Do you remember that little experiment I was planning? You know the one where I was going to thrust the socially reticent player into the collaborative story-telling spotlight. How did it turn out your wondering? Hmm I guess about as well as having some kind of rectal exam. Overall, it was one of the more garbled, incoherent, garbage sessions I have ever run.
As I dissect the session in my head several factors come into play that contributed to this massive steaming pile of a session. The scene began with the players climbing out of the Tarek pit of pleasure after killing the pack of rabid –insert name for a Dark Sun lizard type creature- and earning the right to walk amongst the Tareks without being killed on sight. I gave a brief history of the Tareks transmitted through song by the head shaman during a campfire on the eve of the “Great Hunt”, a kind of Tarek bar mitzvah where they send the young out into the desert to slay a great beast and claim their place as an adult in the society. The song told of the great Tarekian empire during the green times and how society was split into three castes (warrior, shaman, and tinkerer/engineer). Much knowledge was lost as the empire was shattered during the brown times and Ranjaat’s racial cleansing war.
The newly reformed “empire” consists of several of the elder houses and the conclave of shamans. The major player’s involved were the Emperor, head Shaman, Tar Ugu (a former pc), and the Tarek player’s hidden brother. Each major npc had some motivations and possible moves. In terms of the emperor I went with the Son of Mogh story line from STNG where he had falsely accused the Tarek player’s father of selling the newly reborn empire out to the sorcerer king Kalak, thereby seizing control of the empire and having the player’s father executed and house stricken from the stories.
So what went wrong? Well overall my mood was a little off as I had just gotten word that I would not be accepted into medical school for the fall. I was a little bummed and it kind of took some wind out of my sails. Now in the grand scheme of life this is not a major disappointment. I already have a doctorate in clinical psychology and a full time job plus a part-time private practice, so it’s not like I am in my mid-twenties and trying to figure out what to do with my life or stuck in some dead end job that I loathe. I also only applied to one school so I new the odds were slim. None the less I was a little bummed with a sense of loss at missing out on a new challenge. So blabity blah blah basically I was a little flat.
I also think I didn’t frame the scene as well as I could have in terms of layout and positioning of the NPC’s and Tarek faithful. This made the exploration at the beginning of the night a little awkward as things became jumbled with people going off and talking to different factions. It also made coming up with a plan or strategy on how to deal with any potential threats or desired shenanigans more difficult and less clear. Sometimes I forget how dependent we have become on maps and tokens in 4th edition, particularly when playing online, to set the scene adequately compared to the olden days. I can get a little lazy and forget to put tokens out to help frame the scene. Often this is because I haven’t planned anything out, partly due to said laziness and partly due to a desire to be reactive to player choice.
Now in terms of the socially reticent player who I thrust into the narrative limelight, he reads this blog and was game for it but….perhaps it was a bridge to far and we need more baby steps and supportive coaching. In improv terms he kept blocking himself at every turn, it was literally like he was pulling a gun on himself while shouting no. In one instance he stated that he was going to intimidate the emperor and before I could say anything he stated that wouldn’t work because the emperor was un-inimitable. He also had some good ideas but they mostly came off as incoherent and not fully formed. He had established that he was going to use the inherent psionic link that Tareks have to do something but then abandoned what he had started (later I would learn that he wanted to see if a member of the tribe had any memories of the betrayal that would be helpful). He eventual just rushed up and slapped the emperor which then prompted a battle royal in the middle of the camp that essentially ended with him being dead..again (unconscious and the emperor threatening to coup de grace him if the others didn’t stand down). In talking with him after the game he explained his intent wasn’t to fight the emperor but it was more of a klingon challenge type thing. Which my response was “awesome but how would I know that unless you tell me”. I think I really needed to ask more questions to try and draw his ideas out, but like I said I was a little flat. I think this is important to remember when trying to impose collaborative story telling on less experienced players or those that it doesn’t come as naturally to.
