Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The PC Effect and Chekhov's Gun

As I've mentioned several times (and am likely to mention several times again), I'm getting a Cthulhutech game together.  I have a handful of interested and involved PCs who are almost done with character generation.

So I wanted to talk a bit about that generation - the most difficult one first.

You see, I have a player who - when given a choice - will nearly always play a magic-user.  She uses the term "witchy chick," and not inaccurately.  Were this a Buffy the Vampire Slayer game, she would use the Willow archetype.

And there's nothing wrong with that.  In fact, as a GM, it's nice having a rough idea where my players are going to go.

In Cthulhutech, magic users are called sorcerers. And they don't necessarily start with spells.  In fact, nearly any PC can become a sorcerer merely by taking the Occult skill and learning a spell.  PCs can theoretically start with up to six spells - in practice, they'll only have one or two.

And did I mention that these spells have casting times measured in hours and days?

At first, she was badly rattled by the significant difference in the spells from those in other popular fantasy games. But I eventually managed to get through - you see, in D&D, the casting time is ... hours.  Seriously.  Wizards spend many many hours studying and memorizing and locking in the spell, except for the last few triggering words and gestures.

It's the same way in Cthulhutech.  PC's spent hours and hours casting and effect that can be triggered later.

The next hurdle is that a lot of the spells seem less-than-useful from a gaming perspective.  And that is where Chekhov's Gun comes into play. That's where we start to see the PC effect.

You see, gaming is a cooperative thing. While the GM controls a lot of things, he can't make the PCs go anywhere or do anything. The characters that they players have made should tell the GM what kind of game they want to play, and the GM needs to make sure that the game is sufficiently tailored to that taste.

See, the GM provides (or should provide) guidelines - for the Cthulhutech game, the biggest guideline was "Police or Police-Affiliated in some way." I even made it clear that there were other options - bloggers, members of other city departments, and so on.  So far, all of my characters are actual police officers.

But, by looking at their skills, it reminds me a bit of the (sadly short-lived) TV series The Unusuals. I have a bunch of eccentric misfits. I have a group of characters who are ill-suited to facing the Mythos. Which, in a way, is absolutely perfect. But it tells me that they want to be out of their depth.

When a character spends a lot of their points on a certain thing, they want that thing to appear in the game. If one character spends all of their points on guns and gun skills, then I need to give them something to shoot at, or they will be bored.

This is the PC effect - the game world warps itself to fit the desires of the players.

And then I have to decide: Are the point expenditures Chekhov's Gun, or are they going to be features from the beginning? So, for example, the spell-casting character: Do I want her spells to be useful now, or should they be the key to the last part of the puzzle?

The best example I have of Chekhov's Gun is from the film Looper.  There is, early on, a line of dialog about why the loopers have blunderbusses instead of pistols.  Near the end, this is demonstrated.  Then, at the very end of the film, this line of dialogue becomes critical.

So, with every single decision the PC's make in character generation, I have to decide: When do I want this decision to be relevant?

It's tricky, and I hope I can get it right ...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Character Generation

Character Generation on Friday went smoothly, even though one player didn't make it and one player was late.  The players who were there talked it through and coordinated their characters.

Cthulhutech is an ... interesting setting. Left to their own devices, I'd have had one sorcerer, one Tager, a mecha pilot, and God knows what else.  It's a setting with a lot of options for characters, so I needed them to work together so we could have a cohesive party.

I'd previously given them some guidelines and suggestions, and I was set to give them some bonus points, depending on what they ended up doing.  So, when Stephanie does her character questionnaire for the project, people who are familiar with the game will spot a few extra skill points.

Either way, I now have a party of cops. I gave each of them two free skill points in Law Enforcement and Authority 1 and Duty 1.  Beyond that, I pretty much let them loose.

One character runs the evidence locker, and has been stealing interesting trinkets for years. One character is SWAT, and is more than a little gun-crazy.  In fact, he's been buying guns from the evidence locker for a good long while.  One character is a Para-Psychic with a Dark Secret.  One player has declared that he'll be part of the Computer Crimes Division.  And one player is still a question mark.

