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Well the specter of D&D next hangs heavy over the nerd realms these days like a giant Rorschach level pit stain evoking a myriad of responses ranging from the second coming of Christ or Elvis to complete and utter revulsion and white hot rage. Where do I fall on this spectrum? Well somewhere in the middle around indifference and bordering on complete apathy. Don’t get me wrong I will still buy the core books because well, I buy everything anyways. But I really need this thing to come out soon so some of the edition warring can simmer down. I know it will never stop but with the open play testing it seems to have concentrated it like a lightning rod in the WOTC forums. They still haven’t set a firm launch date, which isn’t helping much as it gives the illusion to some that the game is in trouble design wise. They have stated that they are shooting for a summer 2014 release, which most took to mean at GenCon this year. However, with that date inching up on the horizon, they have been pretty coy about whether it is a go or not. There aren’t any official events listed for D&D Next on the schedule aside from some seminars that use the wording “upcoming” edition (edit-a poster named Wavester confimred theat he has entered WOTC events for the registration at GenCon but they are waiting for a few details to be ironed out before they get “turned on” and that they will be using a D&D Neext ruleset). There is an unconfirmed rumor that the Basic or starter set (not to be confused with the PHB, DMG, and MM which will come later) will be launched July 15th. I don’t envy the developers and I f I was one I would probably try and push it off for as long as possible as there is the very real possibility that it’s release could land with a big echoing thud, regardless of the actual quality of the game. Then what?

It’s hard to get a bead on what’s going to happen. The forums are a bit of a wet hot mess with each feature, mechanic, or playstyle being constantly attacked and ripped apart by packs of jackals. Nobody can agree on anything and everything seems polarizing from cries of dissociative mechanics to vancian vrs neo-vancian casting to healing and hit dice. Perhaps my favorite clash was WOTC’s decision to remove movement penalties for the smaller races in combat. The rational being that there are more interesting ways to bring out the flavor of the individual races than a movement penalty. So Dwarves and Halflings no longer have a lower speed than the rest of the races. The shit storm and threatened rage quits that erupted in a thread was something to behold with some decrying it as the further pussification of the game because the munchkins don’t want any kind of challenge compared to the good old days. Then there were simulationists claiming that this ruined their verisimilitude because it’s just not physically possible for someone smaller to move the same speed as someone taller. This led others pointing out that in a six second period a little person or even a child could probably sprint 30ft which then led to, I shit you not, someone entering the land speed of a cheetah into the conversation. How can you win when you’re designing for these people? Now granted I am a firm believer in the silent majority that are way less bothered by any of this bullshit and I see a lot of people that are reasonably flexible that seem to like what they see so far. But then there is the part of me that thinks who is really going to run a table top rpg these days other than some crazy, intense motherfucker that posts on forums (or writes a dumb blog-natch). When you look out over the hobby landscape these days table top rpg’s are an ever shrinking niche market with so many strong options and contentious factions you have to wonder what the expectations for D&D can be? The strength of Pathfinder alone and I realize rpg’s are not a zero sum area, has to dent performance expectations let alone the general hatred that WOTC tends to evoke in a lot of people.

I know personally I won’t allow myself to get caught up in the product frenzy like I did with 4th edition. I look at my shelve full of all that crap and get angry. I am going to keep it simple this time around and be a little judicious with what I get, perhaps being satisfied with just the core books…yah and then pigs will start flying and hell will freeze over and I will start shiting golden eggs out my ass.

 

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runequest

 

 FUCK YOU RUNESLINGER!

 

Well Runeslinger almost did it to me with his latest post outlining his new campaign with Runequest’s 6th edition rule set. What do I mean by “did it”? well that S.O.B. almost made me buy another fucking game system (notice how I externalized blame to avoid culpability for my behavior, a classic addict move). It’s wasn’t like he was really even talking about the system as the series is more about the campaign he is developing, but just dropping the name and his subtle mention of hit locations was as good as dangling a crack pipe in front of Mayor Rob Ford. I thought there might be some danger when I read his initial post about the game, but like the newly sober clutching a one week chip I confidently dismissed any concern of a relapse. However, with each additional post the monkey on back whispering those sweet nothings got louder and louder. I haven’t broke yet, well not a full on snap, but I did open the link that he so kindly provided to the Runequest website where you can conveniently order the latest edition of the game along with lots of old supplements. After my hands stopped trembling and the cold sheen of sweat running down my back dried, I was able to close my browser. Safe for now.

