Saturday, December 24, 2011

In Which The Warlock Wishes Well!

Happy holidays, fellow gamers!

Just stopping into remind you that I'll be taking the next week or so off, enjoying my holiday break (and hopefully recovering from this respiratory infection while I'm at it!). 

But, before I go, some exciting news:  I've been pegged to work on a second book in The Laundry series for Cubicle 7!  I'll have more information on this one for you, as I'm allowed to divulge more details.

Cheers!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

In Which The Warlock Drools All Over the Keyboard...

This past Saturday was one of the more relaxing we've had in a while, as the holiday season has been rolling on.  The PlatinumChick and I, along with ChaoticFrederick and GeoMike, headed off to Columbus to see the WildLights exhibit at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.  Also joining us was the PlatinumChick's good friend WoWSonya, who we don't see nearly often enough.

That made for a great afternoon, but the bigger treat came for me that night.  You see, friends and neighbors, WoWSonya's husband Sean had recently received a beta key for Diablo III!  Oh, man!  The envy, it must have been streaming off of me when I first heard the news.

Luckily for me, Sean is of the generous sort, and once we returned from dinner, he logged me onto his Battle.net account and let me have at it!  I'm pretty sure that you could see my grin from orbit, as I slid into his computer chair and started my quest. So, as you might expect, here are my observations on a single playthrough of the Diablo III beta!

 I wanted to be able to jump into the action as soon as possible, without having to worry about fragility or spells, so I knew the Barbarian would be a great fit.  I typically played a Paladin in Diablo II, and tend to favor melee classes in most computer games, and I wasn't about to change here.

First up, the gameplay feels like I'm sliding back onto a comfortable couch.  The feel of the game immediately brings back memories of Diablo II, with primary skills attached to left and right mouse buttons, and other skills linked to hotkeys.  But, while the gameplay felt familiar, it simultaneously felt more...advanced?  That's not the right word, but it's close.  It was incredibly easy for me to pick up, though I did move around my hotkeys, setting my non-mouse skills and potions onto the home keys, for easy motion.

The mighty Barbarians of Mount Arreat
In Diablo II, characters typically advanced one or two skills--my Paladins typically favored an offensive aura like Holy Shock or Holy Freeze, coupled with Zeal--a low mana cost skill that delivered up to five incredibly fast melee hits with a slight damage buff on each.  In DIII, however, you have an entire range of skills at your disposal, which you can swap any time you return to town.  While I enjoyed trying out all of the offensive skills--I didn't care much about buffs or defensive skills--I quickly found a combination that worked well for me:  Cleave (a multi-hit swing that generated the Barbarian's resource:  Fury), Hammer of the Ancients (a close-range, massive-damage Fury-spender), and Weapon Throw (a long-range toss of a barbed axe, dealing tons of damage and "snaring" the target).  I did, however, trade out Hammer of the Ancients for Ground Stomp, which dealt sizable damage and stunned all enemies near my barbarous avatar.

Since none of these skills were reliant on skill points or the like, they always worked at their full capacity.  Really, there's very little number-crunching necessary in Diablo III.  Even the four primary stats are simply representatives of how much damage, critical chance, health and the like your character has.  While some have decried this as a lack of customization, it really serves to get you back into the action faster--there's no need to stop the zombie-smashing!  And, really--by the time I finished the beta, I was level 10 and had about 12 skills to choose from, which made for plenty of choices already.  And with the rune system still on deck?  Yeah, choice won't be a commodity here.

Hammer of the Ancients smashes a Cultist
in the Diablo III Beta!
One thing that struck me, however, is how beautiful this game looks.  Details are everywhere, and nearly everything can be targetted and destroyed.  I was in awe of the blood spatter as I smashed a zombie into the ground with Hammer of the Ancients, then followed up with a Cleave that sent the zombie flying back, with its head neatly severed and spinning on the ground.  After acquiring the services of the blacksmith, Haedrig, I picked up an enchanted two handed sword.  At first glance, the detail was quality, with a sharp-looking wavy blade and a squared-off hilt, but when I zoomed in, I found that not only did the hilt have a uniquely-designed pommel, but also an etching of an eye on the lower portion of the blade!  Gorgeous!

The visceral nature of combat, though, may be the best part.  Watching zombies ragdall as I Cleaved through them, hacking my way through barrels and watching the rings scatter across the floor, stomping the ground and seeing baddies stagger backwards...this is the visceral, full-bodied feel of a game that's never going to be tiresome. 

Whenever it manages to come out, Diablo III is going to be a massive blast.  Can't wait!

Monday, December 12, 2011

In Which The Warlock Mulls Choice and Consequence...

With the holiday season in full swing and preparations already being made for the impending ChrismaHannuKwanzaRamadanaFest, retailers have been eager to get the newest releases of video games on the shelves, ready for all of us eager consumers to gobble up in amongst our holiday feasting. 

Probably the most notable release this season has been The Elder Scrolls V:  Skyrim, a pseudo-Nordic role-playing game that's gotten rave reviews and has already won "Game of the Year" from Spike TV's Video Game Awards.  Its fans--including a certain TripleCritting DigitalKat--are rabid and voracious, and the game has already spawned its own series of memes, particularly regarding a number of guards having taken arrows to the knee.  Further, Skyrim is produced by Bethesda, who has put out quality work in the past and is revered amongst computer and video game developers.

And yet...I find I just can't get interested in this game.  And, finally, I figured out why.

In my (massively limited) spare time, I've been fighting my way through BioWare's Dragon Age: Origins.  My parents bought me the Ultimate Edition--which contains all of the major downloadable content--last year, and I'm still only about halfway through the game.  While the plot is fairly simplistic, revolving around the acquisition of allies against a usurper-king, Dragon Age's storytelling is strong, and the choices that you make have a lasting effect on the game itself. 

Is it worth killing him, to get rid of the demon in his body?
For example, I just completed a quest in which a duke's son became possessed by a demon.  Unable to exorcise the demon myself, I was forced to choose whether to:  a) kill the child, and the demon along with it, b) exorcise the demon, using the blood of the child's mother as a focus (thereby killing the mother, but saving the son), or c) risk traveling to a nearby mage tower to recruit help.  I opted for the third option, cashing in a favor from the mages, but at the expense of their help in a later battle.   

Every choice I made during that series of interactions had drastic repercussions on the remainder of the plot.  Had I chosen to kill the child (or the mother, for that matter), the people of the town would have likely refused to aid me, which was the point of traveling there in the first place!  But, my dwarf wanted to do the "right" thing, trying to save both, even if it meant losing the chance for help later.

While Dragon Age nominally gives you freedom in choosing the order of quests or locations, the game is fundamentally linear.  You travel to one place, solve problems there, then move on to another place.  Occasionally, you'll revisit locations to complete sidequests or the like, but by and large, the story elements are neatly contained, and provide finite, completable goals with lasting consequences.

While my experience with Skyrim has been limited, such hasn't been the case.  The world around you may be graphically gorgeous, massive in scope, and as open as a 'sandbox' gets, there's simply no feeling of impact.  The choices and actions within the game are like so much screaming into the wind--there's no sense of repercussions.  You can massacre an entire town, rob every NPC blind, or fill your house with the heads of your fallen enemies...and no one seems to care.  At all.  There are simply no repercussions for your character's actions, which leads to...well, me not caring.  If my actions aren't going to have a real impact, then what's the point?

