Saturday, April 15, 2017

Spring-ing Back Into (Superhero) Action!

My new crush
It's been a rough year for this Blarg-edy Blarg'er. Work upheaval & some (minor) poor health throughout the year didn't leave me with a lot of time. Or desire to "blarg" about gaming, or much of anything else. For a long while I didn't do, or even think about, anything gaming related.

BUT, as situations improved, I started thinking, then tinkering, & finally, feeling the urge to share my thoughts again! SO, here we are!

Oddly enough, it was just a little over a year ago that I made my LAST post here at the Blarg, on the same subject I'm tackling again: Superhero RPG'ing

One of the issues I'd been struggling with a bit in the past while working on the Super Hero Open World Sandbox Hexcrawl series of posts was which rule set to use. As I'd covered in a previous post I was a "Champions" man first, and then a "Marvel Superheroes" guy later. While I would be fine with running either, at the same time I still had issues with both. Still, my love for both REALLY made it difficult to entertain the thought of a new system.

But in this latest bout of spring-fueled mania, I decided to take the plunge. But which one? "Icons" , "Supers" , Capes, Cowls, and Villains Foul were among those that had my interest.

The Contenders

"Icons" in particular I'd looked over, and had things that left me cool towards it, despite the fact it seems to be the most popular of the new breed Supers RPG's of the rules lite variety. (Something about the "FATE" system just doesn't seem to click with me I think).

After reading up on all of them, I ended up settling on "BASH!" (as I'm sure you already figured out from the lead-in image at the beginning of this post...)

I'm still in the process of reading it, but so far my thoughts are: "Holy procrastination, Batman! Why did I wait so long?!?"

It's been out long enough that there are plenty of reviews that can do it better justice than I, (especially since, as I said, I'm still reading it), but I'll happily share what I'm digging about it thus far:
  • Seems to nicely straddle the line between "Champions" and "MSH" in terms of rules, mechanics, and character creation, while addressing the issues I have with both.
  • Has a really nice, simple universal task resolution mechanic, that still has enough crunch for me.
  • The simplicity of character building should make modding or porting characters over a breeze, but again, with enough detail to satisfy. 
  • Has a really nice mechanic for handling the power progression from Mook to Cosmic level, on such a small (mechanical) scale no less. It's not unlike the old "DC Heroes" RPG, but not as crunchy.
  • VERY nice mechanics for making sure that all characters don't have to be built on the same point totals, yet characters of varying power levels are still "balanced out", which also eliminates the need to "make sure all the points are spent", and provides for cases when uneven/unspent point totals do occur.
  • Nice and concise. 146 pages total, Rules and Powers covered in just 60 pages, the rest devoted to the GM's section, Settings, Example Characters aplenty, Alternate Rules, & the Index. This is a biggie for me, as I'm a big fan of the brevity of old-school rules like the original "Champions" or "B/X D&D".
  • Speaking of Example Characters, they've got TONS of "comic book characters with the serial numbers filed off" stat'ed up in a sort of "blank template" format, so that you can either use them as those characters (if you chose to do so), as a starting point to mod that hero more to your liking, or especially as the starting point for your OWN character. Want to play a character "like" Spider-Man? Grab the "Swing-Line Skulk" template & then mod to your tastes!
    Why didn't somebody tell me he had one a' those, those...THINGS?!
  • Finally,and this one was another big selling point for me, some REALLY nice Random Tables for Adventure Creation &/or Going on Patrol.  Like the rules themselves, brief, but detailed. You generate by Neighborhood (Slum, Downtown/Midtown, or Uptown/Suburbs) to get a Crime Type, then get a Specific Crime by that Type (Violent Crime, "regular" Crime, or "Routine Business". I'm a sucker for Random Tables, and HAVE a lot, but can always use more, and these weld together a couple of different approaches in a way I haven't exactly seen before, and like quite a bit.
If I had any one "complaint" it might be that I really wanted something that had BOTH Random AND Point-Buy Character Building. HOWEVER, as easy as character building IS in this game, it should be a SNAP to randomly generate characters in, say, Marvel for example, and then port them over!

So, overall I'm REALLY pleased thus far. Maybe now I can put all that prep last year to use!


