Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Potential Benefits Of Hiking On Your FRPG GMing Skills; Or, Gee, Thanks A LOT, "Prince Caspian".

Man, we went to the movies yesterday and we saw Prince Caspian, and it was a fun movie and I enjoyed it and all but DAMN! So here's what happened...

I dunno where they shot the dang thing, but the locations are gorgeous. They're all naturey and dynamic and interesting to look at and stuff. And so I'm sitting there watching and the kids are, like, rowing along on a crystal-blue river that runs through a gorge, or maybe they're running through a wood and a knee-high carpet of ferns, and suddenly I think, Why the HELL don't I picture that when I'm running my C&C game?!

Seriously. I'm just not that good at picturing landscapes. I'm terrible at it. They just don't...they don't occur to me, see? I feel like I should be thinking that this-or-that place in my game setting should look like this forest or that gorge, or what-have-you, but...I don't.

And it bugs me.

I've been trying harder lately, but I wonder if the culprit is unfamiliarity; in other words, that I don't get out much. Well, not into nature, anyhoo. I wonder if I don't think so quickly in terms of "nature looks like this", when I'm GMing, because I don't go look at it a lot. I guess I can "train" myself by looking at photos like the ones I'm putting in this post (not related to the movie, by the way), but I'm sure I'd get better results by experiencing it.

As a kid, in Mexico, I went hiking a few times. I saw some cool stuff...which...umn...I wasn't really paying attention to at the time. Eh! I was a kid. Different things on my mind, at the time. There are nice places to hike around my hometown, that's for sure (forests, mostly), but rivers and stuff, not so much.

I'm not real, uh, physically fit. I'm not an obese lozenge of fat and clumsiness, y'unnerstand, but I'm not real physically inclined. I never have been. But realizing what I'm missing out on is making me re-think some priorities. I think I need to go out and see nature.

There's a good reason for it, a better reason, and a great reason.

The good reason is, hey -- if I can get better at describing my FRPG setting through experience with local geography &c., I can finally scratch that damn itch. Right? So that's good.

What's better is how it can help improve my health and my quality of life. I'm missing out on a beautiful planet, here. Life only lasts so long.

The greatest reason of all, though, came from my daughter's mouth yesterday.

See, she likes it when we drive through foresty areas near out house. So I told her that if she likes driving through them, she might like walking through them. This has really captured her three-and-a-half-year-old imagination, and she's brought up the idea of hiking a few times since I proposed it.

Yesterday, though, was the kicker. We were driving home from Grandma's house and my wife said to my daughter, "Lily, can you tell Daddy what 'Hiking' means?"

According to my kid, "Somebody who loves you takes you hiking."

I can't really fight this stuff, can I...?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Oh, no. Not possible.




Okay, guys. This...this is really, really hard to write. But I'm going to, because I have to get it off my chest. All right?

I just came back from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

And I did not like it.

GOD! How is that poss-- WHAT?! I'm saying it, i'm writing it, I'm...I'm freaking facing it, but -- it makes no sense. WHAT?! HOW?! Why would I, I of all people, go see an Indy movie and not enjoy it?

Because it's lacking in tension, is why. Because it's short on energy. Because parts of it are talky and traveloguey and just kind of there and although there are bits that are everything you want out of an Indy flick...they're just bits.

Bits, floating inside a different film.

I'm not saying it's a bad film. I'm just saying that I didn't like it, and I'm saying why.

Geez, I can't believe it.




I miss you, Indiana Jones.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Here's what I'm saying to you, fellow GMs: When you're stuck for ideas, scavenge. Hell, scavenge from other games, yours or someone else's -- especially the broken stuff. Nothing's sacred when the muse gets hungry.

Case in point: last night I (finally) sat down to make some notes for my continuing one-on-one Castles & Crusades game with my wife. We are shifting the campaign to an urban environment for a bit, as she wanted her character to learn two-weapon fighting from a master. Easy. But since I couldn't get off my ass to write up a city, I just wrote up a troika list instead.

The first 2 NPCs were easy -- an experienced swordsmaster (who looks like Rik Mayall with an eyepatch) and a fellow student (a swashbuckler chick I doodled in a notebook back in November '04). Good. Great. Now, for that third NPC...

I can't tell you how I assembled all the different parts; if I could codify and synthesize the creative process, I would put it into pill form and charge exorbitant prices. All I can tell you is that I took an article I read on Cracked.com, a PC from one of the worst games I ever played in, and some dorks I knew in high school...and made myself an OK NPC.