I'm finding the same issue between the original Batman: Arkham Asylum and its sequel, Arkham City.  While Arkham Asylum allowed you to revisit areas, the plot proved to be a masterpiece due to its linearity.  You always knew exactly what you needed to do next, because one objective led directly to the next.  While this might seem simplistic, the unity of theme and effect made for a game experience that was without peer.  However, in Arkham City, the plot becomes much less linear, as the designers sacrificed unity of effect for the sprawling, open-world feel of a full city.  While this makes for a much more freeform game, the game's tight focus is dropped for the sprawling feel, leading to a less unified experience.

This has been my issue, similarly, with so-called "sandbox" roleplaying experiences.  Lacking a centralized plot or storyline, I often find that the PCs have little to do aside from what are typically seen as "side missions".  The "submissives"--to use the terminology from my prior entry--find themselves in the uncomfortable position of being dominant, while the GM's role is reduced to rules-arbiter and world-builder, rather than author-director.

I'm not saying that Skyrim, Arkham City or that sandbox games are bad--they simply show a trend that I, personally, don't really care for:  the fact that many gamers are willing to sacrifice quality storytelling for a perceived freedom.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

In Which The Warlock Postulates Verbage and Bondage...

In my recent games, it's become more and more apparent that games have begun to fall into a continuum of sorts, when talking about set pieces.

As most English teachers can tell you, verbs come in two sorts: active and passive. Active verbs imply some sort of action: run, jump, climb, eat, eviscerate, disembowel, etc. Passive verbs come from the declension of the infinitive "to be"--is, are, was, were...all of these are passive voice verbs.  Writers typically try to avoid passive voice verbs, by and large, but there are several times where passive voice may be more appropriate to a situation or character.   

As GMs, we all like to think our games run in the active voice, but rarely is that truly the case. Rather, we're often most content to be on the receiving end of our entertainment. The start of "The Flood" provides a great example of this phenomenon. It seems like a very active-voice introduction--steam wagon battles and ghost-rock bombs drive the plot forward at breakneck speed. But, in actuality, the PCs are merely witnesses, and not participants in the majority of the action. While the Great Rail Wars reach their culmination, the PCs get to watch their NPC counterparts hog the spotlight. This isn't meant to be a knock against the campaign--my players have loved it and I've really enjoyed running it for them--but for all the high stakes, the PCs are skating around under the radar rather than rolling with the movers and shakers.

Much has been made of so-called "sandbox" gaming, where the plot is entirely driven by PC actions and motivations. And, truly, in ideal terms, that would provide a more active gaming experience. However, this requires significant buy-in from all players at the table, with prep work spread across numerous people.

Anthony Bourdain clearly has
the Two-Weapon Fighting edge...
My favorite foodie, Anthony Bourdain, describes the act of eating as a fundamentally submissive, passive experience. Done correctly, Bourdain claims, a diner should feel comfortable enough to hand their minds and palates over to the chef and simply savor. The chef, in essence, dominates the show, determining each flavor, each texture, and each experience as they intend it to be.

Perhaps in this vein, good game mastery, like the act of cookery, should fundamentally be a dominant, active act? But then, what of the active player, eager to break off in new directions? They're in a different position than the eater, whose role has intrinsically less input. Should a gamer be penalized for positive actions that add to a game? Of course not!

Fun...and good for theorizing on
proper Game-Mastery?
As strange as it is to say, the best analogy I can provide would actually come from BDSM, of all places. If a game master is a dominant, then the ideal player would be a submissive that struggles and resists, providing input and suggestions that provide intrigue and nuance to the established norms of the game. And, as one might imagine, the best Dungeon Master (in both senses of the term) is the one that knows when to back off, and let the players play.

As with all things, balance and variety serve as the keystone. While a player might be dominant in one game, they may come off as submissive or passive in another. Similarly, a quality GM should be able to alternate control of the game, passing dominance back and forth amongst players, all the while loosely holding the reins of the ongoing story.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

In Which The Warlock Compares Editions...

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I'd been prepping my Friday night Deadlands group for a what I've been terming an "interlude".

You see, we finally reached the halfway point of our exploits in "The Flood", with the posse gaining several significant allies and having gained a massive enemy in General Kwan, to say nothing of their ongoing struggle against the Church of Lost Angels.  Taking some rest and relaxation in Shan Fan, the posse got to kick up their heels, while I prepped my players for a fast foward.

I'd been itching to break out Hell on Earth for quite a while, but I'd never managed to play the original game that led to Savage Worlds.  That, naturally, has changed.

"All the way to Reno..."
I spent the last two weeks--in amongst some ongoing illness--writing up six experienced pre-gens in the Hell on Earth rules, as well as something of an "alternate timeline" scenario, in which the players' actual Deadlands posse had failed, and Reverend Grimme was free to spread his cult all the way into the 21st Century.  With a horde of Grimme's Faminites heading towards Reno, it was up to our far-future posse to lead the defense of the Biggest Little City in the Wasted West.

Our new posse included:
  • Edward Castellan--a New Templar from Boise, wielding a massive sword and a sub-machine gun.
  • "The Main Man" Marlow--a self-styled road warrior out of Junkyard, complete with chainsaw!
  • Leslie K. Marvin--a Junker from Junkyard, and the creator of several robotic combat drones.
  • Garret Walker--a Librarian from Sacramento, with his pet bobcat, Felix.
  • "Doc Neutron"--a heretic Doomsayer from Carson City, capable of blasting foes with raw radiation.
  • Carrie Ann Waltrip--a Harrowed bounty hunter, who's traveled all over the Wasted West...
While the group loved the change in feel--moving from the steampunk craziness of Deadlands to the desperate post-apocalypse of Hell on Earth--it's the change in rules that really stood out the most.  Playing Savage Worlds before this rules-set made the flaws in it stand out particularly highly.

A result of the hit locations
in Hell on Earth...
Particularly, the multiple damage systems were particularly difficult to remember.  While I don't have issues increasing the wound modifiers up to -5, I kept forgetting to deal Wind damage on normal attacks.  Also, I had to keep reminding my players to roll a d20 for hit location for every damaging attack, which added an additional roll and slowed down combat significantly.  FridayNightWill had a great moment while fighting against some undead Faminites:  playing as "The Main Man", he chainsawed off a Faminites legs and right arm, before finally managing to get a head shot.  It looked like infamous "Black Knight" scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, as the undead thing would Not.  Give.  Up.

Also, the sheer number of stats seemed to be really excessive.  Hell on Earth has a separate stat for "Scrounging" and "Survival", which seemed to be a pretty large disconnect for some of my players.  But, on top of those, there's also a "Search" stat.  What does one do when you're looking for a spare part?  Is it "Scrounging" or is it "Search"?  The streamlining done in Savage Worlds--looking for that spare part would be a straight up "Notice" check--seems much needed.

While our foray into the original rules for Hell on Earth is going to be short-lived, it's been an interesting (and fun!) experience.  I purchased Hell on Earth primarily for the plot points and the setting info, and that hasn't disappointed me in the slightest.  When the "Reloaded" version comes out, though, I'll be the first in line to switch over.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

In Which The Warlock Ruminates Revision...

One of the things that any writer learns swiftly is that first drafts are usually a pile of crap. Put out quickly, in a fit of creative frenzy, first drafts almost always have massive flaws which only get fixed during the arduous, painful process of revision.

While working on WEGS products with El Willy, revision is the sum totality of my job. Not just for grammatical errors, mind you, but rather for content and context, to say nothing of the actual game mechanics themselves! I have something of a running joke with El Willy regarding the Dungeoneer from the "Ultimate Dungeon Party" due to the many versions of Hew and Jab we ran through.

When working with the other freelancers on "The Mythos Dossiers" for Cubicle 7, however, revision was a group effort. After completing a draft, we'd upload the document to a series of Google docs, which were then available for mark-up and changes as needed. Ideas and commentary ran freely, and I still have a whole series of e-mails, detailing commentary on ideas between writers.

