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...