Friday, August 22, 2008

I guess you could call these the, uh, salad days. Yeah, salad days...

I seem to have stumbled into a sort of gaming Renaissance. (Apparently I'm not the only one who's experiencing this.) I'm a little thrown, to be honest. I honestly don't think I've done this much actual gaming since, sheesh, high school maybe? Summer of '93 my friend Alex and I spent nearly every day gaming; we got through at least two major campaigns and any number of one shots and mini-campaigns.

Although things aren't quite that intense, I once again find myself on an almost-daily gaming schedule, for the moment at least. You see, Des and I decided to power on through the Pendragon campaign and get as much gaming in before she started her next semester of grad school. So for the past two weeks or so it's been Pendragon wall-to-wall. And we've been having a blast with it. (The scariest part is that there's still, oh, about twenty years left to go in the campaign arc. Seriously, the Great Pendragon Campaign is a BEAST.)

Once Des starts her semester she'll be super-duper busy, as is the way of all grad students, so we'll be lucky to get in a weekly game, I would think. So it's a good thing I've got so many other irons in the fire...

I went ahead and picked up RIFTS, as I had threatened to. I'll probably make a separate post about that, and my feelings on returning to the old game, but for now I'll just mention that I had Alex over last week and we discussed RIFTS and Kevin Siembieda and how we'd do things differently nowadays and so forth...and then we rolled up characters.

We each made a character, with the idea that either one of us could run a pick-up game for the other person, whenever. Super casual and the like. "Sandbox" style, if you will. (Who originated that term, anyway? I mean, in gaming circles, that is.) It was kinda hilarious, because on the first go-round we each rolled up basically the same character: short, fat, mean disposition, with some pretty grim attributes to boot. Not even inspirational enough to choose an O.C.C. So we chucked that out and tried again; second time was a charm.

I came up with a Crazy in the mode of Tank Girl. I don't like the basic write-up for Crazies in RIFTS; too Malkavien-ish, part of that whole 90s fad in RPGs where you could play a goofball/asshole and get away with it because, "That's totally what my character is supposed to be like!" So I'm going for more of an anarchist/punk vibe. Probably helps I saw The Dark Knight shortly before making the character. That's how I'd sum up the differences actually; if the RIFTS Crazy as-written is Cesar Romero's Joker, mine is closer to Heath Ledger's. The sort of campaign she's best suited for is relatively low-powered. Probably stuff set in and around the Chi-town 'Burbs, interacting with organized crime syndicates and Coalition patrols. I like that idea a lot, but then I do tend to run more low-powered campaigns, so it figures I'd want to play in such a setting as well. But it's also a switch from the sort of high-powered gonzo-ness we used to run with RIFTS, so it will be an interesting switch if we can pull it off.

Alex came up with a Cyber-Knight, who he proceeded to min-max the ever-loving crap out of. That's OK; single-player campaigns need all the help they can get. The coolest thing about his character, actually, is the fact that we sort of simultaneously came up with the idea that he was a D-Bee who looked like Davy Jones from Pirates of the Carribean ("Cthulhu-headed," as we put it). Love it. I'm thinking I'll have him operating out west, in and around Colorado. Should be fun. Man, if there's one thing the Palladium system does well, it's encourage interesting, cool characters.

So that's all going on, and then I go and hop on board with noism's Planescape PBP game! I'm quite excited about this. I haven't seriously participated in a PBP/PBeM type game in years, and I've been itching to get back into it (I'm still thinking about restarting the GPC as a PBeM once Des and I finish with it, with any number of characters all acting independently of each other). And Planescape has been one of those settings that I've always wanted to explore and never had the chance. Well, now's my chance! The fact it's sandbox-style AD&D 2e is just icing on the cake.

