Sunday, December 28, 2008

Alienses!

HOLY FRIJOLES! Two-hundred and te--REALLY?!

You gotta be JACKIN' me! I only pa--

...but I get ahead of myself.

Back in the--well, effectively, at the end of the 1980s, Leading Edge Games published an Aliens boardgame. I saw an ad for it somewhere and ordered it sight unseen. As the internet was not then what it is now (meaning, 'every-damn-where'), I had no way of reading reviews, doing research, getting opinions...nothing. I just wanted it, so I ordered it from Mike Redman down the 25th Century Five-And-Dime, my comics/games shop of choice in those days.

Now...I was then -as now- primarily an RPG guy, so ordering a board game was a little unusual for me. Still, I figured: Hell, why not? Space Marines versus Aliens, and you could play SOLO. Heh! That oughtta be pretty OK.

Then I got he game, and it wasn't OK.

IT WAS TOTALLY AWESOME.

It was simple, it was fast, and it was challenging--best of all, it was EXCITING. There were times when I played almost with literally held breath, hoping I'd manage to get my little cardboard Marines out of that damn reactor room. It was never easy, but I tried and tried and no matter how many times I failed, I kept coming back for more because it was so damn ENGAGING. One day i actully got everybody but one dude out, and I actually bragged about it to my parents when they came home. It was THAT exciting.

By sheer dumb luck, I was in a hobby shop in Kansas City one Summer and I ran across the expansion to the game. My grandmother, saintly old woman that she was, bought it for me. I had more Aliens, more missions, more maps and more ways in which to get my guys killed up. I could even do "what-if?' sceanrios if I wanted to. I wanted to. I did.

Heavenly.

I haven't played it in a while. In fact, it's sitting in my closet right now, but I think I might have to. This post on The RPG Site brought it up in passing, mentioning as it did a Flash version of the game, which I promptly found and played (I lost everyone but Dietrich. AGAIN) and I remembered how tense the game can be. I think it'll have to come out some day, with friends or without.

Go play the Flash game. See for yourself. It's worth it, totally worth it.

And...uh...let's just say that playing the Flash version is quite a bit cheaper.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

'Twas The Night Before Geekmas

'Twas the night before Geekmas
And I was up late
To watch DVDs
Of the old Lost In Space,
When all of a sudden
From outside my door
Came a thunderous thumping
And a grouchy-type roar.
I furrowed my brow
And put Doc Smith on pause.
I peeked out the window
And saw Santa Claus!

The jolly old elf
Was sprawled on the lawn;
His sleigh had rolled over
And his reindeer were…gone.
He raised up a little
And groaned like an bear.
He got to his feet
And shook sod from his hair.
"What's buggin' you, Santa?"
I asked from the door.
"Why is your countenance
Looking so poor?"

"You call that a rhyme?"
Santa admonished.
"With the words that YOU know
I'm frankly astonished!"
He sighed, "Look, I'm sorry,
It's just a rough time."
"No worries," I said,
"Why not come inside?"
I led the way in
And he stumbled behind.
Once he sat down,
I said, "Speak your mind."

The once-jolly fat man
Now said, "I'm depressed.
I've just seen a movie
And wasn't impressed."
I scratched at my chin
And said, "Was it THAT bad?
What possible flicker
Could make SANTA sad?!"
He said, "This is the worst
Of all Christmas Eves!
I've just seen a movie
That stars Keanu Reeves!

"He's wooden!" he bellowed,
"And yet, he gets parts!
I've seen more emotion
From cats with the farts!
Oh, he played Ted
And THAT he did well.
But as anyone else,
He can go straight to hell."
I never imagined
He'd rant such a screed…
But all truth be told
I really agreed.

"Gee-willickers, Santa,"
I said right away,
"Is that all it takes
To bonk up your day?"
"Oh, that's not it!"
He screamed in my ear--
"It's crap that's been happening
All through this year!
It's bail-outs! It's gas prices!
It's stuff of that sort!
And I always forget
To watch The Colbert Report!"

