Wednesday, September 26, 2012

In Which The Warlock Picks Nits...

Having a "real job" does have its perks.  While I'm still up to my eyeballs, between grading, planning, writing papers for online classes, and the struggles to finish out Cold Steel Wardens, the best perk of having a real job is undoubtedly the cash...which, in gaming terms, means gaming swag!

Since graduating and entering the workforce, there's hardly a doubt that my gaming library has increased.  It's overflowing our game room shelves, to the point where we swiftly need to rearrange our collection!  That said, I do try to be judicious in my spending--after all, there's only so much that one can spend on gaming!  I check out reviews on, and try to read sample chapters or previews before I actually make a purchase.

But, even among the best of gamebooks out there, there are certain nitpicks that just drive me up a wall:

No Index!

Oh, man!  This one's an unforgivable sin.  You see, a game manual--particularly a core-rulebook--is, in essence, a reference book.  While full of flavor text, fiction, and setting material, a well-written game manual should make it easy to find information quickly and easily.  Indexes make character creation easier, rules referencing swifter, and overall organization more...well, organized!  With this age of print-on-demand and numerous print utilities, it's easier than ever to include an index any work.

Heroes Unlimited, the old warhorse that brought me into the gaming in the first place, is the biggest offender on my shelf in this regard.  While the Palladium rules set overall is messy enough, the lack of an index makes the rules almost impossible to navigate swiftly during a game session.  Situational rules become hard to find, which slows down the pace of a game.  A simple index could easily solve the problem, but such isn't the case.

Bad Font Choices!

Cursive!  Curse you!
As I'm learning, fonts are an incredibly powerful thing.  In choosing fonts for Cold Steel Wardens, I've been trying to find ones that exude a gritty, urban feel but are still legible and easy to read.  Fonts have a tendency to inspire irrational rage in certain people--just see the crusade against Comic Sans!

In this case, All For One: Regime Diabolique was the biggest offender for me.  While fancy cursive calligraphy perfectly fits the Musketeer-milieu, the cursive font chosen for chapter sub-headings came out gritty and grainy, making those sub-headings difficult to read, and impossible to discern at a glance.  I can't imagine how these headings look in PDF format--it certainly can't be legible!


NPCs are important.  We all know this.  I have a massive chapter in CSW devoted solely to populating the world and giving unique hooks and elements to base campaign sessions around.  That said, NPCs are there to provide opportunities for PC interaction.  They may be major players, yes, but they should never be the most major.

As much as I love it, Deadlands is a big offender here.  While significantly toned down in the Reloaded version, the Classic Deadlands rules made major NPCs into invincible killing machines with literally every power and skill in the book.  Worst of all was the time-jumping Jackie Wells, whom The Journeyman GM railed against in his sessions of the "Heart of Darkness" trilogy.  On the plus side, though, the current rules at let you destroy those NPCs in the Plot Point campaigns!

Kitchen Sink Gaming!

Great system.  Great setting.
Can't say that I cared for them together...
I'm a big believer in mechanics supporting a specific method of play.  While generic systems are neat and viable for some things, I find that they tend to leave the flavor of the game in the hands of the GM, rather than bringing it to the table through mechanics.  For example, Savage Worlds makes for great pulp games and, with its gambling and poker elements, fits the Weird West of Deadlands.  But, after reading through both Realms of Cthulhu and the Horror Companion, I'm more and more convinced that I never want to run a true horror game with Savage Worlds--the game simply isn't built around that concept, especially when games like Dread or Call of Cthulhu are available.  You can surely hammer a nail with a wrench, but wouldn't a hammer be easier?

The d20 glut was a huge offender here, but it's Mutants and Masterminds that gets my goat the most.  While I respect the game greatly--and, for Justice League or Avengers-style adventures, it can work very well--every time I've played M&M, I find that the rules just add nothing to the experience.  That, in my eyes, is a problem, but it's one I intend to fix...

Okay, so this post was a touch negative.  Next time out, let's take a look at some of my favorite schemes in game design!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

In Which The Warlock is Overwhelmed...

I've got a bit of a confession to make, my friends and neighbors.  You see, I haven't been giving this blog all the attention that it deserves.  After almost a year and a half of faithful twice-weekly entries, time and energy have just run out on my end.

I like to think that you're sympathetic in this regard.  You see, in addition to my normal, "real" job of teaching, I've also been taking two college courses for my professional development plan, as well as reformatting all of my courses for iPad usage, as part of the Northmont iPad Pilot program.  On top of all that, I've been working on establishing copyrights and incorporation for my forthcoming company and working on items for our weekly games.

Quite simply, I'm overwhelmed.  There's just too much to do.

That's why, at least until December, I'm going to take my blogging frequency back down to once per week.  Until I manage to get my life back in line, I need to be able to focus on schoolwork, professional development, and actually putting out a potential product.

That said, I'll still do my best to put forward new thoughts on game design, previews for Cold Steel Wardens and The Pendulum Method, reviews of all things geeky in the Miami Valley, and more.  In fact, you can check out a brand new upload--the Huntsmen, a series of PCs for ICONS: Superpowered Roleplaying.

Enjoy, and keep forging on, brothers and sisters!  We can do it!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

In Which The Warlock Rolls Again, now with Advantage...

This past Friday, the current Wittenberg Guildies hosted a "Beginner's Luck" one-shot, focusing on introducing new gamers to both the hobby and roleplaying as an idea.  While we originally had an array of three one-shots prepped--a D&D Next playtest, a Savage Worlds conversion of Firefly, and a Marvel-themed ICONS game--demand and an unlucky power outage reduced us down to two sessions of the playtest.

Now, you might recall that I wasn't exactly kind in my previous playtests of this rule-set.  Both as a player and a GM, massive flaws became quickly apparent, which really led to difficulties with the game as a whole.

Since then, those rules have undergone a fair amount of revision:  two sub-classes were added (the Warlock and the Sorcerer), character generation rules were included, and the Fighter's basic mechanics were altered to include an "expertise die" that refreshed each round.

Mind you, I wasn't planning on running D&D that evening, much less the new playtest rules, which I had only skimmed over.  While the new playtest packet contained an adventure--"Reclaiming Blingdenstone"--I was barely able to glance at said adventure before game had started.  Plus, we didn't exactly have a balanced party for a dungeon crawl.  My four players ended up rolling a Warlock, a Wizard, a Sorcerer and a Fighter; nary a Rogue nor Cleric to be seen!

And you thought they were bad,
before they were wizards!
As such, I had to improvise.  Figuring that our three arcanists probably knew each other, I decided to run a riff on the immortal Harry Potter series, placing our erstwhile adventurers in the library of Ikksplatt University of the Arcane Arts, something of a combination of Hogwart's Academy and Faber College, from the immortal frat-boy hit, Animal House.

And, oh my...we had a blast.

After a swarm of stirges ambushed some thirsty co-eds outside the library--which were fought off by our intrepid investigators, naturally--Headmaster Gornash offered the group a  "book stipend" if they could infiltrate the Theta Gamma Delta fraternity house and find out what was causing the stirge infestation on campus.

This led to a crazy showdown at a "wizard's mark" party at the fraternity house, some rather...unorthodox...uses of the Charm Person spell, and a series of encounters with a drunken half-ogre invoker.  In the end, the players managed to make it down into the cold dorm, where the fraternity president and his stoner elf frat brother were keeping a hungry Gelatinous Cube as a pet!

While everyone at the table had fun, I think that the fun came as a result of the absurdity of the scenario, rather than the rules themselves.  The Fighter, despite numerous mechanical changes, still felt significantly underpowered compared to the arcanists.  While he could dish out and avoid damage, that was pretty much all the class could do.  The arcanists seemed fairly well on par with one another, though few spells were cast.  I'm a touch worried that the Wizard could easily outstrip its compatriots at higher levels, much as it did in 3e/3.5e.

Further, the class write-ups for the Warlock and Sorcerer show their newer, less-refined nature.  The character generation rules for both of those classes were particularly vague, and both players at my table--one of which was the PlatinumChick, an experienced gamer if there ever was one--had issues understanding how much access to spells they actually had.  The Warlock character, in fact, played the first half of the game believing that he only had access to one spell:  Comprehend Languages!  That lack of clarity there is absolutely unacceptable in a finished product, but as playtest material goes, I suppose it's to be expected.

I'm still very much on the fence about D&D Next, as you might imagine.  While I'll likely pick up the most basic set, I can't imagine picking up much more of the line than that.  Simply put, it's got a long way to go before I start really being interested in D&D again.

Monday, September 10, 2012

In Which The Warlock Lauds the Journeyman!

I'm pleased to report some fantastic news:  our good friend and fellow Wittenberg alum Will Herrmann--head of Journeyman Games--has officially funded his Savage Worlds Wild Card Creator!

Will's success thusfar is truly one to remember.  His program shattered every funding and stretch goal that Will could throw at it, raising a grand total of over $10,500 in his first time out of the box.  His program will now include full Android and iPad support, support for Savage Showdown factions (the Savage Worlds miniatures game), art from both Storn Cook and Cheyenne Wright, and more.

I've got to say, the thing that excites me most has to be the addition of Cheyenne Wright's artwork.  You see, Wright made Will a spectacular offer--everyone at the Heroic and Legendary tiers (myself included) gets their character drawn specifically for the Wild Card Creator.  For me, that means that my Deadlands huckster/fencer--Ramon Perez Francisco Villa-Nueva--will not just be realized, but also featured!  I can't wait to see him in action!

While it's too late to support the KickStarter, you can still donate/pre-order the Wild Card Creator at Will's site, which is now on my sidebar.  If you haven't done it already, get on board!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

In Which The Warlock Avenges the End of the World...

With our sessions of "The Flood" now at the end, our Friday night group has had one major question for a while:  What comes next?!

Well, the answer is a very positive one for me.  The PlatinumChick has opted to take the GMing reins for a while and will be running Hell on Earth Reloaded!

I thought long and hard on my character concept for this one, but with so many options, I found it truly hard to decide!  I toyed with the idea of a Heretic Doomsayer for a while, and even thought of running a kung-fu Librarian for a time.  But, eventually, I came up with this--my newest creation:

Jason Arrington was a corporal in the US Marine Corps before the Big Bang. While he hadn't seen much combat duty, his time spent as an artillery repairman on bases throughout Ohio and Michigan made him more than technologically apt. It also provided Jason a good deal of free time, during which he indulged in his favorite hobby: reading comic books. 

Jason's favorite character was Hawkeye, the brash archer from Marvel's Avengers. When asked why, Jason was quick to reply, "Because he's always got a trick up his sleeve..." 

When the Union began implementing Operation Damocles Soldier, Jason was one of the recruits selected, due to his technical expertise. However, when Jason was placed in cryogenic stasis, something went slightly amiss. Maybe the oxygen flow to Jason's brain wasnt quite right. Maybe some interfering gremlin introduced some technological mischief. 

Welcome to the Wasted West, Mr. Barton! 

Regardless, when Jason awoke after the Big Bang, the entire cryo-shelter was blown to smithereens. Jason himself was barely clothed, could not remember much to save his life, and could hardly walk due to muscle atrophy. Crawling back into the ruins of the cryo-shelter, Jason began scavenging all he could and began putting together the pieces of his awakening...just not in the right order. 

You see, Jason now believes wholeheartedly that he is Clint Barton, the peerless archer of Marvel fame. Finding a compound bow--a hunting bow left in a locker by a careless sergeant--Jason convinced himself that he had survived an attack on a top secret SHIELD facility, and that he is the only surviving Avenger. 

Jason/Clint thinks he has things pieced together, though his perception is warped and stilted. He believes that Apocalypse (the Marvel mutant menace) caused the devastation in the world and that his Four Horsemen are actually corrupted versions of former heroes, who can be redeemed. (Obviously, we know this not to be the case.). Jason regularly calls ghost rock "vibranium" and uses a means at his disposal to try to contact non-existent heroes like Tony Stark, Thor, or the X-Men. 

The tech spirits in the Hunting Grounds have done nothing but foster this grand delusion, granting Jason the abilities of a Junker, which manifest as Jason/Clint salvaging parts to "build new arrowheads" and piece together the gadgets Jason remembers from countless comics. Grapnel arrows, stun arrows, explosive-tipped arrows...if they're in the comics, they're in Jason's subconscious, and they're in his quiver. 

Jason/Clint wants desperately to build a new SHIELD and, with it, a new Avengers team, in the hopes to avenge his losses and take down (the totally fictitious) Apocalypse. So far, Jason's only clue has been a set of dog-tags, found upon his awakening. 

The tags belong to a 1st Lieutenant Gordon Eriksen. Eriksen was the commander of the Damocles facility where Jason was frozen, and may be the one man who knows Jason's true identity. Unfortunately, Eriksen has been turned into a Combine cyborg... 

Honestly, I can't wait to play this character.  Nothing like bringing a bit of cross-genre action to the Wasted West!

Oh, and one last thing!  If you're a Savage Worlds fan and you haven't supported Journeyman Games' Wild Card Creator Kickstarter yet, your last chance is going to be this week!  Three days left, and we're only about $150 short of the final stretch goal--full iPad and Android support.  Check the link on the right sidebar to donate!

Monday, September 03, 2012

In Which The Warlock Goes Swimming...

End of the line for Reverend Grimme!
It's time for a flood!
(For those of you Deadlands fans out there, this post contains MASSIVE spoilers for the end of The Flood plot-point campaign.  If you're not prepared to know how the Right Reverend Grimme gets what's coming to him, don't read any further!)

Finally, after nearly a year and a half of near-weekly session, my Friday night posse managed to finish their epic campaign to take down the Cult of Lost Angels and its master, the Reverend Ezekiah Grimme.

For those of you playing along at home, who might have forgotten our cast, let me give you a brief refresher:

  • Jayne Cobb--a gunslinger from Maine who had fled to the Great Maze after some unfortunate deaths.  In addition to being the posse's de-facto wheelman, Jayne found himself possessed by the spirit of a long-dead pastor devoured by Grimme's ghouls.  This spirit caused Jayne to pursue the ancestral daisho of Warlord Kwan:  a relic set of swords enchanted by the spirits of Kwan's ancestors.
  • Paqua--a Hopi shamaness who joined the group upon their arrival in Shan Fan. Paqua served as the party's "native liason" as well as a healer.  After escorting the undead-raising Amulet of Rahashimir to Virginia City (the first eventually ended up back in Shan Fan, in the hands of Emperor Norton!) Paqua garnered the attention of a certain Servitor of Death...
  • Dr. Albert Noble--a Confederate veteran mad scientist, Noble's devices served the group well as he maintained their steam wagon and provided well-timed explosions when necessary.  Noble's liasons with the Confederates at Shannonsburg netted him a swanky position at the secret Confederate labs at Roswell, New Mexico!
  • Angus Cole--the hideously disfigured gunslinger (and hexcaster!) supposedly hailed from the Confederacy, but rather a Union agent in disguise!  Angus's continued attempts to contact his higher-ups in the Agency were good-intentioned, though his telegraphs had a distinct tendency to be intercepted by everyone from the Confederates to Warlord Kwan to Grimme himself!
  • Tara Jenkins--a rodeo gal from North Texas, the most notable thing about Tara was her death!  Squished into the ground by a Mojave rattler, Tara rose up as a Harrowed.  But, little did she know that her demon-rider had complete control over her, and was just biding its time to betray the party.  With the party entrusting the Amulet of Rashashimir to her on their way to Fort 51 (the second time!), they were in for a rude awakening!
  • Eddie Van Horn--a bare-knuckles boxer from Boston, the posse found Eddie in Rock Island Prison, trapped with Samuel Q. Hellman.  However, none knew much about Eddie's true nature--he was a werewolf!  The posse managed to cure Eddie, with the help of Mr. Eddington and Mr. Andrew Lane at Fort 51, but he still provided a ready right cross whenever they needed him.
  • Mary Ellen Hardigan--nominally the star of our show, Mary Ellen grew up in Lost Angels.  In their early adventures, the posse saved Mary Ellen from one of Grimme's corpse carts and she was given a steam-powered arm by none other than Dr. Darius Hellstromme himself!  Mary Ellen's opium-fueled vendetta against Grimme led her to ally with Big Ears Tam, the Confederates at Shannonsburg, and numerous others...

Now, our version of The Flood has taken several left turns of the base plot point campaign.  First off, we did very little with Santa Ana's invasion of California, saving it for a "montage" style series of attacks provoking the one-legged Mexican to send his army against Grimme.

However, much of our action centered around a theme of possession and control--with three of the posse members (Eddie, Tara, and Jayne) all having some "rider" in their brain, we focused on what the repercussions of their state of mind would be.  Eddie was quick to take up any possible cure, believing his lycanthropy to be a curse.  Jayne, though, worked towards an equilibrium with the spirit inhabiting his brain, working together towards a greater good.

This theme worked well in tandem with the other major theme of the campaign--addiction.  Mary Ellen's major hindrance was her addiction to morphine and opium, which she later managed to spread to Dr. Noble and very nearly to Paqua, who resisted her addiction vociferously.  While the others had a "literal" rider in their brain, Noble and Hardigan had a more figurative "monkey on their back", which brought huge amounts of trouble, particularly in a region beset by Famine and Pestilence.

It's in our last few sessions that things really started hitting the fan, so to speak.  After recovering the Amulet of Rahashimir for a second time, the posse decided to personally escort the relic to Fort 51 and turn it over to the Agency, via their liaisons Angus Cole and Marcus Black.  However, while there, Tara's manitou took over, stealing the Amulet and ghosting through the floors in an attempt to escape!  Unfortunately for her, Jayne lost control of his own spiritual rider, who responded to Tara's betrayal with a katana to the skull.

After a side trip to New Jerusalem and a few months aggravating Santa Ana in Mexicali, the stage was set for our heroes to return to Lost Angels.  Sneaking into Perdition, Paqua was shocked to see a familiar face--that of the cybernetically augmented Charley Bill Buckner, the Wasatch Rail Foreman at Ore Collection Station #37.  Buckner curtly told the group that their old friend--Ronnie Clum, the photographer for the Tombstone Epitaph--was captured by Guardian Angels in Ghost Town, the flaming remains of the LA suburbs.

Inspiration, perhaps?
Quickly, the posse managed to contact their allies in the area--a small group of Texas Rangers conscripted by Admiral Birminghamton, after the posse handed over Fort Jackson (or, Fort Formerly-Known-as-Norton), and a handful of ninjas, courtesy of Big Ears Tam.  Formulating a plan, they prepared to sneak into the city, but not before activating the final Apache petroglyph and saving Ronnie Clum, who had a surprise for them.  You see, following up on some leads from Tombstone, Clum managed to find something of real worth:  Ezekiah Grimme's walking stick, long thought lost within the Great Maze!

With walking stick, katana, and tomahawk in hand, our posse snuck into the Grand Cathedral of Lost Angels at dawn on August 23rd, 1880.  With a storm swirling overhead, the group dripped their blood onto the stones of the cathedral as a peal of thunder let loose.  Grimme, his Angel of Death Garrett Black, and his Immortal Thirteen clawed their way out from the depths of the cathedral's crypt and sacristy, spattered with the blood of their unholy feast.

And, with that, the battle was joined.  After an epic struggle, the Thirteen lay dead on the floor of the cathedral while Jayne Cobb stood over the crumpled, broken form of Grimme.  Lightning crashed through the massive stained glass window of the cathedral, shattering Grimme's unholy altar, as a massive wave of water rose up before the wickedness and debauched city below.

So, as you might imagine from the title, Lost Angels vanished beneath a massive tsunami, summoned by the ancient magics of the Apache.  While our heroes somehow--miraculously, perhaps?--managed to survive, the Servitor of Famine and his followers have been eradicated, and the Weird West is a safer place.

But what's next?  That, friends and neighbors, comes next entry...