Overall, I also think I need to be more prepared in terms of potential skill challenges, even though I loathe them. At a minimum I need to think/be prepared for the use of skills to overcome challenges or adjudicate player driven hi-jinks on the fly. I feel like I have sort of hit the proverbial wall in terms of running the campaign and need to bear down and push through it. I figure I have 6 to 8 session left to wrap everything up for the end of the heroic tier and I need to end strong…or at least crawl through the finish line like one of those depleted nut jobs at the end of an Iron Man Triathlon.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged D&D 4E, Dark Sun, DM advice | 3 Comments »
It all happened so fast, I can hardly make sense of it. I clearly remember leaving an assessment session at a school and stopping for a brief workout at the gym. At this point things are kind of a blur of images, feelings, and sensations. Next thing I know I am back at my office staring with utter disbelief at what is strewn across my desk, the fog of war clears slightly and the realization hits me like a cock punch: I just bought fucking comic books…again. Then in an almost dissociative like fugue I watched myself create a back issue want list, place an order from Mile High Comics, purchase the Overstreet price guide, buy tickets to FanExpo Comicon, and set up and online subscription service. I am awash in a maelstrom of emotions, vacillating from utter shame and disgust to arousal..er I mean excitement. That line from the Godfather III keeps echoing through my head: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in”
I guess it’s not really a surprise, once a junky always a junky. I had been getting a little taste digitally over the last year or so and foolishly thought digital comics was the answer. It seemed ideal, low cost no fuss no muss. In hindsight, it was only a matter of time before I wrapped my big fat lips around the comic book crack pipe again. I think the tipping point was when I started listening to comic book podcasts. Now once again I find myself accumulating and storing things that will never even be worth the paper they are printed on, it just seems so stupid except for the fact that reading actual comic books is so fucking awesome I can’t even tell you. I just want to rub and smother myself in them like some creepy Scrooge McDuck scene, that’s how fucking awesome they are.
How long will this last? Who knows, as an addict you generally want your relapses to be briefer in duration and longer between episodes. I went with an online subscription service from All New Comics to try and mitigate the hurt, as they offer 20% off the U.S. cover price and reasonable shipping rates. If I was in the States I would have gone with DCBS and their redonk 30-40% off cover price deal. I also have purged some of my collection, mostly stuff I don’t want to hold onto anymore. The problem I am running into is what to do with them as they are not worth anything and I don’t really want to throw them out (that would make me physically ill).
This relapse has also got me thinking about gaming. My Dark Sun game is hopefully wrapping up soon and I was thinking of taking a break from the fantasy genre and running some limited stuff with superheroes. The question is which system, I have several editions of Hero, Mutants and Masterminds 2nd & 3rd editions, and the Marvel Heroic rpg (notice a trend here, I assure you my wife does as well). I also think I might post occasionally about comics and what I am reading or finding interesting, so bear with me.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged comic books, superhero rpg's | 3 Comments »
This post is for all the 4th edition players out there, or at least those of you willing to admit your still playing 4th edition which has become the gaming equivalent of smoking while pregnant..not technically against the law but overwhelmingly met with shock, revulsion, and swift condemnation by others. I wanted to let people know that there is still awesome content being produced, not by Wizard’s of the Coast mind you (god forbid), but by others with a real passion for the system and who share the belief that it was thrown in the wood chipper a little to soon. I am not just talking about great fan generated content like Frothsoff 4e, but company generated stuff as well.
The Midgard Bestiary for 4th Edition (Open Design) by Richard Green and Brian Liberage is one of these new products that really scratched an itch for me. I have written before that one of my major gripes with 4th edition is that they didn’t get the monster math sorted out until later in cycle, causing the majority of the monsters designed for the system to be full of suckage and virtually unusable. When I flip through the Monster Manual 1 and 2 I actually feel embarrassed for the monsters, like I am embarrassed for them. It would literally be a crime to have them square off with the veritable plethora of twinked up pc’s I am frequently assailed by. Listen I know what your gonna say “the players don’t always have to be physically threatened, you can have alternative combat goals…blabity blah blah blah” Sometimes you just wanna smash the pc’s in the mouth and let them know you mean business.
The Bestiary does not suffer at all from this monster impotence as it utilizes the updated damage progression. The monster ecologies and fluff are based, not unsurprisingly, on the Midgard setting, another Open Design project and originally Wolfgang Baur’s homebrew world. I enjoy reading fluff, you might even say that I am a bit of a fluffer (kidding), and the Midgard Bestiary really delivers in this regard. Don’t let this push you away from the product though, as the monster mechanics are not tied to the setting and are easily re-skinned. For example, I have used dudes exclusively from this book to stock the latest location in my Dark Sun game full of Tareks. In the end it is really the mechanics that matter most and the book offers some interesting and cool variations for a little freshness. I particularly liked the several different Hags and Babba Yaga’s Horseman.
