11 September 2018

What To Do When You (Suddenly) Have Lots of Free Time

It's been less than a week since Carbine shut down. I can't say I've been particularly productive. I've been listing old RPG items on eBay, hoping to raise enough money to pay for my hobbies once all this other crap gets sorted out.

One thing I need to do is work on my knowledge of Roll20, the virtual tabletop that I'll likely be using to run games... eventually.

I also need to get a freelance project to work on, add some more doubloons to me olde coffers.

Eh... it's not so much being bored, though that is part of it. It's more about not seeing the people I'm so used to seeing on a daily basis. I don't exactly live around the corner from the Carbine office, either. I should see someone of those folks tomorrow, though. We'll see how that pans out.

07 September 2018

Rest in Peace, Carbine Studios

I haven't posted here in almost exactly four years.

Blogging has always been something of an on-again, off-again thing with me. I'll go steady for days, weeks, months, and then... I'll stop. No reasons cited. I guess my attention shifts. Maybe I'll pay better attention this time around.

The game studio I've worked for over the past 6+ years, Carbine, was shut down yesterday. I've been in the computer games industry for over eleven years now. This makes for my third layoff. Being honest, I have trouble considering 38 Studios' implosion as a proper layoff. Maybe we'll say that I've been laid off twice as well as completely vandalized once.

I don't take it personally. There's no bad guys. It's a fact of life and folks like me accept it. There's a dream, of course, that you'll find the perfect product or the perfect team and make a perfect career out of it. That happens, but it's not common. The fact I survived at Carbine for six years and through two other layoffs is something of a minor miracle.

The first layoff I was swept up in was at EA Mythic. I was a designer on Warhammer Online. The game wasn't doing well, and in the end they cut just about everyone (including me). It was right before Thanksgiving. There was a severance package that would keep us afloat for two months, but I came to see that as a lit fuse rather than a safety net. It wasn't going to take long for it to burn away.

I went home that day, told my wife the news, and then I sat and cried. My family and I were across the country from our starting point in California. I didn't know what I was going to do. I had no idea if I'd find a job in time. Christmas was two months away. I was terrified.

I was also a relative freshman in the industry. I had a pretty good list of freelance writing credits to my name, but only 2 years and 5 months of hands-on computer game development. Not only that, but writing jobs were (and still are) hard to find. Recruiters weren't going out of their way to send me messages about openings at their companies.

It ended up working out for me when 38 Studios made me an offer just before Christmas. It was a good offer and their future looked bright... but that's another story, and probably one I've told before. Even if I'd known the outcome ahead of time, I still would've taken the job. I learned a lot from that experience and grew as a designer and writer.

I know I'm going to survive this, but there are so many others who don't have that comfort. At least, not yet.

20 September 2014

Losing Players

It's never easy to lose a player, much less two of them. My group is getting smaller by two members who are moving on to a job opportunity in another state. Tonight is the last game we'll be playing together (for the foreseeable future) before they begin their road trip next week. Their absence will be noted and felt going forward, and we'll all miss their participation and contributions. Both of them have been excellent additions to our game, not to mention friends of the highest caliber.

That said, the group--a 5th edition D&D party--will be losing its barbarian and bard, leaving behind a cleric, paladin, thief, and warlock to contend with all the threats and nasties they'll face in the future. I'm mulling over the idea of keeping the group at four players, or trying to recruit one more. I suppose I'll talk to everyone about it and see where they stand once the dust settles.

I've had plenty of groups explode in my time gaming, but I can definitely feel this one more acutely because we're all friends and we've known each other (and gamed together) for over two years now.

Anyway, that's about it. I've got a game to prep for, so I'd better stop with the whining.

16 September 2014

Lords of Nal Hutta

A few months after I started at Carbine, I received an email from FFG asking if I'd be interested in contributing to their new Star Wars RPG, Edge of the Empire. I jumped at the opportunity to do so, and I'm glad I did. That first project was relatively small in the grand scheme of things, but it started the freelance ball rolling for me after a couple years' worth of downtime.

That project, Lords of Nal Hutta, has just been announced, and it should be on store shelves sometime later this year. Though it's not the first FFG Star Wars product to be released with my name in the credits, it is the first one I ever worked on. This feels like some sort of milestone for me, and I'm so happy to have had the opportunity.

In other news, Cubicle 7's Lone Wolf Adventure Game Kickstarter has been funded, and I'll be doing my best to bring the world of Magnamund to life. As a kid, I enjoyed the heck out of the Lone Wolf books. They took the "Choose Your Own Adventure" formula and turned it into something dynamic and exciting. For a kid who didn't get to play RPGs very often, they were a godsend.

Keep an eye out for more Star Wars and Lone Wolf news, and I'll see you a little later!

