Monday, January 31, 2011

In Which The Warlock Hits on 19...

My apologies on the late entry, but this time it was intentional.  With my Sunday Deadlands group in Dodge City, I wanted to show off some of my recent creations as the posse diligently pursues The Walkin' Man. 

Stumbling into Dodge City, the party ran headlong into a gunfight between some overeager young Jayhawkers and a long-retired Confederate lieutenent.  As it turns out, Marshal Deger had been forced to go back on his "no open firearms" policy, as mysterious disappearances had been plaguing the city.  Deger, and his infamous deputy Wyatt Earp, called upon the party to investigate...starting with the ghoul warrens beneath Boot Hill.

Not wanting to investigate the ghoul warrens alone, the party quickly took up on Deger's offer to call on his cousin, one William Barclay Masterson.  But, not wanting to go in without a proverbial "big gun," Will the ManMan called upon Rev. Jacobson's oldest friend--the buffalo hunter known as The Arizona Kid.  But, as it turned out, Sam Pelfrey's learned a few tricks since hanging out at the carnival with Elijah!  With a Blackjack hand second to none, flipping cards has become all but second nature to this dead-eye...

Name:  Sam "The Arizona Kid" Pelfrey

Race:  Human
The Arizona Kid's ready to take out some ghouls!
Strength:  d8
Vigor:  d6
Agility: d10
Spirit: d6
Smarts: d8

Charisma:  +0
Pace: 6"
Toughness: 5
Parry: 5
Grit: 3
XP:  40

Edges:  Marksman, Steady Hands, Arcane Background: Huckster, New Power: Quickness, Rapid Recharge

Powers:  Aim, Quickness, Gambler

Skills:  Shooting d10; Gambling d8; Guts d8; Riding d8; Fighting d6; Stealth d6; Tracking d6; Knowledge (Occult) d6; Climbing d4; Notice d4

Major Gear:
Buffalo Rifle--Bullard Express .50--2d10 (AP 2)--24/48/96
Winchester Army Pistol .36--2d6 (AP 1)--12/24/48
Bowie Knife--d8+d4+1

Description:  Sam Pelfrey grew up in and around Independence, Missouri, where he was friends with a young Elijah Jacobson.  While Elijah grew up and headed off to seminary, Sam opted for making the "quick buck" through gambling, particularly his favorite game--Black Jack.  However, upon besting an exotic lady outside of Deadwood, Sam found himself with a new that knew much about the tricks that cards really hold.  Sam put his newfound arcane talents to good use, swiftly gaining reputation as a peerless shot amongst the legions of buffalo hunters roaming the High Plains.  Going by the alias "The Arizona Kid", Sam just lets his Bullard Express and his cards do the talking, and the name spreads itself.

For those of you unfamiliar with Deadlands, Sam is what's referred to as a "Huckster".  By besting a demon (known as a manitou or a Joker) in a battle of wills, a Huckster can cast spells much like the wizards of old.  For most Hucksters, this battle of wills takes place as a hand of poker, though other variations--including blackjack--are common.  Sam is actually a special variety of Huckster, known as a "Hexslinger", which is simply a Huckster that uses his hexes to improve his aim and prowess with a gun.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

In Which The Warlock TKs With the Best of Them...

As I've said many a time, the wisest words I'd ever heard came while I was in Liverpool.  There, my professor for "Chaucer's Narrative Verse" told us straight-up that, "Conflict is the most important thing in literature.  After all, what would King Lear be like if everyone just sat around saying, 'Pass the cornflakes,'?"  I've adopted that philosophy into my own writing and game design, trying to focus on building conflicts within them.

However, there's always been one conflict that's been somewhat taboo at the table--the idea of the Player vs. Player conflict.  In a party-based game like Dungeons and Dragons, there's something of an unwritten rule that "the party must work together towards a greater aim".  Social contract, perhaps?  But, it's definitely unwritten...and not entirely pratical at all times...

When I wrote up the background for Actorios, I should have anticipated that his attitude would make some enemies, but I was unsuspecting that said conflicts would come to a head within the party.  However, with our recent sessions, Actorios quickly found that his worst enemy was not the crimson sun or the sorcerer-kings of Athas, but rather his party-mate, M'Raj.

