Wednesday, September 29, 2010

In Which The Warlock Tries to "Make it New"...

Bear with me here. Back in the day (the early 1900s, that is), when the Modernists roamed the Earth, poet Ezra Pound wrote "Make it New!". In the book, he set forth the concepts of a revolution of language and literature, in which even the smallest concepts are revisited, resulting in drastic changes to fundamental ideas. Pound himself was a devotee of Dante Alighieri, and produced his own Cantos centered around The Divine Comedy, but with massive alterations in structure and in metaplot.

Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot

Therein lies the rub and, for that matter, our subject for today's blog: newness! If you've been following along, I've been working diligently on my Deadlands game, trying to blend it with Stephen King's Dark Tower mythos and his larger, gestalt world. You'd think that'd be an easy task--toss in an Overlook hotel here, a creepy sewer-dwelling clown there, and the task is complete, right?

Wrong. In the postmodern era, King himself has assembled a pastiche of thematic concepts that started with Robert Browning's Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, to the spaghetti westerns of yesteryear, to the venerable (and immensely gamed-out) Lord of the Rings, to Pound's Modernist buddy T.S. Eliot. Ask any "sane" reader, and an assembly of this magnitude seems schizophrenic on a good day.

The Dark Tower

So, of course, on top of all of this, I'm trying to fit the themes of alternate history (a la Harry Turtledove) as well as elements from Deadlands' own canon. Difficult? Monumental! To say that one cannot serve two masters is something of a misnomer here, but it becomes a massive challenge to provide more than lip service to the combination of canon, inspiring works, and ones' own ideas.

But, it's gaming "work" that needs doing. I was originally drawn to Deadlands for its uniqueness in gaming--in a medium slavishly attached to fantasy cliche, it was a breath of clean winter air in my lungs. Similarly, while still in classic D&D, the Eberron setting inverted so many generic fantasy tropes that it could hardly be recognized as D&D until you broke out the d20s! World War II-era Berlin, dropped into a fantasy world? Zombie "Soviet" soldiers, marching to war against dinosaur-riding tribal halflings? Sentient robots fighting psychic spies aboard lightning-driven trains? Sign me up!

It's this concept of 'newness' and originality, even when (as a GM) you're pulling from other sources, that keeps people pulling up a chair to your gaming table every week. Games that center around only one central pillar, be it mechanical or thematic, are destined to fail, simply due to disinterest. Players want more, and it's our job as a GM to give it to them!

The same can be said for games that are linked too closely to the idea of 'canon'--which, in some ways, tips my hand in terms of my relationship with the RPGA. In a medium that supposedly values and rewards creativity, the "Living" campaigns reward mediocrity and repetition. Similarly, I have been openly lambasting Wizards of the Coast's D&D Essentials line for being overly slavish to nostaligic ideas, many of which were clung to without rhyme or reason. Instead of embracing the mechanical creativity of 4e--which, even within its own mechanics, had been evolving!--the design team took a deliberate step backwards, which will leave the game worse for the taking.

John, over at World vs. Hero expounds on this idea, as he was providing contest advice for some of the entrants on his website. There, John breaks it down in terms of a combination of "Originality" and "Allure". The neat thing is, though: originality does not necessarily mean 'without inspirations'. Rather, he elaborates that:

...originality is a rather fluid state, and we should not be paralyzed into inaction for fear of being unoriginal. When honesty precedes the presentation of creativity, the quality of “being original” becomes “being true to a fresh vision of old and new ideas,” and, under this definition, our art may be judged fairly for what it is...

John, brother--Ezra and Thomas would be proud!

The core of gaming, if it is to ever be taken somewhat seriously as an artistic medium (or to continue on into the "Twitter" era), is to blend new ideas with the fundamental archetypes that serve as the foundation of our collective hobby. Slavish devotion to canon, for whatever reason, leads only to stagnation and, eventually, dismissal. In the end, we're a jaded group. We've been there, and done that. We've killed the orc, taken his pie, and moved on.

Give me something new!

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

In Which The Warlock Rebuilds The Weird West...