Friday, March 25, 2016

Superhero Random Adventure Generators, Comic Book Adventures, Worlds In Peril, and more!

Random style!

It's spring, when apparently a "young" man's fancy turns to thoughts of superheroes again. In a previous post on Superhero Sandbox Hexcrawls I posted a number of links to some of the various random generators I've come across. You can still refer back to that post for a complete-ish list.

Be that as it may, I was going through my folder of them today and uploaded all of the ones that I find most useful to my Google Docs account so that I have easy access to them on all my devices.

Since I did this I thought it might be nice to go ahead and hand out links for them as well, so here are all of the free ones that I like the best:

All of these are pretty much system agnostic, or can be made as such with very little effort. Some of these duplicate that aforementioned blog post, but I thought it would be nice to have them all together in one spot.

Speaking of random tables, I was reminded of a product I meant to check out in this post for solo supers gaming, Comic Book Adventures

Basically, it's a toolkit/guide book to allow you to run sessions of their Pathfinder supers game Heroes Wear Masks in conjunction with the various Comic Book Adventures Mission Books, as featured on the Core books page listed above.

I decided to splurge on the Core Book at least and get a feel for it/see how useful it is. I have mixed feelings on it. It's an interesting product and system. If one were to go all-in for HWM + the Mission Books I think you could have a lot of fun with it.

Outside of that however, its usefulness becomes somewhat more limited. It does however have a lot of neat random tables, and an interesting structure for patrols + adventures, creating your own comic book "issue". I would hesitantly recommend it if you keep in mind those limits and/or don't mind a bit of "kit bashing" to adapt it to your needs. I would strongly suggest using it with one or more of the above generators, as this product is really designed more to produce patrol or side missions, leading into your "main" missions (ie the Mission Books.

In the interests of completeness I'll go back & add these into the Superhero Sandbox Hexcrawl post as well for reference.

While I'm talking about Supers, my recent love affair with Monsterhearts turned me on to the Powered by the Apocalypse engine to the point I started looking into other games that use it. One that I picked up is Worlds In Peril

It's a beautiful, lavish, well written, colorful tome. Unfortunately it makes me crazy in a way that Monsterhearts never did with it's simple, clear, and concise writing. It takes what should be a simple system and makes it hard for me to understand.

Regardless, here is the thing that REALLY drew me to it: the way it handles Social Mechanics (a la Monsterhearts "Strings") in a way that is VERY thematically appropriate: BondsTHIS blog's review describes them much better than I could have:
There are a few moves where Worlds in Peril really shines. First, lets talk about the Fit In move. Your relationships, called Bonds, can be used to boost dice rolls and represent how those NPCs will react to you. The Fit In roll is triggered when you spend time cultivating your Bonds: creating new ones or increasing the strength of existing Bonds. In addition, Fit In is the only move that allows you to recover from conditions that are inflicted on you. So dealing with your normal life is vital – it’s the primary way you ‘heal’.
I like this. A LOT. It puts me in the mind of Spider-Man/Aunt May, how he constantly draws on her for inspiration in tough circumstances, lets her down in his "real" life, then has to mend fences (again). And it does it in a mechanical, elegant way that weaves it into actual game play, not just lip service.

It's kinda like what Marvel Super Heroes was doing with Karma earned not only for Super stuff, but real life as well, but taken to the next level.

If I can't get my head around WiP better, I'm SERIOUSLY tempted to house rule this into Marvel in some way. Maybe all Kama earned for Super stuff goes into a "pot", which you only get to claim if you earn "civilian life" Karma? If you LOSE civilian life Karma you can't claim any earned Karma this session (thus forcing you to earn some civilian life Karma NEXT time)? I'd like something more elegant like the way WiP handles Bonds, but those are some quick thoughts for now.

Well, that's all for now. Until next time...

Saturday, February 20, 2016

All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players...And one man in his time plays many parts...

