Sunday, February 26, 2012

So, Here's That Podcast

Give it a listen, if only to hear me utter the lamest "Sweet Christmas!" in human history.

Vigilance Podcast

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Unexpected Gaming Night

This afternoon, I got an unexpected invite to join some folks from the Vigilance Podcast to play the new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game, from Margaret Weis Productions.  So, for the past three hours, I've been Luke Cage, helping Spider-Man and Iron Man try to put the hurt on Carnage, Electro, and Tombstone.  It was both my first time playing MHR, and my first time playing via Skype.  Things didn't go very well for Luke, I'm sorry to say, but all in all, the game itself went quite well. 

MHR is a different sort of superhero game, far more interested in telling comic book stories than simulating comic book powers, if that makes any sense.  It uses a very interesting dice management game, one that's entirely transparent, so the players and GM know exactly what they need to do to succeed at any given time, so they can make informed choices in spending plot points in order to add to or manipulate their dice pools.

One thing I particularly like about it is how the rules for gaining plot points (the economy of the game) are explicit throughout.  Too often in games like Mutants & Masterminds or ICONS, a stingy GM can bog down the players when they should be giving out points.  In MHR, the ways both the players and the Watcher (the GM) are spelled out in clear and simple detail (as are the ways to spend them).

Actually, the Watcher doesn't have plot points.  He has the Doom Pool.  And a splendid mechanic it is.  You see, at the beginning of a game, the pool only consists of 2d6.  However, he can give the players plot points in specific circumstances which allow him to either add more dice to the pool or increase the size of the dice, to d8, d10, or even d12.  These dice are used (again, in very specifically defined ways) to make the heroes' lives miserable.  And since the threat of the pool increases as the adventure progresses, the overall tension level goes up.  However, some of the things the Watcher can do with the pool deplete its dice, possibly permanently.  So the management game exists on that side of the table as well.

I'm not sure MHR would work with the entirety of my regular gaming group.  But with the right bunch of players (like the ones we had tonight), it totally works.

Tomorrow, I've got an actual pre-scheduled game, going back to our 4e D&D campaign for the first time since November or so.  We're starting early and bringing a pot-luck dinner to celebrate.  Here's hoping the rest of you get to rock the dice this weekend.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

It Only Gets Worse From Here, Folks

Introducing the second of the Well-Meaning Friends: Mister February, Captain Upgrade!

Captain Upgrade
Carl Unger

Prowess  3
Coordination  3
Strength  3
Intellect  5
Awareness  3
Willpower  3

Stamina  6
Determination  1


  Wizardry 4
    Ability Boost (Prowess)
    Ability Boost (Coordination)
    Ability Boost (Strength)
    Ability Boost (Intellect)
    Ability Boost (Awareness)
    Ability Boost (Willpower)

  Catchphrase : "Time To Upgrade - For Justice!"
  Motivation :  Effiiciency
  Connections : The Well-Meaning Friends

  Enemy : The Time Bandit
  Weakness : Can Only Use One Ability Boost at a Time

Carl Unger was a minor regulatory compliance administrator for the Government Accounting Office.  In the course of what should have been a perfectly ordinary audit, he found himself embroiled in a plan by the Time Bandit to steal the wasted milliseconds that make up everyone's day.  Of course, being a capable regulatory compliance administrator, Carl knew time-wasting when he saw it.  But what could he, a lowly bureaucrat do against an actual supervillain?

Quite a bit, actually.  At least, after the wizard got through with him.

Did I mention the wizard?  Yeah, so it seems Time Bandit had this arch-nemesis, a wizard from a temporal sideline created when the Bandit stole his present.  This wizard, who Carl swears was named Roosevelt Churchill whispered a secret in Carl's ear, bestowing on him the ability to upgrade himself to face any foe.

That's Carl's story and he's sticking to it.  After defeating the Time Bandit, he went on a brief spree of crime fighting, eventually meeting up with other itinerant do-gooders, and founding the Well-Meaning Friends.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Miss January: Sonic Replicator

Here's the first of the Well-Meaning Heroes.  Between her name, her generic costume, and utterly meaningless powers, I pretty much had to make her up from whole cloth.  It wasn't easy.

