Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Warlock's Origins 2011 (No Longer) Live Blog!--Swag Report!

All righty!  Now we're back in action...back to the normal routine.  While Origins is always a blast, it's the sort of vacation that I have to recover from! 

But, that doesn't stop us at all.  Rather, it just keeps us coming back for more.  And, what's one of the best parts about a giant gamer convention complete with giant Dealer Hall?  The swag, that's what!  Let's take a look at this year's haul:

The PlatinumWarlock's swag from the 2011 Origins Game Fair!

  • Deadlands: Hell on Earth--Wasted West Companion and Monsters, Muties and Misfits:  I've been pretty zealous about my fanboy-ism for Deadlands recently, in all its incarnations.  But, I'd been unable to find any copies of these in any of my friendly local game shops.  I even thought I was out of luck at Origins, until L-train and Will the ManMan pointed out that the Pinnacle Entertainment/Studio 2 booth had them!  Even better--I got my copies signed by Shane Lacy Hensley, head honcho behind Deadlands and Savage Worlds!
  • Deadlands: The 1880 Smith & Robards Catalog:  Yeah, even more Deadlands.  Not only does it have all sorts of mechanical doo-dads that would make any Mad Scientist drool, it includes additional rules for Weird Science and how to build Scrappers--steampunk warriors, replete with ghost-rock powered cybernetics! 
  • Savage Worlds Customizable GM Screen:  Truth be told, I already own a customizable GM screen.  You can even see it in some of my pictures from Origins, as I used it to show off the Guild Shield, as well as signs for my game..  It's a fantastic device, as it lets me fill in whatever inserts I need, and change them out for various systems.  My only caveat for my current GM screen was its height--it had 4 panels, all in portrait style, which made it difficult to look over.  While that's good for Call of Cthulhu and other horror games, a more cinematic game demands a more accessable screen!  I'm not getting rid of my old one, though--the PlatinumChick is getting that one!
  • ICONS--The Villainomicon:  Okay, so totally geeked out with Gareth-Michael Skarka at the Cubicle 7 booth, talking about various ICONS games and the like.  I couldn't turn this one down.  More bad guys is always good, and the ones made for ICONS are always stylish, iconic, and interesting.  This was money well spent...and, besides, GMS signed my ICONS book!
  • Reaper Minis--Mouslings:  The PlatinumChick is obsessed with these.  I got her a box of them for Christmas last year, and she's been hooked since then.  She's all about the cute little Mousling warriors--I'm kind of shocked she hasn't been playing MouseGuard, all told!  She managed to pick up some of the rarer Mouslings, only being offered at this year's convention season.  Excitement for her!
  • Cyborg Commando and SpellJammer:  I picked up these from ChaoticKarl, as part of our yearly birthday exchange.  A professor at his university was selling off some of his older gaming materials, which he had ChaoticKarl put up at the Origins Auction.  But, I couldn't let these ones slip past--they're both spectacular!  I haven't gotten around to reading through them yet, but...well, I haven't read most of the stuff that I've bought yet!
  • WEGS Ultimate Dungeon Party Deck:  Oh, yeah!  That product I worked on!  Yes, sirree, El Willy's UDP came out with a bang, to full demos all convention long.  It's a great little deck, full of neat tricks and skills for the advanced WEGS player.  I'm looking forward to throwing these down on our home table sometime really soon!
All righty, gang.  Almost done with Origins stuff for a while.  This Saturday, I'll toss in my post-convention thoughts, and even fill you in on my latest project....I've been busy already, friends and neighbors!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The PlatinumWarlock's Origins 2011 Live Blog--Sunday!

Exhaustion really does catch up with you, after a while.  After day after day of hot gaming action, and night after night of no sleep, I was set to drive ChaoticKarl to the airport at 4:30 this morning for his 6am flight.  Unfortunately, I passed out and he forgot to set his alarm, which meant that at 5:20, we were desperately rushing towards Dayton International, trying to get him on to the flight on time!  We made it, luckily, but it just goes to show what happens when you're running on empty!

The PlatinumChick and Rogue Rod
conspire in "Severed Seas"
Sunday was the one true day of Origins where I had no real responsibilities.  The PlatinumChick and I had one game--a Rogue Cthulhu game called "Severed Seas".  The big plus on this one was that we got to play with two of our favorite Rogues, Justine and Rod; we've never managed to get all four of us into one game before, so this was a real treat!  Playing high-society Brits (or, in my case, a Russian engineer), we were set to investigate the mysterious crash of the Russian ship Antonov.  And, as is the case with all good Cthulhu adventures, horrible things ensue...

While I loved the role-play between characters--though, admittedly, there were probably 2 more seats at the table than really necessary or comfortable--this was maybe the first Rogue game I wasn't particularly enamored of.  For the first half of the adventure, tension was high as we began exploring the Antonov and the atoll it had crashed on.  Something big had created a huge hole in the hull, and not a single crewmember was to be found.  However, as we made our way through the adventure, the GM unwittingly took the horror right out of his own adventure.  When a hideous beastie made an appearance, the initial reaction was fear...until he let it slip that they were simple Deep Ones.  At that point, the guns came out and bullets flew...and the horror went down the drain.  And, for the record, why did everyone have a gun?  Surely the physicist and the archaelogist shouldn't randomly be carrying a revolver and a double-barreled shotgun, respectively!

