Monday, June 30, 2008

Darn Kids.

"Oh, hey!" I remarked to my daughter as we strolled through the local Barnes & Noble. "The new Traveller!!"

I stopped us in the aisle and reached for the book; she perused the spines of the D&D 4e and White Wolf stuff sitting below. She's not yet 4; she doesn't understand what gaming is, but she does know that it involves dice and books, and she knows that Mommy and Daddy play Castles & Crusades and Traveller.

I thumbed through the book a bit and then put it back. Then, I voiced to her my opinion. (I'm in the habit of occasionally speaking to my daughter as I would to a grown-up, which I believe helps her language skills, but what do I know? I'm just a simple sandwich man.) I said to her, "Well...I dunno. I dunno if I need this new one...I mean, I have all of the Classic Traveller stuff -- on that CD-ROM, you know, ll the GDW a copy of MegaTraveller, and almost all the GURPS Traveller stuff, too. So I dunno if I could really get this one."

"What?" she demanded. She said t flatly -- not as in "what did you say?" but rather as in "Get what?"

"The new edition of Traveller," I repeated. "Since I have so much of the old stuff, I can't justify getting the new one."

I put my hands on my hips and looked down at my cute little blue-eyed child, who looked up at me patient and in a gentle but very matter-of-fact voice said:

"Then why don't you not get it and not worry about it, then?"

...'s funny. Until I became a parent, I did not know it was possible to love a human being quite as much as I love my kid. But now, she's constantly doing stuff to remind me that I do.

Reminding me of that, and also the fact that she's smart.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

More Cyberpunk; Or, How Do We Measure Dumb?

" I've been...continually frustrated by my efforts to take these ideas of what cyberpunk is in my head," I was saying to my wife, "and translating them into some sort of gameable --"

She reached over and tapped me on the chest. I shut up.

"You're trying too hard," she said.

And transcendent realization showered upon me, like an upturned bucket of trout.

I was giving my wife a condensed version of yesterday's blog post (Condensed...! Don't you envy her?) when she just kind of pointed that out. She knows me. Right? 'Cause, you know, we're married.

But...yeah. I think I've been doing this thing backwards. It's like I've been trying to take this nebulous, hazy notion of what type cyberpunk game I want (in terms of plots, mood, theme and setting, not rules) and have been trying to solidify it into something palpable. Well, no, it doesn't solidify, because it's a damn haze.

What I should be doing instead is taking the more concrete -but still metaphorical- structures of standard adventure gaming (like these, duh) and wrap my cyberpunk touchy-feelies around them, which is what auras do.

How stupid do you have to be to overlook such an elementary thing?

I hereby propose that we begin measuring cluelessness in rotwang!s, where 1 milirotwang! is "Honey, where's the vacuum cleaner?", 1 centirotwang! is "Why is my VCR blinking '12:00'?", 1 decirotwang! is "That girl in the short skirt keeps winking at me...what's her deal?" and 1 rotwang! is...

...well, this post.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Listen to me -- I - LOVE - CYBERPUNK.

♥♥♥♥♥ Like that.

I don't talk about it often because sometimes I take a break; I don't actually stop feeling a burning affection for the stuff, I just put a little distance between us so that we don't get tired of one another.

Here lately and from out of nowhere, my eyelids have been all fluttery for it again and I have no idea why. You may recall that, in my last post, I mentioned the abortive plans for a "Burning Chrome" movie, right? Well, I have no idea what I was thinking the day that I dug up that info, how I ended up Googling Neuromancer or even why I decided to read the Wiki entry about it. I only remember finding and reading.

I fell butt-over-teacup in love with cyberpunk pretty much sight-unseen. I was in high school, and it was about 1989 or '90 or so, and somehow I found out about it. I had seen the old Cyberpunk boxed set in at the games/comics/head shop, but knew next to dingus about it. I'm pretty sure that I'd also seen the cover of Mona Lisa Overdrive, the black one with the chrome face on it. No clue about any of it.

But one day that changed, and I've no clue about that, either.

Somehow, I got filled in -- and, suddenly, my imagination was on fire. Burning! Lighting up! Razornails! Direct neural interface! Cybernetics! Cyberspace! Smartguns! High Tech, Low Life!

