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.

21 July 2015

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 30- Best Playing / DMing Experience

They saved the most difficult question for last.  Best experience.  Wow- that's hard.  I mean, my early experiences were AMAZING, new ground broken and all that.  I fondly remember those days and love to help other gamers live through that period in their own hobby.  But I became a DM pretty quickly, and got slotted into that role since the Reagan Administration.  So...  when I try to think of really amazing play experiences, I tend to think of my earliest days playing with Daniel and his brother, or in Boy Scouts. 

Now, as a DM some of the campaigns I've already mentioned come to mind.  The casual game with Bill, Dave and Chris back in high school just "feels" like what 80s D&D was supposed to be.  The amazing Mystara/Ravenloft campaign that began with Robby, Cami and Mary and boiled down to just Mary and Randi - the one I talked about with the marriages and deep in-character threads.  That game was amazing.  Lots of really, really good roleplaying from the PCs and some not-too-shabby DMing by yours truly.

I dunno.  There's a lot of good games I can point to, more as a DM than as a player.  If I had to pick right now, and had to limit the field specifically to D&D games, I guess I'd go with the Ravenloft campaign.  There was so much depth to the PCs thanks to Mary and Randi really having buy-in and having only two PCs meaning both got more than ample screen time and attention from the DM.

If I had to guess, though, I'd say my best experiences are yet to come.  I'm becoming a better Dungeon Master by learning from the best.  NTRPGCON started me down that road.  I'm trying new techniques, and exploring how I want the back half of my life to be where games are concerned.  It's time to game for quality over quantity, and include the ones who are most dear to me.  Zane and Kaylee will be old enough to play before I blink twice.  The best is yet to come.

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 29 - Most Frequently Rolled Number on a D20

I have no idea what the most frequently rolled number on a d20 actually is over my three decades of gaming - but it sure as heck isn't 20.  It feels like I could say 1 with some confidence.

My primary gaming dice are Chessex translucent red with white ink, bought to resemble my Koplow dice from 1986.  I bought four sets and keep them in a box that held Cuban cigars my friend Raul gave me on a cruise several years ago when he wanted to ditch the box and smuggle the cigars home.  I take those dice with me to my twice monthly D&D game over at Scott's place.

Damned if they don't consistently roll under 5 so much that I've taken to using my six-year-old son's dice instead.  Habitually.   Zane isn't quite old enough for full-on D&D yet, so his dice are living in my dice box lest his sister find them and lose them as she did when he had a dice bag.  So Dad kinda borrows them - and THAT d20 rolls pretty well.  All my signature red-and-white d20s?  Not so much.

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 28- PCs You Have Sworn Off Playing

I don't know that I have ever sworn off playing any particular PC.  I've actually liked all the characters I can recall playing.  No single D&D character sticks out to me as unworthy of a return play.

That said, I do have a personal rule about never, ever, playing Kender.  I think Kender work best on the pages of Dragonlance novels under the close supervision of the authors.  Putting Kender in PC hands is asking for trouble unless you are confident the player can play the Kender as intended, and not just use the Kender-related tropes as a bludgeon with which to beat the other PCs, the Dungeon Master, and the campaign in general about the head and shoulders.

So, if I ever played a Kender PC, I'd have sworn off playing him.

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 27- Favorite Curse of Cursed Item

This is an interesting question, and I'm going to have to go with Armor of Missile Attraction.

I love this particular cursed item because it is legitimately useful against melee attacks, acting as various forms of magic armor.  The hitch is that it gives enemies significant bonuses to hit the PC wearing it with missile weapons.  It becomes a piece of cursed equipment you want to get rid of immediately... or not?  Is the melee bonus worth living with the missile attraction?  Is it a worthwhile gamble?  Each character must make their own decision on that before seeking out a spellcaster who can drop a Remove Curse