BoardGameKaren and L-Train in
front of the dealer hall...
After the game, the PlatinumChick and I made our way through the dealer hall one last time, to make some final purchases and to day goodbye to the mighty WEGSHogz.  On the plus side, I actually got to introduce the PlatinumChick to Angus Abranson, one of the head honchos at Cubicle 7.  We had spent quite a bit of time talking earlier about the plans for The Laundry RPG and the demo games at GenCon 2011, but I figured that if I'm going to be writing/running games for them for any extended amount of time, it's a great time to meet and greet! 

As I mentioned earlier, I'll post a little more about what I picked up from C7 and the other booths during my Wednesday entry: my swag report and post-con wrap-up.  Till then, I'm going to just relax!  It's sleepy-time, fellow gamers!

In the meantime, enjoy my pictures from Saturday and Sunday at my my Origins Facebook album!

The Warlock's Origins 2011 Live Blog--Saturday!

These 4 hour nights of sleep are killing me some and my calves are on fire but, all told, I'm still having a blast, here at Origins!

Today was kind of a unique day in the fact that I finally got to play some WEGS, throwing down at the Ultimate Dungeon Party with Willy the 2 and his minions.  Rare is the time where I actually get to sit down and play WEGS, as I'm often running demo games and the like at the Dayton area conventions.  Having a chance to sit on the other side of the minions for once--and to try out the new Arks that I've editing over and over--was a massive draw!  Plus, having the lovely PlatinumChick and ChaoticKarl along for the ride didn't hurt either!

With an abysmal series of stats, I ended up statting up a Dungeoneer:  a grizzled old Warrior ark, who had picked up a few Trickster skills along the way...and a starting 17 in Insanity!  The game itself went fairly well, with my Dungeoneer slashing his way through some trolls...only to go grab a drink from his Brew Cask, and find it empty!  "Oh noes!" said my gruff warrior, "Mah booze!"  Hilarity ensues, of course...

You know what's funnier, though.  "Hew" and "Jab", two of the Dungeoneer's skills, have become something of a joke between us WEGSHogz.  After going through El Willy's drafts 6 times, the two skills had never ended up the same way twice, with tiny changes being made each time:  a Spoint Fee here, a Skill-Free-Inning there, Cold Rolls or Prowess % was a mess!  I told El Willy point-blank that, the next time he runs a game for me, I'm bringing a Dungoneer with nothing but "Hew" and "Jab", in all its various incarnations!

My actual GMing, though, didn't quite go to expectations today...not that that's a bad thing, mind you.  Everyone had fun, and I had some rave reviews for both games.  But, wow...totally different directions than I'd expected.

Today brought the second round of ICONS: "The Near-Orbit Mass-Driver Blues", but with a pretty massive change.  Early in the game, the PCs were asked to essentially choose between one of three NPCs to join them--Aftershock, a retired hero; Caldera, a wet-behind-the-ears newbie hero; and Lodestone, a villain incarcerated in Gramercy Island Superhuman Penitentiary.  Of course, who do they go for?  The villain!  And stealth to sneak off with an experimental spacecraft?  Absolutely not!  Why stealth when you can rip apart the off-the-books skunkworks with a magnetism controlling supervillain on your side!

Really, the game went spectacularly, but just not in the direction I intended.  The role-playing at the table was spectacular, even with only 3 players (I could have sworn I had more people pre-registered earlier!).  The repartee--and horrible puns--flew like Determination points.  One thing I would have liked to see was a little more Power Stunting, but I think I was spoiled by the prior group for that mechanic.  They're a hard act to follow!

Just the same, my final game of the night, "WEGSthulhu" brought a fantastic change of pace--not only did I get to GM with some of my favorite Rogues, Justine and Rod, but I had a full-table of newbie WEGSHogz ready to hear some Cold Roll Gospel. 

"WEGSthulhu" is a unique scenario.  At the start of the game, each character is given a face down playing card to determine what their "alignment" is.  A red card makes for a true Hero, while a black card means that the character is a degenerate Cultist in disguise.  Anyone with a Face card, meanwhile, is undecided and could pick either side whenever they reveal themselves.

Usually, players play their cards "close to the chest"--they fear exposure, whether Cultist or Hero.  This time, though?  Nooooo!  The cultists betrayed High Skolar Armitage and his crew as soon as they got back to Miskytoonic Academy, resulting in a huge brawl in the Special Collections between Cultists, Heroes and the Hounds of Tindalos!  Again, a fantastic ending, but not at all what I'm expecting.  But, that's the fun of it all...

