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Archive for May, 2011

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.

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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!

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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…

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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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Every once in a while, I get a bug to write something.  After three or four revisions (or more), it’s done and it’s time to send it out into the world and see if anyone will buy it.

Such was the case with the short story I wrote “Galenor’s Bounty”.  The story is four or five years old now.  It was one of my first attempts at writing a story specifically with the intent to sell.  I’ve written other stories, of course, back when I was younger.  Those were just for the enjoyment of telling a tale (or for class assignments).

Galenor’s Bounty, on the other hand was written as a sellable piece.  It was the first, in fact.  If you learn nothing from me, learn this:  Your first work will be very hard to sell.  Very.  No matter how well you think you did, no matter how many times you’ve revised it, checked spelling, made sure your grammar is right, you are an unknown.  That alone makes it difficult.

To give you an idea why other authors refer to the process as “Submitting to the black hole”, let me tell you about Galenor’s Bounty.  Long story short (that’s a pun, y’see): Galenor is a disgraced knight with an evil reputation who is reduced to collecting bounties for a living.  Along the way to deliver his latest bounty into the hands of the authorities, he picks up a pair of followers: Oxnard and Benning.  As they travel to the nearest town able to pay the bounty, Galenor remembers his history, and tells them how he became known as “Dragon marked,” a ruthless killer.

I originally wrote it as a humorous piece.  It was loaded with puns.  And very bad ones.  “He looked as if he had been beaten by a club; the kind of club that only take thieves and ruffians as members.”  It was originally submitted to Baen books.  At the time (I don’t know if they still do it this way or not), if you wanted to submit a story to them, you had to join their forums, post it there, accept community feedback, revise, rinse, repeat.  Eventually, if you stuck with it and didn’t let your ego get bruised, you’d eventually have a work they might publish and draw the publishers eye.

This was my first “for sale” work.  I let my ego get bruised.

It sat in my archives for two years.  I had moved on.  In August of ’09, I decided to try again.  So I took a look at all of the scraps I had, and Galenor popped up.  And it sucked.  They were right over at Baen, but I was too thin-skinned to see it.  So I got out my red pen and started editing.  I removed the forced humour.  I re-wrote several scenes.  It grew from eight pages to twenty-one.  It is far more solid, far more effective, and gets rave reviews from everyone I’ve let read it.  So I mailed it to Realms of Fantasy Magazine.  Within 2 weeks, I got my first real rejection (as in an editor actually read it and decided they didn’t want it).  This was a fast turn-around.  Everything I’d read by this point indicated that three months was typical, if ever.

Beyond Ceaseless Skies refused it too, a month later.  This didn’t bother me.  I had grown up.  I had grown a thicker skin, and knew this was part of the process.  So I sent it to Electric Literature in March of 2010.

Never heard back.  That black hole thing.

Clarkesworld Magazine:  Rejected in 3 days flat.  Daily Science Fiction took 9 days to reject it.

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly took four months.  The funny part of that is that I had given up on them and mailed it to Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.  I did that on my birthday in October, and eight days later, they rejected it.  A week later, I got the rejection from Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.  I thought it was pretty funny at the time, but it showed me that maybe I needed to give everyone a little more time.  As nice as it would be to have multiple offers on the same story, the publishers don’t like that too much.

I finally gave up altogether last Novermber.  I had been actively shopping that story around for more than a year straight.  I published it to my old blog.  As far as I know, it is no longer available there.  When I cancelled that blog and removed all of the information, as far as most people know, it ceased to exist.  I can still bring it up on Google (though doing so brings me to a ‘page not found’).

I’m thinking it may be time to send it somewhere else.  You can’t read it online anymore, but that may not make much difference to some publishers.  A lot of them have a policy of not accepting anything that was ever published online.  And that makes sense, after all.  Thanks to things like Google’s cache, you may still be able to pull up a copy from somewhere on the net.  And that may just be enough to kill it. But hey, it never hurts to try.

Galenor, BTW, is just one of several stories that I’ve tried to sell.  Currently I have four more that have not been actively rejected.

Something else to learn from me here:  Keep trying.  If you give up, you’ll never get there.

The funny part of the whole Galenor story?  Yesterday I got a letter in the mail from Electric Literature.  “Thanks for sending it, but it isn’t right for us.”  Well, duh!

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The last time I wrote, I said I was having trouble deciding which system to run aside from Rolemaster.  Well, one of my players had a copy of the Hackmaster Player’s Handbook and Gamemaster Guide that he was willing to sell me.  He wasn’t getting any use out of them, they were just taking up shelf space.

