Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"Vegas Is A Goblin Town!"

By now word is out that Animalball.com is giving aweay a bunch of its games for free. This is of course awesome and so I obliged them by snagging a download or two from this page right here. Swank.

My eye drifted toward Instant Game and, after perusing it, Stories System. I haven't done anything with the latter yet, but I did take a stab at the former...

Instant Game is a neat concept: the short .pdf includes some very, very barebones rules for role-playing, and some charts for generating a game concept on-the-fly. You roll a setting, a tone, some story elements, opposition and activities, and you let them inspire you. It won't do all your work for you, but it'll certainly get you started.


The very first game I rolled up looked like this:

Setting: Modern-Day Las Vegas
Tone: Camp
Things: Elves, Mass Transport

At first, I just kinda went, "Huh huh huh. Elves driving buses.", and went off to play with my daughter. Later, I thought about it again, and...the ideas came.

Las Vegas, you see, is run by demihumans. They operate the place as a tourist destination; it's their turf, as designated by the Non-Human Relocation Act of 1947 (or something; that's not important). Elves, dwarves, goblins, gnomes, trolls...they're all in Vegas, and it's theirs to do with as they please.

It's the goblins who run the town; they're cunning little bastards, wise with money but in love with glitz. Goblins like things BIG and FLASHY, so they went nuts and turned Vegas into the wonderland that it is today. It sure brings in a lot of revenue, so no one minds.

Well, almost no one.

The other races were quickly organized into Civic Departments, performing the duties to which they are best suited, to benefit Las Vegas and, by extension, their own existence. Dwarves have Public Works & Planning; gnomes are in charge of Power & Water; halflings run the hotels, because they're all about feeding people and giving them someplace to sleep. You don't want crime going rampant in a place like this, so trolls get badges and the Police Department. Various other critters have Sanitation and other departments as their duties, but they're probably only semi-intelligent to begin with and not that important right now. Goblins bring in the money from their penthouse suites, chomping on cigars and making deals on cellphones in their hot tubs.

The elves...are not pleased.

The elves challenged the goblins for leadership; in their minds, it was the elves who should decide what was best for the city. It should be, like, a nature preserve, or a giant library, or a commune or something. There's no money in that, though, and in the human world (which is where they all ultimately reside), money talks. So the goblins won out over the haughty, snooty elves, and now there's hookers and neon and gambling and buffets.

Ohh, that just makes the elves so mad.

What's worse is that, in the process of challenging the goblins, the elves managed to severely piss them off.

You don't piss off the goblins. Especially not in Las Vegas. They're not mean, they're not evil...they just don't take crap.

Next thing you know, no one's been asked to drive the buses...and guess who's just standing around, pouting, and not contributing?


Now...I'm not sure what the game would be about. Maybe you just play members of different races having wild misadventures in demi-human Las Vegas; maybe you're all elves, living under the goblin heel, trying to usurp power and build your big-ass desert topiary garden. Maybe you're a team of spcialized troubleshooters with guns and computers and high-tech gad--


That one's been done.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Learn By Doing

Last night our D6 Fantasy campaign continued, and much righteousness ensued. The players met a creepy Oracle, were betrayed by an NPC, fought like hell to survive a nasty monster and made plans for revenge. Sweetness.

One of my players, Phil, doesn't know when his character's mouth should stay shut.

This is an utter and delicious delight.

The party has embarked on a quest to save some unicorns from the evil wizard Bargle (yup, him). Of course unicorns are rare and secretive and not everyone knows where to find them, so they went to ask an Oracle where they might be. Upon meeting the Oracle (more on that in a bit, by the way), she asked them what price they'd pay for her services.

Phil's character, a young, optimistic lad who sees everything in romantic terms of Good and Evil, immediately proclaimed, "I would gladly give my life."

Sold American! The Oracle told him, in no uncertain terms, to bring his butt back to her alive in 10 years and 10 days, and she'll claim her pay then. Bwa ha ha ha ha!

Lesson to be learned: Players Will Dig Their Own Graves. So that you, O Gamemaster, may rest your weary bones upon thy kneeling chair and let 'em have it their way.

Anyway, my wife has been trying to convince me for a long time that it's totally OK for me to trust myself to improvise. far too often have I stressed myself under the weight of supposedly (but not truly) necessary planning and preparation, resulting in disappointment and loss of enthusiasm. Last night, though, I took out the safety net.

