Friday, August 18, 2017

Some first impressions of Blades in The Dark

We took a little impromptu camping trip this weekend, so I was able to spend a bit more time reading Blades in the Dark. 

When we go camping, we put everyone to work
tldr; I love Blades.

As a side note, I came to some realizations about this. First, this is set in the same world as Ghost Lines, which is super awesome. Second, someone somewhere told me about Blades last year before the Kickstarter. But, third, I somehow at the time got it confused with Project:Dark, the similar but ill-fated game that was Kickstarted like three years ago. 

Blades succeeds fantastically at delivering a Thief or Dishonored experience. Aside from aspirations to adapt Tribe 8 to every game I find I like, I really want to play in the world. It hits all of the points, and has a really cool atmosphere. But at the same time, it's not over detailed. There are plenty of blanks to fill in, and numerous opportunities.

But, even better, I can see the possibilities for tweaking the game to adapt Tribe 8 to it (what, were you expecting anything else?). Much as Fate was kind of an eye-opener in terms of possibilities in expanding themes and highlighting facets of the setting, Blades is doing the same thing. Crews, holdings...these things offer some new elements to explore within Vimary.

I'm looking forward to finishing the book and maybe getting a vanilla game together.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Interests and inspirations

To kind of segue from my last post about the fantasy world I've been puttering around with, I figured it would help out if I categorized/listed out long-running interests and inspirations. I'm not sure if this is actually a thing that people do to help get their brain juices flowing, but I suspect it can't hurt and it helps me feel like I'm accomplishing something.

Beyond the obvious, generic interests (hard science fiction, cyberpunk, fantasy, horror, etc.) I've long been fascinated by:
  • Geomancy
  • Megaliths and "places of power"
  • Prehistoric religion
  • Glyphs/sigils/etc.
  • Post apocalypse/collapse
  • What I can only call "alternative cosmographies". Think not just the Mythos, but things like Hellraiser or Nightbreed, as well as elements of Gnosticism, Kabbalah, etc.
There's a sense of the mystery and the unknown (or unknowable) running that list, and it makes it easy to see why I'm attracted to the RPGs that I am, such as Tribe 8. The Ryhope Wood books by Robert Holdstock - Mythago Wood, Lavondyss, and others - rank among my all time favorites.

Some if these elements are going to make their way into the setting I've been working on, in some way. I'm still balancing uniqueness/variety with familiarity - I want something that feels new, without being so alien that people can't connect to the setting. Coupled with my newfound interest in more late modern/Industrial revolution for settings as opposed to standard medieval fantasy settings, and I think I can strike that balance.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

There's A World Kicking Around in My Head

It's been there for nearly 30 years, but I don't have binders and binders of stuff about it unlike a lot of GMs or designers. I've started and stopped working on it, many times - and just as many times lost what little I had committed to paper or digital. This includes a half dozen maps; notes saved in notebooks; as well as countless files on floppies, zip disks, and CDs. Various incarnations of the setting have been ported to the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, GURPS, Fantasy HERO, and a Dreampark/Interlock hybrid called (in what obviously seemed very cool at the time) VIRTUAL. Every time it changes, sometimes quite a bit.

This world, which is nameless only in that it's had many different names, has likewise pulled from a grab bag of fictional inspirations. But it started out humbly as a TMNT/Palladium Fantasy mashup sometime during high school in the late 80s, using Mutants In Avalon as a springboard. It was populated entirely with a random smattering of anthropomorphic animals. Sometimes it would include humans, elves and dwarves, sometimes not.

This may be one of the coolest covers I've ever seen

At the time I had no concept of the term "furry", although I had flipped through Albedo or similar titles in the comic store once or twice (usually followed by promptly putting them back when I ran into a sex scene).  But eventually I came into contact with individuals involved in furry subculture who really turned me off from the idea of including the anthropomorphs, and I haven't included them since.

Before we go any further, I want to state flat out that I don't want a debate about how not all furries are perverts or have sex in fursuits or whatever. At the time, confronted by a trenchcoat wearing man of questionable hygiene who loudly proclaimed that my "furries" were all wrong and proceeded to pull out color dot matrix printouts of 16-bit X-rated furry porn .bmps to show me how they were supposed to be, it turned me off from including anthropomorphs. It's a thing that happened, and I can't change my reaction to it. I realize there is a long and storied history of animal-like races in mythology, fantasy fiction, and rpgs. I realize that my creation had literally no connection to this guy or his interests, and that most people I've met since with similar tastes are not creepy or obscenely inappropriate like he was. Damage was done, and I've moved on from it.

