Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sure, why not?

I'm hoping to post my next Pendragon session report by this time next week. In the meantime, how 'bout some juicy filler courtesy of the latest blogger meme: "15 Games in 15 Minutes" - name the first 15 games that you can think of that have meant the most to you in no more than 15 minutes.

1. BECMI-era D&D
2. GURPS ("classic" 3rd edition-era)
3. Fantasy Warriors
4. Space Marine
5. Warhammer Fantasy Battle (4th edition)
6. Sid Meier's Civilization
7. Castle Falkenstein
8. Rifts
9. Ninjas & Superspies
10. Call of Cthulhu (5th edition)
11. King Arthur Pendragon
12. Cyberpunk
13. The Dragonlance Board Game
14. AD&D Second Edition
15. Mutant Chronicles

A couple games on that list I've either never played or have played a handful of times. Nevertheless, I include them because they served as major inspirations for me at the time, firing my imagination and increasing my love of gaming as a hobby.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Holloway Halloween

Browsing my PDF collection of Dragon magazines, I came across an article from the mid-90s that featured a trio of great Jim Holloway illustrations. I've said it before, but I think Jim Holloway is one of the great underrated "old school" artists. Whether going for serious or comedic effect, his subjects are always infused with a wonderful sort of identifiable humanity and character.

What I particularly like about this collection is difficult to put into words. I guess I'd sum it up as verisimilitude. First, I like the precise rendering of the Mythos beasties; it lends a certain reality and "heft" (for lack of a better word) to their alien presence. Second, I like that Holloway has rendered the human subjects clearly as residents of the game's default 1920s setting. It appeals to my inner history nerd, what can I say. I particularly like the first picture, set among the prosaic surroundings of an urban alleyway.

Fever-dream, hallucinogenic representations of the Mythos are all well and good, but sometimes I like a little concrete representation.

Friday, October 8, 2010

'Tis the Season!

Like with many gamers, Halloween, rather than Christmas, is my favorite holiday/season. The time of year is so evocative. No matter what else is going on I usually try to make some room for horror gaming. This actually goes way back to the first year I was regularly gaming, back as a freshman in high school.

I had received Call of Cthulhu as a birthday present the year before, and my diminutive, nascent gaming group (all two of us!) was itching to try it out. So, on the game day closest to Halloween, we inaugurated the First Annual Call-of-Cthulhu-a-thon. The idea was for each of us to take it in turn to run a horror game over the course of a single evening (since to a 14-year-old more is always better). Interestingly, although I did use Cthulhu to run my game, I opted for a vampire-centric scenario, inspired by an article in a back-issue of Dragon magazine I had in my collection. And my buddy Alex, for reasons unknown, opted to run a GURPS Horror scenario. As he only had a couple months of gaming experience under his belt (and zero experience with running GURPS!), I seem to recall the scenario consisted mostly of moving through a graveyard as various creatures selected on the fly from the GURPS Horror bestiary literally jumped out from behind tombstones to threaten my PC.

Needless to say, subsequent Call-of-Cthulhu-a-thons have been somewhat more sophisticated. The idea of cramming as many games into a single evening was eventually dropped as sanity prevailed. I wish I could say that the tradition goes back in an unbroken chain to 1992, but that's sadly not the case. There have been gaps, years in which I wasn't gaming and nothing happened, or else I was in the midst of an ongoing campaign and didn't feel like taking a break to do a special one-shot (although I'd usually try to inject a little Halloween-y themes into the session nearest the holiday). Then there was the one year we were really into miniatures gaming and we did a Halloween-themed Warhammer game instead (goblins versus undead).

I had plans to run a game last year, but things fell through at the last minute. This year the CoC-a-thon is on like Zombie Donkey Kong, though! It'll probably be a proper Cthulhu session, although I haven't ruled out All Flesh Must Be Eaten or maybe a straight BRP horror game.

So do any of my gentle readers share similar annual horror gaming traditions? If so, what are your plans this year?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

[Solo GPC] Lady Meleri of Broughton

Over the weekend Des sat down and rolled up her new back-up character, Herringdale's daughter Meleri. Although we anticipate (leaving aside the ever-present threat of death and dismemberment) that Herringdale will continue to feature as the primary character in the campaign for at least the next four years or so, we're going to start integrating Meleri into the narrative with an eye towards her becoming the main character as we move into the Conquest Period.

