222 years ago

“Blood running in the streets. Mobs of rioters and demonstrators threatening banks and legislatures. Looting of shop and home. Strikes and unemployment. Trade and distribution paralyzed. Shortages of food. Bankruptcies everywhere. Court dockets overloaded. Kidnappings for heavy ransom. Sexual perversion, drunkenness, lawlessness rampant. The wheels of government are clogged, and we are descending into the vale of confusion and darkness. No day was ever more clouded than the present. We are fast verging on anarchy and confusion.”

– George Washington, 1786

Converting some WatchTower characters to Wild Talents.

Codename: Warhead AKA David Bruce Brandon
Appearance: Warhead is an 8 ft tall humanoid suit of armour. Brandon is a slighty overweight man with unkempt brown hair and bushy eyebrows.
Background: Dr David Brandon is a robotics engineer. He discovered his electrical generation powers as a teen and quickly started to use it to power small devices. The Warhead armour was the culmination of a series of inventions which, while they seemed revolutionary, could only be used by him. Along with the armour, he has a motorcyle and an electric car; neither of which have batteries. David loves the thrill of adventure when in the suit.
Known Talent Abilities: David can generate electrical energy. It’s of a sufficiently low level that it cannot be used to create dangerous attacks but it has been use to power the warhead armour removing the need for bulky power supplies.

  • Harm (AU) – Shock only

The Warhead Armour provides the following advantages

  • Armour (Heavy Armour)
  • Strength (HyperBody)
  • Protection from cold, heat, pressure, oxygen (Immunity)

Sparkle AKA Helen Louise Ross
Appearance: Sparkle is a blonde caucasian woman in her mid-thirties. She’s attractive but her demeanour is very downtrodden. She is surrounded by sparkling motes in the air around her.
Background: Helen was a normal working mum with 2 kids, a busy husband and a dog. She was driving her children home from school when a car ran a red light and was about to hit her car when it was enveloped in sparkling light. The car was hefted over her car and into oncoming traffic causing a 7-car pile-up. Thankfully no-one died. She drove home, shaken more by the Sparkles which still surrounded her, than the accident. Her husband was not understanding, however, and within a matter of weeks she was homeless, presented with a restraining order preventing her from contacting her children and facing charges for criminal damages to 7 cars and 13 personal injury claims. These days, bankrupt and with a 2 year probationary sentence, she work on a construction site as a Lifter and has fallen in with a Talent support group.
Known Talent Abilities:
Sparkle can generate a visible telekinetic field within a short range of her body. The area effect of her ability is indicated by the movement of sparkling motes in the air which affect her ability to remain concealed. She calls this her “Sparkle Effect”.

  • Telekinesis (ADU) – Obvious
  • Flight (U) attached to Telekinesis – Booster, Multiple Targets

Inferno AKA Brad Nelson
Appearance: A well-built caucasian man in his twenties with blond hair
and grey eyes. When using his power, his hair and eyes are usually ‘leaking’ flames.
Background: Brad Nelson was always spoiled. He was tall, good looking, excellent at sports and graduated valedictorian of his class. He had it all and he was a Talent. But, like all spoiled brats, he was greedy. Brad debuted as a supervillain known as Phlogiston in New York. On his first outing, a bank robbery, he was utterly defeated and catapulted into the Hudson. It was desperately humbling. His resolution: become a hero. He took acting lessons, spent more time in the gym and at the dojo, moved across the continent and got himself a PR Agent. He’s not rich, not yet…
Known Talent Abilities:
Inferno can release flame from any part of his body. The shape and intensity of the flame can vary in intensity and he is immune to it’s effects. He cannot lessen ambient flame nor can he shape it into anything other than a burst, though he can reduce the effects.