Thus Spaketh The Bard
While I was posting over at about my sessions of "Monsterhearts" that I ran over the past couple of weeks, I put into writing one of the thoughts that had been rolling around in my head about the experience:
I do have to say that once I got started I felt less like a player & more like a GM than usual. I felt like a director of a movie or stage play, and all the characters felt more like actors. I felt like I was staging the scenes & giving the actors some direction on where I wanted them to go and what I wanted them to do, & then it felt like "they" were taking it & running it.
Now, that said, I never felt completely divorced from the action, nor ever felt I wasn't in control of my character. I just felt like I was viewing the whole thing through a different lens, as it were.

So, I'm starting to think, in general, this might be a better way to look at Solo RPG'ing than my attempts at simulation, emulation, and "virtual reality", which I have discussed in the past.

I have achieved  this level of detail in the past, but the amount of work it takes can be exhausting, and I'm not quite sure that the amount of effort is equal to the reward (at least on a full time basis).

In these sessions of MH, what I was playing felt more like a TV Show, movie, or book, and less like "stepping into my character and living vicariously through them".

But I'm okay with that.

At some point perhaps you have to accept the limitation and conditions of the medium, and tailor your style of play, as well as your expectations, to meet them.

By framing and playing out scenes in a more cinematic, "only film when something interesting is happening"/"cut to the action" and less an attempt of trying to live the characters life, (as well as using a lighter, more story and narrative driven set of rules), the play may have been more fluid & dynamic, and at the least was just as engaging and entertaining as my previous efforts.

So, it may not be just the rules, tools, and so on, but how you frame and conduct your scenes, as well as your approach and mindset to what it is you're doing, and how you view it, that can  influence the feel of the finished product.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

First "Episode" of Monsterhearts Complete

Yeah, alright, so it is kinda, sorta like this. So sue me...

So I just finished my first story arc of "Monsterhearts", my first foray into indie, STORY games. What follows are some of my thoughts.

It was a strange but fun experience for an OG (Old Gamer) like me. I had from old habit started bringing the mentality to the table of trying to do a bunch of prep, gathering tables and charts and such, and found very quickly that, in my opinion, the simulationist style approach that I'm used to DOES NOT WORK OR FIT IN THIS STYLE GAME. It felt much more "natural" and "real" to just "get in the moment" and start "Making Moves" (in game mechanics vocabulary), and let them set off "Chain Reactions" of other moves and see where it all went.

When I was running a solo D&D hexcrawl, I wanted to "live in the skin" of my character almost to the point of a "virtual reality" type experience, where I lived as much of the characters experience right down to the minutia of the weather, the terrain and scenery, overheard tavern and street conversations and so on.

As soon as I sat down to play this, I could see that approach wasn't going to work. With a design that is so STORY driven (and bordering on "cinematic") taking a more "TV or Movie" syle approach just felt right in terms of only "shooting" scenes where something INTERESTING was happening. (Whereas in the above example, EVERYTHING was interesting to me. I wanted to experience the whole WORLD).

Overall, it was an educational learning experience, but also an enjoyable one as well.

It was so loose and free flowing that it almost didn't feel like playing a game. It was (almost uncomfortably) close to "creative writing with dice" as some have called it. Still, there were JUST ENOUGH mechanical components to keep it within the realm of what constitutes a "game" by my standards, and I tried to let the Mythic GME and UNE Universal NPC Emulator run as much of the game as I could.

At first it felt like "cheating" until you realize that you're playing the game the way it was designed and doing what you're supposed to do: driving the narrative and story.

Which is not to say the GM emulator didn't provide me with plenty of twists & turns. Pretty much the entire story didn't unfold much of anything the way I expected.

It could be a fine line to walk with a game design like this between "just making it all up" and "playing the game", but I feel pretty good about the balance I achieved, and feel like now that I have a better grasp of how this type of game plays that I can do even better going forward.

ESPECIALLY if I'm more diligent about using the Mythic GME "by the book" insofar as actually filling out and using the sheets for "story threads", and filling out the worksheets for anther tool that I made some use of in these sessions that I was finally able to "click" with, and think really shone in this type of game: the Covetous Poets's Adventure Creator and Solo GM Guidebook.

I've been wont to use these tools in a fairly loose and free form manor in the past, but feel like a more organized, methodical approach will yield more depth of story and even better results.

