Thursday, April 26, 2012

In Which The Warlock Watches the Worrisome...

Unfortunately for me, the PlatinumChick got me sick this past weekend, so I've spent the last two days hacking stuff out of my lungs and trying desperately to clear my sinuses clear.  But, in the meanwhile, there's been a juicy bit of news launching its way through the various rpg news channels.

You see, after about 8 months after coming aboard the "D&D Next" design group, Monte Cook has announced his impending departure.  Mike Mearls' response--ostensibly the Wizards of the Coast 'official' response--came shortly thereafter with a combination of outright shock and distraction technique, as the response contained the official announcement for the public playtest start date: May 24th.

Many have read a good deal into this, particularly given Cook's mention of "not wanting to start drama" and Mearls' seemingly-strange mention that "no one voice can rise above the others, unless it is the voice of D&D fans as a whole".  While Cook mentions in a later entry that he had no personal issues with anyone on the design team, the whole situation smacks of corporate apologism and clashing personalities.

What's worse, this bodes incredibly poorly for the upcoming D&D brand.  I was quick to criticize WotC's choice to bring Cook aboard in the first place, particularly given the apparent lack of knowledge Cook had regarding 4th Edition.   But, as the saying goes, "you don't change horses mid-stream".  With Cook's departure, the current design goals likely to be fragmented and internally opposed, for no other reason than, "that was XXXX's idea--I don't like where he's going with that". 

I'll readily admit--I've signed up for the 5e/Next open playtest and intend to sit in on at least one game during this year's Origins Game Fair.  As much as I hate to say it, people tend to forget that games are a business.  And, at that corporate level, publishing has just as many problems as, say, a corporate takeover. 

Will we see a coherent edition from D&D Next?  Probably.
But, does this sound dark tidings for Wizards of the Coast?  Undoubtedly...

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Warlock's Review: "Lady Blackbird: Tales From the Wild Blue Yonder" (Actual Play)

"What's this?" you say!  Another review, so soon after the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying review?  You bet your sweet bippy, fellow gamers.  It's been a busy time out here, but we've still managed to sling some dice together, even outside of our normal Friday night Deadlands group.

Pages from Lady Blackbird:  Tales From the Wild Blue Yonder
Truth be told, I've been aching to run Lady Blackbird:  Tales From the Wild Blue Yonder for quite a while.  DigitalKat turned me onto this little freebie a few months ago, but while in the midst of our extended foray in The Flood, I hadn't found the right time or situation to throw down Lady Blackbird

Did I say "freebie"?  You bet I did.  You see, friends and neighbors, that's the big selling point:  this one is absolutely freeOneSeven Design, the creators of Lady Blackbird, put this one out completely free, publishing the module under the Creative Commons Licence, along with several other pieces such as The Mustang and Ghost/Echo.  And, before I continue--go download these.  They're all well worth your time, even if you never run them, though I heartily encourage you to do so!

Lady Blackbird falls into that nebulous category of "story games," providing a minimalist approach to mechanics in favor an emphasis on flexibility and creativity for both players and gamemasters.  While the GM never rolls dice--similar to ICONS, rules as written--the players use a simple d6-based dice pool system to determine success or failure.  Start with one die; add another if you have a "trait" that is applicable, then an additional die for each "tag" under that trait that might help you.  If that's not enough dice for you, add from your personal pool.  A die roll of 4-6 succeeds, while 1-3 fails.  Get enough successes and you succeed.  However, failure is enouraged as well, as it returns dice to your personal pool, at the cost of allowing the GM to add in complications for your character. 

The neat thing about Lady Blackbird is that it never plays the same way twice.  When DigitalKat described her run-through, she riffed significantly off of Joss Whedon's Firefly, playing up the two-fisted action.  However, as the descriptions are intentionally left vague, my group took something of a different route.  Beginning in the brig of the Imperial warship "Hand of Sorrow", our group took a "Steampunk Star Wars" vibe from the game, facing off against foes with "phlogiston blades" and "repeating percussion cap" pistols.  Making their way down through the ship's decks, my group evaded and fought their way through waves of Imperial guards, trying to find their way back their ship, "The Owl."

