Author Archives: Steve Host

Convention Wrap-up – EyeCon 2013 – Part 2

Part 2 of my EyeCon 2013 wrap-up

I decide to run Serenity again for this convention. I ran it a few years ago at two conventions in a row and it went down really well. I had always meant to go back to running the Firefly crew I had created for the previous conventions, and i thought it was about time to take them for another spin.

I got surprise a few days before the convention, the organizers asked me to create an additional character slot for the game. I was apprehensive at this, I normally don’t like running for large groups, and even 6 is more players than normal for me, I wasn’t sure if 7 players would work, But I did agree and created a new character.

I was running 7 sessions and they were all booked full about three weeks before the con started. that was encouraging, it’s nice to feel wanted, and it’s always a let down when you have to cancel session because there are no players, but it was also a little intimidating. especially when you are still not completely finished writing the game that all these people want to play.

So, head down – bum up, I set about finishing the mission. I knew it had to end with a bang. I like my games to start slow and work their way up to a big finish, normally ending with people dying, backstabbing, heroic sacrifices, big explosions, and general mayhem. So in Firefly terms, that means Reavers, Blue Hand Men, and Alliance. This game would have all three.

The premise would be simple. The crew have no money and are desperate for a job. they get and offer of a huge amount of money to do a job, the catch is they don’t know what it is.
they have to accept before knowing what the job is. They accept and meet on a contact on Beaumonde who tells them half the mission. they have to get aboard a semi-famous gambling ship called the Aces & Eights, and a contact on board will give them the rest of the mission. the Captain accepts, and this is the position the players find themselves in at the start of the game.

behind the scenes, the captain of the Aces & Eights, a guy named Jack Leyland,  has been working for the alliance since the war. but when he found a cache of the freedom drug and started using it to incapacitate people during heists, the Alliance wanted him dead. it’s secretly the Alliance that has hired the players, and once they get on board, an alliance agent that is posing as a guest will tell them to hijack the ship and bring Jack to a deserted planet for payment. Unknown to the players, the Alliance has no intention on paying a group of illegals. the payment will be arrest and/or death.

In my previous Serenity convention game I had created a drug called Freedom. This drug was a version of the gas from the Serenity which created the Reavers, but modified to be super addictive, and with a higher rate of “Reverizaition”.  this was a trick by a resurgent Independence to addict the core worlds and government, and eventually overthrow the Alliance. the production facility was destroyed in the last game, but I decided to include it in this one as a bonus for those people that played the last game. It was in the cargo bay of the Aces & Eights, and Jack warned everybody that came on board to stay away from the cargo bay, thus creating interest.

I once I had the framework of the mission down, I got my regular group together for a playtest. I find a playtest absolutely essential for my convention games for one main reason, i am an on-the -spot, spur of the moment, spontaneous  GM. I come up with my best stuff when I have to make it up as i go along, but… this is not a great thing to do in an actual convention. people have paid money to play this game, and I can’t use them as guinea pigs. So I run a playtest, make stuff up on the spot with them, and then use what I made up in the playtest in the actual games.

This ended up being a very good idea, since in the playtest I spent way too much time on the set-up, and had to rush through the big ending, which really ruins all the build up. in the actual convention i was able to pace it well, with only one group finishing early and most going over by only a few minutes.

most of the groups ended up just killing Jack, finding out they were being set-up, and running off into space. only two groups got the they payoff/Alliance double-cross ending. but one group actually found out they were going to be double-crossed before totally taking over the ship, and did a deal with Jack. It came down to a poker game between the player Captain and Jack with both betting their ships, winner takes all. That group got my awards.

overall, a really fun game to run. My players were great, and continuously surprising me with their creative(read crazy) ideas.

now… what to run at the next con?

Never Stop Gaming!

Steve

 

 

 

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Convention Wrap-up – EyeCon 2013 – Part 1

Another convention has come and gone, and now it is time to reflect.

The first thing I noticed about this year’s EyeCon was that there were a lot of new faces there. It seems that word is getting out about these Sydney conventions, as there were a lot of  people for whom this was their first time coming. this was probably helped by this Eyecon being part of the Will Wheaton/Felicia Day sponsored International Tabletop Day.

