Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Monday, November 28, 2011
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Wednesday, November 02, 2011
Anaea began life as a dream.
Restless from an eon of wrangling in the courts of Olympos, the goddess Athena slept fitfully, dreaming of a dark-eyed slayer who solved her problems with deadly action, rather than patience and wisdom. When Athena has a dream—or a nightmare—it is born as an amazon warrior on the island of Athena’s dreams.
Anaea was not the first. Far from it. Cyrene was the daughter of Athena’s first dream upon the stage of reality, and queen of the amazons.
When the storm-clouds gathered, Cyrene and the amazons gathered together to pray and tell stories and sing songs, around a roaring fire. They made special dishes, reserved only for the occasion of a new amazon’s birth. The party lasted through the night and the next day. By dark that night, the women were exhausted for the most part. Some lay unconscious on the steps of the temple. Then the storm unleashed its worst, battering their homes and whipping away the curtains and extinguishing the temple fires. It grew dark and very cold on the mountaintop where the amazons reveled for the coming of another among them.
Lightning blasted to the earth, scorching homes and felling trees. The strikes grew closer and the amazons began to run for cover. The frequency of the strikes grew more intense, into a rain of lightning focused on the temple itself. The amazons, trained warriors to a woman, avoided the blasts for the most part, and drew back in to witness the conclusion of the lightning dance. A single arc, as wide as an oak tree’s trunk flashed up from the copper bowl which sat in the lap of the temple’s statue of the goddess, reaching into the sky for an eternal moment. The air grew dry and sharp with the smell, and then the stench of burning cloth and paper.
The lightning column flickered and went out. The rain had stopped and the wind had died. The only sounds in the temple was the soft sound of the amazons breathing in relief. A baby’s cry pealed through the darkness. It was a question, followed by a breath or two of silence before cries of true dismay rent the night. “Fire!” called Cylene. “We must see what the goddess has sent us on such a storm.” A flame appeared in the dark, floating above the hand of Philosphene, an amazon possessed of gifts for handling and calling fire. The sandy-haired amazon blew a breath on the flame and it broke apart, flying to the fallen torches in the room, lighting them, and setting them back in their places. The temple was a disaster. But for the bodies, Cylene would have sworn a battle had taken place here. She swooned with the realization of prophecy, and her friend Antimache caught her.
“My queen, what ails you?” Antimache asked in near panic.
“It is a vision, my friend. This is not the last time our temple will be so distraught. But, help me, Antimache. Where is the child?”
Other gathered around in the gloom, until a torch was brought closer. They all could hear a baby crying, but the bowl in statue-Athena’s lap was empty.
“Look,” cried Evadne, who was good at spotting things, “the bowl is moving.”
In fact, as Cyrene looked at the bowl, she did see it shake slightly as another ear-splitting cry bit her ears. She reached into the bowl with her eyes closed, remembering the movement she had made a hundred times, to pick up a newborn amazon. Just as she remembered, she felt the soft skin of a baby and found it’s neck and it’s bottom. Lifting the invisible infant to her. She could feel a full head of hair on the child already as she cradled it in her arms. The crying stopped and after a moment, the baby gasped and sighed. Cyrene wiped the baby’s face with her dress, by feel, saying, “Welcome, little one. These are your sisters, the amazons. And I am their queen, Cyrene. Be welcome with love.”
The baby sighed and Cyrene gasped along with her sisters as a dark-eyed baby girl slowly appeared in her arms. Some of the amazons shied away from the alert, distrustful gaze the baby set upon them. When finally the too-dark eyes turned upward and fixed on Cyrene, her heart was filled with dread. Finally, she thought, Athena has sent our doom.
“A hunter, we have been sent,” Cyrene cried, looking up to circle of confused faces. She held the baby high. “And her name shall be Anaea!”
Monday, October 24, 2011
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Tuesday, September 06, 2011
If Celesticon lacked anything for being a small con, it made up for it with the wonderful vibe and crew of great staff, players and GMs. I for one did not miss waiting in line for the elevators, checking in, or registration. For once, I had a room very close to the elevator, which was just really convenient. The hotel was beautiful and the staff was very nice. I ate at the restaurant a couple of times and the food was excellent, if pricey. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to afford a weekend like this, and to be a part of such a positive and creative community.
