11 December 2012

Episode 4e : A New Hope?

Good morning, True Believers, and sorry it's been over a month.

  LOTS of things have happened since I posted my Top Ten, so let's sum up.  I finished my Bachelor of Arts degree in Military History with a GPA of 3.791.  Now I just have to wait until February to actually have my degree conferred.  We are moving closer to adoping Z and K, and I can't wait to share photos of them with the world.  Z saw Star Wars for the first time last night - he started it once before and fell asleep as we'd started it too late at night.  He loved it, and wants to see it again.  I am *so* trying to score him the toddler Millennium Falcon now...  K is now W A L K I N G.  It's amazing how quickly they grow.  And also amazing all those "dad" moments I've gotten lately just playing and spending time with the kiddos.  I'm halfway through my weight loss, havign lost 38lbs and having another 38 or so to go to hit my TXSG height/weight.  After that, I'm trying to knock out another 17lbs or so to hit an even 200.  Also, for the first time in four years, I'm no longer the lead game master for the Royal Dragoon Guards.  That's right, I did not seek re-election as Battalion Commander instead opting for the top player spot, Company Commander.  I'm now the lead player, and letting Bobby Dean GM for a while.  Six months, at least.  If he doesn't suck, and he won't, we'll see if he runs for another six.

  OK, gaming.  Well, first of all, since I'm not currently enrolled in any college courses for the first time in two years, I can put together a regular game session.  Since the Royal Dragoons are a major sci-fi campaign and Bobby runs an occasional Star Wars game, I decided to do something fantasy-based with my game.  I also wanted some folks I don't usually game with.  I got both wishes, having created a D&D Essentials group with two players I don't normally game with, and one who I usually only game with at RDG.  Randi and Bobby round out the group.

  I know, I know.  Why 4e Essentials?  You guys know I'm a grognard, and that my desert island book is the Basic D&D Rules Cyclopedia (I even had Aaron Allston sign mine.)  You know I've run AD&D 1e using Rules As Written.  (We never even played it that way back in the 80s.)  You know I regularly re-read and occasionally 1-shot things like Marvel FASERIP, Star Frontiers, Melee/Wizard, Car Wars, Gangbusters, Top Secret/S.I....  so why in the name of all that's holy did I decide to run a game using what is largely considered to be the least D&D of the D&D games?

  Basic answer?  Because I've never done it before.  Sure, I've run Essentials when I used to DM D&D Encounters at Rogue's Gallery.  That was a cycle of modules that covered levels 1-3 over and over again every few months.  I've never dreamed up my own campaign and run it "in the wild" for a group.  I wanted to give this a shot before deciding that the Old School was the Only School.  One of my players in particular is giving me a lot of gas about running 4th Edition, claiming that all the rules get in the way of the story.  Well, time will tell - and after two game sessions, it's already started to.  The GM and the Players are what makes story happen, not the rules.  But more on that later.

  I'm going to lead off with why I hated 4e at first, and what caused me to decide to give it another try in its D&D Essentials incarnation.  Part of my problem was that the game dictated HOW to run D&D to its Dungeon Masters.  Thou shalt have five players.  Thou shalt bludgeon them with roles and party balance.  Thou shalt hand out this much treasure and no more.  It shall take this long to level, and encounters should be balanced to party level.  Oh, all your players really should be the same level or the math breaks...  Stuff like that.  On the player side, I didn't like martial classes playing like spellcasting classes.  Also - since 3E the game has really encouraged the use of a battle map and counters or minis.  I never used minis much in older editions - which is to say at all, except to mark marching order.  I didn't hate the idea... just didn't like the more-or-less requirement.  4e made that even more mandatory with powers that relied on relative placement of combatants.  Do not want, really.

  Well, with Essentials came a new take on 4e.  If it constituted 4.5 is a discussion for another time, but gone were things that just tweaked me off.  Martial daily powers?  Gone.  Martial marks?  Gone.  In their place were stances, which made perfect sense, and defender auras, which also made a lot of sense.  Something about the Essentials builds just felt more D&D to me.  I tried playing a Warpriest, and lo and behold I felt like a badass Cleric from the days of old save for the turning ability.  I could fight, heal and move all in the same round.  Maybe this wasn't so bad after all...

  So I decided to get into the D&D Encounters scene and stayed there for over a year.  I really started to enjoy the game, and the playstyle.  I realized that there was a good game under the hood of 4e... it just wasn't what I called Dungeons and Dragons.  And that's OK.  So I started planning to run my own campaign to test some of my assumptions... and got back into college, and got my two awesome foster kids.  Gaming went on hold except for the RDG commitment.  So here we are, and I'm getting this Essentials game going - so what do I like about it?  Strangely, some of the things I hated when I had it mentally tagged as D&D.

  First and most obvious - the battle map and map-based combat.  This game, unlike the versions of D&D I prefer, requires them.  Powers are written in bursts and blasts and ranges and adjacent and aura and you really, REALLY need a map to make them work.  The powers are so much a part of each character that you risk really bringing the game engine crashing down on you if you just try to fudge it.  I used to see that as a bug in my normally narrarative style dungeon mastering.  What I needed to do was look at the way it played on its own merits, not as a replacement for my beloved BD&D and AD&D.  Okay, so what does the system do?  It's a tactical combat system in which each class has its role to play and each character potentially has a completely different set of strengths, weaknesses and abilities to bolster the party as a whole.  I used to hate that Fighters were now referred to as "Defenders" and expected to be meat shields...  but that's just codifying the way low-level mages hid behind the fighters anyway, isn't it?  In fact, the Defender Aura makes them better at it than old-school D&D fighters were in a way.  I also liked that spellcasters never ran completely out of spell juice.  I loved playing Magic-Users in BD&D, but damned if it wasn't annoying to be out of spells... and that happened a LOT at low levels.  In the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon, Venger never ran out of those cool magical bolts...

  OK, so looking at the way the game PLAYS, the PCs have to have a sense of their own abilities and those of their allies.  They have to learn to use those abilities together to accomplish goals in combat.  It's... tactical.  Hey, wait- I love tactical.  It's no different from the way we obsess over BattleMechs in Battletech and their capabilities and how they work together and separately and how best to employ them and how NEVER to employ them.  So... my favorite part of Battletech can become part of my fantasy games.  OK, I can dig this.  It also reminds me of the great XBox game "Gladius" and Final Fantasy Tactics.  I had always listened to people rail against 4e saying that it was too much like a video game, or an MMO.  Thing is - I'm beginning to see that as a feature of this particular game.
  Is it what I want out of all of my D&D?  Negative, ghostrider.  Does it work for this campaign?  It's seeming to.

  What I mean by that is I've begun to write this campaign as if I was writing a classic 8-Bit RPG.  The enforced pacing I had hated so much in the DMG was now my ally.  I could use that pacing in writing the campaign arc - since it took X number of encounters to go up a level, and encounters were figured as level-appropriate...  So this means that I can now plan the pace of the game based on those assumptions.  The ability to reskin 4e monsters is pretty cool, too.  I've already decided that I'm going to include some creatures my players won't expect - like Oktoroks and Leevers.

  We have played two sessions, and tonight is a third.  I'll blog more about this game after that session, as I think three sessions is enough to get a feel for where this is going and if it's working or not.  Right now, I'm cautiously saying it's working well - even my staunchest 4e hater is having a blast... 

22 October 2012

My Top Ten RPGs and Why...

Good morning, True Believers!

  I know, I keep using the Stan Lee quotes - but with my three-year-old addicted to Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, it's hard not to get caught up in Stan's exuberance. 

  An old friend asked me on Facebook the other day what my top ten RPGs of all time were, and why.  I was about to try to answer from the hip, but damned if this is a much bigger question than I could answer without putting some serious thought into it.  Surely, there are RPGs I can consider among my favorites, but to pick and rank just ten?  I had to wait until I had some time to think about it, and then start working on a list- then revising the list, then throwing the list away and starting over.  Sooo many games that have things I like about them, and soooo many games I have sentimental attachments to, and soooo many new games that might make this list, but I've not had the chance to see them in action yet due to school, parenting and work.  So... what are the top ten RPGs of all time for The Old Dragoon as of today, 22 October 2012?  Let's start with Number Ten and work our way down to #1.

10) - Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (First and Second Editions)
Publisher : TSR Hobbies
Year: 1977-1999
The Rules:  Class-level.  All the basic polyhedron dice, with a myriad of mechanics and sub-systems.  This was the gold standard for many years, sublime in its incomprehensability.
Preferred Editions: First and Second.  I played 3.0/3.5 and 4e, but they aren't on this Top Ten list.

Why I Love It:  This was the Big Boys game.  I first flipped through AD&D books in 1985, before I had played my first game.  It was like the first time I read Stephen Hawking - I couldn't quite grasp what the book was on about, but I knew I wanted to.  AD&D was the staple game of my high school years.  While I never left D&D Basic behind, and we dabbled in LOTS of other games, we always came back to AD&D.  I will always remember my first sojurn through Ravenloft before it was a game world, or the Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.  I loved exceptional strength, multiclass demihumans, THAC0 - most of the things that made it complex and frustrating and were thrown out in later editions.  Also - artwork.  The original 1e covers are good for inspiration.  The second set by Clyde Caldwell are even better for my money.  The picture here, the 1e Dungeon Master's Guide's second cover, just oozes atmosphere.  The Second Edition has some great cover and interior art, and truth be told, when AD&D2e came out in 1989, we switched over to it pretty exclusively for the rest of High School.  Lots of folks look back at it with an unfavorable eye, but we had so damn much fun playing it I guess we were too busy to notice how much it apparently sucked.  I happened to *like* 2e.  I would still run it today.  Same for 1e.  They have their flaws, but if they were unplayable... never mind.  I won't get into edition wars here.  Sufficient to say AD&D (both editions) were important enough to my formative experiences as a gamer growing up in the 80s that I'll include them here separate from Basic D&D, which also appears on this list.