Another in-party conflict?
Chris II created M'Raj--a wizard/psion--as a potential Veiled Alliance member, eager to seek out and destroy the defilers that had ruined Athas.  At the very outset, M'Raj and Actorios became rivals, as Actorios was unwilling to share the arcane secrets behind a mysterious spellshard that House Wavir asked to have taken to Balic.  The tensions deepened as the pair traveled, with the conflict reaching its climax in Balic.

Tasked by a High Praetor of Andropinis, the group was asked to seek out a Veiled Alliance sect that was causing problems for the sorcerer-king.  Actorios, wanting to get into Andropinis' good graces, naturally accepted the mission.  M'Raj, naturally, had some reservations.  However, after the group tracked the Veiled Alliance to a bar nearby, Actorios leapt into action, slaying three of the members before the others could react.  M'Raj didn't take kindly to this and broadcast to the other group members to "get him!"  Jack--CincinAdam's mul fighter--drew his axe...and promptly planted it in the back of M'Raj's skull.  After a short combat, the group was reduced by half, with only Actorios, Velona and Jack surviving.

Actorios endures...
I guess what really shocked me was the brutality of the whole scenario, but the conflict stretched beyond the in-game action, and left some hard feelings out of game.  The whole situation led, in fact, to a long e-mail chain discussing the situation.  Actorios was more interested in his own goals than working as a 'team player'.  Jack looked at the situation as one of "who's completing the job?"  With Actorios doing so, while M'Raj less so, Jack acted against M'Raj.  M'Raj, meanwhile, sought to negotiate with the Veiled Alliance, hoping to find a scapegoat to report to the Praetor.  The others?  Caught in the middle...

While things have been resolved, by and large, I can't help but begin to question:  how invested do we really become in our characters?  I feel like, while I've put a lot of time and effort into my own creations, they're just that...creations.  In the end, if they live or die doesn't really matter--they're paper.  What matters to me is the experience around the table.  While I'm not sure where this leaves us entirely--we're planning on staying in Dark Sun, but with a few new characters--I find it interesting how this type of conflict left so many people disilliusioned.

Could it be that, as a group, we're just not ready for the most dangerous adversaries--each other?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

In Which The Warlock Wants to Sink Atlantis...

My preference in games is pretty well documented here:  I tend towards full-on cooperative games as well as my more usual complement of player-vs-player games.  However, there's always been one PvP game that's been an Achilles' Heel for me:  Risk.  Games always seem to take so long, with so little variety between turns, that I often get bored and seek out other entertainment, even while playing the game!

But, there was one variant--in amongst the many that exist--that really intrigued me.  Risk: Godstorm

The premise is simple.  Instead of portraying generals, invading the various nations of the modern world, you take on the role of one of the ancient pantheons:  Greece, Babylon, Egypt, Celtic or Norse.  From there, you wage your war across Ancient Europe, complete with the lost Atlantean continent! 

If the differences were only that much, I probably wouldn't have been sold on this varient.  Board Game Karen brought over Lord of the Rings Risk over the Christmas holiday and, while the game was fun, I found the changes it brought to the Risk game to be minimal.  While I enjoyed going to war against Chaotic Karl, Will the Man-Man, and BG Karen, it was essentially just Risk, only in Middle-Earth.

Risk: Godstorm in play
Godstorm changes the game almost violently.  Dead soldiers don't just die, they are returned to their respective Underworld, where their conflict continues over the shrines and crypts in the battlefields there.  Each turn, players get "Faith Chips" which allow you to summon incarnations of the various gods into the world, where they aid your armies in conquest.  Different gods offer different aid--Hades prevents others' soldiers from entering the Underworld, while Thor lets your advancing hordes win ties in combat.  Or, if you so choose, you can purchase Miracles. 

Miracles are really where the biggest changes come into play.  Usually costing Faith to put into play, Miracles allow you to destroy enemy armies with fire and brimstone, call upon relics like Excalibur and the Babylonian Tree of Life, or...destroy the continent of Atlantis. 

When I had heard this, my mind was blown!  Destroy an entire continent?!  Change the face of the game entirely, with one card?!  That's my kind of game! 

