Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Playing D&D with Kids

There have been a lot of posts in the blogs and on the net about playing D&D with younger kids.

From WotC:
and this classic article,

Of course there is my kids' group, The DragonSlayers.

Well I am thinking about running some games at Gen Con for kids this year.

I am also thinking of using the Moldvay/Cook versions of Basic and Expert for it as well.    Nothing is set in stone yet, I am going to chat about it over the weekend with my regular group.  But this might be a chance a debut my long delayed "Return to the Cavern of the Vampire Queen" old school dungeon crawl.

At the moment to make it really old school I need to include more treasure.  There is not really enough of that.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Like Alexander, I weep...

My FLGS is having their next auction in March.  It is a great time to go and get some games that you didn't buy when they were new, buy games cheap or even pick up something you have never heard of before.

Last October I went to the auction and got some really awesome deals (see here and here).  The trouble is that my successes have been so good of late, both at the auctions and finding books online and at cons, that I have nothing I want to buy anymore.

Zip. Zilch.  Nothing.

I have hundreds of books, thousands of PDFs and who know how many printed out play-test documents.
If there is a game out there, chances are I have or didn't want it.

Sure I am missing a lot of Star Wars books, need more Traveler and could always expand my Star Frontiers library a bit.  But none of those are "needs" or even "wants" at this point.

So I sit on my mountain of books and weep over lands I can never conquer again.
Or something like that, till the next new thing excites me.

When is D&D 5 due out again? ;)

Monday, February 14, 2011

And you thought your High School had Drama

I just picked up two new games this weekend and I really like them both. "The Silver Kiss of the Magical Twilight of the Full Moon" and "Byron Falls". Both are short games and both are just 5 bucks, so for just a little cash you can get a couple of really fun games.

Both take the very ripe and ready genre of "High School Supernatural Romance" and run with it.  And yes I do mean things like "Twilight" and many other books and TV shows like "Vampire Diaries".  Set it all in some small town where the girls are super smart and beautiful, the boys are all emo and everyone is trying to date the local supernatural populace.

The hard core horror guy in me wants to rebel, saying that this is what is so wrong with the genre today.  That last generations monsters are this generations would be dates.  But in truth I just can't get worked up about it.  The games are fun, there is a bit of tongue in cheek here (ok, maybe more than a bit) and if these games can capture just a fraction of the "Teen Angst" market that sells the books and TV shows, then they will be the ones laughing at us hard core horror types. ;)

So what are these games?  Well if you have ever listened to a Smiths song, then that is what you have here.  Take those high school kids, mix in a supernatural and let wackiness ensue.  Both go for very rules-light presentations and instead focus on the relationships and interactions with the characters.    In fact the rules are so light that an enterprising GM could add these games to any current modern supernatural game (or even supers) for another level of play.

The Silver Kiss of the Magical Twilight of the Full Moon 
Silver Kiss, or SKMTFM in the book,  was the first one I picked up.
There are some very interesting things going on in this book too.  First I loved the idea of chocolate as XP, great thing to do and something I have used with younger kids too.  The game assumes four players; two humans and two supernaturals.   The stats are very simple and include names like "Emo" and "Bad Ass".  You get some points to redistribute, so you can have a high "Pretty" and a lower "Emo" for example.  The supernaturals get to choose their race and what they can do is agreed on by the group.  So vampires can walk around in sunlight or faeries can't go into churches.  Then the first scene, or soon after that, one of the humans and one the supernaturals fall in love.  It is designed to be very fluid and fast.  When there is conflict a simple d6 resolution mechanic is given.  The idea here is not who could beat who in a fight, but rather what would be more dramatic and even angsty for the game?  For example if tonight is the big prom (and there is always something going on "tonight") then if two characters get into a fight (let's say the brooding vampire boy and the pining werewolf boy) then the winner will be the one that causes the most drama for our human girl.  She wants to take the vampire, but if the vampire beats the crap out of the werewolf then she will feel for the poor werewolf!  So much drama.  And that is what the game is all about and I think the author Jenni Dowsett does it very, very well.  The game includes tons of "Secret agendas" for the supernatural creatures.  Everything from the personal (X is already in a relationship with Y) or the global (You can't be with her because you are a Z).
My favorite though is a bunch of Emo Quotes that are cut up and given to players to use.  The only thing that is really missing is a rule on how to handle the "long meaningful stare".   The character sheets are easy to fill out.  I suggest printing out the book two page per sheet, that gives your characters sheets a nice portable size that you can fold over like a small journal or diary.  An appendix of recommended reading, watching and listening is included. The game ends with a Halloween themed episode/adventure.
The author also has an active blog where she is posting new ideas for her game all the time,

