Friday, December 30, 2011

Seeking Inspiration

I've been off work for nearly two weeks now.  Unfortunately, my planned work on the Old-School Hero project only amounted to about 1.000 words, as I've had too many family commitments and other distractions to pay any real attention to it.

And now, I'm trying to get myself to focus on the Feng Shui adventure I need to run in early February.  Ideally, I want to playtest it on the 15th, if I have it ready.  The hard part is getting myself into the right headspace.  Typically, I seem to come up with the right idea at the 11th hour, but this year, I think I'm going to need to do a bit more preparation than in past years.  When I used FS to run my "Heroes of the New Wave" games, it was pretty easy to cast the game with archetypes that didn't use some of the game's more fiddly bits, like Kung Fu Powers, Arcanowave Devices, and Magic.  But this is supposed to be the full-on Feng Shui experience, so I really need to make sure things are set up to accommodate it and still be accessible to new players.

Since these elements introduce resource tracking, I'm thinking about making character-specific "play mats:"  sheets that include all their special abilities along with a place to track whatever resource is used to power them (probably with Pente stones or poker chips).  The gun-bunnies could use theirs to track ammo expenditures.

Of course, this requires additional work, which means I need to nail down the PCs, which in turn means figuring out why they're in this adventure.  Which means getting the damned thing plotted out.

In the meantime, I'm mainlining DVDs and hoping my muse will kick in.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Probably My Only Xmas Post

I believe SCIENCE will show that this is the only appropriate way to wrap a Pathfinder Beginner's Box.

Just try to prove me wrong.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sometimes, It Works. Sometimes, It Doesn't

I sat in with a new D&D group yesterday.  Nice folks.  The DM's a long-term SCA buddy who puts a lot of thought and effort into his games.  On a purely social level, I had a lovely time.

From a gaming perspective, I don't think I'm a good fit for this campaign.  First off, it's D&D 3.5.  While I played the hell out of that system for years, I've moved on, and there's only so much space in my brain for D&D and its various editions.  For the past eighteen months or longer, my D&D has been entirely of the Pathfinder or the 4th Edition variety.  I can't keep three sets of rules with that much similarity straight.

Compounding the problem is the nature of the game.  Epic level 3.5.  I was asked to create a 23rd level character, specifically a cleric.  I've barely played a dedicated spellcaster in any version of D&D, much less a 23rd level one.  The other new player sitting next to me was also playing a cleric.  As a result, the combats came to a screeching halt every time we had to pick a spell.

But I think that really, it comes down to my tastes.  I'm not an epic-level sort of guy.  I like the low to mid-level games.  Yeah, I got that Paladin up to 18th level a few years ago, but by that point, we were already rocking an epic style of play that had nothing to do with the rules, and we knew there was a definite endgame in sight.  With this, I don't know what I'm even shooting for.  It's not comfortable, and not in a "I should stretch my limits" sort of not comfortable.

Which sucks, because I'd love to sit down and play some mid-level Pathfinder with these folks.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

An Agenda, Of Sorts

I've been thinking about what I want to do gaming-wise in the coming weeks and months.  This late in the year, there's really no point in trying to get a new home campaign off the ground, so I've got some time to think about this, but I'm pretty sure I've got something resembling a plan.

1.  Write Old School Hero:  I'm definitely going to do this, even if much of the project is transcription/editing, rather than anything creative and new.  I think it'll help me get in touch with my gamer roots again. (Late December 2011)

 2.  Write and Run the Feng Shui Adventure at Owlcon:  I'm already committed to this, so I have to write it, possibly play-test it, and run the games (January 2012)

3.  Kick Off a New Home Campaign:  Probably Star Wars Saga Edition.  Anything I run at home has to include my son (he's old enough), and if I want my wife to play, it has to be something other than fantasy, so that rules out D&D of any flavor and a lot of other games.  SWSE rocks, the Kiddo loves him some Star Wars, the Missus can be persuaded to play an ass-kicking space princess, and I think I stand a decent chance of attracting other players. (First Quarter 2012)

It's a plan.  We'll see if I can hold to it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Blowing Up Hong Kong On Less Than (HK)$388.63 A Day

So, Owlcon is coming up.  Unlike previous years, I've had no idea what to run.  I even considered just paying my admission and (gasp!) playing games run by other people.  But honestly?  That's just not me.

With pre-registration opening up at the end of the week, I realized time wasn't on my side.  So, I decided to go with what works.  Of my three really memorable Owlcon games, two of them have used Feng Shui.  Warts and all, it's my go-to action game, and I find my best convention games are all about action from start to finish.  But unlike my previous games, I'm planning on running this one more or less "straight."  No "Heroes of the New Wave" this time.  Nope, this is going to be pure Hong Kong action cheese featuring as much of FS's signature insanity (Ancient Eunuch Sorcerers from the past, Demonic Scientists from the future, Kung fu Badasses, Triad Gunmen, Gorilla Cyborgs, and things that go boom) as I can fit into a four-hour slot.*

And, of course, the entire thing must be presented in glorious Shawscope.

*Actually, two four-hour slots.  I'm running this one twice.