I must say, I was not disappointed.  In a short game with The Professor, Mrs. Professor and Will the Man-Man, my Norse warriors managed to invade Hyrkania and Atlantis (without having it sink, luckily!).  Will, unfortunately, got trapped with The Professor in Europa proper, which sent most of his men into the Underworld.  Mrs. Professor, though, pulled out a massive win, spreading out her Celts across Asia Minor and North Africa.

The changes made in Godstorm make it a totally unique game.  While the base mechanics of Risk are the same--advance your armies linearly, 3-vs-2 die combat--the changes that Godstorm provides make it a really innovative addition.  I look forward eagerly to my next game...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In Which The Warlock Has His Head in the Clouds...

So, while traversing the annals of before dinner--and before a massive amount of grading--I stumbled across a post by a regular user, talking about a project that another gamer had embarked on:  the act of analyzing various D&D manuals via 'word clouds'.

Not familiar with 'word clouds'?  Here's the basic premise.  Based on the number of times a word appears in a given text, it's given a size and formatting.  The more frequent the word, the larger and more ostentatious it appears.  Words decrease in size and format until they become statistically insignificant and "disappear" into the cloud.  Essentially, it's a listing of word-frequency, but done in a graphical format, so that it's easily apparent which words are most important.

The author's findings are here: 
The Alexandrian--D&D Word Clouds

What struck me most is his findings between 3rd and 4th editions.  While I do like the streamlined nature of 4th edition, the fundamental ideas in the game definitely show a shift.  Terms like "Attacks", "Powers" and "Damage" take prescedence over terms typically associated with D&D like "Spells", "Magic" and "Levels". 

In fact, the author puts forward a massive, if short, truth in his analysis of the results:

"If, in previous editions, we're looking at the difference between five card draw, Texas Hold 'Em, and seven card stud, then I think with 4th Edition we're looking at the diference between poker and gin."

Let me set the record straight.  I enjoy 4e.  I like the verisimilitude between characters, as well as the complexity that it brought to "typically dumb" classes, like Fighters and Barbarians.  I'm not too keen on the direction that WotC seems to be taking it in the last year or so, particularly with their massive cancellations (See the section labeled D&D RPG Product Release Updates).  But I really hope that, come 5th edition, the designers take a look at the core of the elements that make D&D the game it always has been, then build on the innovations of 4e from there.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

In Which The Warlock Wants Some Feedback...

With preparations for the upcoming convention season already in the works, I've been rattling around an idea that I think could really help the Guild move forward. 

One thing we've never really had is feedback on our games.  While we chat with the people that game with us at our various games, obviously, we've never really tracked any trends in what gamers want, or whether they're actually satisfied when they come away from the table. 

As such, I took advantage of the time I had during semester exams and put together this, a potential half-page feedback sheet for Wittenberg-run convention games.

 Thoughts?  Comments?  Ideally, we'll be able to use this for three purposes:
  • Add gamers from the convention circuit to our community mailing list, to keep them updated on WittCon and other Guild events.
  • Find out what games that they want us to be running, so that we can provide supply to match the demand.
  • Receive commentary on how people feel about our games, as well as whether we're doing a good job as GMs.
So, what do you think?  How about some feedback on our feedback?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In Which The Warlock Submits a Preview...

Sorry on the delay, fellow gamers.  It's the end of my teaching semester, so things have been hectic out here!

With the WittKids back in town for the spring semester, my Sunday afternoon Deadlands game is about to swing into high gear.  Our first semester suffered from some sporadic attendance issues, as well as a realtively slow pace as the posse made their way from Amarillo to Dodge City.  However, they squared off against the tommyknockers of Jaegretty Gulch, the machinations of Maximilian Gant, the tent revival of Rev. Jeremiah Riggins, and the wiles of the enigmatic Whateley clan. 

But, with the group about to hit Dodge City like a ton of bricks, it's time to ante up!  Enjoy the photo montage below, showing off what's in store for our crew!

Undead Horrors!

The Return of the Riggins Gang!

Westward Ho!

An unscheduled stop...

A mysterious stranger in the Ka-tet

An unholy tome

A final destination.

Ka know ya, d'ya kennit?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

In Which The Warlock Makes a Semi-Obscure 80s Movie Reference...