Byron Falls
Byron Falls works in a similar manner.
Written by RPG demi-god John Wick Byron Falls focuses more on the human side of the equation.  The town of Byron Falls is full of beautiful, highly intelligent girls and women that only have eyes for the supernatural creatures in town.  And the town has more than their fair share.  Character generation is also very simple.  You have Interests, up to five Friends, an Enemy (or not) and your Grade.  All characters start out as High School Freshman (Grade 9).  The mechanic is a very simple one.  If you want to do something and it relevant to your interests or friends then you roll the number of dice that you have points in that area. Evens mean a success.  No success and your enemy gets to decide what the outcome of your actions are.  Again here it is not whether or not you have enough points in a area to beat someone up, but rather what is most dramatic for the game.  The supernatural creatures of BF also have to be agreed on.  Do Werewolves and Vampires hate each other? How do witches react around humans?
The game is designed with playing humans in mind, and female high schoolers in particular.  But over time more supernaturals can be added and even some characters may discover they are supernatural themselves (like becoming a witch on your 16th birthday).
The town is fleshed out and situations are given for role-playing.

Both games simultaneously poke fun at and respect their source material, which I think is about right.  They can see the silly side of this but at the same time understand that to the people in this situation it is all seriousness.  It is high school, where all drama in Big Drama and every choice is Life and Death.

If you are fan of the source material then these games will be fun.  If you are not a fan then these games can also still be a lot of fun if taken in the right mindset.

Games for Games Sake

OR: "How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Game"

Following up on a series of posts that basically have been asking, "Why aren't Games Better".

This morning I read this from Amber Benson's blog, Art for Art's Sake.
Amber is a multi-talented actor, writer, director, singer, dancer and even RPG author (she did write the adventure "Almasti" in the Ghosts of Albion Core book) and she is reflecting on the lack of good opportunities for many actors in today's world and how she has decided not to let that get to her and she will instead only take the jobs that please her as an artist.

I think that is great advice and one that can be extended to the whole RPG biz and the OSR in particular.

I am very fortunate. I don't have to write games to pay my bills.  I can write what I want or take the odd for hire writing gig or more often than not, reject others that while would be nice to get paid for, I don't have the love for them.

So I have decided to take all games on face value.  The questions I'll ask begin and end with "is it fun for me?", everything else is only details.

When writing something now, unless it is a for pay gig, then I am working from the point of view of "is it fun for me?"  IF other find it fun then great! If not, then that's ok too.  I am not trying to be elitist here, actually just the opposite, since I believe that if I find it fun to write and play so will others and hopefully that means a better product.

There are plenty of people out there that need to write to put food on the table, or keep the bills paid off for at least one more month.  For them, since I can't say my laid back attitude would help them or not, I just promise to stay out of the way.  If you are doing something I like and find fun then be assured I'll tell people.  If I don't like it, well then I might not know enough to tell anyone anything about good or bad.  But if I do, then be assured I'll give you a good, intelligent reason why I don't like it.  Your job then is to listen to me or ignore me as it benefits your enjoyment of your game.

The truth is there is just too much good stuff out there to worry about the games that don't work for me.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Zatannurday: Zatanna's Love life

There are basically two things that make for a complicated love life.  Living on the road and being a superhero.  Zatanna strikes out in both cases.

But unlike some other supers, she tries to make the best of it, even if her luck never really changes.

So here is a special Pre-Valentine's Day Zantannurday.

I think, maybe more than any other super-hero, Zantanna seems to have been free to express her sexuality.  Even more so than Wonder Woman, the feminine ideal according to her creator.  If Zatanna wants to hook-up for a one night stand, be Constantine's occasional tantric sex partner or what have you, she seems to be freer to do that.  Maybe it is because she didn't have her own series till recently?  Anytime WW gets a new boyfriend that is the stuff of cometary in Newsweek, but Zee, not so much.

Zee has had her troubles like trying to summon the man of her dreams and getting a monster:

Proving yet again that you should not drink alone (see the empty bottle there) and then try to summon.  That whole careful what you wish for thing I guess.

Of course any excuse to have her work with John is usually and excuse for them to have sex on panel.

Or a one night stand with a fellow magician,

Or making a subtle pass,

But none of these have ended out well and she seems to be settled into single life by the time The Books of Magic series is out.  Though by the Alex Ross series Kingdom Come we see the son of Zee and John. Not that it means they got married, but they were at least still having sex.

Course Zee's most interesting relationship has been with Bruce Wayne/Batman.  Depending on which continuity you subscribe to, Zee and Bruce have know each other for years and she had something of a crush on him in those early days when he was training with her father.