And now, two sessions out from the end of my alpha testing for Cold Steel Wardens, I'm finding myself wondering how to go about revising this mess.  While I have quite a few notes of my own, I'm finding the lack of conversation a little frustrating.  While my players have been good about providing feedback, and I seem to be asking important questions, my time with them is limited and the "Q&A" portion of our sessions often comes at 10:30 at night, as we're heading out the door.   That doesn't exactly make for great discussion, particularly if I've been up (as usual) since 6:30 for teaching.

I've thought about contacting a freelance editor--I have a few names that I'd go to, primarily contacts I've made through running games or talking with industry people--though I can't say that I have the cash to pay someone in that position.  So, I'm figuring that my revisions will be a solo effort...

...which is fine.  Really.  Most of the drafting for CSW was done in July, meaning I'll be coming back at it with a fresh head, ready to tear it apart.  In fact, that's just what's happening with my other ongoing writing project:  The Pendulum Method.  Yup!  Pendulum!  Remember that one?  Yeah, I've been taking a look at that once again, with my eyes on expansion. 

And, at the top of the list for that?  A defense of "adverserial game-mastery"...

Monday, November 21, 2011

In Which The Warlock Returns from the Void...

Apologies for the extended absence, amices.  Both the PlatinumChick and I got sick last week and are just now starting to get over it!  Between the hacking and coughing out here, we haven't had a chance much to game, though I've been working on my Hell on Earth one-off during the downtime at work.

Old school gaming meets
the technological age!
What's new, though, is my technological edge!  Through some means that I'm not privy to discussing (don't worry, they're legal means!), I found myself in possession of a brand-spankin'-new iPad 2! 

While I'm obligated to use this iPad at work as part of a new initiative, the iPad is unequivocably mine and can be used for pretty much anything I see fit....including gaming!  Obviously, my massive amount of PDFs will go into GoodReads and iBooks, but beyond that, I'm a little stumped.

I'm already familiar with a few 4e D&D and Pathfinder apps that exist, but I'm already on the lookout for more.  While TheJourneymanGM's secret senior thesis isn't quite done yet--though I'll be sure to download it when it is!--I need some more!

So tell me, gamer nation--what should I have on my new device?  What's proved useful, and how?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

In Which The Warlock Lets Slip the Crows of War!

It occured to me on Friday, as I was driving home, that earlier that evening was the first time I had run some WEGS in almost 6 months!  The last time I'd lain out the battlemat to preach the Cold Roll Gospel was at Origins this past June--needless to say, it's been a while!

So, when the opportunity came up a few weeks ago to spend an evening throwing down the 2d10 and dd6, I took advantage of the opportunity.  And, boy am I glad I did...it may well have been one of the best WEGS games I've ever thrown down. 

I honestly wasn't expecting much on Friday--the attendance was a little sparse at first, as I sat outside our room with my minis case and my Copper Pot, but soon we picked up 5 players and got the game underway.  I was running a WEGS classic--the Thanksgiving-themed "Hobgobble's Eve"--which I'd run numerous times before. 

I decided, though, that in addition to the normal Arks--Warrior, Ranger, Trickster, Mage, and Sage--we'd also be pulling out the "Ultimate Dungeon Party".  Pleased with this decision, they spared no time in pulling out the Monk, the Sneak, and the Dungeoneer.  But that wasn't enough...no, no, no.  Rather, MissAmber decided to pull out one of my playtest items--El Willy's beta Nekromagicker!  Not willing to disappoint, we rolled on out!

As we wrapped up Arkreation, one of my players asked me, "How much Copper do we get?!"  I smiled and replied, "None..." then proceeded to explain that the Arks tonight were convicts, all inmates of the Prison City of Ikksplat, who have escaped from the city walls into the surrounding Trollspittle Swamp.  Fleeing from the Ikksplatian Guards and their relentless War Dogs, the Arks quickly found themselves hip-deep in swamp-water and in the prescence of some wild Turdragons.

Pluto, Goddess of Undeath,
ready to cast and blast!
It's at this point that I have to extol the powers of MissAmber's Nekromagicker, Pluto.  Wielding some "Boneshaker" and "Boneblast", it seemed like every other round she was ripping out some poor Hobgob's skeleton or crushing his bones into powder!  I don't think she failed a single "Sense: Undeath" roll in the entire game, and was able to pump off spell after spell, decimating my minions. 

In the second encounter, she singlehandedly took on Granny Umm-Lumm, taking her out in two rounds, then going after Granny's beloved Fifi!  The other characters did fairly well--aside from our lone Ranger, who couldn't seem to deal any damage whatsoever, and was constantly in threat of getting cornered.  Pluto got even more deadly following a lucky draw from the Trove deck, picking up a Dragonscale Vest with two Resist skills, which really bailed her out in facing Grampy Umm-Lumm!

Oh, yes...the final encounter.  Grampy Umm-Lumm's den was full of Hobgobs, including two cowardly 4/44 Rangers who had escaped down the stairs rather than face the wrath of Pluto and her minions!  But the big story, of course, was Grampy himself, riding his massive War Turdragon and wielding his fiery spear, with his paired War Crows flapping in the midst of the melee.

The War Crows were the real story here.  While they're basic 6/66 Tricksters, they have one thing going for them:  the Eye-Peck.  Instead of attacking as normal, the War Crows can attempt to gouge out an Ark's eye.  They need a phenomenal roll to do so--only an 01% to 06% will do!-- but it's a devastating attack, which inflicts a Double Lost Action Phase and reduces an Ark's Ruggedness, Stealth, and Prowess ranks by 15...each!

In the midst of a chaotic melee, my dice decided to finally show up.  Against our Dungeoneer, I rolled an 03, with only a fractional chance for him to avoid the War Crow's talons.  With a 5 on the Damage Die, he was brought to nearly 0 Wounds with one shot, clutching his ruined eye socket!  And, not two rounds later, I managed an 01 against our Monk!  Again, a ruined eye! 

But, as per the usual when I run WEGS, my minions fell.  After pulling himself out of the Double Lost Action Phase, our Dungeoneer flew into a berserk rage, Hewing down both War Crows with a Wicked Success!  However, it was Pluto who stole the show.  After taking down the War Turdragon, she turned her attention to Grampy.  But after Grampy fell, MissAmber came up with a glorious idea--use System Shocker to raise the War Turdragon!

The fruits of Pluto's labor!
I warned her, of course, that this would have a pretty sizable Spoint cost, and would take a pretty fantastic roll to pull off.  But, she simply gestured to her sizable stack and picked up her dice.  Wouldn't you know it...Wicked Success!  With Grampy and his War Crows down, and Grampy's pet now a massive draconic skeleton under Pluto's control, the remaining Hobgobs simply surrendered, awaiting their fate. 

What's best in gaming?  Seeing your players come up from the table with all smiles, swapping stories of fantastic die rolls, heroic action, and potential characters for next time.  That's the way it should be.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

In Which The Warlock Plans Something Nefarious...

Welcome to the Wasted West, amigo!
When I originally pitched the idea of playing Deadlands to my group, they were really jazzed.  Little did I know that they were more jazzed about the post-apocalyptic sister setting, Hell on Earth, after I had left the corebooks out following our yearly trip to Origins.  The idea of playing a gunslinging Law Dog, a radiation-blasting Doomsayer, or a crafty Junker really had FridayNightWill and Chris I primed for some dice-chuckin'. 

