Friday, November 22, 2013

Sisters of the Sword: Game Potential

Recently, I read the YA novel Sisters of the Sword by Maya Snow, as part of my ever continuing research on feudal Japan, Japanese folklore, and feudal Japanese themed stories.

The plot, to my mind, has excellent potential for an RPG campaign starter:

Two sisters, daughters of nobility, secretly witness the murder of their father and brothers and the slaughter of the servants. Vengeance is sworn but the sisters know they are not able to extract it because they do not yet have the training or discipline. When they run to find their mother and infant brother, they are nowhere to be found, but a message found later gives them hope.

That's all you need to know to get started I think.

  • As in many good samurai stories, vengeance is prime motivator for the overall story.
  • From a game point of view, their lack of ability as low level characters combined with this motivation, provides an in-game purpose to gain levels/ability/skills.
  • The PCs have learned a variety of combat skills outside what might be usual for their age, from their brothers and father (in-game justification of starting skills)
  • The characters can choose how they want to approach their revenge: whether to expose the murderer by gathering evidence or to strike them down in combat (or whatever other way they can imagine)
  • Finding their mother and infant brother (rightful heir to their murdered father's position), if they choose to do so, becomes a sub or parallel plot. 
  • Finding their mother and infant brother provides an easy way to motivate characters to travel or to take up side-quests  ("A mysterious letter arrives, you recognize the handwriting as your mother's own") 
  • The villain knows the daughters, mother and infant son are not dead and has sent his samurai to find them - life on the run becomes a major catalyst for in-game events.
  • There are four ready-made encounter-areas, that the PCs know of, to take from the book:
    1. the family home
    2. the family shrine hidden deep in the forest
    3. the nearby village
    4. a dojo of a great master who trained their father, the villain, their brothers and the villain's son (in the book, they stumble on this, but it's certainly possible they know of its location. Also since the characters are girls, they have to disguise themselves as boys to get into the school. If the PCs are girls, then protecting their secret and life at the dojo can become adventures in themselves)
  • The master (if they meet him) is a potentially useful NPC, well fleshed out in the book, as are several other students (one of which the author seems to hint is of a ninja clan by birth).
As for the book, to my dismay, this is the first book in a series, which I am now going to have to finish reading because I really want to know how it all turns out!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Recent Arrivals

A few weeks ago, Rick Loomis of Flying Buffalo posted on the T & T Kickstarter mailing list that he had found some shrink wrapped boxed T & T 5.5 and a copy of 7.5.

I have T & T 5 and really wanted 5.5, which includes some setting bits, so it was a no brainer (besides, it comes with Buffalo Castle):

When I finally open it, some collector somewhere will let out a sad cry, I'm sure.

On Saturday, I took a drive out to Titan Comics in Smyrna, to check out the table space available for playing RPGs, and while I was there I picked up a couple of comics:

 These are from the Lulu 40% off sale:

I haven't started Whitehack, but I have broken into Non-Player Characters. So far, I'm loving the approach to handling social encounters.

Finally, after using a Kroger Raisin Bran box to make my screen for the Dungeon of Akban session, I decided I needed something a little more robust for my GM screen. Plus, I wanted one that could be used for multiple systems - changing out whatever was needed.

I found a video online that shows how to make a GM screen from 3-ring binders clipped together. And it looked to me like it would fitthe bill perfectly.

A box of four white 3-ring binders is available for $5.99 with free delivery w/Amazon Prime. A few days later and voila! (and I still have 2 binders to use for whatever)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

2014 Musings and Thoughts on the End of 2013

Still riding the high from Saturday's game, I'm throwing myself into the process of finding the next one shot to run for the session I'm hosting in December

And as I'm doing it, my thoughts are turning to hobby goals for 2014.

My goals have traditionally been solo oriented, since that's my preferred mode of play, although I did include one social game goal this year, to run an RPG session for the local meetup group (done and done!).

For 2014, I already know I want to run something monthly for the meetup. Candidates include:
  • An "open table" fantasy RPG sandbox campaign  (maybe b/x, maybe LL + AEC, or maybe Basic Fantasy RPG).
  • A sandbox Japantasy campaign, or perhaps a multi-session mini-campaign centered around a single goal. This is basically what I'm working on for my home group, and this way I could get double duty out of the prep.
  • Running series of only loosely connected one shots with rules light systems like Searchers of the Unknown, one of the many M20 fantasy variants or one of the Dungeon Squad editions. Character generation takes a few minutes tops in these games.(an episodic campaign essentially)
Perhaps the biggest thing I am considering for 2014, is running up to 4 sessions at next year's DragonCon for Labyrinth Lord / AEC (I'm thinking LL rather than B/X, because I want to see if I can get some Goblinoid Games stuff to give away). Biggest in that I'd be exposed to potentially 30+ different players in a few days, running 16 hours of gaming.

Planning 2014 also has me considering the remainder of 2013.

Looking over my 2013 goals, of the actual goals portion (as opposed to projects which I only wanted to make some progress on), I have not done terribly but with 45ish days to go, I'm not likely to make any major in-roads either, not with NaNoWriMo and the holidays.

