11 February 2016

Back to Battletech: How The Old Dragoon Got His Groove Back

  Life post-graduation has been pretty busy.  The holidays took a lot of time, then we took our Geek Cruise to Belize, Isla Roatan, and Cozumel.  That was an amazing trip, and thanks to my amazing wife I was there with my friends and no adult responsibilities- against my Dad instincts Zane and Kaylee stayed home with Mary, and I went adventuring with the other geeky reprobates.  We played some great games on that cruise, including Machi Koro and Shadowrun.  Twas a blast.

  Upon returning to civilization, I was more or less energized.  I am still fighting down some of the anxiety issues that developed in June of last year.  I keep asking myself why my psyche couldn't make it just four more months, and then the pressure would have been off, but I digress.  Gaming has been my passion and my escape for years- and yet I felt disturbingly dispassionate about it.  In some cases I sought to escape from it.  My Wednesday night D&D campaign, masterfully run by my friend and shipmate Bobby, had all the hallmarks of a game I should be jazzed about.  It takes place in Mystara, my favorite campaign world.  I play a swashbuckling bard patterned after Zorro or Bruce Campbell's Daring Dragoon.  Why, then, did I get to the point that I kept looking for excuses not to attend?

  Stress is a thing.  Burnout is a thing.  Also, as my doctor reminded me, the brain and the body need time to adapt to changing environments.  The stress of Thesis time hung on with me right up through the cruise.  Although I had not been enrolled in class for two months, I still felt like I was enrolled in class, and that stress was keeping me from enjoying my hobbies, my family, and kept my anxiety front and center in my mind.

  Enter Battletech.

  Or should I say, re-enter Battletech.  Those of you who've read my blog for a while know that A) I don't post as much as I should and B) I cut my teeth on the Mentzer Basic and Expert D&D boxed sets.  Those were my first experience with roleplaying.  That same year, in 1986, I was introduced to a glorious boxed set called Battletech.  We played at lunch at school.  We played before school.  We played on weekends.  If we weren't playing D&D or FASA Trek that first year of my RPG career, we were playing Battletech or Robotech (the first game I bought with my own money.)  I had discovered the Robotech cartoon during the 1985-6 year we spent in Temple Terrace, FL and I was immediately floored.  The re-use of Macross/Robotech art in the Battletech game drew me in- but the game universe kept me there.  The idea of Great Houses fighting over an empty throne, 'Mechs that were relics as well as war machines, of technology and desperation married in a nearly apocalyptic future world- this game had me.  I rapidly discovered Technical Readout: 3025 and the level of detail astounded me.  Individual manufacturers of Medium Lasers and Jump Jets, famous MechWarriors, tidbits of history woven into the articles about each of the 55 'Mechs, 3 LAMs, 3 DropShips and 15 Aerospace Fighters, give or take some equally inspiring tanks like the Von Luckner, Galleon, Rommel and Patton.

  I had such a passion for Battletech that despite every other game I have ever played, Battletech has been a recurring theme for what is, this year, three decades.  I love many games, but it always comes back to Battletech.  So it has been these last few weeks.  My club, The Royal Dragoon Guards, was founded on Battletech.  It was preceded by the 342nd MSG of the Starfleet Marine Corps- a club which played a lot of Battletech.  That was preceded by the Caladan Highland Dragoons, formed in 1995, to play- you guessed it- Battletech.  So when the opportunity came to give my RDG campaign a hard reboot and do Battletech the way I love Battletech, I grabbed it with both hands.  I dug up the custom character creation rules Bobby and I had worked on.  I pulled out MechWarrior - the original, first edition - along with the original sourcebooks.  I pledged that I would build my campaign around Battletech the way I played it.  Nobles, antique 'Mechs, Dune with Giant Robots.

  Our classic campaign from nearly ten years ago saw the planet Royal, on the border of the Federated Suns and the Draconis Combine, in the midst of destabilizing internal strife due to the nobles that comprised its Landsraad squabbling constantly.  Duke Maglan von Kalmen decided to form a 'Mech unit dedicated to the world as a whole, and sent out a ducal proclamation requiring every House Minor on Royal to contribute personnel.  From the resulting melting pot of minor nobility the Duke forged, through Dispossessed MechWarrior Sir Richard Mainwaring, The Royal Dragoon Guards.  The year was 2914, in the early stages of the Third Succession War.  The campaign saw the Houses Minor ally with one another, scheme against one another, and most importantly expand the Battletech universe.  We created everything from secret Star League facilities to performing troupes and tobacco plantations.  Little pieces of color that fleshed out the feeling that Royal was a real world in which our characters lived, fought, loved and died.

