31 August 2006

Past Campaigns, Part the Sixth

My friend CJ loved lycanthropes. You know, werewolves. When White Wolf released the first edition of Werewolf, he was all over it. He and I went to a local BK and went over character options and the like. I came up with Fianna hitch hiker, I think. Not much more can I recall, except that the adventure he ran me through had to do with defending a secluded farmhouse (and the family within) from bad guys.

Later on, with the advent of Werewolf, second edition he ran another, large campaign. I came in somewhat late, but it didn’t seem to matter. Though the mechanics and ideas behind Werewolf were interesting, I was a bit put off by the fundamentalist nature of the setting. I understand, that’s what they were aiming for. After all, the Garou are nothing if not religious fanatics.

So, being me, I decided to play a Glasswalker galliard who moonlighted as an illegal arms merchant, and who didn’t have much use for the more religious aspects of Garou ideology. Customers were customers, after all. This did eventually come back to bite the character in the behind (almost literally), which annoyed me at the time. It would seem that one of his allies, who just happened to be a vampire, went with type and betrayed him towards the end of my involvement in the campaign. When the campaign ended, the character came out looking like an idiot.

Hey, all’s fair, I guess.

I kept collecting the Werewolf product line for my own use. There was some good stuff in those books. Some of the changing breed stuff was especially neat. There was a lot of variety in those product lines, and of all the White Wolf RPGs in the original World of Darkness line, Vampire and Werewolf were my favorites.

Eventually, I had to put the books I was collecting to good use. I started a Werewolf game that was set following the Apocalypse. The details are a bit sketchy without checking my notes, but it was kind of like The Dark Tower meets Gamma World with fangs, set in the WoD. The world had “moved on.” Some areas of the landscape had been eaten by the entry of the Wyrm, while other portions were engulfed by the Wyld. Technology was slowly breaking down, leading to a perpetual dark age. Vampires had established little monarchies here and there.

Most of the PCs began as Garou. One player was a kinfolk. None of them knew what their tribes were, as they were all orphans that had been taken in by a kindly old werewolf who was their collective mentor. The kinfolk was a Mormon hedge magician from the wastes that had once been Utah, and while he was that much less powerful than the rest of the group, he still fit in really well once he’d been introduced. The kicker was that one of the players was an orphaned Black Spiral Dancer (bet you didn’t see that coming), which was to play a large role in later adventures.

Anyway, the whole point was that the PCs had to leave their mentor on a sort of quest to establish a new cairn at a node. In the meantime, they’d be accosted by vampires, mutants, wyrm critters, and (of course) evil werewolves.

I think the game made it past the second or third session before it got put on hold for one reason or another. To remember it, the players had begged me to go back to running my Dark Sun campaign (which was the single longest running AD&D campaign I’ve ever run). At some point, I’ll need to revisit the Werewolf game. When? Who knows?

After Vampire: The Dark Ages was released, White Wolf went off on a historical bent. Titles included Werewolf: The Wild West and Mage: Sorcerer’s Crusade. Of the two, Mage was the best. Wild West really turned me off on a number of levels, mostly because it didn’t seem to deserve its own product line. That, and there were several arbitrary rules (such as those deeming that silver bullets are somehow inherently inaccurate, as compared to lead ones) that bugged me. Sorcerer’s Crusade, on the other hand, was really well done. It was stylish, useful, and seemed like it would be a lot of fun to play.

As for the other White Wolf titles, I played in a Mage game that I wasn’t horribly impressed with. The system (first edition) was too open-ended, seeming at points too open to abuse and too restricted. It was hard to determine what, precisely, a certain character could do with his powers. As was common with WW titles, this was cleaned up considerably in the second edition of the rules (which I much preferred), but we never did get to play that edition.

Changeling? Hmm. I bought the first edition rules used for $5, just to look them over, but it’s a game I’d never play.

I bought Wraith right after its original release. I was interested in the dark aspects of the game, and in the chance to portray a ghost. As with the other WW games, the first edition didn’t do much for me. It was convoluted, the specific rules were muddy, it was hard to read. Or maybe I was just dumb. I don’t know.

I didn’t pay much more attention to it until well after the second edition was released. I bought the second edition of Wraith at a bargain basement price, and found that it was much improved over the original. Who would’ve thought it? Unfortunately, as was the case with a lot of titles I ended up liking, I got Wraith Fever just after the game had been drop-kicked by White Wolf. I guess it wasn’t popular enough. I tend to doubt that, had I discovered the second edition earlier on, the game would’ve been saved.

I’ve amassed a fairly large collection of Wraith books in the meantime, and I’m impressed with the depth of the setting material. It’s a very playable game, albeit requiring the right kinds of players. As much as I wanted to pull a game together on one or more occasions, it never worked out. Lack of interest on the part of some players played a key role at least once; time and energy (or lack thereof) was instrumental in the failure of other plans.

One of the interesting mechanics introduced in Wraith is that of the Shadow, a character’s dark side, the spectre within trying to get out. It acts like a little devil on your shoulder, commenting and making suggestions that aren’t always in the best interests of your character. What was most interesting about this mechanic is that your character’s Shadow is portrayed by another player, making the process incredibly interactive. Amusingly enough, this was one the big turn-offs for me when I read the first edition of Wraith. I’d have to go back and review the old rules, because I’m not entirely certain why I abhorred it then, but find it appealing today.

My ever-evolving tastes in gaming, most likely.

I stopped buying WoD supplements as time went on. I purchased Demon: The Fallen merely because it was on sale, and I didn’t see any harm in having the core rules. I dare say I’ve only ever skimmed the contents, because I can’t for the life of me remember much about it.

For one reason or another, I’ve refrained from investing in the new World of Darkness. I find it a difficult expenditure to make, considering the vast library of supplements and core books I have that are, as of the new game’s release, obsolete. Big changes have been made in the new releases, both mechanically and thematically. I can’t say that I might not prefer the new editions over the old ones, were I to pick them up, read them, and play them. Alas, I am not wealthy enough to consider buying the WoD all over again. Besides, I like to think that I prefer the old WoD to the new one, given all the reviews I’ve read.

Yes, yes, I’m a grognard. I know.

Thursday May As Well Be Monday

Today was one of those days where getting up and getting ready for work was the last thing I wanted to do. It was a struggle. Not because I don't like my job, but because I was a) tired and b) would've preferred to be doing something other than working. After my Gen Con trip, I can't afford to take time off, so I pulled it together and went in.

I've got one more month on my current deadline, with a truckload of work to get done. I've worked out a schedule of sorts, and if I stick to it religiously in September, I'll be good to go by turnover time.

I've found that working weeknights (on writing) has become ever more difficult as the baby has gotten older. With him walking, it's hard enough for one of us to keep up with him. I don't feel right not being there to help Amy out after work, when we're both tired and the baby's energy level seems to be at its peak. He's such a little goon sometimes.

Sometimes, I even wonder if I want to continue writing, given all the responsibilities that have crept into my life since March of 2005. The sad thing is that I want to continue writing more than ever before, but after nine hours (or five days) in the office, sometimes the energy just isn't there.

Outside of games, I'd love to write fiction. I've been slowly realizing this, but I'm not sure where to go with it. Lots of game designers branch out into fiction, don't they? I reckon I can, too, given the opportunity. Do I need to start a book and shop it around?

Well, off to work for me. I'll check in later with another long-winded episode of "Past Campaigns."