Big thanks to Kris and Lisa and the whole staff. It was a great experience.
Here are my game reviews. I hope the grading system does not seem to harsh. It’s all Shannon’s fault. I swear.
Brian W’s Dresden Files RPG Casefile: Night Fears
a FATE game of small town horror
B GM Preparation
B GM Presentation
B Player Dynamics
I had been waiting a long time to get into a DFRPG game, and I was stoked to get into this one on Friday night.
In spite of being a “Dresden Files” game and a free download from the publishers, this scenario actually concerns a group of youngsters about to enter high school. So rather than wizards, powerful fey, and ruthless vampires, this was a story of young people coming to terms with their powers and/or the fact of supernatural phenomenon. (I knew this going in. I only mention it to help explain the scenario.)
On a dare, all the characters arrived at the neighborhood haunted house, the Stanton Place, to spend the night inside to prove how cool they were to each other. I won’t spoil the ulterior motives that may have existed within the group.
There was some pretty creepy ghostly stuff happening in the house. Our characters, with a few exceptions, seemed bent on exploring the place throughout the game, so much of the evening consisted of us exploring, making search and occult checks to put the story together or find important items.
My only complaint is that the pacing of this game was very slow. I think I was amped and ready to rock, but this was a more stately scenario. I understand that horror takes time to build, and there were certainly payoffs in terms of character depth, I just think that a bit more urgency in the first half would have made the game more exciting and kept if from running over by more than an hour. Now I am just as bad as the next GM at pacing, but it is something that I am working on, and look at very critically in other GMs.
However, there was a good amount of cool character interaction and the players got along well. There were some great laughs and genuine chills. The players gelled as a bunch of 13-year-olds very easily. Morgan J as the Bookworm, and Rodney as the Shepherd were standouts for me.
The finale was exciting and compelling, if a bit late in coming. It also was only a resolution to the plot, and not so much one for the players. After spending so much time getting into these fun characters, I didn’t feel like there was a solid arc for each of us. And as late as it was, there was no time or energy to devote to that.
Brian seemed pleased with the group, and it was an enjoyable game overall. A fine introduction to the DFRPG. Thank you, Brian!
Matt Steele’s Kuiper Station L7
a Chthonian Stars game of terror in space
A GM Preparation
A- GM Presentation
A Player Dynamics
R Overall (that’s way higher than an A)
Originally, I had planned to play Apocalypse world on Saturday night, because I am really eager to try that game, and I thought this was a scenario I had played in before. Though I still want to try AW, I’m very glad Matt corrected my mistake and I got into his game.
The setting for Chthonian Stars is a few hundred years in the future, when mankind has successfully colonized the solar system, all the way out to a series of stations in the Kuiper Belt, the ring of debris and plutoids (among other things) at the far edge of the solar system. It takes 6 months to travel to one of these stations, most of which is spent in bio-stasis, enshrouded in a bubble of muck and electrodes.
Our characters were special agents sent to investigate problems on one of these stations. Matt provides pictures and brief descriptions of each character, but you don’t get all the juicy details until you make your choice. The draft was by die roll. I rolled 2nd highest and chose the obsessed female scientist with ulterior motives, but all the characters seemed interesting.
Matt always adds something to really help the players really home in on the character personalities. In this case, each person keeps an item on a pedestal outside their stasis chamber to help them ground themselves back in reality when they come out of hibernation. Apparently, it’s like dreaming for months straight – does strange things to your consciousness. So these objects, give each person a chance to define the character and let the other players know what is important to him or her. Very cool and effective.
Once we arrived at the ummm. .. cold spot…. things got really interesting and twisted but, as is common in RPGs, the debate about how to proceed went on a bit longer than was strictly necessary. There was a newer player at the table who was a strong voice for caution, which is great in real life, but not the ingredient for the most fun in a roleplaying game. So, just to be consistent with my harping on pacing, I dinged Matt a little for the game running over and choking a little bit on the debate. But I enjoyed myself the whole time.
