Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In Which The Warlock Previews the Iron Age...

As I've been working my way through the second half of my first draft of Cold Steel Wardens, I decided to devote an entire chapter to the various eras of comics, focusing particularly on the Iron Age itself.  In order to understand a run a game dedicated to this specific period, it's important for a gamer to be able to identify their source material!

So, enjoy this preview, friends and neighbors!  Alpha playtesting starts next week!

The Iron Age:     With the rejection of Silver Age optimism, the fall of the Comics Code Authority, and the Bronze Age’s focus on societal issues, the stage was set for a new era of comics to begin.  As the 1980s dawned, comics began to evolve from simplistic superheroism into deep, nuanced literature.

At its core, the Iron Age of Comics began to apply a level of realism to the timeless archetypes established of the Silver Age, while maintaining the social consciousness of the Bronze Age.  Frank Miller’s immortal Batman storyline, “The Dark Knight Returns” deals with the simple question of what would happen as Bruce Wayne ages and enters the modern era.  Alan Moore’s masterpiece, “Watchmen” directly took elements and characters from DC-subsidiary Charlton Comics, dropping them wholesale into the Cold War-era paranoia of 1983.  Mike Grell’s “Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters” re-established Green Arrow as a lethal vigilante who narrowly avoids costing partner/girlfriend Black Canary her life, as he uses morally questionable means to get to the bottom of a drug ring.  Heroes, as such, became less black and white in nature, often taking on violent, even sociopathic methods for just aims.  Rorschach, from “Watchmen” epitomized this tendency, following an absolutist view of morality, yet inflicting horrific violence against his foes, as he sought out the “cape-killer”.

As one can imagine, the foes for Iron Age storylines were not the gimmicky villains of the Silver Age.  Rather, over the top plots for world domination were replaced by insidious smuggling rings, arms deals, and other true-to-life crimes.  Iron Age villains only rarely showed overt super-powers, and were often simply mob bosses, corporate CEOs, and corrupt politicians.  Iron Age villains with superhuman abilities, however, were forces to be reckoned with, wielding their powers ruthlessly and with incredible lethality.  Venom, one of Spider-Man’s best known foes, was created during the Iron Age, becoming known for its utter brutality and hideous appearance.  In several cases—most notably the maiming of Batman at the hands of Bane, a steroid-enhanced mercenary—these villains bested and even killed the heroes that attempted to bring them to justice.  Other heroes, such as Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Iron Man, turned on their former comrades, in the “Parallax” and “Armor Wars” storylines, respectively.

One of the visual representations of the Iron Age’s move towards realism came through superheroes’ costumes.  In previous eras of comics—particularly the Silver Age—superheroes’ costumes tended to be flashy, colorful affairs, usually with capes.  In the Iron Age, this shifted dramatically.  Costumes began to emphasize function over fashion, with armored black bodysuits replacing colorful spandex and capes going the way of the dodo.  

Accompanying these cosmetic changes came weapons.  While Silver and even Bronze Age heroes rarely used weapons against their foes, Iron Age heroes brought firepower to their crusade against crime.  High caliber firearms became the norm, brought into vogue by Marvel’s Punisher and The Comedian from “Watchmen”.  Even Frank Miller’s Batman, while still eschewing firearms, rolled a tank through Gotham City in an effort to take it back from The Mutants gang. 

As the Iron Age focused more and more on realism and depth in technique, authors and artists began adding in additional themes and ideas usually reserved for discussions of classic literature.  Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” explored a surreal dreamscape, in which nearly every character represented a metaphysical force.  Grant Morrison’s “Arkham Asylum:  A Serious House on Serious Earth” provided a harrowing spiritual journey into insanity, using symbolism and mythology in ways that echoed Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose”.  Symbolic elements, which include mythic and spiritual references, also permeated Denny O’Neil’s run on “The Question”—a resurrected Charlton Comics character who served as the inspiration for Moore’s Rorschach, in “Watchmen”. 

However, this symbolism and depth was not limited to Western cultural elements.  Rather, the Iron Age saw a rise in interest in Eastern mysticism and martial arts.  Ninja and yakuza became common adversaries, complete with esoteric martial arts and exotic weaponry.  Even already established minor characters like Black Canary became known as masters of the martial arts, learning bizarre and deadly techniques to take down their foes.