30 August 2006

New GWAR Album

So, the new GWAR CD, Beyond Hell, has been released. I’ve put one on order with Amazon.com. I guess the initial release is a limited edition CD that includes a DVD or some such. I’m interested to see what the band has been doing since I last saw them in concert. Earlier this year, they posted a song from the new album, Alice Cooper’s School’s Out, which (as far as I know) is the only cover that GWAR has ever done. It’s definitely GWAR, but without the profanity. What do you expect? They’re trying to get some radio airplay out of this song. I have no idea if it’s worked, as I haven’t heard the song on the radio out here.

Then again, I haven’t heard GWAR on the radio since just before I met my wife, when one of the now-defunct “hard rock” stations played Crack in the Egg as a “smash or trash” listener vote deal. That was in 1992. I’m sure that playing GWAR on the radio would result in the FCC firebombing the station in retaliation for the sudden and scatological violation of the airwaves.

Why would someone like me, a fine upstanding citizen with a one and a half year-old son, a loving wife, and a respectable job, listen to drivel like GWAR? I blame Amber.

Amber was a girl I knew in high school. We were both photographers for the yearbook. She was an interesting girl. I can’t recall every musical group that she listened to, but I do remember that she was a big fan of both GWAR and Danzig. Due to my exposure to GWAR through Amber, I eventually picked up the Scumdogs of the Universe album on cassette tape. Was it loud? Yes. Perverse? Definitely. Inappropriate for minors? Assuredly. But it was funny, too. Whether you like heavy metal or not, the musicians in the band are really quite talented. If you can put the disgusting (and oftentimes downright offensive) lyrics aside, you might enjoy it.

Then again, you might not. It’s definitely an acquired taste, and it can get tedious for some folks (like my wife) if it’s all that I listen to. It’s a complete parody of what people stereotypically consider that kind of music to be, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. There’s a lot of licentious humor, politically incorrect verbiage, and make-believe mythology to it.

Since those days, I’ve picked up every GWAR album that’s been released (except for the Road Behind EP, which I never did get; it’s a perpetual entry on my Amazon wish list). I’ve seen the band in concert three times, and I’ve seen the Dave Brockie Experience (ie, DBX; one of GWAR’s side projects) once. I will continue to listen to them until they stop producing albums, I suppose, so long as the quality of the music remains consistent. I’ll have to protect my son from the music, at least until he’s old enough to understand that it isn’t proper to say certain words in polite society.

29 August 2006

Past Campaigns, Part the Fifth

All this talk about Cyberpunk has me hungry to run and/or play the damn game. Unfortunately, the rigors of Real Life (tm) have me at a disadvantage. Perhaps soon I will be able to reconnect with my role-playing roots in a more intimate fashion. As it is, there are other games I need to talk about, other characters and storylines to dredge up.

I had marginal interest in Vampire: The Masquerade after its initial (first edition) release. The AD&D group I'd been playing with (you know, the big one) was on its last legs. Roughly half of the players went one way (sticking with AD&D), and the other half went the other (switching to Vampire). There were a lot of political reasons for the group's break-up, not to mention some personality conflicts. I never got involved overmuch; I was more of a neutral bystander, and by that time I'd had enough of straight fantasy to last me a few years.

The group that chose to play Vampire consisted of good old Josh (you'll remember him as my friend Will's older brother), Josh's girlfriend, Louis, and a few others (including my friend CJ and his future wife). They really dug Vampire, and they played it very close to how they saw Anne Rice's Lestat books. I was involved in two instances before I took my leave of the group; my first as a Tremere scholar from England, followed by a Toreador duelist (who was eventually transformed into an Immortal, like those in the Highlander movies, through our own [very simple] house rules).

Let me explain that Josh, who ran these games, started them in rough historical version of the 15th century (as far as I can fathom). His plan was to start the game off at that point, and eventually work the characters into the modern day (as elders, I presume). My participation didn't make it that far, so I don't know how successful it was. Simply put, I got tired of Vampire pretty quickly, and ducked out of the group. I don't really know why I tired of it. Maybe it's because it was the hot title at the time, and I had to be some kind of teenage nonconformist. More likely, though, was that my involvement with Grant's GURPS group (and the Bad Streets campaign) kept me occupied.

I eventually came to terms with Vampire, after the release of the 2nd Edition. I even bought the core book and the Player's Guide, dabbling with the rules a little bit. Despite my initial unhappiness with the game, I turned into a big fan after a while. I still considered some of the themes inherent in the game to be juvenile, specifically the "Peter Pan/Lost Boys" syndrome that was so common in the games I'd seen. There was some true potential, both thematically and mechanically, with the game.

One thing that really sucked me in (heh, heh) to the Vampire RPG was the Vampire CCG, Jyhad (which was eventually renamed Vampire: The Eternal Struggle). I absolutely loved that card game, and I got pretty good at it. I even scored third place in a V:tES tournament up at DunDraCon in San Ramone in 1998, and I'm not generally competetive. I haven't played the CCG in years (not since WW got the rights back from WotC), so most of my strategies (such as using Dragon's Breath Rounds with a Zip Gun) are like as not against the rules these days.

Through a series of savvy trades, I manage to amass quite a collection of White Wolf books, spanning from V:tM, Werewolf, Mage, Wraith, to several other titles in-between. To this day, the only stack of books in my apartment that even begins to rival my White Wolf stack is my D&D v3+ stack. Go reckon, but those White Wolf boys were busy bees! And the books were relatively economical, too.

Though I did run a few short-lived Vampire: The Masquerade games, I didn't see much success in running long-term campaigns until Vampire: The Dark Ages was released. To this day, it's probably my favorite release for the series (and much, much better than the later Dark Ages: Vampire; what a difference an edition makes). I started a small campaign, starring my wife as a Toreador architect, and Grant as a Gangrel ex-crusader. The themes of the game involved love, mortality, politics; it was a lot of fun. As the game continued, more players became involved. Notably, my good friend CS. The game did end, but I eventually revisited it with a new group of players some years later, exploring the struggles between Clan Tremere and the Tzimisce in Eastern Europe.

Besides Dark Ages, I also ran a successful (IMO) Vampire game set in San Francisco during the Roaring Twenties. The PCs were all Caitiff. Apart, they were scorned, but together in one group, they were a pretty influential power bloc in 'Frisco. The game centered on the efforts of the Camarilla, the Sabbat, and the Anarchs in the city trying to bring the PCs to their way of thinking, thereby tipping the balance (population-wise) in their favor. It was a good group of players, too, IIRC.

So, that's that. More later, I reckon. I'll try to touch on some other White Wolf titles, such as Werewolf and Wraith. Until then...

Roleplaying Purity Test

I thought this was amusing enough to post...

Ultimate Roleplaying Purity Score
CategoryYour ScoreAverage
Enjoys the occasional head-lopping
Sensitive Roleplaying60.76%
Will talk after everyone important's been killed
GM Experience47.1%
Puts the players through the wringer
Systems Knowledge72.46%
Local rules guru
Livin' La Vida Dorka45.98%
Has interesting conversations in public
You are 57.7% pure
Average Score: 68.9%

It's a little bit long, so if you're going to take it, make sure you've got a couple of minutes to spare.

27 August 2006

Past Campaigns, Part the Fourth

Let me preface this by saying that, yes, I was productive yesterday. I'll be headed back to the coffee shop in a couple of hours to pick up where I left off. For the time being, the house is quiet, the child is asleep, and I'm going to blog a little bit.

Even though I was a die-hard Cyberpunk fan, I had my experiences with Shadowrun. The AD&D group I originally played with also hosted a Shadowrun campaign, and I was happy to participate. The powers that were in that group didn't like Cyberpunk. I won't go so far as to say that they were actively adversarial to CP, but I never heard a single positive comment about it from them. They preferred the setting, magic, and metahumans of Shadowrun. I wasn't overly fond of SR's setting or mechanics, but I shouldered the burden and enjoyed it as best as I could.