Lately I am far enough along in my recovery and “summer of George” gaming experiment that I am not so easily swayed. I mean I have only bought one game book over the last year and I am not really counting that because it was the OSRIC rule system and I already own all the 1st edition D&D books, so technically I don’t think that counts, or at least that’s how I am deceiving myself. Runequest, however, holds a special place it my heart. I played it pretty much exclusively throughout high school and undergrad, way more than I had ever played D&D. We used the Runequest 2nd edition rule book and only that book; it was the special or limited edition version if I am not mistaken. Think about that for a minute, a decade of fun campaigns and shenanigans with just a single red book. It makes me want to kick my own ass when I get wrapped up in the business model of WOTC and their drop trow and shit out volumes of product approach.

The resolution mechanic revolves around the d100 (you want to roll low), which I found revolutionary at the time. Combat seemed more realistic in that you could attack and parry. There was individual hit locations with their own hp so you could hack off a limb or noggin, particularly if you went through a phase were you played barbarians with 21 strength and 21size who gravitated towards two handed weapons (I can only imagine what dynamic or conflict I was trying to work through), sometimes even cutting through an opponents weapon to do so. There was also special critical damage based on weapon type like impaling, crushing, and slashing. I read on the Wikipedia page that the combat system was an excellent simulation of battle more so than say AD&D but was ill suited for larger scale or mass conflicts involving multiple combatants because that said realism would be too time consuming. This made me chuckle as many of our sessions consisted solely of mass battles, standing back to back with my comrades in arms beating back the evil horde of the week. In our games a sea voyage meant two things: 1. Rolling to train and 2. Being boarded by pirates.

In terms of character generation, the system was classless allowing for a lot of flexibility in building whatever concept you had in mind. Although, I always felt that the system favoured more martial builds. Given my lack of creativity, my characters were usually based off of whatever fantasy series I was reading at the time. For example, some version of Silk from Eddings Pawn of Prophecy series was always lurking around ready to flow out of the shadows an impale your nads with his daggers. The skill system was pretty robust as well, especially coming from ad&d. We even used the map of Gloranthia (the default setting but with almost no info provided in the core book) for every campaign. The names of the cities always stayed the same but the inhabitants and culture changed based on whatever world we created. So in summary, Runequest was pretty fucking awesome back in the day and I can’t wait for my copy if the 6th edition rule set to….er I mean….ah fuck you Runeslinger 😉

The DC Adventure game I have been threatening people with finally took place this month so I thought I might hurl my two cents in your face for your consideration.  This was really the first step in a painfully slow and awkward process of branching out from 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons and making use of the bajillion (that’s a word right?) RPG’s I have purchased over the past several years. I wanted to be able to walk into my basement and not feel their lonely eyes burrow into my soul from their perch atop my bookshelf, a shameful and constant reminder of my lack of impulse control and its’ consequences. This year will be my gaming equivalent of “the summer of George”, and DC Adventures has kicked off the festivities.

I chose DC Adventures (aka Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition) largely as a bit of a break from the fantasy genre, plus just seeing my favorite DC Heroes and Villains stated up made me a little turgid below the equator. The production value on the core and supplemental books is amazing, with art taken directly from the comic books,  and on par with anything I have seen WOTC put out. The game is built around the d20 system so largely familiar to anyone who has played dungeons and dragons, particularly 3rd edition.  Characters are built by spending power points on bumping ability scores, skills, powers, and advantages (essentially feats). The total power points available to pimp your character with is determined by the series power level (masked adventurers, super heroes, big leagues, and world-protectors) which is meant to loosely keep the characters balanced to the style of game you want to play. Given that I was running a limited scenario I let players use any hero or villain with a power level of 10/super hero. If I was going to run a longer game I think I would have insisted on everyone making their own characters. I encouraged the players to only use the hero’s continuity or established fiction if they felt that it would help them and to add/make up whatever they wanted.  Thus we ended up with someone playing The Trickster from an alternate earth as a hero. This then allowed for a fairly dramatic scene with the current earth’s Trickster, seething with anger over his material/act being stolen by this upstart hack, challenging the player to a yo-yo duel. Overall, I liked the character generation system, as it was fairly flexible and customizable enough to build whatever hero concept you have.

