Friday, January 28, 2011

Games come, games go / Clearing out

I have a gaming dilemma. I have caused it myself.
I have suddenly decided that I should have a clear out of my gaming books. Get rid off the stuff I'm never going to use and don't want to keep.
I know, it sounds like madness. It is madness. I know it is. I still regret throwing out all my old World of Darkness, Exalted 1st edition and Ars Magica 4th Edition books. I regret throwing out my D&D 3.5 books.
I got rid of all of these books because I made the conscious decision to go all in with the new editions.

This proved to be a mistake with Exalted, D&D and Ars Magica, as I really do not like the new systems. I dislike them so much that I am now considering ditching these games.

To be completely clear, I am thinking about selling, trading, gifting or simply binning my Exalted 2nd Ed, Ars Magica 5th Ed and Dungeons & Dragons 4th Ed books.
  • Ars Magica 5th Edition
  • Exalted 2nd Edition core rules
  • Exalted 2nd Edition storytellers screen
  • Exalted 2nd Edition storytellers companion
  • Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Players Handbook
  • Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Dungeon Masters Guide
  • Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Monster Manual
  • Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition DM Screen
  • Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide

The overriding reason why i'm thinking of getting rid of these games is that I can't get behind the systems.
I don't like the 'everything is a power' thing in D&D 4th ed. It works for Wizards, but not for Rogues or Fighters. Whatever happened to just hitting someone with your sword?
The 2nd Ed rules in Exalted just hurt my head. It's like they were made deliberately complicated and obtuse and ridiculous.
Ars Magica 5th Ed may be a more viable system than 4th Ed, i'll give it that, but I really don't like what they've done to the setting and layout. It's too dry. There's no excitement or flavour, just dust.

I'm not shedding a tear about Exalted or Ars Magica, but I am oddly reluctant to leave D&D behind. I don't have any other game like it - the classic level/class based fantasy quest growing from barely competent chancers through seasoned adventurers to epic godlike heroes.
As a result, I find myself considering Pathfinder. So much so that I've just cleansed my Amazon wishlist.

So, two questions to you all out there:

  1. Want to buy some books? All in excellent condition except the Exalted second edition, which has some interior spine damage.
  2. Should I invest in Pathfinder? Is it any good? Does it actually improve on D&D 3.5?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mainstreaming Horror / Being Human

Mitchell - Quite popular with the ladies,
and some gentlemen I know as well
In my last post I talked briefly about the different Vampire offerings currently out there in popular culture, and totally forgot to mention Being Human, the new series of which has just started tonight.
For those of you that are unaware of the genius that is Being Human, it is, in short, a 'comedy-drama' about a Vampire, two Werewolves and a Ghost that all live together and their attempts at living 'normal' lives, in spite of their various disabilities.

It's not really a comedy, it's more a finely observed character piece, with humour arising from the juxtaposition of banal normality and the fact that they're monsters with unfortunate issues (hunger for blood, anger issues, transforming at the full moon, being invisible and dead etc).
Tonight's episode focussed on Mitchell (the Vampire) trying to atone for his murdering of 20 people last series by rescuing Annie (the Ghost) from purgatory (where she found herself after being exorcised last series), George and Nina (the Werewolf couple) attempting to find a safe place to transform during the full moon without endangering themselves, each other or passing innocents, and a sub-plot about two new Werewolves becoming aware of the main characters presence in the area.

Annie - had a hard knock life
In the past we've seen how Vampires organise themselves and the politics of succession and subterfuge they practice, how pissed the afterlife gets with Ghosts that don't cross over when it's there time and what they do about it, and what coping strategies Werewolves adopt to deal with their lunar cycle, as well as what can happen if they deny the wolf, and manage to avoid the change.

