Wednesday, July 25, 2012

About Done Moving + Current Readings

We're nearly done moving.  Everything is now out of the old place, now it's just a matter of moving into the new place.

So no more late posts. And my quality should be on the way back up.

With that said, it's difficult to write about games when most of them are in boxes in the garage.  So I'm re-reading a couple of books I really enjoyed a few months back.

The Bones: Us And Our Dice has really started to stand out in a few ways. Especially now that I've started reading a bit about probability.

Things We Think About Games is also leaping out at me. Several of the essays have more resonance now that I know who the authors are.

We also picked up the First Edition premium reprints from WotC. It says something about the hobby when I don't have to specify which game it is the First Edition of.  I only played 1E a few times, so much of these books is new to me, and there are things I took for granted that ... aren't in there.  Like the PHB doesn't tell you how to roll dice for character generation. It says to talk to your DM to see which rolling method he has approved.  I've had very little time to read through these, so I have a ways to go.

The Kobold crew has a series of monster books for Pathfinder that they are publishing, now, too. They call it "Monsters of Sin."  Each one (and there are three so far) has a small handful of themed monsters, a few paragraphs on including them in your game, and a bit of information on how they fit into their Midgard setting. There are three of them, and they're on sale (25% off) until next week as part of RPGNow/DriveThruRPG's "Christmas in July" sale.

I'd helped Kickstart Artisan Dice, and they arrived a week or two back. I'd ordered some purple heart oak FUDGE dice for my wife (who loves the color purple).  And then I forgot about them until they arrived last week. I'm pleased to report that they are beautiful. I don't know if they roll true or not, but I'm not too concerned.

... and that's what I've been up to over the last few weeks.

Next week, I'll be discussing some of what I'll be prepping for GenCon, and give you an idea how I prep.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Night's Black Agents

Anyone who knows me in person knows that I'm a fan of Robin D. Laws' game designs. I thought Feng Shui was brilliant. Over the Edge continues to be one of my favorite games of all time.

And, of course, the GUMSHOE system in all of its permutations has influenced my approach to other games.

I'm also a fan of Kenneth Hite's work. His Suppressed Transmission books set the standard for weird conspiracy. For years, now, I've been half-convinced that Kenneth Hite and J.J. Abrams are the same person, because Alias and Lost both watch like something Hite would have written.

Kenneth Hite first used GUMSHOE for Trail of Cthulhu.  And it was brilliant, which should surprise no-one.  He's been involved with several games since, but now he's back to GUMSHOE, and, it should come as no surprise, the product is brilliant.

I speak, of course, of Night's Black Agents.

It's an odd duck. I'll tell you that straight up and in advance. It's a horror conspiracy espionage game.

The espionage genre's last real activity was the Spycraft line, and that was really more over-the-top action than espionage.  Mission: Impossible in game form (the movies, not the TV series).

Night's Black Agents returns espionage gaming to its grittier roots. And does so with a brilliant twist.

Your character? Used to be a spy. Until you got out or were forced out, and then did some freelance work.  And, eventually, you learned that the people you were working for (and, perhaps had always worked for) were vampires.

Yes. Vampires.

Vampires have dropped out of horror gaming for a bit. I suspect that part of it is due to Twilight and the Vampire Diaries. A large part of it.  White Wolf games aside, that is.  All of these have de-fanged vampires and turned them into misunderstood angst-filled self-loathing monsters.  Which, in my opinion, is wrong.  Vampires are monsters. Dangerous, cunning predators. 

Night's Black Agents has pages and pages and pages of "how to customize vampires for your game." Vampires can be very different from what you're used to, with a good mix of origins, powers, and other abilities.

Now, even though I was given a copy of the PDF for free, what sold me on pre-ordering a print copy was this line:

“I want to play the good vampire.” If it were up to me, nobody would ever get to play the good vampire ever again in any medium. It is, sadly, not up to me.
The basic GUMSHOE system has been tweaked here to support institutional paranoia and occasional bits of big action. A number of influences are mentioned throughout the book, and they include the Bourne trilogy of films, the Bond films (mostly the Daniel Craig version, but you can do more genteel spies if you want to), and a number of one-off films like Ronin. Violence is a thing to be feared - unless you have the advantage when it begins.

And there are several "modes" of play, too. If you want a more action-based game, it'll support that. If you want John Woo-style two-gun shoot 'em ups with immensely lethal consequences, it'll support that. If you want sneaking and hiding and minimal gunfire, you can do that, too.

Honestly, I think you could run The Hunt for Red October with this game. If you wanted to.  Of course, when you add the vampire layer, suddenly it gets ... odd. And not in a bad way, either.

