The Laundry is here

On Thursday I received ‘The Laundry‘ in the post. The announcement came back in March so I was really excited to get the book in the post this week. I have now spent a few hours reading it (all but most of the rules – which is another flavour of BRP, familiar to any CoC player). The game is based on Charles Stross’ Laundry Files – which is a series of novels set in a world where fighting unseen menaces from beyond our universe is left to a civil service department not dissimilar to MI5.

“The books are Lovecraftian spy thrillers. The best elements from both genres are thrown together with a sprinkling of long lost Nazis, terrorist cultists, other foreign governments wanting a piece of the action, as well as Her Majesty’s Civil Service.” added Cubicle 7’s Angus Abranson.

The Laundry is a branch of the British secret service, tasked to prevent hideous alien gods from wiping out all life on Earth. Players take the part of Laundry agents, cleaning up the mess after things go wrong or, sometimes, even managing to prevent the manifestation of ultimate evil. Agents have access to the best equipment they can get their superiors to approve, from Basilisk Guns to portable containment grids to a PDA loaded up with Category A countermeasure invocations.

I’ve only read “The Atrocity Archives” so far in the Laundry series (I’ve also read Glasshouse and Accelerando by Stross – they’re more straight sci-fi – the former very similar to Culture novels, the latter very cyberpunk. Both great.)
so I’ve added “The Jennifer Morgue” and “The Fuller Memorandum” to my Amazon wishlist. I’ll be taking The Atrocity Archives with me on my trip to Paris – Lord knows there’s going to be a lot of downtime.

If you’re not sure if you’ll like them, then you can get a taster with some of the Laundry short stories.

Overall, it seems enchantingly similar to Delta Green but without the feeling of hopelessness that comes from being mostly alone in a universe that is cold, dark and hostile. It’s gotten me interested again.

OK, it’s no secret I’m just a big geek.

Smallville, Serenity, Firefly

I got the Serenity book a few months ago from Sub City in Dublin and the Smallville book arrived today from Amazon.

Both use derivatives of the Cortex system from Margaret Weiss Productions. While Serenity uses the Cortex systems in a “traditional” way, Smallville uses it in an interesting way. To perform an action, it’s not really how talented or skilled you are, it’s about how much the action matters to you, how it aligns with your values and who will benefit from the action. That’s interesting because it aligns partly with what I had in mind for Qabal – even though I may not have realised what I had in mind. I’d still likely use a card-based system rather than a dice-based system but the mechanic is interesting.

Smallville is a TV based on the early years of Superman/Clark Kent, concentrating on the period before he put on the red cape and blue tights. It’s mostly a teen drama similar to Roswell, 90210 or Gossip Girl. The series plays loose with the Superman mythology, altering timelines and characters to provide a episodic story (which has been denounced as “Freak’o’the Week”. They are also, for the most part, blaming the rise of superheroes on the kryptonite meteor rocks which accompanied Clarks escape pod. As plot devices go, that’s quite clever. The story arc is detailed enough and they’ve even resurrected the JSA to provide older mentor roles.

What turned me onto Smallville was an Actual Play on RPG.net. in this AP, the GM (Watchtower) is running a game entitled “Gotham” which is chronicling the teen angst of the various personalities involved in the Batman legend; obviously Bruce Wayne but also Vic Sage (the Question), Talia Al Ghul, Helena Bertinelli (Huntress), Harvey Dent (Two-Face), Ted Kord (Blue Beetle) and others. He’s chewing his way through some of the old DC villains (Black Spider, Terrible Trio etc) and working up to a series end which will have some of the bigger foes. It’s an extremely compelling read.

Of course, to be able to play these kinds of games, you need players who are not only able to put themselves in the mindset but also those who are interested in the mythology of the series, whether that’s Smallville, Gotham, Roswell or Gossip Girl. I’ve met players who couldn’t get past their own biases when playing characters. Such as an atheist who couldn’t play a religious character and a caucasion who couldn’t play a black character. Most fellas seem comfortable enough playing women though (with hilarious and creepy consequences). This sort of game is a relationship drama – it’s about the interactions of people – and you can recognise them on TV as the protagonists are wound up in secrets and never seem to be able to tell the whole truth. Because that would sort stuff out. Duh

The community is developing other homebrews such as Blakes 7, The Matrix, Bugsy Malone, Teen Titans. I’m tempted to find some folk to run a Misfits game. Misfits is a E4 TV series about four young offenders who gain superhuman abilities by being exposed to a strange storm while performing their community service. The first series was extremely enjoyable, the second series starts at 9 pm tonight. It has the advantage of being “new” so you don’t have to have extensive background knowledge to enjoy the story but the disadvantage that you don’t have a lot of pre-made stuff from 50 years+ of writers and artists.

•REC (spoilers! beware!)

Last night, due to the absence of Jim, we watched movies up at Graham’s rather than gaming. When I arrived (a little late due to teleconferences with NBC), they were just finishing off Dead Set. Michael’s opinion was that it didn’t add anything to the genre and although I think it was excellent, I am inclined to agree.

Afterwards we settled down to watch •REC. And there are spoilers ahead.

Continue reading “•REC (spoilers! beware!)”

Solipsist RPG Review

I ordered Solipsist yesterday, paper and PDF, and spent a bit of last night poring over the PDF version. I’ll start out this potted review by saying that it’s shockingly good, easily one of the best Indie games I’ve read. Ever.

What is it about?

There are people who think so strongly and individually, that they can literally change reality, teasing out the fabric of the consensus and changing it. They are called Solipsists.

In this game you and your friends play a group of balanced Solipsists, struggling to fulfill your grandiose dreams, retain your desperate grip on reality, and fight the un-making of the Shadows before they can end the world for good.