We started The Flood and, while they were a little disappointed that the archetypes from Hell on Earth weren't available, they've really been enjoying their excursions in the Weird West.  However, I can't help but feel like they might have missed out on something...and that's something that I hope to remedy!

You see, friends and neighbors, I have a plan.

The Friday night group's just reached the halfway point of the Plot Point campaign in The Flood.  They're about to have a huge info-dump of plot loaded on them, and the real quest to take down Reverend Grimme and the Church of Lost Angels will begin in earnest.  As such, this makes the perfect spot for a dramatic interlude!

But, I don't want this to be any simple 'cut-scene'.  No sirree!  Rather, I have something bigger planned...

Stone's ready to turn Reno
into a real "Boomtown"!
Taking a page from my Pendulum theory, we're going to "flash-forward" for a few sessions, to the Wasted West--nearly 200 years after the events of The Flood.  Under the assumption that everybody's favorite gunslinger--the infamous Jasper Stone--managed to kill our heroes before they took out Grimme, the good Reverend's cult will have spread across the post-apocalyptic wasteland.  For this one-off, my players will be taking the roles of a veteran group of wasters, fleeing from Grimme's Faminite hordes to the ruins of Reno, Nevada.

While I'm still formulating the plot, the characters are slowly coming together and my outline will surely follow, I have a good feeling about this little foray into the Wasted West.  The characters already have a "Seven Samurai" feel, and the defense of Reno will really make for a fantastic set-piece. 

As always, I'll be sure to keep you updated on how things are going! 

Sunday, November 06, 2011

In Which The Warlock Contemplates Gamer Type...

I've spent quite a bit of time in the past discussing the various "player-types", as put down by the inestimable Robin Laws.  However, it seems that there's another kid on the block:  BrainHex.  BrainHex is a survey put forward by International Hobo, who's have been putting forward successful books on narrative in video games for several years now. 

BrainHex:
Where video games meet science!
I found it interesting that their seven primary categories of gamer--Seeker, Survivor, Daredevil, Mastermind, Conqueror, Socialiser, and Achiever--are each linked to a separate element of the neural system, implying stimulation of a different area. 

I can't say I was too surprised at my results:  I ended up as a Conquerer (with a rating of 17), with Achiever and Mastermind following close behind (each at 14).  When I play video games, I tend to focus much less on story or character interactions and more on strategy, as well as advancing the plot.  All in all, pretty different from Laws' types!

What's more, the tendencies of the other gamers following my same mental type have tended to enjoy the same types of games as I--action/rpgs, full-on role-playing games (including my beloved Chrono Trigger), and real-time strategy games.  Uncanny!
Take a few minutes to support these guys in their research--you'll enjoy it, I'm sure!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

In Which The Warlock Contemplates the Worst...

As I've mentioned in my effusive praise for Play Dirty, I take great pride in being a "Wickian" GM.    My players appreciate a bit of sadism on my part, as I do my best to continually challenge their intellects, their characters' morality, and their own ability to cope with trying circumstances.  And, I've got to say, there's a ton of enjoyment in making my players rack their brains on a situation that really pushes their comfort zone as players.

Mary Ellen, perhaps?
This cosplayer did a fantastic job!
A few weeks ago, my Friday night Deadlands group was on the receiving end of such a 'rude awakening', as they've found themselves in the crossfire between rival Chinese-immigrant gangs in The Flood.  Taking up the the mantle of Big Ears Tam's champion in an underground martial arts tournament, ChaoticFred's "scrapper" mowed her way through the competition--literally!  As in, with a bionic buzz-saw arm!  But, as Mary Ellen Hardigan ripped her way through her final opponent, her traveling companions were aghast--that kung-fu fighter was the very leader of the 37th Chamber, with whom the posse wrangled a peace treaty several sessions earlier!

While the posse's new doctor companion was able to save the martial artist's life, he neglected to realize exactly what Big Ears Tam would do to someone who attempted to take out his prize-fighter...and that's even worse!  Needless to say, things didn't exactly end well for that fighter!

A great resource for more
"Dread Possibilities!
What really gets my attention, though, is when gamebooks facilitate this sort of GMing, providing possibilities to really challenge players, pushing even the most experienced, jaded gamer into action.  In 3.5e D&D's heyday, the Ravenloft books (by White Wolf-subsidiary Sword and Sorcery Publishing) did a spectaculary job of this.  In their setting material, the authors included several sidebars noted as the "Dread Possibility," each of which detailed the worst possible result for whatever plot element was being discussed. 

The "Dread Possibilities" ranged from noted monster hunters going mad from lycanthropy, to patrons being allied with shadowy cults, to a noted wizard falling in love with a noted (and thoroughly evil) noblewoman.  In all cases, though, these ideas push players to their utmost and, used in moderation, make for stories that no player will ever forget.

So, long story short, I 'appropriated' the idea.  As I've begun making my way through the final stretch of Cold Steel Wardens, the majority of my time has been focused on my setting--an amalgam of Iron Age cities that I'm tentatively calling Greensburg.  And, sure enough, I've included my own sidebars:  "The Lights Go Out..."

Here's a sample section, from my information on Greensburg University Medical System, the area's premier medical provider...

The Lights Go Out…--Greensburg University Medical

So, the rumors are true.  An underground union has emerged at Greensburg University Medical, and a massive walkout is in the works.  The union is being led by an angry young janitor named Mark Holp, who has worked at Miatanka Hospital for 6 years.  If the walkout and strike go as planned, GUM will be crippled, as nearly 1/3 to ½ of their workforce simply leaves.

What no one knows—not even Mark Holp himself—is that the would-be union leader is a metahuman, with a latent genetic anomaly allowing him to control light.  Holp has been present at several “unexplained incidents” that were a product of his untrained, uncontrolled mutant ability.  Triggered by intense emotions, these incidents have grown in frequency over the past few months, as Holp’s frustrations with GUM have reached a boiling point.

As such, the Heroes could face not one but two meltdowns—the utter disassembly of Greensburg’s premier health network, but also the emergence of a powerful metahuman with a grudge to pick against his employers.  And, the longer it takes to get the fledgling union to the table with the GUM executives, the more lives are lost as Holp attempts to gain control of his out of control powers.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

In Which The Warlock Thinks on a Tricentennial...

It never ceases to amaze me that this blog has lasted as long as it has.  In the midst of all of my ongoing projects and my numerous game nights, I've always managed to come back to this...my little corner of the web.

As the foliage slowly grows brighter, before fading out for the winter, I find myself reflecting on all of the great games that I've been a part of over the years. 

I started this blog when the PlatinumChick and I were back in Fairborn, playing in her Eberron game.  My dwarven sorcerer Harrigan "the Horrible" made his way across the wilds of Xen'drik and into the farthest reaches of Khorvaire, trying to collect the Destiny Arms.  From there, I took over the GMing reins, taking our regular group--Chris the 0th, L-Train, CincinAdam, and ChainMailSarah--into the depths of Saltmarsh.  I remember that group really fondly, crammed in the living room of our tiny apartment. 

Tikka was just a tiny kitten back then...now, she's a pudgy cantankerous kitty of 5 years old!

Since then, our group has changed and rechanged over the years.  We've switched editions and games, we've run lengthy epics and campaigns that have failed after only a few sessions.  Our game (and our comics collection, really!) has expanded enormously, overflowing the shelves of our gaming/dining room.  Since then, we've been to conventions all over the Miami Valley and beyond, making friends all over the country.

But what do I enjoy most out of all this?  Why do I keep coming back, year after year?  Why spend so much on books and dice, when there are any number of other things I could be doing?

I love it when the dice find a way to be ironic, even though they're as impartial as could be.

I love it when one of my players comes up with a plan that no one else at the table saw coming...and it works.