The poor fellow crumpled
And started to weep.
If I didn't help him,
I wouldn't get any sleep.
I said, "Dude, this year
Wasn't too bad!
Some stuff that happened
Was totally rad!"
"Oh, really?" said Santa,
"So tell me—like what?
It better be good stuff.
Else, keep your yap shut."


"Oh, there was plenty!"
I told him, "you'll see!
They finally put Square Pegs
Out on DVD!
Iron Man rocked,
And Wall-E; Y'ask me,
That totally makes up
For the new D&D
And, hey, O.J. Simpson
Lost out to a jury—
And Samuel L. Jackson
Showed up as Nick Fury!"

"That's stuff's terrific,"
Said Santa with woe.
"It's not a reunion
Of Bel Biv Devoe."
"Uh…Santa?" I said,
"Now you're the one reaching.
Perhaps you should practice
What you have been pre—"
"I got ya, I got ya,"
Said Santa, annoyed.
"Perhaps I need something
To fill in the void
That's carved from my jollies
When Keanu makes movies.
Maybe a hooker,
With big, bouncy—"

"HO-KAY, Santa," I told him,
Opening the door,
"I've had all I can stands
And I can't stands no more!
If you wanna be mopey,
Have it your way.
Just deliver some toys
On your damn magic sleigh."
He shuffled back out
And climbed up on his sled.
I said, "Merry Christmas!
I'm going to bed!"

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gcarrier Fandango Continued

Very well, legions of faithful readers! I know you wait, breath in throats, rapt with attention turned toward the continuing adventures of that Traveller PBEM thing I'm doing!

Not likely, you are. Ehhh...I'll recap anyway.

So! Yes! Last time! The gcarrier! Its turret's targeting system had painted the NPCs who were in the garage, and Leaky Pete had Eddy try to shut it down before it fired. No luck; the thing blew up a flunky and knocked a big damn hole in the wall. Then, it started looking for Robaur Maccardo, the party's employer. Uh-oh...

"So, about my last action," said Anjiko at this point. "When I tried to pull the plug, so to speak. Was it that I didn't FIND it, or didn't PULL IT in time?" A fair enough question; I left it up to luck. I had her throw 2D and hope for big money, no whammies.

Bingo! She threw a 12! I declared that her fingers alighted on the whatzits JUST as the gun went boom, and that she was able to yank it clean out right away. Crisis averted...kind of.

The employer went berzerk, and started yelling at them--prompting some fun role-play banter from Anjiko ("Whoa! US what the hell? YOU what the hell! This is YOUR heap!"), and Leaky Pete both. I think they're even developing an enmity between their characters. Anyway, they got the guy calmed down and got back to work while he called in a cleaner. Luckily, no cops showed up (Law Level 5, rolled a 7) and they were able to resume their tasks without any troub--

AHA! Gotcha! Damn straight, there's trouble.

Just as they got settled back in, there were shouts and gunfire to be heard. Maccardo skinned a smokewagon* and took cover just before a trio of Sonny Crockett-lookin' dudes with machine pistols walked in and sized up the sitch. Spotting Eddy, Celeste and the tank, they pointed guns at the PCs while the leader addressed Maccardo. "Nice try!" he said, nodding to the PCs. "We'll take them, too."

Rational people try to solve this kind of thing rationally. Anjiko has Celeste pull her own heater** and yell, "The hell you will! Come another step closer and I'll put bullets in all of your heads!"

And now I'm taking lunch.

Damn, this is turning out to be fun.

*That means he drew a gun.
** That means she skinned her smokewagon.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

PBEM -- At Work!

We have e-mail access at work, as part of our job, and our limitations on its use is fairly lax -- think "Don't send porn and/or dirty jokes" kind of lax. Plus, we're actively encouraged to goof around a bit while we're here, to keep morale up (and if you're familiar with the FISH! Philosophy, you know what I'm talking about).

So I'm running a Traveller PBEM with some pals.