My character was Sleeze, a city shaman from somewhere on North America's eastern coastline that claimed the rat as his totem. It was, overall, a fun character to play. I could be disgusting, cowardly, and conniving. Plus, I got to cast spells, which (by and large) is a big advantage in Shadowrun. Along with Sleeze, the PCs included at least two other magic users: an arcane spellcaster, and a wolf shaman. The three of us eventually formed some kind of pact with one another, much to our mutual benefit. We were like our own little power bloc within the party.

As with a lot of the earliest games I'd played, I don't really remember the overarching plots or themes of the SR campaign. There was a lot of inter-character action, though, that I remember. We "ran the shadows" against corporations, made enemies, and tried to get rich. It was pretty typical stuff.

Much later on, my wife and I participated in another Shadowrun game that Josh's girlfriend, Naomi, was running. Again I took on the mantle of a shaman, but this time I chose the fox totem and the name of Todd. The game was brief; I believe we went through a book adventure, Mercurial.

Now, my troubles with SR started with my original group's overt and unbiased preference for the game and setting over anything else (aside from AD&D), in conjunction with their outright dismissal of my favorite game, Cyberpunk. Prior to playing Shadowrun, I'd never had a bad thing to say about it. I even bought the 1st edition book to get ideas for my own CP games. I was regularly needled about the fact that I liked CP better than SR, a fact I never denied, but I certainly don't remember turning to blows over it. To me, it wasn't that big a deal. The "SR snobbery," though, didn't improve my opinion of a game that I eventually came to view as mechanically flawed in a number of ways.

As for mechanics, we originally played the first edition rules. The system wasn't intuitive, not in the slightest. The rules weren't well-written. Back then, I never had much more than a tenuous grasp on the way things worked. I knew what dice to roll, but I always relied on the GM to determine outcomes based on my results. Combat, especially, was a headache. I'd been spoiled by Cyberpunk's "roll one die to hit, then roll damage if you do" simplicity. In SR, we were regularly rolling great gobbing handfuls of d6's, over and over again.

The setting was simply okay, in my opinion. I was never fond of the Native American magical themes, though I'm not entirely sure why. It was a different take on spiritual magic, I suppose, one that (at the time) I wasn't really into. Thinking back, it wasn't as if SR could introduce a vast pantheon of gods, as in Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms, so I guess the inclusion of tribal totems and shamanistic magic makes sense in that regard.

A lot of what was included in SR seemed like a direct rip-off of either the Cyberpunk RPG, William Gibson's novels, or both. This isn't to say that Cyberpunk wasn't heavily derivative of Gibson's work; it was. Yet CP seemed more pure, adult, and less aimed at the youth market that SR was. For example, the currency of SR, the "Nuyen," was obviously just a derivative of Gibson's "New Yen," as compared to CP's "Euro" (which was based on a type of speculative international currency).

And then there was the aforementioned maturity level of the game. I said that CP seemed a bit more adult to me at the time, while SR was obviously aimed at a broader (younger) audience. SR was nice to look at, there were orcs and elves and trolls (oh, my!), but the one thing that really got on my nerves was the lexicon of the game. Artificial curse words like "drek" grated on my nerves, and I cringed everytime someone used coloquialisms like "chummer" and "decker" when they talked. It all sounded very artificial.

Not that Cyberpunk's "chombatta" was any easier to say (or listen to).

I do have some good things to say. Shocking, yeah. For one, although the mechanics of magic were unintelligable, I did enjoy the concepts of casting. Unlike AD&D, where you had an arbitrary spell list and a limited (daily) capacity for spells, SR allowed you to cast as much as you wanted -- provided you could withstand the rigors of channeling mana and magic through your body. This was reflected in drain, which you rolled after each spell and the difficulty of which was determined by the power of the spell that had been cast. I really liked that idea.

The other thing I liked about SR were riggers. While CP had rudimentary rules for direct neural connection to vehicles, SR explored the concept in detail. Even the name "rigger" wasn't as offensive to me as "decker," which helped quite a bit. The idea of driving a car or flying a plane with the power of my mind alone was pretty nifty.

I admit that my list of complaints about Shadowrun is long and (outside of the game's mechanical issues) largely superficial. These were problems I had with the game back then, and they don't necessarily apply today. The newest edition of the rules may be a shining example of harmony and simplicity, but I tend to doubt it. I've heard several gripes from folks who play the current edition of the game, and much of the lamentation stems from the clarity (or, rather, the lack of clarity) within the written rules. Still, SR continues to be supported (albeit by FanPro and not FASA). In fact, the game was always heavily supported in its heyday, and I reckon this was a result of FASA's deep pockets.

26 August 2006

Productive Weekend..?

Today and tomorrow, I write. I have much to do, and only a relatively short time in which to accomplish it all. You may have noticed, I've been blogging a lot lately. I'm trying to get back into "writing trim," because my fingers have been idle in relation to my keyboard. It's time to bring the magic back, delve into the work at hand, and make the best of my weekend.

I'm liable to put in 4-5 hours today, along with an equal amount of time tomorrow. Next weekend, I'll do much the same. On the weekdays, I'll put in some time, too. The work, it can go slow; it can also go extremely quickly. Let's hope for the latter.

So wish me luck. Here I go.

Past Campaigns, Part the Third

I couldn't leave well enough alone, so I began using the Cyberpunk 2020 rules for just about everything. Interlock (as the system was called) was versatile for modern and future settings, ultimately configurable and easy to understand. I've used it to run plenty of non-cyberpunk games, from Aliens to The Morrow Project, as well as Star Wars.

My Aliens mods were one of my most appreciated adaptations, at least overseas. For some reason, they were really quite popular in Poland, of all places. They haven't been available online for some time (at least, not through my wife's CP2020 site), though I've considered posting them again. There are a few other Aliens adaptations out there (at least one of them using CP2020 as a basis; another used Millenium's End, IIRC), but being the snob that I am, I'd only ever use mine. I appended them at a later time with rules for the title critter from the Predator films, too.

When my rules were written, the only sources I had available were the theatrical release of the Aliens movie, the novelization of the film, the Aliens role-playing game (produced by Leading Edge Games, using a scaled-down version of the Phoenix Command rules), and a little-known small-press game titled Bug Hunt (not to be confused with TSR's Bug Hunters expansion for The Amazing Engine system). The Colonial Marines Technical Manual was not in print at the time, and if it had been, it would have proved to be quite inspirational.

The original inspiration for the Aliens mods I wrote was, of all people, Josh, my friend Will's older brother. After the movie Aliens was released, Josh wrote up his own statistics for the Colonial Marines and their xenomorph foes using Revised Recon as a basis. The games he ran using those rules were pretty memorable, and (like many of his other games) they typically ended with the PCs being violently killed. We loved those games.

Like Josh's games, the ones I ran using the Interlock system and my own Aliens adaptation often ended with the PCs dying. There was some playtesting that needed to be done, as my initial take on the "acid for blood" rules was a bit unbalanced. In some cases, the PCs were their own worst liability. I even went so far as to run a multi-session Aliens mini-campaign, which involved corporate interests, a xenomorph infestation of a colony world, and synthetics/androids programmed for combat duty. That game was a great deal of fun.