I spent most of the convention running games, but for International Tabletop Day Melissa and I took a break from running our games to play some boardgames. we had picked up Pandemic the day before so we brought that along. Pandemic is a really great cooperative game, where players work together as CDC agents trying to stop the outbreak of four diseases around the world. it is quite difficult to win, but still a lot of fun to play. we also played some Fluxx, which is a wacky card game, vaguely similar to Munchkin.

We only played two other RPG’s this time, the Learn to Roleplay 40k using the new Only War setting/rulebook and A Marvellous Game, which was a Marvel superhero game.

Only War was good, though we somewhat stumbled though our mission. I have all the current 40k books, but haven’t actually played them. I saw this as a quick way to get up to speed on the rules, and get to check out the new book at the same time. It was quite fun being an Imperial Guardsman, the GM was good at making you feel like a very insignificant cog in the wheel that is the Imperium 🙂 . we were up against Orks so there was a there was definite feeling that we were all about to die. And it was really cool that we were Catachans, the awesomeist IG regiment 🙂 . I believe what we played was the Free RPG Day module, and it was a good into the the system and the setting.

My character was a female heavy weapons soldier with a heavy flamer, the GM introduced her as “basically Vasquez from aliens”. Melissa chose the Commissar, I think just because he had a Chainsword. We didn’t have a CO so i radioed HQ and got myself a field promotion, though it’s not like the others actually listened to me 🙂 we also had a Techpriest, a preacher, and two regular guardsmen. we ended up taking on a wave of Orks led by a huge Warboss, who was eventually taken down in hand to hand by the Techpriest. but in ture Vasquez style I leapt into the swarm of Orks and detonated my Heavy Flamer’s ammo tanks, and then used my two fate points to survive, shining in The Emperors light. In the wrap up I think she ended up being taken by the black ships. so, overall a really good game.

The second game we played, named A Marvellous Game, used the (relatively) new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying System from MWP. I had picked up the book, but again i hadn’t gotten around to reading it so i was unfamiller with the system. however, since the Marvel Unlimited app for iPad came out a short time ago i have been reading nothing but old marvel comics, so i was thoroughly prepared for playing. There was a good selection of characters to choose from, I picked Captain America and Melissa picked Ms. Marvel. It was very fun playing up the super pro-american do-gooder, There was lots of “you should do this because Freedom!” and “you failed because America!”. When the game started there were doom-bots attacking the Baxter Building, but i first had to help a little old lady and rescue a kitten out of a tree.

The GM for Marvel had some great background music/sound effects that he used during the game. It’s not something you see see very often in a convention game, and it worked well. I also really liked the large range of characters that were playable. its a credit to the GM that he could run the adventure with a wildly varying mix of characters, there were about 20 to choose from, with a mix of Avengers, X-Men, and individual heroes in there. I did notice that there was no telepathic characters playable, and that was probably a good idea. we did get a bit lost at the end, my Captain America got hold of the Infinity Gauntlet  but couldn’t really do anything with it. I think it might be a mistake to give players access to such a powerful item if you don’t want then running around doing whatever they want. over all, a really fun game that makes me want to play the system more.

Check back later for Part 2 of my convention wrap up, which will cover me running my game for 7 sessions.

Never Stop Gaming!

Steve

 

In a Class of Multi

In the most recent issue of Dragon magazine, #421, a new method of multi-classing for D&D 4th edition is introduced. I always loved multi-classing, and I was really disappointed with the way it was handled in 4th ed. So i was excited to see who this new system worked.

The basic premise of multi-classing in this edition seems to be that you pick a class, and you stick with it. You can take a little dip into another class at one point, in the form of a Multi-Class Feat that gives you one At-Will Power and adds the new classes keywords to yours, and that’s about it. It’s a bit like taking a 2 day crash course in wizardry. You get a little bit of knowledge and experience, but nothing close to actually having a level in that class.