Once't upon a time, in the early days of so-called D&D 3rd Edition, a college buddy started up a game and I rolled up a 16-year-old sorceror so I could play in it. The character, whom I'll call 'Anton' because I have no idea what the hell I really named him, was your typical well-meaning but outcast weirdo teenaged kid who, you know, could cast spells without reading them. Swank. His personal motivation, as I expressly told the DM, was to go adventuring and gain a large enough personal fortune so that he could eventually build a little house, marry the right girl, and keep doing his sorceror thang in the safety and quiet of his own digs. Seriously, dude didn't want much.

So what happened? Well, the DM saw fit to let a bunch of 2nd-level PCs kill a CR 2 black dragon (it took, like, 5, 6 rounds or something) and take its stuff. Gold. Jewels. Art objects. Magic Items. Wham! All at 2nd level! Oh, and we got to sell the dragon's remains, too...

So now, young Anton had what he wanted. He was done! He commissioned some local builders to get their build on, and he paid for a new house. I told the DM as much. At 16, Anton had achieved what he wanted. Done!

Of course, the DM's line wasn't stopping at that platform, if you dig my meaning, and soon enough our PCs were back to adventuring, then getting geased to keep adventuring, and eventually just not showing up anymore. Chugga-chugga-crash. Presumably, Anton just went back to his new house, eventually turned 17, and...hell, I dunno. Who knows? He didn't have the girl, but...

Somehow, while I was fishing for a third NPC, I thought of this guy. Bingo! I had my third NPC.

Trouble is, Anton's too nice to be interesting. Aside from the satisfaction he can derive from his fellow villagers looking at his manor house and wishing they'd been less forthcoming with the hurled fish guts and so on, he's benign. Boring.

Enter that Cracked.com article.

Child prodigies, it seems (or at least, this article says), tend to be pricks -- egotistical little jackwads to whom no one says no. Sure, there are exceptions, but they don't make for good NPCs. Horny young sorcerors who develop huge egos, however, do. Especially when they start acting like the aforementioned doofuses from high school -- you know the ones, the guys who just had to be these mysterious, exotic non-conformists and who were convinced that the weirder they acted, the more tail they'd get? Yeah, that dude.

Enter Eldon the Unconforming, a 3rd-level, male, chaotic-neutral sorceror whose vital stats are: AC 12, hp 6. He's spotted out my wife's PC, decided that he wants her, and that he can charm her by being cosmopolitan and mysterious and never speaking above a whisper. A continuing villain, a constant foil, a foppish, preening little wacktard who will go to extraordinary lengths to get what he wants because dammit he's better than normal people, he has a lot of gold, and no one ever tells him no.

That...that was a lot of post, wasn't it?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Hey, "Mekton Empire" Is Better Than I Remembered!

All this recent jibba-jabba about old R. Tal games had me digging up my copies of Mekton II and Mekton Empire this morning. I brought 'em to work and looked over them a bit here and there.

Mekton II isn't really my thing, anymore -- I ♥ giant robots and all, but I'm just not in an anime place right now. (Plus, I have Mekton Zeta and Mekton Zeta Plus for that kind of thing.)

Mekton Empire, on the other hand, is a gem. I have reasons for saying that.

What we have in Mekton Empire is this: a solid yet flexible SF/space opera, inspired apparently as much by Gundam and Captain Harlock as by Traveller. You have a bunch of planets, each with a write-up (and even some abbreviated codes, wheeee!), a map, some new equipstuff, some new rules, alien races, corporations, etc., etc., etc. It's a hearty supplement to the core game.

It's the way the setting is presented to you, the GM, that really makes this thing rock some socks. Dig: There are several intentionally-blank spaces spread throughout the setting sections. They're there for you to write stuff in. No planet's location is established -- just empty brackets. You place it on the map; you write in the coordinates. Answers to the setting's mysteries? Blank lines. Certain details about important NPCs? Blank lines. The authors (Guy McLimore, Greg Poehlein, Mike Pondsmith and Jesse Matonak) seem to be saying, "Go ahead, GM. Write in this book. It's yours. We're not inferring it -- we're telling you. We expect you to."

The planets are swank. They range from quaint and welcoming to dark and mysterious to exotic and exciting. Their 'stats', as it were, are written up in such a way as to evoke a "Traveller UWP Lite" kind of impression in the reader, and manage to be evocative on their own. I immediately wanted to start making up my own planets, once I looked at the format.