01 September 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Thirty-One - Favorite RPG of all Time

Not your typical fantasy setting.
This is something of a tough question for me to answer, but when I consider all the games I've run over the past twenty-eight years, I can narrow it down to a handful of settings and systems. I'm going to focus on settings, rather than mechanics, though, to answer this question. The setting, in my opinion, has always been more important than system mechanics. Well, unless the system mechanics are utterly terrible and/or impossible to use. Anyway.

After playing AD&D for a long while, I grew tired of the traditional D&D tropes. I focused more on science fiction and horror settings rather than anything even remotely fantasy-oriented. I was also, for a time, totally done with class-based/level-based systems. I absolutely abhorred them. I even modified my Cyberpunk games to omit the Roles (ie, classes) that, to me, restricted the character creation process.

I don't know when I first heard of Dark Sun, but it was late in the game. It was well after the 2nd edition had been released, I know that. For some reason, I found a used copy of the 2nd edition Dark Sun boxed set on a used shelf and bought it. I took it home, started reading, and suddenly my hatred of class- and level-based systems was a thing of the past. It was a game I had to run.

Our old stomping grounds. Man, I miss this place.
I started a Dark Sun game not long after that. I tested a few things out using my wife as a guinea pig (ask her about the fight with the ankheg sometime) before I really got into it. About the only thing I couldn't stand in 2nd edition AD&D was the psionics rules. Luckily, no one wanted to be a psionicist, and the only thing I had to worry about in that regard were wild talents.

In any case, the players seemed love the game. It went on for a long while, and we managed to finish it off with a bang. I don't remember the highest character level in that crew, but I think they got to around 7th or 8th level. I tried to bring it back once 3.0 came out, but there was something about that edition that got under my skin. 3.5 fixed most of those issues for me, but I never tried to run Dark Sun again with any system.

I realize there's a bunch of stuff out there that adapts Dark Sun to 3.5. Now that 5th edition is here, I'm thinking I might have a go of adapting it to Dark Sun on my own. I'll probably wait until all the core books have been released, so I've got some time. If I ever get around to this little project, I'll be sure to let you guys know about it. However, if the freelance train gets rolling here pretty soon, I probably won't have time for it. Such is life,

Brom's art really sold the world of Athas.
In closing, Dark Sun was the setting that brought me back to fantasy RPGs. If not for Dark Sun, I might never have looked into Midnight, a setting that runs a very close second to Dark Sun insofar as my favorite fantasy worlds go. You also know that I'm a huge fan of the Star Wars RPGs that have been released, as well as The One Ring and Cyberpunk 2020. Like I said, this wasn't an easy decision to make.

I guess this wraps up #RPGaDay, given that August is over and September is here. I'm sort of surprised I stuck with it (though I was late on a couple of occasions). Feel free to follow me or my blog. You can even find me on Twitter @BarrierPeaks. I can't guarantee I'll update daily, but I'll do my best to keep this thing alive.

30 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Thirty - Rarest RPG Owned

Uh... I don't really know.

I've got an extensive collection of RPG books. I've been dragging these things around for years and years. I remember finding a copy of Deities & Demigods that included the Cthulhu mythos, and I was ecstatic. I don't know what it goes for now, or how rare it really is.

I'm not sure what the values of most of my books and boxed sets are. I know I had a hell of a time finding a copy of The Will and the Way for the original Dark Sun campaign setting. I did find one eventually, and it's nestled in with the rest of my DS books. I tracked down and purchased just about every supplement they produced for that game line, and they're all in pretty good condition.

Another book I could never find was Hideouts and Strongholds for WEG's Star Wars RPG. The stress of not having that book was alleviated when my friend Jay sent me a copy from his collection. I owe him one for that. It also seems that some of the Saga Edition Star Wars books are worth a pretty penny. For instance, Starships of the Galaxy, the first Saga edition SW product I worked on, used to be pretty expensive.

I don't generally keep an eye on RPG prices. I collect them, but I don't do it because they're valuable. I do it because I enjoy gaming.

#RPGaDay: Day Twenty-Nine - Most Memorable Encounter

Like this. Only without the rat, skull, or sign.
What do you do when you find a half-elf defiler sleeping in your barn? Why, you lynch him, of course.

That's what happened to my wife's character in the original Dark Sun game I ran. Her character, a defiler/thief named Innath, decided to slip into someone's barn on the outskirts of a desert village. While he was sleeping, the barn's owner discovered him, gathered some friends, and decided to mete out some Athasian justice.

The farmer and his buddies, all humans, woke Innath up in a most uncouth manner, searched him, and then escorted him to a place where no one would hear him scream. They gave Innath a shovel made from chitin and told him to dig. As he dug himself a hole, they pulled out the broy and drank themselves silly, but kept just enough of their sobriety to ensure he wasn't going to slip away.

