Saturday, December 31, 2005
2) Big "We hate annual inventory" sale at the Dragon's Table today. The used crap in the milkcrates by the front door is 75% off. The used crap on the shelves and "red dot" items are 50% off. Most of the rest of the store is 25% off. I'm pretty sure TODAY IS THE LAST DAY OF THIS SALE.
Friday, December 30, 2005
That's a David Deitrick character portrait of one of the PCs for my upcoming Encounter Critical convention game. I call him IG-666, and he is a Robot Warlock. Ain't he awesome?
You see, I happen to be on friendly terms with Mr. Deitrick's son. You may know him by his RPGnet name, Random Goblin. The Goblin and I seem to have pretty similar gaming tastes, and given the material he puts on his blog, The Goblin's Lair, we're pretty much on the same page politically as well. I find the latter fascinating because RG, like his father before him, is a military man. The usual perception these days is that serious soldiers vote Republican but from time to time I find people like the Goblin who don't fit this mold. When I solicited the talented folks of RPGnet looking for a photoshop of IG-88 in pointy hat, RG suggested that maybe his dad could draw one up for me. That was awfully nice of both Mr. Goblin and his illustrious father.
Anyway, enough name-dropping and personal yackety-shmackety. Back to David Deitrick and his excellent art. For those of you who weren't gaming in the eighties the importance of Deitrick's work can hardly be overstated. I don't think it's exaggerating to say that he single-handedly defined the look of 80's sci-fi gaming. His paintings graced the cover of many products from the key sci-fi lines of the era: Star Trek (the FASA version), Doctor Who (also the FASA version), and Starter Traveller. I'm hard pressed at this moment to recall a Deitrick cover for any BattleTech products of the era, but his interior illos included some aerospacecraft in the original BattleTech Technical Readout and many of the fabulous color plates inside Mechwarrior.
In sci-fi gaming it's always easy to depict bug-eyed monsters or cool spaceships or flashy equipment, but Deitrick always did an excellent job of keeping the human element front and center. For the Starter Traveller line and Mechwarrior this was an especially important task, because before his work appeared original Traveller and BattleTech were largely faceless, with concentration on the machines (starships and giant robots respectively). Consider here how Deitrick integrates a cool uniform, an attractive woman, and a sci-fi gun. With a spaceship thrown in the background for good measure.Original Traveller, you may recall, had no art on the cover of the original books, just a single stripe of color on a black background. Those Little Black Books still look pretty slick to me, but when GDW rolled out Starter Traveller to attempt to capture some of the D&D Basic money they decided to go with some killer art on the cover. Deitrick was responsible for the cover art on the Starter boxed set and many other Starter Traveller products. I'm fond of his art on the cover of Alien Module 2: K'Kree, even though Mr. Deitrick names it as one of his least favorite in a 1987 interview with Stardate magazine (volume 3, number 6). Rather than display a cover the artist doesn't like, here's another one of his Trav pieces that I enjoy:
Again you can see how Deitrick includes all the necessary stuff for a product like Alien Realms. There are aliens in the picture. You can tell from the gun and space city that it's a sci-fi product. But ultimately a human story is being told here and that's one of the reasons I think Deitrick's work is so special. He's got a storyteller's and gamemaster's approach to his work. Here's how he put it in the '87 interview:
Every one of my paintings usually has a story behind it, too -- I'm talking about my non-pay stuff...
I've got one painting in particular that shows an Indian look, a very native American-looking guy with a real light rifle and a motorized hang glider over the top. And yeah, it's fun, it's got a nice feel, but what people don't realize is that character is out of an alternate universe that I've thought up all by myself. I'm a real big alternate-history nut.
Two other signature Deitrick effects are on display here. Like my man Otus he's not afraid to use purples and violets. And Deitrick often incorporates abstract elements into his pieces. As a lad I did not appreciate Mr. Deitrick's use of the abstract. I think I was overly influenced by the school of thinking that gaming art should be photorealistic depiction of fictional events. As I've matured more fanciful artists like Otus and Deitrick have grown more and more fascinating to me while the Elmores et al. of the world grow more tiresome. Below is the Deitrick cover of a book I purchased when it was first published in '87. Back then I just didn't get it but today I consider it much cooler than a standard photorealistic approach.I think the three pieces above give you a pretty good idea of how Deitrick operated in the 80's, but there's a lot of other good art of his out there. You can see some of it by following the links on his credits over at the Pen & Paper database. For more recent Deitrick work check out David R. Deitrick Design, his official web presence.