Getting back to the multiple iterations, five or six years ago I got the itch to start mapping out a fantasy world. I delved into the Campaign Cartographer forums, familiarized myself with the techniques, tools, and styles out there for creating digital maps, and started on it. It took a lot of work, but this was the result:

I was pretty pleased with it, and started to cobble together some ideas and notes which for once, due to the miracle of The Cloud, I still have. I had just come off of a binge of PC gaming, having playing through Dragon Age Origins and Dragon Age Inquisition again, plus Dishonored and the Thief series (in preparation for the reboot that was coming out). It sounds contradictory, but I knew I wanted a melding of the high fantasy vibe from Dragon Age with the more low fantasy "noir" feel of Thief and Dishonored (I hesitate to use the word steampunk, or any other kind of "punk" to describe those two games, so noir is a good compromise).

Of course, things came up (lots of things - like over two years' worth, including having another kid) and it kind of fell by the wayside until this past January. I had just gotten laid off from my job, but with a decent severance package and a very good prospect that I eventually landed, I wasn't feeling the urge to full-time job-hunt. I started doing some housekeeping in Google Drive, and ran across the map and some of my notes. It still looked good, but I noticed a bunch of things that I really didn't like about it. So I dug back into my Cartographer's Guild tutorials and started over. This was the second result.

It still doesn't have a name
There are some similarities between the two maps, largely because I used some of the same base land shapes with some rearranging and tinkering. But I'm really pleased with these results, enough so that I started to fill in some details. I then felt confident enough to produce a hand drawn style regional map of one area of the larger continent, which I'm still working on.

Chickenfoot Bay is too tempting of a name
Doing this has brought me around full circle to the world that I've had in my head for so long. I've come to realize that it's always been about mashing up things I was (and for the most part still am) intrigued with  - ley lines, megaliths, sigils/glyphs. That these things deserve a place in this world solely because I like them. So I'm going to damn the torpedoes, and throw all of the elements I want into the pot. Including anthropomorphs if I want. Maybe this time it will get a name that sticks too.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Reconnecting Is Harder Than It Sounds

So, I've been kind of away for a while. Physically, mentally and in other ways.

In the span of time since I've gone somewhat MIA, my youngest is on the verge of starting to walk and my oldest has graduated high school and is striking on his own. I've lost close to 30 pounds, solely due to increased activity from playing Ingress. I've met a ton of great people, participated in some cool activities and seen parts of my local area I didn't even know existed.

But I recently got the itch to reconnect with my life-long friend and hobby of roleplaying. So I started looking at my G+ feed again (which, honestly, is full of a lot of awesome), glancing at my RSS subscriptions, and generally trying to scope out the new hotness from the past year. Anything that will spark my interest and get my brain juices flowing. Surely, there’s been some cool stuff happening.

This time, I’m not finding a whole lot to get my roleplaying engine revving. The Mekton Zero Kickstarter still hasn’t delivered. Neither has Exalted 3e. I logged into RPG.Net, skimmed through the posts, and closed the browser window. Not much interesting going on there either. Even my old foils (which will remain nameless) that could provide at least some comedy material are slacking.

Now it seems like reconnecting with rpgs is going to take a little more work than I thought. So I figured that I’d open this up to my fellow gamers: what are you really excited about or looking forward to? What’s the latest and greatest that’s going on? Any special projects, stuff that is a must read? Maybe I'll find some inspiration in somebody else’s excitement.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Intersection of Ingress

So aside from having a baby in September - which actually made August extremely busy as we bought things, cleaned the house, and had various appointments and whatnot - in July I started playing Ingress.

I really should say no more.

Those Control Fields don't just create themselves

I'm not sure which G+'er got me onto this hamster wheel, but whoever it was they are totally to blame. It might have been +Topher Gerkey or +Eric Franklin. I blame both, even if they don't play Ingress.

So far it has been a fun, and time consuming, ride. But unlike say running an rpg or writing about rpgs, Ingress fits in with the new lifestyle of having a baby. It's keeping me active (I've lost over 20 lbs), and honestly if I'm sitting down and I'm not at work, I will fall asleep. Guaranteed. It also has lead me to have a better understanding of my home town and surrounding area. I know where everything is around here now.