Sonic Replicator
Sonia Reposada

Prowess  3
Coordination  4
Strength  3
Intellect  4
Awareness  6
Willpower  6

Stamina  9
Determination  *

  Science (Geology)

  Elemental Control 5 (Sound)
  Duplication 3
  Supersenses 3 (Sonar, Enhanced Hearing, Extended Hearing )

  Catchphrase : "Time for some three-part harmony!"
  Motivation : Means Well
  Connection:  Well-Meaning Friends

  Personal : Poor Eyesight
  Weakness : Powers Do Not Work In A Vacuum

Point Total  40


Sonia Reposada worked as a systems administrator in a subterranean data center, remotely managing a series of seismic experiments.  The biggest and most important involved recording the sounds of earthquakes forming deep within the Earth's crust, in order to find new ways of detecting them.  The sounds required massive amplification and enhancement, and much of her work involved babysitting the computers that did the heavy lifting.  All in all, it was actually pretty boring stuff.

Until Zzyrge struck the nearby hydroelectric dam.  The ensuing power surge overloaded every circuit in a 100 mile radius.  In the case of Sonia's center, it also triggered what invetigators later called "a massive sonic anomaly."  Exposed to extreme ultrasonic vibrations, Sonia changed.  She became a being composed of "solid sound," possessing the ability to generate sonic blasts, as well as create and shape "solid sound."  Furthermore, she could split herself into three identical copies.  Shortly thereafter, she was contacted by the Well-Meaning Friends, and she joined immediately.

Next Up: Mister February - Captain Upgrade!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Coming Soon - "The Well-Meaning Friends"

Now that I'm clear of Owlcon, my brain has been flailing around trying to figure out what's next.  Lately, supers have been back in the old mental spotlight, thanks to the "Avengers" and "Spider-Man" trailers.  Which naturally gets me thinking about ICONS (also ICONS Team-Up is coming out soon, and I found out "Sins of the Past" will be getting the print treatment in the upcoming adventure anthology).  So, I'm going to make some new characters.

But these will be somewhat...different.

I am a geek.  Proud of it.  Everyone who knows me tends to be aware of it or figures it out pretty quickly.  I read comics and RPG books in public, have an Avengers logo as my iPhone wallpaper, and a Nightcrawler tumbler on my desk.  I yam what I yam, and my co-workers accept it.

The very occasional downside of this is that said co-workers will inevitably bestow upon me anything they they end up with that's even remotely comic book or superhero themed.  I understand that they mean well, but they really don't get why a calendar (or two) from a technology vendor featuring "Superheroes Who Get It" is eighteen kinds of lame.  After all, all they see are the garish drawings and such.

Recently, I was bored and actually looked through one of the copies I'd been given.  It's from a company called CDW (those of you in IT Land probably know of them).  It features a dozen "superheroes" who only could come from the collective hive mind of a marketing team, each tied rather dubiously to a technology or service CDW provides.  Superheroes such as "Captain Upgrade, Regulator of Software Compliance."  Or "The Hackhammer, Master of System Security."  Yeah, they're all like that.

The cheese was so deep, so very, very lame, I realized I had to do something more with it.  Something to truly immortalize them.  And so, The Well-Meaning Friends were born.  I'm going to make up ICONS stats for all twelve of them, probably based more on their names and costumes than their ad copy.  And I'm going to share them with the world.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

So, Those Feng Shui Games

Is it Thursday already?  I really meant to get this written up earlier in the week.

So, since I ran the same adventure twice, I'm going to give the scene by scene breakdown and then mention the differences between the two groups and the awesome stuff they did.

The basic plot was pretty simple.  Lao Han, a Lotus sorcerer in the contemporary juncture has founded a film company.  Called Han Dynasty Productions, their first film is "Xao: The Caves of Time," a film that will 1) Expose more people in the contemporary juncture to the concepts of the Secret War, and 2) Allow him to attempt a ritual during the film's climactic scene that will (over time) lead to an increase in the ambient magic level of Hong Kong and, eventually, the world.