In terms of the gameplay, combat encounters are resolved by applying “conditions” on opponents. So if you hit and damage an opponent ( i.e. punch, kick, blast etc)  or use a power with some kind of effect (i.e mind control) it doesn’t subtract from some form of health  but instead lays a condition. If an attack requires and attack roll you role to hit against the targets Defense Class. if you hit then the target makes a resistance check against your effect/power/attack DC to determine effects. there are no hit points and results for attacks  cause various conditions based  on degree of failure of the resistance check. a successful resistance check negates the effects of the attack. This plays out until the accumulation of conditions renders one side incapacitated. I found the lack of health or hp’s a little jarring during the first session and despite having a Doctoral degree calculating the degrees of success and failure on the fly (i.e. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, & 4th) was a little awkward. The players also disliked the resistance checks to negate any effect of a successful attack. I think this coupled with the lack of hp made their characters feel less than heroic and the combat stagnant. Even if the villain failed a resistance check on an attack the resulting effect of -1 to his toughness defense (what you use to resist damage attacks) seemed boring or anticlimactic to them. The first encounter was so flat and off putting I downloaded and actual play podcast to see if I was doing it right. The second session went a little smoother, but the general consensus was a dislike for the null effects or action  negation. I think one other thing that was  missing to create that comic book feel was the lack of knockback during combat. When super powered guys are stomping each other’s faces in I need dudes to be flying into buildings, lampposts and other shit.

The only other quibble as GM that I had was the relative lack of encounter building advice in terms of balance. I bought the Game Master’s guide as well and while they had lots of flavor and challenge/encounter ideas there was a lack of actual guidance in terms of number of villains and their power level that would be appropriate or how to use minions. I ended up using a formula that someone on the Green Ronin forums had created. The first encounter I ran had the party facing off against Captain Cold, Weather Wizard, and Girder (a pretty typical scene in the comics to me). It went pretty awful partly due to lack of system mastery but also due to the challenge either being too hard or better suited to a more climatic end type battle. After about an hour of combat with everyone making their majority of their resistance checks nothing had really happened. In the second session I used more faceless minions with one or two standard bad guys which helped with combat length.  I think the more familiar I become with the system the less an issue this would be, but some upfront advice would be welcomed.

Overall, I think the system is pretty serviceable and I could run a decent longer term campaign with it.  With the Heroes and Villains Volumes 1 and 2 coupled with all the setting fluff from the different era’s and worlds of the DC universe allows you to readily create any series you could desire. The skill system is fairly robust and good for creating skill challenges.  However, I think my preference would default to Champions/Hero System if I was to run another super hero game. So what’s next in my “summer of George” gaming festivities? Well I am currently  prepping a 1st edition AD&D game using the OSRIC system to run the recently re-released Against the Slave Lords  series, so stay tuned.

I had an interesting experience the other day. I know what you’re thinking and no it wasn’t erotic or involving some kind of bodily function….but good guess. I was actually in the gym where I overheard a neckbeard and his trainer talking about D&D. FYI I am incredibly voyeuristic, a fancy word for being nosey, and eavesdrop on people’s conversations constantly. Normally their conversations touch on comic books, movies, and general geek culture forcing me to constantly roll a will save to prevent myself from hiking up my gym shorts and dropping truth bombs all over their face, neck and chest like some kind of weird geekkake scene. So when they started talking about D&D I literally had to drop a weight on my foot in order to keep my mouth shut. 

The neckbeard was talking about this D&D group he was thinking of joining. I guess he went to observe a session recently and was describing a little bit of the interaction. He noted that it was a pretty large group that was frequently at odds with each other but that the DM did a pretty good job controlling them and keeping them in line. As an example he talked about this one player that was constantly trying to sell everything that party came across like mundane weapons and items and crap.  Several thoughts blazed into my head at these comments.

The first was sweet Jesus has no one asked this guy WTF is up with that..or at least queried Aspergers? I don’t think it is just the DM’s job to deal with this kind of behavior or as the neckbeard put it “keep them in line”. The same goes with the rest of the shenanigans of player infighting to blocking to dickishness or whatever you want to call it. Where does all this stem from? I certainly don’t have enough information to go on to analyze this game. The issues could just as likely stem from the DM “controlling them and keeping them in line”. I understand that this is not an uncommon occurrence in gaming circles given the frequency these things get vomited up on the various rpg forums. I often wonder if this dynamic is a leftover of our adolescence as an unconscious expression or repetition of our struggle to separate and individuate from a substitute parental authority figure. Do some of us get locked into this view or perception of how gaming is meant to be based on our early experience with the DM as god/game interface and the players as petulant children leaving a flaming bag of dog shit on his doorstep? If I have to be honest though the 12 year-old me would have been all over stuffing the Inn’s drapes and silverware in my bag to try and hawk for a couple copper pieces to use to make the filthy beggars fight kumate style. I don’t know what the answer is aside from some actual self-reflection. But I definitely know that I would literally pull the chute on any experience that even remotely approached what that neckbeard was talking about, let alone willingly join it.