I did manage to get some time in the Dealer Hall today with Will the ManMan, but I'll cover my purchases in my yearly Swag Report!  Suffice to say, there's a lot to be had, with some special "additions"!  Stay posted for that, my photos from Saturday and Sunday, and for my final live-blog report this coming week! 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Warlock's Origins 2011 Live Blog--Friday!

Okay, so remember how I mentioned being exhausted yesterday?  Yeah, after an 18+ hour day of hardcore gaming, I am wiped out!!!  But, it's all worth it when you're really enjoying what you do.  Today was one of those days.

ChaoticKarl and I started the day off at an RPGA game:  "Secrets and Shadows".  After last year's mess and massacre, I was truly skeptical about going through another game.  I even went so far as to make the PlatinumChick and the Enigmatic Mr. Ebbs serve as witnesses that, should this game not go well, I would forswear the RPGA for good.

Karl and our RPGA GM share a laugh...
But, you know what?  I really had a good time today.  The scenario structure was particularly well-designed, and had significant variants that depended on various ongoing campaign rewards.  Further, the GM was flexible and well-versed in keeping players interested.  The game ran spectacularly, with tons of opportunity to actually role-play and interact with both NPCs and the other party members.  Further, the other gamers at the table were both interesting and engaged with the plot.  Truly, this game reaffirmed my faith that the RPGA isn't a lost cause of gaming.  Just like anywhere else, sometimes you get poor games and poor scenarios, and other times  you get gold.  This time, we got some real gold.

Making their way through the Wasted West....
Afterwards, I had to rush to get prepped for my first of two games: another session of "Westward on the San Juan Express."  This time around, though, I got a unique opportunity--I got to throw down with some actual, honest-to-god Deadlands players!  All of the little homages that I put into the scenario--the little references and details--made for a spectacular game.  Honestly:  more gold.  The game ran spectacularly, with the players taking a totally different route through the game than I had expected, and poor Sam Clemens almost getting taken out by one of the NPCs!  Plus, my old buddy Nigel Worthington-Smythe's dirty secret came out...I won't spoil it here, but it's a doozy!

The whole gang, at Buca di Beppo!
Today was another big dinner for us, this time at Buca di Beppo.  While most of our meals are all individual, this one is all about the family-style dining.  With four massive entrees, and three appetizers, we ended up with even more than our 10-strong gamer flock could manage!  Not that that's a problem...the Drury has a mini-fridge, which means that our leftovers won't go to waste!  In amongst all of the chaos of tomorrow, I'll actually be able to grab some lunch!

Minnesota Steve moves into position!
We needed to rush just a touch, but we managed to make it just in time for our games at 7pm, and my Origins debut of "WEGS+Cthulhu = WEGSthulhu!"  And, really, this scenario really blew me away.  while WEGS is a little on the light side in the way of role playing, this game really managed to take the cake.  One of my 4 new WEGSHogz, working their way through Miskytoonic Academy with Minnesota-Steve (a veteran WEGSHog!), ended up negotiating with High Scholar Armitage, to try to get a better deal for her church!  Fantastic!  Unfortunately for that player, the final encounter ended in a massive tragedy as both she came out of Ethereality right in the middle of Randolph Carter, causing both of them to fuse together into a Sanity-warping beastie!  Cthulhu emerged, and the few cultist players pulled out a triumph--Ia! Ia!

Today's been a lot of win, but finally, I managed the biggest win:  El Willy and his crew, and our WittKids have been trying to manage to wrangle a time to raise a glass together at the Big Bar on 2, in the Hyatt.  We've only managed it once, in 4 prior years, and we'd been trying unsuccessfully since Wednesday.  Tonight, we finally managed it--hence the late hour of this post!  And, you know what?  Just being able to sit around with some good friends, particularly ones so distant for most of the year, makes it all worthwhile.

Tomorrow brings some more WEGSing for us, as I'm jumping in on Willy the 2's "Ultimate Dungeon Party" demo game, then back to the GM screen for me, with a session of ICONS and another "WEGSthulhu!"  It's going to be a blast, and I'll keep you updated on all the carnage as it goes down!

To take a look at my pics from both Thursday and Friday, take a look at the Facebook album!

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Warlock's Origins 2011 Live Blog--Thursday!

Whew.  Just phew.  It's only Thursday--the first "real" day of Origins--and I'm already bushed. 

I didn't get much sleep last night, waking up due to a pop-up thunderstorm at 5:30 am, so I've been running on caffeine and pure adrenaline since then.  But, that won't stop me from posting for you, oh faithful readers, before I go crash.

After putting together my last few bits and bobs for today's game, Karl and I snagged some breakfast before finding even more of our errant WittKrew:  BoardGameKaren (and her boyfriend, Jocelyn), and the Inevitable BLoff.  Between the PlatinumChick, ChaoticKarl and I, we managed to get them situated before departing for our first games.  For me, that was "Steampunk Beatdown" from the North Coast Gamers.  And beatdown it truly was.

