26 June 2017

A DM Looks At 42

  Well, here I sit at 2320 on my 42nd birthday reflecting on where I am and where I'm going.  Today was understated and a bit uneven as birthdays go.  My son Zane has been having issues with spending all day every day with his sister in our summer care arrangements.  She's six and gets on his just-turned-eight nerves.  My wife is dealing with thyroid issues that leave her constantly tired, and make it far too easy for her to become angry or moody.  All together, it's not a recipe for calm or relaxing.

  One if my first thoughts upon turning 42 was that I'm now past the age of a starting Traveller character unless I rolled boxcars for my fifth term re-enlistment.  I was reminded by my old friend Andy that yes, on this birthday I'd have to roll 8+ or lose a point of STR and END, and 7+ to save DEX.  Aging bites.  That got me thinking... what would I look like as a Traveller character?  I imagine something like this:

Specialist-4   UPP 676AC6   Age 42 5 Terms      Cr not much
  History-2, Admin-1, Computer-1, Electronics-1, Instruction-1, Recruiting-1, Tactics-1, Carbine-0, Pistol-0, Foil-0, Ground Vehicle-0

  So, where am I now, and where do I go from here?  Ten years ago I had only my AA in Communications, no kids, no time in uniform, and no direction.  Today, I have two children, three degrees, did a year of active service after two trying to lose the weight in the Texas State Guard before college and parenthood got to be too much, and now have an opportunity to teach and publish.  I've now instructed professionally in both a military setting and a college setting, both experiences of which I am immensely proud and for which I am grateful.  I just finished off my birthday night by playtesting both our early rules for the Love Letter to Battletech that Bobby and I are writing for Evil Beagle Games, and my own OSR Mecha Rules that I hope to publish under our own imprint to toss my love of the OSR movement into the ring for others to enjoy.

  As I discussed in previous posts, I feel like I've found my tribe in the denizens of North Texas RPG Con- my gaming club, The Royal Dragoon Guards, fit in perfectly there.  We are all gamers, and we want to spread the love of gaming.  NT is where we do that.  But that's not all we do.  We just finished running International Tabletop Game Day at Austin Community College, and we helped with  a couple of events called Level Up! where we represented the tabletop community through Swords & Wizardry and Ogre and other games while the Student Life volunteers represented the video game side of things.  I've found that my hobby passion lies in teaching about games, teaching how to play games, basically spreading the history, lore and practice of our hobby.  One of my greatest joys is running roleplaying games for my son and my goddaughters.  Kaylee will probably play, too, when she's old enough.  I loved teaching new folks about gaming at the college, and teaching veteran gamers about the MechWarrior Universe.

  I was dreading this birthday.  One year closer to the end of the line.  Summer of 2015 I had a serious anxiety attack that screwed me up something terrible.  Anxiety and depression were never a thing for me- I had down days, but not anything close to clinical depression.  Somewhere during our struggle to adopt Zane and Kaylee, I broke.  My LCSW tells me she believes that the point at which I broke was when our CPS weenie was trying to relocate the kids so he could close their case, and I went into fight-or-flight mode and laid out for CPS, the court, and everyone else involved just why the kids needed to stay where they were.  She says the threat of losing my kids was close, psychologically, to a mortal threat.  Like, my brain interpreted the threat of the loss of the kids in the same way as if they were in danger of bodily harm.  I developed something akin to hyper vigilance, except instead of constantly looking for snipers my brain is constantly waiting for the next thing to go wrong, the next phone call from the school, the next catastrophic problem with the house, or a car, or an appliance.  I can't disengage and relax.  I freak out over the smallest body changes- I actually had my doctor run a bunch of needless cardiac tests to make sure I wasn't having heart problems.  It was all in my head.

  But something happened over the last few months.  My anxiety and depression have started to ebb, they are still there, but not effecting me in the nearly crippling way they have been.  My mind has started to accept that I'm going to be here for a while, and that I have something to offer besides bringing a mundane paycheck home to my wife and kids.  I discovered the talents my friends told me I have aren't just my friends being nice.  I do actually have some small talent with words, and with game mastering, and with public speaking.  I taught one semester of college, two sections, and I was put forward for a Teaching Excellence Award.  Damnit - I'm good at this.  Good enough to strive harder to make wordsmithing and teaching something on which to concentrate with a real hope of accomplishing something.  Not just a hobby, but something I can do with confidence in a professional manner.

  To walk with me on this journey I have the best party of adventurers ever assembled.  In addition to my wife, who has always supported me in my attempts to further my education, teach and write, I have my wonderful kids, my loving birth family, and the family I have hand-picked and chosen over the years.  I have so many friends that are brothers and sisters.  I am humbled by the bond we share, there are so many amazing people in my life it would be impossible to name them all.  Sufficient to say I am godfather to the children of two couples, and there are two sets of godparents to my kids.  We help each other out when finances are tight.  We crash on each other's couches.  We stand together when life gets tough.  Some are decades-old veterans of many campaigns that I have known since childhood.  Some are brand new friends I've met through our Geek Cruises or NTRPGCON.  Some are fellow gamers, others are the architects of the first generation of RPGs sharing their friendship and wisdom with me.  With such a support group cheering me on, how can I fail to step up to the plate and swing for the fences?