I love the well-placed critical--be it success or fail--that can bring a table to cheers with a single die roll.

I love having jaded players...who I still manage to creep out, despite their cynicism.

And, what's most?  I love the feel of having designed something that others are able to enjoy.  From a well-crafted encounter, to a uniquely built plotline meant to interact with a character's background, to an entire game itself:  I love the feeling when everyone gets up from the table saying "I had a lot of fun tonight...on for next week?"

And yeah...we're on for next week. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

In Which The Warlock Surmises on Shopping...

Something strange, friends and neighbors.  After all these years, it becomes painfully apparent to me that for a blog meant to discuss the Dayton area gaming scene, I've never really spoken much about the friendly local game stores in the area. 

Well, after the Guild's monthly trip to one of our FLGSes, I think that it's high time to change that!

The Mainstay:  Bookery Fantasy (Fairborn, OH)

Bookery Fantasy--Comics side!
This is the big one--my personal favorite, and my store of choice.  This is where I have my comic file, this is where I get the majority of my gaming supplies, and this is my "home store". 

Bookery boasts over a 25 year history in games and comics, dating all the way back to a little video rental shack, which is still owned and operated right next door.  With over 16,000 square feet of combined space, spanning 4 storefronts, Bookery claims to be the largest comics/gaming store in the United States and I don't doubt them for a second.  And, as you might imagine, a store doesn't get that big or last that long as an accident.  Their continual discounts--10% on any new gaming material or trade paperback--and their friendly staff put forward a good business model that keeps people coming back.  Plus, Bookery keeps a massive "warehouse" of used comics and graphic novels alongside their games section, where some real treasures can be had!  On a whim, I had picked up a pretty rare one-shot--Doctor Strange/Doctor Doom:  Triumph and Torment--only to find out that I actually had grabbed a copy autographed by Mike Mignola himself!  For only $5!  Woot!

Bookery Fantasy--Games side!
Bookery has always been one of the greater supporters of the Guild and of WittCon, as well, even though they don't have a convention prescence themselves (which is a damned shame, if you ask me!).  They've provided donations for our costume contest and free advertisement for at least the last 5 years, probably longer. 

What's more, Bookery Fantasy is nestled in the "Historic Osborn" section of Fairborn--a historic district located just off of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.  The whole strip there is very walkable, particularly around Halloween, when the Foy's Halloween Stores are in full-swing and the entire street is decorated with ghouls, skeletons, and even a massive 9' tall spear-wielding skeletal ogre!  Do yourself a favor and head there sometime soon; you won't be disappointed!

The New Hotness:  Epic Loot (Centerville, OH)

Epic Loot's Logo
Out of all of the stores I'll be mentioning, Epic Loot is by far the newest.  Just off of Route 48, Epic Loot is located in a strip-mall, but don't let that shy you away--these guys know what they're doing. 

The Guild's most recent game-store run came here, and I was eager to go, primarily because I'd only been to Epic Loot once before.  While open since July, Epic Loot's managed to fill their store with material, present it attractively, and attract a huge base of regular players--their spacious gaming area is usually pretty hopping!  On a Saturday afternoon, they had a few tables open, but not many--even as we wandered through, a Magic: the Gathering tournament was in full swing, and several other tables were taken up by board-gamers.

Epic Loot just implemented a pretty novel reward system, based on etched dice with their logo, and offers regular discounts on certain items.  Also, they have a neat system that I haven't seen elsewhere--a locker/storage system!  For the low price of $15 a month, you can rent a locker in their gaming room--the room itself used to be a firing range for a sporting good store--and leave your games there in complete security.  Pretty spiffy!

I see some really good things in Epic Loot's future.  They have a great location, a friendly and helpful staff, and a good amount of saleable product.  Check them out, if you're south of the city!

The Con-Goers:  Superfly Comics and Games (Yellow Springs, OH) and Bell Book and Comics (Dayton, OH)

I'm lumping these two together, as they're both regulars on the convention circuit and are both fairly similar, even though their locations are pretty disparate. 

Superfly Comics & Games
Superfly is somewhat newer, getting their start in 2007 as the offshoot of Yellow Springs mainstay bookstore Dark Star.  With a youthful, energetic staff, Superfly's put forward quite the showing, particularly at larger conventions throughout the Miami Valley and even beyond.  Superfly's been at Origins for at least the last 2 years, and we were even shocked to see them two years ago all the way at C2E2 in Chicago!  They're eager to get their name out there--even Gail Simone is a fan, calling them in the midst of their 4th anniversary celebration/DC reboot party. 

Bell, Book and Comic
Bell Book and Comic has been around somewhat longer--in their current location since 2003--and also makes their rounds at the convention circuit, though on a somewhat smaller scale.  BB&C's been focusing on the smaller conventions--FOPCon, Gem City Comic Con and the like--while Superfly's been trying on the bigger scenes. 

What's also notable about both of these is their utter lack of space.  Bell Book is crammed into a tiny, narrow storefront, making it difficult to navigate through without running into other browsing customers.  While they have significant space for gaming, it's in a back room that's...well, dank, at best.  Superfly doesn't even have that much room--only two tables that would, if full, be a massive pain for anyone to actually move around.  While no game store can have everything--well, Bookery and Epic Loot seem to be pretty close!--this is a pretty dire need, if you want to keep people in your store for longer periods of time.

The Rest--Krystal Keep (Kettering, OH) and Main Street Comics and Games (Springfield, OH)

I'll be honest, though.  Not all of the game stores in the region are of the premier variety.  These two, unfortunately, have some pretty glaring flaws. 

Krystal Keep Games & Hobbies
Krystal Keep rose out of the ashes of the former Wexford Hills Hobbies, taking over its remaining stock and former location, albeit with some pretty sizable renovations.  Krystal Keep, unlike Bell Book or Superfly, has ample gaming space--they even bought up several restaurant booths for gamers to use for board-games, freeing up space for their numerous minis tournaments.  But, what Krystal Keep makes up for in space, they lack in stock.  While previously boasting a huge selection of miniatures from all sorts of games, Krystal Keep has near-empty shelves and little to actually be sold.
The staff has countered this with the perennial offer of "We can order it for you!" but that's little consolation. I patronize a FLGS for the sake of patronizing a local business. If I wanted to order a product and wait for it, I'd do it myself through Amazon or the like, getting a substantial discount in the meanwhile.


Main Street Comics and Games
(Former location)
This problem is even worse at Main Street Comics and Games. The sponsor of Champion City ComicCon, Main Street's original store was a cramped, tiny alley, unfit for a business that needs a fair amount of space. Their new location, while better, has almost nothing in the way of basic store necessities: shelves, tables, and displays. Stock is strewn about the room, with boxes of comics sitting on the floor, and a pitiful bookshelf half-filled with graphic novels. The majority of the store is simply empty space, with no purpose or designation. There are no customer incentives or scheduled games, and the store has the feeling of being run by someone more concerned with saying "I run a comics and game shop" than actually running said business.

Both of these stores are suffering major flaws that need to be overcome, if they want to be sustainable as businesses. In-store events, customer promotions, and good advertising all go a long way towards establishing a regular customer base, willing to spend money on what are, essentially, luxury goods. In a recession/depression, convincing people to part ways with their money for a book, a box of miniatures, or a pack of cards is pretty difficult. But not even offering those items, much less at a discount or as part of an ongoing in-store game, makes for bad tidings. Don't get me wrong--I don't want either of these two stores to fail. The more game and comic stores in the area, the better! But, if they want my business, they need to bring something to the table.