For that game, I came up with a bariaur fighter with the Noble Warrior kit. Since I rolled 3d6 for attributes, he has a rather wide range of attributes, to put it mildly. High STR and CON, but low INT and abysmal WIS (I won't say how low,'s pretty damn low). At any rate, and this is obviously because of all the Pendragon I've been running, but I made him this sort of questing knight type. He actually has a jousting lance for Chrissakes! Yup, that whopping 1d3-1 damage is going to make a crucial difference in the game, I'm sure. Because of his low mental faculties, he'll be a bit closer to the Percival/Don Quixote type of knight than the stereotypical cavalier.

My fellow players are coming up with similarly great ideas, so this should be a lot of fun. And it's set to start right when Pendragon will be quieting down, so that should work out well.

Of course, I have my usual lists (short and long alike) of future projects and fun side-projects and so forth as well. So yeah, things are really moving along. Considering that just five years ago things had gotten to the point where I wasn't gaming at all, or that about three years ago I was lucky to get in two or three sessions every couple months, well, it's about damn time things started picking up again!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The great Mythus swindle

When I was 14 years old, I got swindled.

I think we all have this kind of experience, hopefully only once or twice, when we're young and have a few bucks in our pockets. We're out and about, in a store somewhere, and we see something that piques our interest. We take a look at it (or maybe a pushy salesperson starts pitching it to us) and suddenly we must have it. Then we get it home and think, "Wow, I blew a month's allowance/birthday money on this?"

For me, the quintessential experience of this sort of thing (for I did go on to make the same mistake to a lesser degree on a couple other occasions) was Gary Gygax's inaugural (and to my knowledge--thanks to the infamous TSR lawsuit--only) entry in his "Dangerous Journeys" series: Mythus.

I distinctly remember seeing the Larry Elmore cover winking down at me from a shelf at B. Dalton Books. The book was huge, a big, meaty softcover. I took it down reverently, hefting it, feeling the weight that seemed to say, "I'm jam-packed with charts and all sorts of crazy shit that you'll drool over but never use in a million years."

And then I began to read the back copy.

Now, this back copy is what SOLD me on the book. And for many years afterward, I could still remember certain phrases from it. But imagine my joy when I discovered that the RPGnow entry for the PDF version of the rulebook reproduced the back copy word for word. So, for posterity, I hereby reproduce that reproduction, along with--to the best of my recollections--my 14-year-old brain's reactions as I read said copy:

Roleplaying at its finest ("Wow, really?")-simple or with elective complexities which place this game far beyond any other ("A bold statement! It must be true!"). Straight forward mechanics, with emphasis on percentile dice and the six-sided die, yet allowing a battery ("Fuck yeah!") of optional modifiers to heighten realism to any degree desired ("Modular systems--sweeet.").

More that 30 starting vocational backgrounds ("Fancy!") for Heroic Persona ("Oooh, more fanciness.") creation, plus as many personalized ones as the gamemaster wishes to add ("Oh, and I will add many, rest assured.").

A "Knowledge/Skill" system using percentile probabilities, with hundreds of areas and sub- areas to learn ("Doesn't get better than that!"), and specializations too ("It just did!"). With Joss, ("Wow, the use of obscure terms as if I should know what they are. Awesome!") Socio-Economic Class considerations, Special Connections, Quirks, background information, and more included ("Hot diggety!"). Never ("Never?") have RPG personas had the character and personality of the Heroic Personas herein or has roleplaying been so detailed and enabled. More armor and weapons included than would be found in the arsenal of a medieval potentate! (Seriously, this is when I was pretty much just drooling. The phrase "medieval potentate" has become firmly lodged in brain for all eternity.) Use them with a short and easy combat resolution method, or with expansions that take account virtually every salient feature of armed, magickal, and mental or spiritual battle, too (::drool::).

Persona advancement based on logical and realistic standards, not relying on loot garnered and critters slain (I was, alas, too young to fully appreciate the irony of Gygax essentially dumping on the very XP system he had helped develop, but "critters slain" was another phrase that got stuck in my head.).

No totally fanciful monetary system with ridiculous standards and confusing pricing (Again, irony goes unappreciated.). Income and costs are as easy as knowing what a BUC is ("Sweet, more arcane terminology bandied about as if it were plain language!").

