Wednesday, June 18, 2014

NTRPG Con 2014: Thundarr, Drunken Vampires and Ballick IV Lives!

Giving The Devil His Doo-Doo.
And coming in dead last, my North Texas RPG Con report.

My gaming buddy Brad Hand and I took off in the wee hours Thursday and got to the hotel around 9. We had lunch with the special guests (the hotel's restaurant has pretty good food) then off to schmooze. Did my share of gaming, talking and spending (too much) money but all in all I had a great time. Here's the highlights:

* Sitting next to Jennell Jaquays at the luncheon and having to sheepishly explain why I dropped her game when she switched systems from T&T to Runequest 2. Not one of my finest moments.

* Playing in BadMike's B1 game (my fourth year) and, by some miracle, having the dog I bought at the beginning of the adventure survive the game. I'm still convinced that it was due to Liz Stewart's character watching said pooch while I was trapped in the second level of the dungeon due to a rockslide. But what the hell, Ballick IV lived! Thanks Liz!

* Following Vince Florio around Saturday so's we could get interviews for our podcasts.  Oh boy.

* Having a really nice talk with Andrew Larius, who was one of two people who came to the con this year from Ireland.  He told me that 1. they came here specifically to go to this con from hearing about it on the Save or Die Podcast (yay Mike, Liz, Jim and me) and 2. this is the first American convention they've been to, a first and a feather in Doug and BadMike's cap.

* Getting roped into Frank Mentzer's small board games.  Hive was okay, but Cathedral was a blast, even though I suck at it.

* Playing the Dungeons and Dragons Tower of Doom video game. Man that manticore is tough.

* Playing Thundarr in Sniderman's (http://savageafterworld.blogspot.com) Thundarr game Saturday morning. Even more fun was watching Matt Evans (Odinist on Dragonsfoot and my regular DM) play Ookla, tear stuff up and fly through the air, with a generous push from Princess Ariel.

* Studiously avoiding the auction as there's a lot of cool stuff there and there's a few others with WAY deeper pockets than I.

* Running, for the first time, a scheduled convention game.  The Castle of The Howling Dead, a Basic D&D/RC scenario, was a great success.  Having my friends Justin and Alana Groshong Davis there was a treat.  Of course, also having FulOnGamer at my table guarantees at least an interesting time.  Afterwards, I handed the Davises one of my copies of the Rules Cyclopedia with Frank Mentzer's and Jeff Easley's signatures.  They did great and it was my way of paying it forward a bit.

* Missing the midnight auction due to being sucked into playing Edition Wars with FulOn and Matt.  Hope I catch the auction next year - although I did spare myself the sight of BadMike live dressed in devil's horns and a cape (I also heard he was going to wear a matching Speedo - dodged that bullet).

* Being gobsmacked when Zach Glazar walked up to me prior to my game starting, pressing an Attoral Broodsource mini in my hand and saying he was too wiped to play in my game.  Wow, thanks Zach - you should bow out of my games more often.

* Playing Cthulhu Wars with Sandy Peterson before we took off home Sunday.  Fantastic minis for the game but it was just as confusing as it looked.  It's kinda like an eldritch version of Risk.  Not my kind of game but folks say it's great.

Once again, a great time was had by all.  I ran my first convention game (something I intend to repeat next year), Ballick IV survived, I got to play Thundarr and no broken shoulder this time (although during my game I DID, in my excitement of getting around the table to draw the map, manage to trip on FulOn's backpack and faceplant on the floor).  Thanks go to Mike Badolato (BadMike) and Doug Rhea for again putting on a helluva show.  I hope to attend (and not hurt myself) for the next 10 years.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014: If It Ain't Broke, You're Not Tryin'

Thanks Red.  Keep it comin'.
Amid the ruckus that comes with having 4 grandchildren in the house I take that short walk into 2014.  On the whole it was a decent year, with some gaming, DVD buying and Not Enough Convention Attendance.  Oh well.

