09 August 2016

Guardians - The Best Little Supers RPG I Didn't Know I Needed!

  One of my unexpected acquisitions at North Texas RPG Con 2016 was the Guardians RPG, a 98-page book by David Pulver and Thomas Denmark that asks the question "What if Gary Gygax had been into comic book supers instead of fantasy in 1974?"

  This turns out to be a GREAT question.  What Guardians is at its core is the D&D '74 core with supers in a single volume.  I've cover-to-covered the book (not hard with the page count) and found that I would actually love to run this over even my favorite Supers rules, TSR's Marvel FASERIP.  I want to take this for a spin and see how it runs in a small campaign.  Every page has some small tidbit that makes me want to take this game out for a spin, from the simple way in which it handles supers to its almost shockingly basic way of covering everything else.  It covers just what it needs to cover to be true to the genre and doesn't get bogged down in unnecessary details.  No lengthy skill lists, no pages of equipment porn, a tank is a tank regardless of model or nation of origin- it's just about Supers and their adventures.  Everything else, true to comic book roots, is just background detail.

  The very core of the game is what you'd expect.  Six Ability Scores, generated 3d6 in order - STR, INT, WIS, DEX, CON and CHA.  The Ability Score Modifiers are the ones from the 1980 B/X edition rather than the simpler +1/-1 range of '74 D&D, however.  This is for good reason - the table is expanded far past 18.  All the way to 101 and beyond, in fact.  A character with a STR of, say, 30 can carry 8 tons, is +8 on attack and damage, and adds 3d to the normal 1d3 of a human fist.  Likewise a DEX of 30 would yield an Armor Class of 18 or 2(1), depending on the GM's decision to use ascending or descending Armor Class, and whether base AC descends from 10 or 9.  Roll d20 to attack, and bonuses.  There's one Saving Throw, which is modified by a different Ability Score depending on situation.  Basic, basic, basic bare bones D&D.  That's where the Supers part gets tacked on.

  Origin replaces Race, and we have several choices.  Human, Exotic, Mutant, Robot, Cyborg, Super Alien, Supernatural and Superhuman.  These cover a lot of the fun origins you might choose if you wish to emulate characters from the Marvel or DC universes.  Some examples might be Hawkeye (Human), Rocket Raccoon (Exotic), Nightcrawler (Mutant), Ultron (Robot), Cyborg (Cyborg!), Superman (Super Alien), Doctor Strange (Supernatural), or Spider-Man (Superhuman.)  Each of these choices grants the PC a varying number of resources during character creation.  These resources are Gifts, Powers, Limits, Issues, and Special.

  Gifts are usually gear or skills.  Powers are super abilities.  Limits determine things like vulnerability to Kryptonite or the need to transform into a super-form.  Issues are life complications, like having to take care of Aunt May or a public outcry against those dirty Mutants.  Special covers specific things, like Humans getting +6 Ability Score points to balance out not having any powers, or Cyborgs automatically getting the Robot Body trait.

  Classes in Guardians are pretty straightforward.  Bruisers are your beatdown heroes.  Super-Agents are also what it says on the tin, and have a great selection of special abilities to set them apart from other supers and to make one Agent distinct from other Agents.  Power Wielders concentrate on Energy Point, which power certain superpowers, and focus more on the use of those powers than physical combat as Bruisers and Agents do.  Gadgeteers use their Gadget Points to create devices that emulate superpowers.  This is where you'd have your Iron Man or Batman type characters.  In fact, normal humans get a boost to initial Gadget Points to make up for not having innate powers.

  There are tables for Gifts and Power Themes, though there is never a requirement to roll for Powers.  The table is there for inspiration. These tables are followed with the short but fairly diverse power section.  Powers grant the described abilities, but there are also "Superior" and "Ultimate" versions of many powers.  Limits follow the Powers and describe some of the classical superhero limitations that may plague the heroes and villains of the game.  The Issues come after this, and a section again brief but complete enough covers equipment.  After the equipment section are the rules, which include some pointers on the superhero campaign and an example of play.  I did run across a couple of rule references that frustrated me a bit.

  Problems:  There are two things about Gadgets that are a bit vexing.  The Starting Gadgets heading on p. 48 refers the reader to the "Gadget Creation Rules" which I have been unable to find a header for.  Just below this, there is a paragraph beginning "A gadget is an item that embodies one or more super powers." and goes on to describe what a Gadget Point buys.  It appears this *is* the Gadget Creation rules and that a header was missed somewhere, since below the rules for new gadgets and their cost appear.  This could be a LOT clearer.  Also, it mentions "the usual level restrictions on Superior or Ultimate powers apply."  I could not find these restrictions, even with the help of the Find search in Acrobat.  Since the example character buys a Superior power for her Iron Maiden battlesuit, at least some Superior powers are available at 1st Level...

  Now, I'll tell you about the first Guardians PC one of my players created with my guidance.  My friend Randi loves Vampires, and she loves dual-pistol characters in Shadowrun and other games.  With this in mind, I pitched a character concept to her that she rather liked, and she grabbed her dice to help me test out the PC generation rules for Guardians.

  The rules have you roll 3d6 straight down, and so we did.  Our new hero had STR 12, INT 6, WIS 12, DEX 10, CON 11, and CHA 11.  Not terribly inspiring.  The interesting part is that these Ability Scores turned out to not be too terribly limiting to the PC as we added an Origin and Class.  For Origin, we chose Supernatural, as the PC was going to be a Vampire.  This set the initial number of Gifts/Powers/Limits/Issues.  For class, we chose Super Agent.

  The Super Agent class gives some really neat bonuses.  Our Agent was martially trained, so would roll 1d4 for bare hand damage instead of the traditional 1d3.  All weapons and armor are available, and the class comes with a very Thief-like "backstab" style sneak attack for +4 To-Hit and double damage.  Dark Fighting gives half penalty in darkness, and the PC can choose a Combat Specialty.  Knowing Randi's fondness for two blazing firearms, Gunslinger was a natural choice.  This gives her +1 To-Hit and damage with firearms, and gives her an immediate additional attack if her ranged attack incapacitates a foe.  Sort of a gun Cleave.

  Her two Gifts we rolled on the table and got a super vehicle and a Gadget Point.  The vehicle had to be within her original starting cash, so we rolled $9,000 and found we could only afford a motorcycle.  The cycle has two tricked out specs, so the DR and Hit Points of the cycle were doubled.  For a Gadget we decided to make the item magic instead of mechanical, and the Amulet of Alucard was born, riffing on the Eye of Agamotto and the tendency for geek culture to use the name "Alucard" a lot.  The Amulet gives a DR 8 and grants an AC of 17, or +2 to an already better AC.

  Powers were a bit difficult, as she only got 4, and Vampires tend to have a LOT of powers.  Part of this was alleviated by "Features" - these are less powerful entries in the powers list that count as 1/3 of a power.  We picked up Claws/Fangs as one choice, Danger Sense and Detect Supernatural as the other two.  We then picked up Haste to offset our Agent's average DEX and be Vampire-fast, Life Drain to emulate the blood drinking and help power the use of Haste, and Immortality.  Now, we could have taken Super Strength instead of Immortality, but the second played into the character concept and the Agent was designed to do most of her fighting with pistols in any case.  There's always the next choices as level increases.

