we should run out of plotted adventure, and the GM needs time to plan…) we’d play other games.  We have two now, on tap for when we want to do something different.  The first is going to be Palladium Fantasy RPG.  I’ll run that on occasion, and I’ve already got some good ideas for a plot.  I just need to get my prep work out of the way.    The second is going to be D&D, in Planescape.

This is how I came to realize that I’d done it all.  The GM said that anything goes.  We can use anything out of any of the books we want.  Of course, we have to stick to first level, but otherwise.  I spent the last several hours of last night and several more this morning trying to decide what I wanted to play.  Affter all, anything goes.  That doesn’t happen too often.  The problem is, I’ve played all of those character types.  I’ve learned how they work, what their limitations are.  None of them do exactly what I want them to do, especially in light of a limited number of sessions remaining.

As I flipped from book to book (both from WoTC and third party sources), I just couldn’t get involved in the process.  I mean I still remember the rules, I still could build a character from scratch, blindfolded.  But I just don’t care.  This is why I was getting out of d20 before D&D 4th came around.  This is the first time I’ve looked back, and it just doesn’t do it for me.  I’ll build something, especially since it’s just a back-up plan, but I really don’t see me getting much enjoyment out of it.

And no, I didn’t adopt 4th edition.  In fact, I went sideways, and adopted Pathfinder.  But even that isn’t right for me.  I could go down the list of reasons why I dislike 4E, but the last thing I want is an edition war here in my private little corner of the web.  (Though have you heard about the newest twist on 4E rules?  Collectible trading cards to give your characters one-time boosts in-game…Can you tell which company is in charge of the system now?)

In the end, Dungeons and Dragons isn’t working for me.  I prefer something more old-school.  That’s why I sank so much money into Rolemaster Standard System.  It’s why my main game is Hackmaster (4th edition, not 5th).  I’d play 2nd edition, if there were anyone around willing to do so.

At least with those other systems, I haven’t explored all of the possibilities.

Feel free to comment on this post.  I’d love to hear from you.  Even if it’s so you can gush about all of the uber-leet cool fun you are having with D&D these days.  I’m not saying any one edition is bad, just that I don’t want to play.  But a story is a story, and if you’ve had fun, share it with us!

Maybe within the next week, I’ll post about my favorite RPG moments.  It could be fun!  See ya around!

Our Weekly Game

In about half an hour, our weekly RPG session starts.  This will be session 4 of our Hero 6th edition game entitled “gasoline punk.”  Basically, take a lot of elements from anime (including a heavy amount from “Wild Arms”), and set it on a planet that is mostly desert.  It’s the remains of an old colony long since cut off from the original founding culture.  It’s a western, with sci-fi elements.

I play a gunslinger, name of Jonah.  My sidekick is a young pilot.  Both of us are on the run from the Galbadian Empire, a collection of robber barons who picture themselves as rulers of the desert.  To paraphrase another sci-fi western “there’s some disagreement on that.”

We were hired to escort a scientist and his project to a place of safety where he could do research into an artifact left behind by the Mu, the worlds version of Native Americans.  Uniquely, Jonah is able to help with that a bit, having spent a lot of time among the Mu.  He understands some of their mysticism, and can even invoke a healing ritual, given enough time.  Of course, there’s the old flame from Jonah’s past who was also hired to go with them to retrieve an artifact from an ancient Mu temple.  Perhaps not too surprisingly, she turned on us, robbed us, took the artifact, and sealed us in the tomb to die.  We got out, and are looking for a bit of retribution.

Later, we’re going to be using GURPS because the GM is wanting to do something based somewhat on the Otherland series by Tad Williams.  So it looks like we’ll be doing a little post-cyberpunk adventuring.  Of course, I don’t care much for GURPS (or Hero for that matter), but like always, it’s either play what everyone else wants or don’t play.

Then of course, next week we return to Hackmaster.  The PC’s have decided that the dungeon is too tough for them, so I’ve been plotting a new story.  Don’t want to say too much here, but it involves the potential for some bad people to tear down the barriers between the planes of existence and “return the world to it’s natural state.”  Should be fun.

In the meantime, I’m also back to sketching out a new RPG system.  I’ve repeatedly tried, of course, to write my own rules, but in trying to be generic and universal, I always flounder after a bit.  This time, I have a goal in mind:  Instead of generic and universal, I’m aiming for cinematic action, a set of rules that can handle what I feel steampunk and pulp action should feel like.  The difference is that I don’t want to just copy someone else’s work, and I do want to consider how to add in other types of genre’s (even if the core isn’t written directly for it).

I’m calling it the “3D System”, which kind of tells you a little about the mechanics.  But it uses several different die types, and every roll is an opposed roll instead of just against a set difficulty.  Should make one on one duels a bit more interesting.  This way, even someone with a low skill might succeed, but the odds are against it.  Being a 3dice system, the result will still follow a bell curve, but you never know.  Damage in melee is a factor of how strong you are, and the better you beat his defense, the more damage you do.  Instead of just doubling damage when you roll a natural 20 (for example), the critical hits go up in severity based on how much damage you manage to score.

Right now, I’m still trying things out, and taking notes.  Soon, I’ll start on the actual first draft and maybe set up a time to do a preliminary playtest.  I might even share a few tidbits here with you.

Until next time…

Observations

It’s been a week since I posted anything.  that’s largely because I am no longer going to sit down and force myself to write something every day.  I tend to turn out crap when I do that.  My last blog was full of it.  And to top it off, I had hardly any visitors at all.

But this new blog, randomly updated, seems to draw in a larger crowd than usual.  Every day I have a lot of visitors to this site, and I’m doing nothing to promote it, nothing to find new readers, and I’m certainly not updating often enough for that to happen on it’s own.

There is one reason, I suspect that you keep coming by:  I mentioned Bin Laden.  In fact, I’m doing it again.  I bet this will create another surge of visitors as people look for more news.  Sorry, folks:  I don’t know any more than I did last week.  I only know what I see on TV, and I don’t watch much TV.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share that little observation.  I’m doing less work this time around, and more people are seeing it.  Interesting, if odd.

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