All this and still more ("More?! How could this be??").... Need more details ("Yes! God yes!")? Buy this book (That was in bold, if I recall. The brashness of it hit my impressionable brain like a missile; if I wasn't sold by this point, that's what drove me over the edge.). In it, you'll find everything you need to begin playing. Along with it, pick up the Mythus Magick volume (Book II of these rules, with over 1000 magickal Castings, plus Powers, personalized Castings, and more) and the Epic OF Aerth companion volume (which describes the world ofAerth in detail). Find a comfortable place, and begin reading immediately (I'm always a sucker for this sort of imagery, so it was right up my alley. Must. Begin. Reading. Immediately.). This work is a quantum jump in roleplaying games, something which enthusiasts have awaited for years! ("No one would dare make such claims if they weren't true!")

And so I submitted, only too willingly. Mythus went right on my Christmas list, and I received it as asked for a couple weeks later. We were taking a trip out to visit my brother and grandparents the next day; the promise of a five-hour car ride in which to "begin reading immediately" loomed ahead of me. I couldn't have been happier.

It probably wasn't a good sign when I fell asleep reading the first chapter. Or when the same thing happened later on at my grandparents'. Mythus was, I believe, my first experience of trying to slog through an RPG book (an experience that's regrettably all too common these days, what with books being written more and more like technical manuals...but that's the subject for another post). Yet I persevered. After all the promise of the back copy, I couldn't bring myself to believe that it wasn't going to start paying some point...even after some of the pages started falling out...

I stuck by Mythus for far longer than the game deserved; for a year or more, I nursed the dream of running Mythus. I ordered the Epic of Aerth to get a better grasp of the setting. I put my friend Alex through the arduous, multi-hour character creation process. And then, eventually, I gave up. The book ended up buried in my closet, then later tossed in recycling.

I like to think I learned a bit in the process. I learned to be a little more cagey in my buying habits. I learned that a profusion of "modular complexities" and strange, arcane terminology (seriously, that shit was all the rage in the 90s--what was up with that?) did not equal a better game, nor did size of the rulebook. I learned that softcover books with color inserts tend to fall apart after about three days. And I learned that, despite what Cyberpunk would have me believe, it was indeed all about substance over style. I'm still a sucker for flashy art and layout and well-written ad copy, but I like to think I can modulate myself, and it's thanks almost exclusively to that day I stood drooling over a book's back copy in a quiet corner of B. Dalton's.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I was a Palladium fanboy

God help me, I think I'm going to buy a copy of Rifts today.

Perhaps I should explain...this may take a while.

The last week has been...interesting, from a gaming perspective, to say the least. You may recall my Korgoth of Barbaria post in which I discussed going to L.A. to see some old friends. That was this weekend. But the trip was made under rather trying circumstances. For, you see, the previous Thursday our Pendragon campaign (of which said old friends were participants) kind of fell apart. Under somewhat dramatic circumstances.

I won't go into details, mainly because they'd be both long-winded and largely irrelevant, but suffice to say that two of my players are out of the campaign. They were both OK with this, but it still made the trip down a bit of an unknown quantity. Everything turned out fine in the end, though.

At any rate, what came out of the dissolution of the Pendragon game was a resolution on my part to stop playing chat-based games. As I put it to my friends, I'd rather game less and have it mean more. Missing out on the camaraderie of table-top gaming was really getting to me. I honestly don't think any of us really "gelled" with the format over the past couple years we've been doing it. And all the fun we had this weekend, sitting around a table laughing, chucking dice, etc., that just proved my point, I think.

So, I won't be gaming as much with my out of town friends. But that's OK. The very fact we were able to do it at all, I still see that as something of a novelty. Ten, fifteen years ago it would have been quite difficult. Twenty years ago? Nigh impossible.

At any rate, I ran a very fun little D&D game down in L.A. We rented a hotel room and everything. The desk clerk saw our cooler full of sodas and thought we were in for a night of hard partying. Ha!