A role-playing game about bending reality

The comparisons to MAGE: The Ascension will be obvious though as the author says elsewhere, the game is less weighed down by the paradigms of the common man and Solipsists spend more time fighting with their own Obsessions and Limitations than they do combatting the collective beliefs of the rank and file of the world. And that’s something to like.

It also smacks a little of the Shadow worlds of AMBER, noting that I never read the novels and base all of my AMBER knowledge on the great Diceless RPG.

The march of a reality-changing protagonist, barred only by their own minds and the conscious minds of other Solipsists (and the mysterious Shadow) is pure gaming gold. While it seems to add some structure and sense to the Amberite shadow wanderings, it also strips away the tiresome paradox mechanic from Mage leaving only a story-driven conflict mechanic that allows the players to control the story and, crucially, lose control of the story.

The writing is clear, the art sparse and the concepts clear. Thoroughly recommended.

MURDERDROME: iPhone comic reader BANNED!

Wednesday afternoon I popped round to Paul’s house for a quick chat (and a couple of headache tablets) and I saw a demo of MurderDrome, the first iteration of a new comic application for the iPhone.

There have been a few comic reader apps for the iPhone/iPod touch out there, most notably ClickWheel Comic Reader which gives access to a lot of content produced for 2000AD.

The Murderdrome iPhone comic demoed to me that day had a few very startling and fresh ideas.
The content was perfectly sized for the high res (160 dpi) screen of the iPod touch and iPhone. The side-side swipe of the finger moved from page to page but the UP-DOWN swipe of a finger took you through the content on that page. It removed colour, then inking, then brought the images down to the base wireframe. You could see the process on how it was made. You can, at a touch, remove or re-add speech bubbles and there are other settings (greyscale etc) which I didn’t have time to play with.

Paul (art, letters, colour) and Al (writer) have collaborated to make Murderdrome specially for the iPhone/iPod touch screen. The code was written by Philip Orr who you’ll also recognise as one of the names behind infurious. Watch Phil’s Blue Pilot for some very interesting developments soon.

See the Youtube video for more

The business model is simple. Aiming for a $1.99 price for a standard comic (equivalent to 22 pages in a standard American size comic), Apple take 30% of the money as their commission. InfuriousComics take 10% and the remaining 60% goes to the creators. Seem harsh? Not so much when you hear tales of how much comic creators get when their comics are sold – sometimes they have to sell in excess of 9000 copies just to break even – even if carried by a major publisher. This new model would mean creators get paid for every book they produce. If you sell 200 copes, you get 60% of cover. If you sell 3000 copies you get 60% of cover. That’s a lot better than the rates offered in print.

BUT….

MURDERDROME has been banned from the App Store for breaking rules about content. Please view the video and show some support for content being made available on the App Store by commenting on the article here.

You’ll also find links to other coverage of this cool new application.

Why is this relevant to LateGaming?

Apart from my association with Paul and Philip and subsequent involvement in InfuriousComics, there has been discussion about using their cool reader technology to build ‘decision tree books’ or as we used to call them ‘Choose your path’ style books. That has interest to me!

M&M2e: hero or zero?

Mutants and Masterminds gets a lot of airplay on the internet forums: any time someone asks about superhero games, a raft of people come out of the woodwork to impose it upon you. I bought M&M 1st Edition a few years ago and was less than enthralled. It was D&D…with superpowers. Considering the general miasma of dislike I had for d20-based systems, it wasn’t surprising that I dismissed it after the first reading as being a bit of a dirty dog. M&M1e was therefore exiled to the boxes rather than the shelves of RPG books I own.

Scroll forward on the time machine to 2008 and I’ve decided to have another look at M&M, this time in the second edition. Everyone keeps going on about how it’s not like d20 any more and how it’s a great a and flexible system.

At First Glance.
I tend to flick about a RPG book rather than starting from the beginning. I found myself in the NPC section and then moved backwards to the character generation section. M&M2e is certainly colourful and they have a raft of superhero archetypes to choose from. As I’m looking to model one of my favourite characters ‘Lionheart’, I have a flick through them and find that none of them seem to model the ‘superhuman soldier’ that I hold dear to my heart. The closest seems to be the Paragon (Superman clone) so I keep his power levels in mind. Lionheart was never a ‘lifter’ and 90 tons is an awful lot so some things will need dialed down a peg.

Starting Off.

There are a lot of rules.

We’re treated to a checklist of what to work through and the first stumbling block I find is Power Level (which is the first game-related jargon I’ve hit so far). This seems to be some sort of measure to allow you to compare superheroes. It would be wick to start as a “First Level Brick” but Power Level usually starts at 10 (in other words, you’re a 10th level character) but you can dial it down to 1 and up to 20 in these rules. Power Level has multiple effects. It tells you how may points you get in character generation (which is sadly not just a multiple of the Power Level) but also defines the maximum levels of “attack bonus”, “defense bonus”, “save difficulty”, “toughness save”, “fortitude, reflex and will saves”, “skill rank” and “ability scores”. Character generation is therefore quite table heavy (which I dislike) but I think that once this cumbersome process is over, you probably have a very complete character.

Power Level 10 allows you to have 150 power points (max attk/def 10, max save DC +10, max toughness +10, max save/ability +15, max ability score 40, max skill rank 15). M&M2e recommends that a Paragon have 20 ranks in Attributes and Skills, 0 Feats, 86 points in Powers, 32 points in Combat and 12 points in Saves. Right.

Creating the Character
I’m going to go with that division, but swap the points about. Figuring I can buy a “Power” to increase Strength and Constitution to desired superhuman levels, I just add points to the others as desired. Lionheart was never a brainy guy but he was athletic – just not superhumanly so.


Abilities Skills
STR: 10 (+0) Notice:8
DEX: 18 (+4) Intimidate: 8
CON: 10 (+0) Climb: 8
INT: 12 (+1)
WIS: 12 (+1)
CHA: 12 (+1)
14 points 6 points

From here we have to get out basic abilities, skills, feats, powers, complications and drawbacks. I buy up my DEX only to find out that Strength and Dexterity don’t directly influence your ability in combat. Okay. Now I have to read a bit to see where to go from here. Character generation skips around a little.