Last night I knew that 3 things had to happen:

  1. They'd meet the Oracle, who was spooky and weird, and receive from her direction to the next part of their quest;
  2. Their NPC patron would betray them, revealing himself to be the wizard Bargle and not the aging adventurer they thought him to be*; and
  3. Bargle would sic a monster on 'em, and it'd hurt.
I went in with almost no details. What monster? When does Bargle pop the surprise? What's the Oracle look like?

In days past I'd've worried about these details thinking that, if they were not precisely calculated to be awesome, the whole house of cards would crumble. But i'm tired of that, so I just improvised my way through the game.

The Oracle became a spooky-ass masked figure, who seemed to be part of the cavern itself. There was a crackling green fire in the cavern, and I decided it emanated from a man-sized crystal embedded in the floor. Her method of scrying, upon which I had not decided at all, involved her taking off her mask ("The wise would close their eyes", she warned) at which point -- well, no one saw it, but they heard a column of flame erupt in the cave, between her and the crystal.

What The hell? Where did I come up with that craziness?

I don't know.

I don't care.

It just flowed, and I think sincerely that it's better than anything over which I might've agonized in planning and detailing. It was magic.

After that, the scene where Bargle reveals himself, and the subsequent attack from a hydra (I' originally thought of a fire elemental, but nixed that when I thought No, dude, a hydra!) were cake. Then it was just describing the combat as luridly as possible, scarring one PC's face just as another PC was starting to act attracted to her, and interpreting another player's huge, huge roll to simply pull the hydra's jaws open as a mighty wrestling match commensurate with the size of his roll, resulting in utter unshakable badassitude.

Learn by doing. Just get in there and play.

I learned one other thing: Putting Tabasco sauce on Lay's Sour Cream & Cheddar potato chips makes them come alive to a truly Framptonian degree.

*Actually, one of the PCs rolled to see if he'd ever heard of the adventurer...and got a 1 on the Wild Die, which can mean that something goes awry. "Yeah, you've heard of him," I told Kyle. "You hear he's a murderer, killed some kids on a farm, whole families. Real bastard." And the hilarity sprouted wings.

Friday, January 26, 2007

I'm In Firetop Mountain

...and buddy, I'm kickin' butt.

Today I stopped in at a neat little local bookshop called Books, Crooks & Spacemen. It's a nice bookstore, and I rarely get to go, but today I did. I browsed around a bit and spotted this guy -- the re-issue of the classic Fighting Fantasy gamebook, "The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain". The cover is new (and, in my opinion, not as evocative), but the text is the same -- copyright 1982, the year of Blade Runner, TRON, Conan The Barbarian and "Don't You Want Me?" by The Human League, which incidentally is my favorite song EVER.

The book had to be mine.

I'm no stranger to the series; a few years ago, my wife bought me a copy of gamebook #16, "Seas Of Blood". I relished the solo roleplay and dug right in, taking the role of a pirate captain. The setting appealed to me, and in fact I considered using it as a setting for a regular tabletop game -- in fact, why I haven't yet, I don't know.

"Seas of Blood" kicked my ass.

I'm pretty sure I got most of my crew killed by a yeti, or something; I decided to be all heroic and save a monastery or...hell, I forget. Just one more reason to pick it back up, I guess.

But here in Firetop Mountain, I'm the bee's own damn knees. I have Skill 9, Stamina 23 and although my Luck is a mere 7, I keep getting points back. Trouble is I can't really keep 'em because I always get more than I can actually have.

Killed the orc chieftain and his servant; whacked the drunk goblins. Saved the crazy old guy and took his advice. Wasted the sand-worm on the riverbank. Broke down doors hither and yon. Found a nifty shield but couldn't justify taking it because I'm that badass.

I am destined to become the king of Firetop Mountain. They'll sing my praises!

If you sing my praises, turn to 214.
If you'd rather go back, deduct 1 LUCK and turn to 7.

Oh, yeah. I also own this little beauty:

This one, uhh...this one I'm not so good at. Damn bikers. Soon as I become the king of Firetop Mountain, I'm gonna send that giant after 'em. Finish your soup, giant!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

PBEM, Sort Of

Now and again, I get to jonesin' for a game, but I'm at work. So I play a version of "The Letters Game" with my co-worker, Anjiko-Z (not her real name). She's the one who gave me the peas.

In case you don't know, "The Letters Game" (one of its many names) is played like this: you write in-character letters to the other players. They respond in-character, reacting to whatever you sent them, and vice-versa. That's...pretty much it.

Anjiko-Z and I sometimes pretend we're executives at a huge Japanese megacorp. I'd like to share with you an exchange that occurred this morning, not only because it's a fun little activity for gamers without an immediate group at hand, but also because I almost sprayed my coffee all over the monitor.