  So, where to go from here?  I'm going to keep being the best dad and husband I can, and focus on bringing home that paycheck while not worrying so much about the other BS that goes on at work.  All the energy I've spent doing that I'm turning toward looking for teaching opportunities in all sorts of ways.  Libraries, museums and rec centers - see if history of tabletop or video games would be of interest to their students.  Circulate my CV around to all the colleges I've already hit, and then some.  Double down on my current writing projects and get something out the door- something good.  Start giving back to the gaming community that has given me so much since I was eleven years old.  My identity and my core self was shaped so completely by tabletop games I owe a good percentage of who I am to those very games.  The games that kept me thirsty for knowledge and learning, taught me how to build and maintain teams and friendships, how to think on my feet and solve problems and so much more.

  I took a leap today.  For my 42nd birthday, my BFF Randi took me to DC Tatts in Round Rock where I had the ampersand from the 1983 BECMI Red Box inked on my right arm in the "combat patch" position.  It is there because I feel I served with the gamers in the culture wars of the 80s and 90s.  During the Satanic Panic, during the times when nerds and geeks were rideculed, beaten up and ostracized, I was in those trenches with all the other misfits and outcasts.  We weathered that storm together, huddling in our places of refuge and fighting back with our imaginations and the strength of our camaraderie.  And today - in 2017 - I look around and see that the culture war was one we haven't completely won, but we sure as hell didn't lose.  So today, at 42, I affixed the seal of my tribe to my shoulder in the place that says "I stood with those who had no clique, those to whom popularity and acceptance would prove elusive, with those who endured the jabs, verbal and otherwise, of their peers. I stood with them, and created a place where they could thrive.  And as I grew older, I ensured that place was available to the next generation.  And the next.  And I continue to spread the acceptance and safety of tabletop gaming as best I can.  My table is open to all.  To do otherwise is to fly in the face of everything I and my fellow geeks have endured to come as far as we have."

  Jimmy Buffet sings of being born 200 years too late.  The cannons don't thunder, there's nothing to plunder.  I used to feel that way.  I used to feel like I was born too late, or too early.  But the OSR renaissance is now.  Tabletop is making a comeback now.  My kids, who I fostered to adopt, need me now.  My godchildren, four girls and a boy, need my counsel now.  My age was something I came to hate- a symbol of how long I screwed off, complacent in a dead-end job.  Well, screw that.  I made something of my life by sheer force of will - Parent, soldier (briefly), scholar, and soon to be author/game designer.  I'm just getting started.

  Maybe 42 is the answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything.  Let's see if we can't keep up the parenthood thing and the writing thing and see where we are next year.

22 June 2017

My Tribe - North Texas RPG Con (Part 3 of 3)


  By Saturday, the con felt like it had always been in effect, and always would be.  Waking up with my roomates, grabbing grub, and rolling dice felt like a natural way of life.  If only.

  I filled in for Corbett Kirkley, who had to miss the event, by running Starships & Spacemen 2nd Edition.  Corbett usually puts on an amazing Star Trek game- this year it was going to be Galaxy Quest!  In his absence, I picked up S&S and tried my best to fill his shoes.  We rolled up characters at the table, and ended up with an intrepid Destroyer crew ready for more action that convoy escort duty had been giving them.  We set the game explicitly in the Star Trek universe since S&S is such a spot-on homage to Trek, and the DD crew had to deal with a viral outbreak on a K-type station on the periphery of the Federation.  Through great roleplay, technical improvisation and pure genre savvy, the players were able to determine the virus was a biological attack orchestrated by Orions in the employ of the Klingon empire.  There was a visit to a space distillery on the way, and investigation of booze labels and vintages.  It came out great, with the investigation's revelation leading the tin can into a direct confrontation with a Klingon DD that showed what an advantage photon torpedoes were in an age when the Klingons lacked them!

  Saturday wrapped up with a D&D 1974 game run by Frank Mentzer, the man who wrote the 1983 Basic Set that got me into the hobby in the first place.  There were a dozen players, we all grabbed pregens.  Frank noted there were no Thieves, as they didn't show up until 1975.  There was a lot of joking about how PCs were often not even named until 3rd level or so.  The game itself was a window into how D&D was played in the past- and it made two very different impressions on myself and my BFF Randi.  I saw the differences as the roots of our hobby, where the RP-centric game we play now grew from.  The missing link between miniature gaming, Chainmail, Braunstein, and D&D becoming the D&D we knew - my coming into it in the 1980s and she in the 1990s.  She saw it as a bit too primitive for her gaming sensibilities.  While she enjoyed Frank's stories and wisdom, she felt the lack of character depth and the simple goals of the story were a bit too minimalist for her.  She didn't "get" the feel of the game- and the more I think about it the more I realize that not every D&D player under 40 has the capacity to jump into a little brown book D&D game run as they were in the 70s and enjoy themselves because of the level of power that is inherent in modern D&D.  I don't just mean the almost superheroic 4e 1st-level heroes.  I mean the way D&D since 3.x has made low-level adventurers much more survivable than they were.  Even in 5e a background is rolled, allowing players to have a connection to their PC even before they've hit the table.  A very different ethos than rolling 3d6 straight down and having 1d6 for Hit Dice.  Now, I know in AD&D there was the possibility of background skills as early as the original core books, so this era didn't last as long as it might seem. 
  The bottom line for me is that it's the foundation of where we all started.  Is it how I'd like to play knowing how I played growing up?  Well, yes and no.  I didn't mind the style as an exercise in history led by one of the remaining experts in the field- but I have to lean a little more toward the D&D I grew up with, interestingly Mr. Mentzer's own edition.  I subscribe to the idea that the PCs are heroes, and while they can and will die in the line of adventuring, their story begins with their first adventure, so they should be named and have at least a bit of history.  Much like a television series, more of their personality and history can develop over the course of the series, but from Season One, Episode One we know at least an action figure sentence about each character.
  So, fun was had at Frank's table, as always.  I enjoyed talking to him after the game about my son's game project.  I got a copy of the Red Box Player's Book signed for my daughter for when she starts gaming.  I got a real taste of original D&D as it was played in the beginning.  To me, it was a valuable and fun lesson.  Was wicked fun, but the end of the game marked one game session left of NTRPGCON - Sunday Morning Shadowrun.