Snapshots of Things I Remember About  AD&D:
  • (V,S,M) - Spell requirements.  Holy crap the game actually takes into account *how* the spell is cast, not just that it is.  That's cool!  Likewise, page requirements for spellbooks.  Detailed memorization times...  Advanced, indeed!
  • The Dragonlance hardcover book for AD&D 1e.  Wow.  Just... wow.  Krynn really caught my imagination back then, and the classes for Krynn were awesome.  I still want to play a Solamnic Knight by those rules someday.
  • UNEARTHED ARCANA!  I loved playing Cavaliers.  Too bad none of them made it past third level.
 9) - Space : 1889
Publisher : GDW
Year: 1989
The Rules: Skill-based, with professions that you might call classes.  D6s only on this one, with various arcane subsystems to carry out various tasks.  Ranged combat and melee combat on two TOTALLY different systems.
Preferred Editions: The original.  The Savage Worlds redux seems OK, though.

Why I Love It:  This game was Steampunk before Steampunk was a thing.  A thing that is running the risk of overexposure.  But let's face it, it's a COOL thing.  And this game was an awesome idea that really had not been explored much in the annals of RPG history.  Crown Colonies on Mars?  Edison inventing the Ether Propeller?  Germans riding dinosaurs on Venus?  Sign me up!  Add to that the really cool invention rules so that your character could be some sort of mad scientist or inventor and use their new infernal devices for good or for awesome and Space: 1889 became an instant classic for me.  Problem was, most of my gamer friends just didn't "get" it, so it didn't get nearly the love it deserved in sheer play-hours.  This game was supported by some really great supplements and wargames like Sky Galleons of Mars and Cloudships & Gunboats, both of which were lots of fun to play.  Again, a game I love because it positively oozes the genre it's trying to emulate.  The rules were a bit off-putting at first, and perhaps the new Savage Worlds take on the game would find more traction, especially now that Steampunk is a much more popular genre.

Snapshots of Things I Remember About  Space: 1889:
  • The look of the book interior was very, very nice.  Good paper stock, old-fashioned illustrations, lots of sidebars on history both real and imagined.
  • Lloyd Bates' Criminal Mastermind and his henchman, Jiri.  If you don't like it, Lloyd will have Jiri stab you.
  • The Royal Geographic Society's race 'round the inner planets campaign that I never ran.  I designed ten completly different Ether Flyers for the NPC participants of the race.

8) - Marvel Super Heroes
Publisher : TSR
Year: 1984 (Basic) 1986 (Advanced) 1991 (Revised Advanced)
The Rules:  D100 with a chart that handled effects for pretty much everything.  This was one of the first games I played with a true "unified mechanic" although we would not recognize it as such, because back then we just played the damn games, we didn't try to pidgeonhole them and pick them apart mechanically.  With evocative ratings like "Amazing" and "Monstrous" instead of straight ability score numbers, and effects like "Slam" and "Grand Slam" this system really made a good use of its intended genre.

Preferred Editions:  Most people play Advanced, I like the 1991 Revised Basic Set
Why I Love It:
  Why not?  What is not to love about FASERIP?  Marvel is called that because the ability scores are Fighting, Agility, Strength, Endurace, Reasoning, Intuition and Psyche.  Face Rip.  Say it with me.  Anway, this game knocked it out of the park for us.  The orignal basic set was written as if Spider-Man was teaching you how to play the game.  It came with cards for most of the popular Marvel heroes at the time, and some basic rules for generating your own characters.  We'd seen nothing like it at the time, being mostly players of games like D&D, Star Frontiers, Traveller, etc.  Not only did this game handle superheroes, it was tailored for them.  Getting Hulk to uproot a streetlight and knock The Thing across a city block, nearly bringing down a building?  Friggin awesome when you're in the seventh grade.  I ran a couple MSH games over the past year as one-shots and you know what?  Still awesome.  The later Advanced Set added more powers, options, and rules.  It's the set most people play.  The Ultimate Powers Book is a love it or hate it proposition.  It gets a lot more detailed with powers, but runs the risk of overpowering your campaign.  A lot.  I prefer the revised 1991 Basic Set.  It takes all the innovations from the Advanced Set and creates a new, smoother set of basic rules that is really all a group needs to play.  I heartily recommend this system even now for all your superheroic needs.  Also - you can get it for free at Classic Marvel Forever.

Snapshots of Things I Remember About  Marvel Superheroes:
  • Rolling up TONS of random supers.
  • Cody Hammock's shapeshifting Penguin with ice generation powers.
  • Realizing how boned the PC's Karma Pool is when they get into a fight in town.
  • Thinking about running Secret Wars for the umpteenth time...

7) - Traveller
Publisher : GDW
Year: 1977
The Rules: 2D6+Skill, with the game being skill-based while having classes of sorts represented by the services the characters took part in before the game begins.  This was the first game I played where you did not begin at "first level"

Preferred Editions: Classic, and Mongoose

Why I Love It:  Traveller was gifted to me by the engineers at Eaton Corporation where my Mom worked.  They gave me a bunch of Traveller books and a brand new Cyberpunk boxed set.  This was probably one of the best gifts I've ever gotten from older geeks to a younger geek, and this act really made me want to keep passing the geekitude along as the years go by.  Traveller's little black books and the compiled "The Traveller Book" I also received got a LOT of love from me both during games, and during long hours of summer before I had to get a job when I had nothing better to do - or was waiting for the next game session to start with my friends.  Traveller's character gen system was really eye-opening to me.  No more did you play a fresh young "first level" character, now you could be a retired Admiral, or a grizzled veteran merchant having years of experience and a decent bankroll behind you.  The ship construction system was really awesome, too - I know I tried to design the Jupiter 2 several times while watching Lost In Space reruns.  I learned a lot of real science from Traveller - the damn formula for calculating travel time in space based on distance and constant acceleration is part of the game...  Also, I learned how big the mass of a ton of hydrogen is.  So much was packed into the three little books, allowing you to generate planets, animals, characters, ships...  Plus all the supplemental books were great.  There were even bootleg stats for Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the back of one of the booklets.  I made a game of trying to roll up a Merchant Captain who scores a ship upon retirement and has the title free and clear.  It's not an easy thing to do, and most of the characters wash out or are candidates for a nursing home by the time they can accomplish that feat.  The new version by Mongoose Publishing codifies the 2D6 throws into 2D6+Skill+Mod versus 8 across the board, somewhat cleaning up the more 70s situational approach of the original Traveller.  It's very playable, aside from a few editing issues.  It is a worthy successor to the original Traveller.

Snapshots of Things I Remember About  Traveller:
  • Rolling up TONS AND TONS AND TONS of characters.  Because character gen was fun.  And yes, you could die.
  • Getting really pissed off because the Army had an easy promotion roll... but a 50% chance of getting booted out of the service every damn term.
  • Reading the part where they describe the kinds of weapons in terms of modern firearms... then having a mental image of troops in Battle Dress powered-armor storming off an assault cutter wielding Garands.

MEGATRAVELLER - A sort of second edition that had refined character creation, but a totally changed setting as the Imperium shattered.
2300 AD - Originally marketed as "Traveller : 2300" this game is not actually related to Traveller, but rather to Twilight : 2000 as the world that arose after World War III.  This was a more or less hard sci-fi game, and an excellent one that only barely did not make this list.  I recommend it highly.
Traveller : The New Era - Not as well recieved as GDW had hoped, this version of Traveller reworks the system competely, and shakes up the Imperium yet again by making it a more or less post-apoc version of the Imperium bootstrapping itself back into space after Virus (a sentient computer virus) takes out... oh... everything.  Vampire Fleets - vessels whose self-aware computers become affected by Virus and kill their own crews - ply the spacelanes.  The Star Vikings seek to restore interstellar travel.  Basically, the setting rocks, the system is a bit more modern than classic traveller... a good game to check out.  Good luck on the book not falling apart, though...

6) - Star Wars (D6 Version)
Publisher : West End Games
Year: 1987
The Rules: D6s only, dice pool system.  Roll the dice, add together, try to beat target number.  Characters were built on a set of templates at the back of the book.  Very simple, very quick.

Preferred Editions:  The first one.  Definitely.

Why I Love It:  This game was the first time I was aware of "genre emulation" as a thing.  Marvel DID it, but it didn't really click to me what it was doing.  In Star Wars, Greg Costikyan wrote in a conversational tone, and offered advice on how to make the game feel like Star Wars.  Ammunition?  Don't worry about it, they didn't in the movies.  If you don't sound convincingly like a Wookiee, don't play one.  Keep things fast, keep the pace moving, make it feel like a Star Wars movie, dammit!  That style of writing in an RPG book was something I'd not encountered, and as a kid who grew up with Star Wars, this game was a no-brainer.  The cover art...  wow.  The interiors were all stills from the movies or artwork from the production staff (often Ralph McQuarrie!) that very much help set the tone of the game.  The rules run pretty quick, and character creation by template is a snap.  I still keep a couple of sets of these templates in a file folder in my game room for one-off Star Wars games.  This is my gateway drug of choice for teaching people the hobby if for some reason D&D won't work.  Why?  It's easy, it uses the dice everyone already knows from Monopoly, the templates are iconic, and pretty much everyone has seen Star Wars.  The Second Edition and the Revised Second Edition are good games, too - but they make the mistake or realizing they are role-playing games and correct things like not having ammo limitations for weapons and having skills that are too broad. The result is a marginally crunchier game that gets away from Star Wars, to my mind.