The podcasts are rollin' along.  Save or Die got another host to fill the empty seat that was Vince.  Jim Wampler, author/artist of Marvin the Mage and All Around Swell Guy have joined Mike, Liz and myself on the mic.  In addition, Jim is also hosting a new podcast focusing on Dungeon Crawl 
Classics (not my favorite game, but very popular) called Spellburn.  Give a listen, it's pretty good.

Did some acting here at the end of '13, playing Scrooge in Jewel Box' version of A Christmas Carol.  With a fine script, great cast and masterful direction, I didn't want it to end.  Surely one of my favorite productions.

On the gaming front, we finished up our Basic/RC campaign and Matt decided to switch to Labyrinth Lord (with some stuff from the Advanced Edition Companion).  We're having a great time with it, as we try to clean out Dyson's Delve.  Lotsa luck with that.

I also managed to get in a bit of Tunnels and Trolls gaming in plus a raucous session of Ghostbusters (also managed to trade for a copy of T&T 7.5 - still waiting patiently for the release of Deluxe T&T).  I continue to be fascinated by the flexibility that is T&T (although I need to work on house-ruing it to allow for more player agency).

Got a lot to look forward to this coming year - NTRPG Con, more gaming, the usual.  As for resolutions, I'm inclined to just say that I resolve to Make It To This Time Next Year.  Some years are like that.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

I've Been Chuckin' On The Railroad

Crazy train?
I've been hip-deep in the OSR for quite a while now and it has colored my thinking somewhat.  Actually, I like to think of it more as opening my mind to concepts I should have gotten long ago.  Things like simpler is better, the DM/GM can make stuff up, players should try stuff even if they don't have a skill for it, etc.

One of the most prevalent concepts is the Railroad, which is looked down upon as a Bad Thing.  The Sign of a Bad/Weak GM.  For the most part I agree with that but I am of the opinion that it needs to happen occasionally.  Lemme 'splain:

The DM writes up a plotline (or several).  His players show up and they all start playing.  Let's say the DM has Plot A, B and C.  The players (assuming they won't choose the non-existent Plot D) don't know what to do.  The DM gives them suggestions, so finally they choose, say, Plot B.  Okay, they took it, they're in the plot.  Now, they are perfectly within their rights to do whatever they want in the plot (even back out of it).  BUT, the Plot Will Move On Without Them.  This is a living world.  It rotates and folks do what they're gonna do.

Now some players are going to cry "Hey!  The caliph says he's going to cut off our heads if we don't kill the monster/we can't get out of the garden until we defeat the Big Bad/etc.  You're trying to railroad us into where you want to go or what to do!"

No, I'm not.  You're in the plot.  Don't go kill the monster.  It's up to you.  I'm not putting a knife in your character's back and telling him to go fight it.  But, like I said, it's a living world and actions have consequences.  Like in life, you made a choice, you deal with the fallout.  Also like in life, sometimes the choices suck but you pick one and keep going.

Anyway, that's how I feel about railroading.  I never like to do it, but sometimes you have to give the PCs a nudge.  JUST a nudge.

I started thinking about this because I recently got a copy of a game I had long ago - the Dream Park RPG, based on the Nivens/Barnes stories, produced by R. Talsorian Games.  It's always been one of my favorites, even though I only played it once.  The reason being, it taught me how to write RPG adventures.  
In the back of the book they have a section where it shows how to write sessions in Beats.  The Hook, alternate with Cliffhangers and Developments, lead up to the Climax and Resolution.  Simple.  "I can do this!", I thought.  And I did.

However, now looking back after all these years, I'm wondering; is it a railroad?  I look at the sample beat chart and think "sure looks like you're leading them by the nose, doesn't it?"

After some thought, I came to the conclusion that my desire to give the PCs free will still applies.  The mere nature of the game (they play players who are players in a VR adventure) assumes they're gonna go with the plot.  what they do once they get in it is their decision, for good or ill.  I then realized it's always been that way.