MAN! I was a teenager and good lord I'd had crushes on girls, but look at this I had an honest-to-god crush on a genre.

I borrowed money from a friend, bought a copy of Neuromancer, and failed most superbly at trying to understand it.

Oh, I eventually did read it, though. Let's be frank, Gibson's prose is not 'zactly what Los Marketing Folks might call "accessible". But the fact that I was having trouble processing his book made no difference to me at all. I was delving into the worlds, the moods, the themes and the looks of cyberpunk, and I was in it for the long haul. I even developed my own setting, complete with a couple of screenplays I never dared to finish -- or, hell, to even properly start.

Strangely, I didn't buy a cyberpunk RPG for a few years -- and when I did, it wasn't the one you'd expect. No, no, no -- I went down THIS road:

Yee-up. That game clicked for me and my friends and I had a lot of fun with it. I'm not sure I'd run it again, but I still have it; it brings me joy.

So let me get to a gaming-related train of thought, here. I've had real hard time running cyberpunk stuff for a while now. I can never settle on a game system, despite all the ones I've tried, and I think it's because I'm finicky about it. You see, to me, cyberpunk as a whole is about so much more than equipment lists, shopping trips, armed assaults and guns. Sure, sure, that stuff is fun, but I discovered that I'm more into the world-building and the mood than anything else -- or, more succinctly, the immersion into what I want my cyberpunk to feel like, to be, to evoke.

A thumbnail of Rotwag!ian cyberpunk: A Duran Duran video shot on the set of Blade Runner, with a little of The Warriors and my memories of Mexico City thrown in.

That's not gameable. Not immediately, anyway.

Mood without, you know, a plot is kind of boring, especially in an RPG. Players don't want to sit around listening to me talk about how their hearts are pounding as they stand on the corner across from the record shop, on that hot Summer night, and the neon from the store reflects in the little rivers of their sweat as the girl they want the most comes sashaying down one side of the street, poured into her jeans and earring LEDs, and on the OTHER side of the avenue they spot that guy, that bastard, the one they were sent out to hit, and the promise of a cool three grand if they do it just right -- pinched there between pure desire and cheap humanity, those that heart pounding, pounding, POUNDING --


Naaaaaah. PCs wanna blow shit up! They wanna hack databases and run away from corporate security guards and generally be cybernetic Leon from The Professional. I want that, too, frankly. That's exciting to me, too.

Here's the trouble: I have a really hard time reconciling the two. Hell, I have a hard time fully expressing what I want.

Which, inevitably, causes the trampoline effect every time. I get reeeeeal excited abot cyberpunk again, try to play a game, get frustrated, and BOINNGGGG! Bounce right off.

That said, I did run a pretty successful one-on-one game with my wife last year. It was simple stuff; she played an amnesiac gun-chick who was asked by an acquaintance to rescue someone from some Russian mafiosi. It ended up being pretty exciting if small-scale, and it ended up hinging a lot on the personalities and relationships between the PC and the NPCs (I'd used them before). I used Fudge, by the way, and it worked out pretty well, but I'm still not sure. Maybe my search for a system is over but I can't see the forest for the trees.

So! Here I am, twitterpated with cyberpunk again -- and afraid I'm gonna bounce off again, back into the cycle.

What to do, what to do...?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Animation Rumination

Okay. I'm sick of anime.

I'm tired of how it looks, in a general sense; yes, I know there are tons of variations from one show to the next but, by and large, I'm giving it a pass. Oh, no, you cannot have my Bubblegum Crisis, Robotech and Akira DVDs -- those, I like. I'd like to see some more Miyazaki stuff. And one of these days I'll watch all of Cowboy Bebop because what I've seen is aces. If I could find a copy of the original Sol Bianca on DVD, I'd totally punch a trucker to own it.

Still. I'm...just...I dunno, I'm just not drawn to it (ha ha) anymore.

You know what I'd like to see? I'd like to see more genre animation, crafted with the same skill, dedication and love as the Japanese stuff...but in a totally western style. Look, I respect the eastern style. It has a lot of fans and it makes a lot of people happy but I'm not one of them.