Needless to say, the Ascended oppose such notions, even if they're not entirely sure of what's going on.  They plan on using standard Ascended tricks to stop the film production, and that means innocent people are going to get hurt.

(In each case, I started off with a full complement of players.  Group One was composed entirely of novices, although one had played the Shadowfist card game.  Group Two consisted of three veterans (one a GM), plus a couple of HK film fanatics who'd never gotten to play.

The adventure opens in the Jumbo Floating Seafood Restaurant, a massive edifice moored in the harbor of Aberdeen.  I told the players to imagine the craziest, loudest Chinese restaurant they'd ever seen, and turn it up to eleven.  The camera lingered briefly on each of the PCs, framing the scene.

Jackie and Reno were sitting at a table, discussing a case.
Tigress and Cyclone were trading covert information in a private booth
"Old Man" Yung was enjoying the good life, as paper money is much easier to make with magic than gold and silver.
Jade Tears was waiting tables, and "Bruce" was busing them.

At the center of the main floor, basking in the attention was actress and next-big-thing, Maggie Lam, star of the upcoming Han Dynasty picture, "Xao: the Caves of Time."

And then the Maitre d' came flying into the room, followed by a horde of armed thugs intent on kidnapping Maggie...

Both groups jumped into the action immediately.  Highlights of Group One were Reno mowing down mooks, "Bruce" pouring a large bowl of soup on a couple of thugs, Cyclone putting his "Blue Suede Platform Boot" in the lead thug's face, and Jade Tears flying in from off-screen to impale the leader to a dining table.

Group Two featured some really creative use of the scenery by Reno, comic hijinks from Jackie that set the tone for how the player handled him all night, creative use of movement powers by "Old Man" Yung to get Maggie out of the way (and try to put some moves on her).

Afterwards, Maggie thanked the heroes and informed her agent (who was busy spinning the whole thing as a publicity stunt) that she didn't feel safe anymore and that if she was going to stay on this film, she wanted "These people" as her bodyguards.

The next scene introduced the film set.  The heroes got a brief look at Mr. Han, an older chap with a predilection for bright brocade coats.  He'd apparently lost his voice box because he had to use an artificial one (to cover up the fact that without it, he squeaks, what with all the being a eunuch and such).  I let the players choose their "cover story" on the set.

I don't remember all of Group One, but I think Reno just played cop, Jackie was a stuntman, Tigress was an armorer, Jade Tears was stunts, "Old Man" Yung was a special effects guy, Cyclone was an extra, and "Bruce" worked the food table.

Group Two:  Reno was, again, just being a cop on the set, Jackie was stationed at the food table (his player played him as ravenously hungry to humorous effect), Jade Tears was stunting, Tigress was wardrobe, "Bruce" was holding boom mikes, and "Old Man" was an explosives guy.

(As the second combat kicked off, the guy playing "Old Man" Yung got sick and excused himself.  The previous session and the first combat of this round had shown me that "Bruce" was extremely deficient in terms of speed, to the point that other characters were sometimes acting two or three times before his first action.  I offered the guy playing him the chance to take over "Old Man" Yung, and he did so, much to the betterment of the session.)

After that, I set up the next bit.  It was an interior shoot, a large set made up to look like a cavern complex.  The Innerwalkers in the group recognized it as looking a bit like the Netherworld.  A mob of cross-time refugees (extras and stuntmen) were to chase Maggie down some tunnels and out on a rope bridge over a chasm (a pit ten feet deep, lined with mattresses and painted green for the CGI to be inserted in post).  Then, her co-star, Cantopop idol Evan Chin (played, according to Group One, by "Chinese John Stamos") was to swing in on a rope, blast the mob, and carry her to safety.

When the cameras rolled, that's just what happened, up to the point where Evan should have swung in.  Instead, a large weight came hurtling toward her on the rope, clipping her and knocking her off.  The lights went out, except for one rig that burst into flames.  Shadowy figures with guns came in from the edge of the set, One shouted, "Everyone be smart and no one gets hurt!"