The Iron Age of Comics also began to see the rise of superhero comics publishers outside of the DC/Marvel clutches.  Many writers and artists grew frustrated with the “Big Two”, seeking out companies like Dark Horse and Image Comics.  Both grew in popularity on their hit titles “Hellboy”, “Spawn” and “Witchblade”, among others, providing alternatives to the more mainstream titles.

All companies, though, saw the value in unifying their heroes through ‘crossover’ events.  Marvel’s “Secret Wars”, DC’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and other events drew in readers in droves.  Such events brought heroes together from all parts of their respective universes to face some massive cosmic threat.  Readers ate these events up, and the “event model” dominates the comics industry to this day.

Unfortunately, the success and depth of the Iron Age proved to be its own undoing.  As comics grew in depth, they grew in popularity.  Comics companies began to establish an artificial scarcity in their comics, releasing numerous variant covers in the hopes to drive up sales.  Unfortunately, while this led to increased sales and profits for both publishers and retailers through the early ‘90s, the speculators’ market crashed in 1996, driving Marvel Comics into bankruptcy. 

Further, as the Iron Age rolled on, many authors and artists began to equate realism and depth with simple mindless violence.  “Gritty” became an excuse for writers to settle for simplistic, violent storylines with no greater meaning, and artists to put out poorly drawn, rushed material simply to keep up with demand for additional covers. 

With Marvel declaring bankruptcy and many of the classic Iron Age writers and artists creating their own companies, the Iron Age came crashing down.  In its place, though, a new age began to rise.

Above all else, the Iron Age is marked by a move towards realism in terms of aesthetic, themes, and concepts.  While marked as cynicism by detractors, the Iron Age marked a darker and more philosophical turn in comics, meant for a more mature, adult reader, rather than the child-targeted books of the past.   Iron Age comics are marked by a depth and a complexity that had never been seen before in comics, but was inevitably undone by continual drive for profit and sales.  Luckily for all of us, the comics industry wasn’t done yet…

Sunday, August 28, 2011

In Which The Warlock Muses on the Future...

Last night was Wittenberg's first game night, which is always exciting for us.  It's spectacular to be able to meet a whole legion of incoming gamers and share with them all of the exciting events that the Guild puts forward, all of the events and systems that we run, and the cameraderie of slinging dice with your fellow man.

There's really nothing like the first time that you sit down to experience a game.  The 'first impression' that one gets just can't be replicated.  The first time I slung out the d10s and d6s in WEGS, for example, was a game unto itself.  The first time we broke out Arkham Horror, while frustratingly long, got us immediately hooked.  The first time we watched someone's dice 'ace' two and three times at a clip in Savage caught the eye like none other. 

What to write, what to write?!
But keeping that newness?  It's hard!  The longer one plays a game, the more apparent the flaws are in the system and the more 'rote' things become.  The Journeyman GM and I discussed this tendency on our way home from GenCon this year.  By this point, he had run his Blackbeard-based Doctor Who game nearly 12 separate times for various groups across the Miami Valley.  I'd been pinging my "WEGSthulhu" adventure and "Westbound on the San Juan Express" just as often.

As such, with the close of the convention season, it comes time for us gamers to think about what comes next:  what one-shots are on deck for the coming 2012 season, for the Friday Night One-Shot series at Witt, and what we're excited about.  But, that leaves me with a major question:  with so many options, what do I write?!

Obviously, my first and biggest option (and my biggest priority!) is my campaign of Cold Steel Wardens.  I'm running my alpha test--a campaign that I'm calling "Hard Rain"--at Witt this year, with my tentative players' Heroes making their way into the (ideally forthcoming) book as sample characters.  But, one-shots?  I have no issue running them at Wittenberg, but I'm not sure if the rules-set is ready for the convention circuit yet.

Last year, I built a series of Deadlands characters specifically for the purpose of using them on the convention circuit.  As such, I'm very tempted to bring back those characters for another go.  However, I'm at somewhat of a loss of what I'd like that adventure to look like.  I'm loathe to put forward another "train-based" adventure, and would like to lean towards something a little more investigative.  However, that's the furthest I've managed to think this one out.