Anjiko-Z is playing Celeste Francisco, a 1-term ex-Navy gunner; Leaky Pete has Edward "Eddy Drake" Mallard, a 4-term Doctor. Circumstances have brought them to Valdaris (B774915-6 N Ga Hi In), where non-natives have a hard time getting employment within the corporation that rules the place. Ergo, Celeste and Eddy end up doing some, uh...freelance work.

You dig me.

Robaur Maccardo, a fellow of their mutual acquaintance, needs some work done--he needs a vehicle repaired. It's an antigrav vehicle, quite the rarity on a TL 6 world; it'll start up but it won't get off the ground, and its computers won't boot up. Celeste has Mechanical-1 from the Navy, and Eddy's a Medic-4 but he has Computers-1, so thy have the skills. He'll pay these two Cr2000 apiece if they can fix this thing for him. They accept, even though it seems too simple AND after he says, "I offer you this work in confidence."

You might not know EXACTLY where this is going, but you have an idea of the neighborhood, don't you.

He drives them around startown to a fenced mechanical yard. "Remember," he says, "in confidence". He opens up the garage, and there's the vehicle, just waiting to be repaired:


If you're not a Trav fan, that thing is called a gcarrier; you might also call it a gravtank. As in, "military". "For him to have this," I explain to Anjiko and Leaky Pete, "is like your neighbor having an F-14 Tomcat."

So the two start poking at it. Celeste spends 10 minutes opening up panels and tightening bolts and so on, but can't figure out what's wrong. Eddy takes 20 minutes or so to readjust some power relays and stuff, and he succeeds in getting the computers to boot up...

...but the mainframe's boot order is jacked all to hell, so the turret's targeting program comes up first and starts acquiring targets.

Like, say, their employer.

Celeste declares that she'll start popping off panels and trying to cut power to the mainframe before the gcarrier starts killing everything in sight; I give it a 7+ chance that she gets that done (it's not that hard to pull out cable swhen they're all exposed to begin with, but it's NOT so easy to pull the EXACT one.)

The roll, of course, is a 5.

I told Leaky Pete that Eddy can try another roll to either interrupt the boot order or just shut the thing down, but he has't mailed me back yet. Until then, the tension holds!

The only trouble is, we're fairly busy at work, so this has all taken 4 work days. It's slow going. I'm not put off by it, though, because it's FUN and it's WORKING. We're into it, and we are successfully goofing off without ngative effects on our job performance.

Still, I'd like to bust outta here with the two of 'em, go grab my wife, get a bunch of tacos and some Sangria SeƱorial and play on a tabletop like normal people do.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Crotch Monsters On Parade

For the second year in a row, my Mom has taken us out to see "The Nutcracker" ballet at Indiana University's Musical Arts Center. It's her intention to make it a tradition for Gradndma to take Lily to see the show, and as long as the kid digs it, it's cool.

I go along because I am invited, and there's dinner in the deal.

If you're not familiar with it, here's how "The Nutcracker" goes down:

In 1800s Vienna, a family is having a Christmas party. One of the guests is a one-eyed dude named Herr Drosselmeyer, who lets us know early on that he's a wizard when he starts throwing glitter all over the place and casting hold person on people.

Herr Drosselmeyer has brought a special gift for the family's daughter, Clara--a wooden nutcracker fashioned to look like a soldier. (It's worth mentioning that I only know their names from a Little Golden Book. There's no dialog in ballet, and I'll get to that later.)

Clara digs the gift to the max, but her little brother dorks things up for her by playing too rough with the nutcracker and he breaks it. Clara weeps, but Herr Elminstdorf fixes things or something. Anyhow, it's late so Clara hits the sack.

Here's where stuff gets crazy.