  For Limits, we took depowered by sunlight, naturally, and Dependency: human blood.  Now, a story was starting to form.  Since our Agent was only depowered, not killed, by sunlight we explained her rather average STR, DEX and CON by the fact that she was never fully turned, and only has some of the abilities of a full Vampire.  Since we were considering this to be a potentially Marvel Universe game, this neatly sidesteps the time period in which no Vampires were said to exist on Earth thanks to Blade.

  For Issues, we rolled Old.  This played right into the other die rolls, including the choice of Immortality, and gave us a backstory.  This Agent is none other than Wilhelmina Harker, in a suspended torpor since 189x.  Her low INT score reflects not a lack of intelligence, but a lack of familiarity with modern technology.  We agree that when the PC picks up another power at 3rd Level, we can take Super Ability: Intelligence to reflect her finally becoming comfortable with the modern world.  In light of this neat story, I let Randi re-roll Agent Harker's INT and she gets a 10.  This will result in a 20 if she does take an INT boost when she gets a new power.

  Agent Harker purchases equipment, and ties up loose ends.  She has 22 HP, which is the result of 3d10- 1st Level PCs in Guardians begin with 3 Hit Dice.  Her AC is 18 - 15 for her Ballistic Bodysuit plus 1 for her forearm shields, plus 2 for the Amulet of Alucard.  She has a +1 Attack Bonus from her class, and does 1d4 damage on a punch or kick thanks to her Martial Training.  She has 6 Energy Points and a Saving Throw of 12.

  Upon completing Agent Harker, Randi said "I love her!"  I always enjoy when players are excited about their PCs and want to play them.  I very much enjoyed this first foray into Guardians PC creation, and look forward to doing some more, then taking this game for a spin.

  The "What If Gygax..." series also includes Colonial Troopers and Warriors of The Red Planet, both of which I own and plan to delve into soon.

04 August 2016

Uses for D&D 4e... Yes, there are some.

  When D&D 5e finally came out, all my 4e stuff went into storage boxes and were placed on the very top shelf at The Ogre, presumably never to be played again.  5th Edition had turned out to be something of a super magical Hogwart's mirror in which everyone sees their favorite edition.  I saw BECMI.  My more AD&D inclined friends saw AD&D.  The Hit Dice mechanics seemed to be the bits of 4e that were deemed "worthy" by the gaming community at large.  So 5e was "in" and 4e was so "out" some of my players who had been involved in a very successful Nentir Vale campaign in 4e swore it was the Worst. D&D.  Ever. and worthy of the garbage heap.  So, into barely accessible storage went the 4e stuff...

  And I always felt a bit reluctant about that.  You see, I cut my teeth on Red Box basic, and I still use that as my go-to edition of D&D.  I played AD&D 1e, and we upgraded quickly to 2e when it hit my freshman year of high school.  I thought 3.0 and 3.5 were pretty keen at the time, but in retrospect I really don't have a lot of urge to go back and revisit them.  Skill points were a bit fiddly for me, and the Feat bloat by the end of the edition was a bit crazy.  Also, the multiclassing rules were sub-optimal in comparison to the rest of the system.  Of course, this post is all about how I like 4e, which by all accounts was MORE fiddly, had even worse multi-classing, etc...  So, why am I posting about digging 4e?

  When 4e first dropped, I was as confused as most old school players by the departures from earlier versions.  I had a lot of the same criticisms - why does this Fighter have a sword move he can only do once a day?  How do I explain marking mechanics in the game world?  Wait- random encounters will unbalance the delicate math of when and how PCs level?  The game is designed explicitly for five players with four of them each filling one of the "combat roles" defined in the book?

  It was mathematically "tight" - 10 encounters to level.  Don't hit the PCs with encounters they can't realistically beat.  Treasure is parceled out in level-appropriate amounts.  PCs get to make "wish lists" of magic items to give to the GM...

  OK, so, this was as far from the D&D I grew up with as I could imagine.  I was used to totally random stuff happening.  And when the encounter tables indicated something wildly overpowered for your PC group - which was a variable number of PCs and Henchmen/Retainers of whatever classes happend to occur - you RAN.  You didn't assume the encounter was beatable because the DMG says not to overwhelm the players with no-win situations.  You could also expect a treasure drop to be wildly variable with things like a 10% chance of a magic item resulting in anything from a scroll of Protection from Evil to a +1 weapon that was +3 versus lycanthropes.  NOTHING was balanced.

  Then D&D Essentials happened and I gave 4e another try.  The streamlined PC classes from the two Heroes Of... books were a lot closer to what I'd wanted.  The martial classes had do daily abilities.  The Warpriest Cleric felt like a BECMI Cleric to me - you could heal at fight all at once.  The Thief build for Rogues brought back Backstab as a thing.  Yeah, I could do this...  So I played a Cleric for the inaugural season of the Essentials organized play.  And I had a blast.  So I DM'd the next seasons.  And had a blast.  I collected all the Essentials books, and ran a home campaign using just Essentials character builds.  We used the campaign that was included in the DM Kit, "Reavers of Harkenwold" with some of my own additions.  It was without a doubt one of the best campaigns I've ever run.  Of course, that has a lot to do with the players.  (Shoutout to Bobby, Jo, Kiddian, Randi and Trenton)

  They key to my learning to enjoy D&D Essentials wasn't just the PC redesign.  It was a few other realizations that only had minor things to do with D&D.  I realized that all the accusations people made about 4e feeling like a video game were more than hyperbole- they were the thing I was missing.  It *was* like a video game, but not in a bad way- provisionally.  That provision is that I stop thinking of it as D&D.  I started thinking of it as an 8-bit RPG cartridge from the 80s.  The hardwired party size assumption wasn't a limitation as much as it was a parameter.  In Final Fantasy I you had four PCs, no more, no less.  And if you were building a party you gave some thought to the abilities of those for so that they complimented each other.  So... 4e Essentials was, for me, a mixture of two of my favorite things on Earth - D&D and 80s computer/console RPGs.  I began to really think of it as such, and plot my adventures as if I were coding an RPG.  The balance inherent in the 4e math was part of how those games used to work - you didn't stray too far from the level appropriate towns and dungeons.  If you did you might get TPK'd, or if you survived... XP city...  Was it worth the risk?

  It just clicked.  The video game paradigm not only made Essentials work for me in a way launch day 4e never did, but it made it SING.  I loved it.

  Anyway, I went all out.  I got a huge tacklebox and labeled the containers so that all my counters from Monster Vault and Monster Vault: Threats to Nentir Vale were organized alphabetically and by monster type.  I loaded it up with maps, counters, my magnetic initiative tracker board, spare dice, all the laminated character sheets from the Worldwide D&D Game Day...  I was ready to run D&D at the drop of a hat for new players and old players alike... and then 5e was announced.  And just like that, nobody wanted to play 4e anymore.

  Until a couple of weeks ago.  My brother from another mother, Robby, asked me if I'd teach his daughters (my lovely goddaughters) D&D.  We got into a discussion about various editions.  Robby joined the Army during 3.5e, and missed 4e completely.  As I described the tactical nature of 4e's tactical combat to Rob, he thought it was just the kind of math, problem solving and decision making he wanted his girls practicing.  Now, I started my kids with BECMI D&D, but here was an opportunity to try another approach.  In fact, Rob's girls had played BECMI with me once using pregen characters, but that was a year ago and they hadn't played since.