The Unknowns: Heroes 4 Sale (Vandalia, OH) and Another Fearless Readers (Englewood, OH)

These two, ironically in my own backyard, are the two I know least about. I've never been to either, though I've heard good things about Heroes 4 Sale from a friend of mine (then again, that friend loved the Green Lantern movie, and thinks the DC reboot is genius, so I take his recommendation with a mound of salt).

I'll be eager to see what these two have in store, considering their proximity. With any luck, I might just have some new places to browse the stacks...


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

In Which The Warlock Accepts a Journeyman Challenge...

Last entry, my good friend over at The Journeyman GM (also known as Will the ManMan, my compadre from Witt, who's been throwing down the bones with me for almost 4 years now), issued me a challenge.  After reading some ongoing rumors regarding Monte Cook's return to Wizards of the Coast, I put down my official prediction for the new edition of D&D.  Will challenged me to put down a few predictions for what I expect to see in said upcoming edition.  So, without further adieu...here goes!

One of the more popular changes for the role-playing games industry has come in the resurgence of the "boxed set" as a concept.  Fantasy Flight Games experienced great success with this in Warhammer Fantasy, as did Cubicle 7's Doctor Who:  Adventures in Time and Space, carrying over their tendency to include "fiddly-bits" from their massively successful board games.  WotC has tipped their hand in this regard, with most of their 2011 releases being produced in some form of boxed set, usually complete with an element that couldn't be packaged separately:  Madness at Gardmore Abbey, for instance, comes with the Deck of Many Things--a product that may not sell well individually, but when coupled with a mini-campaign-length adventure, makes for a positive price point.  I expect that 5e/Anniversary Edition will consist primarily of boxed rules, with "advanced" classes coming out via additional boxed sets.

"Who knows what the future for D&D holds?!"
Further, I'm finding that D&D--and rpgs in general--are starting to trend away from the tactical, rules-heavy concepts that have been in dominance since 3e D&D.  It's because of this, I believe, that WotC decided to discontinue their D&D minis line, as well as HeroScape--they simply weren't profitable, based on the numbers of miniatures being sold, when compared to the investment necessary to produce the minis.  Coupled with a general trend away from minis-heavy games--look again to Warhammer Fantasy--I expext that 5e/Anniversary Edition will provide only rudimentary rules for miniatures use, but include later conversion rules for a D&D-themed "Chainmail-esque" minis game....which will fail, repeating the cycle of minis-based D&D games all the way back to 2e.

Coupled with the shift away from rules-heavy, minis-necessary gameplay, I believe that streamlined concepts will be on the horizon.  As part of a modular-based, box-expansion style game, the base game itself must be kept simple enough to attract new players, while expansion boxes provide options for more experienced, "hooked" players.  One example of this, I believe, will manifest in the 'skills' system, which will seem like a bare-bones system at release, but then have substantial expansion in subsequent expansions.  However, I do see this skill system being more closely tied to abilities--numerous articles have posited the actual necessity of having skills, when the focus on ability scores or raw stats is so high.  Believe it or not, I think that D&D could take a lesson or two from ICONS, in terms of skill development--they greatly resemble 2e D&D's "proficiency" system in importance, and provide reference back to the all-important 6 scores, rather than cluttering a character sheet with more numbers and values.

A few other quick predictions:
  • No more powers.  I see a great return to class abilities--particularly ones that can be defined/explained in less than a sentence, and won't require an 8+ page character sheet.
  • No feats--at least not in the sense that we understand them now.  They'll be too much bookkeeping for a simple, dungeon-crawling game.  I see them creeping back in around Year 2.
  • Themes will be back, in a big way.  I see themes providing archetypal support beyond that found in the typical race/class combination, and the rules for them provide great modularity.  Plus, they were implemented towards the end of 4e's run, and the later themes have been much less rooted in 4e's design philosophy...
  • No more dragonborn.  For that matter, no tieflings, either.  I see a philosophical return to the classic quartet of human-elf-dwarf-halfling, with other races coming through expansion materials.
  • Additional settings with additional rules.  While I could only wish to see a resurrection of Planescape--which might not be out of the question, if Monte Cook is back running the show--I anticipate that we'll see Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Greyhawk and even Ravenloft (especially since the 4e version got cancelled).  Unfortunately, I don't see any new settings coming out any time soon.
  • A split convention prescence.  I mentioned above that I anticipate WotC putting out a concurrent minis game to accompany D&D, which I see providing a two-pronged attack for major gaming conventions.  The key, though, is to make the minis game appealing to the more "tactically minded gamer" while maintaining involvement on the role-playing side.  Unfortunately, as I mentioned as well, I don't see this going well.

All told, I really do think that a new edition will have quite a bit of merit, but I'll have to see how it hashes out before I invest in another round of D&D books.  Time will tell, I suppose!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

In Which The Warlock Refocuses His Ire...

In a few past blog entries (mainly here and here), I've spent some significant time discussing--let's be honest, reputing--a series of articles by Mike Mearls, made as part of the "Legends and Lore" series on Wizards of the Coast's D&D site. 

Well, for those of you that have been following their site, you may have noticed that the column has changed hands.  In a somewhat baffling move, WotC has handed this column off to a new/old staffer--Monte Cook. 

Those of you that played 2nd or 3rd Edition D&D probably know Cook very well.  Cook was one of the lead designers on 3e, and spent a fair amount of time with TSR, particularly on the glorious Planescape campaign setting, which tossed Victorian-era philosophy and conspiracy into the planar backdrop of the Great Wheel.

Unfortunately, Cook's return to WotC has been...well, rough, to say the least. 

Cook's first article showed almost a complete lack of understanding of the 4e skill system.  While Cook could be excused for this, if he were working on Pathfinder or on a product for his own company--Malhavoc Press--this is the company that wrote 4e!  For Cook to actually have the gall (or ignorance) to put forward the idea of "passive perception" as a new concept--which has existed in D&D for the past 4, almost 5 years--shows a lack of understanding of one of the basic skill systems in the game.  Further, for something like that to pass by WotC's editorial staff is almost embarrassing.  Was no one really aware that he said something like this?  That's almost unfathomable...

Unfortunately, Cook's two most recently articles aren't much better in quality.  Cook expounds upon the nature of magic items, as well as waxing nostalgic about Gygax's original concepts of a team-based game.  But neither article provides many new ideas or innovation; rather, they simply rehash ideas that have been discussed at length again and again, on role-playing blogs, on forums, and even by these authors themselves.

However, all of this raises a greater question:  why is Cook back with WotC?  What benefit does it bring them to have him back in the fold?

Therein lies the rub.  According to currently circulating rumors, Cook was brought on board for a new version of D&D, set to hit playtest in 2012.  Margaret Weis apparently thinks so, and it's a little odd for a company like WotC to utterly deny access to a fairly prolific game designer.  But, on top of this, WotC's release schedule is currently blank--there are no products on the calendar for 2012 whatsoever.  Even WotC's monthly "In the Works" column has been shifting decidedly away from actual previews and more towards subsidiary material--statuettes, comic books, and other paraphernalia. 

If this is the case--as I believe it is--I'm going to go ahead and make my prediction here and now:
Cook has been brought on board to write 5th edition, which will be announced at GenCon 2012.  This edition will be billed as "D&D Anniversary Edition" and will premier in the summer of 2013--5 years after the debut of 4e.

And, if I'm wrong...well, we'll see, eh? 

Monday, October 10, 2011

In Which The Warlock Finds Little to Talk About...

I find myself in a weird pickle, oh lovely readers.  That is, there's just not a whole lot for me to say right now, regarding gaming or the like.