The Owl--our heroes' noble skyship
Natually, in a high adventure vibe, our adventure ended with a confrontation with the Hand of Sorrow's captain and his guardsmen amongst the whistling, open decks of the docking bays of the ship.  Running for their lives, our crew managed to defeat the captain, clamber aboard The Owl, and sail off into the Ether before the Hand of Sorrow could pursue.

What really impressed me most from Lady Blackbird was the transparency of the system.  My players regularly took choices that were "non-optimized", simply because they were available as options and were fitting with their interpretations of the characters.  And, because the dice mechanic was so simplistic, the players focused more on describing their actions and building the over-the-top mayhem.

Really, I can't recommend Lady Blackbird highly enough.  If you want a great introduction to story-based or rules-light gaming, give it a run.  Even if you don't, check out OneSeven Design's numerous other modules.  You'll absolutely find some inspiration there!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Warlock's Review: Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (First Impressions)

As I mentioned in my C2E2 recap, I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of a game that I've been eyeing up for quite a while:  Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, from Margaret Weis Productions.  While we haven't had a game night to give the game a whirl, I couldn't help but put down my first impressions of the product. 

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying
from Margaret Weis Productions
First off, this book is gorgeous.  Obviously, one of the biggest advantages of any comics-licenced property is the massive stable of art that the layout gang is able to pull from, but the choices here are really inspired.  Pulling from some of the best of Marvel's bullpen over the last decade or so, MWP really raises the bar for the feel of a full-power comic book.  The book itself emphasizes this feel, coming in a graphic-novel sized full color paperback that almost feels like you're reading an Avengers trade paperback.

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying is nominally based on the Cortex+ system, used by MWP in the Leverage and Smallville rpgs, though takes a few different spins with it.  A pseudo-dice pool system, MHR rates a hero's powers, skills, and natural distinctions on a scale of d4 up to d12+, which are rolled together.  The two highest dice results are added together to get a result, which is opposed by the target's roll, while a third die type represents the effect of the attempt.  The higher the die type, the more effective the attack is.  Any die showing "1" is called an "opportunity", which allows the opposing faction a chance to act in opposition.

Coupled with this, the hero can conditionally add in more dice to their pool by creating assets and power stunts, through various "SFX" unique to the Hero's power set, using Power Points, and through the hero's affiliation.  Is your hero on a solo mission?  Toss in your solo die.  Are you paired-up with a single other hero, Heroes for Hire style?  Add in the buddy die.  While I like the concept of affiliation--particularly for emulating various types of combat and encouraging players to "split the party" and achieve multiple objectives simultaneously--it's easily the most discardable mechanic.  A multitude of system hacks already exist to refit affiliations into other cases.

Also of note is the "Doom Pool"--a set of dice representing the tension and conflict built into the given scenario.  As players roll opportunities, the Doom Pool begins swelling, allowing the GM--called The Watcher--to trigger villains' abilities and add dice to their attacks.  From a wicked GMing stand point, I love this mechanic.  While it took me a touch to understand all of the uses of the Doom Pool, it really makes for a neat way to make things hard on the PCs.  Plus, use of the Doom Pool typically refreshes heroes' Power Points, which gives the players an incentive to take risks and try stunts, even if they don't pay off.

Hawkeye and Thor! 
We want stats!
The rules for MHR only take up about 120 pages, while the remainder of the book consists of a mini-campaign arc based on Brian Michael Bendis' "Breakout" arc from Avengers and a series of datafiles on popular Marvel heroes.  While I was fairly pleased with the sample adventure, I did have some questions in my mind about the heroes contained within the datafiles.  While the typical Marvel mainstays are there--Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Captain America--there are several notable absences!  No Hulk?  No Thor?  No Hawkeye?  No Wasp or Giant Man?  Is X-Men D-lister Armor really that important as to include them over some of the original Avengers?  Same thing with Sentry, particularly considering he's considered to be an NPC during "Breakout".  While supplemental "event books" are already in the works, based on "Civil War", "Annihilation", and "Shadowland", it would have been nice to see some of the classic Marvel stable, as opposed to more obscure characters.