  So I got the 4e boxes down, grabbed the intro adventure from the Red Box, made some pregens, and off we went.  Around the table was my son Zane (5), my goddaughters Jadzia (11), Inara (9), Anya (7) and their dad Robby.  I'll admit, for about the first 30 minutes I thought I'd made a terrible mistake by agreeing to run Essentials over BECMI.  There was just... so... much... to explain.  Standard actions, move actions, minor actions.  Healing surges.  Second winds.  Daily, Encounter, At-Will.  Good lord, I had forgotten how complicated it all sounds at first.  But the odd thing - Jadzia and Inara had zero problems following me.  So much of it was so familiar to them from video games that it seemed perfectly natural to them.  Probably more natural than descending armor class, d20 roll high, d% roll low, etc. 

  So we burst onto the scene with a combat encounter.  The kids engaged immediately, and it was on.  It took a while for them to start figuring out the things most of us grognards know - take out the magic users quickly, finish off wounded opponents quickly, protect your own squishy teammates... and that's where the Essentials rules set started to shine.  Zane started to learn how his Defender Aura worked to protect Inara, and Inara learned all about casting Magic Missile - perhaps too much so since there are other spells after all...  But I digress.  The game was moving, the kids were talking to each other about what to do next, which goblins to gang up on, setting up combos...  Holy crap.  This was working.  And well!  And Robby?  He was absolutely giddy.  His kids were playing D&D and loving it.  He was being the Robby I remember from, oh, getting kicked out of Wal-mart for wearing a bra on his head at 3AM when we were young and stupid...

  We played for about two total hours before the youngest kids started to feel a bit antsy.  Now, I feel like it's an immense victory to get two seven-year-olds to sit at a table for two hours for any reason.  Zane is especially known for getting restless, and has had issues at school for that reason.  Once Anya and Zane decided they wanted to bow out (With Zane electing to stay until he had killed the goblin that had hit him, because, you know, VENGEANCE) the moms came over and took over the two PCs that no longer had players.  The game shifted into high gear at this point, as both Mary and Cami, my wife and Robby's, respectively, don't get to game as often as they'd like.  It. Was. On.

  Through the evil temple we went.  We fought monsters, we disarmed traps, we investigated ancient mysterious statues and the kids started asking all the right questions.  Despite the tight mathematical construction of the game and tactical focus of combat the joy of D&D came through. The joy I felt in 1986 as I sussed out Dungeon Crawling for the first time.  That realization that through the game I *was* the adventurer, delving through dimly lit stone halls unsure of what manner of danger was around the corner.  The exhilaration of opening a treasure chest, or striking the final blow against the Big Bad.

  In this case, the Big Bad was a necromancer.  The PCs, being inexperienced for the most part and unfamiliar with the system, expended all of their resources before arriving at the Big Bad.  Healing surges were at 0 or 1 for the fighter types, and the Wizard had expended her dailys.  What to do?  The Big Bad had three tough Skeleton Warriors and an Ogre Zombie protecting him.  In they charged - and immediately had two PCs drop, unhealable.  Robby organized a fall back, spiking the doors and beating feat as they dragged their two unconscious comrades.  We played it out, with me making checks for the monsters beating down the doors and counting the time it took for the PCs to fall back to the weird room from the beginning of the dungeon with the brazier that could throw magical fire.  They rested for a while, getting their encounter powers back and (with me being merciful) 2 Healing Surges (I rolled a d4.)

  They set up to use their three most well-defended PCs to funnel the monsters into position, and Anya would use the brazier to fire bomb the enemies.  It was tense, but it worked like a charm, the Skeletons fell one by one to the fire, and just on their heels the Ogre Zombie trundled in to be finished off by the PCs and their flame thrower.  They were beaten, battered, but exultant.  They wanted to finish off the Necromancer, but they knew they were at the end of their ropes. They chose to barricade the room and rest...  Of course, when they went after the Necromancer, I put more guards around him, but fresh, full of expendables, and with a better grasp of tactics they managed to OWN the Necromancer and his minions.

  It was about 7.5 hours since we'd begun.  Inara and Jadzia wanted to keep playing.  They wanted to know when we would play again.  They wanted to know how to level up.  They were GAMERS.  A pair of brand new, dyed-in-the-wool, enthusiastic gamers.  "We love you, Uncle Jeff!"  And hugs.

  So...  I had a blast.  We all did.  And we did it with the "worst" version of D&D according to all the pundits and Edition Warriors.  So I'll say it here.  I love OD&D.  I love Holmes.  I love Moldvay-Cook-Marsh.  I love AD&D.  I love BECMI.  I love AD&D2e.  I even like 3e and 3.5... and in an unlikely twist I love 4e Essentials.  It clicks.

  What's the use for 4e?  It isn't the D&D I grew up with.  It's not random encounters and random treasure and old school sensibilities.  That's where I grew up, and where I continue to thrive.  What it is, is a game with the sensibilities of a later generation - one that was born after things like Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy became popular.  They reflect a different time and expectations that aren't D&D - but they are FUN.

  So, my go-to is still BECMI.  It's my favorite, and always will be.  5e is pretty damn close.  But I am eagerly planning out a 4e Essentials campaign for my goddaughters.  As long as we're all having fun, who cares what edition we're playing.  And, writing the campaign as if it's an 8-Bit RPG cartridge?  That's a lot of fun, too.  I may even adapt slimes and stuff as monsters.  Or maybe Oktoroks, Tektites and Leevers... 

08 July 2016

Saturday Night Special 002: DCC Synthetic Swordsmen of the Purple Planet

Saturday Night Special 002 is run and under my belt.  We played Synthetic Swordsmen of the Purple Planet, an adventure module by Jim Wampler for the excellent Purple Planet settting for Dungeon Crawl Classics.  It does for the Sword & Planet genre what Dungeon Crawl Classics does in general for the D&D gaming genre- turns it up to 11.

My experience playing this with Mr. Wampler as Judge at North Texas RPG con was significantly different from my SNS due to a couple of factors.  First, we were handed some artifacts and items at the beginning of the game that I probably should have emulated at my tabletop.  This module is part of a series set on the Purple Planet and assumes the PCs have resided there for some time- a couple of the puzzles might have been easier had I included some high-tech artifacts from the fallen civilization to prime the pumps, as it were. 
  Second, our group at NTRPGCON went in through the "back door" and never hit the major encounter that is generally the first encounter once inside the adventure area.  This was even further compounded by the single arcane caster in the party failing to use offensive spells when the party was getting overrun, then spending a significant amount of time at 0 HP.  The Cleric had to bring the Wizard back twice, resulting in the Wizard losing 2 points of STA from having died a coupla times.

  I'm going to give some impressions, because I don't want to give too much away about the module or its plot.  It is a sort of dungeon crawl mystery.  The PCs have to solve the major issue and to do that, a certain amount of exploration and investigation is needed.  The encounters can be pretty challenging, even for a full party of 5th-level adventurers.  The ultimate mystery itself is pretty freaky as it unfolds.  In fact, the module had two of my players saying this was the first time in ages they had actually been creeped out by a roleplaying game.  The atmosphere of the ancient temple complex does lend itself to causing a fair amount of paranoia among the players, and that's a priceless thing if your PCs are usually cocky and unafraid.