  I decided we were going back to Royal.  Doing some refreshing of my Battletech memory I saw that Royal fell to the Draconis Combine during the Fourth Succession War, and did not return to the hands of House Davion until the War of 3039.  It was there I began to plan my campaign- the Royal Dragoon Guards would not be the original unit, no, this was a century later.  The name of the original unit would be resurrected to inspire expatriates from Royal to flock to the banner of Duke Paul Stephenson of New Ivaarsen, who seeks to put together his New Ivaarsen Volunteers to take Royal back from the Kuritans.  The idea for the campaign began to take shape - the players would be one company of the New Ivaarsen Volunteers named, for PR purposes, The Royal Dragoon Guards.  The players obliged by creating a group who had ties to Royal- some were expatriate nobles looking to gain back their family holdings.  Others were looking to carve out holdings and finding the situation such that the Duke might just grant them the lands of the treacherous nobles who supported the Kuritan military government.  The more I worked on the campaign and the plans for the plot the more excited I got.

  I realized I had my passion back when I was reading Battletech, Battletech, Battletech and making tons of notes about where this game would go.  I was adjusting the Battletech universe to make it more suitable to the campaign I wanted to run.  I was working with Bobby and Andy, one of our other players, creating new 'Mechs, tanks, and other equipment that existed in our version of the Battletech universe.  For three weeks now, my fingers have been pouring forth all sorts of background and plot for this new campiagn.  Good friends who have been absent from my game table since the last big Battletech campaign have returned just because this game is going back to the Battletech universe, back to Royal.  My enthusiasm has started to slowly bleed into other areas of my gaming interests. I've been revisiting things I started tinkering with years ago and adding bits here and there.  I've been making notes on non-Battletech games I'd like to run this year.  Completing the projects I undertook for North Texas RPG Con later this year.  I got my groove back.

  I don't know if this sudden energy burst will last - I hope it does.  When the last Royal campaign ran, it ran for four years.  My gaming brain is finally back to where it was before I became immersed in Grad School.  I'm in a good place as far as my hobby interests are concerned.  Now, if I can conquer my anxiety, life will be pretty damn good indeed.

  Stay tuned for more (fingers crossed) and check out www.texmechs.org to see what we're up to.

23 November 2015

Incentive To Game: The Royal Manticoran Army Marksmanship Program

As an avid reader of military science fiction, I have been a fan of David Weber's Honor Harrington series for many years.  I found out a few years back there was an organized fandom for the Honorverse, and became involved in 2014.  The organization is largely composed of members portraying Navy and Marine personnel, we the novels are focused on those branches of the Manticoran service, Navy much moreso than any other branch.  There was, however, a relatively small group within the TRMN club that portrayed the Royal Manticoran Army and the soldiers that made up the Star Kingdom's last line of home defense.  That was where I ended up upon joining TRMN along with quite a few of my friends.  We now make up Fort Shorncliffe, home of First Battalion, 342nd Armored Infantry Regiment.  Add in our good friend Dennis Sustare and his Home Guard at Sandgate Castle, and we have about 32 folks associated with the RMA who like rolling dice and doing tactical things.

  When we were an active part of STARFLEET, our group was criticized by some other groups for being too military in the way we did things.  Against Gene's ideals, they said.  I won't get into that argument, but sufficient to say moving to a club that is explicitly about military science fiction meant we fit in a lot better.  A lot of us are prior service (a couple currently serving) plus State Guard, current and former cadets, etc.  A certain amount of military flavor creeps in.  One person utters a "hooah" and conversation will be peppered with them for hours.

  We founded on gaming, and while gaming was something that happened on STARFLEET, and yes, we even started a whole yearly event dedicated to it, it wasn't supported organization-wide in any way.  This is where TRMN really fit how my friends and I do our thing.  Not only was our way of running our organization in keeping with TRMN, but TRMN actually had a program to encourage and reward gaming.  The Marksmanship Program.

  To avoid the legal hassle that would come with actual firearms use, TRMN instituted a marksmanship program in which gaming was the key activity.  Play games that were aerospace or wet naval in nature and were on the approved games list, and you racked up points toward a Pistol marksmanship qualification.  Play ground-based wargames, and the credits went toward a Rifle marksmanship qualification.  This was awesome, we could game and get recognition for it.  It also fostered some friendly rivalry.  And encouraged MORE gaming.  Thing was, we do a lot of roleplaying games, which were explicitly not on the list.  What to do?

  The Army, seeking to differentiate itself from the Navy and Marine Corps parts of the club, decided to create an Army Marksmanship Program.  This program would differ quite a bit from the Navy version in that it would be much more inclusive of other games.  It would count hours gamed instead of sessions played, since one can play 20 games of X-Wing, assuming one-on-one fighter duels, for every game of Axis & Allies played to conclusion.  An interesting mechanic introduced by the Army leadership had hours played multiplied based on how many TRMN members were in the game, up to a maximum multiplier of 4.  Thus, the program would encourage more gaming of more types of game with more people.  Perfect!  Plus, the program supporting casual and traditional games meant some of our members who preferred non-wargames could now find similar reward in play to the hardcore war game folks.  The Army came to us at Fort Shorncliffe to help put the categories together.  Here's what we came up with, and some examples of each.