I also worry somewhat about the ability for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying to portray a darker, more visceral game.  While the game is perfect for encouraging over-the-top action of the current era in comics, I can't see myself running a Watchmen-esque game using this system.  I guess that's good for me!

The PlatinumWarlock's first cosplay?
Time will tell!
However, I also thought of another style of game that might just be great for this:  a Masters of the Universe game.  The over-the-top stunting and team-based mechanics really would make for a great representation of He-Man, working with the various Masters against Skeletor's forces.  I've been meaning to do one of these for a while, and this system just might be the ticket.

Plus, it'd give me a chance to show off my latest--yes, another one--project!  For a few years now, the PlatinumChick has been slowly nudging me towards doing cosplay with her.  And, after seeing some of the great costumes at C2E2, I think I finally know what I might do.  I'm going to start working this month on a Man-at-Arms costume, complete with armor, mace and big-ass blaster!    I'll be sure to keep you guys updated on my progress, of course.  Pics or it didn't happen, right?

Anyway, as for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying?  It's a fantastic little system, with the flexibility of an ICONS coupled with the storytelling capacity of Marvel comics.  While it has a few flaws--set to be remedied in upcoming supplementals no doubt--I'm definitely looking forward to giving this one a whirl!

Monday, April 16, 2012

In Which The Warlock Brings the Wind Back!

Whew!  What a whirlwind weekend in the Windy City, fellow gamers!  C2E2 was an utter blast, with a ton of things to do, people to see, and swag to pick up.  L-Train, the PlatinumChick, CosplayKit managed to drive up on Thursday evening, with Kit's husband David joining us on Saturday after flying in.  And, man-oh-man...what a time!

This was only our second time out at C2E2 out of the three years it's been held, as WittCon conflicted with the date last year.  However, even after only three years C2E2 has really swelled, born upwards on great support by Marvel and TopCow, among others.  The McCormick Place is a really great venue, even if the price for parking and the like is a bit of a shocker.  There's tons of space and lots of brilliant views out over the Great Lakes for photography and more.

I spent most of my Friday hopping between panels.  There were several that I had designs on visiting, but the most useful for me was undoubtedly The Legal Aspects of Becoming Famous--How to Protect Yourself and Your Creations, hosted by Michael Lee--a noted intellectual property attorney.  Lee did a great job of running through a solid introduction to copyright and trademark law, as well as what the up-and-coming creative mind might have to do to protect himself!  This one really gave me a lot of faith about what I need to be doing in terms of Cold Steel Wardens.  Definitely, within the span of this year, keep your eyes peeled for some news on that front!

Black Canary meets the woman
who redefined her!
The PlatinumChick, however, spent the days hunting down her favorite artists and writers around the main show hall.  She was squeeing with delight after meeting up with Phil Hester and Adam Hughes, but the real treat for her came on Saturday, when she got to meet up with her comics idol:  Gail Simone!  Also, she broke out not one, but two of her costumes, going as Black Canary on Saturday and Speedy (Mia Dearden) on Friday.

I was honestly somewhat astounded, though, at the crowd.  While Friday and Sunday were about what I expected, Saturday was utterly jammed!  I had intended on sitting in on the Marvel Television panel, as I'm a huge fan of the new Marvel animated series, Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes.  However, when I arrived at the room--20 minutes early, mind you--the line for the panel stretched all the way down the hall, into a nearby atrium, around the walls of that atrium and down another hall!  I was flabbergasted and, unfortunately, walked away.  Guess I'll just have to wait for the new episodes like everyone else!