Friday, December 2, 2011

OSH Thoughts

So, if I’m going to retro-clone Champions 3e into a house-ruled 4e of my own devising (which I think I’m going to call “Old-School Hero,” or OSH).  I guess I should have some plans and design goals in mind.  Or at least some ideas of what I want to accomplish.

First up, I need to combine all of the Skills, Powers, Advantages, Limitations, and Disads from Champions, Champions II, and Champions III into a single document.  Along the way, I plan to make some initial decisions about powers that might not make the final cut, particularly stuff from Champions III (Mental Paralysis, I’m looking at you).

Once that’s done, I need to make some decisions about the values of some of the items.  I plan on keeping Skills on the original Champions scheme, where a Skill that has a lot more applicability to superheroic combat, like Acrobatics, costs more than something like Science or Streetwise.  But, I’m still not sure what I want to do with Martial Arts. 

In pre-4e Champions, the cost of Martial Arts was equal to the character’s Strength score.  Later editions turned it into a series of maneuvers which could be purchased individually.  The latter allows for lots of customization (there have been three different 200+ page books devoted to statting out real-world and fictitious martial arts in the Hero System), but the former feels more appropriate for me in terms of a purely superheroic game.

In his awesome Strike Force supplement, Aaron Allston took a route that was sort of a middle-ground approach by importing the Martial Arts packages from Danger International (Hero’s modern action adventure game).  Those packages consisted of a basic and advanced set of maneuvers, each costing 10 points to purchase.  Of course, since Strike Force was written years before 4e’s release, it’s actually more of a precursor to the later system.  All in all, I think I want to cleave as closely to the original as possible, so I’ll probably go with the Cost = Strength approach.

I also need to figure out how I want to value Disadvantages.  In the original rules, the character gets maximum value for his two most expensive Disads of the same type, the return then diminishes by half for each successive pair.  So, a hero with three Hunteds worth 20, 15, and 15 points, would actually get 20, 15, and 8 Disadvantage points for them.  In later versions of the game, characters got the full value from each Disad, but were limited to a total from each type.  While the latter is a cleaner approach, it is also rather inextricably tied to the notion that a character consists of X base points plus Y number of points from Disadvantages, something that really didn’t come into the game until 4e and something I actively disliked about it.  So, I think this is another place where I’m going to go Old-School and dirty rather than clean and new.

After I make those decisions, I need to look at the other stuff from Champions II and III.  Vehicle rules, base rules, optional combat rules, stuff like that.  If this is going to be an inclusive volume, they need to be in there if they’re worth keeping.

Finally, I plan on opening my later edition rule books to see if there’s some useful stuff in there that I want to port over to OSH.  Things like Hand to Hand Attack (at least the 5e version) and Damage Negation are worth considering, even if I don’t include them in the final cut.

After that, I need to look at the combat rules, though I don’t think they need much attention.

Back at the beginning of this, I mentioned design goals.  I guess I should state some:
  • To create a unified version of Champions that includes all the optional materials I want from Champions II and Champions III.
  • To clean up the rules a bit where possible while keeping the original feel of the game (less character bloat, easier to remember character creation).
  • To have fun doing it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Igor! Turn Up The Retro-Cloning Tank! I'm Going To Make a Hero!

So, the news of Hero's latest setback got me thinking about the game line over the years.  And how when the fourth edition (the Big Blue Book, aka the BBB) came out, it really took the game and the system in a different direction.  Up to that point, each Hero title had their big elements in common (Characteristics, Skill Resolution, Combat), but tailored certain specific bits to each genre.  For instance, Martial Arts in Champions were quite different from Martial Arts in Espionage/Danger International, and completely absent from Justice, Inc. and Fantasy Hero.  Fourth edition took everything and moved it into a unified whole, and the Hero System moved from being a series of games with common parts to a generic, universal game.  Yes, the fourth edition rules still said Champions on the cover, but that was all about marketing.

The thing is, to bring all of those elements together required a lot of new parts.  The BBB was about three times the size of any Hero product published up to that point.  With the notion of unified rules, it became important to quantify points for various levels of play across the board.  In order to open up the middle ground, superheroes became more powerful, a trend that would continue into the fifth and sixth editions.

With more points available for character creation, the characters became more elaborate.  With the addition of the more detailed skill systems from the non-supers games, skills became cheaper and more plentiful.  Champions characters became more defined and nailed down and less loose and fun.

And suddenly, I couldn't create a character from memory anymore,  Used to be, everything I needed to make a Champions character fit on about five sheets of paper, one of them the character sheet.  By the heyday of 4th edition, I'd begun learning to use a computer, just so I could create spreadsheets to help me with the heavy lifting of character creation.  By the end of 4th ed, I owned both Heromaker (an early DOS-based character creator) and Hero Creator (a Windows-based one that still lives today as Metacreator, though they don't have a Hero version anymore).  With 5th and 6th edition, I've turned to Hero Designer, just to keep things sane.

Sane.  It used to be that the Hero System was fairly sane.  Or reasonable, at any rate.  Sure, the third edition of Champions had its flaws, but it was complete in under 100 pages.  When it came to additional rules, one only had to look for Champions II and Champions III (often confused with rules editions; they're not).  Even with the supplements combined, the game still weighed in at a fraction of Hero 6th's 784 pages of just rules.  And being that Hero was still producing individual games back then instead of toolkits, the game drips with superheroic atmosphere.