For my Interlock Star Wars adaptation, I started with equipment conversions. I may have overdone it, but blaster weapons in that game were freakin' deadly. The PCs were Imperial conscripts taken from some outer rim hick planet, given shoddy training, and sent off on a suicide mission on a moist jungle world (with a stop on Tatooine for some much-deserved R&R, not to mention a drunken brawl with a group of Naval troops in the Mos Eisley Cantina).

One of the characters, unbeknownst to the rest of the party, was an Imperial spy, sent to keep an eye on the rest of the conscripts. What was amusing was that one of the other players had assumed that a specific NPC was the Imperial agent, and would confide all of his anti-Imperial sentiment in the actual spy. This wasn't revealed until the game ended, at which time there was much lamenting and gnashing of teeth.

And then there was my Morrow Project adaptation to Interlock. Not much needed to be done here. Mostly, it was a question of adapting modern day weapons to the system. I changed things around a little. As the PC team was one of the last to be put into hibernation prior to the nuclear holocaust, they were armed with somewhat more advanced weapons (namely, H&K firearms). Once awake and out of their bolt hole, the PCs first encounter was a giant bear in the wilderness.

What the players didn't know was that there had never been a nuclear holocaust. Instead, the world had ended due to the return of the Old Ones (of Cthulhu fame). This became somewhat more obvious when their first encounter with actual people involved a cultist community that had kidnapped their NPC medic. A bloody battle between the armed PCs and the somewhat less armed NPCs ended with the medic's rescue and the entire cultist community population being shot, blown up, or run over. For some reason, the game was short-lived. I don't think it clicked, and I can't necessarily remember why. It just didn't.

So, yeah, I did a lot more with Cyberpunk than running Gibsonesque street-level campaigns...

25 August 2006

Past Campaigns, Part the Second

As if it weren't enough that my first role-playing experiences were set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, using one of the deadliest systems I've ever seen, my first true gaming love was the original "black box" Cyberpunk RPG.

I'd been a fan of the genre, though I didn't know it at the time. Before playing CP, I'd spent hours (if not days) playing the original Neuromancer video game on my Commodore 128. I even bought the William Gibson book that the game was based on in order to gain some vague insight into the secrets that were doubtless lurking within the depths of that cheesy video game.

I also had a penchant for cyberpunk-themed movies, Blade Runner, Robocop, and Terminator being the three I can recall most vividly. The idea of flesh mating with machine, of cyborgs, really struck a chord with me. Not only that, but "Night City," and the mean streets therein, were a virtual playground for my imagination. It was like coming home for the first time. I instinctively understood everything, from the mechanics, to the fictional technology, to the underlying themes of the game.

As I mentioned earlier, the person who introduced me to Cyberpunk, CJ, was a friend of a friend at the time. He'd picked up his original "black box" at a local comic shop, and (if memory serves) was itching to try this new game out. Me and the other guy (we'll call him Fred) were the willing guinea pigs.

Even before I'd met CJ, Fred had put the two of us in touch via phone to discuss my character options. Cyberpunk was a class-based system, although the classes were disguised as "roles," each with an exclusive "special ability." Given the list of choices (Techies, Netrunners, Rockerboys, Medias, Nomads, etc.), I was inclined to choose the "Solo" as the role for my first experimental character. Solos, for those not in the know, are the fighters of Cyberpunk: streetsmart killers wired up with the latest in cutting edge (and, most-likely, illegal) cyberware.

It was just my speed. Remember, I was young and wanted to bust heads. Depth of character was always secondary to combat ability.

I don't know if CJ came up with the name, or if I did, but my character's handle was "Wolfman." I'll be damned if I can remember the name of Fred's character, but he decided to play a Rockerboy (a revolutionary musician and charismatic leader-type). Our characters weren't awesome, so far as stats and skills were concerned, but we seemed to do well.

We met at CJ's parents' apartment, and took our gear downstairs to the complex's recreation room (down by the swimming pool). Sitting around a table, we moved right in to our first story. It started innocently enough, with us being jumped by some gang members in a public park after dark. We wasted the lot of them, and I don't remember it being very difficult to do so. Somehow, we managed to come into possession of a briefcase that seemingly belonged to a corporation known as Zetatech.

It was this briefcase, and its contents, that made things really happen. Zetatech wanted the case back, and they were more than willing to kill our characters in order to get it. Of course, we weren't going to stand for it. After a number of firefights, the most memorable of which saw us flying an AV-4 blind into a brick wall after wildly hosing a group of Zetatech goons with the aerodyne's miniguns, the game was somehow resolved. I don't remember too many details, but I think we ended up in the employ of another corporation with the ominous name of Arasaka.

I don't know if Fred really enjoyed his first game of Cyberpunk or not, but it seems that from that point on, it was just CJ and I playing the game. Fred never came back. Perhaps the game was too gritty, too dark, or too deadly for him. I'm not sure, and my memory doesn't serve well insofar as such details are concerned.

I ended up buying my own copy of Cyberpunk from the same comic store that CJ had picked his up at. We took turns playing and GMing, with me adopting a new character (a cyber-hick named "Deadeye") and he creating his own persona (a ruthless cop-killer named "Sting"), as well. Both of our characters were solos; not really that shocking, considering our preferred mode of play. Had we been playing with larger groups of people, we might have diversified a bit. At its core, though, Cyberpunk was a game about deadly encounters between dangerous people, and we weren't about to be caught with our kevlar-lined pants down.

We played those characters, alternating back and forth, for a long while, up until the release of Cyberpunk 2020. I remember CJ coming by my house with two copies of the original 2020 boxed set, one for me and one for himself. We opened them and read them with glee before getting down to the nitty gritty of updating our characters. We advanced our own timeline (which had moved from 2013 to 2015 or so) to the present of 2020, with my character spending the intervening years in cryo freeze. He'd been seemingly killed in our last game, so I was itching to see how CJ was going to bring him back to life.

Cyberpunk was the first game that I fiddled with mechanically. I even submitted a story/article to Interface Magazine. Though it wasn't accepted, the submission did result in a phone call from Chris Hockabout, who told me that he liked the story but that he was looking for other kinds of articles. I wasn't unhappy that the article had been rejected; I was jazzed that one of the guys on the magazine staff had actually called me to discuss it.

There came a time when CJ and I weren't playing Cyberpunk anymore. I was still running it, though; for my other game groups, and for my then girlfriend (now wife) and her friends. The list of players, not to mention different campaigns, is staggering. I'd be hard-pressed to remember them all...

There was the original Night City Cops game, where the PCs were members of Night City's finest, sent to infiltrate an illicit mercenary company that hired itself out to clients and performed black ops on their behalf;

There was the continuation of Night City Cops, which saw at least one of the PCs return in conjunction with a handful of new player characters;

Amnesia was a short scenario where two PCs awaken in Night City with no memory of who they were, where they were from, or why these strange people are trying to kill them;

There's the Coke Madness game, set in Panama City, which involved the players (scum, all of them) coming into possession of a sample of "new cocaine," a lab-grown strain of yeast-resistant coca, which caused them no end of trouble at the hands of Colombian criminals and American DEA agents;

On a somewhat X-Files-inspired lark, I ran the New Mexico Cops game, where the PCs were police outcasts sent to babysit the citizens of a corporate farming community in an irrigated portion of the New Mexican wastes. Not only was there some wierd alien invasion phenomena, but the farmers shared a border with the US military, who were responsible for some interesting phenomena of their own;

Let's not forget the Hoods game, where the PCs were ex-convicts out on parole, sent to perform underhanded work by their crooked parole officer;

Then there was Cops & Robbers, a game that was masterminded by my wife, wherein I portrayed a ruthless mobster, while another player (unknown to me at the time) portrayed a police officer who was investigating my activities in a separate series of games;

CJ and I did hook back up, eventually. The last character I ran in one of his CP games was a disfigured bruiser and heavy weapons expert by the handle of Belial. Belial was created shortly after my first character in that campaign, a government face man and talker by the name of Lowry Brooks, was gunned down on a mission to sabotage a nuclear reactor in South America. If the wimpy Lowry Brooks couldn't stand up to what CJ's game was dishing out, I felt that I'd better go with the gusto and create a character with a bit more durability.