Weird, right?  My weekly Deadlands game is finally kicking back into gear, with the table filling back up and a massive kung-fu battle royale taking place during an underground martial arts tournament in Shan Fan.  Plus, with the PlatinumChick's schedule set to change after Halloween, she'll be able to bring back Paqua, her Hopi shamaness, just in time for for a massive plot dump!

Unfortunately, my Cold Steel Wardens playtesting has hit something of a roadblock.  I've officially decided to cancel my Saturday group, consolidating those players with those in my Wednesday group.  While my Wednesday group has been busy, deliving into the murder of Vincent "Vinny Legs" Moretti, in the hopes to stave off a gang war between the Genovese family and the White Russians, I have yet to even have a real session with my Saturday players.

I haven't actually had a chance to play any games recently, as I haven't even been able to make one of the weekly Wittenberg game nights.  Between grading and prep for my own games, it'd be a treat to actually play, rather than have the responsibility of running game for a while.  While we got a few rounds of Arkham Horror in while we were down a few players on Friday night.

Lady Blackbird:  Adventures in the Wild Blue Yonder
More specifically, I've had a hankering to play a specific game--one that DigitalKat turned me onto a few weeks ago:  Lady Blackbird--Adventures in the Wild Blue Yonder.  With a simple, easily understood advancement system and inobstrusive rules, Lady Blackbird has all of the makings for a heavily character driven, rollicking good time.  My issue is...who would run it?  Or play in it for that matter?  I'd love to be able to break it out at my table, but it's the sort of game that I'd want to have a handpicked group for--one that really could 'grok' the setting and characterization.

I can't even say that there have been that many great gaming releases recently.  There's been little that I've been wanting to pick out of the stacks recently, though word's been slowly coming in on the next Deadlands plot point campaign, as well as the assorted "Trail Guides". 

So, yeah...not much out there, fellow gamers.  I'll be honest, I've been contemplating taking entries down to one per week again, at least until things pick up out here on the gaming front.  Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Warlock's Review: "The New Death and Others"

Being so hectic out here, I’ve had a hard time even getting enough time to keep up with this blog!  Between playtests, grading and my anniversary (2 years for the PlatinumChick and I!), I’ve been somewhat slacking on my blogging duties.

As you might imagine, my opportunities to read fiction anymore are even slimmer.  While I typically read before bed, I’ve been taking that time to do “research” for Cold Steel Wardens—Iron Age comics, other superhero role-playing games, and even a series of essays entitled The Psychology of Superheroes, which I picked up at Half-Price Books a few months back.  While these have been enlightening, as I’ve been working my way through the GameMaster and setting information for CSW, they’re not exactly pleasure reading—at least not in this context.

So, when the opportunity arrived to review James Hutching’s new e-book, The New Death and Others, I decided to leap on the opportunity with both feet, and I can’t say I was too disappointed my decision.
The New Death and Others is unique in that it is a series of short stories, mock parables and poems that bring together three very different styles, each of Hutchings wields with skill.  As a whole, The New Death and Others brings together a scathingly funny degree of social satire with elements of the fantastic and imaginative, providing for a quality read.

Hutchings is at his best in a series of Gaiman-esque parables—featuring primarily Death, Fame, and Justice, among others—which expound upon the modern condition.  One particularly novel snippet comes in “The Doom That Was Laid Upon Fame”, which lambasts reality television.  An even better one comes later, called “Temptation”, which twists a familiar story in such a way that it only becomes apparent at the very end.  The titular story, “The New Death” is particularly good, showing a meeting of the minds between the incarnation of Death on Earth with his counterpart from an alien world.  “The Jeweled City”, as well, provides a sarcastic smirk and a wave towards struggling writers everywhere, just as it tears down the minaret-studded towers of pseudo-Arabian fantasy.

Hutchings also tries his hand at establishing a sandbox setting in his city of Telelee—which sounds just a touch close to a shoggoth’s cry of “Tekeli-li!” for my taste—to varying results.  The descriptions in Telelee are of quality, and put forward the feel of a pseudo-Lovecraftian city in The Dreamlands, somewhere that Abdul Al-Hazred might have wandered freely, expounding upon strange aeons and the deaths within.  However, the tales themselves are of mixed quality, with stories like the nearly nihilistic “The God of the City of Dust” overshadowing others, like the somewhat forgettable “Sigrun and the Shepherd”.  An early story, "How the Isle of Cats Got its Name" is a particular gem, reminding a reader greatly of Lovecraft's "cats of Ulthar" without being plagaristic--Hutchings takes the creatures in a new direction, both creatively thought-out and well-described.

Unfortunately, The New Death and Others isn’t without its foibles.  Hutchings’ poetry, by and large, failed to impress.  While most of his poems come from impressive source material—the “weird tales” of Lovecraft, Howard, and Smith, among others—there’s just something off-putting about hearing of the wanderings of Kull put into rhymed couplets.  Hutchings’ voice tends to get overpowered by the source material providing his inspiration, thereby shutting out his unique, snarky intonation.  Hutchings’ more original poetry, such as “Weary Love” and “The Apprenticeship” are of generally higher quality, though still leave something to be desired and don’t stand up to the parables mentioned earlier.
Overall, Hutchings' work is interesting, provocative, and worth a quick read.  Plus, for it's asking price--99 cents on Amazon or Smashwords--it's well worth the cost.  If some post-modernist satire with some whiffs of the Necronomicon sounds like it'd be up your alley, give it a download--you won't be disappointed.

Amazon.com:  The New Death and Others

Smashwords:  The New Death and Others

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In Which The Warlock Postulates on Punctuality...

Okay, fellow gamers...I've got to get this off of my chest.

I haven't gamed in over two weeks, and it's driving me nuts. 

Note that this isn't for a lack of trying, friends and neighbors.  As you probably know, if you've been following this blog, I'm currently GMing three games a week--two sessions of Cold Steel Wardens, which is making its way through the paces of alpha testing, as well as a weekly session of Deadlands, as my Friday night group makes its way through "The Flood". 

For the most part, the prep for these hasn't been too overwhelming.  "The Flood" is a pre-made campaign, which means that stats, plotlines and the like are already generated; it's just a matter of executing the game, and making it amusing at the table.  My CSW campaign, by and large, is running primarily on cliches--while I do have to stat up adversaries and the like, the plotlines that my Heroes are working their way through are deliberately stereotypical for the Iron Age, meant more to put the system through its paces than to put forward a "masterpiece" campaign.

Neither campaign has gone anywhere in nearly 3 weeks.

This doesn't bother me, under usual circumstances.  I'm well aware that life gets in the way of gaming many times, and that sometimes you just have to call it a day.  But, these past few weeks, the circumstances surrounding our cancelled sessions have been beyond frustrating. 

Mostly, this is because of an utter lack of notice.  I don't have any problem with a player missing a session, but when we're around the table, asking each other "Hey, does anyone know if Jim Bob is coming?", that brings the action to a grinding halt and starts us looking for other plans.  This has been the case twice in a row our Friday night game, and has left us looking for alternate entertainment.  I'm lucky enough to have a large enough game library to accomodate spur-of-the-moment games, but still...I want to run Deadlands!

Worse still is when this happens in my Saturday session, as it did this past Saturday.  I got a text message from one of my players just after I woke up, which was fine--I had four other players, which would make for a perfectly viable session.  As such, I packed my materials and headed over to Wittenberg...

...only to get a second text message, as I sat waiting for security to unlock the door to the classroom we use.  Another player gone.  Waiting patiently for the other three...only one showed up.  Kung-Fu Jake told me that he'd heard that a second of our players was going to be running significantly late.  Our last player was nowhere in sight.  After fifteen minutes of waiting, I called the session.

