Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In Which The Warlock Winds Down the Year...

If it's one thing I've not been very good at, it's concluding.  In writing, in projects, in...well, life in general, I've never been particularly good at finishing out.  I suppose that includes this year's blog entries, even.  As I sat down to put in this entry, I was at an utter loss.  Do I talk about the year that's gone by?  Perhaps what I'm looking forward to in 2011?  Maybe the swag that was part of this year's Christmas haul? 

No.  None of those would fit.  Rather, I decided to take a page from last year's entries and provide some resolutions for what I can work in next year.  I'm not big on New Years' Resolutions, but this is the one venue where they make sense.  Plus, y'know...if the resolution's public, it's a lot harder to back down on!

--Keep Up the Layout!  One of the things I'm most proud of, in the past few months, is the formatting that I've been able to put forward on this blog.  I'm hardly an HTML guru, but I've been able to make this blog much more visually appealling with images and links, as well as various formatting changes.  It's been exciting for me, particularly, as I've been able to watch my readership slowly start to pick up.  Hopefully, that means I've been doing something right!

The current progress on Dungeon Slam
--Revise, Revise, Revise!  While I've been working hard on new ideas, new scenarios, and new games, my older projects have been gathering dust behind me.  This, my lovelies, is a real shame, as I think I really have some good stuff there.  Dungeon Slam! is still waiting on its fifth revision, while SunnyVale Acres has been aching for some more playtesting, now that I've instituted some changes to each of the factions.  Lumberjack Wars has been off to a good start, but needs to be completed.  I have the basic rules finished, and am nearly finished with the lumberjacks themselves, but still need to complete the vehicles/gear and the "Screw You, Buddy!" cards. 
Finding time during the busy scholastic year isn't easy, but I'll find a way...

Swinging the Pendulum...
--Swing the Pendulum!  Speaking of projects on the back burner, my Pendulum Method has actually been much more to the forefront than my other pieces of work.  I'm hoping to finish out the Pendulum and submit it to Digital Kat for full revision and layout within the first half of this year.  Ideally, by this time next year, I'll be able to put out a 64 page PDF detailing The Pendulum Method with several examples of Pendulum-style adventures.  This one, probably moreso than any of my board games, is closest to completion.  With any luck (and a good bit of work), I can actually finish out this project!

The future of Wittenberg Gaming?
--Start the Archive!  One of the biggest, most ambitious projects that has come out of the Wittenberg Role-Playing Guild was an idea from Will the ManMan.  You see, after running games at convention after convention, the Guild has a massive list of games that we can run, with characters already generated and plots already conceived.  Part of the issue is that they're not consolidated.  That, my lovelies, would be the change.  Ideally, we could consolidate all of our one-shots, all of the games run by Wittenberg gamers, as a massive consolidated document full of ideas, characters, and adventures.  Perhaps someday, once we get enough material in one place, we could even publish a volume of our materials...

We'll see, really.  2011 looks to be massively exciting, with another trip to Origins and GenCon on the docket, in addition to WittCon, FOPCon, DenCon and more.  Here's to another year, fellow gamers! 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

In Which The Warlock Has No Entries for a Tick...

Just to let you know, friends and neighbors, I'm taking a week off for the holidays.  I'll be back in action next Wednesday, the 29th. 

See you then!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In Which The Warlock Twirls a Terrible Towel +6...

This may come as something as a surprise, but gaming isn't my only real obsession.  My passion for good food's been pretty well documented on this blog, but another one of my passions really hasn't.  You see, friends and neighbors, I love professional football.

"Big Ben" signs autographs for Steeler Nation
I was born and raised in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.  For those of you who know football, you know that Latrobe is the site of St. Vincent College--both my mom and my sister graduated from there!--which is where the Pittsburgh Steelers hold training camp.  My favorite wing joint--Dino's Sports Lounge--is a favorite of many Steelers, both past and present, when they're in town.  And, in a town like Latrobe, cheering the Steelers is as natural as French fries on a Primanti Brothers sandwich or a weekend trip to Kennywood.

It would seem to be a massive disconnect--my geeky predilictions for dice and wizardy, coupled with a fanaticism for smash-mouth football--but, really, the two are becoming more and more intrinsically linked, as time has gone on!