I want to see something that's not overly-stylized. I really enjoy Samurai Jack, but the style remains a grain of sand forever under my skin when I'm watching -- small enough not to annoy, but present enough to be noticeable.

So. Why am I on about this, all of a sudden? Well. Y'see, today, I was looking at The William Gibson Aleph and I read this:

Burning Chrome The rights to 'Burning Chrome' were optioned by Leonard Mogel in the mid-eighties, even before the short story collection appeared. It was supposed to become a sequel to an animated SF feature, The Heavy Metal Movie, and had six script drafts by Scott Roberts with input from Gibson. The Heavy Metal Movie however failed at the box office and caused the project to halt.

I finally found my jaw somewhere under the desk, re-attached it, and freely wept over what might have been. Holy cow!

I want to see stuff like this. It can be done; hell, Heavy Metal was 27 years ago, so what the hell? Did we suddenly forget that this can be done? Is there no one putting two and two together and saying, "It's a different audience now, a different market; we can try this again"?

Or are they looking at that new audience, that new market, and saying, "They'll only buy it if it's anime or looks like anime"?

There's a glimmer of good news: Turns out someone's looking into another Heavy Metal -- R-rated, adult-themed feature, according to Variety. Here's hoping it gets made and, hopefully, makes a little money. I don't necessarily want my genre animation to be R-rated and adult-themed all the time; a straight-up adaptation of, say, oh..I dunno...Neuromancer, why not, or I, Robot, or maybe even something original?

Oooh! Oooh! How about Robert E. Howard's Red Nails? No? Not ever? Can't get finished, you say?


...well, I guess not, then.

Maybe if Conan had big eyes and Valeria made his nose bleed.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Summer - It Turns Me Upside-Down

That's true -- I love Summer the most of all the seasons (actually, of the other three, only Spring escapes my disdain), but I'm not gonna blog about that, today.

Instead I'm gonna point you to a neat post that someone else already wrote -- namely, this blog post by Max, on his "Malevolent And Benign".

Funny thing is, for a while now I've been thinking about personalizing my C&C campaign by changing the spell names, why not. I agree with Max -- "Color Spray" sounds...well...colorful, but "Sleep"? "Summon Monster"? "Magic Missile", even?

They are too prosaic. Dull. They do not evoke magic, beyond being recognizable as FRPG spells.

Whether they be Vancian or no, I fully support the idea of re-naming FRPG spells in one's campaign. Thus, I add my voice to his. Furthermore, I think I just might start working on a list of re-titled spells and share them here, why not. You totally got what the title of this blog post has to do with the subject, right?

Here, let me try some.

Sleep - "The Slumber of Alun-Zaad"

Magic Missile
- "Demon-Bees", "Tizmanthur's Bolts And Arrows", "To Sting A Foe From Afar"...really, it could have all kinds of different names, based on what the caster decides they should look like.

Summon Monster - "The Master Calls The Servant"

Or, hey -- you could go all Rowlingian (WTF?!) in naming your spells and name them after the very words you speak when casting them! They can be fakey Latin, or just nonsense words. But be careful:

Player 1: "I cast Caraz Un Klecto at the orc, for...let's see...dee-four, dee-four, plus one, plus one..."

Player 2: "Cast what?"

Player 1: "Caraz Un Klecto. It's Magic Mi-"

Player 2: "Klaatu Barada Nikto?"

Player 3: "Klaatu Barada Necktie!"

Player 2: "This is my BOOM stick!"

Player 1: "Okay, that's good. Thanks. Anyway, I rolled--"

Player 3: "Good, bad..I'm the one with the wand."

Player 1: "Shut the hell up, all of you, or I'll cast Foot To The Junk on all of you."

Hmm...this idea needs work.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Awww, Maaaaaan...!

NOW what do I do on my 10-minute break?!

...Oh, wait.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Temple Of Doom

People give Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom lots of grief. They talk all kindsa smack about the movie, saying it's...I dunno, silly, or...goofy, or...I dunno.

I tune them out after a while.

It's on TV right now, as I type this. My wife and I were just talking about this phenomenon, and...