Grenade: Casual games or party games.  Cards Against Humanity.  Twister.  Scene-it!  Trivial Pursuit.
Disruptor: Family games and traditional games.  Monopoly.  Chutes & Ladders.  Checkers.  Candy land.
Flechette Gun: Tactical board games, CCGs, or Deck Building Games.  Magic.  Firefly the Board Game.  Android Netrunner.
Pistol: Aerospace or Naval Wargames.  Starfleet Battles.  Crimson Skies.  Victory at Sea.
Rifle: Ground-based wargames.  Battletech.  Bolt Action.  Dust Tactics.
Grenade Launcher: Roleplaying Games.  (RPG, get it?)  D&D.  Shadowrun. D6 Star Wars.
Tribarrel: Strategic-level wargames.  Succession Wars.  Federation & Empire.  Conquest of the Empire.
Plasma Carbine: Tactical multiplayer computer games.  Starcraft.  Halo.  Battlefield 1942.
Plasma Rifle: Strategic mulitplayer computer games.  Civilization.  Master of Orion.

  So here's how it works.  Say my wife sits down to play Cards Against Humanity with our club's XO, S3 and a friend who isn't in the TRMN organization.  We play for 3 hours.  Since my wife, the XO, the S3 and myself are all members of TRMN, the multiplier is one less than our number, with a maximum of 4.  In this case, it's 3.  Non-TRMN players don't count.  Recruit the hell out of them so they will.  Multiply the hours played by the participation multiplier and get a total of 9.  Each of us has just gained 9 credits toward our Grenade Marksmanship category.  5 credits earns Marksman, but Sharpshooter requires 100, and the highest qualification award comes at 600 credits.

  And does it work?  Well, YEAH, so far. Since this program went live a month ago, the members of Fort Shorncliffe have been adding extra gaming on top of our twice monthly meetings.  It's been a lot of fun.  I've had the opportunity to dig out some older games and try them on new players - most notably Shadowrun DMZ, or Downtown Militarized Zone, the Shadowrun tactical board game.  I'll be blogging about that game sometime soon. 

  Personally, I find the concept of the gaming incentive program in a fandom organization to be a really good one.  It encourages members to get together and have fun.  It gives the entire organization an activity to take part in cooperatively and competitively.  It encourages branching out to try new types of game.  All in all, this is why I'm happy to be a part of this organization.  We can play D&D and get club credit for doing so... GRIN...

29 October 2015

It's October - Let's Talk About Beyond the Supernatural

29 October - just a couple more days until my favorite holiday, Halloween.  Time to talk about Beyond the Supernatural.
another one of my favorite RPGs, which sadly is on my long list of games I'd love to play but can't find time or player buy-in.  This is Palladium Books 1988 offering

Before anyone berates me for being a Palladium fan, I am well aware of the warts of the system.  I still love this game in spite of that for two reasons.  First, the first RPG I purchased with my own money was Palladium's Robotech.  I also got heavily into TMNT, Ninjas & Superspies and Beyond the Supernatural.  I have nostalgia on my side, plus the Palladium game system is actually perfectly serviceable for games that lack Mega Damage structures.  I found Palladium Fantasy a much more straightforward system than my beloved AD&D.  Yes, things got complicated with MDC in Robotech and Rifts, but that's not what we're here to talk about... this time.

BTS.  Why do I love it?  Well... I grew up on a television series called In Search Of... hosted by Leonard Nimoy.  The series covered all manner of mysterious things, from ghosts to the Bermuda Triangle to UFOs and more.  From a very young age I devoured books on these subjects, a particular two books that I got from a Scholastic book fair in 1981 creeping me the hell out as a first grader. I was absolutely fascinated by the paranormal.  That fascination continues to this day.  I approached the paranormal from the investigative, scientific point of view based on my childhood perception of In Search Of... My first horror RPG was, as is the case with many other players, The Call of Cthulhu.  The problem was I was not yet familiar with H.P. Lovecraft's works when I played, and our GM was also 13 years old and not really experienced enough to get the feel of the genre right.  I decided to go back to fantasy and sci-fi.

My next trip to King's Hobby Shop I saw Beyond the Supernatural on the rack next to the other Palladium games I loved.  I picked it up and started to page through it and found precisely what my view of the paranormal and horror gaming was looking for in a game.  BTS introduces the character of Victor Lazlo, a paranormal investigator whose writings explain the underpinnings of how the supernatural functions within the game world.  This scientific approach to the paranormal caught my attention in a big way.  Ley lines.  Places of Power.  Ancient civilizations.  All of it linked by a coherent scientific theory of psychic energy.  Holy Time-Life Books!  This was just the right approach to make my imagination explode.