  I'm going to need to secure the Purple Planet setting box (in September or October, sadly, my gaming budget is shot until I start getting my supplemental teaching pay) so that I can compare this module to the other foundational Purple Planet modules.  I also understand there's a sequel module that includes airships.  Ever since Mystara I have been enamored of airships in my D&D games.  I very much want to see how that one plays out.  In any case, without having the other modules to compare this one to, I'm prepared to give it a solid B+, pending upgrade to A with more support material.  With the Purple Planet boxed set to back it up, it's an A easily, but standalone there are some things that are probably in that box that would have made running this module a bit smoother.

  I will say the creativity and creepiness of the module gives me great hope for Mutant Crawl Classics, in which the esteemed Mr. Wampler is the lead author.  If he puts as much Gamma Worldy goodness into MCC as this Purple Planet module seems to indicate he will, then MCC is going to be just as much fun to play.  I look forward to it with great anticipation.

30 June 2016

DCC and Me - Where I REALLY Dig Dungeon Crawl Classics

  I have owned Dungeon Crawl Classics for several years.  Back in 2012 or '13, I ran a character funnel that we had a lot of fun with.  For those of you unfamiliar with DCC, the funnel goes something like this:

  Each player rolls up four 0-level characters.  3d6 in order.  Each gets 1d4 hit points.  Each rolls a random occupation, which gives them a weapon and a trade good.  Most weapons are some sort of farm implement or tool, as most of these 0-level commoners are farmers, tradesmen and the like.  No one has a class yet.  You get a random amount of copper pieces.

  The large amount of PCs are presented with a problem, quest or other adventure.  They march into the teeth of adventure, mostly to die horribly and in great numbers while combatting whatever foe or foes are arrayed against their band.  When the dust clears, hopefully each player has at least one 0-level survivor, who then becomes a 1st-level adventurer with a class.  The classes are Warrior, Wizard, Thief, Cleric, Dwarf, Elf and Halfling.  That's right, demihumans are classes not races, just like in D&D Basic.

  I love this game.  The idea was to create a game that plays like 1974 is said to have played.  My take on it is this - John Boorman's Excalibur is what we wish Arthurian stuff was like.  It was really more Roman-esque with rusty chain mail.  House Kurita, in Battletech, tries to be so much like Feudal Japan that it's more like an idealized Toshiro Mifune film than real Feudal Japan ever was.  So it is with Dungeon Crawl Classics.  This is all the stories, legends and rumors of 1974 turned up to 11, Spinal Tap style.

  Each class has some unique mechanics that set DCC apart from other D20-derived games and the OSR/Retroclone movement.  But each of these innovative mechanics are designed to increase the feel the authors were going for.  Warriors have the Deed Die, added to attack and damage rolls, that allows them to pull off maneuvers that are similar to Feats, but not limited in the way Feats are.  The Deed Die becomes a larger die as the Warrior levels.  Dwarves share this ability, and add others with Dwarven flavor.  Elves don't get the Deed die, but can cast like Wizards.  Wizards know a limited number of spells, but can cast them all day long- with one caveat.  Each time a Wizard casts, the spellcasting roll determines the effect of the spell.  A Magic Missile can do 1 point of damage, or 4d12, or many other things based on the roll.  A failed casting roll means loss of the spell for that day- or worse.  Corruption happens when unfortunate spellcasting dice are rolled.  This means that arcane spell use is a trap leading down a path of eventual corruption.  Wizards can also Spellburn - that is, burn points of ability scores to add oomph to casting.  These points are gone until the PC spends a day without using any Spellburn.  Then they begin to regenerate.
  Clerics can likewise fail casting rolls and anger their deity.  Each time dissaproval happens, the chance for it to continue to happen gets larger.  On the other hand, turning undead and healing are constant powers that can be done repeatedly- at the risk of disapproval.  Theives and Halflings get bonuses to their use of the Luck attribute, which can be burned to add to dice.  While normal PCs add Luck to die rolls on a point-for-point basis and do not normally regenerate Luck once spent, Thieves and Halflings regenerate Luck each night, and add 1d3 or more for each point burned.  Oh!  Thief skills are front-loaded differently based on the Alignment of the Thief.

  There are spell tables to determine what happens when spellcasting rolls are made.  There are various critical hit tables based on the martial ability of various PCs.  The tools at Purple Sorcerer Games are GREAT, as is their Crawler app for phones and tablets.  These can help roll up characters, look up tables, heck the Crawler app puts most important rule lookups right on your phone.

  Now, DCC does use some unusual dice.  d3, d5, d7, d14, d16, d24 and d30 all make appearances.  These dice can be purchased as sets from Goodman Games, and you can also find just the really odd ones from Koplow, among other manufacturers. 

  So, why am I so taken with this game?  I'll begin by saying that the 0-level funnel is amusing, but it's not what draws me to DCC.  What makes me love this game is the gleeful old-schoolness it encourages while having a relatively modernized rules set.  The Deed Die is a great example.  It allows Warriors to try just about anything.  They pitch a Mighty Deed of Arms, an the GM tells them to roll - if the deed die comes up 3 or better and the GM doesn't think the player is overdoing it, the Deed comes off.  More difficult deeds could have higher Deed Die targets, and plenty of examples are given in the book.  The net result is encouraging players to be creative and dramatic while not making them pick 172 feats to be able to do what they do.

  Each unique mechanical system reinforces this style of play.  Mages and Corruption are very Conan-esque.  Magic is a scary, unpredictable thing and even those who traffic in it with the best of intentions run the risk of falling to corruption.  The way Clerical healing works is likewise evocative - different or opposed alignments are more difficult to cure.  Heal someone of your own faith and it's relatively easy.  Heal someone of an opposing one, and the healing is less effective.

  I played this at North Texas RPG Con with Jim Wampler, who is currently running a Kickstarter for the Gamma-World/DCC mashup that is Mutant Crawl Classics. His adventure was a Sword & Planet style game very much in the vein of Gamma World, or Thundarr, or John Carter meets Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.  My friend Aaron and I sat down to play - my first game of DCC as a player - and we had a blast.  The character abilities were conducive to coming up with extremely creative ways to deal with problems.  So creative that we found the "back way" into the adventure location and hit the boss fight first thing!  It took every kind of twist and push of applications of our abilities to survive that encounter so early in the game, but survive we did (mostly) and solve the mystery thereafter.  The style of play was GREAT.  It was like an RPG set on the side of a 70s van painted with Boris Vallejo art... or maybe a Molly Hatchet album cover.

  I asked myself if this would still be as much fun at home, so I purchased a DCC module that incorporated the XCrawl setting - Dungeonbattle Brooklyn.  In XCrawl, you're basically doing reality TV competitive live-action live-steel D&D.  I ran it on the evening of my 41st birthday.  My players and I had a BLAST.  Everything that clicked for me at the con clicked for me at this game from the other side of the GM screen.  I couldn't wait to try running it again... and so I will.

  I made myself a promise to expand my gaming horizons.  To that end, I've started what I call Saturday Night Specials.  I run my regular games for my game club at our meetings 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month.  But when things wrap up, we grab dinner and I run another game session in the evening.  The theory is I can introduce people to many different games this way, and break myself out of my rut.  The first SNS was Marvel Superheroes by request - and it was a blast.  The second, occurring in two days from this writing, will be DCC.  I'll be running the same module I played at NTRPGCON this time - Synthetic Swordsmen of the Purple Planet.  I can't wait.

This.  Will.  Be.  Awesome.






09 June 2016

North Texas RPG Con 2016 - What It Meant to The Old Dragoon

This time last week I was preparing to play through the Dungeons of Dracula at North Texas RPG Con 2016.