Attack, Defense and Save, 5, 5 and 10, giving a 10 for each of these modifiers.

Skipping to Feats. Ones that look interesting are:

  • Assessment,
  • Blindfight,
  • Improved Critical,
  • Improved Initiative

They’re only 1 point each so it seems foolish not to. I nab four points from Powers and put them into these feats.

So, now, Powers. Lionheart is super-strong, super-fit, super-tough, highly resistant to disease and poisons and is almost impossible to kill due to a fast regeneration power. Powers in the big list on pages 72-73 I should look at include…

  • Enhanced Ability adding 30 points to Strength, 20 points to Constitution
  • Immunity: 2 points (poison, disease)
  • Regeneration: Recovery Rate: heals every action without rest from any damage condition: 17 points
    So far we’ve spent 69 points on Powers out of an allocated 82 points, leaving 11 points left over.

I figure I’ll jigger some points about, add a few more points in feats, maybe make him more charismatic or something.

Looking at the powers and abilities, it seems more sensible to put those Enhanced Ability points straight into base Strength and Constitution. Sure, I lose the ability to push them but they also can’t be nullified (a thoroughly annoying effect of many superhero campaigns). That really means the only power he has is Regeneration. That’s a little depressing but not dissimilar to Marvel in this respect. The temptation, if your only power is Regeneration, is for you to put your character in harms way and worse, for the GM to send the first attack of every battle in your direction. In the ‘character assassination’ game Lionheart was always the first to get a bullet in the head – the argument being that his enemies knew it would put him out of action for a few minutes. It was a bullshit argument, of course, a bullet to the head of any other character would have put them down for good. Wouldn’t that have been a much more sensible tactic?

So now what?
I have to start reading the system? And the combat system. And I dread it. This game is one of modifiers. There are modifiers for everything and more meta-stats than you can shake a stick at. And abbreviations as well. I’m slightly confused at what I bought earlier. I’m looking for the definitions of MAx Save DC modifier, Max Toughness, Max Save/Ability Bonus (from the table on page 25). I bought three values in the combat section: Attack Bonus, Defense Bonus, Save Bonus. But I see from page 24, I have to consider an entire checklist of saves (see above) which need to be bought separately. Argh. There’s something to be said for an integrated character generation workflow. At least I know what to do with those extra points!

Opinion?
I do not like this game. Let’s get that out of the way. I also don’t hate it but it’s not a book I’ll likely keep on the shelves when shelf space is so precious.

There are a lot of positive points. Concepts core to d20/D&D will be familiar (no matter what anyone says) to D&D players so it’s an easy jump. It may be missing core D&Disms like levels and hit points but it’s more qualitative than that – it’s written for the core audience and I think it does it very well.
It’s flexible and modern. It’s got a shedload of supplements as well which is often an important factor for a GM (not for me though).

There are a few negatives. I haven’t changed my opinion of the system and the main book is very dry (though the art pieces are lovely). I think it’s really poorly explained and I am willing to bet that there are some min-maxed exploitations of the system out there. The system is flexible but in a market which contains other ‘flexible’ systems such as Wild Talents, PowerGame, Marvel Classic and even Champions, this flexibility is a mere bullet point.

To me it’s mid-complexity (marred by poor explanation and layout but it’s not Champions!), mid-flexibility (it’s no Golden Heroes yet not also Wild Talents) and just not what I’m looking for. I do want to pick up one of the supplements and see how good the setting details are.

Mario Kart for the Wii

Last weekend we picked up Mario Kart for the Wii for a fiver after trading in two games that we neither liked nor played (Wabbit Wampage? Cars?) and I must say it was the best fun I’ve had since I bought the device (over a year ago) and discovered Wii Sports.

The game isn’t as ‘fast’ or ‘frenetic’ as playing the game in the Arcades (which was also a lot blurrier and more confusing) but it’s hard to beat for playability especially when the other racers are friends of yours (or friends of friends).

In addition to the single player ‘Win the Cups, unlock the racers’ game, you can have up to 4 players on one Wii (as long as you have enough controllers) and you can also play on the WFC network getting up to 8 human racers either from your friends list (requiring the sharing of a Kart friend code) or playing against the multitudes of people out there in the real world.

Races, battles and coin collecting games were all good fun. I’d played half a dozen games at the weekend which meant I wasn’t totally unprepared for the game and Paul showed me some tricks (like the jump boosts, firing backwards etc) while we waited for Lee to plug his Wii into his projector at home. Once in, selection of games was very easy and there was little or no latency in the service.

Last night I hooked up with Paul, Lee and Tanya to play Wii Karting. Lee and Tanya were at home in London on Lee’s Wii showing that two people can play online from one Wii. Two people or more playing on one 32″ TV is not the best experience and can be somewhat confusing so I applaud Lee’s idea of hooking up to a projector. It would make a difference. Paul and I were online from home – him in Mallusk, me in Bangor.

The ‘signpost’ communication method isn’t the best however with only a limited number of phrases available so it’s not taking advantage of the social vibe that the ‘Mii’ avatars could provide. Maybe at some point in the future they’ll provide voice chat but that’s in the future and not right now. I’m told tales that some enterprising folk are using their XBox systems as voice chat relays so they can play Mario Kart and laugh at each other. We were all Mac people so we fired up iChat (voice) and regaled each other with insults and guffaws as we dumped turtle shells, bombs and banana skins on the other racers. I reckon Skype voice would work just as well.

As for racing itself – it seems slow when watching someone playing but it gets very quick when in the race and you know you’re half a lap behind and every corner counts. The game balance is helped by the use of “weapons” like the banana skins I mentioned and homing turtle shells and other methods of wiping out other people. Every time you get hit, or stunned, or squashed or shrunken it slows you down and the sound effects are excellent.