As I've been raving about in my last few posts, I've been really jazzed about my new Deadlands game, which I'm now two sessions into over at Wittenberg. The players that I have are genuinely engaged in both their characters and the burgeoning plot.

One of the biggest reasons that I was drawn to Deadlands in the first place is the creeping element of horror built into the metaplot. The Weird West, in addition to being untamed of its natural obstacles, is the province of horrific creatures that exist only to prey upon man's fear.

But, the one thing that Deadlands didn't have was the one influence I really wanted to build in: Stephen King's Dark Tower saga. Similarly filled with creeping horror, King's masterwork has mysticism and dreamscape elements that just aren't found in standard Deadlands. Plus, I wanted to avoid certain canon elements in Deadlands that seemed a little much...after all, it's a bit much to think that all of the major NPCs have evil, supernatural powers!

As such, I find myself using a tool that I've experimented with earlier--when I was running "Pirates of the Underdark"--an Obsidian Portal wiki.

Obsidian Portal Logo

I had made the mistake of attempting to start the "PotU" wiki mid-campaign, which made it difficult to keep up with all of the backlogged information. With a fresh start in this campaign, I was able to easily upload images, files, and information on the setting of the campaign, as well as on major NPCs. Plus, I can also include various setting changes, like going "todash" and information on The Beams and the like. Woot!

What might be lurking in the Jaegretty Gulch mine?

For now, my players are just outside of Amarillo, in the dying boomtown of Jaegretty Gulch. They're trying to lay low, after getting into a barfight with Josiah "Josey" Riggins--the son of mining mogul and Circuit Judge George Riggins. But, as they explore an "abandoned" mine rumored to be the home of Mexican banditos, the PCs find that other 'things' may be present in the mine...

All of this world-building (or, re-building, as it may be), reminds me! I'm judging a contest!

World vs. Hero!

John Fiore, over at World vs. Hero, asked me to judge a world-building contest along with several other game designers/editors/cartographers/artists. The challenge? Using the guidelines in his one-on-one roleplaying brainchild World vs. Hero, design a campaign setting in less than 200 words. Get cracking, though, kiddies! The deadline is September 24th!

Up for the challenge? Get all the details on John's contest here: World-Building Contest at World vs. Hero

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

In Which The Warlock Tosses Dice for a Full Day...

If there’s one bad side about livin’ “la vida gamer”, it’s that you occasionally have a weekend or so where all you do is sling the dice. Not that that’s a bad thing, necessarily-—heck, we play how many dollars a year to do just that, at Origins and GenCon (well, not really, now that I think about it…I haven’t paid to go to Origins since the first time I went). But, it does tend to make for exhausting days and long nights—much like this past weekend!

You see, gamer nation, this weekend marked the first real weekend for the Witt RP-Guild to be back in full swing. And, with it, we had a whole slew of events on deck, leaving your Friendly Neighborhood Warlock pretty drained!

This Friday got things off with a bang. With our weekly “Tear of Ioun” game cancelled, the PlatinumChick and I were free to join some of the newbies in Kat’s intro game—a variation on Dragon magazine’s “Dead By Dawn”. Our 2nd level heroes took on the horror of the classic zombie-survival movie, as we were besieged by undead on all sides. My paladin, Alain, was up to his eyeballs in heresy to smite!

Friday Night: "Dead by Dawn!"

The game ran particularly well, especially considering the number of players at the table. D&D, much as I love it, tends to break down with more than 6 players, and the 8 we had around the table did slow things down a touch. However, Kat kept the game moving efficiently, which did a lot to keep people active and enjoying. My only real complaint would be that the pre-gen characters were a little underwhelming; the half-elf ranger had a feat that he couldn’t even use, and both my paladin and the cleric were utterly inept at the Religion skill! But, these were minor quibbles in the midst of a grand time.

The next day meant an early rise, so that I could get prepped for a day of WEGS demos at Champion City Comic Con in Springfield. I’ve typically enjoyed CCCC, as it’s staffed by great people who have a real commitment to providing an excellent con experience. The vendor hall, much like last year, was fully stocked, though I must say, I didn’t find much that I really wanted from them. But, then again, I didn’t come to CCCC just to buy comics—there were Cold Rolls to throw down!