Snapshots of Things I Remember About  Star Wars:
  • Putting a Butter Krust book cover on the core book so I could read it in Saturday Detention.
  • Using my vinyl copy of the original Star Wars soundtrack on a turntable to add ambience to the game.
  • This game is when I became aware of my endearing love of the Y-Wing.
  • The Star Warriors fighter combat game (which I got used in Tampa, FL the Christmas we invaded Panama) was awesome, and your RPG characters could be used in it without any need for conversion or modification.
5) - Cyberpunk (also known as Cyberpunk 2013 and Cyberpunk 2020)
Publisher : R. Talsorian Games
Year: 1988
The Rules: 1D10 + Stat + Skill.  Very simple system.  Lifepath character generation gives you some background before you begin.  Combat is unforgiving if you're not wearing armor.  Probably one of my favorite base game systems ever, even if Reflexes is something of a God Stat.  There are classes "roles" but they only limit the one skille each role has exclusively.

Preferred Editions: Either 2013 or 2020 are great.  CP2013 was a boxed set, and represents a fairly solid core.  CP2020 was a stand-alone book with some rule refinements, but the power creep began with the supplements to 2020.

Why I Love It:  I was gifted this game the year it came out.  I'd done space, I'd done fantasy, I'd done stuff based on anime - but this was something different.  This was the Dark Future of... our Earth.  Not a long time ago, etc.  Not some fantasy world.  This was OUR Earth.  And the Japanese Megacorps ruled everything!  Remember that in the 80s the fear of Japanese economic takeover was very real.  This was something new to me - but somehow familiar.  I had Bladerunner on VHS.  I was a huge fan of the Max Headroom TV series.  I had yet to read Neuromancer - but I would after playing this.  This tapped into the Cyberpunk I had been exposed to in media and gave it an outlet.  And it was my very first anti-hero game, where the players weren't explicity trying to be Lawful Good or anything like it.  You were scraping the bottom, just trying to survive, and the future was disposable!  This game brought out the worst in us in a good way.  Getting to play high-tech low-lifes was a blast.  Little did we know in another year there would be a twist to the genre that would blow us away again!  These days, I run Cyberpunk 2020 when I run Cyberpunk - but I have been giving some thought to a limited campaign using only what was in the 2013 boxed set for the same reason I've thought about doing limited D&D (B/X only) or MechWarrior (nothing published after '89) games - to avoid power creep.

Snapshots of Things I Remember About  Cyberpunk:
  • Thinking being a Netrunner would be the coolest thing ever.
  • Thinking that it would be pretty damn stupid to put all your personal and banking information on some kind of world-wide computer network where it could be hacked.  I mean, that's grotesquely stupid, isn't it?
  • Soviet Cyberware.  Soviet anything.  Yakov Smirnoff would still be funny for another year or two when this was written.
  • Jennifer Milburn's solo who liked to kill opponents with a hammer.  A plain old hardware-store hammer.

4) - Robotech
Publisher : Palladium Books
Year: 1986
The Rules:  The Palladium House System used D20s for combat - opposed rolls for dodging, parrying etc.  The skill system is D100.  It's class-level.

Preferred Editions:  That's a tough one.  The original edition was terribly flawed in that it did not accurately reflect a lot of the source material - especially the hardware.  The second edition is more accurate, but has its own issues with character creation and combat.  Don't let me sell you off this game, though - we had a LOT of fun with it, and you can, too.

Why I Love It:  Robotech was the first cartoon I ever watched where someone died.  And when that happened, boy howdy was there wailing and gnashing of teeth that day at River Hills Elementary School in Temple Terrace, FL.  I think we were more upset about Roy Fokker than we were about the space shuttle.  Robotech, as much as it doesn't hold up very well to adult viewing for some people, was ground-breaking.  Yes, a direct translation of Macross would have been better - but it was the 80s, and I'm not sure America was ready for primetime animation that wasn't The Simpsons or The Flintstones.  The Robotech RPG was the first game book I ever purchased with my own money after my birthday in 1987 when I picked up a copy at King's Hobby Shop along with a set of Koplow Games red translucent dice with white ink.  Since Robotech never aired in the Round Rock area, and it had been over a year since any of us had seen it - except the three episodes that could be rented from local movie stores on VHS - we didn't notice a lot of the inconsistencies in the RPG material.  The VR-052 cyclone never had chest missiles.  The radar mast of the Beta Fighter wasn't a missile launcher.  The Super Veritech was just a standard veritech with a FAST pack added, not a separate model... 

  Screw it, the game rocked.  OK, so it wasn't accurate.  Was it fun?  HELL yes.  We ran the crap outta that game, especially the Robotech II : The Sentinels core book that showed us what we would have seen if the Sentinels series had been made.  Fighting the Invid with VF-series Veritechs, using mecha that never existed in the show (VF-1V Vindicator, I'm looking at YOU) and rolling with the alien concepts from the aborted TV show was a blast.  To this DAY I want to run another Sentinels campaign.  A lot.

Snapshots of Things I Remember About  Robotech:
  •  The field scientist kit, chock full of useful items and specimen containers.  You know, for all that science 7th graders do when fighting aliens.
  • Handguns that did more damage than tank guns.
  • Personal armor that could take a tank shell.  WTF?!?
  • The books thankfully included no Minmei recordings.

3) - Shadowrun (And Shadowrun, Second Edition)
Publisher : FASA Corporation
Year: 1989 (Second Edition 1992)
The Rules: Dice pool of D6s, rolling for target numbers.  The first game I played where dice "explode" or roll again when max value is rolled.  The system is... arcane.  Lots of sub-systems.  2nd Edition cleaned it up a bit.  Complex, but the system really supports the game world.

Preferred Editions: 1st and 2nd.  With the publication of Shadowrun 2050, it is not possible to play a 2050s game with the Shadowrun 20th Anniversary rules set.  I may try that.

Why I Love It: Ok, I loved Cyberpunk.  A lot.  Like I said above, Bladerunner, Max Headroom...  Obviously, I liked fantasy as well.  Peanut butter?  Chocolate?  HOLY CRAP.  SHADOWRUN.  This game came at me like a jacked-up Troll Go-Ganger, chummer, and it's hard for me to tell you how wiz that drek is.  Yes, the slang was one of my favorite things.  Another thing I loved was the "shadowtalk" in the sourcebooks, where denizens of the Shadowrun universe would hack into files and leave their own thoughts on things that might differ from the official version.  The weapons commentaries in the Street Samurai Catalog were particularly amusing at times.  "Now I can flatten light rounds against body armor faster than ever before!"  Orcs, Trolls, Dwarves and Elves in a hypertechnological cyberpunk dystopia?  Sign my ass up.  This game was really, really something new.  Mixed genres was something we'd never done before, even if we knew from the back of the AD&D 1e Dungeon Master's Guide that we could port Boot Hill characters into AD&D.  Even if we did play Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.  The mix of magic and tech was a brand new thing at the time - at least to us - and we played the crap out of it.  The rules were complex, but somehow felt right given the source material.  There are rules holes in Shadowrun 1e you could drive an Aries Citymaster through, but if your players aren't actively trying to abuse the rules, it'll hold up well enough.  Shadowrun Second Edition fixed a lot of the abuse-worthy rules, but not all.  Shadowrun 2e is my go-to for Shadowrun these days, ans the Third and Fourth editions committed the unforgivable sin of moving the world forward and trying to adapt it to how modern technology was emerging.  Leave by Cyberpunk firmly 20 minutes into the future of 1987, dammit!  Deckers must jack in!  Decks are the size of a Commodore 64!  The only thing wireless is cellular phones!  Anyway, Shadowrun had this great feel and vibe.  We actually stopped playing straight Cyberpunk for about five years due to Shadowrun.  This game has very much earned its place as #3 on my list.

Snapshots of Things I Remember About  Shadowrun:
  • Running the Universal Brotherhood module for three girls.  It was amazing.  Girls are brutal, heartless and cunning.  Read all about it.
  • My former girlfriend Amy, the Great Love of My Life(tm) and The One That Got Away(tm) as far as my teenage mind was concerned, coming to play dressed as her character.  I still have my Shadowrun First Edition hardcover in which she pinpointed the location of her character's apartment on the Seattle map.
  • The absolutely jaw-dropping combat ability of a cybered-up troll with an axe.  More damage than a 20mm cannon you say?  Yes, most definitely.
  • The ability of that same cybered-up troll to eat three .50 machinegun rounds and only take a wound level of "Moderate"

2) - MechWarrior (and MechWarrior, Second Edition)
Publisher : FASA Corporation
Year: 1986 (First Edition) 1991 (Second Edition)
The Rules: 2D6 task resolution versus target number, skill-based but "classes" do exist insomuch as in-game jobs like MechWarrior or Aerospace Pilot tend to be exclusive.

Preferred Editions: First for atmosphere and feel, Second for game mechanics, my own version for both rolled into one.  That one's forthcoming.  May take a while, though.