For me, last week's convention helped underscore something it's taken years for me to really internalize. My first NTRPGCON was 2015, for my 40th birthday, and it was the single greatest convention-type event I'd ever attended. I didn't know if this year would repeat the experience. Maybe it was just that I was turning 40 and needed a midlife crisis convention. Maybe it was because I had some of my best friends in the world along with me. This year couldn't possibly be as awesome as last year, could it?

Yeah, it was. Maybe even moreso.

When Bobby and I walked into the con Thursday morning, we immediately started running into people who remembered us from the previous year. Not just Austin folk who'd also made the trek, but other members of the NTRPGCON community. It was welcoming. It was affirming. It was a place I felt I belonged perhaps more than I have belonged anywhere at any time in my life. And that made me think. Why the hell have I always had to be apologetic about my interests to people outside the gamer community?

Growing up, I wasn't exactly a good fit with my family. I didn't get to see much of my Dad's side after the divorce, and my Mom's side of the family was comprised of folks who just didn't get me at all. I didn't hunt, didn't fish, didn't watch football, I was famously told I couldn't drive a nail with a stick shift. My bookishness and interest in sci-fi and fantasy were pretty roundly ridiculed at every turn. My dad's side of the family regarded me with something like amused curiosity - they didn't get me either, but at least they appreciated my creativity and supported my strange and different interests.
In school, I fit in with the misfits. I finally found my niche in the summer of 1986 when I discovered tabletop gaming. Daniel Varner, wherever you are, I owe you one. I discovered my lifelong fascination with games, simulations and writing. Our small conclave of geeks explored the Keep on the Borderlands, we Boldly Went where No Man has Gone Before, we ran the Death Star Trench and the dark streets of Seattle and Night City. We may have been picked on, shunned, and otherwise rendered social outcasts, but we'd found each other through our passion for storytelling.
By the time I graduated High School, though I didn't realize it until my 20th Reunion, I was more everyone's favorite eccentric geek than an outcast, but that still didn't get me on the guest list to all the good parties. My Friday nights were rolling dice and weaving tales of heroism with friends who, in some cases, I still roll dice with today. Many of my RRHS classmates have stories about that time at that party, mine are about exploring dank catacombs or running from the corporate cops after a datasteal.

In college, I found that my hobbies had prepared me well for my ROTC courses. Thanks to being a Twilight:2000 and Morrow Project player I was familiar with NATO and Warsaw Pact equipment, even to the point of knowing the Russian language names for most of their armored vehicles. This impressed my instructors. My PT scores did not, but I scraped by. I thought I'd found my niche in life- until I got diagnosed with Sleep Apnea and my hopes of an ROTC scholarship were dashed.

One would think a geek like myself would fit in with an organization like STARFLEET - The International Star Trek Fan Association. I did well in SFI, but always felt a bit apart due to the martial manner in which I approached my service. It impressed some, and alienated others. Later, I would serve for a year in the Texas State Guard where I had the opposite problem- my military bearing was a plus, but my status as a non-prior-service member and my struggles with my weight held me back. Not to mention what I now know was an epic example of overconfidence on my part with my work load. I just couldn't do it all at once - so why was I trying?

I've come to understand it's expectations and duty. My family's expectations. Society's expectations. Hell, my own expectations. I actually didn't respect myself very much until the day I swore into the Guard. It's a citizen's duty to serve, I've always told myself, and until the day I could render that service I felt less than complete. Duty is the other part of the equation. My duty to my wife, to my children, to keeping the household running and even to my friends as their club president who is charged with making sure they're entertained two Saturdays a month.

Becoming a Dad had a lot of impact on me. I learned depths of love and selflessness I had never realized were part of my makeup. I learned what stretching myself thin REALLY was, because I had just returned to college mere months before becoming a father of two overnight. I learned that I am not invincible. I learned that I can break. I did.

Thanks to two wonderful counselors, I've started to put myself back together. I've started asking what makes me happy, and that answer is fairly simple. Fatherhood, and gaming. The former is self-explanatory. The latter perhaps bears some elaboration as those who are not gamers might not understand how something that sounds, on the surface, so trivial could be so central to a human's happiness.

Gaming is a creative endeavor. It allows me an outlet through which to express those things I cannot express in any other way. It's sort of like how the original Star Trek could talk about racism or the Vietnam War. Gaming is a social endeavor. My best and closest friends all roll dice with me. Gaming creates a community, and a unique kind of bond that exists nowhere else. The gamers I play with tend to be pretty inclusive - we don't care about your ethnicity, political party, or any other traditionally divisive personal factor.

This is why North Texas RPG Con means so much to me. I used to attend Star Trek conventions, and the Trek and massive Comic Cons of today are money-making juggernauts. People pay money to stand in line to pay money again to get autographs from the actors. I used to dig that quite a bit. But NTRPGCON is different. At NT, I'm not standing in line for autographs and maybe a word or two with an actor. I'm sitting at a table playing with the folks who wrote and illustrated the games I grew up with. The owner of the con, BadMike, is said to lose money on it every year. He runs the con for the love of the community and the original creators who attend the event.

I walk into that hotel, and I'm surrounded by kindred spirits. I get them, they get me. In four days of gaming I roll dice with seven tables worth of people, all of which I have a blast with. We're all comrades in the love of the game, and what's more, we're all celebrating the men and women that made those games happen and in many cases playing alongside them. I've thanked more than one for the products they wrote that thirty years ago back at Chisholm Trail Middle School gave me a place to fit in when I didn't fit in anywhere else.

Last year I met Frank Mentzer and Larry Elmore, the writer and illustrator of the Red Box, the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, that got me started in the hobby in 1986. This year, I bought a copy of the Red Box to hand down to Zane, and had Frank autograph it for me. He told me that it meant a lot to him to have parents tell him that his game, all these years later, is being taught to the kids of the original generation for which it was written. Well, Frank, it meant a lot to me to have something to turn my creative and imaginative energies to when they weren't all that appreciated anywhere else. And it's an honor to have been able to thank you in person, and toss dice with you last year.

So what is it it's taken me all these years and all these words to realize? That there is zero shame in being a grown-assed adult who rolls dice for fun. That nobody's opinion but my own and that of my fellow gamers matter when it comes to how I spend my spare time and energy. I've spent 30 years putting up with disapproving opinions on my chosen hobby. Why? I don't see the point of a lot of other people's hobbies- but if they enjoy them, more power to them. And so it is with me.
How different is it for me to be able to tell tales my friends and I have collaboratively crafted thirty years after they occurred than it is for any other devotee of any other hobby to share their "fish stories?" What makes any pastime any more valid than any other?

So, NTRPGCON has inspired me. I found a community that I finally fit into without reservation. A group of creative minds that are all there for the same hobby that carried me through what would otherwise have been a pretty bleak adolescence. I can safely ignore the derision and insults of my family and others when I think about crawling wearily to bed after midnight and looking across the atrium to see my friend Dennis rolling up a character and getting ready for a game that took him past 3AM. Dennis, you see, is 76, a PhD, and published author. So... folks who don't think gamers amount to much? You can all stuff it.

Job #1 is Raise My Kids Right. But I've been told that I can't take care of my family unless I take care of myself. So I'm going to do both. Gaming keeps me happy. It also gives me a great tool for inspiring my kids to read, do math, and creatively problem solve. I am so gratified that the high school that used to accuse us of gambling for having dice at lunch now has an actual tabletop gaming club. Zane is learning to read more thanks to our tabletop games, and choose-your-own-adventure books. I'm hoping Kaylee follows suit with a love of reading and adventure.