A new venue for some
upcoming freelancing?
If there's one complaint that I had about C2E2, it's the lack of a real gaming presence on the show floor.  While Wizards of the Coast had a fairly large presence two years ago, there were no games going on and only one publisher--Margaret Weis Productions, the producers of the Marvel roleplaying game--in attendance.  I wasn't about to let that opportunity slip, though, as I picked up their corebook and managed to even chat up Cam Banks--the lead designer on Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.  I'd absolutely love to take a crack at putting out Rise of the Midnight Sons as an 'occult' themed Marvel event for them...maybe it's time to make some submissions?

Cam Banks wasn't the only game designer there, however.  L-Train and I sat in on another panel, The State of Play in Tabletop Roleplaying Gaming, hosted by Kenneth Hite (of Trail of Cthulhu and Fiasco fame, among numerous other games) and Will Hindmarch (one of the lead designers on Green Ronin's Dragon Age tabletop game).  While a little more casual and q-and-a than the prior panel, the two really put down some great ideas and reflections on what they called a "mini Golden Age" for RPGs, here in the era of Kickstarter, PDFs, and print-on-demand.

After three full days of walking, buying, and eating our way around Chi-town, I think we were all well and truly ready to get home.  While I'm a little worried about next year's dates for C2E2--April 26-28th, dates usually common to FOPCon--I'm looking forward to another go-round!

For some visuals of all the mayhem--and a ton of pics of the great cosplayers out there!--take a look at my Facebook album here:  C2E2 Album!

Monday, April 09, 2012

In Which The Warlock is Too Busy to Post!

Sorry, gang, but I've been up to my eyeballs recently.  The PlatinumChick and I are about to head out for C2E2 in Chicago, so I've been trying to wrap up all my grading and lesson plans prior to, and she's been finalizing her costumes!

No worries, though--once we get back, you'll have all the pictures you could want!  Until then, cheers!

Chicago or bust!  :D

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

In Which The Warlock Rides for Ruin!

So, remember this?  "In Which The Warlock Loads the Ballistae..."

The siege on Morgordal Keep...or is it Helm's Deep?

I've been thinking a lot about this session recently, in the context of one of my favorite battles of all time:  the siege at Helm's Deep, from Tolkein's The Two Towers.  My favorite character from LotR is Theoden of Rohan and his character arc takes a definitive turn as he and Aragorn must the Rohirrim for what they believe to be one final charge against Saruman's treachery.

Of course, I can't let a classic moment like that pass on without WEGSifying it!  And, with FOPCon 4 around the corner, I have the perfect opportunty to give this one a run!

Take a look at my write-up below, and get those 10s and 6s ready, children!  Those orcs aren't gonna wait forever!

Name:  A Whole Stinkin' Heap of Orcs!
System:  WEGS Old Skool Redux (GameWick Games)
Type:  RPG/Miniatures Game
Ages:  Any (rules taught)
Time:  4.0 hours
Sessions Run:  6:30-10:30
Description:  Y'know that one battle from "The Two Towers"?  The one with all the orcs besieging the big ol' dwarven fortress?  Yeah, it's just like that...only with the Wicked twists of WEGS and all the spoint-flinging, dice-chucking mayhem that comes with it!  Can your intrepid heroes hold out against the horde and break the siege?  There ain't no White Wizard to bail you out of this one--ride for wrath, ride for ruin, and the world's ending!

Sunday, April 01, 2012

In Which The Warlock Compares Two Posses...

As a wonderful reprieve, here at the end of my spring break, the PlatinumChick and I headed on up to Akron to spend some time with our good friends ChaoticLauryn and CincinNick, who live up yonder.  Previously, I'd offered to run a one-shot for them while up there, because they don't exactly get to game as much as we do down here.  I let them choose from my fairly-sizable game library and--surprise, surprise!--they picked Deadlands.

Not wanting to do too much prep for the one-off, I decided to download one of Pinnacle Entertainment's official adventures:  Night Train 2:  For Whom The Whistle Blows.  It's received fairly good reviews since its release, and it's the sequel to a Deadlands classic adventure, known for its lethality and creeping horror.