Why I Love It:  Because it's MechWarrior.  There aren't too many game universes with as much background and development as the MechWarrior Universe.  I started playing Battletech in 1986 at Chisholm Trail Middle School, we played at lunch, I played the WSP-1A Wasp a lot because I thought it looked cool.  I died a lot because it was a WSP-1A Wasp.  I read Battletechnology Magazine voraciously, and I loved the black and white "photos" of battlefields using models and toys and parts of Robotix sets.  This was the first RPG I ever played where there were five (seven if you count The Star League and The Periphery) House books that were nothing but history and background for the factions in the game.  Hundreds of pages on the political systems, religions, militaries, intelligence agencies... It was mind-boggling, and intriguing and exciting.  I was a House Steiner loyalist almost from the get-go.  My friend Robby Houser has the Davion flag tatoo on his arm.  MechWarrior inspired a level of interest in the world and the factions I'd never encountered before.  The game was amazingly deep compared to other games on the market, and the blend of post-apoc, Dune, giant robots and Starship Troopers was really, really cool to folks like me.  The initial book was full of details about house retinues, landholds, Planetologists, ComStar religious zealots - and the best thing about it was the random event tables and total lack of metaplot beyond 3025 that let you lead your game where you wanted to.  I will say that my deep and abiding love of the MechWarrior universe is rooted firmly in the Third Succession War era.  The further one gets forward in the timeline, the less deep and abiding my love for the universe gets.  My problem is not the normal gripes about The Clans and the technology they bring to the game - my gripe is about the fundamental change to the atmosphere of the game.  MechWarrior 1e is about MechWarriors as Knights.  Their 'Mechs, like an ancestral suit of armor, are handed down the generations.  MechWarriors hold land, and rule from a position of military strength.  The techno-feudal feel is strong, as is the feel of a society in its twilight after centuries of brutal war.  It works for me.  By the time of the 3050 setting, MechWarriors are just jet pilots as far as being special goes.  Well trained, yes, respected, yes - but now that BattleMechs are rolling in ever increasing numbers off the assembly lines the BattleMech has once again become just another piece of military hardware.  A lot of the post-apoc and hard-scrabble feel, not to mention the Pendragon with Giant Robots feel - has gone out the window. 
  The current license holders at Catalyst and their fans love to point out that the Battletech universe would have stagnated without a major shakeup.  Well, if the Fourth War hadn't been glossed over in two volumes, and "20 Year Update" glossed over the rest, how much story could have been told without such a drastic shift in feel?   The friggin Jihad storyline took FOURTEEN YEARS of real-time and they're saying they couldn't get more than four out of the original setting?  I don't buy it.  The new regime's A Time of War RPG is what we're using now for the Royal Dragoon Guards, but it really doesn't "do it" for us any more than any other edition of MechWarrior did - the rules are more than a bit cumbersome (Damage in quarter points?  Really?) and the game tries to cover so much ground it really doesn't carry the feel of Battletech with it at all.  With that in mind, Bobby Dean and I are working on our own take...  Stay tuned for more on that...

Snapshots of Things I Remember About  MechWarrior:
  • Being a young, inexperienced GM and throwing the Slayers from Krull into a MechWarrior game.
  • Clint Hill pulling off a rock star character in a Solaris VII campaign and making it work.  Downward Spiral will henceforth appear in all my Solaris VII games regardless of time period.
  • How the Jim Holloway cover art from MW1e just got my imagination rolling.
  • Falling in love with Melissa Steiner only to see her marry Hanse Davion.  Well played, Hanse.  Well played. 

1) - Dungeons and Dragons Basic
Publisher : TSR Hobbies
Year: 1974-1991
The Rules : Class and Level system.   Elves, Dwarves and Halflings are a class. D20 for attacks, but not "D20 System."  Uses all the classic polyhedral dice, some things are roll high, some things are roll low, by modern game standards a mess.  But oh, what a glorious mess!

Preferred Editions:
1983 Elmore-art Mentzer BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia Version
1980 Erol Otus-art Moldvay B/X Edition

Why I Love It: D&D was my first love.  I played my first game of Dungeons and Dragons during the summer of 1986 with Daniel Varner as my first DM at his house on Dry Creek/Purple Sage Drive.  My love affair with roleplaying games had begun.  My first D&D boxed set was the 1983 set whose cover is posted here.  Larry Elmore, Jim Holloway, Jeff Easley- their art inspired me.  Frank Mentzer's reworking of the Basic D&D rules was easily grasped by my middle-school mind and it wasn't long before I was DMing myself.  I cannot overstress how the art in and on the books and boxes of this series inspired my early D&D games.  This is still my go-to edition of D&D after all these years.  The 1991 Rules Cyclopedia is my "Desert Island" RPG - if I can only have one RPG book to run from for the rest of my life, it's the most complete version of D&D that has ever existed in a single volume.  In later years, I obtained the 1980 Erol Otus-cover Basic and Expert sets, as well as the earlier Holmes blue-cover edition from 1977.  All of them have more than just historical merit.  There has been a movement lately to base new versions of fantasy RPGs on the simplicity and completness as a game.  There is SO MUCH MILAGE you can get out of just the Basic and Expert rules.  Also - the default setting for the 1980 and beyond sets, the Known World or Mystara, is awesome and gonzo.  The Grand Duchy of Karameikos has been the backdrop for many, many epic campaigns and entertaining one-shots.

Snapshots of Things I Remember about D&D Basic:
  • You never forget your first.  Come on, that has to count for something.
  • My Cleric, Brother Maynard of the Holy Outhouse, bravely fighting demons all summer at Lost Pines Scout Camp, where Troop 145 was much more interested in D&D than they were in all that scouting stuff...
  • My first wizard being killed by the acid breath of a dragon we had subdued while attempting to feed bag the dragon.  This was done by the DM intentionally because said wizard was around 20th level and way too powerful for the campaign, which we played most days after school and almost every Saturday for 6th, 7th and part of 8th grades.
  • Thinking level limits on demihumans was awesome - because hey, an 8th-level Halfling becomes SHERRIFF OF HIS OWN FRIGGIN SHIRE.  How cool is that?  Also, the artifacts each demi-human race was able to create as they levelled up.  Who needed levels when you kept advancing in Attack Rank anyway?
Variants and Spin-Offs:
  I have to give a shout-out to a couple of games which are derivative of D&D Basic under the OSR (Original Source Rules) movement.  These are also called Retroclones, as they are clones of the rules of Basic D&D.  While these games are, fundamentally, Basic D&D each one seeks to do something with the rules that Basic D&D didn't do.  Here they are, and why I recommend them.

Labyrinth Lord
What It Does: Keeps Basic D&D in Print.

Why I Like It: It's a modernized presentation of B/X D&D in a sturdy, attractive volume.  The rules are almost unchanged, close enough that old modules can be run with no coversion.  There are modules, a GM screen, and the Advanced Edition Companion which allows it to expand to cover AD&D as well.

Oh, and it's FREE in PDF.

Stars Without Number
What it Does:  Shows us what would have happened if Basic/Expert Dungeons and Dragons made sweet, sweet love to Traveller and they had a beautiful child.

Why I Like It: SWN is brilliant.  I say that with a twinge of pain because I was working on my own sci-fi adapation of B/X when this came out.  It did everything I wanted my version to do and more - and it did it better.  Honestly, this game rocks HARD.  It has a core of Basic D&D, but adds a skill system that is 2D6+Skill+Mods for a very simple, Traveller-like skill experience.  It has domains and factions, and the tools to manage them and place them in conflict with one another.  It has vehicle and startships - even 'Mechs.  This is one hell of a one-volume game.

And oh, yeah, it's FREE in PDF.

Adventurer Conqueror King System
What it Does: Takes the endgame from Basic D&D in which PCs become rulers and influential folks, and turns it up to 12.

Why I Like It:  This is Basic/Expert D&D with explicit phases of a campaign.  The low levels are "Adventurer" and play like most D&D campaigns.  As you ease into "Conqueror" you start finding a different flavor of adventure as your PC becomes the most proficient in the land at what it is you do.  Graduating to "King" levels, your PCs are carving out their own domains.  This game really brings depth and interest to the old "At 9th level the Fighter may construct a Castle..."  Lots of depth.  Domain management, economy, war...  It's all here in wonderful detail with simple mechanics.  A few new character classes round out the game, along with an explicit table showing just how good at their job a character of 1st-14th level is.  14th level, as in the original Expert set, is the upper limit of this game.  I haven't gotten to run it yet, but I've read the book longingly, wondering where all my time to game has gone and then remembering oh, yeah, parenthood and college...

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG
What it Does: Sword & Sorcery roleplaying, perhaps better than D&D did it.

Why I Like It:  This game gave me a hummer, then kicked me in the jimmy so hard I just had to run it.  First, DCC got me with the artwork.  Oh, the artwork.  Jeff Dee, Erol Otus, the list goes on.  It is old school in the best of ways and the art just begs to play the kind of gonzo sword-and-sorcery stuff that cries out for a million Boris Vallejo paintings.  This game is brutal and beautiful at the same time.  Fighters are capable of amazing deeds of might without a cumbersome feat system.  Arcane spellcasters run the risk of corruption regardless of their alignment, and Clerics must take care not to offend their gods.  Death waits around every corner, especially due to the fact that in the first adventure of the campaign each player rolls up multiple completely random 0-level characters.  The one that survives the first adventure gets to be first level.  Some might chafe at the extreme old-school sensibilities of this game, but the group I ran a 0-level grinder for loved the ever living crap out of it.  This game is simply amazing in its ability to capture the feel of all those stories of "the way it was done in the 70s" and do it with modern mechanics.  Don't expect modern mechanics to include class balance or any of those other newfangled concepts, though.  This game is old school through-and-through, and that makes it pretty damn awesome.