All of which got me thinking: what if 4th edition hadn't been the BBB?  What if it wasn't an attempt to create a different GURPS?  What if, instead, it had simply cleaned up the existing rules, combined them all in one place, in one neat little package, still aimed at just playing superheroes.  No power creep, no extraneous stuff.  Just Champions.

So, last night, I went out to the garage and pulled out one of my copies of Champions, Third Edition, Champions II, and Champions III.  I think I'm going to do some mad science.

Of course, since Hero isn't part of the OGL, anything I do will be for my own private edification, but I've got a couple of weeks' worth of vacation coming at the end of the year and I figure it'll give me something to do.

Monday, November 28, 2011

I Come Not To Bury Hero, But To Praise It

So, this happened today:

Some folks are saying it's the end of Hero.  I doubt it.  By my count, Hero Games has been declared dead on either four or five separate occasions in the past thirty years.  However, I do think that Hero ending up in this position has been something of an inevitability for the past few years.  When DOJ bought them in 2002 or so, they were in pretty sorry shape.  Darren Watts and Steve Long poured their hearts into the company and oversaw a veritable Hero System renaissance, beginning with the 5th edition rulebook.  By a quick count, I have fifty-two Hero 5th edition rulebooks or sourcebooks on my bookshelf, and another 10 books for Hero 6th.

And that, I think, is where the problem comes in.  Hero did such a monumental job of fleshing out the Hero System in its many iterations, the almost inevitable 6th edition felt somewhat unnecessary.  Yes, it brought about some interesting and in all probability needed rules changes to the old warhorse, but it just seemed to go against the established momentum of the product.  While the edition wars between 5th and 6th edition Hero were generally far more genteel than those between D&D 3.5 and 4, they were very similarly divisive, with many old school loyalists (read: the people most likely to buy new supplements) voting with their wallets.

That this announcement came out today feels quite a bit like synchronicity as I've had both supers gaming in general and Champions on my mind lately.  There's a pretty good chance my Tuesday group will begin a Champions campaign in the not too distant future, and as I'm one of the resident gurus on the system, I've been dusting off my stuff and looking over the rules.  At the same time, I've been reading a superhero novel on my Kindle that, despite some storytelling flaws, occupies a very cool and very gameable setting.  So I'm hankering to pick up a big pile of d6 and crank back for a Haymaker.

Today's news is bittersweet.  I have much respect and fondness for Darren and Steve.  They're smart guys and they'll land on their feet whatever they do.  In terms of my own gaming, it affects me not in the least.  Way back when Hero was "dead" the first time (in the days before the internet, when "dead" meant you hadn't even solicited a new product in a year and the last issue of your quarterly house organ came out eighteen months ago), I figured out that I had everything I needed to keep playing.  Any new material was just gravy.  It's still that way.

Steve, Darren, thanks for all you brought to the table.  Hopefully, we'll see more in the future, but if not, we'll always have Millenium City.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Aside, Part Two

I will get back to gaming stuff soon, I promise.

Today was Jon's funeral.  It was the first time I've had to attend such an occasion for a non-family member, and also the first one I've attended where the deceased was younger than me.  It was most definitely a time for reflection.

My friend and her daughter were doing pretty well, all in all.  The service was nice, in an Evangelical Christian sort of way.  I'm not religious, but I don't begrudge folks their faith in normal circumstances, much less a time like this. Jon was buried with his two favorite books: the Bible, and Asimov's Foundation Trilogy.

All in all, I held it together pretty well until the end of the eulogy, when Jon's best friend closed with, "I am, and forever shall be, your friend."

And then, the nerd tears flowed for a good long time, gentle reader.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An Aside

Last night, a dear friend lost her husband to a sudden pulmonary embolism.  John was my age or maybe a year younger.  A soft-spoken man, bordering on the shy, who embodied the term "Gentle Giant," he made my friend Brandee very happy.

They weren't gamers, at least not paper and dice gamers.  But they were SF fans, especially of Star Trek.  In fact, they met via Star Trek fandom.  John proposed to her on the replica bridge of the USS Enterprise at the Hilton "Star Trek Experience" in Vegas.  A year later, I was proud to stand on the bridge with them when they were married by a minister wearing a Star Fleet Uniform, while Klingons toasted the bride.

I'm gobsmacked by the injustice of it all.  Of a woman without her love.  Of a young daughter without a father.  Of a kind man I won't ever get to visit with again.

Hug your loved ones, folks.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I've Been Reading A Fair Bit On V20

Of course, it's a big book, so it's hard to haul around to read at work (and the PDF is even a little unwieldy on my iPad, though not terrible), and reading it in the tub is entirely out of the question.  But I am reading on it here and there.

Tonight, I loaded all three soundtracks from "The Crow" franchise on my phone. I'm sure these events are entirely unrelated.

The good news is that I’m beginning to feel inspired and creative and interested in running a game again.