Of course, our heroes weren't smart.  Violence ensued.

Group One began what could only be called Operation: Sandbag.  They quickly latched on to a theme and virtually every attack they launched incorporated sandbags in some way.  Since Feng Shui doesn't use a map and players have the right to make up things like this if it helps the story, I just ran with it.  Sandbags fell left and right on thugs.  Jade Tears swept down into the "chasm" to protect Maggie, and "Old Man" Yung made a tunnel of fire that she flew through to the catwalk carrying the star to safety.

Group Two opted for some different tactics.  Jade Tears again carried Maggie to a catwalk, and much was done with Martial Arts and firepower, but the crowning glory was Cyclone rallying the extras and stuntmen to fight back, while wearing a Roman Legionnaire's costume (Black Caesar, Represent!).

In the end, the attackers were thwarted.  Evan Chin was found unconscious and trussed up in an office behind the catwalk.  And just as everyone noticed Mr. Han was missing...

A massive column of green flame burst from an off set corridor.  Investigating, the heroes found a badly charred body, and Han walking out of the smoke, a bit singed, but none worse for the wear.

The body proved to be Rostov, a notorious Russian mercenary with all sorts of underworld connections.  Han made a speech about how the film had to be completed and the cast and crew were, somewhat surprisingly, quite inspired.  He then left before the heroes could speak to him.

It was at this point that Group Two, under Reno's lead, had a quiet moment where they spilled their secrets to each other.  As Jackie was specifically written to have no supernatural connections up to this point, the player's reactions were fantastically roleplayed.  Everyone decided to stick with this and see what happened next.  Especially since there was an outdoor shoot later that night.

The outdoor shot was in a commercial district.  Gleaming buildings, lots of neon, and (of course) it had just rained (for those cinematic puddles).  Maggie and Evan were on the run from modern thugs.  They have a moment of quiet to catch their breath when Maggie sees something coming out of an alley and screams.  Evan looks, "Hopping vampires!  This is not good!"

The director shouts cut, but the vampires kept coming.  Even one is a problem and there were over a dozen!  What to do?

Group One were not as savvy about HK films, so I gave them a quick run-down on Jiangshi (or Hopping Vampires), including the easiest way to immobilize them (it involves affixing scrolls, or post-it notes for that matter, containing a Buddhist sutra, to their heads).  Reno quickly learned his bullets had no effect on them and focused on trying to get the actors out of the way.  Cyclone ran to his Jaguar and drove it onto the set, swooping up Maggie and driving her away.  Meanwhile, "Old Man" worked his magic at superspeed (Movement schtick) and scattered the "scrolls" on the breeze, landing them neatly in the hands of the martially adept, who proceeded to slap scrolls on Vampires.  They contained a potentially nasty outbreak in record time.

Group Two took a similar path, yet one that was uniquely theirs.  Jade Tears immediately asked Yung if he had the means to make the scrolls.  The fact that so many of my players had seen "Mister Vampire" made this scene a lot easier for me to run.  While Jackie and Jade Tears kept the vampires occupied,  Reno and Cyclone highjacked a nearby moving truck.  While the radio blasted Cantopop, they drove the truck down the alley, blocking the monsters in with their friends.  Reno shot out the windshield, and when Maggie and Evan's love ballad came on the radio, Cyclone shot it (the only thing he shot all night).  Meanwhile, Yung did the same sort of trick with the scrolls, sending them to his allies, who made swift work of them.

In the aftermath, the heroes are approached by Johnny Wintermute, an escapee from 2056, a hellish world of demonic cyberware, ruled by the Buro.  His role is to fill in the heroes as to what's really going on, and enlist them in the cause of the Silver Dragons, the one faction in the Secret War that stands up for normal humanity.  Of course, Group Two had already compared notes, but this was Group One's chance to do the same and reveal what they each knew (or didn't know) about the Secret War.  Johnny tells them that something big is going down at tomorrow's shoot at the Tin Hau Temple Complex.  He also warns them that the Lotus and the Ascended aren't the only ones with a dog in this fight. There's this other group called The Jammers. A bunch of crazy nihilists whose plan for the Secret War is to blow up everything.