The Laundry, similarly, is an appealing option.  While I'm more than proficient in the BRP Call of Cthulhu game, The Laundry has its own unique style that makes for a strange balance between absurdist comedy and deadly serious spy-drama.  But, that same balance makes it particularly difficult to GM appropriately.  Even for a skilled GM, it becomes difficult to shift gears so quickly between tones.  I'd been also thinking up a basic Call of Cthulhu adventure based around Shakespeare's "Scottish Play", but that's still in development.

Coming to a game convention
near you in 2012?
I'd also been thinking about potentially revisiting one of my all-time favorite heroes:  the Masters of the Universe in the role-playing arena.  However, I'm really not sure what system I'd use.  While I'd be tempted towards picking up Cartoon Action Hour, I actually think that ICONS would work really well for emulating the over-the-top action.  But, again, I haven't really thought out what the adventure would entail, or any plot ideas beyond the simple "He-Man and crew have to team up with Skeletor to take out a greater threat". 

And then...there are other options.  While I'm swearing off D&D for a while, my gaming stack's still full-up.  I'm planning on picking up All For One: Regime Diabolique in the near future, and I just found a copy of Wild Talents at Half Price Books for $5.  Also, The Journeyman GM still has my copies of Hell on Earth, while my regular Friday night group is chomping at the bit for some post-apocalyptic action.  Oh, and there's always WEGS, particularly with the Ultimate Dungeon Party out now, and the official printing of Dingbitt's Dunge-O'-Doom on the horizon. 

So many options, so little time, fellow gamers!  What should I run?  What would you like to see at WittCon, FOPCon, and all the rest in the next year?!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

In Which The Warlock Posits a Deathmatch...

Friends and neighbors, I have another weird confession to make. 

I love watching Deadliest Warrior.  Not familiar?  It's a show that's been on SpikeTV to cater to everyone's geekiest impulses.  Ever wonder what would happen if an Apache warrior fought a Roman gladiator?  Or if a black-powder era pirate fought a plate-clad medieval knight?  Deadliest Warrior attempts to answer those, in an hour long demo filled with splattered ballistics-gel torsos and pig carcasses.

Which?  Is?  Deadliest?!
In amongst the gore-coated carnage, the hosts make judgements about the various techniques, technologies and strategies, then run a series of computer simulations to determine a winner.  Really, the pseudo-science that Deadliest Warrior is just that--so much fakery.  And, for most of the battles, success generally comes down to which warrior has access to the most modern weaponry.  However, there's something intensely satisfying to watch a burly stuntman or ex-Marine bludgeon the ever-loving hell out of a pig carcass with an entrenching tool, a medieval flail, or a Zande throwing iron

The aftermath of a
Deadlist Warrior episode...
In its third full season, Deadlist Warrior has somewhat run out of archetypes to play with, so their focus has switched to actual historical figures.  Sun Tzu fighting Vlad Tepes, Joan of Arc against William the Conquerer, and tonight's mind-blowingly awesome episode:  Teddy Roosevelt against Lawrence of Arabia!

However, it brought up an interesting question in my mind:  what if gaming had a Deadliest Warrior-style competition?  Not for the actual gamers, mind you, but rather for the classic NPCs of gaming!

I know this has been done, once upon a time, in the waning days of Dragon magazine.  Fantasy heavyweights Margaret Weis and Ed Greenwood faced off with their immortal mages, Raistlin and Elminster.  But why stop there?

What would happen if the quintessential barbarian, Conan, faced off against Kratos, the psychopathic anti-hero from the God of War series?  Or, better, if Deadlands' Dr. Darius Hellstrome pitted his infernal devices against the steampunk science of Space 1889's Cronus on the war-torn fields of British Mars?  Oooh, or better:  the immortal gunslinger Stone against the eternal champion, Elric of Melnibone?  Or even a war of the monsters:  the sleeping god Cthulhu against Demogorgon, the two-headed Prince of Demons! 

The Eternal Champion vs. the Undead Gunslinger!
Stormbringer vs. the Guns of the South!
Who is deadliest?!

While, the likelihood of ever seeing these on a fair battlefield is nigh impossible--man, what system would we even use for this?--it's just a touch of wish-fulfillment to see the biggest heavies of gaming face off against one another.  If only, fellow gamers...if only...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

In Which The Warlock Contemplates Something Odd...