So once again, the Principle of Fun wins out.  Why else would we play?

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Mutants and Microphones

Here's a blast from my pesky past.  Made these when I was hip-deep in playing Mutants and Masterminds 2E and worked at KOKC.  Enjoy.















Friday, January 11, 2013

Lower Deck

Seen better heads on a glass of beer...
Newest project for me: Character Trading Cards.  Quick and dirty portraits for the DM to whip out to show the players what exactly that NPC they're talking to or monster they're fighting looks like.  I made these blanks about a year ago and promptly forgot about them.  Now that I'm making an honest efftort to do more art, these'll come in handy.  I take a few with me to places to doodle on and when I finish one I toss it in an empty shoebox next to my desk.  I'd like to fill that shoebox before the next con, but I don't know, it's pretty big...

This kills a lot of birds with one pen.  It keeps me focused on the art and I can hand 'em out at conventions, game stores, etc.  My mini-goal within this lil' project is to draw more women.  I'm notoriously bad at depicting the softer gender because males lend themselves so much better to grotesquery (and me being a fan of cartoons has always appealed to me).

So if you see me and I have any on me, just ask and I can toss ya a few...

Monday, December 31, 2012

Chuckin' Like The Doo-Dah Man...

Another Long Strange Trip...
Looks like we're rollin' into another one.  I always have high hopes for the coming year but I must admit that any year with a thirteen in it makes me a bit nervous.

All in all I find 2012 to be about average - new movies on DVD, more used games from HPB, a regular Basic D&D game, the usual.  Guess we got Obama for another four.  Oh well.  Dunno if Romney would be any better but it'd be different anyway (and that's the extent I will dwell on the political climate, thank you).

The podcast(s) are going well, Vince stepped down from Save or Die and so Mike, Liz and myself soldier on.  THAC0's Hammer still tries to come out on a somewhat regular basis.  And so it goes.

One thing that picked up was my artwork.  I actually got some paid gigs which I always appreciate.  Both Vince and Thorkie saw fit to use my stuff and I thank them.  PLUS, I got a couple of panels accepted for Gygax Magazine.  I'll be in illustrious company and I want to thank Art Director Jim Wampler for that leg up.

Heading on to '13 I'll still be doing the Basic D&D game (sometimes with Gage at my side) and, as I mentioned in a previous post, will be running some Savage Worlds with the group.  I've never used the system so it'll be a learning experience all around.

I also want to thank all the folks out there for their compliments on my artwork and my voice acting (my reading of A Christmas Carol got a major bump in downloads off the Internet Archive).  It makes it all worth while.

Okay, onward.  Let's see where we end up...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Role-Playing In The Bluff

At least it isn't a Crisis Crossover...
So, I've recently become enamored with Pinnacle's Savage Worlds, a generic RPG like HERO or GURPS, yet unlike them.  I had a previous printing of the rules but I never really looked at it.  I like the fast character-creation, fast combat and just the all-around loosey-goosey feel of the game.  Unlike HERO, it's not bogged down with minutae and unlike GURPS it's not bogged down with sub-rules you trip over when you're not looking. AND the price is right: the Core Rules are $30 for the hardback BUT they also sell what they call The Explorer's Edition, which is the same book digest-sized (I love digest-sized books) for 10 BUCKS!  Also, there's a lot of campaign books out there, from Pinnacle's Super Powers/Fantasy/Horror Companion to others like Deadlands, Space 1889, original settings like 50 Fathoms, Rippers, Weird War II, third-party campaign books like Andy Hopp's Low Life, Beast and Barbarians...and that's not even counting the fan-made worlds out there.

I talked to my regular Basic D&D group and they said they'd be willing to give it a go next week.  I have a Star Wars SW supplement some fan worked up so I'll probably go with that - but if they like it, I may work in some fantasy sessions too.

Which brings us to Bluffside, The City On The Edge.  Probably one of the best books to come out of the D20 boom, this is a personal favorite and would work well with SW.  In fact, since Green Ronin put out a SW conversion of Freeport, those two would be a good match....