Apparently, an army of man-sized, anthropomorphic mice lives in Clara's house, and this nutcracker biz has them all riled up. They attempt to steal him from the kid, but Gandalfmeyer shows back up and my wife pokes me to wake me up and then HOKEY SMOKES THE NUTCRAKER IS ANIMATE. Not only is he skipping around the living room waving his cav saber but he's also in command of a bunch of soldiers. Generalisimo El Crackonutero gives battle to the mice, who haul out their secret weapon--The Mouse King, whom we know is The Mouse King because he is a mouse who wears a crown.

Fightification occurs. The Mouse King overpowers The Nutcracker. Before Mickey can deliver the death-blow to his prone victim, Clara tugs off her slipper and throws it at him--thereby distracting the tyrant long enough for the soldier to skewer the rodent. Fight over. Mice carry away fallen ruler. Nutcracker, uh...he...

...

I dunno where he goes.

Next thing, Clara and The Wiz are out in the woods. Some girls come out and dance, then Drosselmeyer summons up a boat. He and the girl hop in and sail off, stage left.

Did you get all that? I hope so, because that's the end of Act I and, incidentally, the plot.

After the intermission, we find our protagonists (but not the titular one, who is no longer invited or something) in The Land Of Sweets. Drosselmeyer introduces Clara to some folks and Clara recaps Act I for those who didn't bring wives. So the Sweetsians--I guess we can call them that--put Clara in a chair, and show her some dance routines.

It's not clear why they do this, but I like to think that it's because they peg the girl as an experienced, accomplished regicide who enjoys the tacit protection of an eye patch-wearing badass planes-hopping spellcaster, so they decide to play things safe by keeping her entertained lest she start throwing footwear and the halls begin to echo with the ringing of blood-stained crowns striking the flagstones and THAT, my friends, is a pair of NPCs to use. We're still a gaming blog, after all.

Anyway, there's a whole fnordload of ballet as groups of dancers come out in turns to do their thing. Some of the dancers represent different nationalities, while some are flowers and some are candy. A gigantic woman with inhumanly wide hips gives birth to octuplets live on stage. More dancing. Finally, Her Drosselmeyer comes to take Clara home because the show is over, and I get to go to Cracker Barrel an have a steak.

The experience isn't an unpleasant one for me; it's just a weird one--ballet is like a foreign language to me. It doesn't click in my head. You see, I'm one of those uncultured idiots who needs to have his hand held by things like plot, dialogue, narrative, characterization, drama and rising and falling action, so a medium whose primary expression is movement--graceful and beautiful as it may be--come across to me as a joke told in Japanese. I mean, I can tell what it is, but not what it means.

Add to this the fact that the plot and one of the main characters gets unceremoniously shoved off the stage and into the orchestra pit halfway through the show, and it's a recipe for explosions inside the minds of the dramatically-inclined.

Okay, MY mind, anyway.

Tchaikovsky's music, now...that's aces. That Arabian number in particular thrills me for sure. Still, I'd rather just enjoy the music on its own without the 'noise' from the dance getting in the way.

I accept that it's just a different medium, but I also acknowledge that it's a medium that I can't really interpret.

And then there's the dongs.

Look...I'm sure there's an audience for it, and I'm not gonna dog on anybody who belongs to it. But when you go to the ballet, you're gonna see more vac-packed man-meat than you probably EVER HAVE BEFORE IN YOUR LIFE, and it's distracting.

The steak was good, by the way.

Swords & Wizardry: A Review

Know, O Gamer, that there was once a time before skill lists--before the rise of the thief class, before the designers unified task resolution. Return with me to the days of high adventure!

Okay, now without the hyperbole: Matthew Finch's Swords & Wizardry is an honest-to-goodness retro-clone of the original D&D rules from 1974-75--sometimes referred to as "0e". It's not an exact replica of the Little Brown Books, however, as it incorporates a few rules and developments that came after. S&W aims for a goal loftier than mere reproduction, anyway: the preservation of not just 0e's rules but its play style. S&W is a hobbyist's game.

"IMAGINE THE HELL OUT OF IT!"