And Parents We Shall Be!

Greetings, True Believers!

  Court on 19 OCT went well.  Very well.  We were told to expect to have an adoption date set sometime in February or March.  HUZZAH!  I cannot wait to make the world an introduction to the kids, as we're not allowed to do so while they're still in foster care.  No public photos, and I can't really even mention their full names.

 So... if everything goes well with the 90-day waiting period - IE, no close relatives come unexpectedly out of the woodwork...  Mary and I will be the legal parents of our foster kids and there will be much rejoicing.

(With apologies to The Man)

The Old Dragoon

26 September 2012

Long awaited update...

  This past weekend the Royal Dragoons hosted an Open Game Day, which was attended by Jeff Dee, who presented a demo of his new game, Cavemaster.  We invited a lot of folks, a LOT of folks... in the end, we had around thirty participants.  What was nice was we saw some folks we haven't seen in quite some time - Sean, Patrick, Sarah, Kathy, Alan, Mitchell and especially Larry.  Was good to see you all.  More about that in a bit.

  Life updates before I get all philosophical.  Everyone who reads my sporadic posts is pretty well aquainted with my hectic life.  In fact, I'll have to post most posts as I can about some of the revelations I've had recently thanks to life, children and the therapist I've been seeing for almost a year now.  Anyway...  From a maximum weight of 308, I am now down to 265 on my way to my TXSG weight of 217.  Actually, I'm shooting for 200.  Nice round number - one I haven't seen since my junior year of High School, but what the hell, right?  Gotta have goals.  I am two classes away from my BA - I finish my last final this week for the current semester, then I start Korean War History and War and Society on Monday.  By just after Thanksgiving, I'll be done.  Huzzah.  On the kid front, we've had some great frustration with CPS and our daycare arrangements that required me to spend three days off work taking care of K.  I loved every minute of it.  She and I had some wonderful daddy-daughter time.

  Remember that moment in Jurassic Park when people freaked out when they realized Raptors could open doors?  Problem-solving intelligence?  Well, my 16-month-old has shown me in the past days that not only does she understand the relationship between the X-Box controller and the television, but she understands that Cat5 cable goes into the wall (and attempted to plug one in herself) and that the "Windows" key on my keyboard makes something immediately happen on my PC or laptop.  Holy crap this little girl is SHARP.

  Anyway...  so the mediation was yesterday where the parties to the case discussed the future of the kiddos.  and after angsting about what was going to come out of that meeting I find out we're not ALLOWED to know what happened in that meeting.  As Foster Parents of less than one year in duration, we're still not legally parties to the case.  Still just the babysitters.  Damnit.

  I'll have some gaming-related posts later this week.  Since I'm finishing my classwork tomorrow AM hopefully, I'll have some time to post about the awesome stuff I've come across in the last couple of months...

02 July 2012

Time Marches On... Updates!

  Good morning, True Believers.  OK, I'm not Stan Lee, but thanks to Z I've been watching a lot of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.  And He-Man.  And I've now seen every Beethoven movie about 167 times.

  Quick updates on... stuff... and then on to some new games (new to me, at least) I'd like to draw your attention to before I plunge into this week's adventures in finishing my BA.

  Well, things are still up-in-the-air.  SSDD.  Our caseworker for CPS has left the department to move up north somewhere and get married.  Huzzah for him!  Hope he knows what he's in for...  That leaves us, once again, with a new caseworker.  Who is it?  Well, your guess is as good as mine this morning.  We've been without a caseworker for over a week now.  Fun, fun.

  We had a surprise court date come up last month.  Birth mom's lawyer filed for immediate change of placement for the kids.  The Judge said negatory to that, but did order that visits would have to begin with the "fictive kin" the parents want to see the kids placed with.  And so they have, which has made the case more complicated.  First of all, CASA and the Ad Lidem Attorney surprised us by being overwhelmingly supportive of the kids staying right where they are, with the Ad Lidem going so far as to tell the Judge she felt it was wrong to call these new visits "pre-placement visits" as the Ad Lidem's office does not agree this is an appropriate placement for the children.  We'll see how far they can get that line of reasoning to go.  I hope all the way, as it would mean we'd have a shot at adopting Z and K. 

  What has occurred is now we have to schedule two visits per week, one with the birth parents, and one with these fictive kin.  Mary and I have gotten to know them over the two visits that have already occurred, they are good people.  A bit long in the tooth to be raising toddlers, but their hearts are in the right place.  I've found that I remember a lot more Spanish than I thought I did, and I am able to communicate fairly well even though Mary requires translation by one of their teenage kids.  They have a son who is going to be a Senior and a daughter who I think is going to be a sophomore.  The kids speak fluent English and Spanish.  If Z and K end up living with them, I will feel a little less troubled than I did before I got to know them, but I still feel their optimal situation would be for us to adopt them.  Better neighborhood, schools, and an amazing support structure of family and "fictive kin" on our end.

  K turned 1 in May, Z turned 3.  We had small parties for both of them, with K being way too clean with her cupcake for a 1-year-old and Z riding the train at Zilker Park.  These kids are so much of our lives now - they ARE our family.  As far as they are concerned, Mary and I are mommy and daddy.  I hope, for the sake of their stability and growth, that we remain so.  Our CASA worker mentioned in court that the bonds formed at this point in a child's development have an overwhelming effect on their ability to form close connections for the rest of their lives.  That alone is enough for me to fight for these kids - not to mention the fact that I love them with all my heart.

  K has learned now to point at Mary and say "Ma ma."  She points at me and says "Da da."  She has learned that pointing is effective in letting us know what she wants, like her sippy cup or some of Mommy's fries.  She also loves green beans - so I cook them often.  She's scooting around like lightning, and we expect her to be walking soon.

  Z is having some temper issues of a different kind.  Unlike the wild, primal tantrums he had when we were first placed with him, he's acting like an angry 3-year-old- which he is, when he's angry.  He doesn't like to be corrected (who does?) and we're working with him on it.  He's also going through his hitting phase, so we're dealing with that.  I got him Castle Grayskull for his birthday, the original 1982 one, and some He-Man figures.  Yeah, he's a little young for it - but Mommy and Daddy watch him while he plays and he's a very smart little boy.

  We watched E.T. with Z the other night.  I keep getting blown away by the experience of being a dad for the first time, and this was no different.  For the first 20 minutes or so, we thought he wasn't going to pay attention to the movie- then he got drawn into it, snuggled up with me, and stayed rapt for the rest of the film.  When the guys in the space suits showed up at Elliot's home, Zane pointed and yelled "I don't like that!!!  Scary!"  He loved the movie.  And I got to watch E.T. through the eyes of a child who had never seen the film before.  It was a pretty moving experience, watching his expressions and reactions to the movie- it was like I was seeing it for the first time.  I noticed things I never noticed before.  Being a dad is amazing.


  Aside from the foster parent shuffle, I have to report that my body has finally sent me the message my friends, family, and Dr. Lisa have been trying to tell me since November.  I am not a superbeing, I cannot do it all, I need to slow down.  I landed in my doctor's office with what is probably a stress-related illness.  Too soon to absolutely tell, but all the indications are there.  I'll have to go back for some follow-up work, but it seems I have something akin to a dissociative anxiety disorder that caused me to explode into the most severe case of hives I have ever had in my life for four days plus.  Benadryl, which knocked hives out in 30 minutes when I was a kid and had them with some frequency, did nothing.  I was perscribed some super-antihystamine that did work after a few days, but it knocked me on my butt.  My office mate was chuckling at me for two days as I kept falling asleep at my desk courtesy of my meds.  So - I HAVE to slow down.  I've been looking over my posts and realizing that I've been saying I was going to slow down for months, and I was going to run that "for me" game Dr. Lisa thinks I need to help me relax, and a whole bunch of other stuff.

  Well...  Now I kinda gotta.  I kept telling myself if I just put my head down and kept marching I'd reach the goal line.  My goal line was this November or December, basically because by then I'll know if Z and K will be ours permanently, I will have finished my BA course work and started a well-earned break before beginning my MA, and should be sworn in to the State Guard by then.  All my major stressors resolved more or less.  Well, I didn't make it that far.  So I've enacted a few changes that are supposed to make my life easier, and if this last weekend is any indication - it's starting to work.

  First of all, I have to have the discipline to get my schoolwork done during the work week, preferably during work hours as my job permits.  This allows me to have my weekend to do weekend stuff, rather than stressing about homework.  I crunched HARD last week to achieve this, and I can tell you my weekend was much more laid back without worrying about setting aside Saturday or Sunday for homework.  So that much helped.

  Second - some chores can just wait.  If it's not mission critical to do something RIGHT THE HELL NOW I am going to consider going to bed at a decent hour every night after some leisure reading time.  I've been able to do this for about four days now, and it does help immensely.  Strangely, this weekend I was MORE productive on the chores front, since I found I was feeling more rested and motivated.  I got a lot of work done on the game room - including scrubbing the floors by hand, vacuuming, and doing a bit of re-org and re-shelving.  Someday I want to do a complete catalogue of my stuff...  But that's major project for a later time.