After watching it, my wife remarked that what she liked about Being Human the most was that it's just so British. The characters are really grounded with British (and I guess, Irish) values, reactions and habits. Refreshingly, it's not set in London, with the first two series set in Bristol, and the current third series set just outside Cardiff.
Americans - pay attention. If you wish to set a World of Darkness, or any modern horror game, in the UK, then here is your source material. Watch, take notes, look the references they make to UK TV and culture up on Wikipedia.

George - I believe that the special effects guys may have seen
American Werewolf in London once or twice
Right now I can see a workable WoD cross over game that uses Being Human as its core inspiration. The various Morality systems used with the WoD games complement the 'treasure' of Being Human very well, even the Harmony system of Werewolf: The Foresaken. George tries to deny his Werewolf nature, and gains a derangement for his efforts, he is usually more confident and capable when involved with other Werewolves, and has clearly adopted Mitchell and Annie into his pack.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Brooding teens / Why aren't more people playing Vampire?

At the moment popular culture is saturated with vampires. Off the top of my head, I can think of the Twilight Saga, The Vampire Diaries, True Blood, Let The Right One In / Let Me In, 30 Days of Night (plus sequels), American Vampire and Underworld. 
Whilst it looks like Zombies are coming into fashion, there's a strong argument that Vampires have been enjoying a period of broad cross genre appeal. 

The thing is, a lot of these offerings are thematically or mythologically close to White Wolf's Vampire: The Requiem (or Vampire: The Masquerade, for those mid-school gamers out there). I would say that True Blood cleaves the closest, and it wouldn't surprise me if Charlaine Harris had played a little in the past. 
So, why is everybody playing D&D?
OK, not everybody is playing D&D. My mum isn't, but she doesn't play anything.
I pitched a Vampire game to my old gaming group a year or so ago, and was met with indifference at best, derision at worst, and not derision of the game, but derision of the whole vampire genre and the people who appreciate it. 

Times have changed. Here's the stereotype of somebody who likes vampire games and fiction:
Freaks and losers

Here's what the reality is more likely to be:
A broadly representational cross section of America
Whilst i'm not itching to run or play Vampire, I wouldn't turn it down if the opportunity presented itself. 

Dungeons & Dragons miniatures / Revolutionary new gaming accessories

One of the hot news topics making waves across geek/nerd web community is WotC's recent announcement (some would say 'blow') that they are discontinuing their line of pre-painted miniatures and replacing them with tokens and pixie dust.
This seems to have provoked a mass panic amongst D&D players, who need mini's to play, what with the game being specifically designed for them, and measuring all its effects, distance and movement in Squares. I even suggested, during my last ill fated attempt at running D&D that all in character references to distance be made in Squares, and that the Forgotten Realms had adopted it as a standard measuring unit.
The minimum number of D&D miniatures required
to run a game from level 1 Heroic Tier to Paragon Tier

There have been frantic blog posts and forum questions, screaming "Where can I get more mini's from?!?!?! I need some more Vampire Mind Flayers and Rogue Beholders to complement my Metallic Blue Dragon Riding Goblin Lord."
Ok, maybe that's not a direct quote. It would be a Chromatic Blue Dragon Riding Goblin Lord. A Metallic Blue one just makes no sense.

Now, back when I last thought about running D&D I got a bit concerned about miniatures. I didn't want to let random packs of eight figures back into my life, as I knew from painful experience that you have to buy at least five boxes before you have the right figures to represent the party and stage a fight that doesn't involve saying "The elf archer, troglodyte and wolf are all zombies, the shambling mound is a wraith and the kobold is the lich necromancer that summoned them".
Then I had a revelation. An epiphany. A moment of clarity.

Why the fuck was I not using a chess set?