A few days ago, while trolling around, I came across a pretty standard thread in their d20/D&D forums.  Quite simply, the thread posted the question "What's the best setting for D&D?"

Immediately, I started running down my favorites in my mind, about to post my opinions.  I contemplating picking Planescape, then Ravenloft, then Dark Sun.

But as I deliberated between my options, weighing what I liked and didn't like about each, something strange occurred to me--something that I never really considered throughout all of my years of gaming.

You see, friends...I don't think I actually like Dungeons and Dragons.

I can hear you gasping from here.  Please, take a deep breath.  You're probably asking, "But, Warlock, you've been playing D&D for years!  You constantly regale us with epic exploits, thoughts on your new campaigns, and the like!  How can you possibly not like D&D?"

It was about as shocking to me, as well.  I've been playing some variation of D&D for over 15 years now, in any number of campaigns and one-shots.  But (bear with me here!), I don't think I was actually enjoying D&D.

Not your "typical"
D&D adventurer...
My favorite thing about Planescape isn't the D&D elements to it.  Rather, it was the pseudo-Victorian age philosophy, used to justify the archaic D&D alignment system.  I love the idea of "good" nihilists in The Doomguard, and the "survival of the fittests" ethos of The Fated.  I loved the idea that the "standard fantasy" archetypes were utterly flipped on their head. 

My favorite thing about Ravenloft isn't the fact that it's D&D.  Rather, it was the vulnerability of the heroes, as they made their way in a world ruled by Hammer movie monsters.  I loved the investigative nature of things, the rarity and superstition surrounding magic, and the swashbuckling-action-meets-creeping-horror feel.  Again, the "standard fantasy" was thrown overboard.

All of the things that I enjoyed about D&D....were the very things that made them not D&D. These settings were set apart because of their individuality, and TSR/WotC even made significant efforts to keep them separated. Dungeon Masters were encouraged to keep the settings and rules separate, due to their massive differences, while they simultaneously put out game material like Spelljammer, which meant to link them all...

I cut my teeth on Dragonlance, back when I was in high school, but by the time I hit college, I'd all but dropped the series.  There were no ethical questions to be explored, no tension-filled investigations to be had, and no inversions to keep me interested.  Elves, dwarves and humans were good, kender were irritating, and dragon-men were bad.  Everything was so...cut and dried.

Great game...but not for me.
To be honest, I have absolutely no interest in Cubicle 7's The One Ring rpg, despite a beautiful-looking book, and a creative game mechanic.  I just have no interest in doing the typical fantasy setting any longer.  And D&D?  Well, that's what it tries desperately to emulate...and I just don't care for it any more.

While I'd love to revisit Ravenloft sometime, I can tell you right now, I don't think I'd ever use any form of D&D mechanic to run it.  Rather, I'd probably use All For One--Regime Diabolique, by Triple Ace Games.  If I wanted to play some Dark Sun, I'd probably just use Savage Worlds.  For Planescape?  Well...I haven't quite figured that one out yet...

But still, there's a bit of an empty void in me right now, realizing that in all actuality, I may never have enjoyed the fundamental game that started the hobby that I love, cherish, and hope to work (more) in.  It's a strange feeling....

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

In Which The Warlock Presents Ramon Perez Francisco Villa-Nueva...

With The Journeyman GM's game having reached its conclusion, I figured now would be a great time to post the final "known" stats of my Fencer-hexslinger, Ramon.  Enjoy the stats!

Ramon Perez Francisco Villa-Nueva

Strength:         d8                                            Charisma:      +1
Agility:           d10                                          Grit:                6
Vigor:             d6                                            Pace:               6
Smarts:           d10                                          Parry:              8
Spirit:             d8                                            Toughness:     5


Code of Honor (Spanish Chivalric Code)
Outsider—Raised in Florida, Spain
Enemy (Minor)—Mexican Army and Santa Ana
One Arm (VotWW)
Soul Sympathy (VotWW)


Veteran of the Weird West
Arcane Background—Huckster
New Power:  Deflection
New Power:  Quickness
New Power:  Gambler
True Grit (+1 Grit)
High Roller (+1 Card when casting a hex)
Quick Draw (May draw or stow weapon as a free action)
Acrobat (+1 Parry, +2 to all Agility tricks)
Frenzy (may make 2 Fighting attacks as one action, at -2 penalty)
First Strike (make a free attack, if an enemy moves into melee range)
Right Hand of the Devil (Cutlass of Estevanico)


