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. 

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.