The bad news is that, if I were to run anything I currently feel inspired, creative, and interested in, I’d largely have to recruit new players.  This is not a gripe about my current crop of available players; they’re a great bunch of gamers.  But, the sad truth is, a World of Darkness game or Unknown Armies won’t appeal to most of them.  Also, the typical size of the Tuesday crew precludes any sort of game with intense emotional or roleplay-heavy elements.

I’m actually considering trying a one-on-one game with my wife, though we’ve never done any one-on-one gaming.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Slow Game Is Slow

Today's D&D game was set aside for a board game day.  I tried out "Arkham Horror."  All in all, while I think I see the appeal, I don't see myself playing it again unless the folks demonstrating it have a better grasp of not only the rules, but the overall strategy.  As it was, there was too much flailing around and far too much referencing the rule book at every turn to keep me engaged.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mail Order Nostalgia: The Unboxing

So, Monday evening (as my wife and I were, appropriately enough, on our way to a Peter Murphy concert), this showed up on my front porch:

This being the 20th anniversary special edition of Vampire: the Masquerade, the game that probably shook the RPG hobby harder than anything else.

I remember purchasing the first edition, with no idea what to expect.  Twenty years ago, there was no internet hoopla, no huge buzz about the Next Big Thing.  Certainly not in San Antonio, a gaming backwater at the best of times.

But in 1991, I was definitely into vampires and horror and all that good stuff.  I'd discovered splatterpunk fiction, that darker, edgier, less genteel take on horror writing and I was all about anything that gave a middle finger to the established status quo.

And so I picked up Vampire: the Masquerade, entirely on the strength of that beautiful, iconic cover.  I have an incredibly distinct memory of reading the opening fiction (the letter from VT to WH) sitting out on the patio of a Mexican restaurant, late on a Saturday afternoon and being transported to another world.

Over the years, V:tM would take up a significant portion of my book-buying and reading.  Oddly enough, the one thing it didn't take up was gaming time.  To this day, through multiple editions of the game, despite having bought and read many volumes of rules and sourcebooks, I've never played the game (or it's successor, Vampire: the Requiem, for that matter).  It's one of my dark gaming secrets and an omission I hope to rectify with the receipt of this glorious new volume.

The book is, simply, a thing of beauty.  In the past few years, I've allowed myself the occasional purchase of big special edition RPG books.  I've got the Guardians of Order A Game of Thrones RPG, with the special art and the George R. R. Martin interview.  I've got a copy of Ptolus, and the Shadowrun 20th Anniversary book as well.  In terms of sheer production quality, this one has them all beat.  Which is only fair: back in 1991, White Wolf substantially upped the ante on presentation and trade dress.  To do less with an anniversary edition would be criminal.

The first thing I noticed (because it was still in the box) was how massive it is.  At 520 pages, it wasn't going to be light in the first place, but add in an embossed leatherette cover and silver leaf edging on the pages that, in the words of one of my friends "You could cut yourself on," and you get the very definition of a weighty tome.

(Much to my amusement, the spine is stamped with "XX," which is a wonderful visual pun for folks who may recall one of White Wolf's signature ongoing editorial failings back in the day.)

The interiors are beautiful:  full-color art on slick paper all the way through.  The art is a combination of some classic pieces from past editions, along with new work, including a brand new series from Tim Bradstreet, an artist who very much defined what the World of Darkness looked like (IMO).

Needless to say, I'm still working through the rules and will be for quite some time.  Since I never actually played the game, I never really grokked a lot of the differences between the various editions.  I know that the rules here are substantially like the ones from earlier editions of V:TM, cleaned up and tweaked in a few places.  It keeps the Clan-centric model of character creation that was an essential part of the old game, and pretty much throws in as much of everything from the old sourcebooks that they could fit in.

All in all, a most satisfying purchase.  But unlike all the other WoD stuff I've bought over the years, one I hope to actually put to practical use.  Maybe in conjunction with that Los Angeles I've been mulling over.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I Want To Live In Los Angeles. Not The One In Los Angeles.

During my creative downtime, I've been doing a lot of reading.  Last week, I finished up Aloha From Hell, the latest volume of Richard Kadrey's "Sandman Slim" series.  It's hardcore Urban Fantasy on a Crank binge.  It's like In Nomine and Unknown Armies had an orgy with Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and The Germs, and the unholy spawn was born in a grindhouse theater.

In other words, very much NOT on the Paranormal Romance side of the Urban Fantasy street.  One of the things I love about the series is the way Los Angeles is as much a character as any of the people.  Or monsters, for that matter.

LA inhabits a strange place in my brain, fellow gamer, almost a mythic or religious place.  I was born there (well, Glendale, actually, but like Kadrey says, "Los Angeles isn't a city, it's an archipelago," and Glendale counts as LA from a thousand miles away).  Though a native Angelino, I have zero memories of the place, since my parents moved to Texas as soon as I was old enough to travel.

In the ensuing fortymumble years, I've spent less than seventy two hours in the city of my birth.  Two days when I was nine (we went to Disneyland), and about five or six hours in 1985 when me and some buddies drove up the coast from Comic Con (a story in and of itself).  So, apart from that, everything I know about Los Angeles comes from books, music, TV, and movies.