North Texas RPG Con took me to my happy place two years in a row, and I'm already planning my triumphant return next year with two (or more!) game sessions to run. I want to give back to the con some of the fun it has given others, and GMing a few games will help in that regard.

I am actually feeling pretty content for the first time in ages. My writing is possibly taking off in the next year. My teaching career is set to begin in August or January. Zane and Kaylee are learning, growing and learning to overcome their own issues. Zane has been having a blast at Tae Kwon Do camp. Things are falling into place and I'm finally coming to terms with the fact that I *like* who I am. I didn't turn out to be a career soldier like I thought I would when I was a kid - but that's OK. I'm a dad, and that's the most important job in the world. I'm a teacher, both of my hobbies and as an (adjunct) profession. I'm a creator of worlds and a teller of tales. Nothing makes me smile so much as to hear one of my friends remembering one of the amazing adventures we've had together over the decades.

So, yeah. I'm still working on my weight, and my anxiety/depression, but I'm pretty damn happy to be me for the first time in a good long while. And I'll see you all at the game table.

20 May 2016

Pinballz Lake Creek - A Review

  There are a few things in life that I am passionate about.   Fatherhood.  Tabletop RPGs.  Video games.  I have an absolute love of both console and arcade games from my childhood.  A lot of this has to do with my growing up in a family that was rather less technologically and academically inclined than I was.  I loved books, computers, and air conditioning.  My mom's side of the family with whom I spent the bulk of my childhood were hunters, fishermen, pitchers of horseshoes and and watchers of football.  For whatever reason, aside from being a Boy Scout, I never had much interest in most of these things.  I learned to shoot, but refused to hunt.  I enjoyed camping, but my favorite part was D&D around the campfire with my fellow scouts.  My favorite activities from a young age included the rush of excitement of getting that fourth ghost for 1600 points before the power pellet wore off, or potting the Worluck and getting a Double Score Dungeon on the next level.  After my parents divorced just after my seventh birthday, trips to see my Dad nearly always involved Atari and trips to Games People Play, an incredible arcade that used to exist in Houston.  I was in my element in an arcade, or in front of an Atari VCS, 5200 or 7800.

  When Pinballz opened their original Burnet/183 location in Austin in 2010, I had found "home."  A real, old-school video arcade with more than fighting games and DDR machines.  They had Atari Star Wars.  They had Gauntlet.  Pac-Man.  Q*Bert.  Moon Patrol.  SEAWOLF.  It was amazing.  The initial press for Pinballz talked up Mikki's Replay Cafe, which would serve all the wonderful snacks I remember from Games People Play plus fine adult beverages.  This promise was never quite fulfilled due to the difficulty the owners, Darren and Mikki Spohn, are rumored to have had with the city as far as permits, etc. went.  Ultimately, Pinballz original location became BYOB with snacks and sodas and a limited kitchen.  When they opened Pinballz Kingdom in Buda, that had the promise of being perfect- but it fell, in my opinion, a bit short.  The selection of classic arcade cabinets was smaller than I'd hoped and the mix of concepts didn't quite seem to gel with a heavy emphasis on redemption games but the full bar and restaurant concept with outdoor music venue and beer garden.  For whatever reason, it wasn't as attractive to us as the original Pinballz, despite being newer, larger, and having its liquor license.  Then came Lake Creek.

  This is it.  This is definitely it.  This is, nearly perfectly, the expression of what I would have done with an arcade venue had I unlimited funds and creative license.  The only things the iconic arcade in my head have that this one does not is waterslides and bumper boats- but that's only because of Games People Play having been an 80s venue during the big waterslide craze of the early 80s when people were putting up waterslides as standalone attractions in the Houston area.  So, let's talk about Pinballz Lake Creek and why it's worth the trip.

  First things first - Pinballz Lake Creek is not BYOB, so leave the booze.  There's plenty inside.  Trust me.  Vaping is not allowed inside according to signs on the window, so vapers, plan accordingly.  There are two types of currency used with the attractions at Pinballz.  At the kiosk immediately inside the doors you will purchase a card onto which you will load your game budget.  Many of the machines in the arcade use the card, while many of the classic arcades use tokens.  Tokens can be procured by waving the card at one of the token machines near the entrance.  This deducts $5 from the card balance and drops 20 tokens.  There are some machines that can use either payment method, and any machine requiring 6 or more tokens ($1.50 or more) tends to be card only.  The cards can be linked to an account with your name and contact info in the Pinballz system so that the card can be returned to you if lost.  I believe there may be a loyalty program function here, too, but I haven't had a chance to get further info.

  So let's talk attractions.  The flyer states that the venue has over 200 cabinets.  The ones that have my attention 100% is the classic game corner.  There are larger attractions as well, like the Highway 66 Mini-Bowling, Laser Tag, Bazooka Ball, and their Lazer Maze.  There's a healthy selection of redemption games and a nice ticket redemption counter with everything from tiny Gundam army men all the way up to amazing prizes it will take many, many trips to earn.  There are party rooms, the main dining area, and a section of more adult-oriented games like the more violent shooters and Beer Pong.  Unlike the original Pinballz location, there is plenty of room to move and walk, it seems extremely roomy. 
  Here's the basic layout:  If one turns left from the welcome desk after purchasing a card, you see that the middle of the venue is an incredible selection of pinball machines in four long rows (two back-to-back) up the center, leading to Mikki's Tavern.  Immediately to the left as you walk in is the Highway 66 Mini-Bowling apparatus.  This attraction has a number of lanes down which one lobs half-sized bowling balls.  The pins are backlit with LED lights, and scoring is done electronically with a scoreboard above each lane.  Each lane supports multiple players, and the cost to play is $4.00 per game.  This was a hit with myself, and with Zane and Kaylee.  We loved it.  It was just right size-wise for the kids, and big enough for me to enjoy while not aggrivating my carpal like full-sized bowling does.  Definitely recommended.
 
   The pinball selection is just what you've come to expect from Pinballz.  Lots of classics here.  Star Trek: TNG (Kaylee's favorite), Dungeons & Dragons (Zane's favorite), and The Machine: Bride of Pin*Bot (One of my favorites.)  They even have one of the massive Hercules tables that uses what looks like a Cueball for a pinball.  There's really too many wonderful tables to list them all, but I've included some photos of one of the rows.  That's my son Zane, who is learning that pinball is tons of fun while being extremely challenging and frustrating to learn.

  Most of the pinball tables are $0.50 or $0.75, with some of the newer or more novel tables being more expensive- like Hercules at $1.50 per play.  Now, just so I can get this out of the way, inflation calculated since I started dropping quarters in the 80s means $0.25 in 1985 translates to $0.56 today.  So the standard $0.50 per play at Pinballz is actually a tiny bit less expensive than outright inflation adjustment would dictate.  Kudos for keeping the plays affordable on the lion's share of the machines.

  Proceeding to the back of the venue around the left of the bank of pinball machines one sees a cluster of video games including Cyberball.  Now, allow me to squee for a moment.  We used to play Cyberball a lot at Mazzio's Pizza in Round Rock.  The ability for two two-player teams to compete in robotic football (with an atomic ball!) and improve their players appealed a lot to me.  While regular football was never that big of a draw for me, the RPG element of players that could be improved as play progressed and the sci-fi elements made this a very memorable game.  I was told by Mikki Spohn herself that an interested player is talking about forming a Cyberball league.  This could be pretty damn awesome.