The board is the right size, if a bit limited in utility (you enter another 40'x40' room).
The pieces are ingeniously designed to allow the portrayal of the party (white pieces) and any adversaries (black pieces).
When it comes to monsters, the boss is always either the King or Queen. Any expendable cannon fodder are obviously Pawns, and other roles can be represented by the remaining pieces.
Let's look at the party:

  • King = Warlord or Paladin
  • Queen = Rogue or Wizard or Ranger
  • Bishop = Cleric or Wizard or Warlock
  • Knight = Fighter or Paladin or Rogue or Warlord or Ranger
  • Rook = Barbarian or Fighter
  • Pawn  = Fighter, Rogue
Fucking genius. I have now added a decent quality Chess board (with Checkers as well, because they played it in Lost) to my Amazon Wishlist.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Location, location, location / Have you ever been there, or just seen it on TV?

I live in England, specifically just outside Manchester inn the North West. I'm originally from Leeds in Yorkshire, and was apparently conceived in Scotland. I'll spare you the finer details of that last point though. I wish I didn't know, you certainly don't need to.

I digress. Already.

Most modern or future RPGs are, by default, set in America, no doubt due to the fact that most RPG publishers and authors are based in America, are from America or live right next door in Canada.

I also imagine that a significant proportion of RPG players live in The States as well, which is why so much is set in the States.

Now, the problem is that when it comes to games set in other countries, there is usually an accompanying source book, and that source book usually contains some fairly erroneous preconceptions.

Back for the oWoD game lines of Mage: The Ascension and Changeling: The Dreaming, White Wolf release Isle of the Mighty, a source book for the British Isles. It was an absolutely brilliant book for the mythic elements of the game. The in game history was great, the plot hooks and story seeds engaging, the Mage and Changeling politics interesting etc.
The actual information on the UK and Ireland was... flawed. British culture was viewed through an out of date lens and translated across to the 'Gothic Punk' setting, which meant that everybody in London either wore a bowler hat and worked for the civil service or was a 1970's punk with a safety pin piercing their genitalia. If you lived in Scotland, you had red hair, hated the English and wore a kilt.
It was entertainingly stereotypical.

For the nWoD, White Wolf released Shadows of the UK which did a fairer job of representing the UK, but still prompted the occasional derisive snort with its sly references to Wombles and its assertion that Diana had become an avatar of British Guilt.

But it occurs to me that I set a vast majority of my games in the USA, and have only spent two weeks in Vegas. I watch an awful lot of American TV and film, which is my primary source for games.
I am probably guilty of the same assumptions and short falls. I'm running games using stereotypes and tropes i've lifted from TV, and have no real idea of what life in the States is actually like.
I don't understand the High School and College system, the political system or cultural differences. I can put on a bad accent though.

Are there any USA sourcebooks out there?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Discontinued lines / Where do games go when they die?

I have been bereaved twice this year, as two game lines I own have been discontinued. It's a heavy loss, made harder by the fact that not one person has stopped to ask me how i'm getting on.
The world, it seems, does not care.

Yet, as I struggle to cope with life without the regular publication of supporting supplements and accessories,   I look up at my book shelf, and they're still there.
Maybe these books are the lifeless husks of the games. Maybe I should arrange a funeral.

So, in 2010, both Star Wars Saga Edition and The World of Darkness were discontinued. SWSE is no longer supported by Wizards of the Coast, as their product license has lapsed, and WoD is still marginally supported, with White Wolf producing the occasional PDF book as they clear out their possessions, and you can still get character sheets from their web page.

Back in, oh, 2003, White Wolf decided to discontinue the 'old' World of Darkness line, ending all support for it bar the occasional on-line bone, and to concentrate their efforts on the 'new' World of Darkness. One blog entry I read at the time pointed out that their Mage: The Ascension books were still on their shelf, and they could and would continue playing them for the foreseeable future.
In short, the game would not die.

Now, White Wolf / CCP have announced that their MMO game will focus on the 'old' World of Darkness. So the game has been revived.

There also seems to be a renaissance of 'old school' D&D, with games like Labyrinth Lord enjoying popularity and success. It looks like the original rule set for D&D never died, it just slept and has now resurfaced, riding the wave of 4th Edition backlash.

I'm trying to think of a game that has stayed dead. Maybe Chill. The old d6 West End Games Star Wars game, although many would argue that the game had such a massive effect on the expanded universe that it lives on. Or something.