Then there was the character classes.  The Arcanist was up first, someone who spent their time and energy poring over ancient tomes and learning the secrets of magic.  That had possibilities.  It was a pretty cool idea, and certainly a handy person to have around if you are part of a paranormal investigative group.  The Latent Psychic works GREAT for a modern kind of campaign where most of the protagonists are normal humans. Someone with psychic ability who is slowly learning how to use their power.  The Natural/Genius is an interesting take on psychic ability- rather than something overtly psychic, these characters are just REALLY GOOD at something, which is how their paranormal abilities expressed themselves.  The Nega-Psychic is the Dana Scully character class, and I'll talk more about it later.  The Parapsychologist is the class I always wanted to play if I wasn't being the Game Master.  A scientist, rooted in paranormal research yet with a willingness to admit that, as Winston Zeddemore said: "These things are real."  Physical psychics are very much what Shadowrun would later call Adepts, expressing their psychic potential in a physical manner.  The Psi-Mechanic can create paranormal devices powered by their own innate psychic abilities- the forerunner of the Rifts techno-wizard.  The Psychic Healer and Psychic Sensative are just what they sound like, and all these options are followed up with perhaps the most interesting of all - Ordinary People.

 The ability to have ordinary paranormal investigators as well as mixing in the GMs preference of actual psychic characters is a sandbox primed for many sorts of investigative horror adventures.  You could limit classes to just the parapsychologist and ordinary people, you could allow one psychic sensitive or latent psychic, you could go all-out and allow all the classes for a game with a higher supernatural level.  Personally, I find the limited approach a little more interesting- when the PCs possess too much paranormal ability in and of themselves, investigating the unknown doesn't seem as dangerous or as mysterious.

  Now, I have to talk about the Nega-Psychic for a moment.  This class was my absolute bane as a GM for BTS.  The Nega-Psychic doesn't believe in the paranormal.  In fact, this character has significant paranormal abilities but never realizes it because those abilities serve to suppress all other paranormal activity in their vicinity and make the character highly resistant to paranormal effects.  So, if there's a haunted house situation once the Nega-Psychic enters the home the paranormal activity will stop.  It will not resume until the Nega-Psychic has left.  This causes a lot of narrative problems over a longer campaign.  It's interesting, even humorous the first couple of times.  Then it becomes frustrating and tiresome.  Unless you have an angle, I'd highly advise against allowing this type of character into the game.

  So, there's  a small but interesting section of equipment based on the finest investigative gear the 1980s had to offer.  There's a fairly big section on monsters and creatures, and the aforementioned sections on places of power, the paranormal in general, and the rules of psychic energy.  Roll all that together with the extremely neat character classes and you're ready for a potentially brilliant supernatural investigation game.  Now, this game is more or less compatible with all the Palladium games that are not MDC worlds, like Ninjas & Superspies or Mystic China.  Mixing and matching things from these games or others can be a lot of fun.  The Boxed Nightmares supplement, the only supplement for BTS, also includes a system for point-buy creation of a supernatural investigation organization for your players to be a part of.  This can be a lot of fun to play with as well, especially if the players want to talk out how best to spend their points.  "Hey, does this pole still work?"

  Beyond The Supernatural is currently in its second edition, but curiously the revised core book leaves out magic and magic-using classes.  These were supposed to be added later, but the second edition core book came out in 2005...  So...  I'm going to recommend the original.  It can be purchased quite reasonably in the aftermarket, and it can be purchased in PDF from DriveThru RPG.

08 October 2015

It's October - let's talk about Chill.

Welcome back, folks.  I am now officially in graduation holding pattern.  All my grades are in, all my tasks are complete, my GPA is 3.945 and my Master of Arts in Military History will be official on 15 November of this year.  Huzzah!

I love October.  Halloween is my favorite holiday.  Christmas is a wonderful family time, and Thanksgiving is likewise enjoyable, but for pure holiday revelry I love me some Halloween.  My  kiddos have already got their Star Wars costumes ready to rock - Kaylee is going to be Sabine from Rebels, and Zane is going as a First Order Stormtrooper.  The kids have already been introduced to one of Daddy's favorite Halloween traditions - Count Chocula.  We've been through two boxes already - mostly consumed while watching 80s cartoons on Saturday mornings.