With that in mind, let's flash briefly back to WittCon IX.  As I'd mentioned in my WittCon wrap-up, my Hell on Earth game didn't exactly go as planned.  In light of this, I'm going to play a little game that I like to call Bad Posse, Good Posse!

Teamwork kills zombies!
That, and chainsaws!  And shotguns!
A Bad Posse struggles with basic foes, because they don't use teamwork.  The first combat encounter that my Hell on Earth posse faced was against ten basic Walking Dead, as well as one Living Faminite.  Three of the group didn't even get out of their armored car, leaving only three of the group to face off against the hordes.  Those three took significant wounds, which cost them heavily in Fate Chips.  Had the other three joined the melee, the undead would have split their targets more widely, resulting in less wounds overall (due to no gang-up bonuses) and a quicker elimination of targets.

A Good Posse prioritizes targets and takes out those priority targets in haste.  When ambushed by some nosferatu at the Pickman telegraph station, our Huckster realized almost instantaneously that one of their attackers was a different type of undead--recognizing him as a Harrowed (and a Voodoo shaman, at that!), he quickly sent a charged "Aces High" hex at his head.  Realizing that his undead allies were outmatched, the Harrowed beat a hasty retreat and the posse claimed a quick victory.

A Bad Posse ostracises NPCs and don't follow up on available leads from them.  When our post-apocalyptic posse rolled into Reno, the Reno locals had just been raided by the dreaded Rojo Bastardes gang, and many of their supplies had been stolen.  So, when a heavily armed group of adventurers rolled into their town, they reacted with a fair degree of hostility.  But, rather than try to prove their good intentions, the posse decided to intimidate Abe Ellison--the nominal Reno mayor.  Once cowed, he came clean about the Rojo Bastardes attack, but the posse left almost as soon as they could get directions to the Rojo Bastardes camp.  Had they stayed in town to gather information--or to help the poor Reno scavs--they would have gained valuable information about the coming Faminite horde!

to kill "nose-ferrets" for Union Blue!
A Good Posse gets every inch they can out of their NPC contacts.  As my group this weekend worked their way through Pickman, I was somewhat astounded at their tactics.  Basically, any NPC that they managed to save, they pressed into service against the nosferatu.  By the end of the adventure, the posse was leading nearly 10 heavily armed NPCs--townsfolk, mostly, but a few with reasonable stats!--against the undead horde!  As a semi-organized fighting force, they managed to wipe out the undead scourge pretty easily!

A Bad Posse is content to let the dice fall where they may.  Each of the Hell on Earth posse members has at least one relative weakness.   For Edward Castellan, the New Templar, that weakness is his Quickness.  And, as it turned out, the dice were not in the player's favor when rolling Initiative.  Despite having a sizable stack of Fate Chips, the player was unwilling to reroll or add to failed Initiative rolls.  As it happened, that player went for the ENTIRE NIGHT without getting a single turn in combat, despite three combat encounters and five separate Initiative deals.  He was content to let the dice speak for him, rather than work for a success.  Fortune favors the bold, not the complacent!

A Good Posse fights on their own terms.  When it became apparent that the train itself was a priority target for the nosferatu, the posse literally took it away from them!  Stealthing up to the train itself, the group decoupled the train and drove it nearly 20 miles out of town, then used it to rest until sunrise!  Flabbergasted--and denied one of their major goals--the Harrowed retreated out of town and the nosferatu hunkered down for the day, as the heavily armored survivors holed up in the church.  By denying resources to the adversary and establishing a base of operations, our posse really threw the bad guys for a loop!

Don't you forget it!

I'm not trying to say that either group is made of bad or good players.  Hell, some of them played in both games!  But, the fact remains that the tactics being used were paramount to the posses' success or failure.  While the Hell on Earth group fell beneath the Faminite horde, that's not representative of the players' skill or even the characters' effectiveness--just a matter of how the dice fell and how the players responded.  And, while the Deadlands group managed to totally annihilate the undead scourge, things could have easily turned against them in a single roll.  Some days, you just can't win...