The start of this trend has to be due to the rise of fantasy football.  Indeed, both the Errant Nick and I were in an ESPN league at one point--which yours truly ended up winning, riding a combination of Ladanian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook to an easy title!  I've since given up the fantasy football addiction, but the same tools, skills, and obsessions are present in any amount of character optimization as in setting a fantasy football roster!

For those not familiar with fantasy football, the game is pretty simple.  You, along in with eight to twelve other people, initiate a rotating draft of current NFL players.  Each week of the NFL season, you set a starting lineup of players--a quarterback, a few running backs and wide receivers, a kicker, and a team defense--which accrues points based on their individual performance.  FF players are free to trade players between one another--which is how I ended up with the lethal duo above a few years ago--and to pick up undrafted players from the waiver wire.

Barbarian?  Avenger?  Fighter?
I ask you, how is poring over stat sheets any different than checking a 'character optimization' board for a favorite game?  How is agonizing over a roster decision or "playing the matchups" from week to week any different than building a character for role-playing.  It's not, say I!  Sure, the stats may be different:  sacks instead of spells, touchdowns instead of trait dice.  But, in the end, it's the same action with a similar result.

Even outside of the fantasy angle, football devotees show a knowledge of the game that's almost encyclopedic.  We reminisce about great battles of the past, curse rival teams like they pillaged our home, and cheer on the big hits when a defenseman like Troy Polamalu (right) lays out a vicious 'crit'.  The passion's the same, the banter's the same, and really...even the snacks are the same.  Cheetos and Mountain Dew all around!

"Fantasy" Football!
Years ago, Games Workshop tried to cash in on this carry-over with Blood Bowl.  In its table-top game--and its later incarnation as a video game--Blood Bowl featured the standard fantasy races from Warhammer Fantasy facing off on the gridiron.  Orcish linemen, elven wide receivers, and ratling running backs were the orders of the day!  While the game was a marginal success, it still brought together two great tastes that taste great together.

Someday, the proverbial 'geeks' and 'jocks' will live in peace.  And, you know what?  It's our communal feeling of gamesmanship that's going to be the link that brings us all together.  We all love a great contest--now, if only we could build some d20s into our upcoming gridiron classics!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

In Which The Warlock Jots Down Some Random Thoughts...

I didn't really have any particular ideas for today's blog entry, so I thought I'd just toss down a few of the things that have been rolling around my brain over the last week.

Walkin' in a winter wonderland...

--How many times has weather really factored into an rpg session?  It's snowing sideways here right now, but rare is the time that I can remember where weather really mattered in any given session.  With my own adventures, many of the conflicts would tend to take place indoors, which pulls the elements out of any showdown.  It makes me wonder what one of my Deadlands sessions would be like, if I stranded the PCs out in the midst of a Colorado blizzard...perhaps they'll find out sometime soon...

Please, Blizzard?  Give us a date...

--Gaming really thrives on that idea of "more, better stuff".  I've been back on the Diablo II train, playing a Holy Freeze/Zeal Paladin, and am honestly amazed at some of the comments I've been making to myself, regarding gear.  The delight I'm giving off when I find a new rune or pick up a unique weapon--even if I can't use it!--is amazingly palpable.  The PlatinumChick tends to give me funny looks when I shout out about a new find, but I can't help it!  That last little bit might be critical to keeping my little Paladin alive!  And, as I'm about to start "Nightmare" difficulty, I can use every bit of help that I can get!

--Speaking of Diablo, the previews for Diablo III look amazingly tantalizing.  I had been eyeing up the Witch Doctor class, but with the release of the Demon Hunter, I think I may have a new favorite.  And, to be honest, the Wizard really captures the essence of the stereotypical, D&D-ish mage, yet still looks bad-ass.  If only there were an official release date...

--You know, it's sad when I dream about gaming.  A few nights ago, I had a dream about a Magic: the Gathering-style collectable card game, based around NFL football.  I'd definitely need to refine the ideas a little bit, but it really could be pretty spectacular, if I managed to put it together.  Obviously, there'd be huge licensure issues, but perhaps the missing link between 'geek' and 'jock' could finally be found! 

--The most dangerous spells in D&D are cantrips.  Actorios, in our Friday Night Dark Sun game, has no less than 4 tools as his disposal, at-will:  telekinesis, telepathy, pyrokinesis, and the abiility to create nearly any tool he wants, on demand.  This combo is massively troublesome for everyone around him, as Chris the II's (shhhh!) wizard nearly found out in our first session.  Nothing like some interparty conflict showing up in the first session.  Actorios was one telepathic message away from finding a new party member!