Knowledge: Occult—d8
Knowledge: Philosophy—d8
Knowledge: Mathematics—d6

Powers and Trappings:

Altibajo” (Boost/Lower Trait)—Ramon takes up a new fighting stance, or steels himself for the task at hand.
“Estocada” (Smite)—Ramon’s cutlass flashes with arcane energy, damaging any who touch it.
“Remoto Tajo” (Bolt)—Ramon lunges, and a ghostly form leaps from his body, impaling a distant target.
“Desviar” (Deflection)—Ramon’s form shimmers as he parries away weapons, claws, and even bullets.
“Herir de Tiempo” (Quickness)—Moving faster than the eye can follow, Ramon launches a series of attacks.
“Arriesgarse” (Gambler)—Ramon spends a few moments in quiet reflection, tracing geometric patterns in the ground with his cutlass.

Key Gear:

Cutlass of Estevanico—Relic Cutlass—Strength +2d8
Boot Knife
Smoke Pellets
Restoration Elixirs and Sampson’s Elixirs
The Heart of Darkness diamond, in a lacquered (and securely locked!) box

Accompanied by “Skippy” the Huckster, whom Ramon helped to release from Rock Island Prison.

Monday, August 15, 2011

In Which the Warlock Defies the Odds...

Call it a gamist point of view, but I love games that bring a degree of chance to the party.  It's all well and good to tell a fantastic story, but if you can't totally throw that story off of the rails with a well-placed die roll...well, then go write a novel. 

Pull up a chair, friends and neighbors, it's storytime: 
Essex Sho-Toran:
My lucky psion...

Once upon a time, when I was still a freshman at Wittenberg, I played in a D&D 3e game run by a friend of mine named Silas.  In the first session of that game, I was utterly worthless.  Playing a psion, I managed to knock myself out from psionic feedback in the first round of combat, and spent most of our first session unconscious.  However, at the final end battle, I managed to pull off a phenomenal feat...a lucky blow that turned my character from a feeble level 1 caster into a powerhouse of psionic might.  After rolling no higher than an 8 all night long, one well-timed Natural Twenty manged to slay a foe far beyond our scope, and turn Silas's campaign on its ear.

So, let's fast forward to our Deadlands game from last week. 

After destroying Rock Island Prison while searching for the mysterious "Heart of Darkness" diamond, we found ourselves in the Lost Angels Cathedral on the infamous Bloody Sunday.  Reverend Ezekiah Grimme, leader of the Church of Lost Angels, called down hellfire and brimstone...quite literally.  Demons swarmed through the cathedral, killing innocents by the score, with our heroes in the crossfire! 

Okay, so The Journeyman GM has been using the Savage Worlds Adventure Cards for this game.  Each game, we get 5 cards that provide a one-time benefit, of which we may choose 2 to keep.  My selections were pretty lackadaisical this time around, aside from one named "Make No Mistake":  "Play when facing any kind of creature with Immunity or Invulnerability.  One character may ignore those special abilities of the creature for the duration of the combat."

I looked at The Journeyman GM and said, "You know what I will be doing with this...should I take it?"

His reply, "It's the Weird West.  That's all I'll say..."

As carnage broke out in the Lost Angels Cathedral, Ramon Perez Francisco Villa-Nueva leapt atop a pew, drew the Cutlass of Estevanico, and challenged Grimme to pay for the crimes he had perpetrated at Rock Island Prison. 

From there, things went downhill steadily.  Ramon spent the next several rounds being swarmed by demons, hovering around two wounds and trying to throw off his "Shaken" result.  Grimme himself, though, answered the challenged, attempting to use a hideous rite to snuff out Ramon's life-force.  However, Ramon persevered, took some healing from the PlatinumChick's "gun-nun" Maria Pilar Vasquez, and then lunged for Grimme...

An ace!  Not familiar?  In Savage Worlds, if your die roll on a skill or ability test gets the highest possible result (a 10, on a d10, in this case), you roll it again and add the results.  Raising his cutlass high, Ramon slashed downward through Grimme with a 19 to hit, and an absurdly-massive 46 points of damage--resulting in Shaken and 9 Wounds, penetrating Grimme's Invulnerability and slaying him instantly!