The tracks also, range from odd to excellent and in fact none of them are bad in any way. There’s a lot of colour and some people may feel seasick with it (luckily I don’t suffer from that), there’s enough variety and obstacles to keep it from being a dry race and it seems to push the Wii in terms of what it is capable of.

Is it worth getting the wheel? I don’t know. I’ve played it with the wheel and with a third party half wheel and I think that it might be worthwhile not getting the wheel unless you want the whole experience.

All in all, it’s an excellent game and my interest in it is magnified by the potential for playing online against friends.

I Am Legend

I’ve read the book and watched both Omega Man and the recent Will Smith adaptation. I am looking forward to the March 18th release of the DVD, if only for the alternative ending.

Both deviate from the novel wildly but the later adaptation actually annoys me more. In the epilogue narration, the words “and this is his legend” are used which implies that “I Am Legend” refers to Will Smith’s last minute finding of the cure.

Wikipedia sets the story straight.

as he dies he reflects on how the new society regards him as a monster. Just as vampires were regarded as legendary monsters that preyed on the vulnerable humans in their beds, Neville has become a mythical figure that kills both vampires and the still-living while they are sleeping. He becomes a legend as the vampires once were, hence the title.

See? That’s about a million times more poignant than Will Smith clutching a grenade and the hit and miss massacre that can cause.

Good movie? I’d have to say yes.

Cloverfield

I think it has everything to do with being a parent.

I’ve never been a fan of Godzilla movies but I do like action/horror/disaster movies as a whole. Cloverfield is excellently executed and it left my head filled with “what would I do” thoughts (which all good horror/disaster movies do). As a parent you worry about more than just yourself and that’s what M. Night Shyamalan touched on with Signs. When you’re a parent, it’s more than just you in the horror.

The presentation of camcorder footage worked for Blair Witch and, to be honest, works even better for Cloverfield though the cameraman obviously has some sort of disorder because most people would ditch the camera early on. Even if recording it from the point of view of seeing “how it all went down”.

I can’t tell you much about the content itself without introducing too many spoilers. The shaky handheld footage does get irritating at times when you just want to get a bloody good look at something.

To be honest, if you’re old enough, go and see this movie. I don’t know if it needs to be seen in a cinema at all – I’m pretty hacked off with the bullshit about the “cinema experience”. Watching cinema in Northern Ireland consists of listening to slightly muffled sound, watching a screen that proudly displays the human detritus of heavy petting sessions in the projection room and listening to the beeps of mobile phones, the rustling of packets, the slurping of smoothies, having to uproot yourself because some idiot can’t get to his seat “from the other side” and sitting in a seat that is solely designed to stop you falling asleep.

Despite all of that, Cloverfield is a great film. It makes me shiver in anticipation for J.J.Abrams version of Star Trek (now delayed for a Summer 2009 release) and look forward to a possible sequel to Cloverfield.

Interestingly, most people don’t stay to the end of the credits. They miss out.

Jumper

From IMDB:

A genetic anomaly allows a young man to teleport himself anywhere. He discovers this gift has existed for centuries and finds himself in a war that has been raging for thousands of years between “Jumpers” and those who have sworn to kill them.

I enjoyed this movie. Hayden Christensen was pretty good though I think they could have kept Max Thieriot as the protagonist even though it might have made the film either more kiddie-friendly or perhaps more dark, who knows.

There were a lot of loose ends, lots of things that went unexplained – like how this is all a secret when there are 5 year olds teleporting around – Marvel went with the puberty thing because, let’s face it, teens undergoing puberty are already alienated from society.

One tiresome detail though was the war that has been raging for centuries. Of course, now Jumpers are the REAL reason for the Crusades, the witch hunts, the burning of the Warsaw Ghetto, the reason for concentration camps, Stalin’s purges, the fall of the Romanov dynasty and the Great Fire of London. I’m exaggerating here but if you ignore the “paladins” thing and just assume they’re just the next logical extension of HomeLand Security, things go a lot better.

The real “deal killer” for me was sadly Samuel L. Jackson. He’s gone the way of Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Robert de Niro and every other Hollywood actor who now completely believes his own hype. Apart from the ridiculous hair dye job, he’s a crazy insane preacher who uses a signature hunting knife to viscerally gut people. And this is a 12A? Load of bollocks really. They should have made more use of Diane Lane rather than a few cameo pieces. I think she’d make an excellent head honcho and an even better foil for our hero.

That said, deal-killer or not, it’s not a bad film. I think they have expended a lot of their juice in the first film and if it were me I’d already have Jumper 2 ready for casting.

Jame’s Herbert’s ’48. A review.

I recently read James Herbert’s ’48 which is a post-World War II version of a few post-apocalyptic stories. It was essentially “28 Days Later” or “Night of the Comet” but with Nazis. It read like a muh shorter ‘lite’ version of Stephen King’s “The Stand”. It’s Dawn of the Dead with a swastika.

Sure – there’s some good plot points, some not so good and some decent characterisation. It leaves the ending a little flat but it’s an easy read and not a long book so most people should be able to find their way through it easily enough. Two sex scenes, both where the author gingerly describes genitalia without using real words. Some interesting characters were killed off and the hero – well – I found it very hard to identify with him and his constant internal monologue.

So is this a mashup like we find in so many online apps and also in roleplaying games? Who knows. I liked the book, enough to finish it which hasn’t happened with every book I’ve bought in the last few years.

