Thursday, September 26, 2013

Shadowrun: Vlad Checking In

So Vlad checks in....

Yeah, it has been a strange week.  I'm trying to do what I do and keep my nose clean.

We had an incident getting away from the last job.  A couple in a black sedan was following.  I spotted the tail on the bus.  They stopped and the car hit them.  It was a bug plant, so the guys took care of it while I distracted them.  We nearly had a fire-fight with and angry dwarf carrying a shotgun as big as he was.

We got to the drop off -- a used car lot.  We arrived just in time to seeing someone leave.  The guy there was dead, at least someone was sure.  I called Mr Fixit, we got directions to hide the loot, burn the joint, and grab the tapes of who did the hit.  Probably one of Big Tony's guys was the bad guy I saw leaving.  Zero copied the data so we have something of value.  Tyres about blew himself up.  That angry dwarf showed up again -- luckily I smooth-talked him enough to avoid getting shot.

On to a place called the Kamilla Club, the rest of the crew's regular drinking spot.  It has been blown to bits.  One guy is hurt and we find a box with our rewards for the run.  With augment in hand I volunteer to take the hurt guy with me to a doc.  He gets patched up, and I get the pheromone upgrade to make me that much sweeter to the world.

So the hurt guy, named Carlos, gives me the lowdown on the club. HMMV club got hit by guys in the right uniforms with guns firing wood.  It looks like a hate crime.

Leaving the Doc's, I find some big biker dude with a bike marked Dredd is checking us out.  I follow him for a while.  He is checking out various food joints around... probably front businesses.

I try to drop Carlos off at his place, but the place is hot.  Big hearses marked with crosses are swarming the joint.  It is probably his haters right there.

So I call the rest of the crew.  They are getting rid of the packages they found on the bus.  Big Tony is going to give them some good money for them.  I wait outside but eventually get called in to negotiate the deal.

A brief scare during the deal -- one of the guys for Tony calls our stuff out as poison.  I convince him otherwise and he nearly takes the guy out right then and there.

Then the real problem.  Our buddy Dredd from earlier bursts in, using a rocket launcher to blow a hole through the armored building.  A firefight ensues, and I make my way out, but the gunfire isn't letting up, and I know it's only a matter of time before the missile launcher will be in play.  You can't outrun and building coming down on your head.

The gunfire isn't stopping, so I run back in, dodging gunfire, and grab my knife.  Tony is laying on the floor, helpless.  With one motion, I take out Tony, and yell out that he's dead, the fight is over and we can all make some money now.  Dredd grabs the body and leaves.  The other guys are just mainly shocked.  I set the guys in motion fixing the wall.  Zero brings the case back in, we all split the money, and I head upstairs accompanied by one of the guards -- the angry dwarf.

It's time to call Mr. Fixit.  He sends in someone to take over.  I expect he will be extra happy with this major change in power I pulled out.  Success is opportunity meeting a bold move.

Suddenly I have some hacker madman causing a ruckus as the replacement arrives.  Xxyyzzyy, I guess he's an AI, took issue with Tony's death.  The crew isn't real happy either, with taking out their business partner.  Some thanks I get -- we would have all been dead after another shot from that missile launcher.

I check my account -- money is there, but 15 million nuyen has wandered through from Mr. Fixit to Mr. Grundy.  Julius Fixit.  He's using me -- I would expect no less.

Time to lay low for a bit.  I might get some street credit out of taking out Tony, even though his replacement looks just like him and tells everyone he is Tony.  It's been a wild week, and I've gone through way too many ties.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Emeril Method of GM Planning

I know as much about Emeril as the first few lines of his wikipedia page, a few catch  phrases heard here and there, maybe one morning news segment's worth of observation of him cooking, and the summary of him in Futurama's ongoing spoof of him.  The last items is probably most revealing.  Bam!

Still this is enough to warrant naming this whole GM planning method  after him.  Summarize it with one catch phrase:  "take it up a notch".

You see, playing a fantasy roleplaying game is about writing a hero's journey.  All hero's journeys follow a path from the mediocre to the magnificent.  They grow.

To plan a campaign, an adventure, an encounter, follow the rule:  take it up a notch.

No one wants to play the standard encounter over and over -- that's what computers are for.  RPG is about experiencing and conquering something new.

My last campaign of 1 1/2 years was a success in many ways because every encounter was an expansion beyond what the previous was.  New risks, new scenarios, new rewards.

In chapter two of the campaign, the party quaked in fear of the ancient quake dragon.  In the final chapter, the party was spit fighting multiple foes, and only two of them faced the dragon alone.  They grew into this, fighting ever mounting obstacles and dangers in their path.  They earned their right to be heroes.