To understand what that means, let's talk mechanics. Compared to the average modern game design, Swords & Wizardry's rules are pretty sparse. You get character creation and advancement, combat, magic rules, spells and a bunch of monsters. There are no skill lists, no comprehensive combat modifiers and certainly no feats; there's not even a task resolution system beyond that necessary for beating stuff up. And PCs have only one saving throw! So how do you get anything done?!

Enter the hobbyists' approach.

In true old-school fashion, the noticeable gaps are not an omission--they are implicit carte blanche to do whatever the hell you want for your players and your game. This requires creativity and effort on your part...hence, the 'hobby' concept. The result is refreshing, as you have a few basic rules to handle the essentials and free reign to dictate everything else.

THE MYTH OF HACK-AND-SLASH

In the act of being a 0e retro-clone, Swords & Wizardry exposes an often-overlooked aspect of the old game it's based on: a heavy role-playing element. With no diplomacy skill available, what are you going to do when it's time to talk your way out of trouble with the city guards? Well, the GM may call for an off-the-cuff die roll that somehow takes your Charisma stat into account...or he may just ask you to role-play your way out of it. That's why we call them "role-playing games", and have since 1974.

In fact, the superimposition of the players' creativity and imagination is arguably the key to making the game work as anything more than a skeletal collection of basic ideas. For instance, consider that S & W offers only three character classes--Wizard, Fighting Man and Cleric. By themselves, those classes describe a very basic concept (fighting men fight, wizards cast spells, etc.) and no more. By not fleshing these out for you, the game encourages you to define the character yourself. Is your Wizard really a cackling sorceress, or an insightful, sagely scholar, or perhaps a nobleman with magic in his or her veins? In S & W, the difference between a swashbuckling pirate, a grizzled veteran soldier and an energetic young barbarian is not one of game mechanics; it's one of character concept and its execution by the player.

THE OLD SCHOOL MEETS THE NEW

As mentioned above, S&W isn't an exact recreation of the 1974-75 rules. I haven't ever seen those rules, but I have it on good authority that variable weapon damage is not a feature from that edition, and S&W incorporates it. The game also includes a very modern option: ascending Armor Class. AC can go downward as it improves, or upward; GM's choice.

And what of demihumans? In character creation, players have the option of playing an elf or a dwarf, which are treated as classes unto themselves, but with a strong rationale to support the fact. The ideas are fairly clever, and make these seemingly restrictive options surprisingly flexible in play.

ANY PROBLEMS?

Any game is only as good as the experience you have with it. The quality of _Swords & Wizardry_ as a game experience is going to depend, ultimately, on the audience's approach to it. Simply stated, aims for a goal and hits it square on...but it may not be the itch that you need scratched, and there may be things about it that don't do a thing for you.

Gamers who don't want the hobby-game experienced are, obviously, cautioned; the make-it-up-as-you-need-it mindset is absolutely integral to playing this game. The lack of some classes (read that as "thieves") may bamboozle if not completely turn off some players; it is assumed that traditional "thief functions" (searching for and removing traps, climbing walls, moving silently, etc.) can be attempted by any character, and a GM who doesn't prepare room- and trap descriptions ahead of time will be at a loss to run the game this way. Some folks may balk at the low amount of hit points that Fighters get. Strokes and folks, after all.

ROTWANG!'S RULING

You can get this game for free, so the price is right. The approach is refreshing and the love and care put into the project is obvious. You can't lose if all you do is check it out; indeed, you might find a new favorite game.

...Screw It.

I'll fix Windows over the Holidays or something.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

So...This Windows Thing.

It's gonna take a little longer than I thought, because I have lots to do and little time in which to do it. Plus, my wife and kid are very interesting companions in the evenings, when I get home from work.

Like I say, my computer's not dead, it's just not as healthy as it could be. It does annoying stuff that I don't want it to do, and I'm just OCD enough that I want the damn thing AT. OPTIMAL. PERFORMANCE. before I can relax and, you know, just...like...write blog posts.

...

....hrm. I wonder if I should get over it for a while.