Of course then came the whole Doctor Light mind wipe issue and their friendship was strained.  Mostly by Bats.  They came back around to each other, eventually, but the relationship issue was not fully resolved just yet. and

Couple of blog posts and sites,
Zatanna's first dates:
Given that I am working my way through the "Dresden Files" now, I give Harry a better than average chance, which just means he would find a way to screw it up.

Zatanna's Love Life: and

Zee and Constantine

So happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Season of the Witch: Episode 5

Episode 5: Veteran of the Psychic Wars

Fall 2004

The girls are driving from NOLA and end up in Southern Texas. They get a phone call from Faith (much to their surprise). She mentions she talked to Dawn and heard they were “in the neighborhood” and gave them directions to where she and a friend was. The go to the place Faith tells them about (a little out of their way) and the meet Faith (remember, this is AU Faith, the Faith of this world died in prison when the Knights of Eolhim attacked her) they also meet an older man, Nigel. Nigel recognizes Tara, whom he accidentally calls “Megan”. Bob recognizes him and Nigel can see Bob.

Nigel and Faith are here hunting Bigfoots. Bob does not trust Nigel and indeed, Nigel seem more interested in Willow and especially Tara than he does in Bigfoot hunting.

Faith is excited to see old friends and to be out of the demon hunting biz. She claims that she was approached by Nigel last year and he works for “The Hoffman Institute”. Bob knows the organization, a group of cryptid hunters.

Slowly it is revealed, mostly from Nigel himself that, that there is more history between Nigel, Bob and Megan than Bob has let on. During an argument between Bob and Nigel, Nigel reveals that he had slept with Megan (something Bob knew) and that the timing was right that Tara might his daughter and not Bob’s. This fun filled family moment is broken up by an attack on their camp by Bigfoot.

The creature is driven off and the cast discover that Nigel hunting Bigfoots is actually a ruse. Even Faith was fooled. Nigel is still working for S.A.V.E. and they are interested in Willow and Tara. In fact they have a rather large file on them and even know that Tara had died and her “sister” Kara never existed. Everyone is angry. But Nigel points out that while his methods were bad, he is really the good guy, he even asks Bob to vouch for him and his mission. S.A.V.E. also knows about The Awakening and wants to make sure that whatever happens that the population of normal humans are safe.

Though now they have a giant cryptid on their hands and Tara’s empathy tells them that the creature is afraid and being hunted by other hunters. The Cast decides to forget Nigel for a bit and instead focus on the Bigfoot. They find it with hunters on its heels. Willow and Tara cast a masking spell on it so it can get back to its home in the swamps unnoticed.

Nigel apologizes for his ruse and says the offer to join S.A.V.E. will always be open to them. He ask Faith to go with him to the Pacific Northwest where he has been told some strange occurrences are going on. She agrees and they all part.

Tara tells Bob that it doesn’t matter what Nigel told her, her father was the man that sat by her bed when she was sick and the one that taught her to ride a horse and drove her all her equestrian events. Packing up, they drive to Central Texas to get back onto course.

NOTES: Not everything in an adventure works. This one is a good example. I had higher hopes for this one. I had been reading a bunch of “Conspiracy” games at this point (DarkMatter, ConX, Delta Green) and I wanted to pull in material from all of them. I was also playtesting the new version of Chill. Well things just never clicked. I tried to merge various elements of all these games (the Hoffman Institute was from DarkMatter) but the problem was not the contradictions but the similarities. While I had not quite given up at this point, this did lay the seeds for me that WitchCraft/Buffy is fairly incompatible with Conspiracy X or DarkMatter.

I brought back S.A.V.E. since I was playtesting Chill 3.0 at the time, which led to my Chill conversions, and I even detail some of the information that Nigel claimed S.A.V.E. had on Willow & Tara.

Of course S.A.V.E. is the third “big org” interested in the girls and The Awakening (The Witches Committee and Lilith). S.A.V.E. is pretty upfront about what they want; to protect normal humans with Willow and Tara’s help. We still have one more big organization to go.

Cordy is missing here. Not for any plot based reason other then her player was not here. So I claimed she had other charges to deal with, after all she was only their “probationary” Whitelighter.
The adventure itself comes off as a weak monster of the week episode and even the monster, Bigfoot no less, is less than threat and more of an annoyance. This partially because at this point in the game it is becoming obvious that your garden variety monster is no match to the cast and my Bigfoot was nowhere near anything like a threat to this group.

I brought Faith back and totally underused her, meant to bring her back again, but could never find anything that I wanted to do that would do her justice. More daddy issues, this time it is Tara that has to show her support and love for Bob. Nigel really is not her father, but he did sleep with Megan. But to be fair she was still suffering from the after affects of dealing with demonic possession. Nigel had been tracking Willow and Tara all this time. He was using Faith as his way in with them.