Along the lines of rehashing plots, new movie The Invasion seems to be just a rendition of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Everything old is new again…

Top 10 Roleplaying Games of All Time

Just to confuse matters, these are in alphabetical order but to my mind they represent the absolute cream of the crop when it comes to roleplaying games.
Amber – The godchild of Zelazny’s novels, Amber brought us some really innovative methods of determining hierarchy and conflict resolution in a diceless roleplaying system. Re-defining the player character as a “godlike being” among tiny humans while also making them juniors in their own hierarchy.
Ars Magica – The definitive fantasy/Mythic Europe game brought us Troupe Play – the idea that you would maintain multiple characters in a single game. This concept has since been applied to almost every genre. Ars Magica still leads the way in running a Mythic Europe game out of the box.
Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu – One of the first games where the ability to hit someone was not the primary focus of creating a character. It was the first time it certainly when more people were interested in creating characters as “professors” and “archeologists” rather than “fighters” and “magic users”.
CyberPunk – What did it do for us? In such a combat-heavy game, it got us seriously thinking about initiative, armour, the damage that guns inflict and also how playing a bona-fide X-factor applicant (Rockerboy) was a real option. It also gave us Netrunning and helped us realise that a Netrun was really boring for the rest of the players.
Marvel Super Heroes (FASERIP) – redefined the super-hero RPG genre by presenting the most flexible, most configurable game system of all time without compromising simplicity. Talk about a game that refuses to die!
Pendragon – a shot in the eye for recent indie games which attempt to force immersive roleplaying by pigeon-holing players into restrictive roles. You play a knight. That’s it. Not a priest or magic user. Playing a rogue is right out. Not only that – it pays to be a Paladin. It’s essential to your progress to act like a knight.
RuneQuest – the champion of Basic Role-Playing and also shouldering Glorantha, one of the most popular culture-game settings out there. It helped re-define the role of the magic user (in essence, everyone is a magic user) and gave real depth to the relationship between gods and their followers.
Skyrealms of Jorune – my personal favourite as a culture-game setting which stretched the imagination as to what could be really familiar as well as superbly alien. Not everyone could take Thriddles seriously but the background, a web of secrets, was enticing and rich, richer perhaps than any other man-made background.
SLA Industries – a relative newcomer but in spite of the not-entirely-shocking revelations near the end, we had some of the most involving gaming in this setting which, on the face of it, did more for trivialising murder than any other game. It was the first and last game to successfully meld horror and sci-fi.
Vampire – love them or hate them, White Wolf brought a much needed influx of people into the hobby and some of them remained. We’ve not seen a change in the market since to the same scale and it would be unlikely anyway. Vampire taught us that a game could be about humanity and character and not just about wearing black leather trenchcoats, mirrorshades and strapping a katana to your back.
WFRP – takes a lot of rap for being a game for losers – by this I mean, the game setting kinda reinforces even more than CoC that you cannot win. Even if you do find the demon possessing the guy who is on the throne, tomorrow you’ll catch some horrific disfiguring disease and die anyway.

These are mine.

What are yours?

SuperMunchkin

As most will know, I’m an RPG-slut. But we’ve had some upheavals recently with people coming and going due to really crap reasons (getting married, moving out of the country, etc).

So we played a card game.

Super-Munchkin only took about an hour to play with three players so it’s decent enough for evenings when no-one has anything prepared. We only got a third of the way through the event deck so there was probably room for a couple more players.

I’m wary of card and board games obviously being an RPG-slut as I mentioned, and doubly wary of a card game which makes a farce out of superhero-gaming – the genre I like most of all.

It’s a fun game, not perhaps as fun as Zombies!!! but worth a look. It only takes a few rounds in the game to go from donating free cards and assistance to other players, to bargaining for cards and treasures to then deliberately hamstringing them. Kinda goes against what we claim is part of the spirit of the RPG (teamwork etc) but it’s just a bit of fun, right?

Would I recommend it? Maybe. The original game, Munchkin, was perhaps a little more groundbreaking and some of the cards are a little but stupid but as I said, we only got a third of the way through the deck as Paul trounced us and got to level 10. To extend the game, had we thought, we should have  insisted on level 20 being the end of the line. but simply doubling the level required is more likely to triple of quadruple the amount of time it takes to play (as level goes up as well as down).

Pan’s Labyrinth

Watched it last night round with Aidan, Abi and some ice cream. It’s a good movie – personally I don’t think it’s the same sort of emotional tour-de-force as perhaps Fight Club or American History X or even Watership Down but it’s a good movie nonetheless. They manage skillfully remove a lot of the anticipation and wonder from the movie with what can only be described as fumbling with foreshadowing.

On other news – I left my three books of occult philosophy (trois libres de occulta philosophia) with Aidan to read and perhaps start to distill into something resembling a game that wouldn’t need me in the room if you wanted to run it.

I bought a White Wolf game this week

I was doing my six-monthly browse through the stacks at Replay in Bangor and as usual found myself not wanting to leave without parting with some cash. It wasn’t due to the intrusion of the proprietor who helpfully inquired if there was something he could help me with (wow, it was kinda irritating), but because I like to support my local game store. The plight of game stores is legend.

So this is why I find myself with a copy of the main book from White Wolf’s latest line: Scion

Scion Hero is about people finding out they are the sons and daughters of gods long past. To their credit they include a good description of the pantheons they think would be fashionable (Norse, Japanese, Aztec, Egyptian, Voodoo, Greek) and if the company’s past is anything to go by there will be new pantheon splatbooks out in the next few months as well as some net-pantheons created by rabid fans.

It’s not a bad book, ideal for the generation of low powered heroes along the lines of Hercules, Perseus and other offspring of the gods. Of course I’ll never get around to playing it having neither the players nor the GMs available even though it’s a low level superhero game.

Scion Hero is the first of a series of books which continues in June this year with Scion DemiGod which will be covering the more powerful scions – I suppose it might be the equivalent of the D&D Expert or Master set if Scion Hero is to be considered the Basic set.

I’m not mad struck on the layout but then this is the first WW game I’ve bought in a long time. The art ranges from very good to “uh, what is that meant to be” which isn’t to say any of it is bad.