Digital-Kat's usual hangout
--Digital-Kat has been trying to convince me to join the addiction that is World of Warcraft, telling me tales of the role-playing going on in SunCrown.  And, I'll admit, it's tempting.  But I've been holding off thusfar, due to the ongoing cost and the addictive nature of the game.  With the stories she's been telling, though, of noble betrayal, backstabbing, and broken alliances.  *drool*  It's the sort of gaming I just don't get in real-life, and have had a distinct hankering for. 

--With the holidays on us, it'll soon be time for my wee ones at school to experience the utter pain, humiliation and horror that is my holiday tradition:  The He-Man/She-Ra Christmas Special.  The old Star Wars special has nothing on this one:  it has musical numbers, overly cute Mary-Sue protagonists for the kids, and even a reformed Skeletor.  It's hideous, but it's so worthwhile! 

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

In Which The Warlock is Made of Plastic...So Fantastic!

Each year, my family asks me to write a Christmas list for them.  Being a typical nerd, they rarely know how to shop for me, regarding presents, so they want some suggestions.  By and large, most of my suggestions are pretty par for the course:  this year, I'm hoping for the Inception dual copy, the so-called World's Greatest GM Screen, and copy of Dragon Age: Ultimate Edition for my new PS3 (yay for Black Friday!), among other things.

But, they always ask me about gift cards, as well.  Again, most of the stores are ones you'd expect--Best Buy, Wal-Mart, etc.--but one stood out to even The PlatinumChick:  The Container Store. 

You see, friends and neighbors, I have a problem.  I'm having a love affair with Sterilite.

When it comes to my gaming supplies, organization has become more and more important to me, particularly when heading out on the convention circuit.  If I can't get what I need from Point A to Game B and back to Hotel Room C, I have a definite problem!  This idea has even spawned whole threads on as gamers try to keep their goods sorted and close at hand.  And, it's been Sterilite containers (and their ilk) that have kept me running efficiently.  Really, it's become a little bit of an obsession...

So, I figured it's come time to take a look at how I've been doing it!

The Minis carrier!

Once 4e came out, my minis collection had been growing almost exponentially.  So, when finding somewhere to put the little guys, I figured that I'd need something large, with a lot of small compartments to hold the minis relatively in place.  This Plano tackle box has been holding my minis ever since.  And, at $25, it wasn't unreasonable in terms of price, either.  Definitely better than the Games Workshop army carriers, which retail between $60 and $100!

Minis carrier, expanded.
However, this isn't without its own drawback.  While I'm able to hold a lot of minis in the Plano, they do tend to be just a touch loose, which can lead to chipping and the like, if the minis aren't properly sealed.  Wear and tear does take its toll, all told.  However, the sheer amount of figures it's able to hold--at least 200, right now--plus the bottom storage area--make it a really efficient way to get the minis around.  Plus, the Plano is equipped with a really high quality handle and two solid latches, which keep it sealed when you want to keep it closed.  This was definitely a solid investment on my part.

Dungeon Tiles and More!
In terms of storing Dungeon Tiles and other items, though, I needed to find something smaller.  Two of the biggest things I look for in Sterilite containers are high quality latches and ease of carrying.  I made that mistake with our painting supplies, and the container broke while I was carrying it from at Wittenberg game-night.  The Tiles container has the added advantage of having removable sections, which are customizable.  As you can see, I'm able to fit all but the largest of tiles in this container (pictured are 5 full sets of Dungeon Tiles!), which in turn I keep in the Plano. 

Organizing SunnyVale Acres!
Even SunnyVale Acres hasn't escaped my organizational hand.  One of the nicest things about producing SVA has been the fact that it fits in a relatively small box, which in turn fits the small bead box full of troops.  It's easy to transport, easy to get around, and, once it hits publication someday, will make for a slim, sleek game.  Dungeon Slam! works much the same way, but is somewhat more component heavy, which makes things a little more difficult in that regard.  That's what Draft 5 will be for, children!

Art tubes make map carrying easy!

And, finally, one of the best ones I've come across.  I can't even take credit for it, though--this one was all L-train's idea!  When heading out for AnCon last year, he needed a way to carry large, printed map for his "d20 Zombies" scenarios.  So, he headed out for the local Hobby Lobby and picked up one of these:  an art tube!  For $14, the price is spectacular, and it easily fits two Chessex battle-mats.  Plus, you can sling it over your shoulder, which keeps your hands free for carrying other supplies and opening doors.