  There are parts of Seattle even Lone Star cops won't go.  The Barrens, and worse.  Where even the cops won't go, can you seriously expect to be able to get food delivery?  That's where Pizza Panzer comes in, chummer.  And Pizza Panzer had a lock on the hazardous duty food delivery market, until an opponent showed up delivering breakfast foods via aerial drone- LuftWaffle.

  My Shadowrun game involved a Pizza Panzer crew attempting to deliver their pies in the face of competition from LuftWaffle.  The team is issued a converted Ares Citymaster purchased due to the recent exchange of fire between an armed LuftWaffle drone and a Pizza Panzer van crew.  Also - I had so many players I couldn't believably  fit them all into a basic van.  So I kinda created the EM-50 of pizza delivery vans.  The players loved my laminated placemat-sized character sheets so much that at the end of the game I let them each take one home.  The game went GREAT - I had a wonderful crew who fell right into their roles.  The Rigger and Company Man shared the driving duties - when the Rigger was in a drone, the Company Man drove the truck.  The Decker ran matrix cover, the Merc and the Street Sam covered the runner, who was a Burned-Out Mage.  After run-ins with the Ancients, some major-league deckers, and a comical Stuffer Shack owner, the trap LuftWaffle laid for the PCs was revealed, and the players not only turned the table on the LuftWaffle ambush, they made it look like LuftWaffle fired on a DocWagon Ambulance!  It was amazing.  Also - the players told me they loved the way I ran Shadowrun, very rules light (if that's possible with Shadowrun 1e) and with lots of 20-minutes-into-the-future-of-1987 flavor.  It was fantastic if I do say so myself, but I credit the players with making it so.

  After Shadowrun we started heading home in a couple of serials.  We were the last serial out, since Robby, Aaron, Raul and I hung out at Red Robin having lunch and tons of conversation with Glen Hallstrom (Ol' Man Grognard) and James Spahn (Barrel Rider Games).  All in all, it was another perfect convention experience.  And I'm already paid for next year, with a game on the books (and two players pre-registered! FOR NEXT YEAR!)

  That wraps my NTRPGCON experience for 2017.  I had a blast with my tribe.  And I want to hold onto this creative energy and capitalize on it.

15 June 2017

OSR Mecha - I'm Tinkering With It

So, I love the OSR.  I've said that before.  I've had a lot of fun playing OSR sci-fi, fantasy, supers, I'm going to spotlight a lot of my favorite OSR games on this blog just as soon as my chubby fingers can type them.

But tonight, before I finish that last North Texas RPG Con entry, I had to get something down on paper.  I took my draft rules for OSR Mecha and took them for a spin, Robotech style.  And just to test them further, I threw in a mage.  A Perytonian Energy Wizard to be exact.  So, without further adieu, here's how my sim went.

OSR Mecha Sample Combat

  [Designer's Note: OSR Mecha is designed to help answer one of the most frustrating questions most mecha RPGs have to answer - how to handle the immense scale of the mecha themselves.  How do humans interface with mecha?  How much human damage does a mecha weapon do?  How much mecha damage does a human weapon do?  The basic answer to this is the core of OSR Mecha. 

  Mecha damage is an effect, not a number of damage points.  Mecha save versus the various types of weapon on the battlefield, a failed save indicates a damage effect.  When mecha fire at human-sized targets, a "hit" almost always indicates a near miss.  Only on a natural 20 is a mecha-scale weapon assumed to hit a human-sized target squarely.  If the human is wearing armor that offers protection against mecha weapons, they save as a mecha would, taking 1D6 HP for each mecha damage category suffered.  This number is doubled for the dreaded "direct hit"- the human is probably a goner.

  Mecha saves show a value for No Damage, Light, Moderate, Severe and Kill.  Each Mecha sheet has a save matrix that shows the armor's effectiveness against various classes of mecha weapon.  A mecha hit with a Medium Mecha Weapon rolls a Save vs. Medium Weapon.  The effects of various rolls appear on the Save Matrix.  The average Mecha is destroyed on a Kill result.  Two Severe hits equal one Kill.  Two Moderate equal one Severe, and two Light equal one Moderate.  As mecha takes damage, damage begins to impair the mecha.