Every year for decades now I've run a horror-themed game for Halloween.  Most years we try to live through I6 - Ravenloft.  One year Scott ran an amazing game of Vs. Monsters that I still remember fondly, and one year we tried Call of Cthulhu and I remembered why I don't try to run CoC for this particular group of players.  Since we've got a regular D&D game going on that is taking place in Ravenloft, I decided to look at other horror games as a possible Halloween treat.  My gaze fell on my copy of Chill 2nd Edition on my bookshelf.  I've always had an odd relationship with this book.  I've owned it since my senior year of high school.  I've read it, considered running it, and put it back on my shelf.  This was the Mayfair Games edition published in 1990.

There were things I liked in Chill 2nd.  I liked the idea of skills being rated as Student-Teacher-Master, that was kinda cool.  I liked the idea of SAVE.  In Chill, PCs are assumed to be "envoys" of an organization called SAVE - Societas Albae Viae Eternitata.  The Eternal Society of the White Way.  Newer editions of Chill change the "Albae" to "Argentae" for Silver Way, since White Way is considered racist.  SAVE was formed by an Irish scientist Dr. Charles O'Boylan in 1844.  SAVE has dedicated itself to investigating "the Unknown" where it can be found.  SAVE is, as of modern times, worldwide but spread fairly thin.  In my native Texas, there are two centers of SAVE activity, Houston and Dallas, each with about 30 envoys.  So, SAVE is there to have your back, but has limited resources in personnel and funding.  So... you're on your own, but not.  Limited support makes for good roleplaying opportunities.  The Game Master - or Chill Master (CM) - can use SAVE to supply lore and hints, but can throttle exactly how much SAVE can or cannot help in a given situation to fit the needs of the game. I like it.

What did I not like?  The actual presentation of the book.  The artwork in Chill 2nd Edition is incredibly quirky.  Let me show you what I'm on about...

 So... "quirky" isn't really the word I'm looking for, I guess.  I could NEVER get into the artwork for this edition of Chill.  I just couldn't.  The second and third examples are supposed to be PCs from the introductory module.  What kind of feel is this art supposed to evoke in the players?  Am I supposed to want to play an MD who looks like he descends from the Keeper of Talos IV?

So, as intriguing as the text was, I never could get any traction out of Chill, both from my own dissatisfaction with the layout and artwork and the utter "meh" response the book garnered from my players.  For whatever reason, though, the book made the cut to be on the "bedroom shelf" where I keep books I like to grab and read when I can't sleep.  Some of my favorite RPG books are in that group- Star Wars D6 1e, Lords of Darkness for AD&D, Shadowrun 1e, Earthdawn 1e, Star Frontiers, Top Secret, Red Box Basic and its immediate predecessor B/X...  so while Chill never got ran, it got read again and again over the years.

I recently had the opportunity to get my hands on some of the older edition Chill material.  In 1984, Pacesetter Games produced the original version of Chill.  I'd never gotten to see any of the original stuff, since I only became aware of Chill after Mayfair started producing it.  I laid my eyes upon the cover of the boxed set and I immediately just *knew* I was looking at a Jim Holloway cover.

Now... THIS was something I could sink my horror gaming teeth into just from the feel of the cover alone.  A frightened man with a lantern stands in a decrepit grave yard covered in fog, looking over his shoulder with an expression only Holloway could illustrate staring at... what?  We see a hand, but not what that hand is attached to.  NOW my imagination is racing.  Now I'm thinking of old Sherlock Holmes films in black and white and Hammer horrors from the studio's earlier years before quite so much camp appeared.  NOW I am starting to feel like this is a game I can RUN.

Funny how art can do that.

Let's take a look at a couple of pieces of the interior art of Chill 1st Edition that illustrate the kind of feel that catches my eye and makes me want to play.

 Now... THIS is more like it.  I know, art is subjective and one man's Holloway is another man's crayon doodle, but damnit, Jim, I like Jim.  Holloway.  Art.

The title page art is awesome.  The rotted arm breaking out of the grave to the horror of the terrified man with Lemmy's facial hair and a revolver.  Yeah.  I can work with that a lot more than the odd illustrations above.  I can show this to players and they get the mood and tone of the game immediately, as opposed to the 2nd edition aesthetic.

I eagerly dove into the book and found a game I really, REALLY want to run.  So, Chill - it's a percentage die system with a table to determine how well or poorly a particular die roll comes out.  The levels of success remind me a tiny bit of Shadowrun's wound levels.  Speaking of wounds, it doesn't matter if you're attacking a creature with a .22 revolver or an elephant gun, it's not the weapon that determines damage in Chill, it's the skill of the attacker.  That might sit poorly with some of my friends who are obsessed with gear, but it works just fine in a game running in the horror genre.

PCs have limited access to "The Art," which seems to be psychic ability and the ability to manipulate magic.  While PCs can learn how to use the Art in certain ways, you won't really find any Gandalf-level exploits.  As is expected in this kind of setting, you're more likely to have someone sensitive to paranormal presences or able to speak with the departed than someone who can throw fireballs and teleport.  Quite genre-evocative.