In other words, I know nothing and everything about the place. Sounds like the perfect starting point for a campaign setting.  We gamers spend a lot of time creating our fictional places.  To my mind, LA is the most fictitious place on the planet.  No offense to my friends who live there, but it just seems slightly unreal to me.  I'm at a point now where I actually don't want to visit out there, just because the reality would interfere with the thing that lives in my head, a weird mash-up of "Repo Man," "Dragnet," LA Confidential, "To Live and Die in LA," "The Terminator," "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," "Rock 'n Roll High School," "Valley Girl," "The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization," "The Runaways," "Runaways" (the comic book), and every song recorded by X, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, The Weirdos, The Misfits, Suicidal Tendencies, DKs, Bad Religion, Public Enemy, NWA, and Missing Persons.

Yeah, it's a weird, messed-up place.  It seems I should set a game there.

And now, in honor of the this post's title, here's a message from Frank Black:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

All Over The Map

I'm still alive.  My imagination is still a mess of competing influences that won't settle down enough for me to do anything productive.  My wife's had some health issues that have kept me away from the gaming table for my last two scheduled game sessions.  Nothing serious, but the sort of thing where I feel better being close to home.

So, what's competing for my attention these days, anyway?

Star Wars Saga Edition: I got a little tired of listening to "Gunsmoke" every night on my evening walk, so I started listening to the Order 66 podcast.  SWSE is a cool system I've never gotten to try out, and one of those games I could definitely see myself running for my son (the local Star Wars fanatic).

The One Ring: Adventures Over The Edge of the Wild:  I'm a sucker for Tolkien, and this is, far and away, the best depiction of Tolkien's Middle Earth in an RPG.  Unfortunately, my hummingbird-esque attention span means I'm reading this in tiny little bits and it's hard to get a good handle on the rules yet.  But it's lovely and a game I'll have to run at some point, if only as a one-shot.

Dread: The First Book of Pandemonium:  About two weeks ago, I found out that Rafael Chandler put everything for his self-published game of demon hunting horror out on RPGnow for free.  How could I resist?  I'm still reading my way through the first book, but feel of the game and its cosmology appeal to me so far.

Vampire: the Masquerade:  I bought myself the 20th Anniversary Edition back in July for my birthday.  I've got the PDF and the book is due to arrive any day now.  VtM is another one of those games I've never really gotten to play, and the newer version just doesn't grab my attention the same way.

Not to mention the usual temptations: supers, westerns, getting my 4th ed game back on track...Here's hoping things will click for me again sooner than later.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Oh, and Den Da Las' Night of Troll Camp Dat Year

Muh buddy Osbad and myself stole a raft and went across the lake to Troll Girls' Camp.  But dey had dese nasty wire traps and one cut my head clean off and an alarm went off.  Osbad stuck it back on, but I had to row all da way back to our camp lookin' over muh right shoulder.  Never did get to see da girls.

Den Couns'ler Boltorg caught us and took me to the nurse's cave.  She cut my head off AGIN and put it on right.

Didn't hurt...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Den, Dis Udder Time At Troll Camp

Da counselor led us on a twenny mile walk, then cut off our hands and feet and put them back wrong and made us walk all da way back dat way.

Didn't hurt.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Things That Inspire

Being a dumping ground for things that run through my head when I think about that Western game I'll probably never run.

And because, sometimes, I think it might be fun to run Deadlands:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Dis One Time, At Troll Camp, I Ate My Own Hand On A Dare"

"-- Didn't hurt."

I believe this is how all campfire conversations amongst trolls should go.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The State Of The Gamer, October 17, 2011

I never intended for things to lie fallow here for so long.  This is largely going to be a post where I try to explain what's been going on and maybe figure out where things are going moving forward, for myself as a gamer and as a blogger of gaming stuff.

From a creative standpoint, and from anything resembling a happy person standpoint, I pretty much lost the entirety of August, September, and a good chunk of October.  I've alluded to work issues and that's been the big killer of time and producer of stress.  At one point, I was seriously considering finding a new job (not a small consideration given I've spent over a quarter of my life with this employer).  Fortunately, things have eased up, I was able to take a lengthy vacation, and I'm feeling much better about my current situation and the future.

Unfortunately, my gaming self suffered a lot during that time.  I missed out on GenCon, which has been a big source annual energy renewal.  My Saturday game for newbies hasn't met since early August, as my son loves to point out.  Our Tuesday game continues (we're back on Pathfinder), but I haven't been particularly engaged with it lately.  I need to correct that.  The occasional Sunday 4e game hasn't met in about a month due to scheduling conflicts.

And during this time, thanks to stress, I've been bouncing around between inspiration sources harder than usual.  One of my problems has always been the way my creative energies get hijacked by outside influences.  It makes it very hard for me to stay focused on one thing, because something else comes along and steals my attention.  This is one reason I always avoid "Sell Me On" threads over on RPGnet, because I've had existing plans come to a grinding halt due to my reading of two or three posts gushing about this game or that.

(Over the years, my psyche has developed a certain amount of coping skills to help me deal with this phenomenon.  Possibly the oddest is that I'll often find I've tailored my diet to match a particular obsession.  This is particularly obvious when I'm in a Feng Shui mood, and I realize I've eaten Chinese for lunch six days in a row.)