  • Harm (ARU) – Burn, Killing Only, Engulf, Spray, Obvious
  • Immunity to Flame/Heat – Endless

Hemlock AKA Robert Gage
Appearance: Hemlock is a powerfully built human male who usually wears a close fitting impermeable black garment underneath his normal clothes. His gloves and mask are removable.
Background: Robert Gage developed his toxin producing abilities during gestation and as a result his mother died during an emergency procedure. As he was being delivered, his poisons killed two nurses and incapacitated his doctor. His father fled and refused to have anything to do with him and he was given to an orphanage. He spent his entire youth in isolation, limbs wrapped in plastic, terrified that his touch would kill. Always studious, he was awarded several scholarships, none of which he could accept. After his 16th birthday, he left the orphanage and attempted to make his own way in the world – not an easy task considering his isolationbut he muddled through gaining many useful contacts. Three years later, he was contacted by a lawyer as the sole inheritor of his father’s estate. No longer with any need to work or interact with others for money, he is free to do as his heart desires.
Known Talent Abilities:
Hemlock’s body exudes a powerful toxin which renders a target into an intoxicated delirium and, in very high doses, will kill. He has no control over this effect and therefore gauges the dose as best he can. (Using his poison skill to try to reduce damage).

  • Skill: Poison (to gobble Harm dice)
  • Harm (A, R) – Always On, Touch Only

I get it. Be more concise. Fine.

“Six(1) words(2) can(3) tell(4) a(5) story(6) (while five is too small). Constraints (write without the letter “e”; use only one-syllable words; make every sentence exactly N words ) can force me (and you!) out of windbaggery and make certain things possible.”

– ABriefMessage

It was only recently that I covered Only Six Words To Say Everything, Six Word Stories Redux, One Sentence Settings and One sentence True Stories

It’s probably fair to say that I get it.

Portion control

One of the hardest things to manage when GMing a game is portion control.

Traditionally we game in the evenings starting at around 7 pm and finishing up around 10 pm or 11 pm. It’s long enough to get something done and relax and make it a social affair. When I gamed in school it was gaming during the 40 minute lunchtimes and for 80 minutes on a Friday evening after school. On the weekend when we were young we might meet up around noon, start a game at 2, finish much later and at times, stay over so we could game more the next day. We had few responsibilties so it worked out well. These days, a 3 hour session is lucky to have because we have these responsibilities to family, spouse, work, other hobbies and being social. We have to therefore tailor our games to these times. Finding the right amount of material for a 3 hour session is not as simple as it sounds. Preparing too much material (or if your players are being a little dense or distracted) is not a major issue as you can pick up next time. Preparing too little is a pain because when the session ends and there’s still a good hour to go, you can feel somewhat disappointed. The time we have for gaming is precious and we want to use it in the right fashion as much as possible.

Enough of a challenge or are they swamped?

When playing an investigative game, it’s important to force feed a lot of players with clues and leads. Why? Because just because the players have characters who are investigative reporters, private detectives, research scientists and other smart professions, it doesn’t follow that the player is any good at looking at the evidence and deducing what happens before the Great Old Ones rise and the world ends. At the same time, don’t make it a railroad where the clues may lead somewhere but it doesn’t matter what they do because they’ll be drawn into the final struggle anyway.

The same extends to ‘combat-oriented’ games. Deduce the appropriate level of challenge and don’t have the half dozen player characters swamped with hundreds of enemies who can’t pose any real threat (due to armour or magic on the part of the PCs) but they do just carry you away from the goal. Once it’s novel, twice it’s amusing, three times and you’re an ass.

Be especially careful of the challenge level you present if there’s real possibility of player character death. Players don’t generally like it when their characters die. Sometimes it’s thematically appropriate and yet, at other times you have the annoyance and boredom of going through the numbers and generating another character.

Ma’ Johnston’s Dinner Recipe

My mum has always cooked extra. It comes from me and my siblings having big appetites and there usually being an extra head at the table to feed because one or more of us brought a friend. As we’ve gotten older, the portions got larger and now I know she actually cooks two dinners when she knows we’re calling over for dinner. This is why you can end up with a plate of spagetti, bolognaise sauce, a pork chop and some broccoli bake on the same plate. It’s because she loves feeding people and making sure everyone gets enough.

