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...