When the obsession is on, it's usually very ON, and nothing can easily dislodge it (for a few weeks, anyway).  When I get over one of my Fantasy periods, I'm inevitably confronted with a large stack of comics I've purchased but haven't read.  When I get out of others, there are always a couple of stray books lying around (physically or on my Kindle) I bought to feed the mania, but didn't quite get around to reading.  The problem is when the inspiration/interest is tenuous.  Then I bounce around from one shiny object to another, often seemingly at random.

And that, in a nutshell, is where I've been creativity-wise for the past two and a half months.  Blowing on the wind.  One day, it's superheroes, the next day it's 17th century France, the day after that, it's werewolves, then back to superheroes, no wait, fantasy, except I can't do that because of Kung Fu movies, oh look, Westerns!

(It was particularly bad last week when I was out in my garage sorting my comics collection while watching a bunch of Spaghetti Westerns on DVD.  Talk about your clash of influences.)

Yeah, Westerns have actually been a big part of the interest pile lately.  During the lead up to the project from hell, I finished re-reading Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove.  At the same time, I started walking on the advise of my doctor and found that a half hour episode of "Gunsmoke" (the old time radio series) is a great way to pass the time while trekking around the neighborhood.  As a result, Western and Western-ish game ideas are getting a lot of play in my head.  Unfortunately, it's a hard sell.  My Tuesday group already has something Western-ish for our secondary game, and I'm not sure I want to run something heavy on the alt-history, which is a turn off for a lot of folks.

So, the long and short of it is, I'm still in a point of creative congestion.  Hopefully, as things return to normal on the work front, I can try and normalize things on my creative front.  I've got a couple of OwlCon rounds to figure out, so I may do one of them as a straight-up Western, just to scratch the itch.  I've got an invite to a new D&D group that's close to my house that I'm going to check out next weekend.*  And hopefully, I can get things rolling with my home 4e game again before too much more of the year gets away.

In the meantime, my next few updates may be a bit scattershot, as I just try to get something out of my head and onto the screen.

*Incidentally, if anyone has advice for building a level 23 Epic Cleric for 3.5, I'd appreciate the input.  Apparently, this is an intentionally mega-high power game.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hey, Whaddaya Know? A New Idea

Hi folks.  My brain is finally beginning to unclench from work pressures and there's the prospect of actual time off in quantity in the near future (as opposed to the onesy-twosy stuff I've had to take here and there since the end of February).  Hopefully, this will mean getting my own D&D game back on track as well as considering something else to run in the not-too-distant future.

Oddly enough, I got the first real inspiration I've had in a while this afternoon.  Back in the spring, I saw "X-Men: First Class" and enjoyed the heck out of it, even though it's got basically nothing to do with either the comics or filmic X-Men continuity.  When it came out on DVD, I grabbed it up and finally got around to rewatching it today.

As it turns out, it's the lack of continuity that got me thinking: What if one were to launch an X-Men Universe wherein "First Class" (the movie, not the comic) was the only piece of canon?  So, Erik Lensherr: Suave International Nazi Hunter is canon.  As is swinging 60s Charles Xavier, a furry blue Beast as a founding X-Man, Mystique as Charles' adopted sister, and so on.

Also, there are no other types of superhumans.  The FF, the Avengers, whatever...not in this setting.  It's a bottle universe.  If you have superpowers, you must be a mutant.  Maybe an extraterrestrial, once they show up, but mutants are the default assumption for PCs.

The tone would be distinctly "Spy-Fi," something the movie did a great job of conveying. Players could even create their own versions of existing Marvel mutants, with altered backstories to account for the new continuity, which will borrow elements from all eras and incarnations of X-Men.

Of course, what I've typed above is the entirety of my thoughts on the matter so far, but at least it's got the juices flowing.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Sorry for the lack of updates, those two or three of you who still read this.  The project I've been working on all summer (really, all year to date) for my employer is entering the final stage: tomorrow, we open the doors on our new 40K square foot clinical center.  Over the course of this weekend, we moved three different sites into this new building, with minimal interruption of patient services.  It's been a pretty crazy run the past few days.

Of course, a fair bit of it was kind of monotonous work (setting up computers, installing printers, that sort of thing), which gave me time to think about some gaming ideas.  Hopefully, some of them will at least make it here, if not to the gaming table.

But first, I've got to get through tomorrow.  And the ensuing week.  And hope I don't have to work next weekend.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Comforts Of Home

In last couple of days, I've found myself wanting to run Champions again.  I suspect that a good deal of it has to do with the fact that the Alamo Defenders setting was a Champions (4th ed) campaign, and that when people are stressed, they fall into old comfortable patterns, and Champions is my gaming "comfort food."

I'm under a lot of stress right now, so I guess it makes sense.

Of course, wanting to run something and being able to are two very different critters.  Champions is not the sort of game that lets me just call some folks up to come over and play.  Most of my readily available gamers aren't HERO System players, so getting something off the ground is a hard sell on a good day.

Also, I suspect the desire to run it will pass in a matter of days or weeks, as these things often do.

In the meantime, here's more Alamo Defenders history, from the background I wrote for the New Defenders campaign.

