Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Because I Like Being Over-Committed, That's Why

So, right now, I'm (still) swamped at work.

I'm still trying to get back into fencing shape.

I'm still playing in an occasional 4e game, a regular Pathfinder game (when the schedule swings back to it) and running my 4e for newbies game.

So, of course, I'm contemplating adding something else to the mix.  It's what I do.

"Something else," in this case looks to be running Champions again.  I've been itching to run supers, and I don't see it happening on Tuesdays.  I've got some local(ish) gamers who are looking to play anything face-to-face, and I have a very local (and vocal) gamer in the person of my wife who wants to play Champions. That's three players right out of the gate, and I'm pretty sure I can round up a couple more without trying too hard.

The biggest challenge will be figuring out when we can meet.  In my experience, a supers game requires a regular schedule and consistent attendance in order to keep this GM moving in the right direction.  I've got some solid ideas for a campaign kickoff already and the notes so far are writing themselves, so let's hope we can find a way to make it happen.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Inspirations: "Woochi the Demon-Slayer"

I'm still very much in a Feng Shui frame of mind. Oddly enough, I think running 4e contributes to it somewhat, which, depending on how much you know of 4e's provenance, may not be all that surprising.  Before he went to work for Wizards, Rob Heinsoo did a fair bit of freelancing on FS, and was a mainstay of the mailing list for years (as was Geoff Grabowski, who went on to design Exalted, another game that has Feng Shui's fingerprints all over it).  Minions?  Feng Shui.  Cool stuff for all the characters to do all the time?  Feng Shui.  Powers acquired via "chains?" Feng Shui. Reality as a secondary consideration to the action at the table?  Totally Feng Shui.

(As an aside, when I met Rob at GenCon this last year, he looked at my name badge and asked where he knew my name from.  Sure enough, the Feng Shui mailing list.  It's where all the cool kids on the internet hung out in the late 90s.)

Anyway, a few months ago, I posted a trailer for Woochi the Demon-Slayer, and noted that it looked like just about the perfect Feng Shui film.  Last night, I actually got to see it, and I have to say my initial assessment was pretty damned close.  The one thing I didn't get from the trailer (but knew from IMDB) is that apart from being a kick-ass action film, it's also a comedy.  This had me a little worried, because first-hand experience with lots of Asian films has taught me that comedy often doesn't make the cross-cultural transition very well.  In the case of "Woochi," there are no worries.  Much of the comedy is of the broad style Jackie Chan employs so well, and the rest is a good deal of fish-out-of-water stuff.

The plot, such as it is, deals with Woochi, a trickster mage from ancient Korea who finds himself initially battling demons in his time period, only to be trapped in a painting for 500 years.  Released into the 21st century by a trio of bumbling Taoist gods, he has to fight them anew amongst the glass and steel of modern day Seoul.  The action is jaw-dropping, and the CGI special effects are quite well done.  If a Feng Shui player or GM can't watch this and get tons of ideas for fight scenes, magical effects, and insane stunts, they're playing the wrong game.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Today was not particularly good. It could have been worse, but it wasn't great by a long shot. To make up for it, I decided the evening called for bourbon and "Big Trouble in Little China."

All of which served to remind me that I really need to find a way to run some Feng Shui in the near future.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Guaranteeing Our Non-Raptured Status By Playing The Debbil's Game

The conversion to 4e went pretty well.  Needless to say, there's a substantial learning curve, but by the end of the second combat scene, the players were all getting the hang of it.  I made a few mistakes along the way, namely setting both of the combat encounters in hallways that were really too narrow to allow for much in the way of tactical/movement options, especially with seven PCs.  On the other hand, in terms of balance, I think I got the encounters right.  The first one (a horde of zombies) felt suitably tense, with a couple of PCs hitting bloodied status along the way, but no one really being in danger of dying.  The second (featuring ghouls, with some minion undead support) would have been much better if it hadn't ended up taking place in a choke point.

And speaking of that second encounter, here's the Initiative lineup:

No fewer than four of my seven players rolled natural 20s on Initiative for that fight, and only one rolled below a 15.  I don't think I've ever seen one stack up like this.

We were only able to play for about three hours due to social obligations, but that allowed us plenty of time to hit the favored pizza place to wait out the end of the world.  And since that didn't happen, I guess we'll play again in a few weeks.  I'm a lot more optimistic about the remaining rooms on this level, as I decided to completely abandon the existing floor plan of the dungeon I was using and build my own.  Getting the creative juices flowing, even if it's just laying out dungeon tiles and giving names and motivations to stat blocks is a far sight better in my book than simply running someone else's adventure.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

And Now, the Second-Guessing Begins

I just spent the past few hours converting the C&C PCs from my Saturday group over to 4e.  I want to see if this deals with my own boredom with "Old School Dungeon Crawling" (because, honestly, there's just not a lot for my goblins to do most of the time except make me roll a lot of dice and die horribly), and addresses the concerns I had with the tortoise-like rate of advancement that is Castles & Crusades.  While this will mean a bit more work on the game prep front, I'm hoping the payoff will be a more engaged DM and players who still have fun.