Ever since Des decided to leave Meleri in the care of Morgan le Fay for her stint as a lady-in-waiting, we've had the idea that she'd be a bit of a black sheep in the family. The character concept was cemented when Des saw this Alan Lee sketch:

The shields hanging from the tree brought to Des's mind the phrase "knight collector", which has become the central concept for Meleri. Pendragon fans familiar with the old Fourth Edition rulebook will perhaps remember Lady Medule from the Salisbury write-up therein. Meleri is to be patterned on this, the "county weirdo" who is simultaneously enticing and dangerous and whom most people just steer clear of.

This also has provided the solution for the conundrum of how to run a Lady-centric campaign in the GPC. Although I'll be emphasizing social and courtly encounters much more, it can't be denied that there will be times when it's necessary to go looking for danger. Des plans on having Meleri collect two or three loyal knights who travel everywhere with her. She will have control over these knights in a manner similar to henchmen in D&D or to the Troupe-style play of Ars Magica. The fact that the knights remain NPCs makes them somewhat more disposable too, which is a side effect I quite like, as I picture Meleri as being almost Machiavellian in her pragmatism.

Although she is not an enchantress, I did allow for some influence from her tutelage under Morgan; for the Lady's Gift portion of the character generation, I bypassed the normal random roll and simply ruled that Meleri would start with two random potions. Des is already coming up with ideas on how to use these potions on hapless knights and enemies...

Lady Meleri of Broughton

Personal Data
Age: 23
Daughter Number: 2
Homeland: Salisbury
Culture: Cymric
Religion: Pagan
Liege Lord: Earl Robert of Salisbury
Current Class: Steward
Current Home: Broughton Manor

SIZ 13
DEX 12
CON 12
APP 17

Damage 3d6
Healing Rate 2
Move Rate 2
Hit Points 25
Unconscious 6
Distinctive Features: flaming red hair; tall; captivating voice

Personality Traits
Chaste/Lustful 10/10; Energetic/Lazy 14/6; Forgiving/Vengeful 10/10; Generous/Selfish 10/10; Honest/Deceitful 10/10; Just/Arbitrary 11/9; Merciful/Cruel 11/9; Modest/Proud 4/16; Pious/Worldly 8/12; Prudent/Reckless 14/6; Temperate/Indulgent 9/11; Trusting/Suspicious 4/16; Valorous/Cowardly 2/18

Gentlewoman's Bonus: NO
Religion Bonus: NO

Loyalty (Lord) 17
Love (Family) 9
Hospitality 15
Honor 16
Hate (Saxons) 18
Concern (Commoners) 8
Loyalty (Pendragon) 5

Skills: Awareness (15); Chirurgery (11); Compose (1); Courtesy (8); Dancing (5); Distaff (12); Faerie Lore (3); Falconry (2); Fashion (2); First Aid (10); Flirting (12); Folklore (7); Gaming (3); Heraldry (10); Hunting (2); Intrigue (13); Orate (2); Play: Recorder (10); Read: Latin (1); Recognize (5); Religion: Pagan (10); Singing (5); Swimming (1)

Combat Skills: Battle (4); Siege (13); Horsemanship (8); Dagger (10)

Equipment: Personal Sewing Supplies; Decent Wardrobe; Simple Jewelry; Toilet Articles; Chest; Ivory Horn Drink (+2D6 to Lazy, used up on a 1-7 on d20); Devil's Own Venom (3 damage per day until a successful Chirurgery roll is made; used up on a 1-15 on d20)

Des is planning on using the Devil's Own Venom to secretly poison potential followers, then using Chirurgery to nurse them back to health, thereby earning their eternal gratitude. I think this is great and am considering forgoing the Used Up roll when it's used for this purpose, since I trust Des not to abuse it.