L-Train and EEE have had some experience with the North Coast Gamers, who specialize in homebrewed minis games.  In "Steampunk Beatdown", the players were cast as a team of tinker and assistant, scavenging parts from the various locales in a Victorian villa, then create automata and weaponry to blow the ever-loving-hell out of the competition.

At least, that was the idea.  Rather, I got my tin-plated keister handed to me from the get-go, as my assistant was wiped from the board by the third turn.  Further, my scavenging rolls were all but non-existent, often only pulling 1 or 2 parts from a location, while others picked up 7 to 9.  By the end game, I managed to muster my tools and put together some armor and weaponry...just in time to get smashed by another player.  Wow.  Heinous. 

The game itself was a lot of fun, and the enthusiasm of the GM really shone through, but this game was an exercise in frustration for me for one reason:  simple player courtesy.  The player to my left got up from the game for an extended period of time on no less than 6 separate occasions, bringing the game to an absolute halt.  In addition, he spent significant amounts of time on the phone, talking loudly, which made it difficult for anyone to hear the GM in the busy Minis Hall.  I suppose you can't ever get away from "that guy", who always manages to make their prescence known at an open gaming area, but still...some simple common courtesy would have made the game much more quality.

After a lunch at North Market--mmmm, pastrami!--I scurried over just in time to make it to a session of "Deadlands Reloaded: Clint's Rock", run by Pinnacle's own Chaos Steve.  A fun little intro scenario, the game was a pleasant diversion from "Steampunk Beatdown" in the fact that my dice were actually hot for once!  My "New Scientist" managed to flamethrower some mutant bears to the tune of 26 damage and 6 wounds!  Yowch! 

The afternoon also made itself busy for me as I scampered about the Dealer Hall--not to go shopping, mind you:  that comes on Friday, once I get paid!  But, rather, to take care of some correspondence I've been needing to finalize. 

One of the things I've kept somewhat quiet about is the efforts I've been putting forwards towards a gamer family, who are currently missing this year's Origins Game Fair due to some pretty intense health issues:  the eldest son requires a bone marrow transplant, and the donor is his younger brother.  The family had to cancel their badges and games, in order for the surgery to take place.  My heart immediately went out to them, and I knew I had to do something.  As such, I've spent much of my off-time this summer, organizing donations and the like from my various contacts in the gaming community.  While it's been rewarding and very positive so far from all involved--the outpouring of support for the Hutchinson family from Cubicle 7 alone was huge!--it's been a lot of work!

But, after contacting everyone I've been trying to track down, I still managed to have time to drool over the Deadlands: 1880 Smith and Robard's Catalog and a few other books, and make it to a brief seminar on game design.  While the seminar was entertaining, it wasn't particularly enlightening--the one hosted by Atlas Games a few years back was much more specific and focused.

After our annual trip to the Japanese Steak House of Columbus, I wasn't actually expecting to run game.  While I was schedule for my first session of ICONS:  "The Near Orbit Mass-Driver Blues", I had previously seen not a single soul sign up for my Thursday session!  Lo, and behold, three people signed up--including Mike, the organizer of DenCon, who recognized my name--and a fourth joined on generics. 

I've got to say:  switching this game to ICONS from Heroes Unlimited was a massive success.  The flexibility of ICONS and the sheer speed of the game allows for some great role-play opportunity, as well as fantastic avenues of creativity.  The power stunts alone at the table were spectacular!  Nano-bot dissassembler arrows, an EMP field surrounding a spaceship, Voodoo curses...fantastic stuff!

But, after nearly a full 24 hour day, I'm wiped!  ChaoticKarl and I have to be up early for our 8am RPGA game, and I'll be running games for 8 hours afterwards!  Yoi and double yoi! 

No pics tonight for you guys--I only snapped about 10-12 all day--but I'll have the full album for Thursday and Friday up tomorrow.  Till then, fellow gamers!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Warlock's Origins 2011 Live Blog--Tuesday and Wednesday!

Ahoy, gamers!  Now that the WittKids are set up in the Drury, we have free wifi.  That means that I can actually keep you posted on all the action, as it happens!

Hausfrau Ebbs and Herr Thunderforge!
Yesterday wasn't so much gaming, but lots of geekdom indeed, as we spent the day driving up and getting settled.  However, we did manage to make it to Schmidt's Sausage Haus in Columbus' German Village.  While the "Autobahn" sausage buffet was a little overpriced, the quality was spectacular.  Our group of 8 was utterly stuffed, by the time we left.  And the cream puffs?  Oh, my...the cream puffs...

After the binge of sausage, we made our way up High Street to the theater to take in a showing of Green Lantern.  That was, to put it mildly, a pretty big mistake.  I'll post a full review of the movie after Origins ends, but suffice to say that this was no Iron Man or The Dark Knight.  Rather, this was more on the level of Daredevil, Blade, or Ghost Rider.  Pretty sad, all told, considering the $200 million budget, most of which went towards numerous overdone CGI effects. 