Apply the same thought to gaming. Overprepare on the materials but don’t get frustrated if the PCs seem to be getting through it slowly. I’d also recommend having a side order of something left of field just in case they get distracted or they do manage to resolve the issues very quickly.

Also…it is okay to just close the book and say “That’s all for tonight” and not game for the last hour or so. Most players these days have also worked as GMs and there’s a spread of ability. Some people work from published adventures, some from their copious notes and other still from their fevered imagination. Good players will understand.

Wild Talents / ORE

I’ve finally finished reading the system bits of Wild Talents and I do wish I’d read it earlier as it is a pretty solid action system with a lot of crunch and grit.

It’s honestly the first time since reading Marvel Super Heroes by TSR that I felt like I could reliably model any power. MSH will always have a special place in my heart because it modelled things so well (in truth, it did no modelling, it was all narrative).

Essentially Wild Talents uses a system where you buy dice in ‘stats’, ‘powers’ and ‘skills’.

Powers are, ironically. the cheapest thing to buy (which I suppose is fair enough in a superhero game.). The base cost of every power is 1 point for 1 dice. It’s when you add qualities to it that the cost increases.

e.g. We want to create a power called “Fire Generation” which will model the power in the MSH Ultimate Powers Book. To keep the Math simple we’re going to guy one normal dice in it which is the logical equivalent of getting the power at Feeble (2) rank.

1 point spent in Fire Generation allows you to generate a plume of flame. It’s a showy effect but not useful for much else.

Each quality added increases the dice cost by 1 per die.

  • Adding the Attacks quality adds a single point cost but it means that the fire can be directed into an attack. Of course, with 1 dice in it, it’s actually useless but bear with me here.
  • Adding the Defends quality means that the fire can be used to defend against attacks by, burning attackers, destroying missiles and the like. Again, with one die it’s useless but you get the drift.
  • Normally, if you get hurt or otherwise distracted, the power cuts out, and in this case, the flame plume would just stop. The Robust quality means that it keeps working even if you are hurt or distracted but it still stops if you’re knocked out.
  • Fire Generation is a ‘fighting’ power but the ability to generate fire has other uses outside of roasting bank robbers. To be able to cook with it without turning the food to cinders, or light a cigarette without roasting someone alive or even just use it to light a room in the absence of a torch means you have to take the quality “Useful Outside of Combat”.

This means there’s an incredible range of Fire Generating Powers available.

It’s possible to buy Fire Generation with only the Useful Outside of Combat quality. Your character could have a career being a human barbeque, being able to perfectly create a Souffle or warm a room with his presence.

It’s also possible only to buy it with the Attacks quality so that it can only be used to blow things up.

This means a somewhat useless Fire Generation power costs 1 point per die, but a Fire Generation that allows you to attack, will defend you from attacks, will continue to defend you even if you get hurt and can be used to toast marshmallows and keep your coffee warm will cost 5 points per die (because we’ve added all four qualities). That’s quite expensive in points so how do we reduce it? By adding Flaws which reduce the cost per point. More on that later.

Very flexible.

In the next WT post, I’ll talk about the dice conventions, the names of which were a major reason for me to have ignored Godlike and Wild Talents for so long.

It’s my birthday soon….so….

Brooklun Superhero Supply Company

Sadly just a graphic. Always wanted to find a thrifty place to get new Anti-Grav Boots.

But there is a STORE

Here’s the Times article talking about Microtrends. The idea that you can ultra-specialise in something and establish enough of a presence that your store becomes a tourist attraction 🙂

I’d like some canned antimatter.

More on Godlike

I’ve finished reading the book itself and found it quite enjoyable. I do have some issues with the quick proliferation of Talents and would be seeking to limit them myself. I don’t mind them being very powerful (though there seem to be a lot of indestructable ‘mad’ talents out there.

The money is still on the table on whether it’ll be North Africa or Pacific. Africa would be my preference.

Jim’s background goes into heaps of detail and allowed me to build the Talent power he wanted (I think) using a combination of two powers. It turns him from a simple one-sided Talent into something a little more exciting.