With the 2011 con season rapidly approaching, I'm hoping that this Christmas brings some additional Sterilite for all the new gaming acquisitions!  After all, all the minis, tiles, and accessories in the world won't mean much unless I can get them where they need to be!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

In Which The Warlock Brings Some Six-Guns and Shuriken...

With our next-to-last session of the semester, our weekly Deadlands group decided to make a bit of a field trip.  As we wrapped the group's investigation of the DeepWater Lake revival--headed by Jeremiah Riggins, the brother of perennial nemesis, George Riggins--we headed out for the 7:15 showing of The Warrior's Way, an action pic that I'd been looking forward to since I saw the trailers for it earlier this year.

The Warrior's Way--Cowboys vs. Ninjas!
 However, to be honest, when watching the previews and commercials, my hopes were a bit muted.  The concept was straight out of a 14-year-old's wildest fantasies:  a lone ninja-assassin named Yan (played by Dong-Gun Jang) leaves his clan when ordered to kill the infant scion of a rival clan.  He makes tracks for the good ol' U.S. of A., arriving in a near-ghost town named Lode, which is populated by the members of a formerly-traveling circus.  Yan's clan isn't exactly a fan of this idea, and comes to exact bloody revenge. 

Yan soon befriends the citizens in the town, including the hilarious 8-Ball (played by Tony Cox) and lovely and tragic knife-thrower Lynne (played by Kate Bosworth).  However, Yan is further kept from peace by the interference of a certain rogue Colonel (played by Danny Huston), who leads raids against the town.

Jang's performance is somewhat humdrum, but it's not his acting ability that we came to see--it's the fight scenes.  And, truly, The Warrior's Way doesn't disappoint.  Eschewing most of the gore and such, cinematographer Woo-hyung Kim does a fantastic job of stylizing the violence, making the fight scenes visually appealling and fun to watch.  Of particular note is the set design, as the Colonel's men enter the Lode carnival and scale a decrepit Ferris wheel in pursuit of Yan and the child.

I had really been looking forward to seeing Geoffery Rush (playing drunkard/outlaw Ron) ham up the screen, particularly after his hilarious performances in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, but this was a bit of a disappointment.  I really would have liked to see him cut loose and ham up the part, but this really wasn't the case.  Rather, he ended up as more of a foil character for Yan, which didn't come across that well.  Concurrently, I wasn't expecting much out of Kate Bosworth's Lynne, but her early performance was particularly pleasing, as she was mischevious and spritely.  Ironically, it's only after the she's established as a romantic interest for Yan that I lost interest in her character. 

Kate Bosworth as Lynne, in The Warrior's Way
Really, though, this isn't a movie you come to see for the acting.  You come to see it for the spectacle and the fight scenes.  And, truly, The Warrior's Way doesn't disappoint.  Massive cowboy vs. ninja battles abound, centering on a madcap chase through the center of Lode, as Yan and Lynne chase down the Colonel, who is in turn pursued by the ninja Headmaster.  There's dynamite, katanas, and makeshift Gatling weapons.  The battles here are truly fantastic set-pieces.  Great stuff, indeed.

Overall, I can't say I really recommend The Warrior's Way based on quality, but it's the sort of movie that you can just turn your brain off and enjoy.  The plot holes are minimal, and the special effects and fight scenes are good enough to keep you wanting more.  Catch a matinee if you get the chance, or rent it on DVD/BlueRay.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

In Which The Warlock Decides to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle...

You’d normally figure that, with the holidays coming up and New Years’ on the horizon, I wouldn’t be focused on the upcoming convention season. That, my lovelies, would be folly. Rather, the pseudo-downtime’s been nice to start planning out some of those scenarios to be prepped and ready for WittCon, FOPCon, Origins and all the others.

One thing I have noticed, though, is a tendency that runs amongst the great gaming groups throughout the area—the idea of the “multi-purpose” group.
Check out ABGames' "Blobcast"!
Let me give an example. Every year since its release, Amorphous Blob Games has been running Dark Heresy at Origins. In those games, a set group of PCs is put to the test year-after-year. The PCs are, needless to say, fairly unique—one need only look at the further adventures of Bazziti Comcast, pyromaniacal Imperial Psyker, to see that!—but they’re repeat offenders. Usual suspects, if you will. While the circumstances around them might change with the given scenario, the characters are the same.