As of now, we haven't played Cyberpunk for many, many years. I've been throwing around the idea of starting up a new game, using the old mechanics and my own house rules (which effectively took CP2020 and removed the class-based mechanics entirely).

Who knows, maybe I'll give it a shot sometime. Although the third edition of Cyberpunk is available, I don't yet know if I'm comfortable enough with the mechanics or the setting to put it to use. I think I prefer the original retro-eighties street feel of the "black box" and 2020 to the pre-transhumanism of the new game.

24 August 2006

Past Campaigns, Part the First

Everyone remembers their first character, right?

Well, I certainly don't. I haven't got a damn clue who (or what) that character was. I don't even remember what system or setting my first-played RPG used. I have a funny feeling that it was probably The Morrow Project, and I'm sure we might've lasted most of the session before we were killed.

So, random memories of those early Morrow Project games...

I have a thought that my first character was a heavy gunner in a Recon squad, sitting in the turret of one of the V-150 armored cars that the MP was so fond of. At the time, the group I was playing with (my friend Will, his brother, and his brother's friends) had definitely played the game previously. Will's brother (we'll call him "Josh") was running the game. They explained to me that the mortality rate of gunners on V-150s was exceptionally high. So high, in fact, that Josh had introduced a house rule that all V-150's were issued a single flak jacket for use by the top gunner.

As you can see, we're off to a wonderful start so far.

I only recall this as being a one-session game, but it might have gone on for more than that. I remember encountering "snake eaters" (U.S. green berets, frozen and left to monitor the MP for the government) and "blue undead" (corpses animated by excessive radiation; not malicious, but deadly due to their innate radioactivity). Also remember encountering "maggots" (pale, mutated humans who lived underground, with stumpy limbs and cannibalistic appetites).

As for outcomes, well. I'm sure we died. I'm sure one (or more) of the encounters mentioned above was the cause of it. I do recall Josh messing with me, specifically; my character was on watch at night, and he noticed some movement in the underbrush. It turned out to be a skunk or something along those lines, a mundane creature, but I was very, very concerned up until I worked things out.

I also have memories of playing a medic in one of those Morrow Project games. We encountered some natives, one of whom was sick with (of all things) strep throat. I fixed him up, but remember wondering what the big deal was. Josh was obviously attempting to show that diseases that we might now consider to be mundane can be deadly serious business if antibiotics and other medicines aren't available.

As for the effects of these earliest of scenarios, let's put it into perspective. The Morrow Project was designed to be deadly. A weapon's damage, rated numerically in what was referred to as an "E-Factor," represented the number of inches of ballistic gel (or human flesh, take your pick) that a typical projectile of that size and power could penetrate.

Combine this with the fact that hits to different locations had different effects. You didn't just get shot in your torso; you got shot in one of four torso locations. Area 1 indicated the central chest, where most of your really vital organs are; Area 4 was the shoulders and outside ribs. A shot to Area 1 of any power had a pretty good chance of killing a character outright. Damage above a certain amount to an extremity resulted in amputation. All wounds resulted in blood loss, which meant that even a relatively small wound could still kill you if the bleeding wasn't controlled. Heck, one of a character's most important attributes was his blood type.

So the first games I played were lethal, combining modern military equipment with post-apocalyptic disaster. Was there any doubt that we would all be killed, one way or the other? As mentioned, I can't recall any single game lasting more than a single session, maybe two.

Thus, my penchant for realism. It also instilled a certain "kill or be killed" mentality, which was only reinforced by later scenarios and campaigns that used systems with comparativly moderate lethality. I could adapt, but those games set a certain tone that would define my style of play for quite some time. I still prefer gritty combat systems that provide for some possibility of instant death, no matter how slight. Fighting is a gamble, and there should be risks involved.

23 August 2006

Past Campaigns, Introduction (Finale)

Then again, "finale" might be too grandiose a word.

I suppose I could go on and on about other games and other gaming groups, but you know what? The experiences blend together into a montage of faces, poor dice rolls, character sheets, and snack food. I have trouble placing them all, let alone putting them into any kind of chronological order. For all I know, I've got my chronologies in the previous two posts mixed up. Twenty years of gaming will do that to a person, I guess.

Sometimes, the easiest way for me to remember the when of a game is to go back and check the dates of the files I wrote while running/playing in that game. If they even exist in the first place.

This isn't to say that I have no vivid memories of games long past, but some are definitely more memorable than others. There is also a long list of folks that I used to play games with, but who I've lost touch with. Where are they now? Do they still game? I have no clue. I sometimes wonder if one of these folks will see my name printed on the cover of a book I've worked on and say, "Hey, I used to game with that guy. What a dork!"

I was once referred to as too serious a gamer. In retrospect, I can see why those comments were made. When I scheduled a game, I worked hard at it and expected to play once the day arrived. Some social mingling was expected, sure, but if I'd scheduled a session, it was primarily a means to an end. I didn't see my attitude as a problem, though I can empathize. I was just a different sort of player than some of the folks I played with, and that's neither right nor wrong. Everyone gets enjoyment from the game in different ways, whether it's beating orc butt, telling a rousing tale, or just hanging out with folks you don't see very often. Our problem was that we didn't really communicate well, and it occasionally rubbed everyone the wrong way. That's just the way it is, I guess.

These days, I'm still serious about games, but I'm less inclined to get bent out of shape if we're a little too verbal. I consider the folks I play with to be friends, and I rarely see them outside of the games we play. The first 30-60 minutes of a game session are always spent catching up, eating food (whether bought or provided), and putting the cares of the real world on the back burner. If it occurs to me, I'll try to call a break at the half-way point in the evening, too.

As far as my goals as a gamer, as a player or a GM, they were originally ones of discovery and adventure. When I discovered gaming as a means of interactive storytelling (even though I would have never thought of it in those terms when I was 13), I was excited. I wanted to explore other worlds through the eyes of the players around me. I wanted to fight kobolds, blow hordes of bad guys to kingdom come with an automatic shotgun, and get rich doing it. The mechanics never mattered to me early on. Truly, it never even occured to me to create a character solely to gain the largest bonuses possible, or to exploit loopholes in the rules.

At some point, I did start looking at the rules of the games I played with a more critical eye. I grew to prefer certain systems and genres over others. Sure, I'd be happy to play in someone's Shadowrun game, but I'd prefer to play Cyberpunk 2020 any day of the week. Taste and preference are wonderful things, so long as they don't make you too exclusive. As with life, variety is also the spice of gaming. Play one system or setting too much, and you might not notice the other ones lurking just outside your field of view.

That's not to say that it doesn't hurt to be discriminating. I'd rather pry out my own toenails with a claw hammer than play Rolemaster, but I won't judge someone else in a negative light for preferring RM over my own favorite system.

I also feel that my (admittedly small) role in the gaming industry as a freelance writer and designer has jaded me a little bit. Once you see behind the curtain, you'll never quite think of gaming in the same light again. I had a glimpse of the way things were when I made my first futile attempts at breaking in, back in the late 90's, and it wasn't always pretty. This is a business, and it can make or break some folks. Consequently, there is a side of the industry that a lot of casual gamers never see. As a result, I take my obligations very seriously.