Michael provided two options – the mundane and the spectacular. I much prefer the “mundane” but have a lot of questions about what happens and how.

I’ve not got much detail from Graham yet but that’s probably more to do with my lack of information provision which I’ll remedy this week.

I’m also not sure whether Paul or Aidan will be able to participate. Paul has an awkward schedule and Aidan is in the wrong country (so we’re considering RP via Skype Video).

My next post will be going through the character generation process to make a couple of Talents for the game.

The usual fare

I don’t remember where I got this but it always made me think about the perfect stag do. It’s originally from the first edition Dungeon Master’s Guide and really proves that, to a degree, roleplayers of the day were ugly virgins.


I listened to an early episode of feartheboot on the way into work this morning (Episode 7 if anyone is interested) and they criticised the use of tables in some circumstances (roll for mental derangements, roll for plot points in a new town, roll for orgasm) while defending them in others (roll for Battlemech enemies, roll for random treasure/loot). I find that dichotomy to be really odd and illustrates a real liking for Monty Haul style campaigns. It doesn’t matter who the baddies are, they’re just random encounters and after we kill them we’ll take their #35 on the random treasure table. I know I’m taking that a little out of context and it was an early episode from about 2 years ago but I’m working through them and sometimes I really want to say “Hey, no, I don’t think that’s right” but, jeez, it’s two years ago so who would care.

Look at the assumptions in the table (getting back to the point). Didn’t this table tell you some things? Firstly, the players were likely to be all male, as were their characters. Secondly, all harlots were female (arguably a pimp or panderer can be either). That’s kind of shocking in of itself with modern sensibilities though unsurprising considering my gaming group consists of 4 blokes and this game was aimed at teenage dorks who weren’t great at sports.

If only I hadn’t watched Fear of Girls on Google Video (and the Wikipedia link) recently.

Makes me cringe.

That said, we may have been adolescents at one point and perhaps some of us fantasised about characters such as “Bathsheba Fullbubs” or “Calime Halfelven” but then that’s why this kind of material was in the books in the first place. We weren’t sexists when we were 12 years old, we were just confused and horny. RPG books catered to what we wanted to see and we didn’t see anything different between tough looking girls in chainmail thongs and the feeble representation of wet-blanket men in Barbie commercials.

I’m glad we can laugh about this.

‘Culture Games’

Back last year we wrote a ‘popular’ post about the top 10 roleplaying games of all time. In the post, I did explain my preference for culture games but also lacked to really talk about the concept. In thinking about it on the way to work this morning (driving is relative downtime), I figured it would be good to examine it due to some things that were said last night over iChat. Some of this discussion may end up contradicting myself even within the relative safety of this post.

By a ‘culture game’, I mean a game where there’s a component of learning about the culture as well as the opportunity to play non-combatant characters. It’s a game where people might talk about the richness of the setting or the feelings it evokes when they play. Part of this will be the game materials itself, part of it will be the player imaginations and part of it will be the style of the GM.

Just to muddy the waters, I’m going to discuss this in terms of the amount of culture I perceive the game to have. It doesn’t matter if the game is mainstream or indie, that’s not invquestion here and indeed, many indie games which are popular I would not describe as culture games specifically.

It’s also important not to fall into the trap of thinking that Low-Culture = Bad and High-Culture = Good. That’s not the case at all. Most of the difference is that I can probably get a Low-Culture game running very easily and find players for it without much issue. In comparison, finding players for a High-Culture game can often be impossible.

The first gut reaction here is any game where Combat is the main thing. I’d hazard Cyberpunk, SLA Industries, Marvel Super Heroes (in any incarnation), Mutants and Masterminds and pretty much any incarnation of games from White Wolf or any of the D&D settings (yes, there are exceptions but they’re outliers to the rule). Most of the d20 line in fact has ‘genericised’ the settings so much that it’s hard not to feel like a fighter or magic user that’s rolled off a production line. Some of the games have such strong archetypes that it’s somewhat fruitless to soften them up because you end up playing an archetype or something that feels deliberately unlike an archetype (which is a cliche). I include Marvel Super Heroes here because, unless you’ve been reading comics for the last 50 years or so, you’re not going to get a real feel for Marvel (and to a degree this counts for most settings based on licensed material).