[From the Dr. Sam "Spectrum" Curtis' final press conference, October 1, 1993]

"Thank you, members of the press, as well as everyone else who's come out today.  I'd like to begin by extending the Defenders' thanks to all the fine folks who've offered their support for us during the recent tragedy.  Without your kind thoughts and words, I doubt I could even stand up here today -- Thank you.  Thank you all.

Now, what I am about to say is probably the hardest thing I've ever had to tell anyone, but I'm afraid it probably won't come as a surprise to many of you.

In the course of the many trials and tragedies we've faced of the past eighteen months, it's become increasingly obvious that we can no longer act as a group to fulfill our purposes of public service and protection.  The many interpersonal conflicts we have suffered, culminating in the terrible events of last week have taken their toll on our members.  Several Defenders haven't been seen since before the funeral, and their current whereabouts are unknown, even to myself.  These problems, coupled with our rather public severing of ties with the AmTek Corporation combined to make our situation untenable.  Therefore, it is my sad duty to announce the immediate disbanding of the Alamo Defenders.  Furthermore, I'm taking this opportunity to announce my own retirement in order to pursue scientific research full time.  I have worn this costume proudly for the last decade and I'm as proud of it today as I was back in April of '83, when I first put it on, but I am, admittedly, tired.  Goodbye, San Antonio.  May you stay healthy and safe.

I will now answer a few of your questions."

G. Delaune (Channel 5 News): "Spectrum, what new information can you give us regarding Mechanix's condition?"

Spectrum: "At this point, Gary, it's just too early to tell.  I do know his prognosis for a total recovery is not good.  You must understand, the neural feedback he experienced when his armor malfunctioned was bad enough, but the death of Vanadium, combined with the circumstances involved at the time, just served to make matters worse.  I'm hoping for the best, but I just...I just don't know."

B. Karam (Hard Copy):  "Speaking of the circumstances surrounding Vanadium's death, when can we expect to get the full story?"

Spectrum: "At this point, this is still an ongoing investigation, and all I can do is abide by the wishes of the San Antonio Police Department, who have asked that I not comment further than I already have."

B. Karam: "But what about the reports that her own mutant offspring killed and devoured her?"

Spectrum: "I really have nothing more to say about that, thank you."

P. Rich (San Antonio Express-News):  "Spectrum, turning to the matter of your retirement and the disbanding of the Defenders: what about the safety of San Antonio?  What protection can we look forward to in the future?"

Spectrum: "Well Paula, there are times when I wonder if San Antonio wouldn't have been a whole lot safer without out us here in the first place.  We have no resident super-criminals, and many of our greatest threats involved individuals coming here to attack us.  We're blessed with a fine police force, which has been trained in all the latest methods of combating super-powered crime, if the need arises.

Besides, who knows?  Ten years ago, three uniquely gifted strangers met in downtown San Antonio and formed an alliance that, despite many difficulties, used those gifts to serve the greater good.  Maybe lightning can strike twice.  Maybe someday someone will take up where we left off.  Maybe they can do a better job of it.  I wish them luck.

Goodbye folks, it's been swell."

[From the January 2, 1994 edition of the San Antonio Express-News Sunday Magazine, "Top Stories of 1993"]

Beyond a doubt, San Antonio's top story of the year was the series of conflicts and tragedies that led to the breakup of the Alamo Defenders.  Although their troubles began as early as 1989, matters escalated toward the breaking point last years.  On January 3, Alaister Hammer, the president and CEO of AmTek, filed divorce proceedings against his wife Cynthia, alleging an affair between her and recent Defenders addition Citadel.  During the course of the proceedings, Citadel left the team, but not soon enough to prevent Hammer from withdrawing AmTek's sponsorship of the team.  Despite their best efforts, the remaining Defenders were unable to persuade Hammer into reinstating them into the Strike Force program, leaving them in a serious financial bind that affected the team throughout the months that followed.

Shortly thereafter came the teams confrontation with self-proclaimed messiah David Koresh and his followers at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco.  Although successful in bringing Koresh to justice, the Davidian leader's charismatic presence and ability to bestow superpowers on his faithful caused a great deal of embarrassment for the Defenders, who once again found themselves cast in a bad light.

At the same time, rumors began to circulate alleging problems in the marriage of Mechanix and Vanadium.  In May, Mechanix took an official leave of absence from the team, cancelling all public appearances.  He was not seen again until the ill-fated morning of September 24.  Throughout his absence, divorce rumors swirled, only diminishing slightly in July when Vanadium also absented herself from active duty, reportedly due to pregnancy.

July saw, for a brief moment, a hint of the Defenders of old.  While helping with flood relief efforts along the Mississippi River, they battled and defeated the superpowered terrorists known as Conquest.  Sadly, even this incident was marred by tragedy when the mysterious Dynamo, an occasional ally of the Defenders was swept under the flood waters when a levee broke, never to be seen again.  Not the first of the Defenders' friends and allies to fall in the line of duty, he would also, sadly, not be the last.