One other thing I ought to note about Mr. Deitrick's work is his treatment of women. He does great work with the female form but every such piece I've seen avoids the pitfall of unnecessary titillation. My favorite black and white Deitrick piece is a good example:
Like the Mechwarrior art above the subject is dressed appropriately for the milieu. And neither the pose nor the proportions show the prurience so prevalent in gaming art. Not that I'm against gratuitous displays of female anatomy, it's just that Deitrick impresses me with the way he can depict a beautiful woman in a classy and respectful manner. Even the color plate in Mechwarrior depicting a female mech pilot in her rather scanty cooling vest and panties ensemble avoids the usual traps accompanying such subject matter: the pose and facial expression are that of a woman in her work clothes taking a coffee break. Given the rest of the field of women in gaming art, that's an interesting artistic decision.
Random Goblin's Reliquary, CafePress shop selling T-shirts adorned with Deitrick cover art (among other things)
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Once many Christmases ago I decided that the Christmas tree was the perfect place for my G.I. Joe action figures to take up sniper positions, and so I would conceal a couple of Joes in the branches. This became a sort of Christmas tree decorating tradition but one year no little army dudes were handy but my Hydra from the official AD&D toyline was available, so it took up residence among the candy canes and tinsil. As a teenager I went through a period where I thought I was "too old" for toys, but each December the hydra continued to lurk among the foil icicles. We ended up storing the hydra with the Christmas decorations and when I went off to college my parents started putting the little critter in the tree for my benefit. Well, I'm in my 30's now and have a kid of my own, but when we travel to the grandparents at Christmas there's always a certain five-headed beastie waiting to greet us:
When my in-law's get together it's a gamer-rich environment. My brother-in-law and his sons and my sister-in-law and her hubby are all gamers of one stripe or another. So after the Christmas meal is consumed and presents are opened we inevitable play a game of some sort. Usually it's something from the excellent Brittannia/Vinci/History of the World family of games, where each player directs the migrations and conquests of several whole nations and each turn can represent centuries of time. The past two years we've done History of the World. This time we even got together two days in a row for two different games. I did horribly on the first game, as a year between playings is too long for me to able to hop back on the saddle. I'm quite proud of my accomplishments in the second game. I got the Romans and did quite well (establishing the Empire in India, South East Asia, and China!). As anyone who has played History knows, the guy who pulls the Roman Empire has a target on his back for most or all of the rest of the game. Despite being handed both the Inca/Aztecs and Americans I managed to squeak out second place on tie-breakers. Huzzah!
I think it was back in September or October that I first mentioned the fact that Encounter Critical has stolen my heart from World of Synnibarr. Don't get me wrong, I still like World of Synnibarr more than any sane RPG enthusiast should. But EC manages to cram into its 32 digest-sized pages almost as much sheer loopiness as contained in Synnibarr's nearly indigestible 500 page girth. Encounter Critical is old (the second revised edition was published in '79) and mind-numbingly obscure, perhaps not quite as obscure nowadays as Excursion into the Bizarre but pretty damn close.
So what makes Encounter Critical so special? The first reason is the author's proclaimed devotion to "true scientific realism" in a roleplaying game that features apes and elves and "klengons" and robots and magic spells and anything else you want to include. Crazy. The random mutations table that can allows you to "ignore gravity" or gives you "edible excretions" stands as People's Exhibit Number One that Scientific Realism never met Encounter Critical. Yet designers Hank Riley and Jim Ireland have the balls of steel necessary to say in the introduction "If you are a newcomer, you can enjoy the assurance that this is the only game we know to include true scientific realism in every system."