So you say you want some Revolution?
Today, though, began Origins proper with a classic SJGames board game: Revolution, complete with the Palace expansion.  Neither the PlatinumChick or I had played this one before, but it was somewhat reminiscent of Kingsburg, with each player attempting to bid for influence among a series of advisors, in the hopes to gain the most influence in the town.  With a little bit of luck (and a pretty crafty bait-and-switch, if I may say so!), yours truly managed to pull out a victory, by taking over the Fortress and the Town Hall, for a whopping 95 victory points.  My reward?  A copy of Spooks, an SJGames card game.  Woot!

"Sim, Sim, Sala-Bim!"
After a leisurely lunch down at North Market, the PlatinumChick and I set out for our first actual RPG of the con:  "Jonny Quest and the Secrets of Hanebau".  While neither of us were familiar with the Ubiquity system, it was particularly easy to catch onto, and our GM made the game exciting and true to the cartoon.  Playing Dr. Benton Quest, I must say--I took entirely too much pleasure in working some "SCIENCE!" into the game.  In the end, we escaped from Antarctica with the intact corpse of an alien creature--proof that alien life exists in the universe! 

"...Hanebau" was run by the one of the guys from Matinee Adventures and, after a few games with them over the years, they're swiftly rising in my eyes, in terms of quality.  While it's hard to top the games that Amorphous Blob or Rogue Cthulhu put forward, these guys give them a run for their money!
Nigel, the Professor and Ricky discuss
their options in "Westward..."
After a quick dinner with the PlatinumChick and ChaoticKarl, we made our way off to our first Witt-run games of the convention:  sessions of "Westward...", "Orcs Gone Wild" and "Lawfully Blonde", in addition to our other offerings.  I had made some changes to "Westward..." particularly in the addition of a new player in the chaotic travels of the San Juan Express.  Unfortunately, my new minion didn't last too long, as Ricky "One Armed Bandit" Parker flung him from the speeding train as it made its way towards Dodge City!  Still, the scenario went particularly well, with most of the players really getting into the feel of the characters.  The fellow playing Nigel, especially, was hilarious.

We still have some refining to do, regarding our convention procedure.  Setting up our banner took far too long, and we didn't manage to get our feedback sheets to every game.  Also, our dice didn't arrive on time, which means that while we were able to give out our bookmarks and Bell, Book and Comic pens, our engraved dice are somewhere in limbo.  Even still, we're managing!  Things are going well, and the feedback we're getting is really positive!

While we had intended to go grab a drink with El Willy after the games ended, plans once more fell through.  I'm almost getting used to that one--we never manage to raise that glass! 

Never fear, though, cats and kittens!  There's more gaming to be had...and maybe, just maybe, yours truly will be able to relax with his WEGS-ing boss-man!  For more pics, check out the pics on my Facebook album!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

In Which The Warlock Preps for the Big O...

With Origins 2011 just around the corner, I'm taking this weekend off to get prepped for the occasion!

Next week, stay tuned for my nightly live-blogging...which will actually be live this time, as we'll have free wifi in the Drury!

Enjoy your weekend, and I'll keep you posted on all the hot gaming action as it comes!  See you there!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In Which The Warlock Takes Issue with the Old School...

I've often stated that I tend to straddle the fence between the feel and conventions of old-school gaming and the streamlined, unique mechanics of more modern games.  I tend to find bits and pieces of various games that I like, then toss them into other systems if I need a mechanic to fit a unique situation.  Players around my table often end up tossing WEGSified Cold Rolls and INI rolls in the midst of my D&D games, and I use Savage Worlds style initiative when playing ICONS

I don't have much real affinity for the mechanics of the original versions of D&D, and have been a fan of the mechanical innovations that both 3e and 4e have brought to the table.  With a healthy dose of skepticism, I've felt that much of the "Old School Revolution" is a matter of nostalgia--it's an attempt by gamers to recapture some misperceived "glory days" of gaming, when in all actuality, they're wanting simply that feeling of novelty that comes with the first time fighting a dragon, the first time crawling through a dungeon, the first time they pick up a Sword of Sharpness.

Mythmere Press's
"Swords and Wizardry"
So, up late last night and poking around online, I stumbled across an essay that frustrated me greatly.  Two years ago, Matthew Finch of Mythmere Games put forward The Quick Primer for Old School Gaming as a "newbie primer" for old school games.  And, I've gotta say...most of what he's putting forward is biased in a manner that's damaging to all games, reflecting an aura of nostalgia that's cancerous to the idea of an 'evolving' game.

Finch attempts to put forward a veneer of civility, by putting forward a disclaimer before his 4 Zen Moments, stating that the examples he intends to use are hyperbole.  But, the fundamental ideas being put forward are still unchecked swings with no focus.