Actually ... I'd play that. Marko Ramius has discovered that the top of the Soviet food chain is ... um ... at the top of the Soviet food chain, and so grabs some info and a top-secret sub and tries to defect.  Meanwhile, vampires in the US learn what's going on, and try to recover the sub so that they can learn about their Soviet counterparts (because there are multiple types of vampires) ... they deploy a few trusted pawns (James Earl Jones' character, whose name escapes me) to drop some breadcrumbs for the PCs (Jack Ryan and several other CIA analysts) to follow. But they also need to keep Dr. Ryan from getting too much information - after all, he's a useful pawn, but that may change if he learns about vampires ...

If you will please excuse me, I think I have some scheming to do ...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

That Time Again

Even though we're in the middle of moving, I've already set aside my non-Asmodee games, because I need to be ready.

I'm still puzzling how to demo Eclipse quickly. It's not a game designed for a fast demo - and, with the third printing due in October (and the second printing already sold out nearly everywhere), I do expect a lot of requests for demos of this one.

Seasons will also be big. And the designer will be in the booth this year.  I hope that Libertalia will also do very well.

I have that "good con" vibe this year.  Not that there is a such a thing as a bad GenCon, mind you. But some are better than others.  We will apparently have most of last year's team back with us, which is good. We had a solid team that bonded well (and - more importantly - worked well together).

Within a day of the Exhibit Hall Map being released, I was already marking it up.

We, by the way, are the solid blue spaces to the right of this image.

If you're trying to make sense of my color coding, it's easier than it looks.  In order of Safe to Dangerous, it goes Blue -> Purple -> Red.

Most of the blues are "I wonder if they have anything new or that I might want to spend money on this year." The purple borders are, "I know they have a game or two which I both lack and desire."  The red borders with purple stripes are, "They will probably beat me up and take all of my money."  The red with red stripes are "Leave the wallet in the booth before visiting."  And the solid red one?  That's the single booth which has consistently sucked the most money out of our pockets. IPR. Even my wife isn't safe from that booth.

Either way, we have just over a month to go.

Are you excited?

I am.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Character Generation

So the Character Generation Project has been chugging along pretty well for a while, now.  I've had a lot of feedback from a number of folks on it, too - including a publisher or two offering product for the list.

I don't think I ever really explained why character generation is so important to an RPG. I know that most of you are already in the know about this, but I suspect we all have slightly different ideas about why it's so important.

There are two main reasons why I think character generation is important:

1) Character-building is many players' introduction to a game. It tells players what the game is about, and how it works. And how complicated it can be. More often than not, it's the most complex part of the game. And it really shouldn't be. A bad character generation procedure makes players less willing to play the game. Or sours them on aspects of the game before it even starts.

2) Character Generation is often the first point of communication from the players to the GM about what kind of game they want to play. The GM may give a handout to the players - and, indeed, they should. But the characters are the first chance the players can respond to that handout. Especially if the GMleft some choices in the handout.

The Project is here to address the first point - Stephanie and I started it because I was curious: Would we see Stephanie tripping over similar things in different games? What could some of these games do better? What problems can I foresee?  Are there things that work very well and which can be applied to other games?

And, most importantly, does character generation turn her off of the game?  All Flesh Must Be Eaten certainly did.  It could be the best game in the world, but now I will never get her to play it without pre-gens. Which sucks on several fronts.

Like most gamers, I have a game I'm working on - it's backburnered while I work a few things out, but I have a system that seems to work. And character generation is lifepath-based (which means I need to write more paths to keep it interesting).

No less than Monte Cook had something to say about character generation a few weeks ago.  It's an interesting post, but for me, the most interesting part for me was one thought:
I'm not a big fan of origin tales and the beginnings of stories anyway. I like to get right into the action.
I'd never thought of character generation as being an origin story. But, really, that's what it is.  If your game were a comic book, it'd be a team-up book more often than not.  There are a few comic book characters who share an origin story, or who started as a team - the Fantastic Four and the X-Men both spring to mind - but most of the time, you take a string of already-successful heroes (or less-successful that you want to give a small boost) and slap them together.  The Justice League is Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and Green Lantern.  All of these characters had their own comics which served as their character generation. Justice League #1 is about these characters meeting and working together to face a common foe.

"So you all meet in a bar ... "

It highlights, by the way, another issue most games have with character generation: It often doesn't include the rest of the party.  A few games have found ways around this - FATE-based games, for example, require that the group work together to fill in backstories together.

I'll talk more about that another time. Probably once we're done moving.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

This Week's Post

... has been delayed due to complications with the move.  I'll have some actual content up no later than Friday.

I'm sorry for the delay.