One good sign is that I kept wanting to get back to it because, like a good book, I wanted to see "what was going to happen next". And even though I just finished one story arc, there were plenty of unresolved hooks just waiting to be continued, and I'm already anxious to get another session going and see what else develops.

Friday, February 5, 2016

You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned...

That face you make when a Solo RPG session goes right...

Reading over, learning, and thinking about the game Monsterhearts as discussed in my last post has been a bit of a revelation. The big turning point has been an Actual Play video recommended to me by the ever excellent +Alex Yari...

The thing that REALLY stood out for me in this video is how spontaneous and improvised the game play is! How little prep appears to be needed. How all of the action and story is driven by player agency.

As an O.G. (Old Gamer) all of that runs contrary to my experience, which usually dictates having lots of material prepped to attempt to cover any contingency. I found myself drifting into this pattern of thinking, telling myself that I was planning on bringing "old school sensibilities to a new school game."

Hence the words of wisdom from the Jedi Master in the title. The above video was really illustrative to me of the difference in style of play, and how potentially freeing and liberating this could be.

The other thing that really hit me (and from what I see and know this is one of the hallmarks of new school indie games) was how the roles between players and GM have been reversed in some ways.

In old school games, the GM is the one who creates the story, tells the players what is happening, and so on. It's a proactive role. The players then are placed in a reactive role where they respond to what the GM tells them or does, rinse and repeat (perhaps an oversimplification here, but more or less).

What was really striking for me in the above video is how much the PLAYERS drove the story and wove the narrative, and how in many ways the GM role was more REACTIVE, asking lots of (leading) questions as a means to drive the story, rather than TELLING.

I'd heard this was the rap on newer indie design, but this made the whole concept "click" for me.

Of course this may all be irrelevant in Solo, as technically you're wearing all the hats to some extent(or emulating another hat wearer in others), but I think it's useful to understand the play style and how the game(s) function so that you know exactly what it is you're emulating.

Speaking of which, I have more thoughts on that, but I'll save them for next time. :) 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Ever Meet A Game That Just Speaks You?

Don't judge me...
Well, I'm back. Maybe. I guess. The time between Thanksgiving through New Year's/end of January generally suck for me. I tend to put all my projects on hold and generally go into lurker mode/ go dark online during those times, so apologies to anyone finding my digital doodlings interesting.

Speaking of going dark I've been looking over the usual suspects in terms of RPG'ing (all of whom I've discussed previously), considered different things for them, but nothing has been grabbing me.

Somehow, over the weekend, I ended up stumbling over Monsterhearts and giving it a closer look. I'd heard of the game before, but casually dismissed it both because of it's subject matter, and being labeled as a "story game".

Both of these turned out to be a mistake. Taking a closer look at this, it resonated with me, both in terms of theme, and mechanics. Looking at the Giving and Getting Threads on other characters mechanic, putting Conditions on each other and so on, I "got" Story Games in a way I haven't before.

Normally I'm a moderately rules crunch guy, with a very 80's pedigree in terms of actual games I like and styles of play. And even though this one is a very rules lite affair, I really like how it very mechanically codifies social interactions, which is what the game is all about. Plus the idea of a less mission/combat/objective oriented game and one that is more loose, improvised, free form, storytelling and drama oriented is just appealing to me at the moment.

SO, here I am, looking at attempting to run this thing Solo. Madness? Maybe. But as I mentioned in the title, it spoke to me. One thing I've noticed in my Solo RPG career thus far is that I seem to like solving problems to challenges of things that "can't be done" in Solo. Thus, here I am contemplating running a story game that thrives on social dynamics and interaction as a solo. *lol*

I've improvised a few off the cuff scenes, (just picking a couple characters, a setting, a situation and GO), bouncing interactions off my favorite tools for that very thing: The Mythic Game Master Emulator and UNE Universal NPC Emulator and very satisfactory results, so I'm convinced that my mental proof-of-concept on how I'd like to approach this is valid.

In the meantime, I've been furiously scribbling "keyword" style hooks of just ideas, themes, and so on. Gathering Skins and materials. Listening to and reading Actual Plays and Session Reports. Just getting into the "mood".

I have a lot more to say on the subject, but I'll save that for later as I've got the time and opportunity and enthusiasm to do some prep right now!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

You down with (Gamer) A.D.D?