All of them have a few combat skills, because - well - they're cops.

So I have a bunch of cops.  A bunch of dirty cops. In a city that, if I follow canon, is doomed within a year or two.

I can't wait to see how it turns out.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Behind The Screen Again

A few weeks ago, I posted a link to the Obsidian Portal page for my next game - a Traveller game that existed so that someone I hadn't gamed with in more than a decade could acclimatize to my current preferred style of play (along with the group that is already familiar with that style). And so the group could familiarize themselves with Obsidian Portal itself.

Well, for one reason and another, that game fell apart before it even started.

Since Traveller was going to be a short game anyhow, we're leading directly into the game which most of the people were interested in from the get-go.


How interested are they? There are a total of four households involved with the game. Three of us have copies of at least the core book.

The game itself tends, in some circles, to be a bit controversial. And by "in some circles," I mean "over on the forums." And, to be honest, there is good reason for the game to be a bit controversial. Mind you, I think that a number of better-known games should be more controversial. But that's just me.

Either way, the occasional discussion has highlighted a couple of possible system issues for me to watch out for.  For example, because of how the dice work, it's possible to critically succeed and critically fail the same roll. And the balance between Integrity Scale and Vitality Scale is reportedly ... off.  I'll tweak that if it comes up. At this point, however, I don't expect it to come up.

Now that I've said, that, however, my players will take it on themselves to track down an armored brigade single-handedly with their hand weapons.

Either way, I've put up an Obsidian Portal page for the players. I'll be rewarding players with drama points and XP for updating.  At least one player is really good for bouncing ideas off of, and I'll be rewarding him for that, too, even if he doesn't update the Portal at all.

I've already had one really good addition to my Wiki from a player.

Since four of my players are authors, I expect to see some ... interesting ... characters. Even for a law enforcement-themed campaign.

For my part, this will be my first campaign since my L5R game that ran from 1996 until early 2000. I've enjoyed the one-shots we did (including the Cthulhutech one-shot I did a few years back), so it'll be good to be back behind the screen long-term.

Well, ideally.  Assuming the game comes together and then holds together.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Kickstarter Luck

There's been a lot of discussion of Kickstarter in my Google+ Circles, of late. And on And in various other places I visit.  On projects and when they were funded, delivered, etc.

I'm very patient with these projects - my first Crowdfunding project was Delta Green: Targets of Opportunity. It funded via the (now defunct) in 2008.  The product arrived in 2010. So a two-year lag is not (to my mind) completely unforgivable. Provided the product is worth the wait.

I've had ... mostly good luck.  Here is a complete list of tabletop gaming projects I have backed, when it funded, and when (if I remember) it arrived. If there is an asterisk after the title, it indicates that it is from a newcomer to the gaming industry.

Note that only projects that funded more than six months ago are on this list.

Hellas: Princes of the Universe - Funded June 25, 2010; Delivered November of 2010

Early Dark* - Funded August 27, 2010; Delivered May 2012.

Powerchords - Funded October 1, 2010; Delivered ... um ... right.
What's the difference between setting money on fire and funding Powerchords?  Two years of updates in my e-mail inbox. You may note some barbs in here aimed at this project, because I think that this project deserved a bit of scorn by now. Especially when he keeps moving the goalposts, and the currently-promised product bears very little resemblance to what I initially threw money at.

Mob Ties* - Funded January 17, 2011; Delivered October, 2011. I've heard it described as being basically a retheme of Mall of Horror. And I can see it.  The game is not bad. Not amazing, but not bad.

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple - Funded May 24, 2011; Delivered July, 2011. One of the lighter storygames I own. I really enjoy this one - and, as an added bonus - I can play it with small children.  It's light enough.