Then there's the fact that this game was kitchen sink before kitchen sink was cool. You really, truly can play a cyborg-ape ninja/pirate with no tweaking of the rules necessary. Lots of games allow you to play anything, whether we're talking about generic systems like GURPS or chaotic freak-outs like Rifts. But Encounter Critical liberally rips off the author's favorite geek fodder and, with only the thinnest of veneers, smashes them all into the same game. So Tolkienian elves and dwarves can hobnob with coldly logical "vulkins", aggressive "klengons", and wookies. In this class-based system your PC can be a standard swords-&-sorcery Warrior or Warlock or Criminal (thief). But you can also seek out new lifeforms and new civilizations as a Pioneer or cloud minds and levitate stuff as a Psi Witch (read: jedi) or you can play a Doxy, "the class of harlots, concubines, pleasure Robodroids, and go-go dancers." The monsters you fight range from Bee Girls to Godzillas to Orcs to Smog Monsters. The dazzlingly goofy possibilities are endless. It's like if Synnibarr is a slightly-nauseating beer buzz then Encounter Critical is a full-on Nyquil-induced hallucination.
The point of the game, like all the best early RPGs, was to "have adventures". And EC gives you some nifty little tools to accomplish that end. Take the sample campaign map, for instance. The art is extremely crude (I could draw this map myself) but the "Mighty Land of Vanth" is chock-full of nifty places to go. You ever look at an RPG map (or one in a book or a real map for that matter) and see a place that just begs to be visited? I sometimes find myself pointing at spots on maps and saying out loud "I'd love to visit that place." Maybe it's one of the ruins markers on the Darlene map of Oerth. Or maybe I want to peer behind the Black Curtain on the TNE sector map. The Encounter Critical map is chock full of these kind of places. What adventurer worth their salt wouldn't want to find out what dangers await in the Holdings of the Zombie Princess or to visit the Ape Sultans?
Another great idea that makes the game all about the adventure is the advancement system. You have experience points and levels just as Gygax and God intended, but to qualify to advance a level your PC must also do something new and interesting. Warriors must defeat a foe of equal level using a new weapon, either one they haven't wielded in the past or an entirely new weapon of their devising. Warlocks must add a new spell to their spellbook. Criminals must come up with and execute a new illegal scheme. Doxies must find and seduce a new and more influential client. Pioneers must discover a new place or a new route between known locations. All this sounds like a great way to put the ball into the players' court. "Hey, I've got enough XP for level 4. Would you guys help me rob a bank?"
Finally, the slam dunk for Encounter Critical's greatness is its insane stat/skill system. Most of the nine attributes are pedestrian items like Dexterity and Strength, but there's also oddballs like also Adaptation and Robot Nature. Each of these stats are generated using the classic 3d6 plus racial modifier method. You then consult a series of charts to find out the percentage ratings of your skills. With a few exceptions for class-based specialty skills, all PCs have the exact same list. So any character with an Adaptation score of 11 will have Camping 50%, Consume Alien Food 7%, Appease 49% and Invisibility 63% while a PC with Robot Nature of 17 will have Unpleasant Order 90%, Logic 22%, Seduce -22% (a modifier to a skill tied to another stat), Invisibility +13% (so a PC with Adapt 11 and Robot 17 will have a net Invisibility of 76%), Guard 80%, Labor 100%, and Machine Friend 51%.
These skills sound crazy and they are, but they are also quite useful. Do the PCs want to activate a robot found within a ruin? Have them roll Logic to figure out how to turn it on and Machine Friend to make sure it isn't immediately hostile. If the party needs to camp out for the night in hostile territory, have someone roll Camping to find a good spot out of the way from enemy patrols. If they blow that, then the person standing watch can make a Guard roll to be able to alert the group before an attack. Some of the skills require interpretation based upon the race and/or class of the character. Consume Alien Food doesn't really work for a Robodroid PC, but should they need to recharge their batteries while onboard an alien spacecraft, a successful Consume Alien Food roll would indicate that they could adapt to the non-standard power supply. Similarly, some skills are actually magic effects when used by certain classes. For example, the Invisibility skill is simple equivalent to a hide in shadows skill. Unless you happen to be a Warlock, in which case you can pull off true invisibility. Or a Psi Witch could use the skill to cloud men's minds. The magic system is where this dynamic really comes into its own. Most folks use skills like Conjure or Ensorcel to activate magic items, but Warlocks can use the skills associated with the Magic Power stat to achieve nifty magic on the fly effects. Combine this with a limited number of traditional D&D-style spells, and EC manages to put together a magic system that is tailor made for rules-light sword & sorcery.