  Now, to the left as you continue to the back is the Lazer Tag and Bazooka Ball area.  I am not going to be able to review this as such since there weren't enough patrons there either time I visited to get a game going, so I'm not sure what the costs are.  Taking a gander at the playfield, it's going to be good for primary school-aged children.  For adults the course would be a real knife-fight, as it's not excessively large and much of the cover is about waist- or chest-high.  Not saying it wouldn't be fun, especially after a couple of drinks, but there we go.


   Continuing further back, one sees Mikki's Tavern to the right, and the classic game corner to the left.  I knew I was parenting right when Zane's first reaction to seeing the classics corner was to point and yell "POLE POSITION!" and run over to the cockpit Pole Position cabinet.  There they were, a bank of many of the classic games I grew up with.  Both Tron and Discs of Tron (the environmental cabinet, even!) along with Missile Command, Breakout, Centipede, Phoenix, Wizard of Wor, Satan's Hollow, Dragon's Lair and others.  Sinistar!  Commando!  A row of cocktail tables separated the classic arcades from the Mikki's Tavern area, and I nearly shed a tear to see Warlords and Q*Bert among them.  This is where I'll be spending the bulk of my time when at Pinballz Lake Creek.  This feels like home to me, and I may even grab some food from Mikki's and make it a point to eat at a cocktail table like we did back in the 80s. 



  The games are all in a good state of repair, and as always the staff are happy to hear if something isn't working right, and they'll get it fixed.  Our only issue in two trips was the knob on the Breakout cabinet being  in need of a bit of cleaning, it was a bit jittery.  But how amazing was it to play an actual Breakout cabinet!  It made me want to mail Steve Wozniak $5.
   So much nostalgia.  Playing Warlords at that table with Zane was amazing.  I haven't laid eyes on a Warlords machine anywhere but Pinballz in three decades.  It's one of my favorite Atari VCS titles.  Phoenix and Wizard of Wor are both favorites of mine, and helped while away a summer at Padre Island during the parts of the afternoon where we'd have just come in from the beach.  The Suntide III condos had a video arcade, as pretty much every place did in the very early 80s, and my uncle and I would drop quarters into these machines while still dripping wet from the pool or the ocean.  I remember the Donkey Kong machine in that arcade would actually deliver a bit of a shock if you were wet and not wearing shoes.  Walking through Pinballz triggers all these memories, as video games are so part and parcel of my growing up that nearly every machine evokes a memory of where I was or what I was doing the very first time I played that particular title.  The first quarter I ever dropped was into a Tempest machine in a Kroger's in Humble, TX in 1981.  Guess where I can play Tempest? Pinballz.

  So, let's talk about Mikki's Tavern.  First of all, it's a tavern.  This location has their liquor license and makes great use of it.  There are over twenty beers on tap.  Their hard liquor is kept in amazing arcade-cabinet styled shelves.  The bartenders on duty when Kaylee and I visited were Adrian and Michelle "Mishi" and they took very, very good care of us.  Both of them had the talents every manager wants in bar staff - they were knowledgeable, friendly, and engaged the customer.  They learned our names and made sure we had everything we needed.  When I had a special order - I'm a low-carb eater, which makes pub food a little complicated - it was taken without an eye batted and a compliment on my weight loss efforts.  These two really, really made our visit pleasant.  I saw other patrons enjoying the banter and booze, so I know it wasn't just that I had a ridiculously cute daughter with me.
  There are lots of tables compared to the small seating area at the original Pinballz.  Around the corner toward the back there are booths as well.  In a conversation with Mikki Spohn the day I took my son she said she had seen some folks come in and play cards in the tavern area, and that she would welcome gamers who wanted to come in, have a beer, and play whatever games they wanted to bring.  I immediately thought of my own gaming club, and although the staff found another venue for this Saturday's games, I am making it a  point to have a get-together here as soon as I can.  I can't imagine a better way to spend a day than surrounded by video games, pinball, friends, and a few tabletop or card games.  Having a play venue with a bar is something Emerald Tavern near the original Pinballz started, but Mikki's Tavern actually has more table space.  If it does not become too crowded, I can see this being a great place to game as long as the owners remain gamer-friendly.  For those of us who don't or can't drink alcohol the fountain drinks are refillable, so a D&D session at Pinballz offers perqs for both the drinkers and the non-drinkers.

  Let's talk food.  Kaylee and I sampled the cuisine at Mikki's and had a wonderful Daddy Daughter Date Night.  Kaylee could not be dissuaded from ordering a pepperoni pizza ($10 for the 8-inch), since that's her all time favorite food.  I opted for the buffalo burger sans bun ($10), with a side salad tacked on instead of the normal fries ($1.50)

  My burger was great.  Bleu cheese, crisp bacon and  buffalo sauce.  The salad had fresh greens, carrot, onion, tomato and cucumber with a nice smattering of chunky croutons that I reluctantly handed off to Kaylee to preserve my low-carb status.  The balsamic vinaigrette dressing was pretty tasty.  My only issue with the burger was the common issue we low-carbers have- without the bread I was still hungry.  This isn't an issue with Mikki's Tavern, it's an issue with low-carbing.  That said, the $10 price tag is pretty standard for restaurant and bar food, but makes Dr. Atkins approach to weight loss a spendy proposition.  That said, as of this writing I'm 45lbs down, so...

 
   Kaylee's pizza was fired in the brick oven they have behind the bar, visible behind a window into the kitchen.  Having worked six years in restaurants, I can tell you that any operation that makes the kitchen visible to patrons is an operation confident in their kitchen practices.  I'm a fan of this approach.  Steak & Shake's old motto "In sight it must be right" applies here.  The pizza came out with a nice browning on the crust and cheese, and pre-sliced and ready for her to put her patented Parmesan blizzard into play.  Kaylee devoured the first two slices with the kind of gusto one expects from a recently-turned-5 pizza fan.  Now, I couldn't write a review of the pizza unless I tried it, so when it became apparent that last slice wasn't going down Kaylee's gullet I removed the toppings from the crust and consumed them.  The pizza had what most folks would consider the right amount of sauce - me, I'm a Chicago deep-dish fan and love extra sauce - but this was spot-on for the way the saner members of my family eat it.  The sauce was tangy, with a good flavor.  The pepperoni was nice and crispy, just the way I like it when I'm eating thin pizza.  To me, thin and Chicago are two different animals, and held to two different standards.  On thin pizza, like this, crispy pepperoni is the goal for my palate.  This was spot-on.  My only suggestion for the pizza was from the part I didn't eat - the edges of the pizza were nice a dark, crispy brown.  The center was done, but less crisp than the rest of the slice.  I chalk this up to our going in during the first week of operation, and am confident that more experience with the brick oven will alleviate this concern.  Would it stop me from snagging pizza here again?  Absolutely not.  It passed the Kaylee test, and it passed the "daddy stealing pizza toppings" test.






