  Third - a leisure game will happen.  Period.  It has to.  I must disengage my brain.  Gaming is the way I do that.  Sure, it's escapism - but it's healthy escapism.  And it stimulates that imagination part of my brain that I find absolutely vital to feeling like "me" and not an automaton.  What will it be?  That's the question.  And to with who?  That's another problem.  TO MY FRIENDS - For the love of sweet merciful crap.  Life is too short for us to hold onto crappy grudges and stuff.  I've done it - and I wish I hadn't.  I'm sick and tired of having to plan crap around which of you yahoos can stand to be in a room with one another and which can't.  Once upon a time we were all one big happy group, and we can be again.  I know we've hurt each other, and it's been everything from personality issues to folks cheating on each other or breaking up or whatever.  It's time to move past this stuff and enjoy life.  Dammit.


  Still working on getting my weight down.  But dammit, it's going to happen.  My mates all went to Annual Training without me, but by God they impressed their chain of command and told them it was all due to the training I've given them.  I want to get off the bench and back into uniform - for the first time in my life as a soldier rather than as a cadet.  I will be a soldier or NCO in the 3/2 before the end of the year.  Big goal.  Gonna make it.  Hooah.


  Ok, what you've all been waiting for.  The fun part. 

  First, I want to talk to you all about Cosmic Patrol, by Catalyst Game Labs.  This little red hardcover is definitely worth the price of admission.  Cosmic Patrol is just what it says on the tin, folks - pulp sci-fi gaming with rayguns and fishbowl helmets.  The system?  Imagine if FATE and Savage Worlds had a lovechild.  Abilities are rated in dice, D4 through D12, you have plot points you can spend, and your characters have "cues" that are very much like FATE aspects, but don't have a mechanical effect - rather, they are there to help you get into character.  There are Red Martian Barbarians, Venusian Scientists, lots of pulpy aliens... this game would be amazing for pickups and one-shots.  Character creation is pretty quick and straightforward, and the rules are extremely light.  The other nifty thing?  Well, you can share GM duties.  In the default style of play, each player takes a turn as "Lead Narrarator" and GMs once scene before the mantle passes to the left.  Player doesn't know all the rules?  Well, no problem.  The LN doesn't have to set difficulty numbers or make up monsters.  The bad guys are in the book, and the difficulties are set by rolling a D20.  Done.  Check this book out, or download the free preview that was handed out on free RPG day back in June.  If you're a fan of old school sci-fi or the old black-and-white serials like Flash Gordon this is for you.  http://www.rpggeek.com/rpg/11720/cosmic-patrol

  Next up - my Reese's Traveller games.  Why do I call them that?  Because in both cases Traveller is the peanut butter, and something else is the chocolate.  In the case of Stars Without Number, the chocolate is good old B/X Dungeons and Dragons.  For Diaspora, it's FATE.

  Stars Without Number is available for free online, or as a hardcover book.  This is sort of a retroclone, in fact as I read it I got the feeling this very well could have been what resulted if the TSR staff circa Moldvay Basic had decided they wanted to do a more direct competitor to Traveller instead of going their own way with Star Frontiers (which I love, too...)  So, SWN is a class-level game with only three classes - warrior, expert and psionic.  There is a skill system that uses 2D6 task resolution, which means easy adaptation of older Traveller or MechWarrior material.  There's ship construction, planet and sector generation, even notes on simple artifact mecha.  SWN also has an amazing section on factions and how to use them.  Everything from basic mercenary units to full-on stellar empires.  Also of interest to any Game Master is the section on names for characters and places.  Lots and lots of tables of names based on multiple backgrounds and ethnicities.  This information alone is worth the download- but the game itself is pretty darn good.  We all know I have a deep and abiding love of Battletech, Dungeons and Dragons, and Travller, right?  So I've got this idea to do a Battletech game with SWN since the faction system would work GREAT for a Succession Wars game.

  My final notes today are on Diaspora.  I don't have a lot to say about it at this time, as I've only owned it for about 48 hours and haven't gotten to dig into the meat of the book - but the authors credit it specifically as a FATE take on Traveller.  This, too, is pursuant to my interests.  Also - I'm thinking about doing Battletech with it.  Again.  I guess I'm just so disillusioned with A Time of War that I keep looking for other systems to run in that universe with.  SWN would scratch my old-school itch, but Diaspora definitely has that FATE narrarative quality that some of my friends call "Tree Huggin' Hippy Roleplay."  I like it.  It has all the... erm... aspects... of a FATE game, along with minigames concerning star cluster development, ship combat, ground combat on the platoon scale, factions...  Yeah, it might be tailored to be FATE Battletech if only there were a specific section on 'Mechs.  Maybe I'll get to write more on this one when I get to read the rest of the book.

  Well, that's all for now, folks.  Excelsior!

05 June 2012

The Battle of Hoth - An Exam Question

Many thanks to my Maneuver Warfare Instructor, Professor Carl Bradshaw, for having a sense of humor.  It had been an long an interesting semester and I encountered, as the last question on the final exam, the writing prompt below.  Please note that I got a 100% on the final, 20% of which was based on this question.
Describe a battle in terms of the tenets, doctrine, or principles of maneuver warfare. What concepts led to the success or failure for a particular organization?

The Battle of Hoth in 3ABY represented a clear example of combined arms maneuver over static defense. The inexperience of the strategic leadership of The Alliance to Restore the Republic resulted in their Hoth encampment being fortified to withstand a determined assault - yet the Alliance forces had neither the troops nor the equipment to stand off a serious attack by the Galactic Empire, as the historical account of the battles bears out.

The defenders displayed a complete lack of insight into the necessary requirements of maneuver warfare in their defensive operations. In digging into static positions, they denied themselves any sort of agility to maneuver. Their concept of combined arms integration was poor - indeed they employed their air cavalry assets in direct attack on the enemy armor column. This was a deseperate measure that resulted in some Imperial losses at the cost of irreplacable Rebel pilots and aircraft. The employment of leg infantry supported by outdated heavy weapons did little but result in heavy infantry casualties when faced with Imperial armored assets. The static nature of the Alliance defenses allowed the Imperial commander, Major General Maximillian Veers, to control the tempo of the operation and employ his forces as a scalpel, rather than a hammer.

The initial Imperial plan called for surprise, but this advantage was lost due to the ineffecient maneuvering of Admiral Kendal Ozzel's naval forces. Once the amphibious assault was underway, MG Veers made the decision to land his troops out of range of the Alliance defenders and pursue an overland assault deploying his forces in a two-pronged attack that included a diversionary head-on assault, and a secondary force commanded by Veers himself that was focusing on the true objective - the Alliance's infrastructure and power generators.

MG Veers displayed a clear sense of objective in selecting the infrastructure as the main objective of his attack, as the destruction of the generator system would render much of the Rebel defenses inoperable, thereby allowing his forces to advance with an even greater degree of superiority. His concentration of heavy armor and scout armor coupled with mechanized infantry showed an awareness of integrated combined arms, although one could argue that with proper air cover MG Veers could have avoided any armor losses at all. His delay in employing his dismounted infantry until after the Rebel line had been broken was a keen example of force protection, while the head-on thrust of the diversionary force against the Rebel center demonstrated both audacity and misdirection. Using just enough of his armor in the decisive attack against the generator facilities while leaving enough to make the frontal attack convincing showed a concern for economy of force, and ensuring that his subordinates all had recieved copies of his OPORD and a clearly stated commander's intent assured unity of command.

The plan was sufficiently simple as to be executed with minor changes on-the-fly, compensating for the loss of the expected element of surprise. One heavy diversionary attack to fix the enemy and one maneuver force to destroy the initial objective was a clear, simple and historically effective plan on the part of MG Veers.

A failure to anticipate the Imperial commander's intent on the part of Rebel General Carlist Rieekan resulted in the only effective anti-armor assets the Rebels had at Hoth being directed against the diversionary frontal attack, and allowing MG Veers and his party to approach the true objective almost without resistance. The end result was the most decisive defeat of the Alliance to Restore the Republic during the Galactic Civil War, and cost the Alliance dearly in personnel and materiel.

<Please take this in the spirit in which it is intended, given our TDG lessons>

08 May 2012

Yo Joe! - Some "Comfort Food" Gaming

  Let's get the Real Life(tm) stuff out of the way.  After all that communication about moving our foster kids - things went quiet a week ago and have been eerily so for days.  Nobody seems to know anything - maybe something went bad with the possible homestudy?  Anyway, I'm now Packet-15lbs, having lost 15 lbs since submitting my Texas State Guard paperwork.  Maybe this will be enough to swear in on 12 MAY?  We'll see.  Since I opened my big mouth about being a gamer - specifically a wargamer - in my Maneuver Warfare calss at AMU, I'm now Blue Team Commander... COBRAAAAAA!

  So let's talk about Comfort Food Gaming.  As I get older, I begin to notice that when I get stressed or frustrated with life, I tend to "run home to Mama" as Sonarman Jones from Red October would have put it.  I listen to 80s rock.  I watch "Cheers" and "Night Court."  And I have the urge to play games I loved in the 80s, when gaming was a new hobby for me.  A lot of times this means D&D, AD&D, Traveller, TMNT, Robotech, Star Trek, Paranoia, Marvel Superheroes, Star Frontiers, Gamma World...