However, the party was a very good mix of personalities, and there was some great banter. The revelations were awesome and the horrors terrifying. The game’s horror mechanic was fun and pretty brutal, with people soiling themselves, going insane for short periods where they were dangerous to themselves and others.
To my pleasant surprise, the game runs on the new Traveller system. I happen to play in a Traveller home game right now, so I was able to provide some technical support when it came time to fight, since my character was basically a non-combatant. However, I’m not entirely sure it made the game more fun, as the effectiveness of our automatic weapons seemed to keep the friendly body count down. Again, realistic, but not necessarily fun in a horror game.
The team made some good tactical decisions and we managed to survive the incident with only one person totally insane, and no deaths! I did not feel that outcome was a given. The threat felt very real.
About half way through, my character got to doctor up the heroic, fearless Jason Statham character, and I decided she was going to jump his bones if they survived. Matt was kind enough to let me toss in just such a scene, or at least the implication of it, after the credits rolled on his exciting space-horror adventure.
Thanks for another awesome game, Matt.
Michael Garcia’s Exodus: Fate Between the Stars
a Fate game of high-stakes hard science fiction
A GM Preparation
A- GM Presentation
A Player Dynamics
After meeting Michael and June at Kublacon, I was stoked to see his game scheduled at a perfect time for me to play and have time to relax before my game. Add to that a version of fate (Diaspora) that I own and have been hankering to play, and it was practically a done deal. What I got was even better than I hoped, especially in terms of drama and moral complexity.
The scenario, in brief, involves two ships, the Fortune and the Destiny, which carry the sum of humanity’s technology and hope for survival beyond the solar system. Our characters were the command team on shift during the turn the ships must make to prepare for the decades long breaking maneuver that will take them to their new home, 22 light years from earth. Something goes terribly wrong, and it may not be accidental. The focus of the game is on survival and responsibility, with plenty of tension and action to focus the conflicts.
After some brief discussion with Shannon, I convinced him to let me play the rich, sinister guy, for a change. This turned out to be extra fun, because of my character’s dark secret.
The players as a whole gelled really well and got into the groove of the hard sci-fi drama. As a wealthy, charismatic character used to getting his own way, I was a bit at a loss at first for how to help. However, since I also maneuvered myself into the command position, based on my character’s previous experience, I soon found myself in the thick of things. This was the most like a starship captain I have ever felt in a game. People were willing to roll with it, as I mostly gave commands to help get people involved, and never to do things against their nature. It was a pleasure to play with that team, especially a fellow named Anton, who ran the first game of Fate I ever played. He was spectacular as the blue-skinned Genymedian chief medical officer.
My only criticism of the game is that the session started out slowly and Michael seemed a little disorganized at first. So that’s just a slight presentation issue. But he provided exactly the information we needed to customize our characters and understand their complex histories without information overload. And once the story began, all was golden. The rules were virtually transparent as the drama, action, amazing scientists, and moral weight of the situation descended upon us.
This game had it all. Social combat, physical combat, high stakes skill checks, and solid characterization. I never felt overwhelmed by the science jargon, though the knowledge of my fellow players was surprising and cool. I suppose there could have been more compels and more focus on the characters, but it was clear from early on that the story was the focus here, and even my selfish character was moved by the sacrifice of one NPC. In this case the story truly was bigger than all of us, and it was a pleasure to take part in it.
Worth the price of the con. Thank you, Michael. Now I really want to play in one of your DRYH scenarios.
My game, Spirit of Metal
a Fate game of imagination and heavy metal mayhem
C GM Preparation
B GM Presentation
The premise of this game is that a group of flawed individuals from the mortal world are transported to the Realm of Metal where they must fight to save all of reality from the nihilistic machinations of the Loc-Nar, a green force that is the sum of all evil.
I’ve run a lot of very high prep games in recent years, with tons of custom maps and figures and elaborate plots. This game is my attempt to indulge my previous style of gaming, in which I would run games with just a few notes. All my prep time for this was just spent in priming my creativity and trying to hone the character sheet and handouts to be useful at the table. My goal was to create a universe of characters and realms at the table and then wreak havoc upon them in a scenario custom designed for the players and their interests.
Turns out everyone was interested in mayhem and violence. Perfect.