Although I'm nowhere near completing the Save a Dead Tree project, I have made my way through a good chunk of material. That said, I have also acquired more stuff so it's probably a wash in that respect. Still, I ought to be able to knock out a book or module or something before the year ends.

In fact, The Purple Worm Graveyard fits this description and will also work as a one-shot module for December. Problem solved!

Gridding the MDF and building some scenery and terrain should take precedence over painting minis, but we'll see. I'm 1/2 way through my US Airborne starter force for FoW Open Fire! and just picked up some Cygnar Blue basecoat for my GNW Swedes, so painting is calling me. 

Mostly, i really just want to get some minis on the table and play - since, you know, that's a big part of why I play tabletop wargames and not video games.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Social Game for Strangers

Saturday, I ran The Dungeon of Akban, from the Swords & Wizardry quickstart, for a group of players at the not-really-local-to-me game shop. For rules, I went with my favorite, Moldvay Basic D&D - converting the dungeon was straightforward.

I had a great time but I was surprised at how draining it was. By the end of our four-hour session, I was running on fumes. None of my home sessions have gone longer than 2 hours. This is something to keep in mind if I go through with my plan to run 4 games at DragonCon next year.

While it wasn't flawless, I got some positive feedback from a few players - and most everyone seemed to be having at least some level of fun taking a nostalgic trip with B/X. The players themselves were great and I think credit for the fun goes to them more than anything I did.

The intrepid adventurers at Giga-Bites Cafe, Saturday afternoon.
My confidence definitely improved as a result of the experience. I'm more certain I can run for groups of strangers at DragonCon and I know that the next public game I run will be that much better, as I apply the lessons learned this time to future games.

What lessons?

  • I lost track of initiative more than once - as in, whether or not the NPCs had acted. If anything, it was to the players advantage, still, it seemed unprofessional to me.
  • One trap that I really didn't like and had thought about removing, I didn't and in fact, I should have. I didn't have it pat, and frankly it was one of my weakest moments; I felt like things were getting away from me. Next time, I go with my gut.
  • They will explore a lot less than I think - this was a fairly small dungeon and in 3.5 hours of actual exploration (the first 30 was chargen) I think they explored about 25% of it. This doesn't mean I'll prepare less, it just means I can consider some one-page dungeons I wanted to run, but decided against due to their small size.
  • Drink water. Have at least 2 on hand, full, at the start.
  • Let the players roll all of their actions, even those that traditionally would be behind the DM screen - detect traps, pick locks, etc. Why? One player did it accidentally and i decided to go with it for them, and then when another did it, I thought, "You know, we're here for fun, What does it matter if they know if they were successful? If they fail, there will still be consequences." Plus, it's something else for the players to do. Any opportunity to roll dice is a chance for some tension.
  • Actually, the more I think about it, the more out in the open the dice are, the more the players can see that I'm not fudging anything. I'll probably do all of my die rolls out in the open as well from now on, including wandering monster checks.
  • Make the font bigger on the chart for Monsters to hit. Ditto for the PC chart on the DM screen. I could never quite see it - I was standing up a lot, and at the angle worked against me.

I'm running another one-shot dungeon crawl in early December, which I'm now even more excited about, and then I'm 90% positive I want to run a monthly open table dungeon crawl campaign for the meetup group in 2014 - perhaps something in a mega-dungeon or at least a mini-mega.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Gavel Nazing

I had planned a post for last night, but then Real Life (tm) got in the way and I had all of an hour for NaNoWriMo, packing my lunch, showering, some personal correspondence, reading and some prep for the old school session I'm running Saturday. Needless to say, the post fell by the wayside.

And that's kind of the point of what I was going to write.

Behold, the Gazing Navel!

On the train ride home last night, I listed all of the tabletop gaming projects I have going on - including the zine and this blog. There are sixteen. Sixteen. 

I readily admit I have gamer ADD, but I didn't realize it was quite that bad. 

Now you may have more or you may have less, but it's not the number that matters - what matters is, are you giving all of them the time you want to? Any of them? What's that expression? Jack of all trades, master of none?

Not that you have to be a master of anything hobby related - if you have to do it, it probably isn't a hobby  -but wouldn't I make more progress if I focused on one project at time (or say, 4 or 6)? No wonder it takes forever to get an army on the table or another trip back into the dungeon!