The best thing, though, is this: It's a breeze to yank the anime influences out. If it looks like a furry, change the way it looks. If it's an anthrpopmorphic mek, turn it into a starfighter. Toss out the fairies (look, man, I dunno, okay?), and you're left with a workable space opera setting full of reptiloid pirates, mysteries to solve and a planet which does nothing but manufacture and export candy.

The candy bit, I'm keeping. That's awesome and it makes sense.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Yup. Still Drawin' 'Em.

"So," I said to my good friend Anjiko-Z (aka angryangie, neither of which is her real name), "I'm drawing another SBGC (Standard Busty Gun Chick). What, O Dear Anjiko-Z, is she wearing?"

"Something goth," she replied. "Plaid skirt, torn fishnets, combat boots...a corset. Not that you have to; I just like that."

Well, so much for the torn fishnets.

Still...not bad, eh? Getting better?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Teenagers From Outer Space

Well, y'see, I loves me some RPGs.

Okay, you knew that. I mean, duh. Thing is, though, I love to collect the damn things, too. Got tons of 'em.

All of 'em get read, but not all get played. It's not that I don't want to, it's that there are only so many hours a week in which I can game, and then, getting players other than my wife is a bit of a hassle. 10 miles out of town, I'm ashamed to ask my players to drive out. Thanks, oil companies.

Anyway. Not all the games get played. It's a shame, really, because I've got some great stuff in that collection, stuff that I know I would enjoy running. Like -- well, hey, like Teenagers From Outer Space, f'r'instance.

Teenagers From Outer Space (or TFOS, properly pronounced "TEE-foes") is a comedy/SF game from 1987, written by Mike Pondsmith (with contributions from Greg Costikyan) and published by R. Talsorian Games. The premise is a simple one: Aliens encounter Earth, decide it's the coolest planet in the universe, and they start sending their kids to school there. You, the player, take on the role of a high schooler, be you human or non-. Crazy teenage shenanigans ensue.

The game was obviously inspired by anime and manga; in fact, the newest edition of it is billed as an "Animechanix" game. Back in '87, though, I guess maybe Pondsmith didn't figure that anime references would feed the bulldog, so the original edition of the game has a totally different look -- at least, MY copy of it does. I have the one with the Wayne Barlow cover and the anime references are there, but they're subtle. I overlook them.

(In fact, I used to have the new, all-anime all-the-time one, but I traded it for the old one with a dude from RPG.Net, long ago. I'm happier this way. It's not that I dislike anime, it's just that...well...I'm tired of it.)

Anyway, this game is a gem. It's custom-built for crazy, with an open, explicit disregard for realism and, in some cases, common sense. It's like Toon with a narrower focus -- which, in my opinion, makes it easier to get funny. You can't get killed in TFOS; you just get "bonked" and have to sit out for a while. Your character can be a Human, a Near-Human, a Not-Very-Near Human or a Real Wierdie. Everyone gets powers, even the Human kids -- theirs are more mundane (comparatively, anyway) than the ones that the aliens get, but any human can tell any alien any fact about Earth, no matter how stupid, and the alien will accept it as gospel freaking truth.

If you are not, at this moment, considering the 31 flavors of mayhem that this can engender, this game is not for you.

Mix in goofy SF gadgets and genre clichés, teen lust (never consummated, always frustrated -- it's funnier that way), high school clichés and whatever else you feel like, and this game brings the loco.

So. How would I run it? Well, not being into anime and stuff so much, I'd go with my gut and make the world my own -- It'd be set in an alternate, SF-soaked 198x, sort of like Square Pegs meets Futurama. No sailor-girl outfits, no furries. Plenty of space invaders, robots, hawt chicks, and probably Phoebe Cates.

By the way -- we're getting Square Pegs on DVD, now -- where's Parker Lewis Can't Lose?


Monday, May 12, 2008

Hey, How About If I Review "Darthanon Queen" Today?

'Cause, you know, I read it yesterday and I was, like, 'Huh, how about if I review this tomorrow?' So whaddaya say?

Darthanon Queen is a GDW-approved Traveller adventure published by Judges Guild. It offers up 3 scenarios based around a ship in distress, the Darthanon Queen; each scenario spells out why, exactly, the ship is in a bucket to hell and what the PCs are walking into the moment they go do something about it.

Scenario 1 posits that the DQ is full of tasty soft-serve ice cream and coney dogs.


...no, wait. Let's try that again.

Scenario 1 posits that the Darthanon Queen is host to a space monster which has broken out of its portable low berth and is makin' bacon outta the passengers and crew. Deritative, maybe (it was published in 1980, right after Alien came out), but a recipe for fun: I mean, if you were on the Nostromo, what would you do?