It's goofier than Raiders. So what? This is a fun movie. Great dialogue, memorable characters and scenes, totally bitchin' music, a relentless pace...the damn thing is engaging. You can't get bored watching this movie, and if you do, I don't understand you.

Is Willie Scott annoying? Yes. Is she useless? As anything but a foil for The Man With The Hat, sure. Are the Sankara stones less epic than the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail? Yup.

There. Those are its sins. Notice that "boring", "talky", "traveloguey" and "half-hearted" are not among them.

Conan stories had varied tones, too. Think about that. Conan was in a freaking murder mystery. Pulp is many things.

I think we're done here.

Plus, it's almst time for dinner...and Doctor Who.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Renewal Of Purpose (Sort Of)

Yesterday I was looking at the Risus Companion again. Hands down, it is the best book on GMing (and gaming as a whole) that I have ever read. My experience may be limited, but I know quality, OK?

Anyway, I was doing so idly. I arrived at the section on creating adventures, and I read the bit about starting the process by writing down a bunch of one-line premises to get you started. I thought, Hey, I haven't sat down and just done that in a while. So today, at work, I took pen and paper and started writing stuff down.

The first thing I wrote, with no prompting, no ideas, no nothing:

The PCs must deliver a Philter of Attraction to the princess before she attends the ball - or else, the kingdom will be at war!

At war, you say! With who? Why does she need the philter? Is she trying to mack especially hard on some randy beau who can stop the war? Is she ugly? Rude? A pariah? Does he hate her? Who's trying to stop the PCs from getting there? Where will the chase scenes be set? Is this SF or fantasy? Who's the heavy? How do things go down if the PCs fail?!

I've been really into doing this lately. I'm really into the groove of grabbing a slender idea and fleshing it out. It's nothing revolutionary, nothing fancy; just something fun. This is play, to me. It exercises creative muscles and amuses me at the same time.

I love how you -anybody who tries, anyway- can just slap these ideas on paper and, with a little chin-tugging and giggling to oneself, can turn it into a story, an RPG adventure, a comic, a movie. Whatever. You just look at the premise and start asking questions -- and making up the answers.

Again -- this ain't magic. I'm not a prophet. This is just one of the ways in which this creative stuff gets done, and always has been done. And it's not that it's all that new to me, either.

I'm simply, honestly, and unconditionally amazed by the process, its simplicity, and mostly by how much freaking fun it is.

It makes me want to do something bigger with it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Back To The Butcher's Shop

I haven't played GURPS in 4 years.

For a long time, its 3rd edition was our system of choice. My wife and I used it for dang near everything, and she professed it to be her favorite rules set. We bought tons of supplements and looked up house rules and fan-created materials and even bought GURPS Character Builder and updated it rigorously.

About 4 years ago, we purchased our new house and moved in to it, because that's what most sane people do with a new house and we decided to try things their way for a while. We promptly set up bookshelves and stuff, and placed our GURPS library on a shelf, easily accessible. Then we played other games instead.

I have no idea why. I think I may have got a little tired of how much detail and prep you can (but don't have to) invest in it, and since I've been deconstructing myself as a GM these days (hence this blog), I may just not have been drawn back to the thing.

My recent purchase and perusal of Harkwood, however, has me pulling those books back off the shelf for their value as GURPS books -- thinking again about the "RPS" as opposed to just the "GU". I think it's because Harkwood has a neat little suggestion for handling mass battles -- instead of futzing around with mass combat rules, just make opposed "Quick Contests Of Victory" between the two forces, applying a few sketchy modifiers where needed.

That rung a bell in my head.

Once upon a time, you see, I explained GURPS' massive heft with the following words:

"GURPS is like a cow. Select the cuts you want; you can't eat it whole."

'Cause -- look. When it comes down to it, that game is really only as complicated as its very, very basic rules: Roll 3d6, equal to or less than your modified skill. There's a little more to it but it's all permutations of that. GURPS Lite is concise, brief, and utterly, utterly usable. All the extra fiddlt rules about hit locations and strikes to the brain and blah blah blah are just that: fiddly.