  A coupla days ago, we played GI Joe.  Now, there was never an official GI Joe roleplaying game - which I think is a terrible, terrible missed opportunity.  There have been some really good homages to GI Joe - such as Strike Force 7, Real American H.E.R.O.es, and of course Cartoon Action Hour - which I did some development work on back in The Day (the first edition, rather than the current edition linked here.)  There is also a great conversion for Marvel Superheroes here.  I chose to use Spycraft 2.0 for the game I ran, as the three players I had were familiar with D20 - as the day went on, I started to realize that Spycraft makes changes and additions to D20 that I'd forgotten about, and the players certainly hadn't been aware of them, either.  A lot of them are good changes, but they do add significant crunch.  If we continue to play, which the players want to, I'll have to really bone up on Spycraft 2.0 to make sure the players and the GM are getting the most out of the system.

  This game combined one of my favorite TV/Comic franchises from my childhood with my favorite hobby and delivered a really awesome day of stress-release.  Mary took the kids out and about as would be normal for an RDG meeting day, but since it's finals week and most of our players couldn't make it, I ended up with three players plus me.  Hence the one-shot opportunity.  GI Joe caught the imaginations of a couple of the players, and so we decided to give it a swing.

  We convened at 1100, and character gen took us until 1300.  Why two hours?  Well, Spycraft 2.0 is D20, but it's a particularly crunchy D20.  Feats and skills are implemented in a very structured way, which changes some of the base assumptions players of D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder may have.  There are new concepts added, like result caps for skill rolls, threat ranges for all skills, and the application of Action Dice.  There was a bit of a learning curve.  For those of you who'd like to try Spycraft 2.0, I heartily recommend this excel spreadsheet which will help you create characters.  It's a godsend.

  From 1300 to 2300 we played.  And played.  And it was most triumphant.

  The game was set in 1983, to take advantage of the original GI Joe team.  Our players were a Soviet scientist who had defected to the US, a member of the US Olympic rifle team, and a former-US Army CIA spook.  The game was broken into two sessions as I had thought my wife would be taking the kids home at around 1800, so I figured that was my turn-into-a-pumpkin hour.  As it happened, she didn't finish watching movies until 2300, and the kids just fell asleep over at her friend's house.  So we got a second adventure in from 1800-2300.

Session One -
  A mysterious series of psychiatric events begins to occur with US personnel in Germany, formerly stable personnel experience violent paranoia episodes and must be restrained and sedated.  What begins as an isolated incident at a border post slowly becomes multiple incidents, too many to be coincidence.  Intelligence wants to bring in the aforementioned Soviet defector, as he has experience with a KGB biological agent that was designed to cause just such paranoid outbursts - but was never quite stable.  The PC Agent was assigned to be his handler while he was in Germany doing the investigating, but before he could arrive, two members of the US Olympic team were stricken by the illness.  One of the witnesses is our third PC.  All of them are brought together in an invesitgation that had all the hallmarks of a good Cold War spy thriller.  Car chase.  Checkpoint Charlie.  A cigarette gun.  An assassin found assassinated.  Tensions across the Wall.  It was awesome, but wasn't quite clicking as GI Joe.  That said, I had a GREAT time, and so did the players.  Over the course of the session, we introduced some GI Joe characters by their file names,  but didn't yet hint at the team's existence.  Once the investigation turned up a refined version of the original KGB formula, and the Soviet scientist concocted a counteragent, they managed to track and capture Major Sebastian Bludd.  Bludd was apparently there to do away with the bottom-level agents who did the actual placing of the bio-agent, and the PCs were in the right place at the right time to nab him.
  The end of Session One had Colonel Dexter Sharp and Master Sergeant Conrad Hauser offering the PCs a place on a new kind of counter-terrorist team.  Since they'd all seen so much in Germany, and since they all had unique skills that could come in handy...  They accepted, and were flown back to Staten Island, New Jersey.  Fort Wadsworth, to be exact.

Session Two -
  The PCs meet SPC Lance "Clutch" Stienberg, the wrench-turner who takes them to the Fort Wadsworth motor pool - and under it.  To The Pit (original comics incarnation.)  The two players who were more familiar with Joe were smiling at all the references, and all three knew enough to know who they were dealing with when codenames started to be used as nicknames.  The Base Commander was Colonel Clayton "Hawk" Abernathy  and they met Alvin "Breaker" Kibbey who jokingly suggested the name "GI Joe" for the team when it was revealed the project didn't have an official designation yet besides some obscure DOD budgetary obfuscation name.  Hawk gave Breaker no end of disapproval on naming the team after a 1960s-70s action figure, and refused to consider the name. 
  Banking on none of the players having read the comic recently, I basically ran Operation : Lady Doomsday from Marvel GI Joe #1.  After qualifying with weapons, the players were summoned to a morning briefing with the rest of the team, who chided them on their credentials and offered some rather uncomplimentary ideas for codenames.  The situation was explained that Dr. Adele Burkhart had been kidnapped by a shadowy terrorist group, and due to political realities needed to be rescued as quickly as possible.

  The team was led by our PCs, with Clutch, Zap and Torpedo assigned to round out the team.  The infiltrated the island with a Zodiac boat, and using a great Google Maps-style depiction of Cobra Island found here they planned their mission.  This is where it went from Top Secret/SI to GI Joe.  Sneaking around Cobra island, they got their first look at the bluesuits, the Stinger jeep, the HISS tank, and Cobra's volcano base.  They waylaid a Cobra patrol, stole their uniforms, and snuck into the base by causing an explosion at the airfield as a distraction.  Once inside, they encountered a pompous Crimson Guard officer who had been left in charge of the base in the absence of Cobra brass, who lectured them on their slovenly appearance and lack of professionalism.  As he was telling them how Cobra would give back just as much as any trooper decided to put in, and all the wonderful rewards for faithful and competent service to Cobra, the team decided they were tired of listening to his guff and executed a lightning-fast attack to neutralize the officer, the armed members of Cobra in the room, and rescue Dr. Burkhart.

  Setting charges, they beat feet back to the Volcano motor pool, stole a vehicle, and broke radio silence to call for extraction.  A flight of Sky Strikers from the USS Nimitz laid down some AGM cover, while Wild Bill picked up the team in a Tomohawk.  When the helicopter landed, they saw that someone had painted "GI Joe" on the side of the helicopter nose-art style.  The PCs cheered.  They lifted off, mission accomplished, and returned with the Sky Strikers to the Nimitz, meeting Hawk there and recieving his congratulations for rescuing Dr. Burkhart and putting a hurt on this mysterious terrorist organization that was apparently larger, better financed and more organized than anyone had suspected.  Hawk grimaces at the new paint job on the Tomohawk, but says nothing until Breaker comes out onto the flight deck to tell him he has a radio call - from the President.  As Hawk walks back to the carrier's island to take the call, one of the PCs jokingly says "Yo Joe."  The cry is immediately picked up by the rest of the PCs, and the session ends with Hawk turning around and yelling "BREAKER!"

  The team hath been named, methinks.

  So we had a friggin blast playing GI Joe.  The players and I hope to do it again.  It was a great stress release for me, and  a definite double-portion of comfort food gaming.  I want to explore Joe gaming some more, and see if I can't squeeze it into my busy schedule...



02 May 2012

Life... Don't talk to me about life...

  It's May, and once again I've gone a month without blogging.  I have these aspirations of weekly updates and lively conversations about gaming and parenthood - like what it says on the box - but somethimes life intervenes in such a way that I just don't get to.

  So let's sum up the last month.  The Good?  I finished my previous semester with a pair of As, my GPA is 3.71, and if I can take my classes as scheduled, 2 per 8 weeks with no gaps, I should have my BA in Military History around Thanksgiving.  Huzzah.  I then plan to take a month or two off, and then dive into my MA.  I'm looking forward to teaching.  A lot.  My little girl has learned to crawl, and is aaaaalmost standing on her own.  I look at her and I no longer see a baby (sniffle) but a very cute toddler.  Her brother has continued to learn, learn, learn and he wants to know all about the world.  His latest fascination is with water towers.  He makes sure Mary and I never miss one when we're driving.

  The bad.  Washing machine died.  My iPhone no longer gets singal pretty much anywhere and refuses to charge most of the time.  We had another minor flood - this one avoidable as someone left the tap on.  The casualties were some of the brand new floor is a bit warped and my copy of Neuromancer got destroyed as it had fallen to the bedroom floor between my nightstand and the bed.

  Oh, and the State apparently wants to take the kids away.  They've found "fictive kin" who they believe might be an appropriate placement for the kiddos.  I disagree emphatically, there are lots of problems with this move, not the least of which being that Z will not be able to communicate with these folks as he doesn't speak Spanish and they don't speak English - AND the family is already on government assistance, so adding two kids to their mix certainly won't make their situation any better.  Or will it?  My Dad and grandmother seem to thing that may be the point - to get more government money for having two more kids.  I don't want to assume that's these folks motivation, but they are grandparent age, and I don't think they're up to chasing around a pair of toddlers.  Also - Z *needs* to be in daycare.  Our pediatrician and the Childhood Development folks made it quite clear that a lot of his development thus far is due to his being socialized with kids his own age.  What's the plan if the kids are moved to this other family?  Stay at home with the abuelita all day.  The woman with which he won't be able to communicate.