Scenario 2 puts the ship in a different kind of peril: hidden explosive charges, ready to go off. There's some cockamamie explanation about an Imperial courier and evidence of corruption and some crooked SPA dudes, but really the whole thing boils down to "find the bombs before they blow up".

Over in Scenario 3, however, we get some much more interesting distress: Mutiny! Turns out the Captain is something of a grand-standing glory hog, and Ensign Kif decides to d- er, the crew decide to do something about him. In the scuffle, some controls get damaged and etcetera, so the PCs come into it with TWO things to work around if they want their reward.

Frankly, I think the second scenario, the one with the bombs, is the weakest; I think the authors agree with me, because they suggest either running each scenario separately or (nudge-nudge) combining all three into one suspenseful, action-packed mayhem-o-rama with bombs and yelling and screaming and a monster and explosive decomp and a fashion model NPC (no, for real!!) nd stuff. I dunno, I think that's too much; I really think that Scenario 2 works best when coupled with Scenario 3, and run the bughunt some other time.

Oh, yeah, the monster -- it's called "The Dyson", for whatever reason, and -- get this, I love this.


At first, you realize this and you're all, like, "WHAT?!", up until you get to the section of charts and tables for rolling up all of its abilities at random. Dude! You don't get one monster. You get bunches of 'em, all streaming out of of these tables and into whatever other scenario you can think of. Even if everyting about this module sucked, you'd still have a BEM generator. Sure, its special abilities can range from the neato to the "WTF?" ("It breathes fire and teleports? WTF?!"), but...c'mon, man...BEM generator.

Top it off with a full set of deckplans (always useful) and a bunch of broadly-sketched but strongly-defined NPCs (and I mean a bunch -- Three full ship crews plus a set of passengers), and this JG Trav module is ready to love you long time. Oh! And that "bombs on the ship" scenario may be kind of a snoozer, but you get detailed descriptions of the bombs and how to defuse them. Nice for adding color and excitement, eh? Eh? Eh?

Oh, and it features art by Kevin Siembieda. Did you know that? I didn't.

Well, I did once I looked at the signature.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Like Some New Romantic Looking For The TV Sound

It's Duranmas Duranmas! On this day in 1982, Duran Duran's Rio was released and blah-blah-blah. Like I said. It's 80's Day.

Like I also said, pretty much every day is 80's Day for me, so I guess today I just have, um, an excuse. It doesn't matter, though, I don't really need one.

Anyway! I 'celebrated' early this week by doing something I hadn't done in a while: I watched The Running Man. You know -- Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Reality TV, Electric American Gladiators style? It's gleefully and unapologetically 1980s, plus it has fight scenes and TWO, count 'em, TWO state governors in it. Frankly the movie's not that great (it's nowhere as good as its spiritual cousin, the far-superior RoboCop), it has plenty of logical holes and I never have made up my mind on whether Maria Conchita Alonso is cute or not (I'm leaning toward 'only when her hair is down, but then only sorta'), but the flick is a fun one and you get to see a fat guy dressed up as an LED legionnaire.

Then, later, when he dies, his pants are down. Aces.

Anyway, I'll get back to posting stuff about gaming and so on pretty soon. I have some old Encounter Critical notes to put out. Meanwhile -- it's 80's Day!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Always Never Quite Right At Last!

Do The DVD Powers What Am read I Waste The Buddha With My Crossbow? I wonder.

"Jeez!", says one. "He's moaning again!"

"What about?" says another.

"Name it. Well, OK, right here -- hes all, like, 'boo hoo hoo, where's Square Pegs on DVD?! Waaaaaaah!' Pssssh. Wanker."

"Good Lord, I cannot abide his digital simpering. Let the baby have his wubbie!"


Or...something. At any rate -- May 20th. RAD! Let's hope all the music is intact...

EDIT: Added a link because duh.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Keys To The Pulp Ferrari

The first two things I thought of when Jeff Combos showed me Hollow Earth Expedition were:

1. "Nice!" and
2. "Just the hollow earth, though?"

I always felt that HEX was a pulp game first, a game about dinosaurs and pirates and Nazis in the center of the Earth second. That's just how I read it, how I sensed it. Jeff was describing the game system, and what he designed it to do, and I was thinking -- "Why just lost worlds? I wanna take this game to space, or to Buckaroo Banzai town."

I got over it, though. Actually, I figured something out: the whole 'lost world adventures' angle made the game stand out. There are plenty of pulp options; how many are just about 'lost world' scenarios?