The final scene was the Tin Hau Temple.  A sacrificial altar is set up on the temple grounds and Maggie chained to it.  As a eunuch wizard (guess who) is about to plunge a knife into her, a shot rings out, and a bullet wound appears in his forehead.

Of course, being an ancient eunuch wizard, he pops back up, summons a bunch of ogres, and as paramilitary troops descend from four unmarked helicopters, the fight is on in earnest.

Group One focused a lot of their attention on the paramilitary guys. Reno took a number of them down by shooting their rappelling lines, and Jade Tears took out an entire chopper by grabbing the line, swinging up, and then flinging the rope into the rotor blades.  It was at this point, the players learned that helicopters do indeed count as unnamed characters.  Reno shot down another, while Jackie scurried up the rope to a third, overpowered the pilot and took over the craft.  Yung kept Han busy, while Cyclone used his afro pick to destroy the shackles holding Maggie to the altar (they were made of rubber) and rescued her from the ogres.  Finally, as time was running down, "Bruce" tossed a downed helicopter at Han, crushing him, and Jackie used his chopper's PA system to deliver a stirring speech that convinced the remaining Ascended troops to stand down.

Group Two focused more on the ogres and Han and their dice went horribly cold.  In retrospect, it was nearly midnight and I should have narrated things, but Han was super tough and they rolled badly, so Yung was badly hurt and Jade Tears missed a great chance to impale him.  Cyclone focused on ogres, Jackie rescued Maggie, Tigress fought the paramilitary leader (Major Killpatrick, an Ascended toadie), and Reno blasted mooks.  As time wound down, I let Yung, as a last, desperate attempt, use his Movement schtick to wrest a helicopter from the sky and send it hurtling towards Han, bisecting him with the rotor blade.

As each group caught its breath, they suddenly heard the sound of jetpacks, with a heavily distorted version of "Ride of the Valkyries" blaring over it.  A horde of cyborg gorillas landed.

The scene fades to the words, "The Beginning"

Roll credits.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Owlcon Wrap Up - The Games I Played

I'm home with a sick kid and I'm not feeling too great myself, so I figured before I go into write-ups of my two Feng Shui games, I'll give a bit of a shout-out to the two games I got to play in.

The first was Where No Man Has Gone Before.  It's a Microlite d20 adaptation of classic "Star Trek," available online for free in a couple of places, including as a spiffy PDF called "Far Trek."  I originally signed up for it because I liked the concept and because a friend from Austin was running it.  Then, my friend had to back out, but Owlcon found someone else to run the game (though it was a different adventure).  I played a 2nd level Blue Shirt (did I mention your shirt color is also your character class?), a Tellarite doctor whose name I've sadly already forgotten. 

We were Starfleet cadets on our graduation mission and, of course, things went wrong.  The adventure itself was interesting, and certainly in keeping with the tone of the original show, but I had a couple of minor quibbles.  First, there was what amounted to a dream sequence where we were on a gigantic 3-D chess board and could only move in the fashion of the chess pieces we were assigned.  This was kind of neat, but the GM broke out three chess boards and set them up and had us move until one PCs figured out a way to break the rules.  I'm not much of a chess player, so I pretty much deferred to the other players' advice when moving, which felt terribly passive.

Also, the "Big Bad" was my PCs own personal nemesis.  If we'd been short-handed and if no one picked that character, it would have been kind of weird.

Finally, and this had nothing to do with the GM or the adventure, the last guy to show up for the game (about ten minutes late) got stuck with the last choice character, a female security officer.  He not only fulfilled all of the bad stereotypes of a male gamer playing a female character (including slutting her up at every turn), but he was also an inveterate gun-bunny, who had no desire to set his phaser on stun.  And he was, of course, obnoxiously loud about it.  But, that's convention games for you.