  Once your hunger is sated, one can hit the other side of the venue, to the right of the tavern if you're looking into Pinballz Lake Creek from the door.  On the right one will find the adult games in the back near the tavern.  These include games like House of The Dead, Time Crisis, Beer Pong and others.  Transitioning as one gets closer to the front are Mario Kart Arcade and Star Wars Battle Pods.  Closer to the front gets into the redemption games - two different types of Ski-Ball, crane games, the gamut is run.  Against the wall is the redemption counter, with at least one ticket station to count your tickets and spit out little receipts to replace the miles of individual red tickets.  Near the ticket counter is one of the more interesting new attractions - the Lazer Maze.  Remember the scene from Entrapment with Catherine Zeta Jones attempting to avoid the security lasers?  It's like that.  Zane gave this a try, it was a $3.00 play and rather than avoiding the lasers he chose the game where the goal was to break as many of the lasers as possible.  He came out grinning.

  So, that's pretty much a circuit of Pinballz Lake Creek.  There really is something here for pretty much everyone.  Classic games, newer games, mini-bowling, food and drinks...  So far my daughter has asked me for the last two days when we're going back.  This is her new favorite place, I think, and that really makes me smile.  As I said above, the video arcade was the location of so much of my good childhood memories it's amazing to share those memories with my kids.  I'm so happy Darren and Mikki Spohn decided to embark on the Pinballz project half a decade ago.  This gives me the perfect place to relive my own childhood and make that of my kids just as memorable.  I grew up in arcades, and thanks to Pinballz, so will Zane and Kaylee. 

  I'm going to close with a couple of things I think would make a great location even better.  Who knows?  Maybe one of the Pinballz team will read this and think it over.

ICED TEA - For those of us who are low carbing, diabetic or otherwise limited to non-alcoholic and sugar free, the sole option at Pinballz Lake Creek is Diet Coke.  Adding tea to the menu would be an inexpensive option that would help out those of us in my position or one like it - and there's nothing more staple to a Texas restaurant beverage menu than iced tea.

THE BACK ROOM - As of my conversation with the staff on my first visit, the big back room had not been given a definite purpose.  I know some ideas had been floated, but I'd like to add my own.  First, more classic arcades could not go amiss.  While the location has lots of cabinets, there are four decades of arcade games to choose from, and having more 70s and 80s cabinets fill the room would be a big draw to gamers of a certain age.  Frogger, Pac-Man, Joust, there are a lot of iconics that could fill this room.
  Alternately, table space for walk-in gaming.  Hear me out.  Places like Dragon's Lair and Emerald Tavern have libraries of games for people to walk in and play.  The table space is offered up and the gamers inevitably spend money on either the games (DLair) or the booze (Emerald Tavern) to make the table space pay off.  It's not as power intensive as arcade cabinets, doesn't require additional staffing, and if played right organizations in Austin like the Savage Worlds and Pathfinder clubs, my own Royal Dragoon Guards, or LARP groups could make use of the space.  When I presented the idea of gaming at Pinballz to my group, some of the staff were concerned that it would be too loud in the Tavern area for one of our large wargames with 8-10 players.  If the back room was game space, it would be separate from the rest of the venue, with easy access to the bar and restaurant.  I've always wanted to have a D&D game or something at the original Pinballz, but the cost of the birthday rooms is prohibitive for a game club.  Give folks table space in that back room, and I predict the food and drink orders would flow.  Seriously.  Plus, with some chairs and tables, I know a certain blogger who would love to teach classes on arcade game history.  Where better to do something like that than inside an arcade?

  So there it is.  Pinballz Lake Creek.  Go.  Check it out.  Drop some tokens.  It's a lot of fun, and quite family-friendly.

10 May 2016

FASA Trek 3rd Edition - What would I do? Part I: Skill Roll Musings

  Space... The final frontier.  This was one of the first games I ever owned, and one I loved so very much.  Star Trek, by FASA Corporation.  My Big Three game producers when I was first getting into the hobby were TSR, FASA and Palladium.  Not exclusive, but they were the big ones.  I mean, of course I played some West End, and Steve Jackson, and other games here and there.  But these were the BIG THREE.  And FASA Trek was one of my first RPG passions that wasn't D&D.  My Mammaw and Pappaw Webb bought this for me at a B. Dalton in the mall, and I devoured it while watching TOS on VHS that we'd rented from Chic Le Blanc, a furniture store named after its proprietor in Lake Charles, LA that had a back room full of video tapes and later NES cartridges.  It was an 80s thing, when everyone was trying to get in on the video rental craze.

  With the gargantuan tomes that we see cranked out today by game companies, it's often hard to see how a box with one to three small books almost never more than 64 pages and certainly never more than 96 could constitute a whole game.  Looking back, though, many of my favorite gaming experiences came out of these kinds of games.  D&D Basic, Star Trek, Star Frontiers, Gangbusters, Marvel Superheroes, Gamma World, Traveller...  They gave you the basics, and your imagination did the rest.

  FASA Trek was a great game, but had a few warts even in my tween mind.  The Action Point system was a bit clunky.  The skill roll system seemed pretty straightforward, but there was an extremely odd curve to the listed proficiency levels.  The character gen was almost a Traveller-esque lifepath, but not quite.  Plus there were a few quirks of starship combat that needed fixing to help with the Star Trek feel of the game.

  In a perfect world, FASA would still be publishing Star Trek material.  At least, in my perfect world.  That would require (at least) a 3rd Edition of the Star Trek RPG.  What would that 3rd Edition look like if I wrote it?  Well, I'm of two minds about this.  On one hand, I'd want to keep it very close to the FASA-isms that made the original RPG what it was.  On the other, I'd love to go further afield and do a few different things with the game to smooth over a couple of the rough spots.

  Off the top of my head, my very first thought is to shamelessly steal the Ability Score and Proficiency rules from D&D 5e or just do it in Savage Worlds... but neither of those would have a very FASA-esque feel to them.  I'd better stick with something that looks like a 1-100 scale for attributes and skills.

  So, something that always vexed me was how skills worked.  Take a look at the following:

PROFICIENCY LEVELS IN ANY SKILL
Skill Rating
Proficiency In Field
0
Unskilled
1-9
Semi-Skilled
10
Minimum Proficiency
10-39
Qualified
40-79
Professional
80-95
Expert
96+
Acknowledged Leader

  So, there are some interesting skill rules about when to roll, and what to roll, and when no roll is needed.  In many cases these are different for each skill, necessitating a little description of each skill highlighting the various needs of each one.

  What about streamlining this system?

Easy, everyday skill rolls use a D10 to roll against the skill.  If you have a 10 or more, you're golden.  Then work out a system where more challenging rolls are done with a D40, D60, D80, and then D100.  Heck, maybe even D120 for "impossible" tasks.  Hey, wait... here's a Star Trek idea...

FASA TREK 3rd EDITION SKILL ROLLS
Situation/Difficulty
Die Rolled
EasyD10
Standard CruisingD40
Yellow AlertD60
Red AlertD100

Heck, the "boxed set" could even include dice in the appropriate colors for the rolls.  Since the "10s" die is a standard polyhedral, there would be no need for custom dice such as those used by some modern games by FFG, or odd polyhedrals like Dungeon Crawl Classic's D7 and D14.

This would be an interesting way of handling the strange conceit that 40 is "Professional" in a game that uses D100 to check skills under pressure.  Making a helm maneuver 4 times out of 10 doesn't seem very professional, nor does failing to detect something on sensors 6 times in 10.  With varying difficulty skill rolls above and beyond the D10 and D100 explicitly called for in the FASA Trek rules, this might be able to standardize things a bit without adding too much complexity, and it might even add some Star Trek feel while we're at it.