Kingdom of Solomon - Funded July 4, 2011; Delivered January, 2012. I really liked Steve Jackson Games' Revolution, so when I heard the designer had another game on Kickstarter, I didn't wait.  It was a must-buy for me.  And I don't regret the decision.

Children of Fire* - Funded August 3, 2011; Delivered October, 2011. I was shocked at how quickly this was delivered. The game had previously been a free PDF, but the layout in the print version is different from the old PDF. I was shocked at how quickly this arrived, given that it was someone who was new to the industry.

Far West - Funded August 25, 2011; Delivered: NOT  YET COMPLETE. I have received a short story anthology, but I'm still waiting for the game itself.  Gareth-Michael Skarka has been mostly keeping us up to date. At least his infrequent updates have been useful.

Chronicles of the Void* - Funded August 21, 2011; Delivered: NOT YET COMPLETE. The last update was in August of this year - I'm confident that they're working on it. I would like a few more regular updates, though.

Oh My God! There's An Axe In My Head! - Funded September 12, 2011; Delivered: NOT YET COMPLETE. The last update on Kickstarter was in August.

Board2Pieces Comics Compendium - Funded October 2, 2011; Delivered: November 2011. I was totally gobsmacked at how fast this one arrived.

Hellas: Wine-Dark Void - Funded October 8, 2011; Delivered:  March 2012. More good stuff from Jerry. If he keeps pushing it, I'll keep throwing my nickels his way.

Empires of the Void* - Funded November 27, 2011; Delivered: May 2012. I really enjoyed this game.  There were a few rough patches in the rules, but nothing that is deal-breaking. I liked it enough to back City of Iron from the same team.

Miskatonic School for Girls* - Funded December 5, 2011; Delivered: March 2012. I like the theme. I like the concept. But the game is a slow starter with very few actual decisions to be made. And it's very random. The only Kickstarted board game I have received that has been a disappointment.

Mutant Meeples - Funded December 4, 2011; Delivered: NOT YET COMPLETE. I was really surprised at this one, giving that the project creator is the same person who did the Board2Pieces Comics Compendium. It was really fast.  This? Is still faster than Powerchords.

Reclamation* - Funded December 3, 2011; Delivered: May 2012. I think this arrived the same day as Early Dark and Empires of the Void. It was certainly within a few days of them. Another one that I need to read more thoroughly once I find the box.

Pizza Theory* - Funded December 20, 2011; Delivered: March 2011. It's not a particularly deep game, and it tends to have a clear winner pretty quickly - which is one of the points of the game. I like it, but it's not one I'll usually seek out.

They Became Flesh - Funded December 12, 2011; Delivered: NOT YET ARRIVED. The last update said it'd shipped as of September 20th. Given my luck, I expect it'll arrive before this post goes live.

Tephra* - Funded February 4, 2012; Delivered: June 2012. NOTE: I'm still waiting for the Adversaries book (one of the Kickstarter bonus/promo items). Still the best RPG I've Kickstarted. Probably one of the best role-playing games of 2012. Seriously. It's not perfect (the layout and organization needs a bit of work), but it's good, with a great setting and some of the best crafting rules I've seen in a tabletop game.

Order of the Stick Reprint Drive - Funded February 21, 2012; Delivered September 2012

Hellas: Swords & Sandals - Funded March 24, 2012; NOT YET ARRIVED. But Jerry just updated a few days ago.  Books are due soon.  Given his track record so far, I have faith that it'll be here soon enough.

Gunship: First Strike - Funded March 31, 2012; NOT YET ARRIVED. A recent update said it was being printed, so I should have this one before too terribly long.  It's only been about seven months, so I'm not terribly concerned.

Mobile Frame Zero: Rapid Attack - Funded April 11, 2012; NOT YET ARRIVED. A Lego-based miniatures combat game with mecha? Sign me up! Twice! I think the PDF is available for download, and the print copies will be here soon enough.

Dungeon World - Funded June 30, 2010; NOT YET ARRIVED. I'd be shocked if it were here as quickly as this. Unlike Powerchords, I expect to have this by GenCon of next year.