We only live once and we can't do it all. How, then, to spend the time we reserve for hobbies in general and gaming in particular? Assuming that hobbies are somehow essential  (from my perspective they seem to be, but it really depends on your culture, socioeconomic status, etc.) Is this too introspective? It feels like I'm asking "How can we live a good life?" (we all know what is best in life*)

Here they are - this includes campaigns, playing, painting minis, reading, writing, researching etc. - in no particular order:

  1. Six Iron Spikes & a Small Hammer
  2. this blog
  3. Assembling solo rpg tips/systems into one document
  4. The Ever Expanding Dungeon
  5. Solo-RPG outside of TEED.
  6. Samurai social game
  7. Heroclix
  8. The Wastelands: USR social game
  9. Dungeon crawl social one-shots (b/x. one Saturday, one in December, hopefully to be replaced by a campaign in 2014)
  10. Great Northern War
  11. 28mm Fantasy
  12. WWII 1/32 (Europe, Eastern Front)
  13. WWII 1/72 (Pacific)
  14. Flames of War: Open Fire! (Europe)
  15. Helvetica Campagin (VSF/Imaginations)
  16. Save a Dead Tree
I wasn't sure about including some things, like my Sci Fi games. These are sporadic at best. But there are no minis to paint, no rules to study and no ongoing campaign; just set up and play. So I left it off the list.

Let's add NaNoWriMo which isn't necessarily related to gaming, but in my case it is, in  part. So that makes 17 things, but at least NaNoWriMo is over by the end of the month (at least officially).

*To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

Monday, November 4, 2013

It Was a Good Run

I was notified last week that my job was changing and that I would be moving into a role that no only did IT like things, but actually worked in the IT department. It's a subtle but important change as it puts me around people doing IT daily, rather than people working with our members daily (I work for a non-profit).

Unfortunately, as with every omelet, you have to break a few eggs, and the egg in this case is my ability to work from home. I found out today that going forward, I need to be in the office.

For whatever reason, IT is expected to always be in the office - never mind that at least half of our staff works remotely or that my job has nothing to do with hardware maintenance which can only be done onsite. Frankly, I think it's political and a power issue - the last place I worked, where I did tech support, was like that too.

In any case, that means I now have a daily commute again, which is not entirely bad. I'll have ample time for reading on the train portion of the trip. But, I miss out on getting to see my son whenever I want to during the day. Plenty of people never get that experience, so I'm thankful for for having had it, and hope to find my way back to it sooner rather than later.

It also means I'll be going in much earlier, so that I can be home before the little man has to have his bath. Which, consequently, means going to bed earlier (currently I go to bed after midnight most nights). The unavoidable conclusion is that there will be less time for gaming activities on weeknights. So I'll be making sure I make good use of the time I do have but I may need to reevaluate the myriad of projects I've come up with.

I don't expect my blogging to change much -  I have to write or I'll explode - but with NaNoWriMo this month, I do expect playing games and painting to take a backseat.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

First World Problems: Deciding Which One Shot to Run

In addition to this nanowrimo nonsense I'm doing,  I have my first session running a game for more or less strangers coming up on Saturday.

I'll be running B/X and plan to do a traditional dungeon crawl using one of the many available one page dungeons.

Of the ones I've tested, many have a significant number of empty rooms.

While I like empty rooms, my playtesters expressed that they  wanted more to do - at the same time, they aren't familiar with the old school paradigm. And, the reality is I have 4 hours to run the thing to conclusion. There's no going back next session (although i hope to find enough interest that people want to do a B/X campaign of some sort).

I could just throw in more encounters I suppose, if I find interest waning  or time is available - certainly adding wandering monsters to the playtest helped in that respect.

I'm not really worried about running the game itself, or improvising or anything like that, so much as having an adventure the players will enjoy.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Welcome, Holmes!

My first exposure to D&D was the Moldvay Basic & Expert books. But there was a mention in the Expert edition about "if your copy of the D&D Basic rules has a blue cover with a picture of a dragon on it, then this section is for you" (X4). I never had any idea what that meant.

Until recently.

And for some time now, I've wanted to get a copy of the Holmes book to see first hand what all the fuss is about. 

That day was today. For just $19.99 + shipping I got the boxed set. What is most incredible is the condition - the rule book and module look like they've never been touched. No creases, no pencil marks, nothing. It's like the owner never carried their rule book back and forth to school every day for a year.

I'm still not sure why I was the only bidder, but who cares?

The unboxing:
A little warping, corner damage and a few spots on the bottom box.
Unfortunately, this was the best picture I could get of the rule book glare-wise. I'm almost hesitant to break it in by reading it

The module is in amazing shape. Puts the copy i bought previously to shame.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Decision Finally Made: NaNoWriMo Rebel It is!

I know you were sitting on the edge of your seat to learn my final decision.

Sometime around 9:00 PM on October 31, 2013, I decided I'd go for NaNoWriMo as a NaNoRebel. A "rebel" is someone who doesn't follow the letter of the law regarding the contest rules - someone who, for example, writes short stories, poetry, non-fiction, edits an existing novel, etc.

My project? I'll let you know when it's done. 

At 12:01 AM November, 1, 2013 I started typing and did so for about 30 minutes. I've squeezed in some additional time already and I'm about half way to my personal 5000 word goal for today.

It is more than a bit of a hodgepodge at the moment and will probably remain so. The goal is to get the ideas down, not perfect any of them. As a nod to NaGaDeMon, I am going to try to work in a solitaire adventure for b/x compatible games.

I also did a bunch of writing for the zine yesterday, and I'm around 1/2 way in terms of written content. My plan is for 24 pages this issue, with artwork by friends who do art.