My son, of course, wanted to play Hackmaster from that moment.  So much so that he wouldn’t entertain any of the other possibilities.  So no Rifts, no Palladium Fantasy, no Star Frontiers, nothing else.  So I decided I’d at least run a one-shot and see how everyone liked it.

So Wednesday comes around, and by this point I’ve already helped my boy make his character (Dwarf Fighter: named of Clay Anvilbinder).  I pay for the books, and he hands them over.  then we go on and play in the other game we play in between my sessions, which is a western-sci-fi-indiana jones-pulp adventure on a desert planet.  But the adventure there ends early.  In looking for something else to do, I agree that it’s time to make another character for Hackmaster.  We end up with a Thug Halfling Thief.

There’s still an hour or two left for the evening, so we start Hackmaster.  Remember, I only just got the books that day (all I know for sure is it is based on 1E AD&D, so I’m winging it rules-wise), and all I have are a few pages from the beginning of a module I found online that I printed ‘just in case.’  Enough to make a start on something if it came down to it.  I was not really prepared.

But they wanted to give it a go.  So I read the introductory text, described the first room of the dungeon and away we went.

The first real encounter they have is with a pair of snarky “magic mouth” spells designed to frighten away intruders.  These Magic Mouths follow them down the hallway, making all kinds of racket, and making it obvious that there will be no way to get rid of them without a fight.  Further, all of this noise is sure to bring other denizens of the dungeon down on them.  Of course, I was totally unprepared, so I missed the part where it says they can’t be damaged except by magic.  So we had a rollicking good time fighting these two wise-cracking defensive spells.

A ROLLICKING good time.  I don’t pull out the old-fashioned words unless I mean them.  Even though we didn’t really know the rules, and I spent much of the time page-flipping looking for the ones I needed, things flowed smoothly, and the battle proceeded apace  We laughed for the rest of the evening like we’ve never laughed during a session before.

Coming Wednesday, I get to run more of the dungeon crawl.  There’s also a good chance we’ll be bringing in a new player.  (Partly to help round out our 2 PC group, and partly because the Hero GM is moving to Indiana in the middle of the summer.  Playing an RPG with just two people can be done, but it just doesn’t seem as fun.)

Now I just need to get started on a campaign of my own so that when we are done with this module, I have something else to throw at them.  So…what next?

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In light of my recent experiences running a game of Rolemaster, I’ve decided to look for greener pastures.  To that end, I’m either going to run some Hackmaster (probably as just one-off adventures) or Palladium/Rifts.  I haven’t decided if I want to stick to mainly fantasy or sci-fi, which is why I list Palladium and Rifts both as possibilities.

If we decide to run with Hackmaster, the gnome has already decided he wants to play dwarven fighter just so he can smash things.  We made his character yesterday, and he’s happy and ready to go.  Tomorrow, we’ll set up a Palladium character to see if we can make a more effective version of his gnome.  Then, once everyone has an idea of their capabilities, we’ll put it to a vote.

As I started to brush up on my Palladium fantasy , I realised that 1) it’s written assuming you already know about Rifts, and 2) I think I want high tech weapons.  Of course, if the players want something else completely, that’s what we’ll go with.  Without players, I have no game.

In order to decide which system I wanted most to run, I dusted off my game shelf.  There are a lot of games there.  After all, I’ve been gaming most of my life, ever since I borrowed my dads copies of 1E AD&D.  The standout possibilities are Hackmaster, Palladium Fantasy or Rifts, Star Frontiers, and Traveller.  GURPS is out, as I don’t like how long it takes to build characters (longer still to set up a game as a GM, since you have to review everything and line veto one by one), and Hero 6th edition is out as well, for many of the same reasons.  Those are also one of the major reasons why I liked, but disliked Rolemaster.

At any rate, my goblin player is running a hero 6th game anyway.  He also wants to try some cyberpunk, even if it means he has to run two games.  I’m in a similar position with Hackmaster/Palladium.

My most successful campaign (as in longest-running) was a RIFTS game.  That game saw the creation of a villain that I feel like writing up again every so often.  I’ve tried to work out a good story for him, but my character, Guardian, is so much like so many other robot characters bent on world domination, that I can’t find a unique enough angle to make th story work.  The last time I put serious effort into it was right around when Terminator: Salvation came out, and I set it aside for fear people would think I was cribbing notes from it.

Either way, what this really means is that for the time being, our two wee adventurers are on the back burner.  I’ll probably know more in a day or two.  Keep checking back!

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