Listen, this is absurdity.  If you can't have the common courtesy to at least tell someone when you're running late or can't make a session, why should you expect me to run game for you?  I'd love to be able to roll out the chase rules or the other investigation forms for Cold Steel Wardens, but right now I can't even get enough players together for a single session!  Hell's bells!

Sorry.  I really needed to get that off of my chest.  If you have some advice or some ideas on how to change things up, by all means, comment for me!

Oh, and since there's no media for this entry, here's a great perspective on the DC reboot that the PlatinumChick had on her Facebook page.  Enjoy:

A 7-year-old girl responds to the DC Reboot

Thursday, September 22, 2011

In Which The Warlock Wants a Frost Reaver...

A few months ago, you may remember some comments that I made about Diablo III's runestone system, and how it could be applied to a potential D&D skill system.  As you might imagine, I'm a bit of a Diablo fanatic.  While I don't care much for either of Blizzard Entertainment's other titles, the Diablo series (particularly Diablo II and its expansion pack, Lord of Destruction) managed to walk that wonderful line between action game and role-playing game in a deep, horrific environment. 

Can we get a release date yet?  Please?
I've been specifically excited for the information coming out on Diablo III as it's finally managed to hit its public beta test.  While my actual chances of getting into the beta might as well be infinitesimal, the footage from the beta that's been pouring in looks utterly spectacular, and I find myself desperately hoping that the game manages to surface this year, despite Blizzard's continual affirmations that the game will release "when it's ready."

Among the screencaptured pictures and streaming beta footage, Blizzard has also updated their primary Diablo III website, including a skill calculator--complete with all runestone combinations for each skill!--and a database of all the glorious gear that can drop, as your character eviscerates the minions of the Lord of Terror.

And, oh, my!  So much gear!  So many items and so many modifiers!  Armor for defending!  Weapons for bashing!  Wanga dolls and fetishes for...well...who cares?!  They look great!

Flipping through the numerous Legendary and Set Items, something occurred to me:  there's a distinct difference between certain role-playing games.  Some games are fundamentally gear-driven--the D&Ds of the world, primarily, while others place almost no emphasis on gear.

Pick a card, any card...
There's nothing wrong with either approach, really.  There's something to be said about finding a truly unique weapon or a relic that's been the subject of a massive quest spanning numerous game sessions.  Items like the Eye and Hand of Vecna, the soul-sucking rune-sword Blackrazor, or the infamous Deck of Many Things provide definition and opportunity for character development, centered around not just the acquisition of said items, but also the use of them.  After all, who hasn't had a campaign derailed when someone's taken an unfortunate draw on that Deck of Many Things?

One of the criticisms that I've seen tossed towards 4e D&D is the element of "Christmas Tree syndrome"--characters are expected to have certain elements of gear at certain levels, resulting in a laundry list of items, few of which have any real meaning or campaign relevance.  This, I think, may be one of the reasons that I've somewhat dropped D&D for a while.

Johnny Blaze loves his Hellfire Shotgun
On the other end of the spectrum is my current games of choice, Savage Worlds and ICONS.  Gear, while not quite irrelevant in Deadlands, only becomes important as a plot point--items like Maerlyn's Grapefruit, the Riggins Hellfire Carbine, and the like were grippingly vital, but mundane weapons and the like are glossed over.  ICONS, on the other hand, doesn't even have rules for equipment!  It's entirely left to the imagination!  Any gear that's listed becomes a plot point, usable for the GM (and the PCs, in some cases) to break the rules!

Neither way is bad, per se, but the key is to make gear matter.  A hero's choices should be vital to their core.  And, as always, it should look cool...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

In Which The Warlock Comments on Continuity...

I'm going to start this little discussion off by making a disclaimer:  while I'm obviously a comics fan, I'm really more of a Marvel than a DC.  My favorite characters--Iron Man, Ghost Rider, and Doctor Strange--are all Marvel mainstays, and the books that I collect are typically the Marvel 'teams':  Fantastic Four, The Avengers, and the like.  The PlatinumChick is the resident DC fangirl in the house, cosplaying as her favorite characters:  Huntress and Black Canary.

That said, DC's been making all sorts of headlines with their "New 52"--a complete overhaul and refinement of the core DC books.  Note that I didn't say "reboot", even though that term is probably the most applicable here--major changes are being made, major characters are being altered, and major plotlines are being dropped in favor of entirely new plotlines.

There are a lot of things that upset me about how DC's dealt with this reboot.  I could talk about the utter dishonesty and duplicitousness that DC's has treated some some of the newest, most original blood in the comics industry.  I could talk about DC's hypocritical policy regarding depictions of women in comics, in that "all women must have pants", but characters are continually being shown as nothing more than cheesecake.  I could talk about how the editorial staff at DC has treated their fans, when said fans have questioned DC on their continual gender issues

But none of those are my biggest issue.  Rather, my biggest issue comes from two relatively minor characters in the DC universe:  Batgirl and Amanda Waller. 

Character depth!  Novel concept, that!
One of the seminal arcs of the Iron Age of Comics was Alan Moore's limited Batman series, The Killing Joke.  (Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert!)  In it, the Joker attempts to drive Commissioner Gordon mad by shooting and kidnapping his daughter, Barbara, then forcing him to view the images of his bleeding daughter as he travels through a Joker-fied funhouse.  Moore's run from this comic was timeless, as it showed not only the strength of Jim Gordon in resisting the Joker's efforts to drive him mad, but also in the fact that Barbara Gordon's injury became canon.  In later arcs, Barbara reinvented herself, becoming the "mission broker" and information expert for the Justice League, known as Oracle. 

Here, we have a character who refused to give up.  She experienced powerful internal conflict in coming to terms with her injury, and managed to find a new (and unique!) way to contribute to the continual war on crime, despite a "career-ending" injury.  But, instead of allowing that character to thrive in her chosen role, the editorial staff at DC have all but removed any reference to Moore's seminal arc, to say nothing of the internal conflict that drove Barbara Gordon for so long!  While author Gail Simone (already a legend amongst comics writers, male or female), does her best with Batgirl #1, the fact remains that twenty plus years of character development have been tossed out the window, simply to make Batgirl more "accessible".

This is Amanda Waller...
A similar thing has happened to DC supporting character Amanda Waller.  Nicknamed "The Wall", Waller's attitude, stubbornness, and ingenuity have allowed her to stand up to even the most powerful members of the Justice League, particularly in the Timm/Dini animated universe, where Waller literally stepped out of her shower and stared down Batman.  A tough, no-nonsense woman, Waller ran both Checkmate--a government intelligence organization dealing with vigilantes and metahumans, as well as the Suicide Squad--a metahuman 'recovery program' meant for supervillains to work off their jail sentences.

...not this!
Waller was unique in that she wasn't a stereotypically 'beautiful' woman, in the typical sense.  She didn't carry an hourglass figure or a bountiful chest; rather, she was broad-shouldered and squat, and carried quite a few additional pounds.  And now....she looks like everyone else.  To this, I ask..."Why?  To what end is this a good idea?"  What benefit could such a change possibly have, aside from matching the depiction of Waller from the Green Lantern movie which was a travesty in its own right?  It's an unnecessary change, meant to make Waller more "accessible" by taking away something that made her unique in the comics world.

While I don't know much about making comics, I do know a lot about running campaigns.  And I know that if, at my table, I started changing the names of characters, changing what they looked like, or changing minor details about established facts, I would very quickly have an empty table.  And, for that matter, if I started totally disregarding entire character arcs or the character development that my players have put into the story....my table would be in open revolt, and that's not worth the 'potential' new player that might like what I'm doing.