Unfortunately, this new system is not much better. You can now “take a level” of another class, and you get a power from it, but that’s it. but you don’t get anything else. not class features, powers, or proficiencies from either your new class or your old one. Just that one power. there are some class exceptions, but that is the meat of it.

Again, I am incredibly disappointed. this is no better that the old system. In fact i would say it’s worse. you wast a whole Level to get a single power, rather than a Feat.

I’m not saying that it can’t work in building an effective character, i know it can. but that is not what’s important. the narrative of the character is what is important. people change careers all the time, why not adventurers? what if a fighter has a religious enlightening and wants to become a cleric? Should he not get a cleric’s powers? What exactly the problem with the old style multi-classing?

One of the first announcement Wizards Of The Coast made about D&D Next was from Mike Mearls, and it said “i think we got multi-classing right in this one, we don’t want to change it”. luckily this has since been changed and they are looking to take it back to being more like 3rd edition style , which i like. But why that statement in the first place? How is making multi-classing almost completely ineffectual “getting it right”? What is going on with Mearls & Co that they are so anti mulit-class?

I really think Pathfinder got this right. it’s one of the main reasons I started playing it. that sounds silly, but it’s true. Star Wars SAGA was pretty good with it too. I’m currently playing a Scoundrel that just took his first level of Jedi, and more than anything, it really feels like the choices I have made in character have had a major effect on the character sheet in front of me.

Sorry WOTC, but I like multi-classing. I really like do. And if you won’t let me do it, then I will go play a system that does.

Never Stop Gaming.

Steve

 

 

When Apps Go Bad

It occurred to me after writing the previous post that I forgot one important App.

Some time ago, I used to play a lot of Pathfinder, and during that time there was an app called simply “Spells”. This was fantastic! one of my characters was a wizard and the app came filled with the rules for every spell for every class in the game. This was invaluable at the table as it saved a lot of time looking through books for a particular spell, and saved the paper and ink of printing out all the spells that the wizard knew.

As the app was developed more it started to include not just spells, but classes, weapons, and other rules too. this was great for reference, but due to some poor organization of categories, it began to slow things down. Unfortunately the App was not updated when the new “Ultimate” books began to come out, so it quickly became obsolete as many characters took spells, equipment, classes, etc. from the new books.

So sadly this excellent app died a tragic death. I still have it installed on both iPhone and iPad, but it rarely gets used anymore. This was a fantastic application that possibly reached too far in it’s scope. It was called “Spells”, not “The Rules”, and nobody expected anything more from it than that simple purpose. I suspect that when the new books started to come out, the developers were simply overwhelmed with the amount of new stuff they would have to put into their app. there were so many things they would need to update now that it covered not just spells but Classes, Weapons, Equipment, Feats, Traits, Combat rules, General rules, that it was simply to much work for virtually no return.

It’s sad when something like this happens. a great app was destroyed in the name of pointless progress, updates for the sake of updates. they could have built a separate app, all the same application framework, just with different info in it and a different name. I would have bought it. Instead they added so many “improvements” while ignoring their initial core focus, the app couldn’t support it’s own bloat and died. You can still buy it, and it can be useful, but not as useful as it could have been. I’m sure they were trying to do us a favor. giving us more bang for our buck, and that’s awesome of them to actually try and do that, but it didn’t work. And in this case, it’s not the thought that counts.

Never stop gaming!

Steve

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The Digital Revolution

I’m writing this on my iPad while on the bus home from work. I initially just wanted to test the WordPress app, but I began thinking about how much this little device and others like it are having an impact on tabletop gaming.

An extremely analogue experience, roleplaying would seem to be the natural enemy of digital entertainment. But these devices can have a positive impact on our gaming, if, and that’s a big if, its done right.

I’m not taking about computer games. There are some great RPG computer games out there, but if we wanted to spend our time playing WOW, we would. And some of us do. But by choosing to play tabletop RPGs we have chosen the more tangible, and arguably more social experience. And I’m not talking about Program’s on the PC. That’s a whole different topic I have many thoughts about. This is just about mobile devices, mostly of the Apple “i” verity.

