Thursday, September 7, 2017

Old Nerd Retrospect Presents: Adventurer’s Club #1

This last week, I had reason to go back and re-read my series on Classic Enemies from a few years ago. Good times. It was also the last time this blog was really productive, and also the last time I was really well and truly focused on the superhero genre for the long haul. Since some of my current writing projects need that focus, I figured I’d try something similar to get that back.  Looking around, it occurred to me that I have a complete run of Adventurer’s Club, the official Hero Games magazine published from 1983 to 1995, ostensibly on a quarterly basis. Ostensibly. Sometimes years went by without an issue. Anyway, I have all twenty-seven of them, so I figured I’d give each a read-through and report on my findings, recollections, whatever.  Let’s see what happens.

This is Adventurer’s Club, volume one, number one, cover dated Fall 1983. The cover is by Mark Williams. Inside the front cover are two simple ads, one for “Privateer” a piracy-based board game that Hero sold at conventions. I actually played a demo of it at Origins in 1984. It was fun, but not something I was all that interested in.  The other ad highlighted a pair of adventures coming from Hero Games and BLADE (a division of Flying Buffalo): “Border Crossing” (for ESPIONAGE) and “The Adventure of the Jade Jaguar” for MERCENARIES, SPIES, and PRIVATE EYES. The ad touts the fact that each adventure includes game stats for both systems. This wasn’t the first instance of dual-stats in RPG supplements, but it was something Hero Games did quite a bit of throughout the 80s and 90s.

Anyway, let’s look at this magazine. It’s 32 pages (plus cover), digest-sized. The layout looks to be by hand or possibly very early computer-aided pasteup. It’s got a simple, clean and readable look, nothing fancy. Apart from the table of contents, page one lists the AC staff as follows:
  • Editor: Steve Peterson
  • Art Director: Mark Williams
  • Graphics & Production: Michael T. Gray, Mark Williams, & George
  • Advertising & Circulation: Ray Greer
  • Interior Illustrations are by Mike Weatherby and Mark Williams

‘Nuff Said is the editorial introduction page, written by Steve Peterson. For this issue, he lays out their recurring features and mentions a need for writers (a penny a word) and illustrations ($20 a page, $50 for a cover), as well as subscription rates of four issues for ten dollars, which covered shipping. Additionally, subscribers eventually got an Adventurer’s Club membership card that got them into Hero-only events at conventions as well as a (usually) four-page occasional newsletter with additional game stuff or inside information. As I recall, it also got me a playtest copy of Fantasy Hero, so that’s kind of neat.

Between the Lines (also written by Mr. Peterson) is the Q&A feature, where players can get rules clarifications, not unlike the “Sage Advice” feature in Dragon Magazine. This time around, they answer a pair of questions that came from conventions. The first addressed why they used the same game system for ESPIONAGE as CHAMPIONS (albeit with lower point values and a few other rules changes). This is possibly the first appearance in print of the notion of the Hero System as a toolkit. It’s still years away from being a truly unified system, but it’s the first time I recall seeing it addressed in this way. The second question was, in my opinion, of equal importance, namely this: “At what point on the Speed Chart do you start combat? Do you star on segment 1? What if a character is hit by a surprise attack?” The answer, of course, is to start on segment 12 of the previous round for most combats. Believe it or not, this was an important rules clarification and it became standard practice in later editions of the game. It’s cool to see it explained here for the first time.