There's also the rare occurance of a rule that I wrote coming up in the games I play or run. It's rare, but it has happened.

On another tangent, entirely, is the assumption that industry folks are all good gamers who know the rules inside and out. As a general rule, I will strive to have extensive familiarity with the rules set I'm writing for, but that hardly makes me an expert that can quote chapter and verse word for word. I crack open my Player's Handbook as often as the next guy. I'm sure that, someday, I'll be an expert on d20's grappling rules. Until then, I'll dog ear that page and refer to it often. Amen.

As for being good gamers..? I can't say. I have had precious few opportunities to play in games with my industry peers. I know enough to say that we don't all have the same gaming styles or tastes, for whatever that's worth, and that merely goes back to my points about variety, and the fact that no one mode of play is right or wrong.

Anyway, that's about it for now. I reckon I can start pulling skeletons out of the gaming closet next; specific skeletons. Skeletons that, like Yoric, I once knew.

21 August 2006

Past Campaigns, Introduction (2)

(By the way: The names of the folks I mention in these "memoirs" have been changed to protect the guilty...heh. I figure the anonymity can't hurt. The only reason I mention this is that there are folks from the "old days" who frequent my web logs.)

Like I was saying, I'd branched out from my initial AD&D group, just as it started to fragment. In addition to RPGs, I was also deeply involved in local BBS systems (a habit that began shortly after I acquired my C=128 and a dinky 300 baud modem...ah, those were the days!). For those of you unwashed masses who aren't familiar with the concept of forums in the days of the pre-internet, it went something like this:

A person (referred to as a SysOp) would install some manner of forum software on his home computer, hook it up to a phone line, and wait for folks to call and log in. Most of the time, folks could only call a BBS one at a time, check their email (for that BBS only), read posts on the forums, post if they wanted to, look over any available downloads, and play online games (such as Solar Realms Elite or Trade Wars).

In my case, I started calling and interacting on local BBS systems in those dark, primitive days. I called perhaps six or seven local boards on a regular basis. The boards I called were largely restricted by whether they were local calls or not. At a speed like 300 baud, calling a long-distance BBS was like asking my mother to hang me out by my heels when she got the phone bill. The local community of BBS users was pretty small, generally speaking, and especially when compared to the globe-spanning power of today's internet. I made a lot of friends, and thanks to the fact that several local BBS's organized real-world meets at local restaurants (pizza places and ice cream parlors being the preferred venues), I got to meet most of them in the flesh.

It was easy to meet local gamers in this primitive online community. I mean, heck, we were already geeks, due to our above average computer expertise (at that time, real hands on computer expertise seemed to be a rarity; these days, just about everyone knows how to use a computer, and the mystique of the technology is largely forgotten). In retrospect, it seems as if a disproportionate number of us were gamers of one flavor or another, too. Through these electronic forums, I was introduced to games like Call of Cthulhu, GURPS, and (indirectly) the original black box edition of Cyberpunk.

That's how I met CJ. A mutual friend of ours (who I'd met on one BBS system or another) introduced CJ and I. CJ had recently picked up Cyberpunk, and was itching to run a game. He and our mutual friend had gone to school together, and had been playing CoC and Robotech together since their formative adolescent years. We played a few games of Cyberpunk with CJ at the helm, and it resonated with me almost instantly. Next to Star Wars, it was probably my first true love (as far as RPGs go).

The other BBS crew I played with was somewhat larger, and it was principally GURPS-based. The game, dubbed Bad Streets by Grant, the GM, was a mix of cyberpunk, fantasy, and post-apocalypse. We had some good games in those days, even if the player group wasn't always the same size. We had a core contingent, though, which always seemed to show up for the games. I have a lot of good memories from those games, even though I don't think that I fully understood the scope of the plots we played in at the time.

As time went on, I became more interested in the mechanical aspects of the games I was playing. I also started GMing more and more, with one group or the other. The game groups I played with changed, or switched focus. New players came, old ones dropped out, but it was obvious that gaming had become a central part of my life, a focus of sorts. It tapped a creative vein of sorts. In conjunction with a stint of creative writing between 11th and 12th grade, I began to put my ideas down. Plots, mechanics, characters, everything was fair game, and I wrote it down or typed it up.

After high school, I continued to play RPGs. I played with Grant and his group, as well as with CJ and his girlfriend. I stayed in touch with some members of my original, albeit doomed, AD&D group, introducing CJ to them at the same time. The first edition of Vampire: The Masquerade was a big hit with that particular group. I wasn't a big fan initially, and spent a lot more of my time with Grant's group playing GURPS. I did eventually overcome my dislike of Vampire (particularly after the second edition was released), but I had my own favorite games, too.

Mayfair's Chill was one such game. Despite the system's clunky mechanics, I really enjoyed it. It was a horror game that I alone had purchased, and though my players enjoyed playing in my scenarios, they never went so far as the buy the rules for themselves. The exclusivity of the system was a comfort; I never had to worry about anyone contradicting a rule, or learning too much about the various horrors that populated the world of Chill. I made it a habit to run an annual all-night horror game by candlelight on the weekend before Halloween. It was always a blast.

I met my future wife shortly after I turned 19. I was running a BBS system of my own at the time, and she called up and registered one fateful day. She, too, was a gamer, and that (combined with the fact that she was really, incredibly intelligent) was very attractive to me. Since then, it's been a rare RPG that I've played (or run) where she hasn't been a participant. She was also a fan of the Cyberpunk RPG (by that time in its second edition), and it's little surprise that most of the games we played back then were Cyberpunk games. The internet was blossoming, and dial-up BBS's were losing traction to the increasingly global internet community. Limitless gaming knowledge was online for the taking, and fan sites were veritable troves of house rules, campaign ideas, and expansion material.

(To be continued...)

20 August 2006

Past Campaigns, Introduction (1)

In preparation for describing the games and campaigns I've played in, I'm going to cover my earliest days; the dark ages of my gaming habit, per se.

When I discovered role-playing -- I mean, really discovered it -- I was in seventh grade. Prior to that, I had only explored gaming (or, rather, crude concepts of it) through Choose Your Own Adventure and Endless Quest books in fifth or sixth grade. The kid down the street, Jason, was a couple years my senior, and he told stories of a game called Dungeons & Dragons, which was like the Endless Quest books, only you weren't restricted to two or three choices; according to Jason, you could do anything you wanted.

Jason, by virtue of his family, was a Seventh Day Adventist, and his mother was very strict about the games he played or the movies and television he watched. After all, as everyone knew back then, Dungeons & Dragons was Satanic, and the guy who created it (someone with the odd name of Gygax) was the biggest Satanist of all. Thus, Jason and I kept our conversations of the game very quiet. When I eventually purchased a copy of the Dungeon boardgame at K-Mart, we would play it in secret to avoid raising Caine with his mom.

Flash foward to seventh grade. I wasn't a particularly popular boy, a bit of a nerd, I suppose. I had little fashion sense, was only starting to develop my own musical tastes, and I had a strong interest in science fiction and horror novels. Most of the kids I'd considered friends from elementary school the year before had seemingly transformed into complete jerks over the course of summer vacation. Junior high was about starting over from scratch; a boot camp, of sorts, where the kids filtered out into primitive social cliques in preparation for the real social segregation of high school.

Thrilling, hm?