Other little gems of inspired lunacy can be found throughout the EC rulebook. Really, if you've followed me this far and are the least bit intrigued by the game you ought to just get yourself a copy. You can download a legal PDF of Encounter Critical here or over in the Files section of its yahoo fangroup (scroll down a bit for the former, registration required for the latter). There's also a few other items at the yahoo group, as well as a way to communicate with a couple dozen fans of the game.
And if you plan on attending Winter War in February, you can experience the insanity first hand by signing up for my EC game scheduled for the Sunday of the con. They'll be robots and warlocks! Hell, one of the PCs is both!
Special bonus! Here's a great Overly Honest RPG Book Cover from RPGnetter squideye.
I know I'm a bad person for saying it, but that version of the cover makes me want to play Exalted : The Abyssals.
Friday, December 23, 2005
Four jobs you've had in your life: Mac lab nanny, pig pen cleaner, study assistant to a disabled law student, cog in the Kraft corporation logistics system
Four movies you could watch over and over: Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, Conan the Barbarian
Four places you've lived: Bucks county, PA; Flanagan, IL; Champaign-Urbana, IL; Mahomet, IL
Four TV shows you love to watch: TNA impact!, old Saturday Night Live re-runs, The Daily Show, Thundarr the Barbarian
Four places you've been on vacation: DisneyWorld, Las Vegas, Niagara Falls, Knoxville (for the World's Fair)
Four websites you visit daily: RPGnet forums, Citizens of the Imperium forums, RPGPundit's blog, Wonkette
Four of your favorite foods: Sushi, Apple pie, Homegrown corn-on-the-cob, cheese of nearly every stripe
Four places you'd rather be: Right now? Wherever my wife and daughter happen to be at the moment. Or at the FLGS. Messing around in my game room. And, uhhhh, DisneyWorld. (Assuming my wife and daughter were there too.)
Thursday, December 22, 2005
I found these results completely unexpected. Because of the way Star Frontiers uses Hull Size in construction, ships increase their capabilities on a roguhly linear basis. A Hull Size 20 battleship has roughly 33% superior weapons than a HS15 cruiser. Based upon what I knew about Star Frontiers warships I was expecting the charts to indicate that it operated on a roughly even footing with Traveller's Book 2 small ship rules. Instead we find that most PC vessels in Traveller are equivalent to Hull Size 3. The Kinunir class is HS 5, the size of a Star Frontiers frigate. In a big ship universe where Kinunirs are 'colonial' ships, that seems about right. The Azhanti High Lightining class comes in at HS 13 or 14, which means that a set of AHL deckplans ought to work pretty well for a Star Frontiers light cruiser.
Cruisers and capital ships in Star Frontiers and High Guard are pretty much equivalent in size, but the Star Frontiers vessels are woefully under-armed. Hardcore Star Frontiers fans have complained about this for years. Take a standard battleship from the game. The energy weapons for a BB are one disruptor cannon (essentially a particle weapon spinal mount), 3 laser batteries (each very similar to a single Trav double or triple laser turret), and 3 particle batteries (again, the term battery is not correct in Traveller terms, these are more like single weapon mounts). And the disruptor cannon only does about four times as much damage as a laser battery. Basically, a single 200 or 300 kton vessel from Supplement 9 - Fighting Ships could probably outshoot the entire Spacefleet of Star Frontiers.
--DCeiver, posting on Wonkette.com
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
I also like the designs from Force XXI, but that shop is currently closed. I believe the owner's reserve unit was activated or something like that. Studio Bergstrom has released a neat new fleet of bioships called the Hive, so I guess I could put together a Vin'Grun/Hive war, but two alien races duking it out kinda lacks the pizazz of Earthmen versus bug-eyed monsters. One crazy idea I had was to go with Star Frontiers for my source material, but update the looks of the ships by using a different figure line. Xtreme Hobby's Cold Navy line could fit the bill. The quasi-Klingon lines of the Kharadon vessels could fill in for the Sathar while the good guys could be represented by the Mauridians.