I'll say this, the system isn't complex, per se, but there is a little bit of 80s game fiddly about Chill.  Figuring base skill levels by averaging this ability or that, then adding +15 for Student level or what have you.  Then you roll against the stat and compare the margin of success to the table and you get a letter result...  At first, it's going to take a bit of getting used to, but I imagine it will speed up with regular play.  It's not rocket science.  I dig it.

Now, Chill had some GREAT supplements, but there's one or two that might have damaged the game's reputation a bit.  I've heard folks say that the Holloway artwork was a liability rather than an asset to Chill, since it gave a bit of campy Hammer-horror look to the books and covers.  OK, I can kinda see that when the premier horror game, Call of Cthulhu, had art that tried to communicate the existential horror of the Great Old Ones in a game that was anything but campy.  Me?  I like the look of the books, and the feel that look engenders.  However...  The Elvira supplement might have reinforced this point.  As much as I am a huge fan of Elvira and her huge -ahem - talents, her show did emphasize exactly the kind of horror-as-camp that turned some people off to Chill.  This doesn't mean I'm not currently planning to pick up a copy of the Elvira supplement... just that I can see where it damages my case that Chill can be every bit as serious-scary as Call of Cthulhu.

Let's be honest, here, though.  Cthulhu is its own genre of horror.  Lovecraftian horror is something that you ultimately can't really deal with.  Chill seeks to present the kind of things that may be horrific and overwhelming, but can ultimately be dealt with - at least in the short term - by the plucky SAVE envoys.  Not every Cthulhu adventure can end in success if something truly Lovecraftian is involved.  The best one can do is try to stay sane...

So I've now read the original Pacesetter Chill boxed set cover to cover.  I plan on making this my Halloween game for 2015.  The system is not too complex, the setting's SAVE is a sponsor organization that is just the right power level to leave PCs on their own while being a conduit through which the CM can pass information at need.  I'm looking forward to scoring some of Chill's supplements in the hopes of eventually collecting all of the Pacesetter edition.

For those of you wishing to give Chill a whirl, you have three options.  First you can chase down the original on the secondary market.  Second, you can purchase the new Chill 3rd Edition from Growling Door Games.  Finally, you can check out the resurrected Pacesetter's game Cryptworld, which has all the classic Chill game mechanics without the SAVE information, as Growling Door currently has the Chill license.

10 September 2015

My September Gaming Musings...

  So, my Thesis is in the can awaiting its chance to bypass the gatekeepers that are the department chair and the mysterious "committee/second reader(s)".  My professor has given me 475/500 on the assignment, and tells me not to sweat the rest of the semester- I'm effectively done.  So... of course I'm worried that one of the entities reviewing the thesis will think it's crap.  Thus, we wait.

  I have a number of things that have passed through my head where gaming is concerned now that my brain has a bit more free time.  I try to fill this free time with thinking about gaming and writing since my brain when idle contributes to the damnable anxiety that has plagued me for the last several months.  It's frustrating, so I try to keep the brain a-rolling.  With this in mind I've taken the opportunity to pull a few favorites off my shelves and do some reading for the pure enjoyment of it.  I have a lot of games that I'd love to run or play that I know are hard sells for my gaming circle, but that doesn't mean I can't read them and enjoy them just the same.

  When talking about games I'd love to run that my group probably wouldn't grok, Gangbusters is always at or near the top of my list.  It's an old TSR release with great Jim Holloway artwork that covers the Roaring 20s, prohibition, feds and gangsters, that sort of thing.  What I like about Gangbusters aside from its early 80s charm is that the game natively gives you the option to work on either side of the law.  Or no side.  A player can be a cop or a fed.  The player can be a gangster or bookie.  In the gray area, the player can be a private dick or newspaper reporter.  Lots of options.  I don't know how well it would work mixing and matching such things within a single game, I'd imagine most groups consisted of either lawmen or gangsters give or take a reporter or detective.

  Now, the game comes with a number of subsystems that are just fun to play with.  How much bootleg booze can I distill given X amount of space and Y amount of raw materials, and how much can I sell it for?  If I'm running a speakeasy with X amount of seating, how much booze do I have to have on hand to keep the crowds happy and how much will I make off a good night?  If I'm running a numbers game in my gang's territory, how much can I expect the take to be if I run a fair game?  What about a rigged game?  Crunchy little subsystems like this tend to amuse me, and I like the idea of a group of PCs running a speakeasy to make money.  It's like Traveller, but the ship is a bar and the cargo is booze.