Ramon Perez Francisco Villa-Nueva
rides into the Wasted West...
Okay, yeah...I know it's the Weird West and all...and the metaplot of Deadlands somewhat mandates that Grimme hangs around for a while longer, but still!  Wow!  My avenging fencer took out the Servitor of Famine in a single, massive blow!  Between that, the destruction of Rock Island Prison, and Ramon's old friend Morton "Four-Eyes" Marker heading back to his Texas Ranger brethren with incontrovertible proof of Grimme's villainy, Lost Angels may soon lie in the hands of the Confederacy!

It just goes to show that the dice are a fickle, fickle mistress.  Sometimes they hate you, and sometimes they give you a gift that'll provide for "gamer-stories" for years to come...

We just managed to finish the last segment of the "Devil's Tower" plotline this evening, with Ramon (and the huckster companion, Skippy, that the posse broke out of Rock Island) escaping far into the future, with the dangerous Stone in hot pursuit.  While the Weird West was saved, and the future altered, who knows what dangers await Ramon in the not-so Wasted West?!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

In Which The Warlock Muses on GenCon...

With my British overlords at Cubicle 7 needing GMs for their games at this year's GenCon, I couldn't help but volunteer my services to run The Laundry.  In addition to being able to make good with the muckitty-mucks of C7, I wanted to be able to get a crack at GenCon!  Plus, Will the ManMan (also known as the Journeyman GM) joined me out there, running some sessions of Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space.

A glimpse of the dealer hall at
GenCon Indy 2011
While it's true I'd been to the "best 4 days in gaming" before, you could hardly call my visit to GenCon last year a true representation of the convention itself.  While gaming with Keith Baker was a massive treat, I only managed to spend about an hour in the Dealer Hall or surveying the convention itself.  This time, while I was still busy, I got a much better handle on the convention itself!

One of the biggest things that struck me was the sheer size of the Dealer Hall.  The hall itself was about half again the size of Origins' hall, with a massive amount of vendors, authors, and publishers.  The crowds were incredibly dense, but I didn't feel that they were that much larger than any I'd already seen at the Big O. 

Pieces for Fantasy Flight's upcoming
"X-Wing" miniatures game.
One of the neatest things that The Journeyman GM and I got to take part in was a demo of X-Wing--a forthcoming by the new owners of the Star Wars license, Fantasy Flight Games.  While still in development, X-Wing was a neat little miniatures game, built to be playable without the need for a map or measuring tape.  I'm not too heavily into miniatures games, per se, but the game was quick, enjoyable, and easy enough for newbies to pick up.  I'd like to see the ships deal a little more damage, but this was an early prototype, with many changes on the horizon.

But that wasn't why I was there!  Rather, I had some Laundry agents to drive mad!  I ran three sessions of "Case Goblin Willow" (or, was it Case Goblin Winter?  It kept changing with each draft of the adventure I received...), with some great moments of role-play at the table.  I was really shocked at the amount of fans for Charles Stross' series--I'm not exactly up on the sci-fi/fantasy scene anymore, but still--wow! 

Laundry Agents make their way through
My favorite session of the three had to be my second session, which got ambushed by two zombies...who promptly managed to nearly kill off two of the agents (with shovels, no less!), and send the others into a fighting retreat.  As the police arrived to investigate the gunshots, the agents realized quickly that they still had a corpse lying in the middle of their home-base!  With two of the agents hospitalized and three more incarcerated, none stood in the way of the adventure's villain from summoning STAIRCASE DWELLER (read: Yog-Sothoth!) and causing an early occurance of Case Nightmare Green...

One thing that did frustrated me was the layout of the convention center, and the fact that numerous games--RPGs, board games, and many others--weren't even in the convention center proper!  Rather, they were in the adjoining hotels, which could be up to 3 blocks away!  That makes for a ton of travel time, which makes the whole process much less convenient.  Plus, with many of the streets near the convention center under intense repair, it only became much more difficult to get around!

Overall, though, I was really pleased with GenCon.  With Origins moving their dates forward, it's looking more and more likely that GenCon will soon become my "con of choice" for a weeklong game-a-thon.  All in good time, no?

(See my whole album from GenCon 2011 on Facebook!)