But designing my own ships might be a hoot. And if they turn out well Pat might be able to help me make castings of them so that all my destroyer look alike or whatever. I like the idea of having my own unique vessels with my own races. When it comes to wargaming the puppetmastery of designing scenarios and fluff motivate me just as much as the fun of actual play. And Starmada makes design ships and races with individual identities a snap.
Starmada has been my spaceship game of choice for several years now, but recently I've had a bit of a crisis of faith regarding it's basic movement system. It's non-vector, hex-based, using a movement point system. That makes plotting ship movements easy as pie, but the system has some basic simulation flaws. First, ships can make all sorts of crazy movements in a single turn. Where they sit at the end of turn one does very little to predict where they will be at moving on turn 2. Second, movement is non-vector. Let me quote Aramis, writing on the Citizens of the Imperium boards: "Not having a vector movement system makes it a wet-navy sim, not a space sim. Space vessels simply do not use an MP-system like movement mode."
And then there's the big bugaboo of space games: 3-D movement. Talking about vectors and 3-D movement and such puts you on the path that leads to Ken Burnsides' Attack Vector, which might best be described as a game that combines the simplicity of totally-realistic vectored 3-D movement with the elegance of Star Fleet Battles. Still, Starmada has rules for 3-D movement and vectors, so I'm gonna re-read those sections sometime soon. And then there's Starship!, a game that makes 3-D movement a central component and combines that with some great looking figures.
The largest ship in that shot is over 5 inches long! Unfortunately, that ship costs almost as much as a Studio Bergstrom starter fleet for the Hive. Note the mounting of these ships. They're attached to telescoping poles that allow for six distinct elevations. I dig the looks of this S'Tang Fleet, but the Earthers (the only other fleet available) are rather pedestrian. Maybe the solution is to use the mounting poles with another set of figures.
Now you see the problem I run into every time I'm ready to take the plunge into sci-fi miniatures: too many nifty options for me to choose from.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Whatever I want it to.
I run MegaTraveller, but used GT a lot, too. I recognize the Third Imperium, Strephon, the Zhodani, Hivers, the Solomani, The Long Night...but I rarely bother with them, and focus instead n what drew me into Trav in the first place: it's this big-ass galactic empire on such a scale that even little stories can be big. I've got my favorite subsectors somewhere far from Capital (emphasis on somewhere), with my own political insurgencies, corporations, terrorists and things like that. The OTU still touches and infoms 'em, but only on my terms, and when I feel like it.
--RPGnetter Dr. Rotwang
Friday, December 16, 2005
Thursday, December 15, 2005
I know it's just a toy, but I got weepy when I discovered it in the trunk of our care. She bought me the coolest starship in the galaxy because she knew I wanted one but was too damn cheap to buy it for myself. She's made of 100% Awesome.
--Gigi Darn, from her Origins '04 report
Back in the good ol' days the delightful Ms. Darn had a rpg industry gossip column in the back of Different Worlds magazine. A lot of people hated it. Many fans thought it was a waste of space that could be filled with more substantive game material. Some publishers and designer no doubt hated the column because she was an opionated gal with a soapbox. But I think "A Letter from Gigi" is the bee's knees. Not only is the writing delightful, but it's one of the few contemporary sources of information on the gaming industry from the pre-intarweb days.
More Letters from Gigi
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Western - Using either Boot Hill or Savage Worlds
Space Opera - Probably Star Frontiers setting with Savage Worlds rules
Kung Fu Action Movie - Feng Shui? Extreme Vengeance? Ninjas & Superspies? Even more Savage Worlds? I'm leaning towards Feng Shui and hoping I could get the Pancake Hut gang together for this one.
Dawn Patrol - maybe I'll just read the rules, push it around a bit, and take it to my Monday night get-together
Zombie game - AFMBE? Zombi? Savage Worlds yet again?
Starmada campaign - There's still the Four Years War to be fought for one. I'd like to get some minis fleets together still, but which figure lines? Trek? Star Frontiers? A couple of random fleets from the various sci-fi lines?
Traveller one-shot - Specifically not a tramp merchant game. Maybe something involving nobles and/or espionage. I think this would be a good one for Sue and the boys.
Prisoner one-shot? - I'd like coeli and her hubby to be in on this, not sure who else. And what system?!?