Writing scenarios with this in mind has several benefits. As a GM, it certainly reduces the amount of prep-work necessary for any given scenario. Rather than creating new characters for each module, you can simply use the same ones in multiple ways. Having put together six Deadlands characters by hand last night, I can tell you, it makes a big difference. Having done the same thing for Heroes Unlimited last year took me no less than three days of work! Being able to avoid that amount of prep is a massive benefit!

But, beyond the simple prep-work, it also allows the GM to gain a better handle on each character’s abilities, tendencies, and gear. There’s a bit of a learning curve with any character—PC or NPC—that both player and GM need to overcome to play a character ‘effectively’ from both the mechanical and roleplaying standpoint. When the GM is able to eliminate his section of the learning curve, it frees them up to be able to help the players with mechanical questions and table-related issues.

Bazzati's bestest friend!
So, what’s key in all this? First off, the characters must be interesting. If the characters are without some degree of uniqueness, the GM will become bored with them, and they’ll be just as unappealing to the players. Again, AB Games has always had a stranglehold on this quality, with such luminaries as Rubella, the love-stricken tiefling paladin, and the aforementioned Bazzati and his mechanical owl familiar.

Similarly, these characters must each have a unique niche.  Each character should have their own unique abilities, which echo their unique personality.  Bazzati was so unique as a character, because his mechanical abilities--his utter mastery of fire-based powers--reflected his own chaotic stance on life, and his tenuous (at best!) grip on sanity.  Rubella's power choices reflect her nature as a 'nuturing protector', particularly one set for motherhood with a certain noble in the party.  Nearly all of the AB Games characters work this way in some sense, which is a masterful stroke in providing hooks for one-time players on the convention circuit.

So, what do I have in store?  Well, I'm glad you asked (hypothetically speaking)...remember those Deadlands characters I mentioned earlier?  Well, I've finally decided on a full party of members.  Enjoy this brief preview of what's in store!

  • Nigel Worthington-Smythe--an India-born British big-game hunter, Nigel's spent his life with a high-calibre rifle in his hands, searching out the most elusive and dangerous prey.  He's taken down elephants near the Bay of Bengali, lions in the Serengetti, and wild boar in the Rhine forests.  However, with tales of Mojave rattlers and California Maze Dragons lurking out in "the Colonies," Nigel packed up his belongings and made for the Weird West!
  • Ricky "One Armed Bandit" Parker--A former riverboat gambler, Ricky Parker made one bet too many with a black-hearted desperado aboard a steamboat on the mighty Mississippi.  One thing led to another and Ricky took a slug in his left arm.  The sawbones had to amputate, but that only made Ricky's drive to be the best grow.  Since then, he's learned a few new tricks...
  • Benjamin Three-Bass--A Union-educated scion of the Lakota tribes, Benjamin served for a time as an ambassador and delegate before the Dakotas became their own nation.  However, with war on the horizon, Benjamin has left his tribe, seeking to bring peace--one way or another--to the West, atoning for his failures in the Dakota territories.
  • Shawna McClintock--If you can ride it, rope it, or drive it, Shawna's already done it.  And damned if she can't do it better and faster than you.  Shawna would still be racing across the Weird West, delivering for the Pony Express, if not for the Texas Rangers that have been pursuing her ever since she made that one delivery...
  • Melissa "Miss Meliss" Garrett--It ain't easy being a "soiled dove" out on the plains.  Melissa could sure tell you that.  But, if nothing else, it gives you a chance to get real close to a mark...close enough to relieve him of that fancy gold pocketwatch, pocket a letter from someone 'connected', or even slide a switchblade between some ribs.  Miss Meliss has done it all, and damned if she's not going to be a survivor.
    Morgan Arringon looks over his schematics...
  • Prof. Morgan Arrington--A Massachusetts-educated professor of...well, some science, Morgan's got a bit of an obsession with ghost rock.  Ever since he built that "mist projector", he just hasn't been the same.  If he can't build it, Morgan can definitely fix it, and has a knack for tools.  Just don't get the idea that his ideas aren't really his...Morgan's just a touch possessive of his work!

So, which would it be, fellow gamers?  Intregued by any of these?  Any that strike your fancy?