Meleri's low Love (Family) along with her family characteristic of Know the Commoners (inherited from Elaine, of course!) led to us to envision Meleri as a sort of medieval anarchist working to bring the nobility down from within. This certainly fits with the influence Morgan would have had over her. Should be interesting to see how that works out in play. Also worth noting is the fact that, although she tries to distance herself from Herringdale, she did inherit his extreme hatred of Saxons. Probably won't come up too often post-Badon Hill, but it's an interesting character aspect.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Accentuating the Art of GMing

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to the fine and subtle art of GMing, something I haven't done in a while. When I was first getting into gaming and running games as a teenager, I gave a lot of thought to this, of course. Books like The Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide and Creative Campaigning were my bread and butter. I'd analyze movies from a GMing perspective, paying attention to pacing and characterization of the "NPCs" in the story. When out for a scenic drive or on vacation, I'd do my best to memorize and encapsulate the sights I was seeing for later regurgitation in games.

Eventually I guess I got to a point where I felt like I didn't need to do this anymore. I had developed my own style, my own habits. I could GM in my sleep.

But now I'm coming back around to the idea of GMing as a lifelong learning opportunity. One of my favorite new blogs recently posted about this subject, wondering if the "art of GMing" is a thing of the past. I can't really comment one way or the other; I've always been a bit of an insular gamer, and really don't have enough experience with other peoples' styles to make an informed opinion. But the post reinforced some thoughts I'd already been having regarding immersion and the GM's role in facilitating it.

So, like the gym rat who creates a list of exercises to target certain muscle groups, I have decided that I'm going to target certain areas of my GMing style that I feel have gone to seed or could simply use a bit of sharpening up.

As a teenager I used to be pretty good at mimicry. I can still bust out a few decent impressions (my Kermit the Frog is so accurate it gives people the willies, and my Sean Connery is second to none), but I'm talking more about the ability to do regional accents, like this kid:

When Des and I play Pendragon, we speak with our American accents. But I would love to be able to throw in a Welsh lilt or a bit of Yorkshire dialect to distinguish characters from outside Logres. And being able to do a range of accents similar to those demonstrated in the video above would mean I'd never lack for running a modern-day or 20th-century game (or character).

Time to visit the library and look into accent technique books for actors, I guess.

The Sensory Experience
The ability to describe surroundings using all five senses is the mark of a mindful and capable GM. I try my best to remember to do this, but sometimes it's all too easy to default to "pleasant summer day" and leave it at that. Risus Monkey just posted a fantastic technique for jogging the GM's descriptive mind during gameplay. Essentially a descriptive rubric, the chart both organizes one's thoughts before the game and helps remind one of the sensory atmosphere one is trying to evoke during actual play, when it's all too easy to forget and fall back on old standards. I can't wait to try this out during my next Pendragon session.

This is one I've only relatively recently started thinking about, and it's the arena where I'm most anxious to up my game. I'm fine with describing how NPCs look: hair color, eye color, build, demeanor, and so forth. But I'm woefully inadequate when it comes to describing how they dress. And clothes do make the man, after all.

I have to credit Des with bringing this to my attention. "What's he wearing?" is a common question at our game table, and initially I found myself scrambling to come up with a satisfactory response ("Uh...clothes?"). I'm a bit more apt to be able to answer the question nowadays, but I've still got a long way to go in the arena of coming up with not only ways to envision an NPC's outfit, but also describe it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

[Solo GPC] 513: Terrabil Swift Sword

Astute readers will have noticed that the campaign has been on pause the last couple weeks. I find that long-term campaigns sometimes need these "breathing periods" - brief pauses in which the campaign (to say nothing of the GM and players) catch their collective breath, as it were. I've also been busier than usual in real life thanks to an unexpected but very exciting career transition opportunity that's come up. But we've got our next session scheduled for this week, so regular updates should resume until they don't.

I'm particularly sorry to keep y'all waiting for this one since this was a bit of a short session. The shortness was owing to the fact that I know the next couple years should be pretty jam-packed; I like to pace the years of my Pendragon campaigns, separating the bigger, more epic years with either more low-key events or more straightforward activities. This year fell into the latter category; it was pretty much by the book with very little embellishment on my part. This was partly intentional, but it was also one of those nights where I struggled with engaging with the simple act of GMing, inevitable in any long term campaign (and certainly a factor in precipitating the ensuing breathing period). Nevertheless, Des had a great time, and during play we once again found ourselves sweating it over whether Herringdale would live to see the next Winter Phase...

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