Monday, August 08, 2011

In Which The Warlock Holds His Cards Close to the Chest...

Sorry about the late entry once more, fellow gamers.  I just got back from GenCon Indy last night, after running sessions of The Laundry for Cubicle 7.  While I had a blast, and I'm eager to share my thoughts on the games and the convention itself, I'm still organizing all of my pictures, and getting my thoughts together.

So, in the meanwhile, take a look at my first real attempt at making a Cold Steel Wardens character:  Crackdown, an urban avenger out to take back the streets!

Name:                  Crackdown (James Robertson)
Concept:              Inner City Avenger

Magnetism:  4
Agility:  3
Force:  5
Intellect:  3
Accuracy:   2
Nerve:   5
Awareness:   4
Psyche:  4

Derived Stats:

Pace:  5 (2+Agility)
Defensive Value: 10 (Agility+Nerve+Boxing Bonus)
Wealth/Status: 6 (Intellect+Reputation)
Physical Strain: 16 (BP=8)
Mental Strain:   14 (BP=6)
XP:  0

Brutal (No non-lethal attacks)
Psychosis (Insomnia)
--Nemesis (The White Russian)
--Obligation (Inner City After-School Program)
--Low-Tech (-4 dice when using high-tech)

Boxing (+2 dice on Unarmed attacks, +2 DV)
Staredown (Intimidate multiple foes, free Intimidate at Init.)
Untouchable (foes at -2 to hit, after successful Intimidation)
Vehicle (Motorcycle)

Blast 4 (Electrical Shock)
--Optional Effect: Usable on Unarmed Attacks

Physical Skills:
Athletics              4              (Force 5)
Stealth                 3              (Agiliity 3)
Unarmed             5              (Agility 3)
Armed Melee    2              (Agility 3)
Armed Ranged  2              (Accuracy 2)

Investigative Skills:
Notice                  4              (Awareness 4)
Investigation     2              (Awareness 4)
Canvass              4              (Magnetism 4)
Examination      1              (Awareness 4)
Research             2              (Intellect 3)

Social Skills:
Persuade             2              (Magnetism 4)
Deception           3              (Magnetism 4)
Intimidation      6              (Magnetism 4/Force 5)
Insight                  2              (Awareness 4)
Reputation         3              (Magnetism 4)

Knowledge Skills:
Cultural                1              (Intellect 3)
Criminal               4              (Intellect 3)
Esoteric                3              (Intellect 3)
Historical             1              (Intellect 3)
Scientific             1              (Intellect 3)

Technical Skills:
Driving                 3              (Accuracy 2)
Piloting                 0              (Accuracy 2)
Mechanical         0              (Intellect 3)
Vehicle Comb.  0              (Accuracy 2)
Fine Manip.        3              (Accuracy 2)

Free-Running (Athletics); Hiding (Stealth); Spot Motion (Notice); Canvass Underworld (Canvass); Bluffing (Deception); “The Stare” (Intimidation); Violent Display (Intimidation);  Gangs (Criminal Know); Metahuman Abilities (Esoteric Know); Motorcycle (Drive)
Graduation from Moore College, after growing up in the inner city.
Foundation of after-school program to get kids off of the street.
Death of Sean Williamson, one of James' first "kids".
Take back the streets for the innocent and underprivledged.
Take down the gangs that have infested the ghetto.
Shut down the White Russian's gun-running operation.
"If you get in my way, I take you down...hard."
"The cops are in the pocket of the mob anyway."
"I'm not going to hurt a kid; I don't care if he does have a gun."
"Every cent I take from these bastards is a gun off the streets, and new equipment for the kids..."
(As always, this material is playtest only, and is subject to change.  Cold Steel Wardens and the MAFIANAP mechanics and game system is copyright A.P. Klosky, 2011, trademarks pending.)

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

In Which the Warlock Contemplates Game Against Story...

Okay, fellow gamers.   Bear with me for a tick, once more, as I do some rambling.

The games that I tend to enjoy stem from a fairly diverse number of systems and fundamental game theories.  But, the systems that I tend to favor most recently all have one major thing in common:  the ability to manipulate and even to defeat luck.