  At State Guard Drill two Saturdays ago, when I was having trouble with the State's sudden wish to remove "my" children, a good friend pointed out to me that the State I was about to swear to protect and defend with my life, if need be, was not only telling me I was too fat to be useful to them but also that they wanted to take my kids and give them to a family who was obviously not going to be able to give them the opportunities Mary and I can.  Do I still want to serve Texas?  Yes, I do - the only thing more important to me than finally getting a chance at the military service I was denied when I was younger is the preservation of my family.  It does create a conflict when Texas is the entity that is trying to take my family away from me...  Yes, I know they're foster children and this was always a possibility - but you try to live with two wonderful children for months and not develop intense emotional ties to them.  To Z and K, Mary and I are their whole world.  Our friends are their aunts and uncles.  Our parents are their grandparents.  They have this huge family unit that is nurturing and taking care of them.  Why mess with that?

  Weight loss is going well, I'm somewhere between 10 and 12 pounds down from where I rebooted my dieting for TXSG.  The annoying part is between stress and having caught K's case of HMFD last week, I'm kinda plateau'd.  Kicking the gym back in this week, and doing Atkins induction again.  I'm juuuust barely in the 270s, I want to try to break the 260s this month.  I'll call it a win if I weight 269.9 by 1 JUN.  If, between diet and exercise, I can lose 2.5lbs a week, I'll consider that acceptable, marginally healthy weight loss.  I know it's possible to lose faster, but not in a sustainable healthy way.  My goal is to be an even 200lbs.  TXSG wants me at 217, the US Army says I should be 184.  I figgure 200 is splitting the difference.

  Gaming...  I know a couple of you out there read this rambling for my thoughts on gaming.  So - here we go on that front.  I am absolutely PUMPED for the release of Shadowrun 2050 - it's everything I want in a Shadowrun game, hopefully.  4A rules, and 1e fluff.  The original feel of Shadowrun coupled with the best set of rules they ever published for the game.  Count me in for that - I like my Cyberpunk firmly rooted 20 minutes into the future of 1987.  Give me Pink Mohawk, give me cyberdecks that look like someone put a guitar strap on a Commodore 64.  Jack in, turn on, drop out.  Yeah, baby.  Also in the news Jordan Weisman has re-aquired the rights to Shadowrun video games and is putting out a game in the vein of the Super Nintendo and Sega Shadowrun games.  The kickstarter for this asked for $400,000, and it got over $1,750,000.  Shows you how much love there is for Shadowrun, the old games, and the 2050s setting.

  I continue to feel burned out on my major project, the Royal Dragoon Guards.  I love what we've built, the characters, the stories, the history...  But I just can't feel as motivated about it as I used to.  That's actually a problem that's pervading my whole existence right now - there's things I have to do, but very few things I want to do.  I'm kinda stuck in that terrible rut we all saw our parents in and swore we'd never succumb to.  I've got work, school, and parenthood duties.  Those things HAVE to be taken care of.  Beyond that, there's RDG.  That HAS to be done for the sake of the players.  I don't really look forward to it anymore.  It's work.  I don't want it to go away... It's something I poured my heart and soul into for years.  I just no longer get the enjoyment out of it that I used to - it's always a slog, and I hate that I feel this way.  I have the occasional burst of energy that allows me to get some plot written, or have some great talks with Bobby and Ed and Scott about the direction the game is going to go... but then all that happy gaming glow just dissipates and I'm left wishing I could spend what precious gaming time I do have doing something... else.

  Look, I've been the architect behind several monumentally awesome gaming clubs.  The original Caladan Highland Dragoons, the USS Ark Angel, the 342nd MSG, and now the Royal Dragoon Guards.  Each of them had a good run, 5-8 years, and to be honest the RDG is the spiritual successor to the CHD - they're all children of the same concept, refinements of the same dream.  I don't consider any of them to have failed - because they all continued in a different form.

  I suppose what I'm wanting from my gaming life now is changing back to what I wanted from it when I was muuuuch younger.  When I think of the kind of gaming that would make me happy - what would really put me in my happy place - I think of a small group of friends, me and 5-6 players, sitting around a table with snacks and music, playing a really great game.  The games I think of are often things that floated my boat in the 80s and 90s - D&D, AD&D, Traveller, Twilight : 2000, Paranoia, Ghostbusters, Star Wars D6, Cyberpunk/Shadowrun, Earthdawn, Space : 1889, Marvel Superheroes, Star Frontiers, Top Secret/SI, Renegade Legion, MechWarrior (early editions)...  RuneQuest, Rolemaster, Pendragon...

  Could it be possible that the architect in me is tired?  Could it be possible that that drive within me to create something larger than myself is finally ready to admit that if something must be kept together by force of will, maybe it's just to much for me to continue to do so?  Do I just need a rest or a break and the old me will come back with a vengeance?


  I know for a fact that all this stress about losing the kids, coupled with things getting dicey at work with threatened staff moves and maybe even a couple of firings, sprinkled liberally with Mary's job always being up in the air and her company always on the brink of insolvency, then seasoned with being forever buried in schoolwork thanks to 8-week semesters without a real break in between them (even over the holidays) and things that keep being destroyed around the house...  all this stress has me just wanting to turtle.  To revert to 1987 when I loved Cheers, Night Court, Star Trek the Next Generation, and sitting in my Mom's kitchen playing D&D with my school friends.  My heart and my mind want to go back to a simpler time.  Classic TV takes me there.  I've caught myself watching the above shows, plus SNL from when I was in middle school and high school.  Listening to the music I listened to back then.  Talking to friends on Facebook I went to school with and haven't seen in two decades.

  I'll be 37 this year.  I'm doing the things I SHOULD have done when I was in my early 20s - beginning my stint in the (state) military, and finishing my Master's.  I became a father at 36, and who knows if I'll still be a father at 37.  I certainly hope so.  I want to be Z and K's "daddy" - Z already calls me that.  I want Mary and I to be their "forever family."  Despite having had lots of wonderful adventures in the last two decades of my life, I feel I wasted a lot of that time being complacent in my job here at ACC for 12 of that.  I should have graduated college in my 20s, not my 30s.  I should be two years away from military retirement - not beginning what amounts to a career in the militia.  I just feel like I have so much "lost time" that I have to try to make up for.  Using the average ages of my grandfathers I've now got more years behind than I have ahead.  One of my friends who's just a few years older than me just got diagnosed with colorectal cancer.  It's sobering.

  So what's my plan?  How do I proceed from here?  Well, chummers, I plan to reach down inside myself and grab that core that is me and try to drag him back to the surface.  I am *not* the stress-laden sad sack I've allowed myself to become.  I'm creative, I love to tell stories and I love to share them with my friends.  I'm the one people come to when they need to be cheered up, and not vice versa.  I'm going to do the soldiering I always felt was my duty to do - and in the process I'm going to help people out and make my service count for something.  I'm going to be the best damn father I can be to Z and K - and I'm going to fight to keep them with every tool in my arsenal.  Just give me five minutes in that courtroom to weave my verbal dweomers and see if Perry Mason ain't got nothin' on me.

  Gorrammit, Mal, I'm *tired* of being depressed.  I'm *tired* of being tired.  I'm *tired* of doing things by rote or out of habit.  If there's positive change to be made, I've got to make it.  I've got to keep my eye on the ball and realize that I'm only six classes away from my BA, and then I'm getting a much needed break, then I'm going to get my MA and move forward from the dead-end tech job I've worked for over ten years.  The future is brighter than I've let myself believe.  I've let all the clouds block out the stars when I look into the night sky.  Each of those stars is a blessing in my life that I've overlooked as I've become more and more depressed with my lot.  There's a star for each of my family - who are all supportive to a fault.  There's a star for my friends - who are also my family.  I don't know what I'd do without the family who have chosen to be a family.  We can't control our genetics - but we do get to choose our friends, and they choose us back, and that's one of the most beautiful things about life.  There are people in this world more important to me than myself and each and every one of them is something I should be giving thanks for more often.  I've got a good home, a steady job, and a stack of bills that somehow always manages to take my whole paycheck, but there's always just enough to keep them covered.  Could be worse, right?

  I'm buried under all this sturm und drang.  I've gotta find myself again, be happy with who I am and where I am in my life.  Right now, I feel a lot of the time that I'm robotically doing the things that need to be done with the goal of making sure Mary and Z and K are fed, snuggled and taken care of and my only other goal is sleep.  I run RDG stuff for the same reason - my friends need gaming, I'm providing that service to them, but as soon as I'm done discharing that duty it's time to sleep.  I love my kids and my wife.  I love my friends and the RDG.  Whatever this funk is that's keeping me from actually enjoying them has to go.  This pall and depression has to take the hell off, hoser, and go bother somebody else.  I don't want the moments of happiness to be the few and far between nuggets they have been for the last six months.  I remember a time - a pretty long one, really - where I was consistently happy with my lot.  I loved myself, and my life.  What happened to that?  How do I get it back?

  Dr. Lisa says I need to relax.  I told her last month I would - and then I put the lie to that statement.  I kept working and stressing and telling myself I would relax - but first I have to take care of X or Y.  Nope - I will make time for myself.  I will make time to do things I love to do.  I must get myself back in battery so I can be the husband Mary misses.  The Dad Z and K need so much.  The friend that all of my friends miss, and are worried about.  I need a massive battery recharge, and in my conversations with Dr. Lisa I think we've worked out something that will help.  I talked about it in last month's blog post - but I got too busy/sick/guilted to do anything about it.  Well, chummers, it's time I got to it.  I wanna be myself again.

Therapeutic gaming, here I come... I hope...