Still, though, I felt it deserved to be presented as a full-blown anything-goes cliffhangers-and-craziness game. In my mind, it was like a teenager in a sports car with just one or two streets to tear-ass around on.

It needed a little more room. It needed this:

More of the same high-quality production. Great art, now with Claudio Pozas and an homage to Metropolis. Complete psionics/magic/crazy powers rules. Secret Societies to join or oppose. Gadgeteering rules. New character options. Some nice martial arts rules that add flavor without adding complexity. Ready-to-run NPCs and PCs alike. Vehicle combat.

Oh, yeeeeeeeaaaaaaaah.

And it's not like it needs a supplement just to be all that it can be, but having one that gives you the keys to the Ferrari is somehow liberating. It's like a license to thrill, like the game saying, "Okay, it took a while but I got all my stuff. Let's go loco."

So. Is it any good?

Well...I think you'll be the judge of that. I'm pleased. I like the aforementioned martial arts stuff, where different styles get bonuses to different types of attacks and stuff without cluttering up the system. I like the Atlantean Blood talent, which makes your character a descendant of long-lost Atlantis without getting too 'K3WL P0WARZ!!1!!!' about it. I like that the Mafia gets a write-up, as well as some occult societies, all of which inspire me to use them in a game. I like the equipment section, because --

-- okay. Let's talk about the equipment section for a bit. The equipment section is pretty long. It describes everything, all the weapons and vehicles and gadgets and stuff, and it does so in the style of a catalog. You can look at this two ways: You can roll your eyes at an over-long equipstuff chapter and say, "come ON! Pad the book out a bit more, WILL YOU!?", or you can look it over and go, "Cool! If my bad guys are Japanese, they fly these planes...and they carry this type pistol! Oh, and this boat has a neat description I can use to help my players visualize it!" I respond to it the second way. Could you have guessed?

Mostly what I like about this book, and HEX as a whole, is that even though it's all pretty and has its own special dice (not that it needs them, but they are cool) is its sincerity. I don't sense that it's out to break barriers, push envelopes, change the way you play...none of that. I think it just follows Abe Lincoln's advice: "Whatever you are, be a good one." It just knows what it wants to be and goes to do it, with some really nice production values on the way.

Now. Say, Jeff, why not a "rocketships and bug-eyed monsters" supplement?

Oh, you think I'm kidding?

"Smells like Cartoon Planet -- Whooo-wheee!"

Remember Cartoon Planet?

No? Not sure? Wikipedia sez,

Cartoon Planet was an animated variety show that premiered in 1995 on Superstation TBS, and afterwards from 1996 to 1999 on Cartoon Network. A spin-off of the successful Space Ghost: Coast to Coast talk show, the premise was that Space Ghost had recruited his imprisoned archnemesis Zorak and the then virtually unknown Brak to assist him in hosting a variety show.
I was a big fan of Cartoon Planet and Space Ghost Coast 2 Coast back in the day. So much so, in fact, that when Rhino Records released some CDs with songs and skits from Cartoon Planet, I rushed right out and bought them and, of course, listened to them.

Recently, I dug them out again, mainly as something to listen to with my daughter during our morning commute.

Now...I'm not real sure where I stand on the whole 'nature vs. nurture' debate. I kinda think that both heredity and environment influence an individual's personality, but no one knows for sure. What I do know is this:

My daughter and I share the same favorite track on the first Space Ghost CD. Here's the video version:

What this says about either one of us, or both of us, I don't know. I do know, however, that I might hafta go get that third Brak album, because, really -- how can I deny that pleasure to either one of us?

Correction! Retraction! Hasssenpfeffer Incorporated!

From a comment on my last post:

Hey - Chris Engle here. Have to put in a correction. It wasn't Ron Edwards who said selling puppets was unprofessional. Actually it was John Kim how said that. Ron's never commented on the puppets (in fact I think I've sold him one...)

I only got the non-professional comment recently when I was up dating my web page. John Kim was kind enough to update his link to my site for which I am appreciative. I don't take the comment at all personally, not everyone likes puppets

I will continue to work on being more professional in my game offerings but it is a second job for me. Social Work pays the rent!

Chris Engle

Turns out it wasn't Ron Edwards, and maybe my wife heard wrong. No offense, Chris, I'm sorry.

So! My apologies. That'll learn me!

ADDENDUM: Needless to say I'm quite embarrassed. And now, back to our regular tomfoolery and shenanigans.