  Another favorite I've paged through over the last coupla days is Talislanta.  I recall the old Dragon Magazine adverts proclaiming "NO ELVES."  Well, there are a few races that bear a resemblance to elves, but no matter- the world is pretty nifty.  It's like fantasy meets post-apoc, and the races are far from the standard Tolkien-esque offerings of many more popular games.  In example, there are the Thralls of Taz, a race created by wizards to be bodyguards and warriors.   Every male Thrall looks precisely like every other male Thrall.  Every female Thrall is likewise identical.  They differentiate themselves by tattoos which are the tribal equivalent of campaign ribbons.  In effect, each Thrall's skin is a service record and identification document that chronicles that Thrall's accomplishments and gives them a difference in appearance from their brethren.  I found that to be a pretty neat twist on the sort of warrior cultures seen in other games and media.  It bears mention that Talislanta is now free to download and play from http://talislanta.com/ in all its published editions.  I am partial to the 3rd Edition version I started with in 1992.  The author has said that the Big Blue Book from 2001 is the best iteration thus far.  Check out the PDFs and decide for yourself!

  I'll have more musings to come, hopefully with some semblance of regularity now that my studies are theoretically complete.  Toss some dice, have some fun.

25 August 2015

Thesis Draft submitted and Robotech!

  So I got my draft thesis turned in about five days early.  This allowed by professor to skip a round of golf (apparently) and grade it early to get it back to me.  I got a 90, and five things to fix.  Luckily all of them were structural to the paper and nothing to do with my research or my conclusions.  This means I am doing OK, methinks.  I finished the fixes today and re-submitted the draft for approval.  This is week thirteen of a sixteen week semester, so I'm very close to being finished with this grad school stuff for the time being.  Which is good, because apparently my psyche needs a rest.

  So, Robotech.

  Palladium Books has at long last released their United Earth Expeditionary Force Marines Sourcebook.  I scored a copy of this to congratulate myself for getting an "A" on the thesis draft, and rapidly devoured the book.  In a way, this is the Robotech book I've been waiting for since I first opened the covers of the Robotech II: The Sentinels RPG Palladium put out back in the 80s.  Why?  Well, because the original Sentinels RPG featured cyclones and Gallant H-90s and things that weren't shown in the Sentinels VHS tape to have been introduced when the expeditionary force left Earth.  Over the years, some writers have implied that SDF-3 did not leave Earth alone, as in the Jack McKinney novels.  They have also posited that SDF-3 and other Earth ships had to fumble about a bit before locating the Fantoma System and the Robotech Masters' homeworld of Tirol. 

  This sets up a very interesting space for an RPG campaign.  If there is an REF - excuse me, UEEF - fleet, and there are reconnaissance missions exploring unknown space in an effort to find the location of Tirol, then there's a lot of story to tell between the fleet leaving Earth and arriving at Tirol, as happened in a single space fold in the novel and Sentinels OVA.  This seems to be the canon according to Harmony Gold and Palladium according to the timeline in the Marines Sourcebook, giving a nice block of time and space for GMs to create their own Robotech adventures that have not already been spelled out in novels, comics or on the small screen.

The book solves the issue of what equipment the UEEF had available at what point in the mission as well.  Prototype Cyclones are here, along with the early production models, space models, and the pre-Cyclone Walker powered armor.  The REF destroids are re-artworked into the new UEEF destroids.  I am of two minds on this, I liked the original art, but I also like this new art.  The art does try very hard - perhaps a bit too hard - to be consisted with the look of the Genesis Climber Mospeada mecha that predominate during the Sentinels time period.  Alpha-style arms and shoulders are the order of the day, most of the cannon barrels look like the barrel from the GU-XX, leg styiling is also very Alpha in nature.  This does tend to give it all a very uniform look, as if the units were all designed by the same faction, but in some cases the changes don't make sense.  The Alpha shoulder, used on many of the battleoids and even on the Zentraedi Tactical Battlepod upgrade, looks nearly identical to the Alpha Fighter's missile pod shoulder, but in most cases no missiles are mounted there...  Even the Monster has become an upright bipedal mecha of huge size with very Alpha-like styling.  That said, every single mecha does look incredible.  The new Officer's Battlepod would make even the most die-hard Glaug purist go "whoa."

The Sentinels races make a return appearance in this book, at which point I started to think of it as a second edition of the original Robotech II RPG more than as a "Marines" sourcebook.  The aliens are all there, all with new art.  I actually enjoyed the more anime-style art for all the Sentinels races save the Spherisians, where I prefer the original art.  The stone men of Spheris now look a lot like Groot for some reason, instead of having smooth, curved bodies as in the old artwork.  The races are written up in the RIFTS RCC style, but most are allowed to choose normal human OCCs if they so elect.  There are a few cool race-specific RCC/OCCs, like Perytonian Energy Wizard and Karbarran Combat Laborer.  The vibro-shovel is a fun Karbarran artifact, and reminds me of the many times I was killed in Day of Defeat by a German with a shovel. (Thanks, Tony!)