"All Hell Broke Loose"
Three months later, there is still a great deal known about what occurred at Defenders Plaza on September 24, 1993.  The official records are still under investigation, and the people in the best position to comment on the events are either unavailable or cite confidentiality when asked.  Based on eyewitness accounts and information obtained through anonymous sources, the following picture emerges:  At approximately 7:30 AM, Vanadium went into an extremely premature labor at Defenders Plaza.  Shortly thereafter, witnesses saw Mechanix fly into the building's rooftop entrance.  Three hours later, in the words of one witness outside the building, "All Hell broke loose."  Defenders Plaza was virtually demolished as the team, sans Vanadium desperately battled a glowing egg-shaped object.  Witnesses who looked directly at the object reported nausea and headaches.  The object was obviously superpowered and demonstrated incredible telekinetic abilities.  In the course of its escape, the Defenders paid a heavy price: no member of the team escaped injuries. Vanadium was dead, the cause still undisclosed by the Coroner's Office.  Mechanix suffered a massive feedback of the neural network controlling his armor, which left him paralyzed.  Marc "Fury" Sinclair was not found after the battle, though Spectrum later reported he survived.

On October 1, three days after the funeral of Clarice "Vanadium" Whittaker, Spectrum held his last press conference as leader of the Defenders.  Stating that he and his surviving teammates were "tired," Spectrum disbanded the Defenders and announced his own retirement.  After the conference, he flew to his combination home/laboratory facility in Bandera and hung up his costume, content to spend the rest of his life as Dr. Sam Curtis, research physicist.  But what of the other Defenders, all of whom seemed to hang up their capes at the same time?

One Step At A Time
Of all the Defenders touched by tragedy in 1993, none was likely more affected than Dan "Mechanix" Whittaker.  On September 24, he last his wife, his child, and the use of his own body.  While doctors at Methodist Hospital report significant progress in treating his paralysis, they also caution that it will be many years before he will be able to walk unaided.  In this only statement, a press release given out on Christmas Day, he expressed his gratitude for the outpouring of the sympathy displayed by San Antonians and people worldwide.  He said that he'd regained much of the use of his arms, but walking was a long way off, although he planned to get there, "One step at a time."

Meanwhile, Metaltechnix, his high-tech company continues to thrive.  Dan's younger brother Andrew handles the day-to-day operations, but he has no doubts as to who's still in charge.  "Dan checks in three times a day and any major decisions are still made by him.  In fact, the first thing he did when he started his recovery was to design a telecommunications suite for his hospital bed, just so he could stay in touch."  Still, Andrew concedes, not everything is going to plan. "Dan still has his bad days.  It's understandable, given what he's been through.  But he really does seem to be coming along."

Notably Absent
When the Defenders emerged from the ruins of their headquarters last September, one member was notably absent.  Marc Sinclair, who adventured under the name Fury, was nowhere to be seen, although Spectrum verified that he did survive the battle.  Since that time, there have been numerous reported sightings of the mysterious psychic across the the country, although none of these have been substantiated.  Given what is known of Fury and the powers he commands, it seems unlikely he will be located unless he wants to be.  One of the more interesting rumors alleges he is pursuing the mysterious object that killed Vanadium and destroyed Defenders Plaza, but that remains pure speculation at this time.

Other Defenders
Of course, there were other friends and allies of the Defenders who've gone their separate ways at or prior to the team's dissolution.  Firefist, who left the team in August of 1993, is currently a member of Strike Force San Francisco, serving as their deputy leader.  Lady Starlight, the mysterious woman of energy has not been seen since Vanadium's funeral, nor has the martial arts master Black Dragon.  Since their true identities were never revealed to the public, their whereabouts may never be known.

But what of Citadel, who's alleged indiscretion with Cynthia Hammer heralded the beginning of the end for the Defenders?  Sadly, he recently surfaced in Portland, Oregon, apparently leading a VIPER-related assault on an AmTek facility.  During the commission of the robbery, he was quoted by police as saying, "You turned your back on me, now try turning your back on this."  AmTek CEO Alaistair Hammer has offered a $1,000,000 reward for information leading to Citadel's capture.

Life After The Defenders
For San Antonio, life goes on.  But how has the departure of a world-class superhero team affected the city?  On the surface, the effects have been minimal.  During his final press conference, Spectrum said, "...there are times when I wonder if San Antonio wouldn't have been a whole lot safer without out us here in the first place."  Since his announcement, superpowered crime has been at an all-time low, perhaps confirming his concerns.  Nonetheless, many citizens are not so certain.  "I miss the notoriety of having them here," said Mayor Nelson Wolff, "They really added to the city's characters while they were active."  Local taxi driver Bernie Breslin shares his views, "Every tourist I picked up in the last ten years had some sort of question about the Defenders. On top of that, I just felt safer knowing they were out there."

Not all citizens agree with this opinion.  Ruben Salazar, spokesman for the San Antonio Police Officers' Association said, "While we admire the courage and the sense of duty shown by the Defenders, it is our organization's opinion that the crime statistics speak for themselves.  In municipalities where you have superheroes, you have superpowered crime.  In places without supers, the problem is nearly invisible.  They're like magnets to each other.  Without the Defenders here, the city has had only one reported incident involving a supervillain, and that was Foxbat."  The Police Department's views notwithstanding, a recent Express-News survey found that over 75% of San Antonians would like to see the Defenders re-form, or some other group step in to fill the void left by their departure.  Perhaps that story will be among the most memorable events of 1994.