Sunday, May 31, 2009

Traveller Book 6 Broke My Brain!

It's not really that I need to create an entire star system using the extended system generation rules in Traveller Book 6: Scouts; it's that I'm enough of a big damn dork that I had the idea, Hey! I'm on vacation! What the hell, I'll roll up an entire star system using the extended system generation rules in Traveller Book 6: Scouts! and it sounded like a good one.

Repeat: Big. Damn. Dork.

...Well, anyway, I figured I'd take a stab at it just to see what's what, y'know? So I sat down with my reprints and a notebook and my pencil and some dice and what-the-hey-ho attitude, started labelling fields on a hand-made form, and commenced, as they say, to rollin'.

Twenty or thirty minutes later I had a size V class M main-sequence star with spectral order 0, 4 max orbits, a gas giant aaaaand...uh... that.

I don't know if the rules are disorganized or unclear, or if besides being a titanic nerd I am also a collosal illiterate, but -- damn! Amongst all the page-flipping, dice-rolling, DM-applying and chart-misreading, I had the distinct and undisguisable feeling that I had no forking clue just what the hell I was doing.

For now, I'm going to lay the blame squarely upon the rulebook's ill-defined shoulders. More specifically, I find the author culpable, becuase the writing was unclear and disorganized and kind of incohesive. A process like the extended star system blah-blah-blah stuff really requires a clear, concise explanation -- a hand-holding, one might say. Or, hell, how about a freaking example? If I can watch somebody do it right, I can figure out what I'm doing wrong.

A quick look at the MegaTraveller Referee's Manual shows that the system in question had been edited, laid out very legibly and made more approachable in its publication in that second version of the venerable game. But supposing it were 1983, I'd just brought home the yellow-striped LBB from the hobby shop, and I sat down with paper and pencil and dice and what-the-hey-ho attitude to create a full star system for presentation to my players later on? What then? Should I sit and agonize over not being able to instantly play with my new toy? I'm a gamer, so of course I'm used to some assembly being required; in fact, that's why I'm a hobby gamer. All the same, it should be a game, and fun -- not a chore, and frustrating.


Of course, there's always the possibility that it is a lot easier than I think, and that I am simply a moron.

A Brief Digression: Serpens Sector!

This blog is about rattle-rattle games, not click-click ones. But even I like a good click-click game now and then, and I sure do like Space Exploration: Serpens Sector.

Not an MMO! Not for sale! Just a nice, solid computer game with which to amuse yourself for a while. You're the captain of a ship on a mission to explore worlds and do stuff on them. You get to explore ruined cities, give people rides (and gain them as crew), send off away teams to fix comm satellites that will probably kill them, and also kill monkeys.

I've only played one game and I am HOOKED. Funny thing, I was looking for a game with X,Y and Z specifications and I swear this one meets 'em all. It's light on resource management, full of surprises and doesn't need to gobble up all your time.

Okay, I'm going back to playing it now. Doc Rotwang! sez check it out.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Defintion Of "Old School" Gaming, You Say...?

Well, see, it's when you --

-- exc--excuse me, folks, I've just been handed this very important message:

"Take him to... Detroit!"

Monday, May 25, 2009

Star Trek TOS Narrator's Toolkit SCORE.

Seventy-five dollars online! NINETY dollars online! Out-Of-Print! Blah, blah, blah!

My wife found one on Craigslist for less than 4 bucks. Plus shipping and the money order, less than nine. And this one isn't all stuck together.

I could give you a full review of the thing, but I won't -- I'll just skip to the bottom line. Whether you play Trek or not, this is a book that belongs on your shelf. Hands-down, this is as good a book about GMing as you will ever find. Each page is crammed with practical advice on the design and execution of game scenarios -- and you can absorb it all in one afternoon.

It even comes with a fully-developed adventure. I will confess to not having read the whole thing yet, but I can tell already that it applies some of the scenario design advice presented in the main section of the book, so you have an example of what your new tools can do. (Hey, S John -- Forbidden Planet, right?)

Get it. Go. Now. NOW. If I could afford the lawyer, I'd buy it back from Wizards.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Winging It

Recently, the subject of "Winging It" came up on The RPG Haven. Since that's kind of my...uh...what I try to do without sucking, I figured I oughtta chime in, 'cause I have some thoughts about the subject. You'll find the content of this post copied over there, as well.

I liken the process of winging it to having a destination and some landmarks...but no map.

One or two of ya just read that and went, "Well, DUH", but some of you are probably thinking, "Wha....?" Most of you are probably thinking "Screw this, I'm'a go read", but for the few of you who aren't, here's more detail.

When I say I have a destination, I mean only that I form a general idea of how I want things to turn out in a broad sense. In fact, I really just set a goal -- just like I do with The Adventure Funnel, The Internet's Favorite Gaming Article Since 2006 Or Whatever.