...and I also found a fan conversion of Eberron for SW.  Looks like I got my work cut out for me.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Check Your Shelf, Respect Your Shelf

Ancient Gygax Secret, huh?
Jim Maliszewski over at Grognardia got some kind of challenge going over at Google+ and his blog.  He wants folks to show off their bookshelves to show (he alleges) what us gamer people use for research/inspiration.  Not the most original idea to come down the pike but seeing as I've been looking for an excuse to show off my game collection I'll roll with it.  Personally, I think he moonlights at IKEA but he games so what the hey.

Here we have the middle three shelves of my only bookcase, which is right next to my computer desk (aka Smokestack Central).  I left off the top and bottom shelves because those are mostly art books and a shoebox full of SFX CDs.

Here's the first one.  The large section to the right is my Judges' Guild collection, plus some Role-Aids books on the far right.  This shelf is mostly for reference and inspiration (and the occasional Marvel/FASERIP game I play - yes, the books are in there next to my Champions BBB).



Now here's my main research/playing section.  All the main D&D books reside here, from Holmes to 2E.  I keep these books on this particular shelf because A) it's the Load Bearing shelf and I have quite a few hardbacks and B) I can easily reach it from the desk - which comes in handy when I have to look something up in the middle of a podcast.


This third shelf is reserved for box sets, other game systems and assorted ephemera (or what wouldn't fit on the other two shelves).  That Champions of Mystara box is a misnomer - it actually holds my D&D Gazeteer collection.

And there it is - my working/research library.  I also have a butcher block table behind my drawing table that holds paper (printer and art) and about a half-dozen binders with various DM-related material (including my DM Guidebook).

So now you know, Jim.

And Knowing is Half The Encounter! (PC JOE!!)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Rolling In Bat Country

Humping the OSR dream...
We were somewhere around Thaggasoth Peaks on the edge of Lake Hali when the drugs began to take hold...

Of all the material Jim Raggi has produced through his Lamentations of The Flame Princess publishing house, Geoffery McKinney's Carcosa is the one of the two books that light my RPG fire (the other being Zak S.'s Vornheim).  Yet, until recently, I found it resistant to that creative lump of fat in my head.  I do not blame that on anyone but myself, as reading and using Carcosa takes a great deal of letting go of a lot of preconceived fantasy notions that have been rattling around inside me for quite a long time, something that I know I am not alone with.

I knew from the get it would be "different" from the traditional fantasy campaigns: no demihumans, technology, severely gimped magic (and what there is is of the eldritch variety), etc.  Yet I found myself drawn to it's eerie beauty.  When I finally read it, I didn't realize it would still challenge what preconcieved notions I had left.  Things like the air of nihilistic misanthropy, the world as an an extremely dangerous place, and the view of man (men?) as the bottom of the rung of existence.  It's like Lovecraft (complete with a lot of his Elder Critters) without the "inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents."*

In addition, the book is tight - almost too tight - with crunch.  Now, I like a nice mix of crunch and fluff in my gamebooks, but if it came down to it, I'd be on the side of crunch (after all, any DM worth his screen can come up with some kind of BS reason for anything in an RPG).  I'm also not saying that it is devoid of backstory and such.  It was just a little on the light side.

BUT, it had a wealth of DM goodness if you got on it's wavelength (and I was part way there already).  It's the RPG equivalent of potato chips - you can't just eat one even though you know it's gonna turn you into a tub.

So that was my opinion for quite a while until three things woke me up to the possibilities of this book.  The first was interviewing Geoffrey for the Save or Die Podcast.  Hearing how this book came to be and his influences opened the door a bit for me.