RPG-wise I'm going to continue pushing towards one-shots and mini-campaigns as my normal modus operandi. D&D is the only game for which I can really sustain a campaign.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Dungeons & Dragons (original 3-volume set)
Supplement I: Greyhawk
Supplement II: Blackmoor
Strategic Review #1-5
Strategic Preview #3-6 (There was no SP #1 or 2)
Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry
Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes
Swords & Spells
Dungeon Geomorphs Set One
Strategic Review 6-7
These are my raw materials for my retro D&D game. Not that I have or need them all. The Strategic Preview is as rare as lips on a lizard. I've not seen a copy outside the Acaeum cover images. I also don't have Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes. Maybe a throwdown with Thor at the end of the adventure could be fun. Swords & Spells is a set of minis rules designed to be compatible with D&D, but they are crunchier than I like and I've heard reports that they are broken anyway.
Monday, December 12, 2005
d20 Advanced Magic from Guardians of Order is out as a PDF from DriveThru, but I've heard that a paper edition is supposed to appear in the next month or so. This product takes the magic system introduced in Slayers d20 and files the serial numbers off for generic BESM d20 and also modularizes it to be dropped into vanilla D&D. Between this product and the BESM d20 Monstrous Manual you ought to be able to do anime-tweaked D&D style fantasy with ease.
Meanwhile I've heard that Green Ronin is working on extracting the magic system from the Black Company sourcebook and selling it as a stand-alone for use in regular D&D gaming. Is this another case of Green Ronin marrying excellent mechanics to a setting that weighs them down? (*cough* Blue Rose *cough*) My friend Pat (a crunchy magic system fan) digs the Black Company mechanics, but they left me cold. Even so, I can't help but think that this system might be the prime choice for folks who want a magic system to go with Mike Mearls' combat rules from Iron Heroes. Not having read Iron Heroes I could be full of crap on this, but that's what my gut is telling me.
Speaking of Pat, send me some e-mail or something, man!
Friday, December 09, 2005
No, the odd part is that Vey has pitched an idea for a horror supplement to AFMBE. A horror supplement. For a zombie game. Let that rattle around in your skull a bit. Sure, you could probably find some stuff to talk about that hasn't already been covered in AFMBE's prodigious line. But I'd still feel silly buying it.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
1.) Current D&D campaign (I got an adventure picked out for next week, but I need to read the damn thing.)
2.) My 3 Winter War games (I'm going to be working my ass off in January if I don't get going.)
3.) Next campaign (probably Star Frontiers setting with Savage Worlds rules)
So what have I spent all my gaming time on lately? Frickin' Traveller. I just love dicking around with Traveller. It's a GMs playground. For the past week or so I've been crunching the numbers to work out the economics of space trade in District 268, a no-account subsector in the Spinward Marches. When would I need this info? Probably around the 1st week of Never.
I swear, every time I get a game going I get distracted by something shiny.
Friday, December 02, 2005
Then what on earth makes you think that roleplaying games will ever be as popular as they were in the 80's?!?
Let's get this out on the table: D&D was a fad in the mid-eighties. Nothing more, nothing less. Like any other fad a handful of social misfits continued to hold it near and dear to their hearts long after the rest of the world stopped caring. You and I are those rejects. And our beloved hobby will almost assuredly never reach the heights it did back in the day. Just get over it, please! Don't attempt to position RPGs in the mainstream. They were already there and the mainstream world moved on.
No licensed property or blockbuster movie will drive people back into the hobby. Stop acting like a new golden age of RPGs lies just around the corner. That golden age is already happening right now at a thousand tables where people are playing the games they love. The people who are at this very moment rolling dice aren't worried about the place RPGs hold in the world at large, nor are they dithering about whether there will be another generation of RPGers. Of course there will be more roleplayers, just like you can find barbershop quartets made up of people who aren't a million years old.
In short: Shut up and play, fanboy.
The above image was generated using one of the really nifty mostly-for-Traveller webtoys found at The Zhodani Base, one of my absolute favorite sci-fi rpg sites.
Work continues to be crazy-go-nuts, but I'm hoping to make a substantive post in the next day or two. Until then, keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.