It’s a lot of fun to read too.

Renaissance Magic

The Guardian has a book review on De viribus quantitatis (On the Powers of Numbers) penned by Luca Paciola, a man who was a personal friend of Leonardo da Vinci and who is considered not only the father of modern (double entry) accounting but also one of the leaders in magic tricks. The book covers mathematical puzzles, tricks, proverbs and verses and codes.

Don’t try this at home…

For washing your hands in melted lead

Take cool well water and soak your hands for a while; then shake them, you can put them in a pan full of melted lead over a flame, and it will not cook you. It is even better if you put some ground rock alum in the water … to the uneducated … it will appear to be a miracle.

Gaming Last Night: Gizeh and ZOMBIES!!!

Last night’s effort consisted of a rather fun 3D game of Connect 4 called Gizeh. And then we played the Zombies!!! boardgame.

Gizeh really is quite brain tiring as it’s a race to win all the 4s and you keep score of them, unlike Connect 4 where you spend all your time trying to link a single 4. We ended up with scores in the 20s each.

Zombies!!! likewise is tiring but only because it leaves itself ripe for gut-splitting laughs as you quickly move from a game where you’d push someone out of the way to get ahead to the point where you’d push them, knock them over, spit on them, kick them in the ribs and give their mum the finger just for a single bullet counter.

Excellent.

Review (kinda): Zombies!!!

Tonight we didn’t play Zombi, which would make that the second week in a row. Instead, we played Zombies!!! which made a small amount of difference. Less plot, more frantic backstabbing.
This is therefore going to be a little review. We played Zombies with the expansions for the Army Camp, the Mall and the University but to be honest we played for 3 hours and didn’t get anywhere. The turns got a bit slow with 5 players but it was funny. The tiles dealt out a twisting map and the cards and dice rolls gave us plenty of opportunity to move, establish grandiose plans and in some cases, execute them. Paul managed a great combo, sadly depriving me of some excellent toys and leaving us neck and neck at the end before he scooped the victory from me (Bastard!).

It was an excellent filler for this week and the only issue is that you need a LOT of table space.

Film Review: The Illusionist

I really enjoyed this movie. It showed all of the overt magic and illusion which we would associate with stage magery albeit with the benefit of camera tricks to make them seem all the more unreal.

Edward Norton plays the title role of ‘Eisenheim the Illusionist’, a cabinet-makers son who falls in love with a Duchess. There’s also a nastybad Crown Prince and a moral but compromised man in the middle. If I were a cynic I could say that you should watch The Princess Bride and get the same kind of plot with even more laughs but I was sufficiently immersed in the film that it dealt me a plot twist or two and that made it even more fun. Rufus Sewell plays the villain as he does so well and Paul Giamatti the protagonist of the tale as the unsure-of-himself Inspector Uhl.

This film, and The Prestige (which I have not yet seen), makes me want to work on Qabal even more though it’s apparent that Qabal is a different beast altogether. I’ve therefore resolved to use the “Feits and Tricks” rules from Qabal to have a go at emulating the feel of these movies. I think it could be a lot of fun.

The Illusionist had me thinking that Eisenheim was the villain of the piece at the start but halfway through I was enraptured. And by the end I was cheering, actually cheering. I may have disturbed other viewers in fact. It twists from a romance, to a thriller to a revenge story and back.

I’d better get my finger out, eh?

Zombi Review

Jeff Rients writes about 5 old games he feels were overlooked. While I can agree with the ancient (James Bond, Lords of Creation) and the venerable (SpaceMaster) and perhaps even the weird (SenZar – though I always thought it was an internet joke-meme) I was shocked and surprised to see number 5 on his list was … ZOMBI. Go read and give appropriate linkage willya. Jeff’s blog is one of the blogs I read with my morning cereal and it was very cool to see something I wrote just there. I was interested in the “5 old games” article anyway and BOOM, he surprises me with this nugget!

He also liked the name “SpaceNinjaCyberCrisis XDO” and sometimes I feel fortunate that I never completed the script for SpaceFleet HyperDimensional WarFortress 44 which I think was only mentioned in WildTalents 3 as:

“Taking SNCC to the stars, SF44 brings you the background for the Archon War. The rag- tag remnants of a hundred worlds now follow the banner of Earth to grind the Horde under their Meka-Tek heels. New rules include starship and zero-G combat. New races and new guns!”

Anyway, Thanks Jeff, for the review, the walk down memory lane and the description of LoC, which I’m going to chase in the IntarWebbage.

Passive/Aggressive

Wow. Am I passive/aggressive?

I don’t think so. Sure, I use sarcasm a lot, often in a humourous and self-deprecating way, but am I passive/aggressive?

Passive/Aggressive is defined as being reluctant compliance with passive disruption. Such as if you’re forced to cook the dinner, you burn it so that no-one will ask you again.

How did this term become one used to win an argument? If you make a point that seems to be a winning point, you then get accused of being passive/aggressive as that’s meant to shoot your arguments down?

To be honest, I think that todays forums are filled with whining pussies. That’s not passive/aggressive, it’s just aggressive! Being passive/aggressive is about avoiding direct conflict, inserting ambiguity, general kvetching. If anything, in the thread above, I’m responding to general passive/aggressive behaviour. Especially when it winds back to “Well, sure, Aberrant and Hero are okay, but you really should use M&M”. Bloody M&M cheer-fucking-leaders. I believe I’m not being passive/aggressive when I’m expressing my hostility openly. Wankers.

It’s so easy to construct a straw man argument or label someone’s contributions as passive/aggressive these days and win by default. I bloody hate it. I’m not wanting things to get back to the way they are on usenet, but JESUS…are things that bad that any time you actually have anything worth arguing about, people start to whine?