I managed to snag this bad boy through a Kickstarter project. I got a full color soft cover print edition and a pdf (if you’re reading Wizards take some notes) for 25$, well worth it my opinion. Overall, I really like this product and find it refreshing to grab a monster book that isn’t the “Monster Vault” for a change when I am looking to make my players crap their pants
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged D&D 4E, Midgard Bestiary, monster damage, open design | 15 Comments »
I’ve had Tareks on my mind of late. No, it’s not what your thinking, nothing sexual or erotic I can assure you. I just happen to have one in my Dark Sun game and, well, I think it is time for him to sort of step into the spot light a bit. I wouldn’t necessarily say he has been a bump on the log but if you just happened to be sitting on a log and felt something uncomfortable it’s probably not your hemorrhoids. When we did a bit of Q&A as he introduced his latest character (his 2 previous ones have been KIA) he stated that he was an orphan who had been picked up by the Muto Tieflings as a child and had lived outside their cave for most of his life, never traveling outside the area and having no ties to anything. I kind of chuckled at this and then ribbed him mercilessly at work about the non-background he created. Even when one of the other players tried to collaboratively build him into the fiction and emergent story of the game he steadfastly clung to his history.
This player tends to stick to the rear in social interactions and collaborative story telling scenes (in fairness he does have a bit of social anxiety and often worries he will make a mistake or do/say something foolish) but that is all about to change because I am going to drop him squarely into the centre of a shit storm. In the “business” we call that exposure with response prevention (although in fairness it is going to be and feel more like flooding). I am going to start the next session with the party in a large pit surrounded by the Dark Sun equivalent of wolves and a mob of Tareks looking down, cheering, hurling feces, cursing, and betting. Then with some Q&A we’ll try and sort out how this all came to be.
*Warning* if you are some kind of Dark Sun cannon purist then this next part might make you feel like I dropped trou and bricked in your mouth. I am going to model the Tareks on Klingons from Star Trek The Next Generation. They are going to be a nomadic collection of clan/houses lead by an overall war leader. Perhaps in the green time they had a larger nation/empire but where almost extinguished during the racial cleansing of the brown times. One of their motivations might be to create another great Tarek empire. I have been researching some Klignon terminology so I can mix that into conversations.
With regards to my player (and the group) it should be interesting to see what they create. In my mind I have a couple of possible elements of fiction I can add such as the Warf story line from STNG where he is considered an outcast because his family was falsely branded traitors or if they survive the pit they might prove themselves worthy to be hunted ala “The Most Dangerous Game”. Well whatever it turns out to be it should be interesting; I just hope it is not too traumatic for the Tarek PC
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged D&D 4E, Dark Sun, Tarek | 2 Comments »
I have been thinking a lot on alternative goals in combat lately. These are not “combat outs” (which were developed to speed up 4th edition combat and reduce some of the grind that can develop) such as bad guys…”gulp”… actually surrendering instead of determinedly inviting the players to cut them down like shafts of wheat or monsters fleeing when bloody or underlings/minions dropping when the master is slain. What I am really talking about are goals that one or both sides can have in a given encounter that isn’t just curb-stomping the other into Valhalla. I don’t think this concept is particularly limited to 4th edition, or new for that matter, but given the tactical nature of the combat these kinds’ goals can really make the game shine, particularly if you feel like you have fallen into a bit of a rut with encounters playing out in a predictable pattern of powers and feats each round almost like a combat assembly line. Although this maybe more of a DM issue than a player issue because when I am a player I looove stabbing things until their dead at which point I continue to stab them like I have some kind of stabbing Tourette’s..but I digress.
The alternative goals can be almost anything from needing to protect a high value target during an attack or transport to acquiring an item before time runs out. In the later example imagine a scene where an item is guarded by powerful opponents, perhaps much more so than the players where a straight up brewhahah could go either way. The players then have the option to either throwdown, hopefully survive, and acquire said package or do they have some players defensively engage the guardians while one player grabs the item followed by a measured retreat?