I am finally finding myself slowing down a little bit though. Ingress hasn't lost it's shine, although honestly the badge requirements for levelling make it seem unlikely I'll ever get beyond level 12 or so anytime in the near future. I'm not going to retire per se from playing Ingress, but as newer players level up in my area and step up to take on the mantle of squashing toad portals every chance they get it allows me to turn my sights on to bigger things. Ops, large fields, exploring interesting new places. I'm going to get a mountain bike and hopefully a rack for it, and become one of those bike Ingressers pedalling along the multitude of trails that criss cross the foothills and mountains around me. I can see those portals lurking up there in the mountains, and I want to find them and hack them.

Finally, aside from taking time away from my roleplaying activities, blogging, etc., I think my time playing Ingress has been extremely worth it. I've made some great new friends and become part of the awesome Resistance team down here in south Orange County. In many ways, the community is a lot like the tabletop community. There are really interesting people, a few jerkstores, and overall a bunch of cool folk. The cost of some extra gas money and wear and tear on my car has been totally worth it for the experiences.

Tomorrow is Ingress First Saturday, and our event is in Irvine. I'll be there, so if you're local and play or are just curious, be sure to swing on by.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Where Have I Been?

It's been a pretty long time. For the past month and a half or so I've been kind of absent from Google+, gaming forums, and other type activities.

I announced a number of months back that we are having a baby, who is due any day now. Preparations for the baby and a few other changes prompted some lifestyle changes for me. I'm a lot more active now, walking at least a couple miles a day. I'm going to bed earlier, waking up earlier, and just a lot busier in general.  +Ingress is definitely a contributing factor there - but many of the changes to my routine came about naturally, with Ingress just coming along for the ride (often literally).

I'm 44, which means when my newborn son turns 18 I'll be 62. Combine the realization that I need to take better care of myself for him with the natural instinct to want to get things in order with a new baby coming - lots of cleaning, fixing things up, putting things together, etc. - and I've had a lot less time for gaming-related activities. The downside is less time spent on rpgs and related activities. I even have Watchdogs and Thief- which I got for my birthday over a month ago - that I haven't even started playing yet. The upside is that once the baby is born and everything is in order - family-wise, physically, and even to some degree mentally - I'm going to be coming back full force.

Friday, July 11, 2014

My Blog Post Sharing Is Needy And Unjustified

Nearly everyone who writes blog posts wants those posts to be read by somebody. Otherwise, we wouldn't write blog posts at all and instead would sit on a bus bench scribbling in notebooks, with the occasional outburst of barely stifled laughter.

Because of this, it's a pretty common practice to share blog posts on social media, push the posts to feeds, and generally promote the blog. It's all fine and dandy to say that an interesting blog will attract eyeballs on its own merit, but in practice that's not how it works. My experience may be atypical, but there's two things that are guaranteed to help out with making sure that at least a few people who might be interested in the subject see the post: post regularly (because then people will at least look to see if there are posts on a semi-regular basis) and share the posts.

On Google+, at least in roleplaying circles, there have been calls to not blast a new blog post to every community. There's some overlap in community membership, and people wind up seeing the same post take over their feed. Lots of us have been guilty of this in the past, and I for one have heeded the requests of various owners and moderators to keep it to a dull roar. I tend to pick a couple communities that the post might be relevant to or might be conducive to a discussion on the topic. One of those communities is Pen & Paper RPG Bloggers, which is dedicated strictly to blogging and blog updates. That means I might choose one or two more - typically, it's the G+ Tabletop Roleplayers Community and that's it, because it's the largest and one of the most active. If it's Fate related, I might post it to Fate Core. If it's worldbuilding, then Worldbuilding or maybe a map community. Kicksnarker for...well, we all know what Kicksnarker is for.

This seems to be working for the majority. I can attempt to get the post seen by people who might be interested, moderators aren't inundated with posts that have little or no relevance, and readers don't find their entire stream covered with the same post over and over. Everybody's happy.

Then, there's this guy.

I see he hasn't appeared on +Top Elf 's Nice list yet...I wonder why
That was a comment on my post to one of three communities I shared this post with (including the aforementioned community that is just for blogging). I responded in kind in the thread, at which point I was told that the mere act of sharing of the post comes across as "needy", and that he is apparently the self-appointed czar of blog content quality and worthiness of promotion.