The second was the Carcosa Wacky Races.  Brilliant, I thought - a bunch of characters trying to go coast-to-coast in the equivalent of R'lyeh or Kadath.  I started to understand you didn't have to be so heavy with the negative (or at least develop some kind of Paranioa-style black humor about it).  I also worried about the tech in fantasy (something which I am dead set against in regular fantasy - except black powder), until I saw my grandson watching reruns of He-Man on cable.  It made me think back to things like that, The Hercoloids, Mad Max, etc.  And Gamma World, Good God, GAMMA WORLD!  I can see it now: crazy bone hermits with alien-powered contraptions!  Petty despots ruling a wasteland where mummy brains are sold by the pound and the native language is tap-danced!  Cultists worshipping a stray dog with wings who passes blue lotus powder gas!  A big fat bigfoot series of adventures where PC's driving across the land in a sweet combustible or a gypsy wagon pulled by a couple of three-legged beasts of burden with jale feathers in order to fight or be sucked up by the goofiness of it all!  Yes, this could work.

The third thing was that the format of perfunctory hexcrawl descriptions and terse crunch (which are actually very evocative) looked familiar.  One trip to my Judges Guild library set me straight on that.  That's where I've seen it before!  That was the way they'd publish it back in the Gary/Dave years!  A paragraph (or even just a line or two) of description and you're off to the races!  I get it now!

With these revelations I now can sit down and figure out MY Carcosa.  My take will be a LOT less deadly and more Conan/gonzo than what's in the book.  Weird tech, mind-breaking spells and weird beasts roaming the land.  I like the different colors of men (I don't even miss the demihumans) and may even reintroduce a limited number of D&D monsters into the place (gonzo goblinoids - oooo, I can have a lot of fun with them).

*Don't get me wrong - I'm not really against the cosmic horror thing - hell, I'd love me some more Call of Cthulhu - I just like a lighter touch with them than most.  It'e more interesting to me to have a party survive a meeting with the Great Old Ones and have half of them in the asylum and the rest shattered alcoholics than a regular TPK.  Besides, I hate places where you can't take a step in any direction without taking your life in your hands.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Poser Poseur

Spidey-Ray Vaughn
I've been drawing since I could hold a pencil.  Mostly cartoons, as my style and preference lean that way.  It's only recently though that I've done it in earnest as I've always been a Lazy Artist.  That and I never fully mastered the drawing of the human body (another reason I leaned towards cartooning - funny animals and such).

Anyway, one of my shortcomings (in art, anyway) was that foreshortening has always eluded me - it was VERY hard for me to see a body or object in perspective, no matter how much I read in art books or saw on the net.  Oh I can do a street in one-and-two-point-perspective, but getting, say,  ol' Nick Fury to reach out to the viewer is well-nigh impossible.  Therefore, seeing the writing on the wall, I knuckled under and decided to get a model.

"Hmm...Spider Climb...how quaint..."
At the time I came to this realization, luck was with me - Spider-Man 2 had hit the theaters and one of the mercandising items was perfect for my purposes: The Amazing Spider-man 18" Ultimate Super Poseable Action Figure.  I picked him up at Wal-Mart for about 20 bucks and it was probably the best art investment I made.  This bad boy has 67 points of articulation.  If you don't get that, take a look at the picture - you can pose each individual finger!  His feet!  This guy was made for modeling!

He does have a few downsides: 1) he's heavy, which makes it tricky to pose sometimes, because of that and 2) the knees got weak after a while.  Plus, I had to use a rubber band to keep his head posed the way I wanted to (due to my 3 year old - at the time - grandson getting at him and twisting his head too much).

Other than that, he's great for the perspective-challenged like me.  We quickly fell into a routine:

1. I pose him the way I want
2. I snap his picture with my digital camera
3. I feed it into my PC and use PSP 8 to cut, crop and make him B/W
4. Print and transfer (via pencil rubbing or lightbox) to paper
5. Draw away

This figure has been a real boon to my art.  I thought it was time to give him the props he's due.  Thanks, Spidey.  You really DO whatever a spider (and more than any other figure model) can.

P.S. You can find these on eBay or on Amazon but, as you can see (via the link above) be prepared to pay a king's ransom for one.