I used a nifty little adventure intro I nabbed off Jeff Rients' blog (I can't find a link to it right now, but it involved going on a quest into a Wizard's Tomb beneath the City State of the Invincible Overlord) and married it to the fiendish "Beaneath the City" scenario by Gabor Lux, which handily supplied the tomb, stacked fulla death traps, riddles, and zombies. We had a grand ol' time.

The setting was the Wilderlands of High Fantasy/Adventure (your choice), the rules were my C&C/2e hack, the characters were made that day. I started 'em off at 5th level; they made a Lightelf Gnome fighter/thief and an Avalonian paladin. High Fantasy indeed!

The highlight was definitely Alex's gnome fighter/thief getting auto-kills on the zombies as Tim's paladin acted as bait--his AC was high enough that the zombies only hit on a 20, and he was immune to their diseased bites. Between the two of them they took out eighty zombies! Sheesh. Alex was flushed with power; this may have been the first time in over fifteen years of gaming that he'd played a combat monster of that caliber. Much fun was had by all, and they even managed to get through the adventure relatively intact. Cagey, those guys are.

Anyway, after the game we got to talking about Rifts. You see, for me and Alex, Rifts was our "Traveler." What I mean by that is that I know for a lot of people, when they weren't playing D&D, they'd play Traveler. Back when it was just Alex and me gaming together, our "sci-fi" fix was filled by Rifts.

That's putting it mildly, actually. I'd estimate we played at least as much Rifts as D&D, if not more. From the age of 14-16 1/2 I was a full-fledged Palladium fanboy. When Tim started gaming with us, he didn't care much for Rifts, so we started playing a lot more D&D. When I returned to the game a couple years later, I found myself very much disenchanted with the creaky Palladium ruleset.

I never really gave up on Rifts as a setting. I've tinkered around with conversions to GURPS and BESM. I sold off all my old Rifts books, but I held on to the old core book. (Actually, I sold off the core book too, but I picked up a copy of the "Collector's Edition"--signed by Siembieda himself--for like 99 cents on eBay, mainly as an homage to my fanboy roots.) But recently I've been reading jgant's excellent Rifts actual play thread, in which he used the Palladium system as written and got good results, and it got me thinking about running a RAW Rifts game.

I recently got re-acquainted with the Palladium system when I ran a brief Ninjas & Superspies campaign last year. And I have to say that although I'm not back on the fanboy wagon, and never will be, I did see a lot of merit in the system. As a review I read recently put it, the system is a house-ruler's dream. And since I've been getting more comfortable with house-ruling of late (took me long enough...), hey, why not?

So that gets us back to me buying a copy of the Rifts "Ultimate Edition." I'm seriously thinking about it. And hey, maybe Heroes Unlimited too--ever since seeing The Dark Knight I've been thinking about doing a supers game. Oh, God help me...

Monday, August 4, 2008

Those crazy players of mine

In my ongoing Pendragon campaign, we have a couple characters who are "retired". It's important to keep track of how they're doing, however, and so every Winter Phase they make their aging rolls, skills increase, and annual Glory accrues.

Now, one character has renounced his knighthood and currently is making a living secreted away in a hamlet in the mountains working as a blacksmith. So in addition to gaining a skill in blacksmithing (and losing a truckload of Honor), I recommended the player put his annual bonus points into increasing his Piety trait, as it's still rather low despite the fact that he has a Religious Bonus (and the fact that the Wastelands will be spreading soon and a high Piety score is a Good Thing).

So anyway, I emailed that recommendation to said player, who emailed me back and said he should be gaining an automatic increase instead, since his current circumstances are like penance that's purifying his soul.

Points for creativity, that. I emailed back and said I'd give him a yearly check in Piety but also chided him for being such a blatant min-maxer. To which he responded, and I quote, "Y'know if i didnt try to squeese every single advantage out of you it would mean i didnt care about the campaign!"

Can't argue with that, I guess!
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