I really - I mean really - have to resist the urge in tagging him in every blog post I ever write. He's entitled to his opinion. Just as I'm entitled to keep doing exactly what I've been doing: writing posts when the mood or inspiration strikes me, on whatever I want to write about, and sharing those posts in a manner that I think will encourage interested readers. Even if that includes a lengthy post to complain about some dude complaining about posts being spam.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

We Are All Game Designers

This is actually due to some some philosophizing I've been doing lately.

Every one of us who are involved in the roleplaying hobby are game designers. Sure, it comes in matters of degree - some players never get much more involved than creating their characters, while on the other end are the obvious ones who tackle creating entire games. But even sitting down and planning out a session is game design.

That's a great hippy-feely notion, but it begets a corollary. It's easy to get lost in the "design mode" and just come up with something that's not fun or doesn't work quite right in actual play (as I firmly believe happened with Exalted 2e - looked good on paper, but not so great in practice for me). It's also easy to get caught up in "gamer ADD" and change things in the middle of things just because some new method, technique, house rule, whatever caught your interest.

That's my designer hat, right there
FWIW, my own Tribe 8 game recently suffered from a bit of, "This looked good when I designed it, but I'm not sure it's working so well in play." There were a number of factors involved, up to and including a reasonably large hiatus from running games; balancing design goals and intended outcomes over the course of multiple iterations of the rules; and finally adapting to playing online versus face-to-face (where I think this would have been resolved much faster). As a result, I've kind of changed things about the skill implementation mid-stride. In this case, I think the change was a good one but it definitely got me thinking about the propensity to be in "designer mode", and the impact it can have on an actual living game.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Mecha Games: Are The Mainstays Really Complicated?

So, something came up recently where someone called Mekton Zeta overly complicated. The word "crunchy" was used, as well as a bunch of hyperbole about having to calculate gigawatts to drive generators and such.

It might very well be experience with the system- over twenty years worth - tinting my glasses, but I don't get it. To me, it sounds like someone flipped through Mekton Zeta Plus, saw some numbers and some systems that they didn't yet know how to use, and decided that it was GURPS Vehicles or something. Yeah, there are a reasonable number of moving parts to have to keep track of. A good spreadsheet helps; not because there's complex calculations, but just to help keep things straight. All of the math is straight arithmetic, and most of it is tallying values. But it took me about an hour to create a cybertank over the weekend, and that was without touching the build system in a few years. Sure, there are some things that I do that aren't standard procedure. For example, I don't try to reduce individual systems to fit within the space available. I tally up the total available spaces in the design, subtract the amount of space that's being used by the systems, and then just buy space efficiency if needed because it's so damn cheap.

I have the same reaction when someone talks about the Silhouette construction system - specifically, the one in Jovian Chronicles or Silhouette Core - being complicated or requiring a lot of math. While it's true that there are some exponents and cube roots and formulas in the construction system - it's also entirely optional. You only do it if you want to generate Threat Values (for balancing, although they're kind of useless for that) or some other fluff values like price. Other than that, the build system is less complicated than MZ by an order of magnitude - you pick the size rating, choose the armor rating, give it some propulsion, stat out a few weapons, add some perks and flaws and you're done.

In systems like Mekton Zeta or Silhouette there's going to be some domain knowledge or system mastery involved in making the right decisions - how much armor to put on, how much damage a weapon should do, what's a good range or movement speed, etc. That's a given - a potential GM or player just needs to design a few mecha and face them off against each other to get a feel for it. But the construction systems themselves? They're really not that complex. GURPS Vehicles? That's complex. MegaTraveller? That was complex. Mekton Zeta has more in common with Car Wars than the former two.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Why Do People Want To Stick Non-Humans In Everything?

So recently on the Dream Pod 9 forum I saw a thread titled "HG Needs Aliens."

The reasoning for this is, apparently, that when you want to add something into a game the answer is:

You knew that was coming...right?
Now, I like games with the non-humans as much as the next guy. I get that people like things that are novel or different or have a "kewl" factor. I think they have their place. But for the love of Crom, they don't need to be in everything. Some settings, particularly science fiction settings (but this is just as true for fantasy or anything else), do just fine without them. Humanity already has such a huge range of variety and uniqueness. A well-realized setting - like Terra Nova - is missing aliens because it was a conscious design choice. They were a color that wasn't used when Terra Nova was painted (metaphorically speaking). Unless you were some post-modern artist, you wouldn't just go splashing fuchsia paint all over the Mona Lesa would you?