Also, two of my crew are moving away at the end of the summer.  I figure if I teach them how to play 4e, they'll have a little better shot at scaring up a new game if they decide they want to keep playing in their new city.

But until game time, I'm going to be wondering if it's the right way to go.  I know the world won't end if it's the wrong choice.  Granted, according to some, the world will end on Saturday.  I guess any game is better than none under the circumstances.

Where I Gripe About How Lousy This Blog Is And Save You The Trouble

I fear My Dice Are Older Than You is beginning to die of neglect.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure what I can do to turn it around at the moment.  Work still has me socked in; we started a major project back in February and while it's largely up and running, during that massive time-eater, my department lost one of our support techs (I work in IT support, and we're a small department with a lot of users.  Said departure occurred 49 days ago and we still haven't filled the gap and I've had to take up most of the slack.  So, by the time I get home or find a quiet moment at work, I'm more concerned with recovering than thinking deep (or even shallow) thinks about gaming.

Actually, that last bit isn't true.  I think about gaming all the time, but I feel that anything I put here should have some small measure of coherence, and much of my gaming thought at the moment is scattershot and incomplete.

I'm still gaming, but I have to admit I'm not putting as much energy into it.  I've got my C&C game on Saturday, and I need to make myself sit down tonight and figure out what I'm going to do about XP and levels and whether or not I want to port things over to a different system entirely.  I still want to write some pieces here on weapons and armour and realism in gaming.  I want to do a series on inspirations for Swords & Sorcery games.  I have some neat ideas for superheroic stuff that I hope will coalesce into something larger and worth sharing.

Terry Pratchett once said something like, "When people say they want to write a novel, what they mean is they want to have written a novel."  The same goes for having a great gaming blog.  I know what I want this one to be, but it's not there and it's not going to be there for a while, I suspect.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Them's The Breaks

So, last night, I informed my Tuesday crew that I'll be taking some breaks from our weekly game.  Right now, we have the "A" game, an ongoing Pathfinder campaign, and the "B" game, which tends to vary a bit (most recently, it was M&M3, but we're going back to the 1890s Adventure! game next week).  I'll be stepping down from the B games for a while, in order to get in some fencing, as the local SCA groups practice on Tuesday nights.

It's not an easy decision, even though I only plan for it to be temporary.  This group has gone a long way towards keeping me sane for the past (almost) five years, and I enjoy the hell out of their company, never mind the ongoing games.  But I have quite a bit of rust to shake loose on the fencing front, and the only way that's going to happen is for me to get out and fence regularly.

Of course, I'll still have the Pathfinder sessions (and probably whatever A game comes along after), and I've still got the occasional Sundays 4e group, and my own occasional C&C game, but it's still a change of focus.  It also means I'll probably be less focused on thinking about games I'd like to play/run and more focused on the ones I am playing, which might not be such a bad thing.

(There will also likely be a focus on weapons and armour in this blog in the coming weeks.  I know how my brain works.)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Yesterday's Fun

 To expand on yesterday's teaser post, my son and I got up early Saturday morning and hit the road for Austin, to see the Lysts on the Lake jousting tournament.  This was not a renaissance fair or a staged stunt show, but an an actual competition jousting tournament, held on the shores of Lake Travis.  More properly, it was held on the property of Richard Garriott, video game gazillionaire, private astronaut, and ubergeek extraordinary.  A long-time friend of the local Society for Creative Anachronism group, Mr. Garriott has transformed his property into a nearly ideal venue for an SCA tourney, complete with a "village" of buildings suitable for camping, a "castle," a "pirate ship," and, most impressively, an Elizabethan style theater building (he sponsors a local theatrical company called "The Baron's Men," who produce Shakespeare's works in a proper venue).  In short, it's almost like his own little campaign setting writ large.

But enough about the setting.  Let's talk about the deeds we saw and a bit about how they can fit into a gaming context.   The complete set of photos I took at is here.   They are arranged chronologically, so that's how I'll approach my commentary.  You can open another window and follow along.

The first few photos are of horses and preparation.  I love heavy horses, and there were some absolute beauties on display.  Of course, the medieval destrier is long-extinct, but jousting enthusiasts, in the spirit of re-enactors everywhere, simply make their own, generally by crossbreeding thoroughbreds with a modern draft breed.  I saw a Belgian-Thoroughbred cross, and a Thoroughbred-Percheron cross that I know of for sure, and I've no doubt many of the other big ones were of similar breeding.