Superhype, written by Ray Greer, is a promotional column devoted to new and upcoming products. This time around:
  • Another call for subscriptions
  • “Border Crossing,” the first (and only, as it turned out) adventure for ESPIONAGE, Hero’s second RPG.
  • “The Great Supervillain Contest,” a CHAMPIONS adventure by Dennis Mallonee.
  • An announcement of an upcoming “Organizations” book by Aaron Allston. This would ultimately be a couple of books: “The Circle and METE,” and “The Blood and Dr. McQuark,” but no details were available at this early date.
  • An announcement of an agreement with Steve Jackson Games to produce Cardboard Heroes for CHAMPIONS. As I recall, they came out in 1984 or 85, and were reprinted in the 4th edition GM’s Kit.
  • Another agreement with SJG for AUTODUEL CHAMPIONS, a product that allowed for Hero System roleplaying in the Car Wars Universe along with the addition of superpowers to the vehicular combat game.
  • A team-up with BLADE for the cross-compatible adventures advertised inside the front cover.
  • JUSTICE INC., the planned pulp-era RPG has been rolled back “a month or so.” It would come out at Origins in the summer of 1984. A companion adventure “Horror in the Sky” never saw publication. It’s too bad, because it sounded pretty cool. 

Crooks and Crusaders offers a new character. In this case, it’s the first appearance of The Awesome Exo-Skeleton Man, by Bruce Harlick. LeRoy McGowan was a low-level VIPER agent who became Foxbat’s first (and for a very long time, only) agent/sidekick. He’s a normal guy who…well, he wears an exo-skeleton. I mean, it’s right there in the name. It makes him strong and has some armor, life support, and a decent blaster. He’s a solid NPC, all in all. The accompanying illustration by Mike Witherby is a nice departure from Mark Williams. Witherby has a bit of Kirby style and it suits the character.

Below the illustration, we get a ¼ page of “Foxbat Says”, a snippet of rules advice: “Give agents equipment that activates on a 14 or less!” When I first read this, I probably thought it was genius, because it too me many years to realize that points are for players. A GM doesn’t need to worry about the cost accounting on NPCs.  Granted, there are reasons to use Activation Rolls, in order to represent unreliable equipment, but suggesting it as a cost-cutting measure for NPCs is kind of ridiculous in retrospect. However, that was the way we played back then, as if the players would demand to edit the GM’s character sheets or something.

Covert Action, by Steve Peterson is intended to be a recurring column for ESPIONAGE. However, for this first column, the focus is on cops. It’s clear the guys at Hero Games were seeing the potential of using ESPIONAGE to handle any sort of modern non-super adventure setting and this is a first step in that direction. The article gives two package deals (Police Academy Training and Police Detective) and the article suggests basing the game not on real police work, but TV cop shows, modeling the game after the way those shows are structured, along with a brief mention of tropes and the admonition to make sure your adventures include things for each character to do. For a one-page article (two pages with the package deals), it’s pretty solid.

Champions Plus is a recurring feature for new CHAMPIONS rules, powers, etc. This first one is by Dennis Mallonee and brings us Endurance Reserve and Multiform, two powers that would see official publication in CHAMPIONS III (which isn’t CHAMPIONS, third edition). Not much to say beyond that; it’s solid work and good additions to the rules.

Foxbat and Fandom is the letter column. The name is also a pretty terrific pun on a classic SPI air combat game (Foxbat and Phantom). It was in this very first issue that the tradition of people mailing insulting letters to Foxbat (and Foxbat’s irate replies) began. It’s a nice break from the usual dry as toast letter columns we saw in other gaming mags.

The Mechanon Gambit, by Ray Greer and George MacDonald, is an adventure for CHAMPIONS, using villains from the main rulebook. In it, the villain Pulsar attempts to steal an uncompleted body belonging to the robotic conqueror Mechanon. Of course, the heroes and VIPER have to show up to make his life difficult. And possibly a few other villains. And, possibly Mechanon. Fun ensues.

This is a terrific little adventure. It does some nice world-building by establishing that Mechanon has robotic factories secreted around the land, where his consciousness can be transferred into a new body. The opposition is set up to scale with the number of heroes, and the set-up is such that it’s easy to insert into an existing campaign without breaking anything. Plus, it has a nice map of an airport and the robotic factory.

We finish up this issue with a page of submissions guidelines (typewritten, double-spaced, 1” margins, maps drawn on hex paper. A simpler time.