Let’s start with the bad rather than the good. There are quite a few apps on the Apple App Store that are made for tabletop RPGs. Campaign journals, encounter builders, character sheets, initiative and combat trackers, dice rollers, I’ve tried a lot of them, and besides one or two exceptions, I didn’t like them. They are clunky, slow, difficult to use on the fly, and ultimately you end up putting much more time and effort into an end result that is worse than their analogue equivalent.
I have yet to see a digital character sheet that is as fast as using a pencil and paper. And the same goes for initiative trackers. They are a very good idea, but I have yet to actually see or use one that works as well as my GameMastery combat tracker pad and a wet erase marker.

I didn’t let these go easily either. I kept trying and trying to make these apps work for me. Eventually I gave up. the only app I really found both useful and with the polish of an app worth paying for was The Dicenomicon. It’s great for when you want to roll some dice but actual dice are not permissive, such as rolling up a character in a library or at work. Defiantly the best of all the dice rollers out there, and I believe it’s physics based, so no issues with “not truly random” algorithms.

Now… To the good! There is one major way that mobile devices, and in particular tablet PCs, can make an incredible impact to our gaming lives. And that…. is with books.

Books are large, heavy, and expensive. Until…. They become digital. There is a massive growing market for digital books, and RPGs have not escaped this. In the space of one mid size book, you can have literally hundreds of books at your (digital) fingertips. And with sites like DriveThruRPG it is almost too easy to fill a 32gb ipad with gaming books. Trust me I know.

Some gaming companies have been more progressive than others in the area. Eclipse Phase by Posthuman Studios is released under the Creative Commons licence, and offers free downloads of all it’s books, though they are somewhat “hidden”. And Paizo Publishing offer all their books digitally at extremely reasonable prices. These publishers are by far the leaders of the pack, but many more companies are following suit and releasing their products in digital form. Wizards of the Coast, after a dramatic withdrawal from digital books several years ago for fear of piracy, are now stepping into that world again. Releasing not just current edition books, but products from over the entire history of D&D. And Evil Hat Productions will send you the PDFs of the Dresden Files game if you can prove you own the physical books.

But like the apps, some do it right and some do it wrong. Fantasy Flight has been ravenous in releasing their books digitally, but in true Games Workshop fashion, their search for profits is also ravenous. Depending on which discounts are on at the time, It can be cheaper to by the new core book “Only War” off amazon and have it shipped to you than to buy the PDF from DriveThruRPG. At best they are roughly the same price. They, along with Mongoose Publishing, Catalyst Game Labs, Alderac Entertainment, to name a few, all expect you to pay the same or near the same for a digital PDF as you do you for physical book. A digital product does cost money to make, but nowhere near what it costs to make a book, and to charge us physical book prices for digital books is at best encouraging piracy, and at worst borderline criminal.

The main advantages of the digital book over the physical portability, cost, availability, and digital features such as bookmarks and searchable text. Many gaming PDFs are sold without bookmarks or without being searchable, these two features are what makes using a PDF at the table fast enough to be useful. There is no excuse for not adding these simple features.

Availability is a big plus for this format, though it occupies murky legal and ethical issues. Star Wars SAGA edition is a good example of this. Not a very old system, but almost completely unavailable in physical form, and digital distribution will never be an option due to licensing issues. The only way you can play this fantastic system is by downloading a torrent or similar, which is at best legally questionable.

Illegal downloads aside, there are many older systems that are out of print, but legitimately available digitally. and that alone is reason enough to support this new format of semi-digital gaming.

But the question of digital books go beyond rational issues like space and cost. There is just something about a book. Something special. Something about feeling the weight in you hands, the smell of the printers ink, the gloss of the page, the complete physical presence of a big hardcover book. Having this information digitally is fantastic, but something about seeing a full bookshelf, with row upon row of curious tomes, gives me a warm satisfied glowing feeling in my stomach. It was this feeling that got me into roleplaying in the first place. And I think it’s this feeling, that says no matter how many, or how completely these mobile digital devices integrate themselves into every aspect of our lives, they will never completely replace our pencils, paper, dice…. and books.

Never stop gaming.

Steve.

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