My worst experience with this was with D&D. To a degree this feeling of being a ‘generic adventurer’ is the fault of the GM who introduced us to the campaign world by giving us a blank character sheet and the Players Handbook. No real notes on the world, the culture, the towns and cities, how society feels about wandering mobs of ruffians armed with weapons and magic (the player characters). In short, the stuff we should know from living in a world for a score years or more.

I consider Call of Cthulhu to be low culture but find that the players who play it tend to refer high culture. I am lucky to be in a gaming group with Cthulhu experts – they spend a lot time on Yog-Sothoth forums, they have played pretty much every module and read pretty much every scenario and background. They order the monograms. In this way the players and GMs bring culture to the game and you’ll find there are games which may be, on the face of it, low culture but which have broken free of that definition due to a particular setting, a particularly good GM or a set of players who want a certain type of play. The conclusion there is that it’s possible for players and GM to bring culture to a game.

High Culture
I’d be rightfully accused as a Culture-Snob in truth. These are games where the game is designed with a copious amount of information and great depth within. There’s a difference, of course, in these games. Some, like Tekumel and Glorantha, have vast amounts of content provided for them. Some, like Skyrealms of Jorune, have relatively little. But the feel of the game is to embody a rich and diverse background where just wandering down the street provides inspiration and adventure. Where you can have as much fun roleplaying buying your new uniform as you can hunting down a rogue Ahoggya.

In fact, in these games it’s my experience that it’s hard to have a ‘bad game’ because the opportunities for the players to direct the story are so much greater. This isn’t an ‘indie’ thing where we have to outline our confrontations and desired outcomes and bend the story, through shared participation of multiple GM-like figures to a crescendo of story and personality. No. This is just that the background is so interesting that there’s absolutely no need to think of a plot because the players tell you what they want to do. Ars Magica is perhaps one of the best examples of this as it gets to a point where running a game is just fielding questions and playing roles rather than providing plot. The players run with the plot themselves. The Magi want Vis so they get their grogs and companions to find it. They drive the plot forwards. Likewise in Tekumel, there’s so much to do and see (including trying not to get impaled), that you want to experience it all. I find this with Glorantha (though the source materials are harder to get) that there’s a hundred rich cultures and very few of them are Western European Mediaeval (which Ars Magica covers very well, thanks).

So if I prefer High-Culture, why have I been playing Delta Green, Cthulhu by Gaslight and why am I intend to run Godlike for them?

Firstly because there’s a large component of ‘fun’ made up of having the right players and the right GM. If everyone wants to play the game then it’s fun, right? It doesn’t matter if it’s a D&D dungeon crawl with inexplicably large monsters behind small doors, if you’re having fun then it’s all good. And that’s why we’re doing this.

Secondly, many culture games are not particularly accessible. They’ve not done well in the market and therefore tend to go out of print. It’s no wrong things that the vast majority of gamers want to play something with a little less depth. Being handed a large folder of source material for your culture alone and seeing another player getting a similar folder for a different culture can be daunting.

Lastly, it can be very hard to match the expectations of players. Some Low-Culture games have copious amounts of source material (Witness the amount I’m massing for running this Godlike game) and some of the players you have might have read a lot around the subject. Ask them about the pitch of the game. Do they want it to be authentic or ‘four colour’. Ask them if they have recommendations on source materials. Being loaned books from your players to help you get a feel for the type of game they are interested in is a big help.

For example, with this Godlike game. Do they want to play a “Saving Private Ryan” game? A “Band of Brothers” game? “A Bridge Too Far”? “Where Eagles Dare”? Using these ‘popular culture’ references we can meet their expectations and provide a lot of background and setting material to what would otherwise be possibly a very dry game.

My group are also fond of copious handouts. That’s a new challenge.