The inside back cover is a Hero Games order form. The available products are:
  • Champions
  • Enemies
  • The Island of Dr. Apocalypse
  • Stronghold
  • GM’s Screen
  • Enemies II
  • Espionage
  • Champions II
  • Deathstroke
  • Privateer
  • Adventurers Club #1

Shipping and handling was a whole dollar.

The back cover is an ad for Adventurers Club subscriptions.

So, that’s it. It’s simple, and fairly primitive, even by early 80s standards. But it was a great start. There's not a lot more to comment on here, other than what I've already said. Maybe next time, I'll have more nuggets of wisdom.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Sins of the Past - Revisited

The three or four of you who still read this may recall that I've got a pretty solid history with ICONS. Some years ago, I posted a character a day for quite a few months as a means of processing depression. Before that, I wrote "Sins of the Past", one of the earliest "official" adventures for the game, back when Adamant Entertainment published it. When Steve Kenson got the rights back and published ICONS: THE ASSEMBLED EDITION, we talked about doing an updated version of Sins for the new edition of the game. It's probably been three years since that initial conversation, but I'm happy to say that "Sins of the Past Revisited" is now available at Drive-Thru RPG for the low, low price of five bucks.

This new version is fully updated to ICONS: THE ASSEMBLED EDITION, with all-new (gorgeous) art and maps by Dan Houser. There's new material from me and it's all been carefully edited and developed by Steve Kenson.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

OwlCon Report

Friday and Saturday were this year's OwlCon (Or "Superb OwlCon," as the ad copy said) and it was pretty freaking great. As is typical, my son (C-Monster, now 17 and a seasoned veteran) attended. Unlike the past few years, we decided to give today's festivities a pass, so as to get in some recovery time.

Friday night, I ran "The Eaves of Mirkwood," a demo for Cubicle 7's Adventures In Middle Earth, that I fleshed out a bit to fill my allotted time. I had five players (out of a maximum of six available PCs) and I felt it went really well. The game does a terrific job of taking 5th edition D&D and turning into something that is much less that style of fantasy and much closer to Tolkien. I'm not going to talk too much about the specifics because I may run it again and I don't want to spoil C7's excellent adventure. But it rocked.

Saturday morning started poorly. I'd had a lot of trouble winding down and getting to sleep, so I woke up groggy and we got out the door a little late. To make matters worse, we clipped a curb while driving in and suffered a flat tire. Worst of all, I discovered my jack was missing. Fortunately, we were rescued by a passerby and we got to the con only about fifteen minutes late, just in time to make our games. C-Monster went off to play "Cthulhu Wars", and I rushed over to a "Star Trek Enterprise" game that used Savage Worlds.

I'd love to say it was a good time, but honestly it was a mess. Despite having a decent plot (which I may well lift for Far Trek), the GM really didn't prepare for this game. Her pre-gens consisted entirely of PCs she uses for a "Fallout" game, with zero modification. So my "Tactical Officer" had, among other things, the Illiterate hindrance. Also, due to the nature of the plot, a heavily-armed, bloodthirsty killing machine was sidelined for a lot of the adventure. I did get to blow up spaceships, but it was pretty much a disaster.

Speaking of disasters, there were problems at the con regarding food options. You see, OwlCon is held on the campus of Rice University in Houston. When classes are in session, there are multiple eateries open. Unfortunately, all of them rely on student labor and Saturday was the start of their mid-semester break. With no students to staff them, they shuttered early or completely all weekend. On Saturday afternoon, the one place I planned to hit for lunch closed early for a "private event," something I didn't figure out until 2:15, with 45 minutes to my next game. This necessitated a mad and expensive (parking isn't cheap on campus) dash to Taco Cabana to stock up on enough sustenance to get C and myself through the rest of the day and night. Bean and cheese tacos, the Iron Rations of Texas gamers.

I managed to get back just in time for my afternoon game, a Savage Worlds dungeon-crawl run by none other than Shane Hensley. I've known Shane for many years, but this was my first chance to actually play a game with him, and it was absolutely terrific. My character ended up committing magical suicide to take out the big bad and one of his lieutenants, which sucked for the PC but totally ruled. Also, it reminded me of how great SW is with the right GM.