Being unpopular (or, perhaps, non-popular), I ended up sitting alone at a two-person desk in my math class. The chair beside me was the only open seat, and when a latecomer arrived, chance had him sitting at my table. I'm not sure if he was unpopular in the same sense I was, but he was definitely more stereotypically nerdy in that he was computer-literate. I blame him for my initial desires to own a personal computer of my own, which eventually resulted in me owning a Commodore 128.

His name was Will, and for whatever reason we formed a fast friendship with one another. He came from a big family -- two brothers (one older, one younger), and two sisters (both younger). I don't specifically recall how we got onto the topic of Dungeons & Dragons, but Will's older brother, a high school student, was a hard core gamer. War games, board games, and (of course) role-playing games were always in the offing when Will's brother and his friends were around. We even played a couple here and there.

Will's brother, as an older sibling, was understandably elusive. He didn't want to hang out with us little kids on any sort of regular basis. He had his own things to do, his own friends to do them with. We were troublesome youths, and we'd spend a lot of time begging him to run a game for us. We'd play anything: D&D, Recon, The Morrow Project, Robotech, his own home-brew Aliens game. Anything. More often than not, he'd put us to work generating characters for hours at a time, but by the time we'd finished them he'd be headed out the door with the promise of playing the game "later." If we happened to get them done in a reasonable amount of time, he'd run a short (and lethal) session for us where our characters, inevitably outmatched by whatever monster or enemy he'd devised, would be transformed into puddles of gore in a matter of rounds.

Sadly, we never did get the hint (heck, I didn't realize what he'd actually been doing until years later), but we did eventually go off on our own. We started running games for one another, instead of relying on Will's brother (or his friends) to run them for us. We bought copies of Top Secret/SI, learned the rules, and took turns running scenarios for each other. We played Palladium's Robotech, too, and I also ran the original edition of the Star Wars RPG. Will's brother and his friends even got involved in some of these games, so it was obvious that we were graduating to a "higher level" of play.

I never really suspected that RPGs were in any way geeky. In fact, they hardly ever came up in my daily life. They were a peripheral form of entertainment that I engaged in on weekends, but I was hardly obsessed with them early on. Much of my time was spent as a drama student in both 8th grade, and as I moved into high school. Will came along, too, and we were nearly inseparable until our junior year of high school, when we had a falling out. We went our own ways, and there seemed to be little chance that I'd be playing with Will or his brother again.

As fate would have it, I ended up befriending a girl at school, Cathy. Cathy was older (a senior, I think), and she was dating a guy named Ron. As it turned out, Ron was a big D&D fan, and he dungeonmastered a large group in nearby Escondido. He was about to begin a new campaign, using AD&D 2nd edition rules, set in his own campaign world, with a generous helping of homebrew rules and mods added into the mix. I was all for it. Cathy put me in touch with Ron, and together we created my first long-term D&D character: Arkon Blackbone, half-orc fighter/priest of the setting's war god.

All was not well, though. As luck would have it, Will and his older brother were also members of Ron's D&D group. When Will found out I was going to be playing, he threw a fit. Ron was apologetic about it, but his view was that Will had been there first, and to keep things running smoothly, I'd have to hit the bricks. Cathy wouldn't have any of that noise, though, and she went to the mat for me. In the end, Ron decided that both Will and I would be invited to play. Hopefully we'd be grown up about it.

Will's participation lasted one, maybe two, sessions before he begged off. His older brother continued to play in the campaign, and though there were a couple of hiccups, he was able to separate himself from his younger brother's feelings for me. The campaign lasted at least a year; it's amusing how I'm unable to recall the actual span of time. It seemed like forever, but my affiliation with the group lasted about 18 months, maybe a little longer. There were schisms within the group (unrelated to me) which caused it to fragment. By the time it had started to dissolve, I was already involved with a couple of other (unrelated) game groups.

(To be continued...)

15 August 2006

I Have Returned

So it's Tuesday, and I'm back from Indianapolis and Gen Con. I'm liable to forget a good bit as I type, but I'm sure it will come back to me. Surprisingly, little of any real interest happened. The stuff that surely pertains to me and my future endeavors can't be posted, so I'll have to leave it out.

I do, however, have photographs.

So I made it to Lindburgh Field in San Diego well on time on Wednesday morning. My flight to Chicago was long and boring. The flight crew took the long way around some severe weather, which increased the flight time. Then, while landing at O'Hare, the plane suddenly veered off, raised landing gear, and circled around again. I guess there was some "debris" on the runway, so we were routed to another one. By the time we landed and made it to the gate, we were already half an hour late.

Despite me hustling to the gate (which had been changed, anyway; curses!), I missed my flight to Indy. I was put on Standby for the next flight out (three hours later), but definitely confirmed for a flight at six o'clock that evening. I waited on Standby, ate some really mediocre (not to mention expensive) quasi-oriental food, and read.

With American Airlines, when you're on Standby, they add your name to a list. The list doesn't show your whole name, just the first three letters of your last name, a slash, and the first initial of your first name. For the initial hour or so, I was the only guy on standby for the flight, and my name ("AST/G") was prominently displayed. After a time, four more names were added to the list, one of which beat me out (due to frequent flier status or something). The one that was placed ahead of me had the unfortunate moniker of "TUR/D", which gave me a much-needed chuckle. It left me feeling sorry for people with names like Thomas Farmer or Tina Shields.

Despite being deposed as leader of the Standby pack, I was allowed to board the plane, and after another hour I'd made it to Indianapolis. My luggage, which had flown ahead with the flight I should've been aboard, was waiting for me. I secured a ride, and ended up at the Embassy Suites hotel at 6:30pm. My room-mate from Green Ronin, Hal Mangold, dropped my badge off before going out to a business dinner. I called Stan! and found out that he, Marc "Sparky" Schmalz, Hyrum Savage, and Charles Ryan were waiting for seating at the nearby PF Chang's.

The Embassy Suites, Interior, From 16 Floors Up

I raced down to the restaurant and met my friends. Friends, indeed. When it came time to be seating, the capable PF Chang's staff informed them that they couldn't seat five people at a table set for four, and that they'd need to wait another hour if they wanted me to join them. In the end, I was tossed aside, abandoned to the wilds of Indianapolis so that my friends could enjoy expensive Chinese food. To add insult to injury, the manager of the restaurant apologized to the boys because I couldn't be served, and provided them with free appetizers. The moral of the story is: kick your friend to the curb, and get rewarded with free food.

JD and Keri, Swapping Spit

JD and Keri were late arriving in town, but once they'd made it I hooked up with them and we ate at Noble Romans, a small pizza/pasta joint across from their hotel. Good food, too. Afterwards, we went to TGI Fridays for dessert, and met up with Stan!, Marc, Hyrum, and Charles, as well as Monte and Sue Cook. I was tired, though, and retreated to my room for the evening.

Hal Mangold and Steve Kenson

Other highlights of the convention:

My Thieves' World games. I had some good players, but the games weren't quite as "sold-out" as the Gen Con web site had indicated. In fact, Thursday's game had four players, Friday's had five (two of whom paid with generic tickets), and Saturday's had three and a half (meaning that the fourth player cut and run half-way through, but we'd been warned he'd be doing so early on). The players were good, the scenario ran well. After the first one, it gets easier, but it also turns into work. I do enjoy it, along with the occasional fan recognition. Several of the players had actually attended our Thieves' World seminar last year.

Dr. Evil Giving Me the Horns from the GR Booth

One thing that struck me, and this was echoed by other people I was hanging out with, was that there was really very little to buy that had that "oh, my God, I must own it!" vibe. Truly, everything that I wanted was being sold in the Green Ronin booth. Monte Cook's Ptolus was probably the gem of the convention, but it also has a cover price of $120. Ouch. I wasn't going to go begging Monte for a free copy, either.