  Mecha can be of several size classes.  As of this test of the rules, mecha come in Power Armor, Mini Mecha, Standard Mecha and Kaiju sizes.  Using the Halfling rules as a guiding star, mecha are -2 to hit targets one size class smaller.  Multiple size classes stack.  Power Armor-sized mecha are considered the same as normal PC scale.

  Ready to see how it plays?  Let's go!]

  Corporal Ramos winced as the crank on his throwback field telephone made a quiet whirring noise.  He dared not power up his field radio.  The damned Invid had a way of homing in on high-tech gear, and the RRG eggheads had yet to figure out how.  The Invid patrol was moving slowly up the ruined street, a group of Karbarran slaves shuffling discontentedly between the lead and trail elements.  Ramos looked at his partner, the demonic-looking Perytonian Borthak.  Borthak regarded Ramos with those unsettling crimson eyes, and grinned the grin of a hundred sharpened teeth.  Ramos shuddered involuntarily.  Borthak was good to have around, but he hadn't yet gotten used to the devilish appearance of his comrade even after three months of working together.  Borthak nodded silently, and began to murmur to himself.  Ramos picked up the field phone reciever and began to tap on it with his good luck charm - a titanium spork.

  "Three gun scouts on point, four soldiers.  One trooper and a gaggle of bear slaves" Whispered Sergeant Milburn.  "You cyclone ladies hold up until the show starts.  We don't want the Invid tipped off."  Milburn turned to the pair of Marines on the venerable M2.  He mused how the reserve weapons had gotten brought out of mothballs when it became apparent the Invid could track energy signatures.  The same MG that had fought the Germans twice, the Koreans, the Cong, the Russians... was about to light up some friggin crab creatures on another planet.  With a deft movement, Lance Corporal Dean chambered a round and sighted in on the lead Invid gun scout.

[The Expeditionary Force has a surprise round, they consist of a machinegun team, a Anti-Armor team, a scout team including one Marine and one Perytonian, and two Marines in Cyclones who can't act during the surprise round for fear of setting off the Invid sensors.  Borthak the Perytonian declares his intention to cast Light on the #2 Invid's sensors, but since this is a surprise round declaring spells ahead of the initiative roll is a formality.

Sergeant Milburn has the MG team start the party.  L/Cpl Dean rolls 1D20 and adds his DEX bonus of 1 for a total of 16.  The Invid has an AC of 10 on the ground - it's big, but clumsy until it takes to the air.  Dean hits easily.  The Ma Deuce is a Heavy Infantry Weapon firing at mecha, so rather than roll damage dice, the Invid rolls a Save vs. Heavy Infantry Weapon.

The Invid's Save vs. Heavy Infantry is "Good", so before the game the DM noted the Invid's save numbers.  On a 10 or better, the armor stops the attack.  On a 6-9, the Invid will take a Light damage.  On a 1, a Moderate.  The Invid rolls the save and gets a 6, Light damage.  A quick roll of 1d8 produces a result of "Damaged Armor, -1 on Saves"  The .50 rounds riddle the lead Invid with holes.

The Anti-Armor team looses their rocket, an Armor Piercing round.  It corkscrews in on Invid Scout #3, with the team rolling a 15 to hit.  The shoulder-fired rocket is still a Heavy Infantry Weapon, but considered +1 to damage.  Thus, the Invid's saves will all be one point more difficult.  The Invid rolls a 3 - not enough to cause Moderate damage, but enough to make it take notice with Light.  A consultation with the 1d8 effect table for Light damage yields a lucky result - "Sensor Hit."  Normally, this would just spoil the enemy mecha's aim or detection abilities, but to an Invid a sensor hit is bad news.  The sensors are directly in front of the pilot compartment...  The missile impacts the "eye" of the Invid, and it explodes in a wash of green nutrient fluid.

Borthak casts his Light spell, blinding the #2 Invid, which begins to flail its clawed arms.

Corporal Ramos raises his Wolverine assault rifle and looses a burst at one of the Invid powered armor troopers.  The Malar Power Armor has a rating of "Stops" against Small Arms.  Corporal Ramos is packing AP rounds, so the Invid will roll its save at -1 if hit, but even with this bonus no damage at all will occur unless a 1 or 2 is rolled.  Ramos gets a 13 to hit, barely there, and the Invid rolls and 18, not even close to a penetrating shot.]

"Cyclone team, go, go go!" Sergeant Milburn barked.  Behind him he could hear the sound of the two Protoculture-powered bikes roaring to life.  The Invid were recovering from the surprise- the battle was joined in earnest.

[The Invid roll a 5 for initiative, the Expeditionary Forces a 3.  Looks like the Invid are going to go first.

The three- well, two - scouts react first.  One leaps into the air, increasing its AC to 16 due to it's speed and maneuverability.  It strafes the Anti-Armor team that destroyed its neighbor.  The Invid rolls a 1, missing by a mile.  The #2 scout turns toward the MG team and rolls an 18 - even with the penalty for firing at a human-sized target and the GM-called penalty for the Light spell, that's bad news for L/Cpl Dean and his loader.  The plasma discs are Light Mecha Weapons, to which the CVR-3 armor the Marines are wearing has a resistance of "None".  L/Cpl Dean and Pfc Spunkmeyer roll an 11 and a 17.  Both get results of "KILL".  To a mecha, that's an instant destruction result.  For a human hit (near-missed) by mecha weapons, that's 6d6 damage.  Neither Dean nor Spunkmeyer can eat that much damage- both are killed in the fireball.