Let's take his first example:  a Pit Trap, shown in a monotonous "modern style", and then a zesty, descriptive "old style".  The peril here is that of a logical fallacy:  either you narrate your way through the trap entirely (the "good" result) or you let it come down to a series of die rolls (the "bad" way).  No middle ground is mentioned or described.  A good GM or player can describe a unique trap disarmament in 4e, just as easily as a poor GM can let that same trap become an uninteresting series of die rolls in 1e.
Holy logical fallacy, Batman!
Further, the insinuation is misleading--more modern incarnations of D&D  and other games have included the same fundamental determination charts, but the mechanics of that determination are the elements currently evolving.  Earlier editions didn't change because there was or was not a trap-disarming chart; rather, they just changed the mechanics of doing so.  Instead of consulting Sub-Table 43d (which wasn't fun for anyone), Trapfinding was streamlined to a "Thievery" check.  That doesn't preclude or eliminate narration; it simply puts a different structure to it.

Finch continues, extolling the virtue of player skill over character abilities.  He decries skills such as Bluff and Spot as cop-outs, provided in-lieu of asking questions and providing a narrative between GM and Player.  That's a wonderful ideal, but it's just ideal.  If you locked me in a dungeon room and told me that there was a secret door somewhere, I'm sure I could spend hours on end looking for it and never find it.  However, when that room is only being described to me, we're already in the realm of abstraction.  Expecting a player to search through rooms like that, time after time, not only borders on un-fun, but teeters towards GM-narcissism and unnecessary bookkeeping.  We end up sacrificing story and action for a focus on minutiae, when a balance of description and abstraction would serve better.

If what matters is the story, why are we putting additional obstacles towards telling it?

Finch further encourages the GM to throw balance out the window, and focus on the heroes as humanized figures.  Again, I find fault with this:  the fundamental idea behind a storytelling game is just that:  tell a story and be fun.  As I've ranted about earlier, sitting behind the fighter while you're out of spells is un-fun.  Playing the second-fiddle bodyguard to a powerful mage is un-fun.  Dragging 15 wild dogs through the dungeon with you, just so you can manage to survive a kobold skirmish is un-fun.  Yes, challenge is necessary, even vital--conflict is at the heart of any story.  But this?  This is excess.

Finch offers some quality GM advice at the end of his essay, particularly in his encouragement to add description to combat.  But, what he fails to take into account is that games like 4e already work to build this in.  A simple at-will power like Tide of Iron comes with pre-built descriptors, waiting for the GM or player to take advantage of them: 

How about this:  "You slam your shield into your foe's chest, driving him backwards." 
No shield?  No problem:  "You slash at your enemy's legs, then kick upwards, pushing him back a step."

Just because there are minis on the battlemat or power-cards in hand does not mean that narration becomes impossible or unlikely.  In fact, those are the hallmarks of good GMing.  But the fact that Finch ascribes these features only to old-school games is troubling, particularly when so many new games encourage this sort of behavior.

Since I've been on a Deadlands kick, it behooves me to bring up Savage Worlds.  The powers in Savage Worlds are specifically made to be generic and multi-purpose, with the player and GM coming to consensus on what exactly a "Bolt" looks like, and what effect it has. 

Even within the scope of the setting, I just yesterday put together a Deadlands Huckster specifically meant to defy traditional perceptions:  rather than visualize his Dealing with the Devil as a card game, he visualizes it as a fencing match.  Rather than cards appearing in his hand, he uses a Relic saber as an arcane focus, enhancing his spellcasting abilities.  Rather than a gambler, he's a student of the Destreza school of fencing, which was based around Greek philosophy and geometry.  All this, from just a simple series of generically-labeled powers:  Bolt, Quickness, Deflection, Smite, and Boost/Lower Trait.

Simply by adding description, even a decidedly modern and generic game like Savage Worlds brings forth creative, new ideas.  While Finch offers some good advice in his primer, his targeting is woefully off.  The problem doesn't lie with old-school vs. new-school gaming.  The problem lies with lazy GMs and players, unwilling to add in their own creative touches.  And those additions, my lovelies, are what takes a game from good to great.

Monday, June 13, 2011

In Which The Warlock Shoots Off Some Fireworks...

My preferences in games, it seems, often leads me into a bit of a strange situation.  While I've been lucky enough to be able to run pretty much anything that I want, ever since my first days as a GM, I find myself often unable to actually play the games that I most enjoy.  Believe it or not, this was particularly true of Deadlands.  Ever since picking up the "Reloaded" version last year (...and the "Classic" version a few months later...and "Hell on Earth" a few weeks ago...), I'd never actually sat down to play a character of my own! 

The inspiration for Nigel Worthington-Smythe:
Sean Connery's Allan Quatermain from LXG
So, when Will the ManMan (who now has a blog...go read his thoughts at The Journeyman GM!) offered to run the Deadlands one-shot "Independence Day," the PlatinumChick and I leapt at the chance.  But what character to play?!

Eventually, I settled on one of my favorite pre-gens:  Nigel Worthington-Smythe, the former British Navy officer, turned big-game hunter.  With his signature Bullard Express in hand, Nigel was ready for whatever Dodge City could throw at him.

I won't spoil too much of "Independence Day" for you, faithful readers, but it centers around the players tracking down a supernatural serial killer known only as The Butcher.  Meanwhile, Dodge City attempts to prepare for the coming centennial celebration for the Union, and conflicts between various factions explode into the streets of Bloody Kansas.