The second thought I had was sweet Jesus why would selling mundane gear even matter. I know I might be in the minority and perhaps I have been playing 4th edition too long but I just tend to hand wave money for pretty much anything. I know it’s more of a simulationist/immersion thing and I don’t necessarily mind that as I have been in games where I have had no problem giving my buy in. It is just that as a DM, and to a lesser extent a player, I really can’t handle the minutiae of it. In real life I can barely manage my checking account let alone some kind of fictional global or regional economy, or god forbid a barter system. But like I said to each his own.

For those of you who think that this story was a pure fabrication that I have used to promote my pro-collaboration agenda based on the fact a neckbeard would never be caught dead in a gym let alone hire a trainer. I can assure you the incident in question was absolutely true and this sweet, graying, balding, heavyset, neckbead who apparently lives with roommates and takes public transit because he doesn’t have a license seems very committed to making some positive lifestyle changes, and you should cut him a break.   

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I dug these things out of my garage the other day in yet another  display of my turbo nerdness. What prompted this gleeful yet shameful move you ask? Well you see there was really two incidents that occurred recently. The first one was seeing the after credits scene in Thor: The Dark World and  —-spoilers—- you get a peek at the Collector, played by Benicio Del Toro, who will feature prominently in the upcoming Guardian’s of the Galaxy movie.  The second was reading  Marvel’s Infinity #4 in which—spoilers- Thanos beats the shit out of Blackbolt, the Inhuman King. Both of these things sparked much pondering, such as what’s the deal with the Collector? and how tuff is Thanos, like for realsies? So it was,  as we used to say in graduate school, “to the stacks” also known as my garage, where I pulled out my complete set of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe to research these very important questions.

I got the complete set as a Christmas gift back in 1988 when I was 16 years-old. I was pretty heavy into gaming, comics, and basketball (I had just made starter on the senior team) at the time so I was pretty pumped at getting these. As I recall, I think I also got Mike Grell’s Longbow Hunter series as well. Despite some bumps along the way my youth was generally an embarrassment of riches.  If you have never seen these things before they are pretty cool. I believe they originally printed them as floppies before collecting them into trade paperback form. They are essentially an encyclopedic presentation of every marvel character to that date in alphabetical order.  They start off with each characters physical and personal stats, 1st appearance (helpful for collectors), and known team affiliations.  They then give a brief history of the character followed by a detailed section on their known super powers or abilities and a separate section on strength level (measured by lift/press in tons for the heavier hitters). They also had “books of the dead” for those heroes or villains that hadn’t been resurrected yet 😉

In terms of gaming, we used to play a lot of Champions (currently known as HERO system) which was kind of  a blank canvas generic system geared towards superheroes. We had numerous campaigns over those years ranging from gritty street level to more cosmic level adventures, we even did a Star Trek campaign. One of coolest things was meticulously pouring over the rulebook and crunching the numbers to create a character to match a known superhero you wanted to play.  I would often start by looking up a hero in my Marvel Handbooks to see how many points I needed to put into strength and what power sets I needed to craft. Over the years I made Spiderman, Wolverine, The Punisher, Bruce Leroy (catches bullets with his teeth), Adam Warlock, Iron Man, and quite possibly my favorite in Dr. Leonard Samson.  Can you tell I was a bit of a Marvel Zombie back in the day?

As I gear up to run a brief 2 or 3 shot with DC Adventures (AKA Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition)the players have the option to use an existing hero or villain since they have stated out pretty much all of them. I have mixed feelings about this as, a part of me is geeked in being able to see them all laid out like that to compare and contrast what they have done, but the other part of me is a little let down at feeling cheated from trying to re-create them myself. I think If I was to play in a DC Adventures game I would probably pull out my old Marvel Handbooks and make  myself a 616 hero. As for the Collector I found out that he is an Elder, a group of the oldest known entities in the universe. He is immortal and impervious to conventional harm or disease. He also choose not to develop any superhuman physical or mental abilities like other Elders. Given his obsession around collecting things, he has access to the greatest technology and weapons in the galaxy. A particular favorite of his is a temporal assimilator, a handheld  device which allows him to time travel for short temporal distances and durations. As for Thanos vrs Blackbolt, it turns out —SPOILERS—-that Blackbolt’s strength was greatly diminished by fueling the terigen bomb that is the catalyst for the new Inhuman era in the marvel universe (AKA we need some new mutants that we can use in our own movie universe since Fox won’t give us our X-men back). So there you go.