Maybe that's the thing - as long as there's a fan base, the game will never truly die. Maybe that's horse shit. I've a load of books on my shelf now that are officially unsupported. That's pretty dead. Soon I'll struggle to get character sheets. The only sources of new material or discussion will be unmoderated, morally dubious fan sites.
There will be no news, no interesting or cool release around the corner. I will have nothing to covet or anticipate.
If I take these games to a new gaming group, they'll either look at me in blank incomprehension or make comments about retro gaming or old school systems.

I now possess the RPG equivalent of my dad's record collection.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Incoming / blog posts of the future

Incoming blog posts for 2011

I have set myself a target of posting something to this blog at least once a week, on average. I'd love to commit to more, but would rather exceed modest expectations than under perform to high expectations. 
God loves a trier, but the rest of the world doesn't care. 
Today I received my copy of The Esoterrorists, which i'm quite pleased about. It's alarmingly thin, and I know the rules will be word for word the same as Fear Itself and Trail of Cthulhu, however I can see a great deal of potential for the Gumshoe game system. I'll post a review once I've had a proper read. 
I still plan on presenting my World of Darkness playlist, which will happen once I have an uninterrupted few hours to search for audio files and videos on the internet. 
I'll try not to erroneously link to porn or Rick Rolling. 
I've been working on a post about my favourite characters, but I think it may be a bit too self indulgent. It may get culled. 
Back in the early days of this blog I published the stats and background for a potential antagonist in my then ongoing Hunter game. I have since been thinking about it, and I realise that I was trying to tell too much of his story in one go. If I wanted to have a serial killer who's been killed and then has risen again in vengeance, then   it should be the players who kill him, and the players who are doubly horrified that the spirit of this twisted killer has risen again. 
So I intend to revise and publish a new antagonist, and split his life up into phases. 

World of Darkness: Mirrors / Time of Judgement 2?

It has taken me ages to get my hands on this book. I missed the original release (which was around my birthday, which is doubly annoying) and it pretty much sold out world wide instantly. Now, some six months later, I have a musty smelling copy and am flicking through it.

The first page I read was the last page, which has coloured my understanding and appreciation of this book.
I'd not seen it explicitly stated anywhere else, which is surprising, but according to the afterword written by Rich Thomas, the World of Darkness RPG line is effectively discontinued, with 'Mirrors' being the last actual physical book that White Wolf, or more correctly CCP, intend on publishing.
In fact, I believe they have ceased the production of all gaming books. Looks like they're in the MMO business now.

Which made me look at the book differently.
World of Darkness: Mirrors is an 'option' book, focussing on alternative systems, settings and play options so gaming groups can 'open up' their enjoyment of the game and try different things. It presents alternative character creation, experience, character and general play options (or 'Hacks', as they are now commonly known), a whole chapter on different combat options - from diceless to miniatures, second by second expanded combat to streamlined fudging - a chapter on alternative settings and several essays on ways to alter your playing experience with house rules and different modes of play.
It's a legacy book. The line is ending, so let's produce a document that may empower the fan base to keep trying new things and keep the game fresh, so hopefully the system and setting will remain in use and in play despite the lack of new material.

It's a good book. It has real merit and should provide inspiration and/or depth to any World of Darkness game. It just makes me sad. I would class White Wolf and the World of Darkness as fairly high profile casualties of the recession and implosion of the RPG publishing market (for which I am currently blaming D&D, because i'm bitter).

I'm mostly enjoying the Setting Hacks chapter, which has three distinct parts:

  1. The World of Darkness Revealed - discussions on how the supernatural might go public, and how the world would react
  2. The World of Darkness Destroyed - ways to blow up the world
  3. The World of Darkness Dark Fantasy - ways to adapt the setting to different fantasy genres - high fantasy, sword & sorcery, modern fantasy, weird fantasy etc, and also includes three playable 'races' (sub races inspired by the 3 core game lines, so Dhampires, Wargaz [beast men] and Atlanteans), a new supernatural template - Heroic Mortals (for those Conan moments) and a named setting that can be used in a modern game: Woundgate.
The first two parts are, to me, very reminiscent of the game end options presented as part of the 'old' World of Darkness Time of Judgement. Again I am reminded that this is the last book they're putting out - it makes sense. It's just not a mandated end to the campaign.