Saturday, all-day: Champion City Comic Con--2010

Throughout the day, I ran 3 of my 4 scheduled WEGS demos—providing two groups of unlucky Arks a confrontation with a dragon, while another group headed down to the Tongue o’ Dung for for some rest, relaxation, and pyromania. This was the first time since Origins that I ran game using the revised rules and, man, do they make things easy on the Arks! Both groups managed to take down my Dragon with few problems. So much for that vaunted 88% Invulnerability! It's time to up my game!

I did manage some better luck in “Dwarf Walks…”, as the Mage player set off a Molten Storm in the midst of the bar! No self-lovin’ Ogwhump is ever gonna let that stand! In fact, as the Mage was running from the Ogwhump, he managed to get cornered by Borkfu, and splattered all over the wall! Off to the Spheres you go, mon ami!

I must have been doing something right, because two of the demo players stuck around after the Con for a delve into madness in my playtest debut of “WEGS + Cthulhu = WEGSthulhu!” Joined by Savage Chris, Will the ManMan, and Jake the Frosh, we broke out the d10s and d6s once more…

I’ve gotta say: I’ve played a lot of WEGS in my day. I’ve been on-board since 2005, and have played almost every scenario El Willy’s put out on the con-circuit. This one, WEGSthulhu, is going to be a classic, up there with “Dwarf Walks…”, “The Yawlamoo,” and “Dingbitt’s Dunge-o’-Doom”. The Hero/Cultist mechanic worked perfectly, providing just the right dash of Paranoia to the game. All hail Friend Cthulhu!

Unfortunately for the Arks (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it!), the Arks failed to stop Randolph Carter from opening the portal in Carcosa—apparently he was a Cultist the whole time! Who knew?!—and Mighty Cthulhu rose up. Carter, of course, was awarded the highest of honors: being devoured first! Due to a well-placed “Fear My Lyrd” spell by Will’s (secretly Cultist!) sage, the heroic Arks could only flee for their lives before the combined cultist might.

Even after a late night—we wrapped up around 12:30am—I was up the next day, dice and poker chips in hand, for our first session of Deadlands. After rolling up characters, which was surprisingly fast, considering that over half of the group has barely played in Savage Worlds and were starting with “Seasoned” characters.

Sunday Afternoon: Deadlands--"Doomtown or Bust!"

After only about an hour, the group was ready to throw down. Starting off in The Busted Mug Tavern and Saloon, in Amarillo, the group made the unfortunate acquaintance (via a botched Spellcasting roll as the PlatinumChick attempted to cheat at poker) of Josiah Riggins, a self-absorbed layabout way too eager for a bar-fight.

For “disturbin’ the peace”, the group found themselves all together in the Amarillo drunk tank, cooling off, while Deputy Wingard wrangled some favors to avoid having charges pressed against the group. Released in the morning, we'll see exactly how much trouble they can get up to next Sunday!

By the by, I've already started an Obsidian Portal wiki to chronicle all of our intrepid gunslingers' actions. Check it in the links tab on the right side, or at the following link: Deadlands--"Follow the Walkin' Man"

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

In Which The Warlock Shoots for a Straight, but Flops a Full House...

So, remember a few entries ago, when I was wondering about which game to run? I really ended up in a dead heat with the two ideas, tossed between the conspiracy-horror of Delta Green and the gritty, street-level superheroes of DC Adventures. I honestly was having a hard time deciding between the two. Friends and fellow gamers recommended both in almost equal measure, eager to roll up their FBI agent, their power-suited vigilante, or something in between.

Deadlands: Hucksters and Hexes

And so, I debated. I wrote promos for each game. I blogged, obviously. And, in the end, it came down to...none of them.

You see, in amongst the rest of the game ideas I've had, I've had a new love. It's gritty, it's pulpy, and it's got so many plot ideas built in. It has all the elements I love in a game: horror, alternate history, characterization, and deep moral intregue.

As such, I find myself with a full table, ready to run Deadlands Reloaded.