Character generation went fairly well, though it went long. Also, I did not take proper care in looking over their aspects to make sure I could really compel them along. This is a disappointment, as grabbing the compel reins was my primary goal going into the game. It turns out giving yourself half an hour to design a scenario that will equally spotlight 6 characters, each with a significant villain, is a bit much. lol So in the scuffle to keep my imagination rolling, I failed in my goal of mastering compels. I’ll keep working on it.
However, everyone made very metallic, unique characters with lots of aspects taken from metal titles and lyrics. It turns out I was the only currently active, dedicated metalhead at the table, but everyone understood what I was going for and created a character that rocked.
Iron Mullet – Gil’s meth addicted trucker turned armored drummer of doom. Nothing I had heard about Gil’s roleplaying prepared me for the reality. lol
Rob Daily – Duane’s not-Lemmy Kilminster, with the explosive bass powers
Whiplash – Bob’s Metallica inspired lightning-wielding guitar wizard
Den of Earth – Straight out of the movie, Alan so totally nailed this character, including geek-voiced inner monologue.
Sgt. D34TH – Jerry’s technomancer, a Blue Oyser Cult inspired, Tarot card wielding summoner.
Trixx – Matt Steele’s Japanophile über-ninja with the power: Decapitate!
This was my first time running Fate. Creating my own version of it had mixed results. Not all of my custom Aspects were really helpful. I tried to include some rivalries in the group, in imitation of Dovi Anderson’s kick ass Star Wars game, but it didn’t add much. The nature of the overall scenario (save the universe from annihilation) doesn’t leave a lot of room for internal drama.
Also, my character sheet had a confusing stress track, based on my own design error. And I really need a better grip on GM fate chips and how the economy can actually work in play. I think the main problem was that I was just trying to shove too much in too little time. An earlier start and a little more time would have helped. When I looked at the clock and found that time was technically up (2:00AM!) with only half the players’quests done, I had to shrug off the truckload of FAIL I felt.
Luckily, my players soldiered on for nearly two more hours to see things through. They were awesome and funny and totally brought the mayhem at every turn. They were so entertaining that it didn’t feel like a nearly 8 hour game to me. But that’s no excuse to not actually USE a f’ing clock for pacing, my own personal biggest pet peeve. Doh!
I had a great time and the players laughed a lot. It was exactly the crazy, creative experience I hoped for, but the pacing and technical issues really bother me.
Fiasco with Shannon, Dovi and Bob
I own Fiasco and have read a lot about it, but never played. So I was thrilled when Dovi offered to facilitate a game.
We played a WW2 maritime horror scenario. Basically we were on an American submarine, caught between the horrors of the deep and the Nazi’s vying for control of an island with ruins of great and horrible power.
It was awesome. The other players were creative and fun, and the laid back atmosphere was perfect for Monday. Don’t get me wrong, the game was exciting and horrifying and interesting, but the atmosphere out of game was just a mellow, creative vibe. Very nice.
I think in retribution for taking the conniving leader in Diaspora, Shannon handed me my marching orders early on. This is totally a kind of character I dig, so I was glad to oblige. She was an American occultist, willing to sacrifice anyone to secure the power for the US. Shannon required that I play her as:
1. Super hot.
2. Very sensual and charming.
3. Says all the right things.
I did my best. How was it Shannon? lol
The story played out in many very satisfying ways and whole experience was very fun. I would easily make Fiasco a go-to game for Monday pickup sessions.
It was an awesome con.
Thursday, June 02, 2011
So here's my Kubla Con report. I hope my grading system doesn't offend anyone. Please take it as the big bear hug on geeks that it truly is.
Shannon McNamara's Here be Dragons
a Call of Cthulu game set in 9th century AD Briton
A+ GM Preparation
A- GM Presentation
C Player Dynamics
Dovi Anderson's Have Ship, Will Smuggle
a FATE game set in the Star Wars rebellion era
A+ GM Preparation
A GM Presentation
A Player Dynamics
Dovi Anderson knows Star Wars. But his game Have Ship, Will Smuggle is an awesome story, rather than a boring lecture. We had six characters to choose from, the crew of a ship, which we named The Long Shot. The character portraits were excellent, featuring Eric Bana as the pilot/captain and Willem Dafoe as a dark, horned alien. From there, we had some room to customize our aspects, our gear, and our history through a small number of pertinent questions Dovi posed to us. He suggested we develop some strife with the people opposite us at the table, as well as the usual connections to the people next to you at a Fate table. This helped foster a greater level of communication and roleplaying, I think.