Overall, the game was pretty much what I could have hoped it to be:  lots of investigation, a bit of humor (Nigel managed to humiliate the aggravating Ladies' Temperance Society by getting the shrewish leader, Ida Mae, drunk in public!), and a truly horrifying villain.  Will's preferred system has been Savage Worlds, and it really shows--he's able to ad-lib easily within the rules, while keeping the system mechanics balanced with quality description.

The Butcher stalks the
Dodge City night...
I only had one real complaint about the module, which was something that wasn't something that Will was really responsible for.  While confronting The Butcher on the rooftops of Dodge City, Chris III pulled off a phenomenal pistol shot, dealing 25 points of damage, which L-Train's Adventure Card doubled to 50!  That equated to a "Shaken" result and 10 Wounds...on a 4 Wound track! 

Unfortunately for us, that didn't mean much.  The Butcher was immune to all sources of damage, aside from a certain vulnerability (no spoilers for you here!).  As such, our bullets and L-Train's hexes were all for naught, until we managed to figure out that vulnerability.  While we managed to figure out that vulnerability and bring peace back to Dodge City, the sheer absurdity of the situation seemed infeasible. 

But, that alone wasn't enough to spoil the game for me.  Even as Nigel fought desperately to stay alive--no easy feat, against the intensely powerful Butcher!--I genuinely had a great time.  It's so rare that I get to play a game in one of my preferred systems, so being able to follow up ChaoticFrederick's Dark Sun game with a one-shot of Deadlands was really a treat for me.  And now, with Will the ManMan looking at running a Legendary-level Deadlands mini-campaign, it looks like I might be a player for a while, and not just a GM!  Excitement!

To me, this is a matter of importance for any GM.  If you can't play your favorite games once in a while, if you can't manage to set aside the GMing role for a while, you run the risk of *gasp* burnout.  Plus, it gives you, as a practicing GM, a chance to sit back and watch something new, to watch another's GMing technique and practice, and to refine your own abilities.  It's a grand thing...especially when convention season comes calling!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

In Which The Warlock Presents Sam Clemens...

With this year's Origins on the horizon, I've been feverishly trying to get everything in order for our games.  I've been checking items slowly off of my to-do list, but every time I seem to make some progress, more and more get added!  While I finished my preparations for my ICONS scenario--"The Near-Orbit Mass-Driver Blues", I have yet to touch SunnyVale Acres...primarily because El Willy needed me to do an additional run-through on the "Ultimate Dungeon Party" and because I took a day to apply for a part-time position with Green Ronin Publishing!

But, with things slowly falling into place, I wanted to make sure that I got to take a crack at this month's RPG Blog Carnival, hosted for this month at the Dungeon's Master blog.  This month's topic?  Gaming characters, inspired by real-life.  Well, whoo!  Deadlands has that one in (pardon the pun) spades!

As such, take a look at the star of my Origins scenario, the inimitable Samuel Clemens, better known to many as Mark Twain!

I wanted to reflect a version of Clemens that wasn't overpowered--someone who could hang with the PCs if he had to, but whose life definitely took him a different direction.  Clemens' focus on writing and politics show his strengths, but damned if he isn't just the luckiest bastard this side of the Mississippi! 

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)—Cantankerous Author                          XP:         40

Strength:             d4                                                           Charisma:            +4

Agility:                  d6                                                           Grit:                       3

Vigor:                    d4                                                           Pace:                     5

Smarts:                 d10                                                         Parry:                    5

Spirit:                    d10                                                         Toughness:         5


Big Mouth (Minor)

Habit—Drinking (Minor)

Elderly (Major)



Improved Luck

Scholar (Writing and Politics)

Tough as Nails



Jack of all Trades


Know: Writing—d10 (+2)

Know: Politics—d10 (+2)

Persuasion—d10 (+4)

Taunt—d8 (+4)









Key Gear:

Mint Julep

White Suit with Black Bolo Tie


Monday, June 06, 2011

In Which The Warlock Test-Posts...

If you guys out there in blog-land can see my blog, would someone please write a comment?
My blog was nearly removed erroneously by Blogspot for some reason, but I think it's since been restored.


[Edit--It seems like things are back in working order, I guess.  Thanks!]

Saturday, June 04, 2011

In Which The Warlock Petitions Your Support...

It's not often I ask you, my few and faithful readers, to assist me with anything, so I'm going to ask now.

Please don't exclude our educators, GAMA!
This past May, GAMA--the organization behind the Origins Game Fair--announced the future dates for Origins 2012 and 2013.  In both cases, the Fair will be taking place the weekend after Memorial Day, during the last bit of May and the first days of June.  This is a massive change, in that Origins is traditionally held during the last week of June, occasionally stretching into the first few days of July.

However, this change comes at the expense of a massive segment of the gaming population.  The project dates of the next two Origins Game Fairs run concurrent with the last week of school for Dayton Public Schools, Cincinnati City Schools, the Ohio State University, and many other institutions throughout the Ohio Valley.  Columbus Public Schools, in fact, will still be in session until June 14th, 2012. 