Hey long time no post, betcha thought I finally flamed out…well no such luck bitches. I thought I might share some of the prep for a very brief (hopefully a couple of sessions) game to test out the DC Adventures AKA Mutants and Masterminds rule set that I am going to run on Roll20, my online tabletop of choice. When you start a campaign up it automatically comes with a forum attached so you can have various postings. Most of this content I set up in the forum for the players to peruse.

The Sitch and Dramatis Personae:

The Flash, Central City’s Scarlett protector, has not been seen in some time. The result has been an increase in crime and lawlessness that is threatening the peace and tranquility of the city.  What happened to the Flash? Is he away on Justice League business? Are the Rogues responsible? Or is there some new threat? 

The Rogues: Captain Cold, Mirror Master, the Trickster, Captain Boomerang, Weather Master, Profosser Zoom, & Gorilla Grod. Who knows what each rogues motivation is, but you can bet you’re CGS rating it’s not in anyone’s interest but their own and woe to those who get in their way.

The Odessa Family: Russian organized crime family involved in protection, prostitution, drugs, and racketeering. If they aren’t involved in it they are looking to muscle in. Known by their telltale track suits and penchant for using the word “Bro” (directly ripped from Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye ongoing series, If you’re not reading it then you obviously hate life), they are led by Yuri Stolichnaya who rules with an iron fist and demands singular obedience to the family. Sergie Borscht is the Brigadier, Yuri’s second in command, he is loyal but ambitious. it is rumored that there are two spies in the family that  report directly to Yuri who watch for disloyalty,  making sure no one gets too powerful. The Odessa Family has been more open and aggressive since the Flash’s disappearance. The family typically hangs out in a large social club called The Kremlin located in the City Centre. Yuri Stolichnaya resides in a mansion located in the suburb of Petersburg.

Motivations center on acquiring power and influence while expanding family business. They are particularly ruthless but also very pragmatic. 

TheTaco Kings: Hispanic street gang working in prostitution and drugs trying to make more of name for itself within the city, although often waging a losing war with the Odessa Family. Led by Jesus Sanchez, a former taco truck owner turned criminal after the Flash busted him for the great rat meat scandal of 2005.

The Kings are chaotic and undisciplined; their motivation center on greed, earning respect, surviving the Odessa family and competing in street dance offs a la Breakdance 2-Electric Boogaloo. Their base of operations is located in the Windsor Heights by the docks

Jared Morillo and Fred Chyre: detectives in the Central City police force in the meta-human crimes division. They are pro-capes and had a good working relationship with the Flash

Who else is an important figure in Central City? Perhaps someone from your background or have had previous dealings with, idk you tell me. What are their goals and motivations?

Session Zero:

I have never run or played in a game using DC Adventures or Mutants and Masterminds, so my system mastery is low. The goal of this game is to test the system out and see what it is like and whether it is worth running games in. Also it will allow me to begin to make use of the thousands of dollars in rpg’s I have purchased over the past few years and have never used. All super-hero and comic book tropes are welcomed. This is not a grim dark or dystopian style game. I am looking to run for a few sessions in a LIM style setting with input and collaboration is welcomed and most likely required. Given my lack of system mastery you will need to understand how your powers and their effects work to aid in adjudication. In terms of Character creation you can either use one of the pre-gens from core rule book, or pick a hero or villain from any of the sources with a power level of 10, or make your own from scratch.

I have finally finished up running the 4e adventure Warrens of the Stone Giant Thane so I have more time to get things ready to go. This game got delayed due to the 4e game and now I feel like I need to refresh a little bit on the mechanics of DC Adventures. I t seems that these days it doesn’t take much of a time delay for my brain to perform a mental enema on any newly acquire information.

In parting, I have a question for those of you familiar with DC Adventures. I am struggling in ascertaining how to somewhat balance encounters and can’t seem to find any guidelines in the rule book so any advice would be greatly appreciated. Below is the campaign start screen on Roll20.

flash