The third part, Fantasy and Woundgate, could make a whole new game in itself. I think it needs a fair amount of further polishing, but there's definitely something there. It's very Gaiman - Neverwhere, Stardust, Mirrormask etc. The Woundgate setting introduces the idea of pocket realms of fantasy weirdness into the game. Lost worlds and secret parallels. 
I'm in two minds about it. Whilst I can definitely see how these remnants of the shattered Pangea could be used in the World of Darkness, it feels very 'old' WoD to me. Back when Mages could travel between alternate universes, pocket realms, spirit plains and alien worlds in a lunch time, when any mad idea could be shoe-horned into the setting because reality is malleable and multi-faceted.
I'd wanted a 'New' WoD Dark Ages game for some time, so I had high hopes for this setting. What they've given us is World of Darkness D&D, which is very different.

Included in the first chapter is the option to play 'Extraordinary Mortals', your Holmes', Bond's and House's. Otherwise normal people who possess a rare and exceptional skill focus. The system presents a selection of enhancements that can be taken to augment and support each skill, which allow a near superhuman level of achievement when certain criteria apply.
Extraordinary Mortals get to select three enhancements, and that's it. They do not develop any more unless through extreme and life changing challenges.

All in all, I can see World of Darkness: Mirrors adding depth and fresh twists to games that have gone on for awhile, or for groups that have played their normal game to death. At the moment I would say that I don't have an amazing amount of use for it. Yes, I'd happily use the Fantasy Shard occasionally, and may use some ideas from the character creation section the next time I run a WoD game. No, I wouldn't draw heavily on this  book for a new campaign or group. I see it as a tool box for seasoned players and storytellers.

The developer, Chuck Wendig, posted a long dissection of the book on his blog, which I feel is well worth the read. Several of the contributing writers have commented and added to the discussion, and Chuck has taken the time to answer various questions from readers and writers alike. Check it out...                                                                                              

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Visualising your game world / Consistent look and feel part I

Early last year I went on a road trip with one of my buddies, and, with us both being big geeks, we spent a large proportion of the journey talking about gaming.
I'd bought the music for the journey, and commented that we were basically listening to the soundtrack to 'my' World of Darkness. My friend returned that as he'd only ever played World of Darkness games that i'd run, he fully agreed.
Which was good. It meant I was being consistent, at least with the back ground music I played.

So, thinking about this, may I present to you what I think the World of Darkness looks like.
The cover to the Gutter Twins "Saturnalia" album

Greg Dulli & Mark Lanegan - The Gutter Twins

Greg Dulli & Mark Lanegan

Tom Waits and somebody who looks like Iggy Pop, but probably isn't

Tom Waits

NightHawks by Edward Hopper
This came up on a Tom Waits search, which is good, as I wanted to include it
Edward Hopper's New York Movie

Castiel, from Supernatural. Note the occult symbols in the background
I had to wade through tonnes of 'Wincest' images to get this
The shadows, poor lighting, squalor and constant rain in Se7en fit
nicely within 'my' World of Darkness
The Paper Street house from Fight Club
I would say that this post serves as visual reference document for my games, which is usually easier to produce and more effective than a 500 word essay on the game world. It's also worth pointing out that all RPG books act as a visual reference to the setting, so the above is more my interpretation and presentation of it.
I am also prepared for long time players of my games to (correctly) point out that until about 2004, all my games were set in small towns and backwaters.

In a future post I intend to talk about what my World of Darkness sounds like, once I decide on the best way to link / embed music and video