Each week, every encounter grew more dangerous.  Some died.  Some lived to tell the tale and became heroes.

So next time you think ahead as a GM about what to do next, think about taking things up a notch, an ongoing game of can you top this.  Your players will love it.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

T. S. Eliot

This is the way the world ends.
This is the way the world ends.
This is the way the world ends.
Not with a bang, but with a whimper.

So slowly thus is ending this chapter of my life here where I have called my home for a good 17 years.  My gaming parties are slowly becoming less frequent with more distractions.  My primary game is now online.  The house is becoming bare.

I guess I have lowered my standards for the rest of the year.  I'm not starting a 13th Age game or a Numenera game.  I'll run a couple of Numenera demos, try to get my Pathfinder rules extension into testing, and try to hold on to the Friday game with Vlad.  Most of my books and minis are packed now.  I spend my free time reading the books I received from kickstarters -- Ehrdrigohr and the Solomon Guild.  Both are good reads, well thought out, and different from the usual.

We'll be checking out the new area and looking at houses soon.  I plan to stop by the local comic book store and see if they have gaming there.  With more space at the new house, maybe I will even have a place to host games.  I am still daydreaming on GeekChiq for gaming tables.  Dreaming.

That is a good way to think of my time now.  I am dreaming of what the new future might be.  I am dreaming of who I might be then.  Different place, different job, different me -- a chance to rewrite my character sheet, adding a couple of new levels.  Let's see what I can do now.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Demoing Numenera

I GMed my first Numenera game last night as a demo at our FLGS.  Unfortunately, with the short bit of advertising I did in advance of it, we only got one other player in addition to my two daughters.  The recipe was simple, build characters and play the first adventure in the book.

I helped each of the players through understanding the rules, and helped them learn how to build a character.  Character creation always takes too long, especially when there aren't lots of copies o the material.  I only had a hard copy of the player's guide and the core book.  The core book, as a limited edition, doesn't leave my hands.

Two glaives and a jack formed the party.  My daughters tried to incorporate the PC hooks; the third player ignored them.  Oh well.  I could tell he was uncomfortable with two teenage girls playing.

We got underway.  I felt a bit leading as I set up the scenario.  The first monster attacked them on the path.  We barely got through that and the third player had to leave, so we shut down and left.

It wasn't a glorious test that I had hoped for, but I got some experience with character creation and GMing just a smidge.  My GM screen was covered in notes by the end of the session, so that was good for next time.

Lesson Reinforced:  Good players make for a good game.  Gather a good player group first by advertising well in advance.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Monday, September 9, 2013

Another Adventure

So it looks like I get to undertake another new adventure.  Between now and early next year we will be moving to a new city.  This was not part of the master plan.  Already I am looking to see what friendly local gaming stores are around town and what gaming groups exist.  It is very sad to leave behind all the gamer friends I have made, but we have time for another short campaign or too, so I'm going to make the best of it.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Friday Shadowrun: Introducing Vlad

So I started my Friday Shadowrun game this week as a player.  Unfortunately I am still tuning my headset, and I had an echo that made it hard for me to talk normally.  Hopefully it is fixed now so there will be no problems in the future.

So Vlad is an elf in 2064.  He's a smooth operator with a flair for outrageous suits and ties.  It suits him.  In one of his earlier undertakings he got caught in an industrial accident that turned him mostly blue from head to toe.  Unfortunately, the same accident got him in bad with Ares and he has to switch to supporting runners instead of his old more legal means of making money.

Vlad drives a simple 4 door Ford sedan.  It is hard to notice the extras he's put on it.  He carries a pistol or two when the job calls for it, and always has a knife on him in case things go south.  Most deadly for Vlad is his mouth.  He can talk his way in or out of just about anything.
Report from Vlad:

So I get a call while driving through the ground floor.  I don't recognize the number, but answer it anyway.  Its a strange voice but the man says his name is Mr. Fixit, and I know this guyss rep.  He's a player though his newsworthy plans tend to involve some chaos.

Mr. Fixit has a job.  What's the pay?  Any augmentation.  He gives a list of numbers and says he'll be in touch.  This is cool -- either way, pay or not, I can get money out of info on whatever is going on.  And if it is the real Mr. Fixit, the money for the info is better.

I call the number and get a deep gravelly voice on the other end.  I tell them who it is, who sent me, and ask for a location.  It is twenty minutes away; I get there in ten.