E. Gary Gygax is dead.

I just heard and checked it out on the recently edited wikipedia page (kinda morbid no?)

He died aged 69. He said he had an inoperable abdominal aortic aneurysm.

A lot of people are very shocked. I never met the guy but I read a few of his books and despite him being the butt of many jokes, he seemed ernest enough and took it all in good humour.


James Wallis adds an Obit

John C Welch adds an obit. I didn’t even know he was a gamer. Cool.

And one from Reason Magazine

Prepping for a game

I’m a little intimidated by running a new game. I’d like to run (and by all accounts the guys would like me to run) Godlike. Something about giving it to the Boche really motivates them and it’s be nice to play a game where we have an easily defined baddie.

Among other things this will mean not running a game in my ‘Watchtower’ universe which Gavin and Aidan have played in the past. Watchtower is the amalgam of superhero gaming from a long time ago. In this world, the Horror has been defeated under the sea in the Eagles base three times, the Holy Grail has been quested for twice, a giant robot has been stopped from trashing downtown Miami by the Zombie Squad who also led a nameless horror from a million light years away, a million years ago to Earth, a UK government team called Zenith was massacred by an assassin about two years before the strip in 2000AD started, a team based in Colorado nearly lost half their team fighting a weather-controlling teenager and in San Francisco and New York, members of the Watchtower fought valiantly against their own hubris and some vampires as well as the formation of the first superhuman incarceration directive.

So, this goes before all of that.

We’re planning to play Godlike.

I don’t know much about World War 2 so this week I’ve been tracking down movies and books which will hopefully fill me in before the guys I game with (all arts grads with a lot more time to read books during their formative years and a lot more interest in non-fiction) lambast me for being relatively ignorant. I do feel a little intimidated because especially in recent years I have become progressively less well-read as I just don’t have the time. That must change.

I’m going to survive on a diet of WW2 films for a while to whet my appetite and then grab some Osprey books on the period and place for the setting. It will, of course, horrify me how much I don’t know in comparison to my peers.

But we have to start somewhere.

RQ: Black Rock Epilogue

For two days they plodded in silence, each lost in their own reverie, as they considered the days which had gone before. For most it had been their first encounter with Chaos, their previous duties being the maintenance of law and order or shows of strength when a bandit party approached the town. This was different on a very real, very visceral way. Though for some there was satisfaction in the dispatching of so many foul Chaos spawn, the cost that had entailed was weighing heavily.

Any attempt to speak or make light of the events at Black Rock was met with a silent contempt from the others and a sharp look from their commander, Anaxippos. There was no place for levity in their hearts and only when they could see the townsfolk of Queenscliff, the people going about their day to day routine, could they finally relax.

Hesiod would continue to mutter to himself and complain of broken sleep for weeks for it was his gladius that cut down an ogre-child. Turtle too, having slain a handful of ogres and corrupted militiamen, looked haggard and drawn and not even his favoured strumpet could silence the cries in his ears. Del, having faced death and survived, was outwardly triumphant but every night would clutch and claw at the night air until his commander ordered him to stand down and he could lose himself in the oblivion of drink and stop the dreams.

Of the file, Zakary seemed most stoic. His anger at finding the Hazia farm was perhaps eclipsed by the remorse he felt at the slaughter but he seemed to have grown in the experience. His thoughts would stray to the thought of the solitary baboon, now carrion, and the people who burned in the fallen Temple of Yelmalio. The lesson was learned that with Chaos, there could be no retreat, no surrender, no ground given.

Anaxippos involved himself in the routine of drill and practise. He marched in full armour, weighted with stones. He fought shadows in the noonday sun as if the light of Yelmalio might cleanse him. And no-one could tell if the salty rivulets that ran down his body were just sweat from exertion.

News of the massacre at Black Rock spread quickly and it became known as an accursed place. Cries were heard for a full company, with Rune Lords and High Priests to be sent from the Sun Dome to cleanse it of whatever great wrong had been committed.

But that is another story.

[See the Actual Play report on RPG.net.]