The four Invid power-armor troops act next.  Two fire at the Cyclones that have declared their power-up this round.  A 7 misses the first bike, but a 17 hits the second.  The Malar has an arm-mounted enery bazooka that hits as a Heavy Infantry Weapon.  The Cyclone Rider hasn't transformed yet, so she has to rely on her CVR-3 body armor, which resists Heavy Infantry Weapons with a "Poor to Fair" rating.  A roll of 19 means the lucky dog took no damage from the attack, the CVR-3 successfully deflected or absorbed the hit!

The two other Malar start looking for cover and pull back toward a pile of rubble, firing at Corporal Ramos and Borthak.  A 3 and an 8 mean clean misses.

The big purple Trooper, wishing it were the armed variant of its class, lumbers forward to engage the Cyclones, but cannot close the distance without going airborne.

Time for the Expeditionary Forces to act.  The VR-052 Cyclone pilot, CPL Wile, guns her motor, charging toward the Trooper as fast as her cycle can carry her, then reconfiguring to Power Armor mode at the end of her move.  Since she moved and transformed, her round is over.  CPL Welti, her partner in a VR-041 Cyclone, transformed in place after being shot at by the Malar.  She still gets her attack, and decides to fire six of her twelve rockets from the chest launchers at the Malar that fired on her.  A 15 beats the Malar's Armor Class by two, so two of the six rockets hit home.  The rockets are Heavy Infantry Weapons, against which the Malar has a resistance of "Fair."  The Invid rolls 19 and 13 to save, taking one rocket with no damage, and light damage from the second.  This results in damage to the Malar suit (1d8 yields an atmosphere breach) and 1D6 damage to the pilot inside.  The pilot is a 1HD Invid soldier, and the damage rolled is enough to drop his HP to zero.  The Malar drops- but the suit could be salvaged.

Sergeant Milburn asks the GM if the .50 survived the attack.  The GM takes pity on the sarge and asks for a ST, Milburn rolls a 6 and the GM declares the .50 is a melted pile of junk.  The Sergeant unslings his Gallant energy rifle, thumbs it over to high power, and takes a shot at one of the Malar.  A 14 hits, and the Malar must now save versus Small Arms, with a -1 penalty due to the Gallant's High Power mode.  A 14 on that die means nothing is done despite the fearsome power output of the energy rifle.

Corporal Ramos fires a shell from the underslung grenade launcher on his Wolverine.  18! A hit on the Malar seeking shelter.  The grenade is a Heavy Infantry Weapon with a penalty of 1 on damage rolls - it's a small grenade.  The Malar has a resistence again of "Fair" and rolls a 15.  Adjusted to 16 for the weak shell means no damage.  This really isn't Ramos' day.

The Anti-Armor team takes cover and reloads their rocket launcher.

Borthak decides to quit screwing around and take some Invid out of the picture.  He throws his one and only Lightning Bolt at the two rapidly retreating Malar looking for cover.  As a 3rd Level Spell, Lightning Bolt can inflict damage as a Light Mecha Weapon (1st Lvl = Small Arms, 2nd Lvl = Heavy Infantry, etc.) and the Malar have a resistence of "Poor" to Light Mecha Weapons.  A pair of Severe results mean both Malar take a roll on the Severe damage table, but since the squishy pilots of this power armor are going to be taking 4d6 damage, the GM rules it irrelevant and the Malar are removed from play.

The round ends with the Expeditionary Force and the Invid both having taken casualties, and the Invid looking to be on the worse end of the deal.  L/Cpl Dean and Pfc Spunkmeyer are dead, but the Invid have lost two of their Power Armor troops and a Scout, with some damage to other units.]

  Corporal Wile knew she was uncomfortably close to the big Invid trooper, but she also knew from experience it was likely to start tearing into the slaves if she didn't do something about it.  From the flashes and the noise her helmet speakers were picking up, she figured Borthak had the enemy soldiers under control.  The Trooper was all hers.  She activated her sighting reticle, which popped up from the shoudler of her armor, and smoothly brought her right forearm launcher into line with the Invid's sensor eye.

[Initiative is rolled, and the Expeditionary Force goes first.  Corporal Wile reminds the GM of the "aimed shot" rules from the S&W SRD, and goes for the sensor eye.  -8 for the eye penalty, but +4 for the sighting hardware.  She will lose her AC bonus from both the Cyclone and her Dex this round, but she's trusting the die to take out the Trooper before it can whack the hostages.  The group lets her roll first for the pure drama of it.

The Expeditionary Force's luck holds, and the attack just barely matches the AC of the Trooper.  Senor eye shot, instant kill.  Boom.

CPL Welti's Cyclone goes next, releasing the remaining six rockets at the Malar she fired on last round.  Oops.  A 7.  The rockets spiral off into the distance.  She vows to use her targeting scope next time, but her rocket pods are dry.

The Anti-Armor team has another round ready this round, and fires it at the still struggling Scout #2.  A 16 hits, and the Scout rolls a Heavy Infantry hit at a penalty of 1 for the AP rocket.  7, adjusted to 6 on the "Fair" column.  Moderate damage.  1d6 on the Moderate table shows a weapon knocked out, the Scout loses its plasma cannons.