The location is outside a big orc concert in some semblance of what once was a doubledecker bus.  Inside there are a couple of guys and a snake.  Tyres.  Zero. Naga priest.  Later there is an AI playing with the computers -- Xxyyzzyy.  I'll get to know the family later -- time to get to work

So what's the job?  We have to get a tape inside the Outreach Center for the Universal Brotherhood.  Nobody has cased the joint.  Nobody knows what is on the tape.  They think it is in the head priest's office.

I walk out.  Little did I know the infiltrator, Zero, is following me.  I drop a Nuyen in the tank for the suggested donation for the conert and walk straight to the security line behind the stage.  Look like you are supposed to be there and the power follows you.  The security is Centurion and guys in matching suits -- something local maybe.  I tell him I am with Horizon Music and I am looking to get in the back and talk to whoever is in charge about signing the band.  It is a good thing the band really is good.

They lead me back through security cameras into the building to an auditorium.  It doesn't look like its bad to get in.  The guy following me branches around to check out the back loading dock, taking pictures.  Meanwhile I'm inside talking to this big guy in dreadlocks who is in charge.  I tell him the music executive story again and schedule a meeting.  This guy is the father... I'm supposed to be meeting the grandfather?  Whatever.  I ask for a map to the meeting place, and he gives me one against his better judgement.  Go team.

On the way out, I get lost and head for the area where I think the grandfather's office is.  Great... some lady security and now there are keycards.  I tell her I am parked in the other direction, and she leads me right down the hall past the office.  More cameras.  And two ancient gunnery turrents, but they are still lethal.

I get out the back and walk around to the bus and car again.  Yeah, we've got security cameras and keycards, security all over, and automated turrents.  This could be a challenge.

Suddenly though, Ares makes an appearance, and they are shutting down the concert.  This is damned peculiar.  Ares is not supposed to be on the ground floor, and they sure as hell shouldn't be shutting down a concert.  The AI hacks the speakers, sending sparks and some semblance of music over the tense crowd and tense Ares guys.  I see the window.

Lets move.  We head around back.  The guys flip up armor on the bus.  I'm happy in my car.

A few shots take out the cameras, and start a massacre as Ares hears the gunfire and starts shooting.  Chaos is everywhere.  The folks loading canisters and stuff on the loading docks run for the Outreach building, leaving the doors wide open.  The guys head inside while I keep watch and keep talking to them.  I'm the eyes and ears outside , so to speak.

The AI continues to mess with the Ares guys who are headed for the building.

Once inside the crew finds some miscellaneous stuff.  They realize the way in is to blow a hole in the wall into the office to bypass the turrent.  Boom and they are in.  Complication... grandfather is there, so they taser him.  He's a bug, and there are bug spirits all over.  It's a hive.  Guess we're blowing the joint.  They grab the tape and set a remote explosion to take out the building.

We take off.  I use the ramming plate on my car to move blocking traffic.  I toss my tie out the window as they set off the explosion.  This job is over for today.  We got the tape and we got rid of a big bug problem.  It could have been a lot worse.  Oh, and the AI nailed Ares for the massacre by sending tape to the news.  Smear campaign.  Nice.

Hopefully this ends quick and we can get paid soon... I am eyeing a pheremone upgrade to make my social skills a bit more effective.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

When did the Term "Role Playing Game" become so Murky?

I was reading this article over at Tag Sessions, and it hit a nerve, like when you have a sore tooth you didn't know about.  When I was a kid, there was D&D and that's all anyone I knew ever knew about.  It was a role playing game or an RPG, but no one cared.  It was D&D.

I didn't have D&D.  I couldn't afford the books, so I wrote my own on pages of looseleaf notebook paper.  No one played, so at first I played against myself, then I programmed the computer to GM for me.

In college I started running into other role playing games like Shadowrun and Battletech.  They weren't D&D and in many ways they weren't like D&D.    Beyond I heard of Rifts and Gurps and the list grows.

But somewhere in there, something different popped up... Baldur's Gate.  It was a video game where you could play D&D characters. Role-playing games had moved online, but like the GM I programmed on my Commodore 64, playing the character was gone.  Preprogrammed dialogues let me do prescripted things but not really build my character into a 3D character.  It was a choose you own adventure with hack 'n' slash mixed in.  Baldur's Gate 2, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights... the genre grew.  RPG began to mean those other games that had characters but weren't Castle Wolfenstein or Doom... the non-FPS character games.

Now explosions in the industry are bringing out new games across a spectrum that wasn't even defined back then.  GM-less games... games with no dice... storytelling games.  RPG doesn't even mean RPG anymore... it is some ill-defined term that can't be grasped without context.  How do we repair our broken term?

Games are played by players.  If you want to define a game, you should define it by the interface between the player and the other components of the game.  Of course we can't do that in a concrete way, because then virtual tabletops and video games are the same... we interface to them through mouse clicks, button pushes, and key strokes.  The interface must be the human's interface.