The day's first event was a procession led by musicians, and the Grand Melee a Cheval (literally, "Big Melee with Horses").  This consisted of all sixteen entrants in the tournament on the field at once, armed with wooden clubs.  When the signal was given, it was every man (and woman) for him/her self.  The object is to be the last one standing who hasn't either been struck five solid blows with the club, been disarmed, or unhorsed (and one rider did, in fact, take a tumble, but his armour protected him from injury).  Of all I saw, I found this the most fascinating and the closest to its medieval roots (the rules came straight out of King Rene of Anjou's book of the tournament).  Because it's everyone for himself, it very quickly turns into an exercise of opportunism and situational awareness, coupled with a bit of on the spur wheeling and dealing and betrayal.  More than once, I saw an unwary rider clocked from behind, and saw others warily stalking around the periphery of the scrum, waiting for a chance to charge in and clip someone from surprise.  Finally, three riders remained, and a three way dance ensued, as one rider would commit to the attack, only to find themselves outnumbered.  When two remained, they held station and traded blows until finally one triumphed.

In a gaming context, it reminded me of how small a role the "fog of war" plays in our combats.  Rarely do players have imperfect knowledge of a combat situation, and the GM never does.  I know our Pathfinder and 4e sessions are full of pauses while players figure out the "perfect" tactical placement for their characters each round and an erroneous move is immediately caught and called out by someone else at the table.  The challenge is seldom knowing the correct move, and more about figuring out how to make it.  As a result, it's very difficult to portray the hurly-burly of battle in any meaningful way.  One of the few RPGs I know of that addresses this is Pendragon, which includes a Battle skill to cover any sort of mass combat situation, to reflect the fact that handling yourself in a melee is very different from a one-on-one fight.

Anyway, after that, the Boy and I wandered around the property a bit, visited with some old friends, and explored the castle and the view from same.  The picture of the "pirate ship" is taken from a gallery over the main gate and shows how commanding a view one has even from a very small

Next up was a demonstration of armoured foot combat (harnischefechten) by members of the Chivalric Fighting Arts Association.  While it wasn't a competition per se, it wasn't staged either.  I'm acquainted with a couple of the participants, and know they were fighting as full out as they could safely.  They demonstrated a number of weapons forms (longsword, spear, poll-axe, and dagger) in proper plate armour.  The latter bit is an important consideration, as they fight under the assumption that armour works.  As a result, only hits to unarmoured or lightly-armoured areas counted.  As you can see from the photos, grappling and throwing play as large a part as skill with weapons. Again, this is something you just don't see in an RPG environment.  Unfortunately, this one is a lot harder to implement in a meaningful way.  But, the pictures provide some lovely visuals (the guy in black and red is going to serve a character portrait for my new Pathfinder guy).

After a brief lunch break, it was time for the main event: the first round of jousting.  Eight of the sixteen competitors participated, drawn into two groups.  Each rider made three passes against each rider from the other group.  Points are scored not for unhorsing an opponent, but for hitting with the lance, hitting the opponent's shield, breaking a lance, and breaking more than 50% of a lance.  Thus, it's entirely possible for each rider to score a maximum of 4 points on a single pass.

A word about the lances:  They consist of three individual parts.  The grips are quite sturdy and incorporate a socket into which is fitted the lance tip, a four foot long section of balsa wood, which is slotted to encourage it to split.  The tip is fitted with a coronel, a three pronged tip, which blunts the end and provides a degree of purchase on the shield or armour of the target.

As for the jousting itself, in a word: wow.  There is something primal about the thump of hooves shaking the ground.  The still photos really don't do it justice.  We shot video, but need to try to get it pared down to manageable chunks before I can try to put it up online, so you'll just have to trust me on this one.

Or, you can trust this:

From a gaming perspective, I got some interesting fodder.  For one thing, as was pointed out several times, the horses were REALLY into this.  They are spirited beasts that clearly enjoy running full tilt like that.  As a result, often the passes began when one horse started bolting down the lane and the other rider spurred his to get going.  In gaming, it's easy to think of mounts as an extension of the rider, but the actual relationship is far more complex and unpredictable.  Although no rider was unseated (this is a GOOD THING), there was impact where one was rocked violently in the saddle, which left no doubt about the violence of the sport (it was pointed out that the combined speed at the point of impact is about 60 mph).  And finally, to realize the rider is holding the tip of an eleven foot lance on target, at a canter, while looking through an eyeslot an inch or less wide really puts in perspective the level of skill and courage needed to do this well as a hobby, much less as the trained professional that was a medieval knight.

Word is they're planning on doing this again next year.  If they do, I know where I'll be.