This shift in date prevents educators, librarians, administrators, and pretty much anyone who works in the education field from attending the next two Origins Game Fairs.  With only limited time off during the year, educators are outright unable to use personal or professional days to take time off during the end of the year.  Further, families with school-age children will be unable to attend, as students are discouraged from missing end-of-year activities like commencement ceremonies, final exams and more.

The date change flies in the face of an amicable relationship between the community of educators and GAMA, as Origins has always held a special track of events specifically to cater to educators.  Similarly, this move is a slap to parents of school-age children, who have previously been among Origins' target audience, complete with "family friendly" tracks and a "kids-only room" run in conjunction with Mayfair Games.

It is my belief that Origins will face a sizable and crippling drop in attendence, as the communities of educators and of school-age families are unable to attend.  I value Origins as a convention--it's been, by far, my favorite gaming convention since I began attending.  Frankly, it both disappoints and even frightens me to think that this may be my last Origins Game Fair, simply because of my profession.  Even if you are not an educator, even if you do not have school-age children, this change affects you:  how many of your GMs or fellow players were teachers?  How many volunteers and vendors have school-aged children?

If you feel as I do, please sign the petition that I've created, hosted here:  PetitionOnline--Origins Date Change
Nothing changes unless we, as a gaming community, speak up!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

In Which The Warlock Invades the Wasted West...

One of the great things about the Dayton area isn't just the numerous gamer population or the 4 friendly-local-game-stores in our vicinity.  We also have a great series of stores to support the gaming addiction that aren't just specialized in minis, dice, and games...

Welcome to the Wasted West!
In fact, it's at one of those stores that I managed to find a real set of treasures!  In amongst the shelves at Half Price Books, I managed to pick up a copy of Solid! The d20 Blaxploitation Role-Playing Game, as well as a copy of Deadlands: Hell on Earth, the 'sequel' to the original Deadlands game.  "Oooh!" said I.  What a relic!

With both of these, I headed to the checkout counter happy as could be, as you might imagine, but I was somewhat unprepared for exactly what I picked up.

While I had been somewhat down on Hell on Earth for its seemingly odd continuation of the Deadlands metaplot, I've got to say:  the mechanics and sheer uniqueness of the classic version more than make up for this!  Just when you'd think that you can't do much more with a "Mad Max"-esque, post-apocalyptic setting, just add some Hell on Earth!  So many possibilities, like my favorite, the Doompriests--believers in mutation and radioactivity as paths to power.  With powers like "Atomic Blast" and "Nuke", how could you go wrong? 

One of the big draws that Deadlands has for me is the unique magic system that each class has. Where, in a game like D&D, most magic-users felt the same--pick X spells of Y level; you have those memorized until you sleep next--Deadlands bucked that trend. Hucksters cast spells by playing poker against otherworldly demons, Shamen had to appease the Spirits by performing tribal medicine rites, while Blessed simply prayed for an answer. 

But the real key comes in how different a Doompriest feels from any other arcane backround, even a Syker, though they use the same arcane resource:  Strain.  Where a Doompriest excels in combat, surviving in radioactive wastes, and in powering items and the like, the Syker's focus lies more--and fittingly so--on espionage, getting powers of disguise and subterfuge rather than straight-up damage.  A New Templar, similarly, gets subtle 'divine gifts' that aren't even activated like the other powers.  They're simply "always on", providing that extra divine edge to a Templar's abilities that push him into victory.  Each arcane background has a different feel and focus, which makes them really unique and fun to play.
From the upcoming "Deadlands" comic book...

I find myself in a unique position right now, as Pinnacle Entertainment has already announced a "Reloaded" version of Hell on Earth, meant to use the generic Savage Worlds ruleset as a core mechanic.  While I liked the newest incarnation of Deadlands: Reloaded, I do feel that some of the arcane backgrounds are a little too similar.  Hucksters are fine, still using the poker-based mechanic, but the Martial Artist, the New Scientist, and the Shaman all use power points in some manner, and have quite a few commonalities in their available powers.
At one point, in "Follow the Walkin' Man", I had 5 characters with arcane backgrounds--a Huckster, two Blessed (a priest and a Voodoo houngan), a Martial Artist, and a New Scientist.  Aside from the Huckster, there was little difference in the powers being slung about, which led to an almost "generic" feel. 

Luckily, I had some really quality players in that game--the PlatinumChick, Will the ManMan, Chris the III, and DigitalKat, among others--that added their own descriptors and made the game really take shape.  Plus, it seems like with Pinnacle's upcoming 1880 Smith and Robards' Catalog, there'll be some changes made to the Weird Science rules, making them a little more separated from the other backgrounds.

I really hope that Pinnacle, as they move forward into Hell on Earth, keeps the individual nature of the arcane characters.  Seeing the high quality of the Deadlands products so far, I have little doubt that they're going to do their best, so it'll be interesting to see what comes next from them!