There are two ways a human thinks about a game that are very different.  Closed games have strictly defined rules for interacting with the system.  In chess we can move pieces certains ways on our turn; in Risk we only have a few actions to choose from each turn; in FPS versus a computer, we can hit certain buttons to do certain things and we can learn the rules that the computer uses to react.  Closed games are confined by their rules.

Open games, the second version, is very different.  An open game allows the player to interact with the game in the manner that they choose, being able to come up with new ideas that could not have been conceived of when the game rules were written.  In these games, the human engages the creative side of the brain, performing synthesis of new ideas.  The rules provide only a contract for how to interpret these new ideas in a fair and consistent manner.  With or without a GM, a human is interpreting the play in the content of the rules.

There is some argument about the nature of the interaction with the rules.  Does rolling dice fundamentally change the nature of a game?  Let's replace rolling dice with "random element".  In actuality, when two or more humans are interacting, we have already introduced a random element, namely the interaction with the other humans.  Rolling dice may seem different, but can't you get the same affect by just having another player say your character shouldn't be able to do that kind of thing.  Of course, you can't argue with a dice and a rule... it smooths the social contract for figuring out what one can and can't do, and gives "fair odds".  As a kid we always played pretend with other kids and remember the escalation of mine is better than yours.  Usually it starts with 100, 1000, 1 million, 1 milllion million, and ended with some nonsense about infinity squared +1.

With adults, a significant number of players have a more subtle version of the same problems when playing without rules.  As an introverted player I need some mechanism by which an extroverted player can't just sway everyone to his thinking and steamroll my enjoyment of the game.  Rules help balance the playing field for the players.

Does that make a RPG -- balanced play?  Not really.  Games that don't care about balance are clearly RPGs too.  Pathfinder, for example, has carefully balanced extensions to the primary rules while Shadowrun adds new more powerful abilities with each new book, but both both are clearly RPGs.

We're circling a definition here.  Let's hone in on the exact definition by looking at what isn't an RPG.  Poker is not an RPG.  Craps in not an RPG.  These games have no element of escapism.  You are the same person, playing or not playing them.

How about monopoly?  Or how about an FPS?  Don't we take on other roles in these?  Not really -- these are simulations, but still use our own intrinsic skills to solve the problems presented to us.

This leaves a simple definition for an RPG.  An RPG is a game where you play a character with different capabilities than you.  Let's do a quick check -- does this separate on online MMORPG from FPS?  Yes, because FPS games rely on the skill of the player, while role playing games have numbers representing the skills of the character.  Does this exclude chess, monopoly, and poker?  Yes, because all of those games rely on the player to make the choices that determine the outcome of the game.  Does it include games like Fiasco?  Sortof, because fiasco does give the character different abilities than what the player could actually do.

So there we have it -- a working definition of an RPG:  An RPG is a game where you play a character with different capabilities than you.  There are two kinds of RPGs:  open and closed RPGs.  Closed RPGs have limited options because the options are encoded.  Open RPGs have unlimited options because the results are determined by a human.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Tuesday Runelords

Another report from Ranier:

Our last day out was the hardest.  Lack of sleep and food wears on a person.  I don't remember it very well.

  • Digging through the second level we came across a woman who jumped us.  It was a fierce battle, but we fought back and won.  The prize of the day for me was the spellbook she had, though I didn't let on.
  • We found Nualia.  I gave Alex the invisibility potion and he got us in.  She turned Sol into one of those Yeth Houds, but we killed her and he turned back.
  • We found documents and such that gave us a lot more insight to the big evil plan.
  • We found a treasure hoard including a massive bronze helmet.  We just have to get the thing out of here.
  • There are some really old tombs down here, something to do with the guy with the glaive and the book marked with the seven point start.
  • At last we found our way into a sealed room with some sort of barghest -- an extraplanar being.  Luckily we were able to pull together enough magic to kill it.
Gathering our equipment and Axle's belonging to finally leave this place was good.  We're heading back to to town and taking a couple of weeks off.  I'm going to take some time to teach Sol how to track and fetch.  He has some kind of luck.  I'm also going to work on selling off all of the extra crap we have collected.  At night, when the others are asleep, I'll see if I can decipher the magical spells from the various scrolls and books we've collected.  I think if I can work with the wands a bit, I might be able to start using them as a source of power for my attacks.  It will be a lot less draining than always trying to power them myself.  Carrying a wand is going to be a bit more conspicuous.  Sooner or later if I can learn to trust this new band of misfits, I might have to tell them.