Corporal Ramos and Borthak pull back, Borthak unslinging his Wolverine and the pair of them firing grenades at the Malar.  17 and 14 both hit, and the Malar rolls a 17 (adjusted to 18) and a 2 (adjusted to 3) for armor saves.  The 2 on the "Fair" table is a Severe hit.  The GM rules the Invid inside the armor is escargot and moves on.

Sergeant Milburn sights in on the last Invid Malar trooper and fires, missing.

The Invid's turn sees the Malar returning fire on the Sarge with the Anti-Personnel lasers built into the gauntlet.  The pair of lasers fire as one, and the Malar rolls a 19, which beats the Sergeant's AC by more than 1, so both hit.  Each is rolled for separately.  The Sergeant's armor rating against Small Arms is "Stops", so the Malar is disappointed with Milburn rolls a 14 and a 20, avoiding all damage and thanking the RRG researchers who invented CVR-3.

The Malar is further disappointed when the Scouts take to the air and begin a retreat, having lost their big brother and three of their little brothers, and one of their number losing their weapon.  A failed Morale Check is a terrible thing- for the Invid.]

"We have you surrounded." Sergeant Milburn barked from behind the sights of his Gallant rifle.  "Drop your weapon and stand down."  The Sergeant winced as a blade thrust out from the Malar armor's chest, covered in green ooze.  As the Malar slid off the blade onto the ground, Milburn saw Welti retracting the vibro-saber into her Cyclone's arm shield.

"Sorry, Sergeant, I know it's ROE for you to call for a surrender, but when have the Invid ever come quietly?"

08 June 2017

My Tribe - North Texas RPG Con (Part 2 of 3)

The Old Dragoon Will Return After These Messages...

  Before I jump back into the amazingly excellent gaming, allow me to make note of something.  The Westin DFW is a very nice hotel.  I mean, we even had elven soap.  They went to the trouble of going all the way to the soap artisans of Alfheim to secure the bathtime bars for NTRPGCON.  Extremely thoughtful of them.  Problem was, going to Alfheim for soap meant the merchants of Darokin took their cut, and that had the effect of everything costing a few extra electrum pieces at the hotel.  So, let me offer a bit of helpful intel on the Westin.

  Make your character sheets before you go.  The business center has a credit card swipe device on all the PCs and the copier.  It's $5.00 just to log on.  The placard on the wall says B&W prints are $0.25, but they are actually $0.50 and the hotel doesn't manage the business center, so they can't refund the difference.  You'll have to call the company that handles it.  The business center also lacked tape, staples, etc.  Just PCs, a printer and copier.  The Breakfast Buffet was $17.00, $10.00 if you had a con badge- but a lot of us didn't know that until Friday.  There were only two forms of sustenance in walking distance - a Denny's that had no idea there was a con, Friday morning there was one server for the whole restaurant who was also the cashier, and a gas station with a passable selection of treats.

Image may contain: people sitting, table and indoor  We stocked our room with a selection of drinks, treats and snacks.  The fridge was full, and sadly one of my caffeine free Cokes exploded as the previous renter of the room turned the fridge WAY down.  But I digress...  Be prepared to drive for anything that isn't from the Denny's or gas station, or the hotel grill.  Now, the hotel grill was a bit pricey, but the food our group tried were of good quality.  I was pleasantly surprised by the sandwiches and burgers available throughout the con.  $10 got a sandwich, chips and soda.  The convenience of having it delivered to the game table by the comely wenches of the con was certainly worth the price tag, and I found the burger I tried somewhere on the Fudd's end of the burger spectrum, juicy and flavorful.  The roast beast sandwich was pretty good, too.

  So, bottom line, check your supplies before coming to the con.  Office supplies, power for your devices, snacks and food, etc.  Rumor has it more dining establishments will be added in walking distance by next year, but as things stand if you don't want to drive for foodage, your options are limited, wakarimasu-ka, Chummer?

And Now, Back to Our Show...

  Ah, yes, I was talking about gaming.  So far, I'd done some pickups and a great Gangbusters game.  Between writing Part 1 of this post and today, I grabbed digital copies of The Untouchables and Dick Tracey thanks to the conversations Glen had with us about inspirational material for the game.  There's some interest in Roaring 20s goodness in the RDG, so I guess I'd better bone up.


Image may contain: 1 person, sitting, table and indoor  On the tabletop, no one can year you scream.  First up on the docket Friday was Aliens with Gary Oliver.  This was the old Leading Edge board game that I've loved since high school.  Lemme tell you, this game is brutal.  Aliens drop randomly, and Marines drop like flies.  I've played this game many times, both on the tabletop and as a Flash conversion of the game that allows for no die fudging.  Maybe brutal is an understatement.  Dungeon Crawl Classics at Level Zero is less lethal.