Also back in this book is the Titan/GMU - the massive mobile headquarters unit from the original Sentinels RPG.  This time it's not billed as being quite as able to carry unrealistic amounts of mecha, and it's not unique, there are apparently a number of GMUs in the fleet.  The big gun on the GMU is still powerful, but I found the stats to seem not quite as powerful as I thought it aught to be at that size.  Seeing the GMU artwork reinforced my feeling that this was Robotech II 2.0, so why is this the Marine sourcebook?

  Breetai, apparently.  According to the text, Breetai felt the need for a ground-forces element in the UEEF fleet to be created on the pattern of the United States Marine Corps.  He was personally impressed with the history, fighting spirit and traditions of the USMC and lobbied for a UEEF MC to be included with the expeditionary force.  This gave many of his Zentraedi a familiar place to serve, and appealed to many humans as well.  Apparently, many Sentinels aliens and even Tirolians end up enlisting in the Corps to help fight the Regent's Invid and liberate the Sentinels worlds.  This is actually a pretty neat idea, methinks.  It gives an alternative to the Big Mecha game.  Sure, the Destroids and Veritechs are still available in their full-size glory, but now there is a viable option to play Marine grunts pulling recon missions or infiltrating hives or rescuing Karbarran hostages or what have you using their own boots, or maybe Cyclones, to get the job done.  This scale also allows the aliens to shine, as they won't be competing with the humans and their 60-missile Alpha fighters.  Now the great strength of the Karbarrans and the wizardry of the Perytonians and the fighting prowess of the Praxians can have an effect on the missions without being outclassed by the huge mecha.  On the flip side, there are a few mecha that even Marine grunts can have issued at need that will lend much-needed support fire to a dismounted squad or Cyclone squad.  Lots of options.

  All in all, I very much enjoyed the book.  Some folks have said the timeline is not quite accurate, but at this point we don't really know what accurate would look like since Harmony Gold is the only entity that is purported to know what is canon and what is not these days.  There have also been some criticisms of the material reprinted in this book, like the Condor, the Zentraedi RCC information, and a few other mecha.  Well, sure, I would have liked to see some more of the space vessels that carry the Marines and a ton of other stuff, but all in all I'm pretty pleased with what's in the book.  I think it will make a great addition to the Robotech campaign I want to run sometime in the near future.

05 August 2015

The Thesis Marches On

Greetings, Programs.

  As this post is being written, I have 11 days until my thesis draft is due and I have to see how defense works at online school.

  I'm making a lot of progress, and learning things I didn't know about gaming along the way.  Did you know William Tecumseh Sherman objected to wargaming in the American military on the basis of what we would call a lack of morale check rules?  Look it up, when Major W.R. Livermore suggested the US Army adopt Prussian-style wargaming, Sherman objected that men are not blocks of wood.  He knew no unit would stand in the line of battle until attrition destroyed it completely.  Morale breaks, men run or balk at advancing.  Sherman felt the games were not realistic.  In modern terms, he was looking for morale rules...

  Did you know we owe video games to the military?  Tennis for Two was presented on an oscilloscope, the first video game, at a national atomic laboratory.  Spacewar was written by Steve Russell on a PDP-1 that was bought and paid for by the military.  Hell, packet switching, the base technology of the modern Internet, was developed as a way to secure communications in the event of nuclear attack.  The RAND Corporation, long an atomic war think tank in the employ of the US Air Force, introduced the ubiquitous hex map for their games and simulations.  The hex map is a staple of modern tabletop.

  Most of what I've learned is that I'm ready to be DONE with the graduate school experience.  The specter of going for a PhD is still there, and possibly a requirement to find permanent employment as a professor- but I need to take a year or two off before I tackle that hurdle.  I need a break.  I need to spend my non-work, non-family time enjoying my hobbies.  I find that when you are forcing time for your hobbies in the name of staying sane, they are not as fulfilling as they are when they're not so terribly urgent.  I have blog posts to make, games to write.  I'm ready to be done with the things I have to do and get on with what I want to do - isn't that the point of finishing my college and searching for a more lucrative academic post?

  My thesis draft is due 16 August 2015.  Once it's in, we've got the defense to do, then the revision for the final draft.  By the end of September, I'll be done.  And that means more posts here, and more games we can talk about.  I want to revisit the games of TSR that weren't D&D, like Top Secret, Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Metamorphosis Alpha, Gangbusters, Marvel Superheroes...  I love all those games, and don't get to do much with them.  I also want to work on my adaptation of what Bobby and I call MechWarrior 1.5, sort of our version of what MechWarrior could have been if we'd been writing it back in the 80s.

  Stand by, the three of you out there who read the blog.  We'll be getting back to regular traffic and longer gaming-related posts soon.