I'm not ready to start playing the game again. I am, however, circling it, sniffing the edges anew, re-acquainting myself. The other night, f'r'instance, I made a character for my daughter, with her input -- I ended up with a 150-point fairytale princess with Dancing-16 and Fencing-13.

Hmm. Just -- just 'hmmm'.

Monday, June 09, 2008

4E Or Whatever.

The new edition of D&D is out. You already know. I know. Great. Everybody knows.

I don't care and I play something else.


I have been quoted as saying that I'm not yet tired of plain-vanilla, bog-standard fantasy role-playing gaming because I am simply not finished with it. When I say that, I really mean two things -- one, that I'm really not burned out on it, and I really haven't been there, done that and bought the t-shirt; and also that, truth be told, I have a lot of catching up to do with the rest of you FRPG veterans.

For instance, I'm pretty sure that up until last night, I'd never run PCs in battle against a dragon.

No, for real! All this time I bitch and moan about how all I ever do is GM, so you'd think that I would have hit that up by now, right? I've been traipsing around between genres so much that I've never really focussed on any one to exclusivity yet nor am I goldang likely to, either. As a result, a lot of stuff is new, untilled ground.

Last night, my wife and I hosted our good friends Kyle Hamster and The Party Gorilla (those are nicknames, duh) for a little old-schoolish Castles & Crusades misadventuring. We ended up with a barbarian chick based on Lux* (My wife's PC), a half-elven assassin with a silver tongue (Kyle's PC) and a gnomish wizard/snake oil peddler with a cart drawn by wolves (in the capable hands of Mr. Gorilla, which, again, is totally not his name). I made them all 5th level, they rolled up some magic items from Unearthed Arcana, and shenanigans soon commenced.

I'd cooked up the plot the night before, and it was a simple, direct one: "Go find out what happened to the last party of unfortunate mofos who got sent out into the wilderness and make sure that the package they were sent to deliver GETS delivered". Why bother with too much complexity? Let the game live and breathe because of its protagonists, I say, and leave Byzantine plotting Byzantinites.


Anyway, the night before the hoedown, I was putting together this game, see. And I was waffling about on the identity of the opponents (in The Adventure Funnel you'd call 'em "Obstacles"). I had my main bad guys sussed out, and I'd come up with a story point where the PCs would gather a vital clue, but my dramatic intuition (actually, 'sense of not being boring') told me something spicier needed to happen about that time. I felt that my reveal needed a bit of physical action, not to develop the plot so much as to just be fun. Keep the blood flowin'.


So I was, like, "Ambushed. By forest-monsters."

I grabbed my trusty old AD&D DMG, rolled on the random wilderness encounters, and got a green dragon.

Now...something in my head used to shy away from dragons as opponents. "Too powerful," I'd think to myself. "Wipe out the party, game over."

But that night...that night I took that nay-saying 'something' and slapped it with a truck.

It's like I said: I'd never run an encounter with a dragon before. Why continue that trend? It's a STUPID trend! Gary Gygax called C&C "The game as it was meant to be played", right? And we all know that "the game" means "Dungeons & Dragons" and so what the hell was I waiting for?

So! On game night, the PCs went off looking for the messengers, found their clue, and then, WHAM! Green dragon. No good reason other than "dude, green dragon!".

Now...for some people, running a dragon may be old hat. Some GMs may be so tired of the damn things that they wish for -or make up- fights with necromantic poodles or incendiary kangaroos or rogue Adrienne Barbeaubots** or something. But let me tell you, running that dragon was fun. I had available to me dragon tactics and stunts that I didn't even think of until this morning. Plus, got to roleplay a proud, greedy beast -- stalking pantherishly toward the PCs, demanding tribute in exchange for their lives. Through the dragon, I had the opportunity to project sheer lust for useless wealth.

And the players got to have fun, too! Kyle got to use that cool death attack ability that C&C assassins get, Amber got to rage on a classic FRPG monster, and John (The Party Gorilla! There! At last, he stands revealed!) got to pummel the mofo with magic missiles.

And they killed it. They knocked my dragon out of the sky.