There have been a few which funded after this point, some of which I expect I'll have in hand before Christmas, and some of which I expect late next year at the soonest (despite their projected arrival dates).

All in all, my luck has been good with the game-themed Kickstarters.

Hopefully this luck will hold.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Games I Have Chosen Not To Buy or Which Sit On My Shelf

My wife often accuses me of being a game snob - and with good reason. I turn my nose up at a lot of games.

Too many, in fact.

The logical assumption would be that the games I'm sneering at are non-Hobby games. After all, don't all hardcore tabletop gamers turn their noses up at Monopoly and Clue and Risk?

In point of fact: I enjoy all three of these games. Particularly Castle Risk, which I find to be a faster-playing better variant of Risk.

I'm a Eurogamer. I make no bones about that. But I both own and enjoy Fortress America and Axis & Allies, two of the early banner bearers of the Ameritrash movement.

So what leads me to not buy a game (or leave a game on the shelf)?

Poor Luck vs. Skill Balance
I much prefer games where a skilled player will usually defeat a lucky player due to their skillful play. I didn't buy Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot, because it's a lottery game. Yes, the player with the most carrots usually wins, but not always. And it's not due to skillful play - the winner is random.

Note that games that have no skill component whatsoever, such as We Didn't Playtest This At All don't bug me. Because it's 100% random and takes about ten minutes. And is really really fun.

Indeterminate Length
When I sit down to play a game, I like to know how long that game will take (within a reasonable range of time). So I didn't buy Fluxx, because it can take ten minutes or ten hours.

Rules Interfering with Fun
I really like Empires in Arms. I think it's a phenomenal game - the rules (for the most part) make sense, even though there are a lot of them. So I'm not afraid of thick rulebooks.  But Twilight Imperium just didn't do it for me. At all. The fact that there is basically more errata than rulebook doesn't help.

Appropriate Game Length
Again: I enjoy Empires in Arms, even though it's a very very long game. It needs to be, though. It's an EPIC game of Napoleonic Strategy.  But I don't like Anima: Shadow of Omega. Because it's way too long for what it is.

Only for the LOLs
I like humor in games. I enjoy a well-written and snarky rulebook.  Gosu is a great example of a good rulebook. But Muchkin just didn't do it for me. Because - yes - the cards are funny, but it's like reading a jokebook. It's funny once. Until you forget the jokes. I don't usually read joke books twice, and I don't play Munchkin twice. And the game itself was too thin.

Lack of Player Interaction
For me, gaming is essentially a social outlet.  I play games to spend time with people who I otherwise wouldn't have an excuse to hang with regularly.  While I do enjoy a few games that are essentially multiplayer solitaire, for the most part, I like to be able to directly screw over my opponent by cutting him off or robbing him rather than by filling the boat first.  It's one reason I like 7 Wonders: Cities with its debt mechanism; it increases interaction between players (something the base game occasionally lacks). This is why I didn't buy Fits, which is very much multiplayer solitaire.

Meaningful Decisions
I like being able to actually feel like my choices are driving the game forward and steering my fate. Games where the best choice is immediately obvious just don't really do it for me. This lack of true decision-making is why Miskatonic School for Girls sits on the shelf.

Decided Away From The Table
I want things in the game to determine who wins. The good Diplomacy players can make this distinction. Bad ones will remember three games ago when you backstabbed them in Italy.  Not as a matter of "Eric is a backstabbing jerk," but in terms of "Eric stabbed me, and I'm gonna make him pay!" Because "Eric is a backstabbing jerk," is a perfectly legitimate reason to not trust me.

I played a game a few years ago where a visiting husband & wife mopped the floor with the rest of us because they had agreed on the way up to work together until the very end. And then they found one rookie player and convinced him to break his only alliance way too early (costing everyone in that alliance even a shot at winning).  It was not fun. The game was decided before anyone ever showed up to play.

So there you have it: A relatively quick overview of my snobbery.