In this case, though, the goal is a little more than just a plot objective -- it's a thesis statement. In a sense, it's a goal for the gamemaster, not necessarily the PCs. "Cause a ruckus", "Establish and maintain a sense of cosmic dread", "Articulate the importance of keeping your cool under fire", "Show how bad-ass Chico Pistolas is, so that when the PCs kack him, it's even cooler"...stuff like that. It's kind of a guide to how to get to where you wanna go.

So now that we know where we're headed, let's see about some landmarks. These are really just details, gimmicks, events, examples, little scenes and the like -- a few modular bits that I have on hand and shove in as I go. If my Hyborian game is all about rescuing virgins from a temple of Set in pure bad-ass "the mad exultation of battle when the blue baldes flame and crimson" mode, then a big, bloody fight against a bunch of Stygian temple guards might come in handy, as might a willful princess who knows steel as well as she knows men. If I know that the head priest in charge of this hoe-down is a towering figure with a booming voice, I might try to get a feel for the types of things he might say and how he might move and what kind of crazy faces he might make. That temple probably has snakes in it, and snakes that slither around in the darkness and leap out from dark crevices are scarier than the ones that rattle and make snake-face at you.

It's more important to know how it's gonna feel than how it's gonna go down. Dig?

So let's say that you want to follow this advice, because maybe the article on Cracked was shorter than you thought. So you assemble some quick ideas about 5 minutes before your next game, and there you have 'em -- maybe written down, maybe not. This is great, Doc, you say, but how do you make it actually happen? Where's your plot? Am I really gonna be able to make THAT up as you go? What do I need for THAT?


No, I'm serious. You need brash Han Soloness, you need that Conan readiness. You're not jumping in blind, either -- you've got what it takes.

You've seen a bunch of movies and you've read a bunch of books. You know how this stuff goes. You are prepared to Wing It.

Look. Think about it. All that a plot really needs to move forward is momentum. Start rolling that ball and don't stop pushing. You know how it's supposed to feel -you decided on your thesis-, so push that way. You have some landmarks, so steer towrads them. Listen to what the players are doing, or not doing. When it feels, according to your goal, like it's time for the giant crab or for the princess to flip out and start stabbing people or for the communicators to stop working -- make it happen. Push that ball. The players'll push back.

Now all of you are playing. Even you, the GM. Now you're on the road to wherever you're going; you know where it ends, so you know when to stop. Meantime, keep moving.

You want an example? Check back soon. My lunch is over.

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Rotwang! Guide To So-So Gamemastering: Appendix N

The thing of it is, you see, that if Jeff Rients and Zach Houghton ever jumped off a bridge, I'd be swan-divin', too.

Here's my so-called "Appendix N". You will find here no semblance of order, because when it comesto stuff like this, that is simply not how I roll. Movies next to books next to music beside who-knows-what-the-hell-else. Put on your hip waders and jump into the stream of consciousness, baby.

  • Star Wars (no, not "A New Hope". Freakin' Star Wars.)
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • "Neuromancer" by William Gibson
  • Robert E. Howard's "Conan" stories
  • The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai
  • Thomas Dolby's "The Golden Age Of Wireless" album
  • Blade Runner
  • "The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy" by Douglas Adams
  • "The Far Kingdoms", "The Warrior's Tale" and "Kingdoms Of the Night" by Allan Cole and Chris Bunch
  • Rush's "Moving Pictures" and "Signals" albums
  • Living in Mexico City in the 1980s
  • The Warriors
  • Streets Of Fire
  • 1980s Duran Duran videos
  • Willow

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Buck Rogers WTF FTW!

I have an episode of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century on right now. Buck's following a woman through a spaceport, right, and he gets stopped at the boarding gate by a security-type guy. I hear the guy's voice: "I'm sorry, sir," he says to Buck, "Flight 409 has just completed boarding." I think to myself, hey, wait -- I KNOW that voice...! I look up -- WTF, it's Dennis Haysbert in an afro!

So I barely have enough time to chuckle and say, "Ha! It'd Dennis Haysbert...!", when there's a lull in the dialogue and a voice on the spaceport P.A. says...

"Captain Christopher Pike, please report to the veteran's affairs office at once."


Friday, May 01, 2009

Score Trek II: The Wrath Of Krull

I popped Khan into the mini-DVD player last night and watched in bed, instead of sleeping. So the movie starts up, and the music gets going, and I’m, like – “WTF, is this Krull?! It totally sounds like the music from Krull!”

Sure enough, in just a few moments, the music credit comes up: Composed by James Horner.

James. Fonking. Horner. James Horner, who’s had, like, three original ideas and continues to use them over and over and forking over again. James Horner, who blatantly plagiarizes himself to the point that all his gorram movie scores sound the bloody ducking same.




The rest of the movie is totally bad-ass, though. “He tasks me! He tasks me, and I shall have him! I'll chase him 'round the Moons of Nibia, and 'round the Antares Maelstrom, and 'round perdition's flames before I give him up! Prepare to alter course!” Montalban-tastic.

Say, why hasn't Mike been by to give me crap about the Trek talk...?