The Copper Pot collects some fate...
In WEGS, every Ark comes ready-equipped with a number of Spoints, which can be used on nearly any percentage roll in the game, and even on some non-percentage rolls.  It's entirely possible--and sometimes more than desirable!--to use Spoints to achieve a percentage-chance of success that exceeds 100%.  While this all but guarantees success--barring a really horrible Bad Shot or a Wicked Failure--luck has effectively been removed from the equation.  The spell goes off, the sword strikes true.

In Savage Worlds and its numerous settings, every hero comes equipped with Bennies (or, Fate Chips, if you're playing Deadlands), which can turn a seemingly lethal blow into a near miss, or allow for complete and total re-rolls on skills.  In ICONS, heroes get Determination, which allows them to create power stunts, achieve massive levels of success (regardless of dice roll), and even "retcon" details in a scene, changing the narrative.

Not all games include such a system.  Aside from a brief flirtation with them in Eberron, D&D has never used such a mechanics.  Action points in 4e rarely grant anything but an extra action.  Call of Cthulhu and other "atmospheric" games don't use such a mechanic.

So, as I continue working on Cold Steel Wardens, a major question arises.  Do I put such a mechanic into the game, or do I "let the dice fall where they may"?

Representation of GNS Theory
I believe that the rub lies in what's referred to within game design circles as GNS Theory or, later, The Big Model.  Ron Edwards--creator of the Sorcerer RPG--created this theory as an ongoing set of theory regarding social interactions through role-playing games.  It's been one of the longest running controversies within game design circles since Edwards came up with the idea, but for me at least, Edwards' ideas run true.  Edwards claimed that players (and the games that they prefer) typically would fall within a given category--Gamist, Narrativist, or Simulationist.

My main impetus in creating Cold Steel Wardens echoes a fundamentally Simulationist.  As a representation of the Iron Age of Comics, CSW is built to emulate a certain era of comics, including all of the conceits and hallmarks of that era.  As I told ChaoticFrederick--whose commentary and revisions have been invaluable as I've moved forward!--I expect there to be ninjas, I expect there to be lots of guns, and I expect there to be mafia bosses.  Those are all stereotypes that are hallmarks of the Iron Age of Comics, for better or worse, and they tend to appear quite often.

However, I have a strong desire towards specific Narrativist goals.  The system for Aspects, Motivations, and Stances--which I'm about 2/3 of the way through!--encourages players to test their Hero's assumptions about ethics and morality.  While this stems from such storylines like Miller's Daredevil: Born Again and O'Neil's run on The Question, it's a fundamentally Narrativist idea.  Further, the investigative nature of the material itself lends itself towards storytelling, on the player level, the GM level, and the table-wide level.

However, the mechanics of CSW also provide for a degree of system mastery and "optimal build", which are hallmarks of the Gamist idea.  There's a strong desire for me, as a designer and as a gamer, to try to build "The World's Greatest Detective" or "The Martial Arts Master" in this system.  And, as with nearly every system out there, I've spent more than my share of time dealing with combat at this point--the "throne room" of the Gamist player.  Plus, the ideas that I've been kicking about, regarding a system for in-depth investigation, are solidly gamist--it's a matter of how well the Heroes can access the clues, and how well the Players can put them together.

So, where does this leave us?  Well, with the Hero Pool.  This is to say, the fate-defying mechanic I'm debating building into Cold Steel Wardens.  It's a simple mechanic--a pool of d8s equal to twice the number of players, which can be used to add to any test.  They're one use only--once they're gone, they're gone, unless the GM refreshes them (usually by challenging the PCs in underhanded ways). 

One might say that it's a fundamentally Gamist mechanic--it's something built in to defeat luck, and can be exploited.  It doesn't add much to the story, says the Gamist, but it lets us hit once in a while.  The Narrativist would probably disagree, adding that it adds more creative control to the minds of the players, and allows the Heroes to add in that "last-ditch effort" on a test that really requires a success.  A Simultationist might decry such a mechanic, due to lack of "realism", but simultaneously uphold it as a fitting representation of the genre. 

So, again, where does this leave us?  I'm not really sure.  I wouldn't be so arrogant thusfar as to say that CSW is going to be the mystical Zen-center of the GNS spectrum, but it's raised quite a few questions in my mind, as to where CSW is going.  Let's see how playtest rolls out, and we'll go from there...

A few links for you, in case you're curious: