Wednesday, March 28, 2012

In Which The Warlock Lays Out Some Wrath! (Of Con, Even!)

Whew!  What a blast! 

WittCon IX has come and gone, amigos, and this year's con really made an impression!  A full day of gaming, costumes, and more, WittCon IX brought out 103 eager gamers to Wittenberg University's Shouvlin Center for some great times, indeed!  This marks the second-most attendees in WittCon history--second only to WittCon II, which had the full support of then-local Springfield area game store, Howling Wolf Studios.

And, naturally, we've been up to our eyeballs in WittCon-related gloriousness.  The PlatinumChick managed to get her newest costume together in time for a preview, as she's planning on making a big debut at C2E2 this year.  Here's her with her two cosplay compatriots, ChaoticLauryn and CosplayKit!

Three superheroic lovelies...

The convention experience, I've got to say, is an exhausting experience.  Managing to arrive at Witt at the ripe hour of 9am, we were pretty wiped from the start.  Luckily for us, the Wittenberg Commons (or, Post 95, for you young whippersnappers!) was well equipped with enough caffeine to keep me going throughout the day!

How the PlatinumWarlock began his
WittCon IX experience...

WittCon IX also saw the debut of a new game from GameWick Games--the beta test of Pittsburgh '68--A Game of Shuffling Horror!  During this year's one-hour one shots, I ran two groups of would-be survivors through the undead apocalypse.  One thing I really love about this game is the speed around the table.  Each round took only about a minute and a half, circling the table again and again in a maelstrom of splattered zombies and bitten survivors.  Fun times, indeed!

Facing down the hordes, in Pittsburgh '68!

One of the biggest highlights, though, was EEE's special-feature for the con:  a live-action version of the quintessential D&D dungeon, Orc and Pie!  With real-life pie as a reward for successful adventurers, it was well worth spending 15 minutes in the dungeon!  Plus, who could resist beating up poor Emily, dressed as the hapless orc!

Speedy stealths away from the mighty Orc!

My full-length game, though, was something of...okay, let's not mince words here:  a total disaster.  While I had high hopes for my Hell on Earth section--a slightly amended version of my Ravenous in Reno scenario--my fellow gamers said otherwise.  While I'll spend a good deal more time expanding on the scenario in an upcoming entry, suffice to say that my players did nothing of what they were supposed all.  When I introduced the scenario, I told the players that the scenario was somewhat based on the timeless western The Magnificent Seven.  However, in actuality?  It turned out more like Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Luckily, it seemed like everyone had fun, which is what counted.  And, truth be told, the group really did go out with a bang! 

A highly dysfunctional Deadlands: Hell on Earth group!

If that's not enough for you, you can check out my full photo album on Facebook, here:  WittCon IX Photos!

Monday, March 19, 2012

In Which The Warlock Begins the Con Season with a Bang!

Sorry I've been so quiet recently, but I've been prepping for the big event!

This Saturday, at Wittenberg's Shouvlin Center, we'll be holding WittCon IX:  Wrath of Con!

Come on out and play a variety of games, paint a mini at Reaper Miniatures' paint-and-take, beat down your friends in an Amtgard LARP event, make some chainmail with GenesisMaille, and much more more! 

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In Which The Warlock Calls Upon the Last Susquehanna...

In amongst our run-through of "The Flood" in my Friday night group, I'd almost lost track of all of the great material on the docket for Deadlands and its sister games, Hell on Earth and Lost Colony

But now?'s a doozy!

Deadlands--The Last Sons:  a Plot-Point campaign, and more!

Where "The Flood" takes place almost entirely in shattered California, "The Last Sons" takes the action right to the center of the Weird West--Dodge City and its environs.  And, at 336 pages, it has more content than both core Deadlands books...combined!

I can't wait to get my hands on this one.  I may hold off for the dead-tree edition at Origins, but I think I know what I'll be running at Wittenberg next year!

Monday, March 12, 2012

In Which The Warlock Illumines the Unobtained...

I've been lucky enough in 15-odd years of gaming to have run and played in huge variety of campaigns, one-shots, convention games and more.  And, through this blog, I've been able to share--at least somewhat--my experiences with you, oh glorious reader.

But, y'know...there's a lot that I haven't done.  A lot that I'd love to be able to do, but just haven't quite managed it yet.  And so, fellow gamers:  I present to you the start of my "Gamer Bucket List!"

  • I want to play Planescape.  Oh, my yes.  In all of its Victorian-philosophizing, genre-bending weirdness, I've never actually gotten to play in a Planescape game.  I'd love to see that change sometime soon.

  • I want to run a LARP.  Still haven't managed to do this one, despite the WittKids having one every semester for the past few years.  I think my penchant for causing inter-party strife would make an excellent asset for a diceless showdown.

  • I want to play in a swashbuckling, high-adventure game.  Not sure this one is going to be on the horizon, either, but I have a tendency to shy away from games with 'derring-do' in favor of more 'serious' games with elements of horror and suspense.  Just once, I'd like to be able to cut loose and run a dashing swashbuckler with a devil-may-care attitude.

  • I want to be scared in a horror game.  Not saying that I want blood, gore, and entrails all over the floor, but I'd love it if a game actually managed to put some fear into my jaded gamer heart.

  • I want to wean myself off of Savage Worlds.  Not to say that it's a bad system--far from it!  It's becoming my go-to system for all things.  But, there are some things that it just doesn't do particularly well:  actual horror, for one. 

  • I want to do some more reading.  While I've done a fair amount of reading in terms of game-books, my actual reading list has shied away from genre-fiction in the last 5 years and more towards heavier literature or (for light reading) comics.  I haven't touched sci-fi or fantasy novels in years and, judging by the field out there, it's not likely that I'll return anytime soon.

  • I'd love to be able to field-test a new system.  While writing Cold Steel Wardens, my influences are pretty evident--4e D&D, Savage Worlds, ICONS, Heroes Unlimited, and Mutants and Masterminds to name a few--but it'd be great to see someone else going through the playtesting process.

  • I want to run one of the classic campaign arcs for a chosen system.  This could be any number of games:  the "Dime Novels" of Deadlands, the original Temple of Elemental Evil series for D&D, or the plot point campaign of Necessary Evil.  I've had a lot of fun with "The Flood," but there are so many classic campaigns out there to sample...
I suppose all of this is just a start--there's tons more that I'd love to do before I hand in my dice for good.  Any other suggestions?

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

In Which The Warlock Deals Some Death...

Let's start today's update with an image:

The first Deadlands book that I bought... :D
I love this image.  It evokes everything that I love about Deadlands:  monolithic evil in a familiar, yet terrifying, setting; steampunk wackiness in the form of the steam wagon; heroes facing down unfathomable odds; and a tentacled, Cthulhian horror.

The creature in question, in fact, is known as a Mojave Rattler--so named from their preferred habitat and the ominous rattling sound that occurs as the creature burrows through the earth.  When I first saw this image, I knew that I had to throw a posse up against one of these--it was just a matter of when.  This past Friday, I got my chance.

Hightailing it out of Shan Fan for a bit, in the hopes that things would cool down, our heroic posse decided to hunt down the glyph from our "flash forward", off near Reno.  Taking a Denver-Pacific train into Virginia City, they hoofed it south to find the glyph.  However, they didn't count on driving through a rattler nest in doing so!

With the battle joined, a few things have to be noted.  Mojave rattlers aren't stupid.  In fact, they're fairly intelligent--a point that gets expanded on in Hell on Earth--but their fighting skill isn't exactly spectacular.  That said, the rattler's most devastating attack is a massive slam:  the creature rears up and smashes down on its foes with a massive amount of weight.

Unfortunately for Tara--FridayNightJess's rodeo gal--she was on the receiving end of the brunt of that slam, along with Eddie van Horn, the New York boxer that the PCs freed from Rock Island prison.  But, where Eddie managed to get far enough out of the way to survive (strangely enough!)....Tara was squished like a bug.  Or, so it would seem.

An aside, briefly.  While Chris2 often comes up with great ideas, some of his are just...outright bad.  When the PCs managed to recover the Amulet of Rahashimir from Big Ears Tam and discovered its real effects--the ability to raise the undead--Chris2 suggested marching an undead army into Lost Angels to take down Grimme.  Bad idea.  As such, Chris2 earned himself the "Big Blind" chip--a chip that I could cash in on him....whenever I felt like it.

Tara's next step...
Jess was a touch down from Tara's death, but Chris2 had a plan:  an adventure card that summoned "aid from an unseen source".  I smiled.  I told him I'd let him play that adventure card, and I'd even take his Big Blind chip away...

...and, unbeknownst to him, bring Tara back as a Harrowed.

Again, an aside.  Anytime I have "secret information" to give out at our Friday night table, I take the player in question into the living room for a private conference.  ChaoticFred has been in my living room more than anyone thusfar, due to his connections with Big Ears Tam.  This time, though...everyone except Fred ended up in the living room, as secrets and information flooded through the group. 

And now?  The cats are all out of the bag.  FridayNightWill gave up control of body to the being in his head, which has helped him unlock the powers of Warlord Kwan's ancestral swords.  Jess is coming to terms with being undead, Eddie still manages to survive certain death (for unknown reasons), Chris2 has finally gotten hold of his contacts in the Agency, and Jules' shamaness has had a brush with a certain Servitor of Death...

...and we're just getting rolling!

Sunday, March 04, 2012

In Which The Warlock Revisits Tristram...

If you follow this blog regularly, you're probably well aware of my fascination (read:  utter obsession) with Diablo III.  The PlatinumChick, I'm sure, has gotten sick of me watching videos of beta footage before bed, ranting about rescheduled and reschedule release dates, and agonizing over my inability to play the beta. 

While the first two might remain true...the third?  Oh, there's been a change...

Thanks to a quick trigger finger on my F5 key and the generosity of the fellows at Vox Gamers, I managed to win my very own beta key!

Now, while I'd been lucky enough to play through once, thanks to WoWSonya's husband Sean, this meant that I could really immerse myself in the full Diablo experience, rather than just rushing my way through on a computer that wasn't mine.  I could sit back, relax, and let the monster-slaying, loot-snatching carnage begin in earnest!

Firstly, though, a caveat.  My laptop is nearly 4 years old and is beginning to show its age.  I'm missing two keys, with two more super-glued on.  My dual-core processor, while hefty for its time, is quite out of date now, as Intel's "i3/5/7" series of processors were state of the art when I bought this machine.  My graphics card is still reasonably useful, though my sheer lack of processing power is a definite detriment.  When I get my car paid off--three payments to go!--I'll be looking at a serious upgrade, but until then I'm stuck.

Sith Lightning for the win!
My first play-through was using the Wizard, whom I had been eyeing up for months.  The sheer awesome-factor of "Electrocute" was simply too much to pass up--I mean, who doesn't want to shoot lightning from their fingertips?!  And, while I wasn't disappointed with the Wizard, I had to let out a complacent sigh:  with the changes made the most recent patch, Electrocute was moved to level 11, while the level cap remained at 13.  When I defeated Leoric, the Skeleton King, I had just barely managed to make it to level dreams of Sith lightning would have to wait for another playthrough.

That said, the Wizard was a blast to play.  Arcane Orb, runed shortly after getting it, produced bluish-purple explosions that sent enemies flying in pieces.  Zombies splattered apart into meaty, rotting shards with the concussive force of my arcane might.  Oh, what fun!  I tried using Shock Pulse over the old standby, Magic Missile, but found that the range on Shock Pulse was simply too short.  Enemies at the range of my screen would stand there, oblivious, as my bolts of electric power fell short of them and fizzled out.  Frost Nova, as well, was something as a let down, as it dealt no damage.  I quickly replaced it with Wave of Force, which sent enemies' corpses flying away from me in a most delightful manner.

This is, however, where my technically-lacking computer came into play.  While playing the Wizard, the numerous particle effects slowed my computer down significantly.  I'd often go through the casting animation, with the actual spell effect only taking place a second or two later, resulting in misses and several near-deaths.  However, upon the advice of ChaoticFrederick, I shut down several background processes and programs, resulting in much smoother playthroughs on the subsequent characters. 

A Demon Hunter unleashes Multishot.
I tried out the Demon Hunter next, which was a class that I'd had my reservations about.  As I started my playthrough, I found myself underwhelmed.  I had no area-of-effect skills, and my Hungering Arrow shot seemed underpowered.  That is, until level 5:  Rapid Fire.  Suddenly, it was as if someone had handed my wanna-be ranger a P90 and let her rip through the dungeon!  Retching Mothers spun as if riddled by automatic weapon fire, before slumping to the ground in a heap.  At one point, I fired up a set of stairs, shearing a zombie in half across its waist...and its upper half slowly tumbled down the stairs, arms akimbo, leading a trail of blood until it stopped, about three stairs from the bottom. 

With a combination of a runed Hungering Arrow (an increased chance to pierce through enemies really helped this one), Rapid Fire, Strafe, and Caltrops, my Demon Hunter blasted her way through the Skeleton King with near impunity.  I'd almost say that the DH is a touch overpowered--while her Hatred resource is meant to be a slow-regenerating one, I found myself mowing down enemies with Rapid Fire almost at-will. 

My latest playthrough was with the Monk--a class that I'd been looking forward to for a while, as I typically played a Paladin in Diablo II.  The spiritual successor to that class, the Monk came loaded with Mantras (echoing the Paladin's Aura skills) and numerous martial arts skills.  However, the Monk came off as very low-impact compared to the other classes.  While the Wizard was a sheer force of devastation and the Demon Hunter ripped apart enemies with incredible speed, the Monk was more methodical and much less visually impressive.  While I could attack numerous enemies at once, the effects were much less spectacular and I felt like it took much longer to kill a pack of enemies with the Monk than its long-range counterparts.

Case in point:  the Monk's resource-generation skills are all combo skills, which have varying effects if used several times in sequence.  However, when using any skills, the Monk's weapon is stowed on their back, in favor of fist strikes!  Even the Wizard manages to actually swing their sword or dagger, when casting a spell.  I don't feel like it'd be unreasonable to have the Monk actually use a staff or weapon, along with their combo skills, but such isn't the case. 

Diablo III  also brought quite a few new features to the party, which I'd been eager to try out.  The crafting mechanics, for one, were at the top of my list.  Rather than using the ubiquitous Horadric Cube to piece together rares or use the nearly-worthless gold to gamble on items (that were nearly-universally useless), DIII's crafting mechanics allow you to break down useless magic items into crafting materials, which can then be used to make whatever you like.  Even rares and (supposedly) uniques are on the table, should you level your blacksmith up enough!  Between expanding my stash, leveling up my blacksmith, and crafting new items, I always felt like there was something to purchase, even outside of the vendors (who had some fairly useful items, particularly early on!).  This is a spectacular change, as it gives a reason for gold to stay in the economy.  No more Stones of Jordan as trade-bait!

Plus, this also gives a pile of options in the Auction House.  DIII has come under a fair amount of fire for its use of a real money--that is, you pay in actual dollars, to purchase an in-game item--but also has a gold-for-items auction house as well, which allows you to find that item your Witch Doctor needs, but you haven't quite been able to find yet.  While I have no intention on blowing real cash on items that only exist on a virtual level, I definitely plan to make use of the gold-based auction house!

The only real issue that I have with the Diablo III beta right now is the skill interface system.  In previous patches, you could view every skill simultaneously, choosing from the ones available at your level.  In this new UI, you're only able to a few skills at a time, grouped together somewhat arbitrarily, based on their function.  This makes it difficult to compare skills and decide upon which suits your character best.  But really, this isn't a deal-breaker for me, and the visceral gameplay and multitude of class/skill/gear options make this one an auto-buy for me.  Can't wait for this one to come in!

As I play through with the rest of the classes, you can be sure that I'll keep you updated here!

Friday, March 02, 2012

In Which The Warlock Post Some Cold Steel Previews...

It's been a while since I've had a chance to play with Cold Steel Wardens, as I've been up to my eyeballs in freelance projects and in other, more mundane tasks.  However, with the weekend nearly here (and a late entry, again...argh!) perhaps it's time to take a look at the three big names in the Greensburg underworld!

(Again, all material here is subject to change and revision.  Copyright pending, 2012.)

Organized Crime

Currently, three major criminal organizations vie for control of Greensburg, each with sharply differing methods and philosophies regarding criminal activity. 

The White Russian—an albino immigrant from Georgia named Piotr Zakrevsky—is believed to be the de facto leader of the criminal underground within Greensburg.  Zakrevsky is an ex-KGB operative, drummed out of Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and amongst the CIA and NSA’s most wanted international targets.  Using his numerous smuggling contacts, Zakrevsky arrived in Greensburg, ready to set up a new organization, building on the corruption already existing in the area.

Zakrevsky’s criminal organization is structured in an almost-feudal manner.  Baklany (normal, street-level operatives) report to pakhan (street bosses), who in turn report to vor v zakonye (lieutenant-level leaders), who report directly to the White Russian himself.  Zakrevsky’s criminal focus lies primarily with international shipping and smuggling, which is done primarily through a ‘legitimate’ British company known as Benson/Hedges Holdings.   The White Russian is known primarily for focusing on illegal narcotics shipments, as well as Soviet-era weaponry, both of which have flooded the streets of Greensburg through black market deals. 

As a former KGB operative, Zakrevsky knows the value of intelligence, and he keeps his vor v zakonye on a very short leash, requiring daily updates on distribution, sales, and resistance.    The White Russian further uses numerous technological measures, both to keep tabs on other criminal elements within Greensburg, but also on other foes, particularly metahumans and vigilantes.  Zakrevsky excels in surveillance, and has a penchant for using high explosives or strange, esoteric weaponry developed during the Cold War. 

The White Russian’s main rival remains the Genovese family, a true-to-life Sicilian crime family that split off from the Cosa Nostra during the mid-1950s.  The Genoveses claim to be the oldest criminal organization within Greensburg, having emigrated from Sicily in 1886.  The original Genoveses were known for their ruthless tactics and ‘take no prisoners’ attitude, leading to a massive crackdown by Federal marshals in the 1930s.  With the family in disarray due to multiple incarcerations, Greensburg was ripe for other gangs to move in.

However, in the 1970s, the Genovese family experienced a resurgence in power that none really saw coming.  Focusing more on ‘social’ crimes such as extortion, money laundering, protection rackets, and the like, the Genoveses grew more and more powerful, until only the White Russian was able to significantly challenge them through the 1990s. 

Since 1978, the Genovese family has been run by Vincenzo Genovese, a 4th generation member of the family business.  Vincenzo is the epitome of the “hot blooded Sicilian” stereotype, and abides no disrespect, whether from his enemies or from his dearest family.  Vincenzo uses a very traditional structure within his family, similar to that of the original Cosa Nostra, with his loyal nephew, James, acting as consigliere.  Many believe that James was granted this position as Vincenzo hopes to groom the young buck to take his place once he passes on. 

While James is believed to the heir apparent to the Genovese family, the most dangerous member of the group may well be Luciano Bagarella, known on the street as “Lucky Bags”.  An underboss of Vincenzo, Luciano is ambitious, ruthless, and fanatically violent.  He runs several protection rackets throughout the city, and loves nothing more than to get his hands dirty, smearing the blood from a poor shopkeeper across their face after bludgeoning them with his favored weapon—a Louisville Slugger baseball bat.  Bagarella resents James for being a “full-blood” and for already being ‘picked’ to take over for Vincenzo.  However, Bagarella believes wholeheartedly in the code of omerta, which binds the family together…at least for the time being.

While the White Russian and the Genoveses have been content to contest one another for control of Greensburg’s streets, another contender has entered the proverbial ring, opting to instead vie for control of the boardroom, rather than the back-room.  A group of influential lawyers and other politically collected, yet morally bankrupt, members of the Greensburg community have banded together under the leadership of Gerard Warren, a charismatic defense attorney.

The Warren Group, as this organization has come to be known, are master manipulators of the legal system, and are amongst the best-connected members of Greensburg’s political and economic scene.  Nearly every member of the Warren Group is independently wealthy, and values power intensely over any amount of money…though money’s not bad, either.

The Warren Group is truly a criminal syndicate for the new millennium.  Using various legal loopholes and political maneuverings, Warren and his cronies are able to manipulate, extort, pressure, and otherwise influence everyone from major political figures to the police and military, to other gangs!  It’s believed that Warren himself has enough accumulated evidence on both The White Russian and on the the Genovese family to put both behind bars for 12 consecutive life sentences, each.  However, Warren’s motives regarding this evidence seems to be enigmatic at best, as he has the tools to crush his rivals, though not the desire…