That's OK; I'm not an adversarial GM. I am a facilitator of awesomeness. Last night, they had a pretty awesome fight and I played an awesome monster. The encounter didn't advance the plot -- hell, it didn't even advance their wallets, because the dragon was out of its lair. Better than that, we made a fun gaming memory.

And I got a taste of tasty, tasty vanilla.

*From the
D&D movie that wasn't a steaming pile of crap.
** Hmmm...

Saturday, June 07, 2008

GURPS Fantasy Harkwood

Okay, first off -- to whomever it was who unloaded this little gem at the Half-Price Books in Greenwood, Indiana...

...thank you. Thank you so, so much. Between this particular find and the Rocky & Bullwinkle coffee table book my wife found there for me on the same day, our Thursday haul was the best from the HPB, ever.

The rest of you are probably wondering why I'm so excited about having this product. In fact, many of you might even be wondering just what this product even is. So let's clear that up.

GURPS Fantasy Harkwood is 64 pages of campaign setting, customizable adventure, NPCs, maps and (then-) new GURPS rules, written by Aaron Allston and J. David George. It details Caithness, a kingdom on Yrth, the default GURPS Fantasy setting. There's with plenty of information about all the lordings, baronies, noble NPCs, etc. within -- and how they relate to each other and to the 19-year-old king who can't bring them all together.

It details the Barony of Harkwood, along with its ruler, and the bi-annual tournament that happens there.

It gives you a full action/intrigue adventure, which -as I mentioned before- you customize by choosing which of 6 villains is the mastermind behind the plot against the king.

It also gives you some new rules, but if it's no longer 1988 they're not so new anymore.

The adventure, by the way, is just a starting point for PC activities in the kingdom of Caithness. There are bunches of little adventure seeds scattered about for you to use at will, and of course the NPCs all inspire plots and stories on their own. It's useful, useful, useful.

Now...not only is this supplement impressive by virtue of putting so much information into a comfortable 64 pages, it pulls a second duty that's not as obvious: it's a hellaciously good template for creating, detailing and totally messing up your own fantasy kingdoms. I'm two whole chapters in and already thinking, I need to something like this for my stuff.

I found it in a stack of game stuff that hadn't been shelved yet; pounds and pounds of RIFTS stuff mixed in with GURPS stuff new and old (a copy of Callahan's Cross-Time Saloon, in great condition, for instance; I passed on it) all were sitting there on a cart opposite shelves of White Wolf and d20 products. Good thing I peeked.

Harkwood is out of print, but e23 sells the .pdf, cheap.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

"And Don't Forget The Joker!"

Check this out!

I found it (and others) here. Now, you can, too!

Monday, June 02, 2008


Okay! Mutant Future is out. The .pdf is free, so go get some.

Since y statement above (the first one, anyway) is not of obvious meaning to everyone, please dig this: Mutant Future is a post-apocalyptic science-fantasy game from Goblinoid Games. Unlike their game Labyrinth Lord, Mutant Future is NOT a retro-clone of Gamma World; instead, it is an evolution of the 'retro-clone' concept, in which an entirely new game is built out of a retro-clone basis.

In other words, it's as if Gamma World had been built straight out of Basic D&D. There. The publisher can't say it, but I can, and I will, and I DID. Just like I downloaded a copy of the .pdf and asked for a hardcopy for Father's Day.

I've never played Gamma World, so that makes it all the easier to look at MF on its own merits. I haven't examined it very closely (I just got the .pdf last night, while Venture Bros. was on) but what I have seen has pleased me: post-apoc PCs (some of them mutants, or even androids) explore ruins, find artifacts and fight monsters (some of them mutants). Mad Max meets Thundarr at D&D's house.

Oh, yes. The spidergoats.

Look...I haven't read what these things are. All I know is, the game seems to be prod of their inclusion, and I for one am glad of it. I mean, look at this thing:

I have no idea who that girl is, but dollars will get you donuts that she does not -repeat, not- have what's coming to her in the illustration above. There's your second reason to blow that thing away, and if you don't have a first one, then...don't download the game.

While you're not downloading it, I'll be rolling up a character. Because that girl needs help, and by all that's good in the world where there's one spidergoat there may be 3 more, and they'll need killin', too.