Dan Abnett, Writer of Wrongs

I got to meet Dan Abnett. Being as I've been reading his 40k-themed books in order to brush up on my Warhammer 40k knowledge for Dark Heresy, I've quickly become a fan of this brilliant and talented author. So much a fan that I asked him to sign my copy of Eisenhorn, giving the excuse that, "Within the heart of every writer and game designer, there dwells a fan boy." He didn't seem to mind.

Sparky and Keri, Hard at Work

Sunday, I did my buying. I also got some books for free, and my pile of "swag" was pretty impressive this year. It added a good twenty pounds to my luggage.

A Rapidly-Diminishing Pile of Moon Monkeys

Coming home was supposed to be interesting, given the recently-foiled terrorist plot that had caused airport security to spike in unprecedented ways. I arrived at the airport four hours early, but checking in took only ten minutes, and I made it through security check in less than five minutes. The only wierd thing about it was that they put me through an explosives sniffer, something I'd never gone through before.

Hal Mangold and Nicole Lindroos Share a Laugh

Instead of waiting four hours for my scheduled flight, I got on Standby with another flight outbound to Chicago. I made it aboard, and managed to get on Standby in Chicago for an earlier flight to San Diego. Luck was with me, because I managed to get home an hour ahead of schedule...which really made no difference, since my luggage was still en route on my originally-scheduled airplane.

Breaking Down the Booth

It was good to see my wife and my son again. The convention went by in a flash, and it didn't feel like a real vacation to me. Time off? Ha. Being a passenger is just as tiring and time-consuming as a paying job. Next year, I may need to see about playing in some games for a change. I've rarely played at conventions, so maybe I should remind myself why I don't...

08 August 2006

Gen Con Indy '06

I'm climbing onto a plane tomorrow and flying off to Indianapolis. I'll be back on the evening of the 14th, likely with a slew of photos and at least a small handful of swag. If you plan to attend Gen Con this year, please drop by the Green Ronin booth and give a shout. When I'm not running games, you should be able to find me there. At the least, you can leave a message.

I'm not sure what sorts of goals I have this year. This is my third consecutive Gen Con, though I've been to four altogether (not counting Gen Con SoCal). I flew to Indiana in '04 to support the release of FFG's Fireborn, as well as to get my name out there. Gen Con '05 was when Thieves' World was released, and I wasn't going to miss that at all.

Well...it seems as if my name is "out there" already, so I feel less of a need to run around like a madman handing out business cards. I'll obviously do a bit of that, but (outside of at least two planned business meetings) it's not going to be my primary focus. This leaves me to wonder: what is my focus this time around?

I think that it's the social angle, more than anything. I've met a lot of neat industry folks over the past four years, many of which I consider to be friends. Being able to eat a couple of meals and throw a few drinks back with these people is well worth the price of the airfare. If this convention leads to even one contract that pays me more than the plane ticket costs, it will have paid for itself.

So that's where I am. Expect no updates until I get back; as I said previously, I am not taking the laptop along for the ride.

See you soon!

06 August 2006

Fury of Dracula

Last night, after several months of it sitting on the top of my book case gathering dust, we finally got to try out Fury of Dracula. Often it happens that I'll buy a game, which often has a substantial dollar amount attached to it (in this case, $50), and we'll play it once. Or, in some cases, never.

On this occasion, though, Alan suggested that we gather and play something, anything, since we haven't played his Shackled City campaign for about a month now due to a number of reasons. We started off the evening with a quick game of Bang!, after which the baby was put to bed and we prepped the table for Fury of Dracula.

Present, we had Adam as the noble Lord Godalming, Alan as Dr. Seward, Amy as Van Helsing, and Mike as the dainty Mina Harker, leaving me as the undead Count Dracula. The first hour was spent getting used to the rules, but once we'd worked out most of the kinks, it started going pretty smoothly. We didn't actually finish the game, but we're in a good position to play a full game the next time we gather together.

My impressions are that it is a fun game. I like the cooperative aspect, with the hunters aiding one another to hunt the Count. I'd like to play it again soon, but we're all grown-ups with schedules that aren't always in tune with one another. I guess I'll have to try for a demo at Gen Con this week.


Six hours of travel followed by the best four days in gaming, right? This being my third year in a row going to Indy, you'd think I would be used to it. The travel always gets me, though. Once I'm there, I'll be fine. Coming home is always the best part, since I'll have my smiling wife and baby boy waiting for me.

02 August 2006

Past Campaigns, Preface

I've been giving some thought to reviewing my old campaigns here. Most of these old games have been veiled in the mists of time, and many involved players that I rarely see these days, if ever.


I don't know. Catharsis, I suppose. Analytical reflection, or maybe just reminiscence. It's good for something, isn't it? At least on a personal level?

There's an old gamer saying that goes along the lines of:

"Don't tell me about your character/campaign/etc."

I can totally understand where this phrase comes from, because it's often more interesting to tell your own stories than to listen to someone else's. Discussing old games isn't like having group therapy, unless everyone cries. Plus, humans are selfish. We like the limelight, and are easily bored if deprived of it.

It can be uncomfortable to be cornered by someone who is obviously enthusiastic, and who has a lot to say on several different topics. You don't want to offend anyone by begging off, but by the same token, you'd rather pound red hot ingots into your eye sockets than listen to anecdotes that have no relation to you, or that are so far from your idea of interesting discourse that you have trouble keeping a straight face.

It's a cold truth, one that few people admit to. While I do enjoy discussing games, characters, and campaigns with folks in passing, I have less of an interest in specifics and minutae. These are generally stories of the "you had to be there" variety. They lose much of their punch when recounted to strangers ten years later.

It comes down to taste, I think. Not all gamers share the same ideas about what is cool and what isn't. Tom's mini-maxed 28th level half-Drow rogue named Marius Dwarfbane Skinslitter, who dropped Driz'zt in the first two rounds of combat and single-handedly stole Tiamat's chastity belt, is probably a lot more interesting to Tom than he is to anyone else (except, possibly, for the other folks who played in the same campaign).

Like I said, I enjoy talking about the games I've played, but I also understand that what interested me about this game or that character might not carry the same entertaining weight with anyone else. I try to keep my descriptions brief. If someone asks me to expand upon something, I will, but such curiosity is rare. In fact, I can't think of a single instance of someone telling me, "Wow, that sounds like it was fun. What happened after your character fell out of the airplane?"

When their eyes glaze over, you've lost them.

So, back to the topic at hand: past campaigns. I'll be dredging up a few of my old campaigns and characters here, and in turn, I'll be breaking the "Don't tell me about your..." rule. The difference is that you can read the post, or you can click a link and go surfing for entertainment elsewhere.

I won't be doing this every single day, mind you. It will only happen when I feel like it. The rest of the time, it will be the same self-absorbed stuff that you're used to. Heck, if you're reading this blog, you're probably at least a little voyeuristic, anyway. If you like looking into other people lives and minds via their blogs, then you probably won't mind.

So that's the preface. Think of it as a statement of intent.

01 August 2006

Happy August

You might remember, the boy went to sleep quickly last night. He subsequently woke up at midnight, 3am, and 5am. The night is a blur of wailing and bottle sucking. And that was just from me.

Kidding, kidding.

But yes, the boy had a restless night, which means that we had a restless night. My neck, which was already sore, seems to have worsened in the night. Nine hours of day job to look forward to, followed by who-knows-what. Laundry, most likely.

As they say: the Emperor protects.