  Wonder of wonders, the team came together and the xenomorphs started having a terrible time.  I was the first KIA as CPL Dietrich got grabbed by an alien and mercifully dispatched by a fellow Marine with a flamethrower.  During the course of the game the Marines made seven nearly impossible melee rolls to push off aliens that had moved into their squares.  Most Marines have a Melee Value of zero, meaning only a ten percent chance of fending off an alien long enough to possibly avoid death.  Now, just pushing the alien out of the square doesn't mean you're safe.  You still have to dispatch the alien, which, if you're not armed with a flame unit, means rolling for acid spray.  Then your Marine, and every Marine adjacent to the alien, has a 30% chance of taking damage up to and including instant death.  Worse than death is incapacitation, which means another Marine has to carry you out.
  The Marines moved carefully toward the exit, using flame units to set fires to thwart the alien advance. To say their escape was suspenseful is selling short the excitement in the room as the Marines closed on the door and the xenomorphs closed on the Marines.  A wall of Aliens, a wall of fire, and a squad of Marines scrambling to escape, and with each Marine through the door one less weapon to fend off the marauding aliens.  Only one casualty, but the tide could turn at any moment...  What happened?  One brave Marine sacrificed himself to hold off the aliens with flame while the rest scrambled out the door - total casualties: 2.  What a way to start the day, and the day wasn't even half over.

Image may contain: people sitting, table and indoor  Next up was the game I'd been dreading.  Last year Michael Curtis of Goodman Games ran an incredible TSR Indiana Jones game.  It was great.  One of the high points of the con.  This year, I took up the mantle of Indy Judge.  I was extremely nervous - would my meager GM skill be up to the task?  I had tried to write the plot for this game so many times over the last few months, and it never felt quite right.  I had a full player roster, but at the last minute two were no-shows, and a third, my pal Scott, was still on the road due to weather.  So I had four players- they chose to play Willie, Shorty, Jock and Indy was the last character chosen.

  I took a page from the playbook of Corbett Kirkley, who runs some of the best Star Trek games I've ever had the pleasure of playing.  Corbett keeps props and action figures on the table for players to fidget with, character sheets with color photos of the characters being played, things like that.  My BFF Randi spend a coupla hours with me cutting out and assembling TSR foldups from the boxed set and modules.  Robby helped me assemble the die roll calculators from the Judge's Survival Pack.  I was ready with everything but a detailed plot- and I've got to say a great OSR product I'd just purchased helped me work out the details on the fly.  Thanks to the choices of PCs by the players and a roll on a table in Raiders of the Lost Artifacts, I had a plot.  Jock Lindsey was carrying a mysterious crate from Hong Kong to Hawaii, and was contacted by Indy just after he, Willie and Shorty had made their escape the Temple of Doom, and gotten a flight from Dehli to Australia.  After picking Indy and friends up, it should have been a simple matter to island hop to Hawaii... except it's 1935-6 and the Japanese are on the move in the Pacific.

  The crate, which Willie and Shorty were a bit too curious about, contained the Throne of Sun Wukong the Monkey God.  The artifact was being tracked by a Japanese colonel who had a deal with a Chinese ghost- bring me the throne of the Monkey King and you will rule all of China.  So Indy and friends are shot down by a Japanese aircraft, land at a mysterious island with an eccentric American millionaire, and Willie gets herself in trouble nosing around the artifacts.  The players hit the notes of their film characters perfectly.  Aaron did a great job fleshing out Jock from his three minutes onscreen in RotLA, Robby played an Indy constantly frustrated by Willie and Shorty in the same way as the spike trap scene in ToD, and James and Randi were perfect as Shorty and Willie.  If, as a GM, you ever need a player whose curiosity outweighs any amount of self-preservation or common sense, try to get one or both of those folks in your game.

  Due to Shorty's curiosity, Willie's avarice, and a bit of misdirection from a trickster god pretending to be a millionaire, the Japanese colonel's destroyer was sent to the bottom of the pacific by four dragons who disappeared just as mysteriously as they appeared leaving no trace of their existence.  Would anyone believe Indy, Willie, Jock and Shorty?  At least Willie will make it back to America with a curiously petite chainmail shirt made of solid gold...

Image may contain: 2 people  A short breather and it was time for more action.  This was my first taste of Villains & Vigilantes with co-creator Jack Herman.  My game group in the 80s had the narrow vision of kids without a lot of money who didn't have the internet to tell them about all the games that were out there, so we missed out on two of the most iconic superhero games in tabletop - Villains & Vigilantes and Champions.  I'd told myself I wanted to be educated on both, and how better to get into V&V than with one of the creators?

  I don't think I've ever been in a convention game with such talented roleplayers assembled by fate.  I knew Theron from RPG.NET and conventions past, and of course Randi and I signed up together- but the rest of the group.  Incredible.  The characters were absolutely portrayed with sheer brilliance.  From Tattercloak's gravelly Kevin Conroy voice ("I'm a vegan..."  "You're an idiot.") to the Schnoz and his Jimmy Durante intonations.  Every player hit their notes perfectly, and I'd like to think Randi and I did well as Tigress and Shutterbug.  It was a great game- like Mystery Men trying out for the Avengers.  I liked the game so much I purchased the module, and four of us in the RDG are on the list to purchase the new edition when it comes out.

  V&V turned out to be a lot rules lighter than I would have expected of a 1979-81 game design, but Jeff Dee and Jack Herman have been doing some revision and we were playing the soon-to-be--released edition.  The D20 roll under system was intuitive, and I love the way a player may choose to lose power points to avoid HP loss on an attack.  It gives a great sense of the durability of supers, and of the resource-management of your personal energy - do I save it to power a flame bolt, or use it to avoid being seriously hurt?  V&V will definitely have a place on my game shelf alongside my other favorite supers systems, and I can't wait to run the module for the RDG when the books come in.