Alternative goals are meant to not only make choices interesting but also failure interesting. Take the former example of protecting a high value target during transport. Say the players are tasked with protecting the king’s daughter on a diplomatic mission to a warring neighbor. During the journey they are attacked and while perhaps they defeat the enemies in the traditional fight mode but fail to protect the princess because the attackers had the alternative goal of killing/kidnapping the princess and not necessarily wiping out the players. What are the consequences of that failure? Probably pretty interesting, particularly of your a sadistic mother fucker like me
I will give you an example from my Dark Sun game. I set up an encounter in the desert where the players were ambushed by the Muto Tieflings. I had several ground troops followed by some Muto’s swooping in on giant bats as I piped in Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries. The Muto’s had the goal of capturing one of the player’s (Quell) who they were calling the Muadeeb for a ritual sacrifice. It played out rather nicely with the players adjusting strategy to try and protect Quell (I kept trying to have the bat riders grab him and fly away) and the associated tension/urgency it generated. The defenders were overjoyed as the Muto’s repeatedly violated marks to try and get at Quell.
One of the side benefits of having encounters with alternative goals is that you don’t’ need to be so neurotic with encounter balance or scaling (if that is your thing) because there is usually a win button that doesn’t involve total annihilation of the monster(s). A word of caution, like most things in life, with the exception of gaming and maybe porn, moderation is probably best with alternative encounter goals. I don’t think you want them in every encounter or your players might start rolling their eyes every time you frame a scene while fondly reminiscing about the good ol’ days when you could just kill things and take their stuff.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged campaign management, D&D 4E, DM advice | 5 Comments »
I have been laid up the past couple of weeks with an atypical pneumonia. It feels like I got beat with a bat, but not in the loving tender kind of way. I am currently in the hospital while they try and figure out what bug it is and the corresponding drug to nuke it with. It is also the reason I haven’t written much lately, not much energy and not much gaming. Maybe some of you thought I had blog faded and finally ran out of stupid and inane shit to spew at you….well no such luck fuckers.
In terms of gaming I did a brief play-by-post using 4th edition D&D but it was very narrative driven and collaboratively determined by the players and DM, almost like a story game. I played Tommy Gunns, elven bow ranger, and it was a fairly enjoyable and interesting little delve. Aside from that I have been consuming TV, movies, and comics, when my blinding headache mutes a bit. Mostly, I seem to have been afflicted by some kind of Bat addiction or fetish that has seen me inhaling anything Batman related. I lay the blame squarely on Kevin Smith and his podcast “Fatman On Batman”. It’s a familiar story around these parts, I hear someone talk excitedly about shinny nerdy baubles and I immediately and compulsively start shot gunning money at said things.
I think I have mentioned before how impressed I am with the Bat titles of DC’s New 52, they are all pretty strong but Batman #13 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo gave me chills as I read it. Now I am not some young gun and have been reading comics for 25 years, so it is safe to say I have pretty much seen it all. –SPOILER- the reappearance of the joker and what he is doing has me riveted. The aforementioned comic starts with a guy taking out the lights to the police station (you never see his face just his feet) and he is silhouetted in the door way. It is the panic in Jim Gordon’s face as he just screams “YOU” and starts firing blindly with his flashlight (the only illumination in the station) while the joker calmly walks around, cracking lame jokes and snapping police officers necks in the dark that had me going.
The purchases have been quick, fast, dirty, and all mentioned on Smith’s Podcast. I picked up Batman The Animated Series the complete boxed set, The Dark Knight Returns Part 1, and the first two Nolan Batman movies on DVD. The Animated series really holds up and is such a fantastic representation of the Dark Knight (Whenever I read Batman it is Kevin Conroy’s voice that I hear in my head). I got a great deal on the boxed set from EBAY for 67$, well worth it as copies are hard to come by these days. It has all 103 episodes. It was pretty funny as I had a bit of a Hulk rage moment when I popped the first disc in. The animation was a little grainy and I had the thought that I had been duped by the seller into some bootleg copy despite the sealed box and high gloss book and accouterments but then I remembered the animation was done over 20 years ago and the rage subsided to my baseline, which is a mildly elevated punch a smurf level.
The Dark Knight Returns, one of the greatest Batman stories ever told, is getting the DVD treatment. Part 1 was fantastic and true to the source material. I did miss batman’s internal dialogue from the comic as it’s where he delivers his best nerdgasming lines. But like Mr. Smith said in his unsolicited commentary track (Fatman on Batman episode 14 ) perhaps they tried it and it didn’t work very well. I even re-watched Batman Begins and enjoyed it. I was about to watch the Dark Knight but had to go to the hospital where my laptop only plays dvd and not Blu Ray, so whattya going do, more time for Batman the Animated Series…and maybe the Expendables 2 tonight.