The visual goodness continued, with an introductory video recreating the awesome intros of the Star Wars films, customized for our game. Further, every major NPC, ship captain, ship, and even some of the crew, had pictures, which he taped up for all to see. They had plastic covers, so we could write their aspects right next to the pictures. Soon we had a cast of several ships and their crews, making the scenario feel really big, without a ton of back story.
I don't want to give any spoilers, but the opening scene really had a great Star Wars feel, and the narration of both GM and players was very evocative. Basically we were one of many ships competing in a grand smuggling race, which challenged our piloting, combat and social skills in really satisfying ways. My big warrior guy, Kayn K'sarr, never got to smash anyone, but I never lacked for entertainment. Sometimes, it was challenging for me to make him relevant, but I opted to make him instigate plans, even if he wasn't the best suited to carry them out.
Our engineer was a jawa and the love story in the scenario was a jawa romance. Need I say more? It was excellent, humorous and perfect for the setting.
Dovi ran a great game, with memorable locations and NPCs, and it was a fine bunch of players, ready to give and take and work with each other to help create a cool story. It succeeded.
My game, Fallout: Road Warriors of the Wasteland
a mash-up of Fallout and The Road Warrior
This is the 4th time I've run this scenario and also the best. I had an eager, committed group of players who stayed the extra hour needed to end it right. They all embraced their characters, even though a couple are obvious stars. The story is basically an homage to the movie The Road Warrior, but with a magnificent six, instead of just one hero.
I had a great time playing Humungus and the Legions for this group of Road Warriors.
Lord Mohr's The Giggler Strikes Again
a dark fantasy crime investigation using heavily homebrewed Savage Worlds
B GM Preparation
D GM Presentation
C Player Dynamics
This game had some cool players, but we never got the chance to develop the characters we spent 1.5 hours making because the GM was too wrapped up with the lurid details of his world. At one point, the GM spent 20 minutes at the table with one player working out an S&M scene with one of the establishment's prostitutes. The scene got very, very dark. One player left the table but came back. Unfortunately none of us felt comfortable objecting out loud, though I learned later that I was not the only one repulsed.
Lord Mohr had a detailed culture and could impart knowledge without lecturing. But he suffered a very common GM problem, in addition to his public obsession with kinky sex, a difficulty with pacing. It happened to me this time as well. Basically, many games begin at a stately pace and end up being rushed at the end. The villain is cool, if very (very) adult in nature, but the pacing and the porn factor were a deal breaking combination.
In any case, on both a meta and story level, it was not very fun.
Morgan Hua's Trick or Treat
a Grimm game with a Halloween theme
B GM Preparation
A GM Presentation
A+ Player Dynamics
I was feeling really ill by the end of the earlier game (psychic vampirism? >.> ), and didn't get into any afternoon games. By the good fortune of being part of this GMing group, I learned of Morgan's game and stumbled over to it in my bear feet. The room was cool and the company awesome. I felt better the moment I walked in.
In Grimm, you play kids. In this case, we were 3rd graders (about 9 years old). We chose characters from a set of archetypes and then got to customize their personal details, specialties and stats, to a satisfying degree. Morgan stumbled a little with the mechanics, but he more than made up for that with his vast enthusiasm and subtle roleplaying. While there were very few visual aids, this was truly a game about the characters and their lives, in our imaginations and the faces of the other players.
Initially, the game was set in modern day, on Halloween Night. Our somewhat mismatched group was out trick-or-treating together. But I remember going out on Halloween with neighborhood kids that weren't necessarily my usual social group. Besides these kids are 9 and they all go to school together.
Our troupe of players was hysterical, devolving into childish antics and attitudes with magical ease. Once again, June rocked, playing the juvie kid as a bully with a compelling emotional wound. Shannon killed it with the popular kid, dressed as Justin Beiber, and crooning out his taunts. Wilson was the outcast, a country kid who could never get the attention she craved. I was playing the dreamer (go figure), as a little girl with her head in the clouds and a broken home, loosely based on Ari from The Name of the Wind.