I've been slowly developing an affection for Savage Worlds for a year or two now, with its free-form character development and its speedy, creative combat. But, for whatever reason, Deadlands had always eluded me. Back when I was at Wittenberg, BLoff and his brother had tried to get us to play it, but it lost out in favor of Call of Cthulhu and D&D.

I suppose it's been building in me for a while. I adore Stephen King's Dark Tower saga, and love the creeping horror found in the Weird West. After one read-through of Will the ManMan's Deadlands: Player's Guide, I was hooked. Plot ideas were flowing through my brain like wine, and they had to get out somehow! And so, a new campaign was born.

As such, I have a full table waiting for me on Sunday afternoons: "Follow the Walkin' Man, a King-inspired tale of the Weird West, where the players will start off in Amarillo, and head out on a dark adventure to find out the secrets behind Maerlyn's Rainbow and the Man in Black known only as "The Walkin' Dude".

Stay tuned here to find out more!

One last thing before I let you go for the evening: I'll be running WEGS: Old Skool Redux demos all day at Springfield's Champion City Comic-Con. Swing by between 10am and 6pm for a run through one of two classic WEGS demos: "Dungeons OR Dragons" and "Dwarf Walks Into a Bar". Alternatively, stick around after 6pm for a run through the exclusive debut of my module "WEGS+Cthulhu=WEGSthulhu!" Catch it before it hits this year's WittCon and next year's Origins Game Fair!

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

In Which The Warlock's Friends Gain Some Friends...

If it's one trend that tends to happen in Wittenberg-run games, it's that groups have a tendency to pick up NPCs. Games almost turn into harems, with hangers-on, henchmen, followers, and friends following the exploits of the PCs in any given game.

The Enigmatic Mr. Ebbs, I believe, first experienced this when he ran a Mutants and Masterminds game a few years back. In that game, the group gathered up NPC after NPC, with an angelic-origin PC nearly becoming pope! She had a full cult surrounding her, believing she was of divine origin and would bring about The Rapture!

This continued as EEE GMed us into the "Pyramid of Shadows"--one of the Wizards of the Coast-published 4e D&D modules. Trapped in the titular pyramid, our heroes began recruiting civilians and other humanoids who became entranced by the psionic call of the pyramid. It's from these humanoids--replete with randomly rolled stats--that we ended up with such luminaries such as Clevon Washington and The Goddamned Jim-Bob!

In fact, I even mandated the trend while running "Pirates of the Underdark", with each PC creating an NPC to serve above their ship, the Red Mourning. Details on all of those NPCs can be found in some of my earlier entries. The enigmatic wizard Durgrek, the mysterious investigator Nalen the Lesser, and Mathir's 'slave-boy' Elkantar all came from PotU.

And, so it goes with my weekly "Tear of Ioun" game. At first, it was merely one NPC. The players picked up Elladan Red-Hand, after he saved them from imprisonment during the Siege of Wellspring. His "Liberace meets Jack Sparrow meets Chairman Kaga, then becomes The Doctor" personality immediately endeared him to Lupin--the group's Banite battlemind/paladin--and Elladan's followed them ever since.

Following this, when we picked up a new player--Jess--she took on the role of Shantira, the lone Stormcrow that the group was able to save from the Forlorn Tower. A pyromaniacal eladrin warlock, Shantira's added ranged damage, numerous ritual castings, and a love interest for Lupin as the group entered the Shadowfell.

But were they done there? Oh, no. Rather, our runepriest--Russell--is out for his own kingdom! After his own clan was sundered, Russell received word from Thorgrim, his clan-brother, that a new delve was being founded back on the Prime Material plane, and needed his guidance! Russell, ever the pragmatic priest of Kelemvor, has decided to take it upon himself to lead his clan back to glory...

And what's best? I still have one great NPC in reserve. You see, Vaymeer (the Harrowfolk barbarian that started all of this mess) is still in the picture. Beaten twice, thrown into the Shadowfell by Lupin's githyanki blade, and marooned without his tribe, he's got an axe to grind with the party...and it's already sharpened and waiting.

Then again, one has to wonder...what happens when one sunders a githyanki silver blade? Lupin, Russell and company are about to find out! :D