Yeah, you know me...

Gamer A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder). It's become a running joke in gaming circles. It's funny, although I worry that it in some way trivializes REAL A.D.D. (which is certainly not my intent).

In any case, it's become a shorthand for being easily distracted from one's current RPG pursuit(s) by the "new shiny". The proverbial "grass is greener on the other side" syndrome.

While I'm still firmly committed to getting a Supers game off the ground, I'd be a liar if I said there aren't other games tempting me. As a Solo gamer now, I feel like I (we?) am/are even more vulnerable to the dreaded Gamer A.D.D, as with a group, once everyone is on board with a game, usually it takes on legs of its own and the train keeps rolling. I'd say there's not a lot of suddenly skipping from one game to another on the whim of one person in a group.

In any case here are a few of the other Games I'd Like To Play:

My sci-fi crush
 "White Star", oh how you tempt me. Ever since I picked this up just for the intent of adding material to the Star Trek thing I was tinkering with, it has pulled at me strongly to do as a stand-alone thing.

I love the "generic with the serial numbers filed off" vibe of it. I could totally see playing in a style of the cheesy post-Star Wars sci-fi movies of the 80's, like Battle Beyond the Stars, Starcrash, The Humanoid, The Ice Pirates, or Galaxina, which I love. (Just like in my mind, all of my D&D sessions look like the cheesy post-Conan fantasy flicks of the 80's like Hawk the Slayer...)

With the recent release of White Star supplement Five Year Mission the urge is as strong as ever. It even gives me thoughts of the Trek thing AGAIN...
tempts me to Trek on again

The recent trailers for the new Bond flick "Spectre" got me to thinking, I haven't played a modern action/adventure game in a LONG time, not since Hero Games "Espionage" back in the 80's. But I was a BIG action adventure guy back in the day, eating up flicks like "Die Hard', "Lethal Weapon", "Rambo: First Blood Part II", and a particular favorite "Commando".

Even my choice of reading material back then skewed to the Men's Adventure novels of the 80's like Mack Bolan (the Executioner), Able Team, Phoenix Force, and so on.
Meet the guy who inspired Marvel to create "The Punisher"

So I was curious to see what kind of Spy &/or Action/Adventure games were out there. Though the modern digital age has been a huge boon in the options of readily available, affordable, gaming material, it can also be a BANE too, in that it can be an enabler of one to give in to the urge to ACQUIRE and COLLECT, especially since they are, y'know, so readily available and affordable...

ANYWAY, after shopping around, two games caught my fancy for simple and rules light that look like they'd be a lot of fun that I gave in and picked up, "Covert Ops" and "Dogs of W*A*R", the former being aimed at a more espionage bent (though it looks like it would really cover the whole gamut), while the latter is firmly aimed at those Men's Adventure novels I mentioned earlier.

"Covert Ops"in particular has really got me enthralled. There is a lot of ideas and good game crammed into that rules light package. All of the Random Generators for Major NPC's, Enemy Organizations, Master Villains, Missions, and Security and Traps alone are worth the price. I can already REALLY see running it RIGHT NOW, as a very zero prep, pick up and play, stand-alone adventures type thing, not unlike the Mini Six powered "Monster of the Week" thing that I still want to get back to at some point.

Another genre that I love is the Western. It's a genre that I'm intimately familiar with, having grown up at the tail end of the the heyday of the T.V. Western, and having a Dad who's a fan of the genre instilled a love of Cowboys and Gunslingers in me that has endured, so as such I've had an idea for a "Boot Hill" sandbox for some time that I'd still love to explore at some point.

SO, back to the titular subject of Gamer A.D.D, I wonder if as a Solo gamer that this couldn't end up being a POSITIVE, as we're really free to jump around, experiment, and play whatever we want, WHENEVER we want.

The biggest challenge for me is just to get past that feeling that I'm "cheating" on one game with another, or that I'm "abandoning" one game for another.

I tend to be a absolutist in my thinking, AND in my hobbies and gaming. I'm a real "all or nothing, all in" kind of guy. That's something I'd really like to get over, as when I look at the images posted of so many great games, I really want to make room for them all in my gaming life.