After downing the remaining tacos, it was time to run my other game, "Young Justice: Apokolips Now," for DC Adventures. It's got a bit of a history. I originally wrote it for Chupacabracon 2015. Unfortunately, only two people who signed up for it actually showed, so I couldn't run it, which was kind of depressing, and I filed it away on the Island of Lost Games A little while ago, I posted a link to it here, and it got some really nice feedback, so I decided to take another stab and try to run it at OwlCon. For the past month, I've been super-nervous about whether or not it would "make," and I didn't actually hit the minimum number of players (5) until Friday night. So even on Saturday I was worried that a no-show might scuttle things.

As it was, I had five players, and the game came off beautifully. I'll post up a an actual play summary soon in its own thread, but yeah, it was everything I'd hoped for. Great players who got the material, fun dialog, and some excellent dice to end the action on a high note. Absolutely perfect.

How was your weekend?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

These Are The Voyages...

As far as I can tell, I've never shared this here. Weird.

I have this idea for a Star Trek game. Actually, I've had it for a very long time, but never got around to implementing it. The core ideas have been floating around my head since the days of FASA Trek, but really crystallized when I read a particularly glorious passage from one of Peter David's New Frontier novels:

'That may be the case, Commander, but here's the truth of it: My great-grandfather was in Starfleet back in Kirk's time. And the fact was that Kirk had some very staunch supporters. That served him well, because he also had any number of people whom he angered with his constant glory-hounding and disregard for regulations. And it was widely believed in Starfleet that, every so often, he would file utterly preposterous reports, just to tweak those individuals whom he knew didn't like his style and his way of doing things. Such as the incident with the giant killer amoeba. And that totally ridiculous alleged occasion in which his first officer's brain was stolen. I mean, come on people. Clearly, these things could not have happened. Every time you heard uncontrolled laughter ringing up and down the hallways of Starfleet Command, you could tell that Kirk had filed another one of his whoppers." - Admiral Edward Jellico

And thus was born the USS Mulder, a run-down Oberth-class science vessel and her somewhat hapless crew. The campaign set early in the NG era, (uncomfortable uniforms and all) right around the time of the commissioning of the Enterprise-D

USS Mulder "The Truth Is Out There"

An Admiral with an axe to grind regarding the legendary James T. Kirk and his exploits assigns the PC's (who've earned his ire in some way) the task of re-visiting the worlds Kirk's Enterprise encountered on its original five-year mission, in order to verify his reports and provide situational updates. It allows me to mine TOS for inspiration, but mess with things as I see fit. It's not a particularly serious campaign premise, but that's OK.

Maybe I'll get around to running it someday.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

New Things

Resolved:  The only way I'm going to get through this is by making things and sharing things I make until either I feel better or the world gets better or both. It may not be pretty. It may bounce around from topic to topic. It may not even be new. But I'm going to churn things out all the same. Like them or don't.

First off, something I had laying around. This is a convention one-shot I wrote shortly after "Young Justice" was canceled, teasing a third season. It's my take on a season three finale, written for DC Adventures/Mutants & Masterminds.  It's not particularly edited, but it's pretty typical of my convention game notes (I break each scene into beats, note cool stuff that can happen, and provide illustrations to help me when describing things).


Wednesday, August 17, 2016


What fictional character would best fit in your group?

It's terribly trite, but any of the main characters from "Big Bang Theory" would probably do fine with my Tuesday Nighters. As it is, the group contains two Physics Ph.D.s, a Chemistry Ph.D., and an Engineer.  Plus a couple of IT guys and some stray English majors.  It's a pretty brainy, nerdy set.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

#RPGADAY Day Fifteen

What historical character would you like in your group? For what game?

Putting aside "Little Wars" with H. G. Wells (it was the first wargame rules I ever read), which could be fun, I'm thinking something like The One Ring with Christopher Lee. I don't know how much of it would be game and how much of it would be Tolkien discussion group, but I suspect it would be delightful.