A couple of fellows, Wade and Lance, showed up that no one else seemed to know. I had some self consciousness, as a fat, scraggly, middle-aged man, about roleplaying a 9-year old girl in front of them, even though I'd never met Morgan and hardly knew anyone else, either. To our great enjoyment, they rocked as the Normal kid and the Jock.
A lot happened in this game. Like most story games I've played, the action moved really quick and almost everything that happens is dramatically important to the characters and the story. It was a hilarious and often moving game, full of wonders from Morgan and the story, and from the totally unreserved group of players.
We negotiated with a seriously cracked, but powerful, Humpty Dumpty. Scratch that, our Jock character negotiated with the big bad egg. How cool is that? Morgan was very sly and calculating. Quite entertaining. All the characters were important and played as real and present personalities. And I really adore a game that lets you create things with your Imagination trait.
This was a wonderful gaming experience that made the whole con worthwhile.
Patrick Riley's Justice Squad: Old Flames
an Icons game of super heroic melodrama
A GM Preparation
A GM Presentation
A Player Dynamics
Patrick runs great super hero games. He is a really energetic and clever GM. All the characters and major NPCs have illustrations. His pre-generated characters have depth and connection to the world. In this particular game, they are all members of a hero team that was based at a Xavier-esque school on the west coast, and have romances and strong ties of friendship and history with one another. I had played in the previous chapter, and dodged another game to crash this one, perhaps to the detriment of the game. Due to techno-failure on my part, I woke up late and was not the bright eyed, eager gamer this story needed, and that I wanted to be. I think I came off badly at the start of the game, and I'm not sure I ever fully recovered credibility at the table.
I'm a big Icons fan, even though I've never played. I have a character, Frostwitch, in the first tome of NPCs for the game. So, it was a bummer not to be more helpful.
On the other hand, one of the most entertaining players from the previous chapter had returned, and even though I was playing a different, and less interesting character (having arrived last), it was still a blast to see the progression of the characters and take part in their further development. The rest of the group was very involved and on top of it. It was an all male table and group was basically three couples, but the guys did a great job of roleplaying without any self consciousness.
It was a pretty tough adventure in comparison to the others at the con. Patrick is not a "Yes" GM, as is the current trend. He makes you work for it. Icons as a system relies on your heroes failures to create dramatic combat, and the battles were intense. The villains were a serious threat. There was some pretty intense investigation and roleplaying and just enough explosive super combat to rock the house. In the end, we faced an enemy that was pretty much invulnerable, and we had spent our last point of Group Determination without fully containing him. So there was a bit of a deus ex machina, though the way it was handled made it very significant for a couple of the characters. The story ended on kind of a sad note, which was not as rewarding as the triumphant end of the previous chapter. While this was an entertaining game, the previous chapter was a bit richer, in spite of using the Mutants and Masterminds system. Some of that may be due to my own low energy this time around.
The bottom line however, is that anyone who enjoys super heroes has scored big time to get into Patrick's games.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
This week, and for all my weeks to come, I will mourn the death and cherish the life of my grandpa, Francis Coomes.
He grew up during the Great Depression, reminding me often how bad things could be. He taught me to appreciate the finest things in life: a spouse, a home, a family.
In World War II, he served in the Navy, and then, feeling he had not done enough to help the United States defeat the Axis, he joined the marines. He taught me the meaning of duty.
With my grandmother, he raised 6 kids, and a few of his dozen grandkids. I mowed his lawn every weekend for ten years and used the money to pay for guitar lessons.
After 25 years with the post office, he had taken one (1) day off. And that was to have surgery. He taught me what it means to take responsibility.
Last year, his beloved Giants finally won the World Series.
My grandpa died on Sunday, January 23, sitting in his big, comfy chair, watching football on his giant TV, in his own house at the age of 90.
A wonderful life, and a peaceful death. What more could one ask for?
His parenting, though sometimes harsh, helped prepare me for the world as it really is. The one thing he could never prepare me for is life without him.
Thanks for all of your kind words and thoughts.