The other game was Werewolf: the Forsaken, an adventure called "Little Orphan Azlu."  Long-time readers of this blog or folks who know me online may be aware of the fact that I owned tons of World of Darkness stuff, but had never managed to actually play a WoD game.  Ever.  I'd created characters for a couple, but those games folded before they ever got off the ground.  So, it was with some trepidation that I looked at the slot for Saturday afternoon's Werewolf offering while picking up my pre-reg packet and noted that only three people had signed up for the game.

(I got even more concerned when I got to the room a little early and found a group of people setting up a board game, but it turned out they'd mistakenly been told the room was available.)

As it was, the game not only made, but filled.  I played a motivational speaker named Alexander Hope who had the interesting mix of high personal charisma and the ability to be practically unseen, even vanishing in a crowd.  The adventure was a fairly simple one.  All of the children in our town had vanished and we believed they were being held by Azlu in an old orphanage on the edge of town.  We had to gather information and resources, then assault the place.  In the early stages, I re-conned the surroundings, and during the attack, led a stealth team in, and then spent the rest of the adventure rescuing children from Azlu webbing in wolf form while the rest of the group fought and bled.  The game ran right up to the time limit (a fight featuring 7-8 werewolves and about a dozen Azlu was quite time-consuming) and we ended up narrating the end, but we were successful, and I can finally check "Play a WoD game" off my to-do list.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Pro Tip: Sorcerers Are Vulnerable To Helicopters

Another Owlcon down.  Without a doubt, it was one of my personal bests.  In the course of one evening and one very full day, I managed about sixteen hours of gaming, including my first ever time to play a World of Darkness game (I know!).  From a GMing perspective, I considered it quite successful, as both sessions of my Feng Shui game came off quite well.  I will probably write about them at length in the near future, but at the moment, it's sufficient to note that both games ended with the evil sorcerer being killed by having a helicopter slammed into him.  If that's not Feng Shui, I don't know what is.

Here's the cast of characters from yesterday's fun:

Played by Chow Yun Fat
Detective Reno Tso, Renegade Cop
Bringing your brother, the notorious "Tahoe" Tso to justice, should have been the pinnacle of your career.  But it was just the beginning of a downward spiral  Tahoe was into some really weird stuff, and now, you have to get to the bottom of it, even if they partnered you with Jackie.

Played by Jackie Chan
Detective Jackie, Karate Cop
Even as a child studying kung-fu, you always wanted to be a cop. You graduated at the top of your Academy class and made detective in record time.  Then, you got partnered with Reno. He's a mess.  Maybe they think you can fix him up.  Maybe you can.  After all, helping people is what you do.

Played by Eddie Griffin
Cornelius "Cyclone" Jones, Agent of GROOVE, Spy

All around suave super-spy, and the sole remaining practitioner of Prancing Allah Kung-Fu. 

"Cyclone" Jones is so funky he'll make you say, "Damn, that brother's funky."

Played by HK knock-off Hulk
"They Call Him Bruce," Supernatural Creature
There you were, minding your own business in the Underworld, when this idiot sorcerer yanked you out.  Then he dragged you through these caves and you came out here.  Wherever here is.  Anyway, you settled his hash.  Now to hide out until you can find your way home.

Played by Michelle Yeoh
Code Name: Tigress, Renegade Transformed Animal
You took a shortcut on the path to reincarnation.  Born a tiger, you evolved yourself into a human.  Fleeing the magic-invested world of the past, you found a world ruled by your kind.  But they had lost the path of honor.  Turning your back on them, you make your own way in the world.


Played by Maggie Cheung
Jade Tears, Martial Artist
The only child of Do Kwan, the Emerald Sifu, your father tried to shield you from the world of martial arts.  He failed.  When the army came and killed him, you fled into the hills.  In a cave, you found a strange path that led you to this place.

Played by Dong-Won Kang
"Old Man" Yung, Sorcerer
Even in ancient times, you were a mighty sorcerer.  You stood against rival magicians and fierce demons.  Then, by ill luck, you were trapped within a scroll, where you slept for 2000 years.  Now awake in this new age of wonders and unbelievers, you must find a new path.

More about this cast of heroes and their exploits in a future post.