When Innath's hole was as deep as they liked, they tied his hands and made him kneel in it. They filled the hole with dirt until Innath's head was the only thing at ground level. Helpless, Innath watched as they gathered around him and relieved their broy-filled bladders directly on top of his head. Then, laughing, they gathered up the shovel and went home.

The sun rises higher in the sky and the temperature begins to bake the urine-soaked earth around Innath's head. Suddenly, he hears what sounds like a strange, shrill bird call. He can't turn his head real far, but he catches a glimpse of a snake-like neck of a large bird pop over a rise and stare hungrily down at him. The bird shrieks again, and another one pops up. Then another. And another. They begin to stalk closer, revealing themselves to look like spiny ostriches. The birds (abrians) circle Innath's head.

Innath would've been dead if the other players--a fire priest and an escaped gladiator--hadn't been attracted by the birds screeching and decided to investigate. The gladiator charged in, with the fire priest close behind, and slaughtered the birds before they could pick out Innath's eyes.

That was one of the most memorable encounters I remember from that Dark Sun campaign. There were other epic moments--a battle with a bulette at an oasis, the gladiator's duel with an elf tribe's champion, or the climactic fight against a lich and his undead minions in a subterranean tomb below Tyr--but that's the one I remember most fondly.

Note: The art is from a game called Blood Dawn, which is related to a quirky sci-fi RPG called Battlelords of the 25th Century, originally produced by Optimus Design Systems (ODS). Looks like Battlelords is now being produced by the chaps over at SSDC. The artist is Michael Osadciw, as near as I can tell.

28 August 2014

#RPGaDay: Day Twenty-Eight: Scariest Game I've Played

This is generally the point when your brain 'splodes.
I've said before that I'm primarily a GM. I've run a lot of horror games in my lifetime, and I've even had players tell me they were genuinely scared during such sessions. What I haven't done is played in a lot of horror games, which means I have a very narrow selection of such to choose from.

I've played horror games at conventions, but they were never particularly scary. Maybe it's the atmosphere of being in a room with a hundred other gamers with everyone talking, rolling dice, and hamming it up. I've always preferred to run my own games with the lights down. Or, even better, keep the lights off, with candles here and there to provide a more "organic" form of illumination. Put some creepy music on at a low volume (always preferred the Hellraiser score, myself) and it takes most of the work out of getting your players in the mood.

But I digress.

The scariest game I've ever played was one of my girlfriend's (now wife's) Call of Cthulhu games. There are three such games that stick out in my mind, and two of them were genuinely frightening. I'll focus on the one I recall the best, which was set in 1920's San Francisco. At least, I think it was. Anyway, there were two players in the game. One of us was an educated fellow, sort of a scholar. I, on the other hand, was playing a federal agent.

Our first investigation began as a missing persons case, or so we assumed, involving a little girl. We canvased the neighborhood where she'd been seen, talked to folks about her. No one could say where she lived, but they'd seen her here and there. In fact, one of them had called the case in, hoping we'd locate her and find out where her home was.

Eventually, we did find her. Her name was Madeline, but she was a bit odd. Once we'd spoken with her the first time, she sort of disappeared (not before our eyes, but she definitely wasn't there anymore). We did some research, and it turned out a girl about her age and description went missing near the turn of the century. It couldn't have possibly been her, since she was around eight or nine years old. Or could it be? Old photographs we dug up looked pretty much like she did, right down to the clothes she wore.

Long story short, she'd been taken away by some kind of extradimensional thing or being, which she referred to as "mommy." Apparently, there were lots of "mommies" where it had taken her. In order to get into the realm where this entity lived, you had to do a little hopscotch thing and recite a strange rhyme filled with words no sane man should ever hear, let alone speak. We didn't believe her, but when she showed us--and vanished right in front of us--there was a bit of sanity loss.

My character, as sentimental as he was, felt that he had to rescue this poor innocent girl from whatever evil had taken her away from her family all those years ago. This meant doing "the Hopscotch" (as Madeline called it) and reciting the rhyme she'd used. The creepiest part of the game was crossing that threshold and seeing what lay beyond it.

We did end up saving her, and our sanities suffered for it. My character ended up adopting Madeline. She was a strange little girl, probably insane, but she was also young and there was a chance she'd recover. My character made life as good for her as possible, but she never was what people of the '20's would call "normal." She was even a useful reference during future investigations, though my character was hesitant to go to that well too often.

That, in a nutshell, is the scariest game I've ever played in.

My wife doesn't run games anymore, for which I'm eternally saddened. She had a great grasp of storytelling, and she was probably the most internally consistent GMs I've ever had. Occasionally I bug her and whine about it, but she hems and haws. She doesn't really enjoy GMing, so I don't push the issue. I have her as a player, and that'll have to be enough.