I’ve said before elsewhere that I’m brusque. Over here in Ireland I’ve been in some killer debate, fantastic arguments that REALLY made you think, really fired the blood. And yes, we’ve sworn at each other, laughed in the others face and at the end of the day, we have no problem getting up to buy the next round.

Debate is good. Conflict is good. Arguments are good.

But RPGnet seems dedicated to the idea that conflict and debate are bad. We shoud all just be generally agreeable wishy-washy types. Is that not the absolute embodiment of passive/aggressive.

Games Shops in Paris

I went to two games shops in Paris and spent a little too much on books.

I got some English language RPGs and could hve bought more – there’s heaps of dead-tree books that I’ve never heard of and I know there must be hundreds of electronic versions that I’ve just not the time to look at.

I picked up some french language RPGs as well which has proved to be eminently readable.

The Authority RPG
Tekumel RPG (and I got namechecked in it!)
Hard][Nova RPG
Te Deum RPG (French language mediaeval religions wars)
Apocryph (French language religious wars in modern day)
In Nomine Satanis/Magna Veritas (cos the SJG one was “Lite” or PG13)

As it happens my friend Paul, who has a career interest in history, also ordered Te Deum this week. I have an inkling his French is better than mine 🙂

Sadly I missed Salon de Jeu, a big games convention which started on Friday and ended today. If I’d known it was on I’d have made the effort.

Reviews of these games to follow….

Marvel Super Heroes Saga

Both of us at lategaming are fans of Super Hero games. For Matt, it’s because he misspent his youth reading comic books. For me, it’s because they’re the pinnacle of escapism, and one of my favourite campaigns I ever played in was a supers game.

In this supers game, we used the old Marvel system (not the old-old one, the one after that). Matt was the GM at the time, and his reason for choosing Marvel (when not playing in a Marvel universe) is that the system is very simple for resolving things, keeping the game fluid, and reducing the rules-lawyering or number-crunching which can plague other games (*cough*DC Heroes*cough*).

(Incidentally, we were talking the other day (again) about how all role-playing games are essentially super hero games–you have a character who probably has fairly broad strokes of personality (at least initially) and who has some kind of abilities which makes that character stand out from the crowd. Think about it: Vampire, D&D, Ars Magica, SLA Industries and so on ad infinitum. They all give you special powers and let you wreak havoc.)

So, when I first heard about the Saga system, which used cards for resolution in an effort to reduce the rules and numbers and promote role-playing and storytelling, I thought this was going to be excellent.

Enough rambling, let’s discuss some nitty-gritty. The game was actually published in 1998, but often that doesn’t mean much in the RPG world–I hadn’t even heard of it till last week. It was released in a boxed set (as were all the Marvel games) that comes with two books: one for rules and one with Marvel character stats in it. It also comes with a deck of cards that are used for all the resolution in the game.

The books are colour-covered but black and white on the inside. My first gripe with the game is that the font is some kind of Comic Sans-derivative font, which is incredibly hard on the eyes for reading long stretches of text, and of course should be banned. I think it’s acceptable in a comic book because those books are hand-drawn, so why not hand-written? In any other book, it smacks of amateurism. The cards that come with the game resemble those you might find in your average collectible trading card game. Full colour images of comic book heroes, with various semi-cryptic numbers and symbols wrapped around them. Having only black and white on the inside doesn’t bother me – this was after all in the age before the rise of very cheap digital printing.

The system itself is … interesting. You hold a certain number of cards in your hand at any given time (somewhere between 3 and 7, with 4 or 5 being normal for the X-men level characters). These cards are your hit-points (you discard cards when you get wounded), your dice rolls (they have random numbers on them which you use to determine success or failure) and your character/hero/karma points (i.e. using them in a particular way allows you to affect things more than you normally would be able to do). Having a hand of cards is a bit like saying you have five dice rolls to choose from each time you want to resolve something, and when you use one of them you have to roll that dice again to bring the total back up to five.

The cards have five suits. Each one is a different colour, is based on a different stat, and is named after a different Marvel character who exemplifies that stat. Resolution is as you might expect: take an ability/stat/skill/power and add the value of the card to beat some target value. The more experienced your character is, the more cards he/she can play at one time. The different suits also function as trumps for their relevant stat, so playing a “5 of Agility” from your hand for an agility based action allows you to draw a card from the top of the deck and add that to the total (and continue to draw and add for as long as you continue to draw the same trump suit).

One suit (Doom/Dr. Doom) has the added drawback that the GM (or Narrator as he’s known in this game) gets to keep those cards and use the numbers on them against you at inopportune times. This is a nice little thing the players have to keep in mind when they play those cards.

The downside of the cards is that they are completely relied upon for resolution of everything (even things like the weather, if you want). So what happens if you lose some or all of them? It’s not like dice where you can just go buy a new set. Perhaps in 1998 TSR planned to make the available to buy, but eBay is about the only place you might find them now. Also, I found the rules at times difficult to understand, but that could be just because I haven’t yet played it. Reading them didn’t make them become clear, and the examples they gave just served to muddy things even further.

The game is clearly intended to be used to play in the Marvel Universe, and with Marvel characters and a large number of the most popular are included in the Roster Book. The game itself is light on source material–it expects you to read the comics (or possibly some supplements) to fully understand anything about the universe or the characters. There’s no history or timeline as you might find in other game settings. Perhaps it’s naive of me to think that it might be necessary for those of us who haven’t read all the Marvel comics since the 1960s.

Character generation is fairly simple, but relies heavily on GM adjudication. In fact, the system is intended to be used to generate those characters that weren’t quite popular enough to be included in the Roster Book but that still feature in the comic books. It even goes so far as to say “bring the comic book with you to every session, so that everyone knows what your character looks like”.

In summary then:

Good

+ Cards are a neat idea
+ System emphasises roleplaying

Bad

– Cards can get lost/damaged and aren’t easily replaced
– System wasn’t easy to understand, examples even less so
– Lack of background info not so good for people who don’t read a lot of Marvel comics
– Bad font choice

Overall score: 3d6 (out of a possible 6d6)

If I played this game a bit to see how well the system actually worked, this might go up to 4d6.