Even our New Year's Eve party--complete with the aforementioned Bacon Weave--isn't totally without a dose of nerd-dom.  From the usual gang clustered around the coffee table to play Battlestar Galactica, to others tossing down drinks to a game of Red Dragon Inn, we had quite the dice-chuckin' lollapolooza going.

Catan.  We meet again...

However, after a few drinks, I made my way back to our game room where four of our friendly neighborhood geeks were gathered around one of my perennial nemeses:  Settlers of Catan.  "Ugh," I said to myself.  Not again.  To this, Board-Game-Karen scoffed.  Naturally, she's of the opposite opinion.  She even spent four days at last year's GenCon playing through the Catan National Qualifying rounds.  Needless to say, she's a much bigger fan of Catan (and Eurogames in general) than I. 

 I've blogged before about my problems with Eurogames in general, and Catan and its numerous expansions are the granddaddy at the top of that heap.  So, while watching the game unfold in amongst refereshing snacks and the like, I was stricken by a novel concept: 
While Catan, at its core, is a passive-aggressive sort of doesn't have to be that way!
Rather, it would make so much more sense if the Settlers on that happy little island actually decided to take matters into their own hands and blow their adverseries off of the map!  And, to do so, all you'd have to do is make one little house rule...

Two Brick + Two Ore = Nuclear Silo!
Simply put, you just have to add one additional build option to the typical Road/Village/City/Card combo.  The addition, naturally, would be a Nuclear Missile, and would cost a mere 2 Brick and 2 Ore.  When a player builds the Nuclear Missile, they must immediately choose either a rival Village, a rival City, or two adjoining Roads.  If targeted at a Village or Roads, they are "destroyed" and removed from the board.  If a City is targeted, it is reduced back down to a Village.

However, some restrictions should be put on this.  I would add that a player cannot be reduced below his starting number of Villages, simply in order to keep the game competitive.  I would also add that a player can only play a Nuclear Missile once per turn, so that they can't simply go on a killing spree, attempting to demolish all of the other players simultaneously.

On a casual--and totally unplaytested--level, this seems pretty balanced.  On a traditional Settlers of Catan board, there are one less Brick and Ore producing tiles than the other three resources, which makes them somewhat more difficult to get.  Ore is most often used in the end-game for building Cities and buying Development Cards, while Brick (which is really important early on, as Roads are a priority) gets put to the wayside.  Essentially, it rewards a player wiling to invest in Brick on a significant level, while simultaneously providing an opportunity-cost conundrum:  do you build the City with that Ore, to build up resources and victory points, or do you nuke your nearest opponent, reducing his ability to catch up to you?

So, what do you think, fellow gamers?  Would you like to play a game?  :D

Sunday, January 02, 2011

In Which The Warlock Weaves a Delicious Web...

While my holiday break has been full of gaming goodness--I've managed to pack in playtests of both Dungeon Slam! and SunnyVale Acres, in addition to several other games--I want to go off on a bit of tangent, geeky though it might be.

My love of food is pretty well documented on this blog, but when I won a ham at the holiday party at work, I knew I wanted to do something special with it.  As such, I stumbled upon a mythic addition to any protein:  The Bacon Weave!

I had seen it online first, done with a turkey, and then again with a mighty Turducken, but never with a ham.  Perhaps, just perhaps, I could be the first!  Besides, what could make a tasty, delicious ham more yummy than more pig!?

The Bacon Weave, pre-cooking.
Surprisingly, the Bacon Weave was not too hard to accomplish, taking only about 20 minutes to perform.  I used a basic 'over-under' technique, similar to any basket or the like that you might have.  I used a package and a half of bacon, which was just long enough to cover the 7 pound ham.  I assembled the Weave first on a large platter, then slid it on top of the ham.

I was a bit worried about burning the bacon before the ham was done, but my fears were utterly unfounded.  The bacon came out crispy and browned, dripping their goodness down into the ham deliciously.  Even better, I used a center-cut, maple-flavored bacon, which added sweetness and richness to the ham. 

And now...the finished product:

The Bacon Weave in all its glory!
 This made for massive hit at our New Year's party, particularly as I carved it live for everyone.  There were only a few pieces left, after we were finished with this delectable treat!

Want a slice?