Plus it's been a while since I posted.

Numbers are in for 1st quarter. I thought you'd like to see the precis.
Records and receipts show that as of 1st Quarter 2007, Konoyaro Corp.'s revenue amounts to $4,886,000,000. Of this, 35.89% is generated by advertising response, 25.66% is generated by direct marketing, 12.02% is generated by extortion/blackmail/browbeating incentives for consumers to buy our products, and 8.98% of our revenue is generated directly by impulse-driven buys at the gas station.
The real Cinderella story, however, is the revenue from government contracts, which now accounts for 17.45% of our gross intake. This is a full $28,000,000 dollars -- up from last year's gov't. contract revenue of only $455,000. This represents an increase of over 615.38%. It would seem that the timely election of Sen. Bobo Mattingly to Congress has been a most fortunate event for our company.
Other reports, however, suggest that this boom may be temporary. Although no one seems to have caught on that Congressman Mattingly is our man in Washington, some people are close to figuring out that he's a chimp. If that happens...
Your thoughts, please?
Konoyaro Corp.

Fudo San
Thank you for this detailed report. It is good to know that Konoyaro Corp has shown such improvements. However in order to keep this from being a temportary event I move that we identify the ones who are suspicious of our primate congressman and eliminate them. And by eliminate I mean give them each a giant robot and a trip to hawaii.
Either that or we could always shave the chimp to make him look more human. It fooled your mom.

Monday, January 15, 2007

R I G H T E O U S .

Whoa. Dudes. I've got a campaign again.

Last night we played some D6 Fantasy in the classic mold, the way I've been jonesing for it: fueled by classic FRPG tropes, old-school fantasy art, the sheer joy of playing a game with friends and jokes about wood.

A simple plot hook, clear and uncomplicated. Troll fu, arrow fu, kama fu, mistaken identity fu, and a drinking contest with a halfling who kept rolling 6s on his Wild Die. Legs rolled. About 4 gallons troll blood. Stuff stolen from Krull, The Dungeons & Dragons cartoon and some random charts I had laying around. Academy Award nominations for Phil, who, when asked to describe what his Magic Missile spell looks like, replied, "I'm enjoying the idea of blue balls", and to Kyle, for saying something no one could remember but made my wife spit her Cranberry Splash Sierra Mist back into her glass and stumble back to the kitchen doubled over in laughter. Four stars.

And the rules stuff went smoothly and cleanly. In fact, they actually helped.


...and we're only 2 scenes into the adventure.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

From Norussia With Flail.

There you go. Svendar Elenev, Galactic Psi-Knight.

All but the least perspicacious of observers will notice the feathered haircut and obvious homage to the finest lightsabers 1977 had to offer; everyone else will also notice it sucks.

The Coming Of The Psi-Knights!

Just for crazy, I rolled up an Encounter Critical character last night. I rolled his race at random (human), and his stats made him a prime choice for the Psi-Witches. I decided he'd be one of the "galactic order" that's mostly men, and called it "The Galactic Order of the Psi-Knights". I decided he'd be a mutant, too, because the tables are there.

His mutated psi-lobe caused his two of his stats to change to 7 and 11, so I found therein his name: Svendar Elenev.

. He's from the planet Norussia, I guess. Cold place, lots of fishing and onion domes.

Further he is allergic to phasic- and laser-damage; ergo, I decided he shuns weapons of those types, although the phasic sword is totally the weapon of a Psi-Knight. And his missile attack is better than his melee attack, so I went a little weird on his weapon choices:

A great flail and a .45 Auto.

High Leadership (LEA) makes him charismatic, butI think I'll make him a little stern, too. It'll be interesting, he'll be a kind of a "tough love" Jed- uh, Psi-Knight. I'll give him brown robes and feathered hair, because it's 1979 when you play Encounter Critical.

All he needs is a motivation, and a reason to be on Vanth; then I can do a one-line concept slug. Here's my idea:

A stern but likeable Galatic Psi-Knight wants to Defeat Darth Viraxis.

With a stick on a chain, and a .45.

Encounter Critical, folks. Let's give it a hand.

NEXT: Developing my idea for an EC module, "Island of the Robodroids"!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Brief Aside: DAMN I Miss Mexico City.

I know I've talked about it before. I'm on lunch looking at pictures online and man I can almost feel the heartache of not being there...