Welcome to the new LateGaming site

This is more or less what LateGaming was meant to be.

The origin of the name was because we always started a gaming session by turning up between 7 and 7:30 pm. Then we’d settle by 8 pm and finish up gaming at 1 am. That was when I lived within walking distance of the game or when I was driving. Before that gaming would end at 10:50 pm to give me a chance to rush round to the train. When I moved up to Belfast it was a lot easier. I’d spend hours and hours just chatting to one of my housemates about stupid gaming-related topics. This was around the time when petrol stations started staying open all night meaning that we’d often take a walk round there to get milk for my coffee (Jeremy had, by this time, eschewed both milk and water in his coffee, preferring to just chew the grinds…)

So, in essence, it’s about being able to stay up late and play the games we love to play. It’s also about being able to tell stories about past games in order to learn something from them. We won’t bore you with “There was this one time, in AD&D….” stories. We’ll just give you ideas for your games which we found worked well for us.

The Big Change

With the change of LateGaming from an old-style static site, to something a little moe dynamic and, well, content-filled, we have some administrivia to take care of first.


Testament
“and one day, it was the end of the world. who knew? one day you wake up and well…you don’t wake up. it’s over. goodnight gracie. but then, what are you still doing here.”
You can download Testament here.


Creed
“something big is going down and you’ve got a ringside seat. turns out the world is ending and people who summon demons, people like you, people like me, are in deep shit.”
You can download Creed here.


The other LateGaming games might make it out the door…

As for Crucible Design games, you can likely get hold of them from Key20. So I’m told.

About

LateGaming was started in 2001 by Matt, who didn’t have a regular gaming group at the time and needed a fix for his desire to rant about role-playing games. Of course, blogging was in its infancy back then and he didn’t have the code-fu to hack something together himself, so it became something of a static site, serving some games that he’d written in his spare time, as well as information on Crucible Design, a gaming company of which he was a founding member.


Matt Johnston

Matt started gaming at the age of 11 with the help of issue 55 of White Dwarf. When this was spotted by the only other gamer in his school year who also happened to be in his class (John, 1L) then it was the beginning of a long love of interactive fiction, known also as role-playing.

When involved with QUB Dragonslayers as Society President, Matt was instrumental in the research of, funding of and running of Q-CON 1. He also took the role of Convention Director for two years running in two particularly successful years. He was also regularly seen on the Irish conventions scene, visiting Gaelcon and Warpcon for several years.

Matt has played (or bought) most games. In 1996, he published his first RPG, “The 23rd Letter” under the Crucible Design imprint. With Crucible Design, this was followed with “SpaceNinjaCyberCrisis XDO” and a 2nd Edition of “The 23rd Letter” in 1998 and finally with the release of Zombi in 2000.

Outside of Crucible Design under the LateGaming imprint, he self-published two PDF games “Testament” and “Creed”, which were the first two parts of a three part apocalyptic metaplot.

With the dissolution of Crucible Design in 2001, starting of a family in 2002 and the founding of a new business in 2003, he’s simply not had time to play games.

In 2006, that all changed. There are rants and comments, content created for games and interesting links usually containing the fantastic and the macabre.


Aidan Rogers

Aidan first started role-playing at the age of 13. A hand-written sign pointed the way under the school cafeteria to the art department where he first started playing Advanced Heroquest. He then joined the school role-playing society and continued to play all through high-school (he even organised two role-playing marathons, raising almost £1000 for charity–back then a lot of money).

Upon leaving high-school, he found his way into Dragonslayers at QUB, and became something of a cheerleader for Crucible Design, and indie gaming in Northern Ireland in general. For couple of years he worked for Games Workshop, which allowed him to game for a living, albeit more war-gaming than role-playing, but he wasn’t complaining.

Eventually he got a real job in IT, and ended up leaving Northern Ireland. Since then, he’s ran or participated in several gaming groups – in London, Boston, San Francisco and Sydney. His last group dissolved at the end of 2003, mostly due to family commitments.

Many of his gaming books have remained shelved (but never sold!) since then, until recently he and Matt decided it was time for one more roll of the dice.

Other contributors


Melody Wingfield

Melody’s introduction to gaming was simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time. She’d just finished reading Tolkien and the Dragonlance series when a friend of a friend mentioned they were starting up a roleplaying club afterschool. While she loved it, her father wasn’t incredibly impressed with the idea of his daughter taking up Satanic activity [insert requisite eye-rolling here], so the experience was shortlived.

Once free again to pursue her own interests, Rapunzel… er, Melody let down her hair and found a group of likeminded gaming-enthusiasts at UNC-Asheville. AD&D was the venue of choice, with a one-time-only-and-that-was-enough bout of Paladium in there for flavor. Through MUSHing, she discovered online rping, one particular vein of which led her to White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade.

She’s not really sure how she ended up as a GM. There’s a fuzzy memory akin to a shotgun wedding somewhere in her mind involving a stack of WW books and the fateful phrase “Hey, you should try running a game.” And from that point on, she’s probably spent more time in the GM’s chair running NPCs than actually playing a character. She’s also done LARP and wargaming, but nothing really holds her heart like good, old-fashioned paper and dice.

Years passed between the glory days and the present. Cross-country moves. More roleplaying. Boyfriends morphed into husbands morphed into “Was-bands”, and attempts at cloning herself proved highly successful. When someone asked if she was married recently, she was overheard replying “I’m in remission”. It’s amazing how the lack of a mate suddenly leaves all sorts of time for gaming. It was a good trade.

As to how a girl from the States ended up friends with an Irish guy and writing for his blog, now there’s a story for the telling… but not if there’s a game to be played.