Bigfoot was originally going to be a chupacabra, but I had watched this Bigfoot documentary a while back and they were hunting the Skunk Ape in Texas, so I figured I would go with that. The research I did then helped in the formulation of some my ideas for the Ghosts of Albion adventure “Almasti”.

One thing I established right away in this adventure was that Bigfoot is NOT a demon. Too many things are labeled “demon” in the original series; it was dull and unimaginative. Bigfoot is a bigfoot. Here are the stats for our guest star. He is a young (say adolescent) Bigfoot and not quite up to his full stats yet.

Bigfoot (young) Motivation: To live alone
Creature Type: Hominid
Life Points: 38
Drama Points: 0–1

Str: 7
Dex: 5
Con: 7
Int: 2
Per: 6
Will: 3

Ability Scores
Muscle: 20
Combat: 22
Brains: 10

Name Score Damage Notes
Grapple 24 — Resisted by dodge
Punch 22 19 Bash
Spear 22 26 Slash/stab

Next up. The Ghosts of Alamo.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

How I stat out characters

I post a lot of characters here.  Lots.

Usually I have something in mind or I want to try out a new system with something I already know or a combination of the two.  But how do I take a character like Zatanna, or Red Sonja, or Willow and Tara or anyone and figure out how they are supposed to "be" in a particular system.  I have a couple of things I like to do and it has usually worked pretty well for me.

I always start out with what the character can do and who is this character supposed to be in my mind.  If I am working on Dirty Nel then I have a good idea, "sassy street faerie prostitute. cute. smarter than anyone gives her credit for. Enjoys her creature comforts and knows how to get them."  Some of that doesn't translate into game stats. Well...most games anyway. But a lot of it does.  I know she has quite a bit of knowledge about the world, street life and the occult.  I know she has a bit of magic in her and I also have a good idea about what her fighting prowess is like.

In most systems there are skills.  I look for signature skills the character has, say being able to program computers or speaking 4 languages and figure out how these are represented in the system.   For someone like Willow I look for high numbers in computers, science but also occult knowledge.  I know this is going to suck up most of her points and want to get them figured out first.  Plus they are very iconic to the character.  If I am working on Batwoman then I want to be sure her acrobatics are good, if I have Robin Sena I know she is young and most of her skills are weak except for things like occult knowledge and maybe her languages.

I like to stay within the rules as much as I can.  This helps me define the character in terms of that world's reality. If a Unisystem character gets 25 points for skills then I need to have good reasons for going to 35.  If I am using PL 9 as a base for Tarot and PL 11 for Tara in Mutants and Masterminds then I want their skills to comparable to those realities.

Skills are good Rosetta Stone really.  Most systems have them and there are lot of good translations.  Knowledge (Supernatural) could be the same thing as Occultism or Occult Knowledge.

Since I tend to make a lot of magic using characters using magic as another yardstick is good.   For D&D and d20-like games I know they need a certain spell and they need to be a certain level to cast that.  That is how I came up with Willow and Tara's levels in d20 Mod, a combination of spells and skills.
In a game like Ghosts of Albion the same is true, but then I can decide on how many levels of magic they might need.
For something like d20, this is pretty easy to work backwards from.  Find the spells, find the levels that can cast those spells, fill in the details.
For a point buy system like Ghosts, it is only part of the equation.

A lot of games feature combat or fighting.  To ignore this does the character an injustice.  Even in Call of Cthulhu or Doctor Who the character might need to stop running or talking and fight it out.  Thinking about combat like a skill then is a good way to figure out a character.  In M&M I know Tarot for example is a better fighter than Willow or Zatanna, but she can't match either of them (or even come close) in magic.  That doesn't mean she can go toe to toe with the likes of Red Sonja either.  It means that there is a good balance to be had.  Where that balance is sometimes is up for debate.  My Red Sonja may be different that someone else's based on the same PL (to use an Mutants and Masterminds example).

This is less "quantitative" really.  I'll start with a premise, "Willow is the most powerful witch in my game" then I work down from her.  I think what would it take to get the character to this level, what would it take to get a different character to a similar level.
For characters like the Hex Girls I want to make them total novices at magic.  So in Unisystem they have Magic 1 or 2 tops.  But still give the points where they would be better than average, music and showmanship.   I usually feel pretty confident in my builds, but each one usually takes longer than say just stating up John or Jane Doe Character.

Sometimes I have such strong idea for a character concept, like Justice, that I also just like to see the character in different systems too.  In the case of Willow and Tara I am also seeing if I can stat them up in as many systems as I can.