Jardin de Hidalgo (Garden of Hidalgo) in Coyoacan

Angel of Independence

Plaza of the Three Cultures, Tlatelolco

Latin-American Tower

View from Chapultepec Park

Zona Rosa ("Pink Zone")

Man. I'll get back there.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

It's A Good Thing Jeff Rients Hasn't Jumped Off A Cliff

I drew this cartoon a few weeks ago. Last night I started cleaning it up and pimping it out in Photoshop, but I got halfway through and went "AAARGH!" 'Cause it's hard.

I asked my wife if it was good enough to post as-is and she replied, "Ye-EAH...!" and made 'duh' face at me, so...


...check it. Traveller fans will hopefully dig.

I really enjoyed doing it, and might go loco and do another one. This time I'll plan better, and be more careful.

It might also be an Encounter Critical strip. We'll see.

"Use 'Comic Book Creator'", you say? I don't have it. I also hafta pay off a brand-new furnace.

Monday, January 08, 2007

D6 Throwdown Looooooove

Last night my wife needed a game. Our daughter wore her nerves out, so after Lily's bedtime, it was time for diceful whackass.

"Something Traveller", she said, but my buddy Phil has my MT stuff at present and Amber prefers it over the LBBs, so she said, "Okay, how 'bout D6 Space?"

And I said, "Yeeeaaaaaaahhh."

It was a chance for me to exercise all the stuff I keep talking about doing, here: GMing fast and loose, not over-preparing, taking creative shortcuts and not worrying so damn much about perfection.

I made about a sheet of notes and that was it. I Funneled* together an idea built out of Escape From New York ("Rescue a VIP from a warzone") which itself was inspired by playing Crimson Sea 2 the other night, along with a stray thought from about a week ago ("I like space-lizards with guns!") and her request that there be a sexy NPC in there.

A few quick obstacles (not all of which I used), a few names pinched from a list I made a year ago, shameless acceptance of action movie cliches -- and done.

It was fun -- and I found myself feeling even more creative for having less to go on. Like, I decided that her suggested landing site would be an old strip mine NOT during the note-making process but during a potty break minutes before she landed.

I liked the notion of using my Funnel obstacles not as a program but as a smorgasbord -- I originally had it that the landing site was occupied by Space-Lizards, so she'd have to find alternate berthing...but instead I changed that, and opted not to slow the game down any further.

Seriously -- for me, this kind of improv is liberating. I'd usually try to stick to my notes because, hey, I WROTE THEM DOWN -- almost slavishly, cripplingly. Instead, last night I just played with my ideas as I was using them.

Really, is this what everyone else has been doing all along...? Is it the "hat over my eyes" thing?

By the way. If you're not using a list of ready-made names and details for your campaign setting...DO IT.

*Funnel: The Better Way To Office!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Tales of the Old Notebook

Man, I love finding old notebooks. Guaranteed full of half-forgotten crazy .

Case in point: I just found one such spiral-bound in whose pages lie -get this- notes for a 1980's Buffy: the Vampire Slayer game.

I'm not a fan of the show, I never watched it, and do not have the game.

I think I wrote these a few years back when the game came out and the local gamers were all "OooOooOOh, Buffy RPG! NrrrEEEeEEeEeeEeehh!" and I said, "Huh, OK. I wonder how I would run that..."

Let's answer that question by peeking at my notes, shall we? Faithfully reproduced for your reading pleasure, they go a little some-athing like-a this:

SoCal Slayer 1983 - Notes!
  • Part "Buffy", part "Square Pegs"
  • Johnny Slash is a NPC: Band, "Open 48 Hours"
  • Game is in LA - maybe Pasadena?
  • Main Vampire bad guy: Stavros Altermann, producer of low-budget horror flicks such as "Arbor Day" and "The Pasadena Buzzsaw Bloodbath"
  • Minor villain: Maria Rosario Santos-Bennington, a rich Mexican/Am. teenaged goth who worships Mictlantecutli, Aztec god of Death - has a small army of Guanajuato mummies at her command at some point in the series
  • DEVO guest star as an interstellar SpecOps team hunting gibbering alien horrors; at episode's end, they say, "I bet you're wondering what the hats are for", touch a button on the hats, turn into beams of light that go up into the hats, and the hats shoot off into space!
  • MR T guest-stars as...MR T.
  • Yuppie vampires?
  • A punk band made up of werewolves?
  • Nerdy kid with no friends becomes the Arcade Ninjawith supernatural computer-controlling powers; exacts revenge on his tormentors. Sort of Carrie + WarGames.
  • Health food fad product turns locals into zombies!
  • The Haunted Ghetto Blaster forces listeners to breakdance against their will!