Well that’s it for now, got some ideas on gaming and alternative combat goals but maybe I’ll delve into that when I not so doped up on percs and sleeping pills. If you haven’t checked out Kevin’s Smiths Podcast Empire you definitely should as there is some fantastic content there, but for sure check out the Fatman on Batman series if you love the Dark Knight. It has been heavily focused on the film and animation content to date and also goes into the guests background a lot, which I love. The Paul Dini and Luke Skywalker episodes I find just riveting. Fair warning though, if you are weak willed like me you will probably end up throwing wads of cash at everything they talk about so if you need to drop me a line and I will walk you through hiding said purchases from your significant other.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged Batman, Batman the Animated Series, Fatman on Batman, kevin smith, the dark Knight returns | 6 Comments »
When it comes to genre blending in film, books, and rpg’s I tend to become very OCPD’sh in my need to have everything organized and separated out into their proper places; firm boundaries all around. It’s kind of the like the guy who can’t tolerate the different food groups touching or co-mingling on his plate, although in real life, I would bludgeon you to a bloody pulp Thunderdome styles for some chocolate smeared with peanut butter. I don’t know what to say, I just dislike guns in my fantasy worlds and vise versa swords in my sci-fi worlds (lightsabres being the obvious exception of course as I could accept and rationalize their presence in any and all genres. Hell I am playing a born again Jedi in my next D&D adventure). All of which makes it a little surprising that I have mixed in some superhero/comic book content into my Dark Sun game.
How this all took shape is actually an interesting example of collaborative story telling. The groups Thri-Kreen Warlord decided to sacrifice himself at the end of the last LIM. He hurled himself into a portal to the elemental chaos after defeating the BBEG (who was using it to summon his master from the 9 hells) before it closed. His reasoning being that he was taking the seed of life (recently acquired Thri-Kreen artifact and what he had established was the treasure hidden in an ancient vault) into the abyss where it would ignite and become the catalyst for a new Green Age on Athas. He then established that the area around the “muto” oasis began to grow lush with vegetation.
With Clikk Sandflea’s heroic sacrifice the player needed to create a new character for the game. This is when he told me that he was going to make Green Lantern. I was like “..oh…okayyy, sounds interesting? (voice rising a few octaves at the end). He then described how the spark from the beginning of the new green age had awakened his character’s green wood ring (a family heirloom) and unlocked new and amazing powers along with a vision for the future. It sounded cool so I was interested in seeing where it would head. At the same time the player of “Nori”, the party’s female Mul Warden, established that his character had a connection to the next city the group was heading to. The player stated that Nori was a famous gladiator who ran afoul of a crooked templar for failing to throw a fight in the arena.
I took these bits of emergent fiction and decided to go balls deep into genre blending and embrace the comic book motif as I crafted the next location. I know it’s not as blatant as Gandalph shooting the Balrog in the face with a 12-gauge, but you know…baby steps. I decided to flesh out this crooked templar a bit. I modeled the city of Alturak on the series Deadwood and made the crooked templar the de facto ruler of the town. Then I was pondering about what to do with this new “Green Lantern” and I had an epiphany and thus “Sinestrago” and the Yellow Templar Corps was born, complete with yellow power rings. I set to re-skinning and altering monsters to build the corps and narrated their powers as creating constructs. The guy playing Green Lantern upon hearing all of this decided to tie his background to Sinestrago by being a former student of his.
I think this highlights some of the benefits collaborative storytelling and how engaging it can be for the players to see the stuff they create come to life in the world. You can take a look at Sinestrago, he is essentially a re-skinned Beholder. I created a voice for him that is a cross between Foghorn Leghorn and Jesse Jackson; he is pretty amusing to play. I added a fear aura too him that will represent the Yellow Lantern Battery that is located somewhere in the town and drawing power from the populaces fear, even enhancing and creating it, and which the players might want to shut down before a final confrontation. Although that might be in a while as another player decided to have his character join the Yellow Templar Corps….did I mention he is the brother of the new Green Lantern
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged collaborative storytelling, D&D 4E, Dark Sun, Location in Motion | 1 Comment »