-- Notes for a spy scenario set in Mexico City on May 10th, 1983 3:15pm. They read:
  • SIGN - "Do you know the soccer scores?"
  • COUNTERSIGN - "It's hard not to."
  • CONFIRMATION - "I don't even like the game."
-- D6 stats for a pick-up game with my wife: a quick space opera scenario. Behold the stats for a Trash Beetle:
Special Abilities:
Bite STR -1D damage
Whip STR+2 dam.
Move: 5 (10 burrowing)
Size: 10m
Orneriness: 5D [that's right -- in case you wanted to ride one...]

There's more...but it's bedtime.

Dang! "Fudge Factor" is in a coma!

Today I decided to yank my copy of Fudge off the shelf, take a trip down memory lane, you know? Whilst traipsing through the tulips or whatever, I decided to check out Fudge Factor, a webzine dedicated to the game. Always had lots of neat articles, it did.

It hasn't been updated since June, and back in April, editor Carl Cravens closed up shop on the site. Bummer!

Well, it's not like it's dead...just slumbering. So that's good.

I remember downloading (and printing out) a copy of the game back in 1993 or so, from ftp.soda.berkeley.edu (I think), in a computer lab at Indiana University's Student Union. Upstairs. On a NeXT. One of the cubes in fact, had a B/W monitor. I thought the game was aces even then, and have liked it ever since.

Ann DuPuis asked me if I wanted to write for Fudge, at GenCon this year...I sent her an outline and a follow-up e-mail but I never heard back. I hope she's OK...


This morning I came in to work and found upon my desk an offering of the highest and most thoughtful kind :

Aye, my friend and co-worker Anjiko-Z* had placed them upon my workspace ere I arrived to my toil, and lo, have I feasted upon them like unto Kublai-Khan in his pleasure dome.



...oh, yeah. I called 'em "MAN PEAS!" because when I used to work at an FLGS with a bunch of other nerds, Bryan "Wookiee" Roberts and I tried to get everyone else to eat some because "only manly men can eat these -- MAN PEAS!"

Look, it amused us. OK?

* Not her real name.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Pour A 40-Weight On the Space-Curb

According to my new Futurama calendar, today is Isaac Asimov's birthday. He would have been 86.

The man was a freaking writing machine, and sadly I didn't start to read him until my mid-20's. I loved Foundation and I, Robot from beginning to end, and thankfully I have a lot of his other fiction to read -- when I stop being lazy. Strangely, I was initially hooked on him not by reading his work but Harlan Ellison's -- namely, the original screenplay adaptation of Asimov's I, Robot.

Speaking of which.

I'm fairly certain that there were no car chases or hawt scientists in I, Robot; if the film's producers woulda just titled the thing Will Smith Beats Up Some Robots, I'd've seen it by now.

His short stories and novels are not hard to find; do yourself a favor and read one this week. It's a great way to honor the guy, and they're a ripping good read besides. And if you read "The Ugly little Boy", and you don't get weepy at the end, you are a dirty communist mutant traitor, and you probably laughed at the end of "Jurassic Bark", too, didn't you?

The Break-Up, Con't. (Sort Of)

Some folks have asked me why I broke it off with Iron Gauntlets recently. I'm not ignoring you; I'm just taking my time to get over it and look at it more rationally and objectively. It's a good game, of that there is no doubt; I just need to figure out where, exactly, it clunks for me.

I will say more of this when the stars are r- uh, when I have notes.

Oh, The Waterworks

On New Year's Eve, I sat down on the couch with my daughter to watch Star Wars, for her first time ever.

She's been asking to see it for a while now; we've talked to her about it, she's seen us play Star Wars Lego, she even has some of the cute lil' Star Wars Galactic Heroes toys (the bounty hunter set, courtesy of our friend John). We got the new DVDs for Xmas, and finally had the time to sit down and watch them.

I was already weepy, because, hey -- this was me and my daughter watching Star Wars together for the first time. It was a big moment for me. I was in no way ready for what came next.

The Tantive IV came across the top of the screen, trading laser fire with its pursuant Star Destroyer, when my 2-year-and-4-month-old child, darling little blue-eyed kid, clutching her toys, said:


I wept. Openly. Like a baby.

And when she jumped off the couch to hold up her Stormtrooper toy aganst the screen to show me "They match!", it didn't get any better.

She threw up halfway through Empire, but that had more to do with her being ill that day. We haven't finished Jedi, but we will.

By the way, she's seeing the theatrical cuts, not this special edition corndoggery. In my house, Han shoots first.