Holy crap, this has become 2 of 3...

06 June 2017

My Tribe - North Texas RPG Con (Part 1 of 3)

My Tribe - North Texas RPG Con

  I've blogged before about my experience growing up in Central Texas to a very conservative family of typical Texas tastes - hunting, fishing, racing, etc.  I was the bookish gamer whose idea of the perfect camping trip involved playing D&D around the campfire.  I was into reading, video games and tabletop.  I watched a lot of Star Trek, Star Wars and cartoons.  This had the effect of ensuring that I always felt apart from most of my family.  My mom's side tended to range from amused to ridicule when they thought I wasn't listening.  My Dad's side of the family tended to humor me more, marvel at my foci, but still never quite understand me.  That's the short version of the very long story.
  In 1985 I read my first D&D books, belonging to the older brother of one of my friends at River Hills Elementary School in Temple Terrace, FL.  I was immediately spellbound by the books - AD&D hardcovers with the 1983 Jeff Easley artwork.  I'd loved the D&D cartoon, so a game would be great.  Unbeknownst to me, my brain was already primed for gaming by toys.  Transformers had Tech Specs on the back that quantified each character in a 1-10 scale.  Wheeled Warriors had descriptions of all the parts that could be swapped onto the vehicles, this tire was slower but granted traction, this one granted speed, etc.  My mind was already thinking of things in terms of comparative abilities.  But Eric Ryan's older brother wanted nothing to do with us ten year olds, and I moved back to my hometown of Round Rock after completing the 5th grade.
  1986 brought me to Daniel Varner's friendship and home- and his '83 Mentzer Red and Blue books.  I rolled up my first PC that summer, and have been hooked ever since.  My search for belonging had led me to gaming, and through gaming I found the hobby that defines me, the best friends I've ever had, and the family we have constructed from those friends.  While we all love our blood relatives, most of us in our local gaming family have at one time or another felt apart, misunderstood or ill-fitting.  We gravitated toward each other and formed a bond unlike that to which we were born - we bonded over our hobby and before we knew it we were watching each other's backs, caring for each other in financial or emotional hardship, helping raise each other's children... you know, family.
  Folks who know me know Mary and I fought hard to become mom and dad to Zane and Kaylee, who we adopted in 2013.  We know that the family you choose can be just as close or closer than the family you're born to.  Why all this talk about family when I'm posting about a convention?  Well, a coupla reasons.  First of all, I attended the convention with my family from The Royal Dragoon Guards.  My closest friends on the planet were with me, with the notable exception of Bobby Dean.  Aaron Murphy, father of two of my godchildren and someone I'd gladly take a bullet for (not in the chest, though...) was there. Even a brief visit by my old gaming buddy from high school Shawn Cavanaugh, who may predate all gamer friends I still hang with save maybe Jim Cook...  So I was happy to look around and see Ed, Eric, Robby, Randi, Dennis, Jessica, Tina, Raul, Scott... And new friends like Raul's old college gaming friend Crystal.
  Already feeling I was among family, Robby, Raul and I walked into the con and I was greeted by name by so many folks who I met through North Texas RPG Con - Alan Grohe, Jon Hershberger, Glen Hallstrom, Mike Badolato, Jimm Johnson, Dennis and Melissa Pipes, the list goes on.  You see, North Texas RPG Con is around 350 folks who congregate on a yearly basis to celebrate old school gaming.  And about one out of every ten folks there is a game author, illustrator, editor.  It was thanks to Dr. Dennis Sustare, who is part of the RDG, that I found out about this con.  I wish I'd known about it long before 2015.  But '15 and '16 were my first and second NTs, and walking into my third I was blown away that all these folks bothered to remember my name.  I'm not published (yet) and I'm no former TSR bigwig, star blogger, podcast host... I'm just me, The Old Dragoon, gamer and GM.  But at NTRPGCON, that's enough.  You're part of the family.  You roll dice with folks, you're in.  Follow Wheaton's Law, love Old School Games, and you've just found yourself a tribe.
  As a member of this tribe, I've made some great friends.  It doesn't matter if you're a bigwig in the industry or someone who has just purchased their first D20, if you attend North Texas RPG Con you can find yourself in a casual conversation about superheroes with Jeff Dee, watching Jeff Easley paint a dragon with house paints, listen to Frank Mentzer hold forth on the philosophy of his game mastering style, hey! Tim Kask just rolled by!  Was that Allen Hammack? Merle Rasmussen?  Darlene?  Diesel LaForce?  So many special guests it takes a meaty program to name them all. Sure, I can introduce you to Dennis.  Hey, Dennis, can you introduce me to Mike and Liz from Save or Die?  Nobody cares.  Nobody puts on airs.  It's a group of people tied together by their love of gaming, the published and unpublished dive into games with equal relish.  Elbows rubbed, autographs signed, TPKs handed out...  It's amazing.
  This year, the RDG sponsored the Chinaberry room at the con.  We got a blurb in the program and a room to do with as we wished. We helped set up tables for the con, got our own room squared away with our recruiting poster, and made a ton of character sheets for D&D, S&W, AD&D and other games for folks to use throughout the con.  We made ourselves useful, and provided quite a few hours of gaming fun for others.  Our GMs ran seven events this year (maybe more, I can't be sure with the pickup games I didn't count) We became part of the amazing culture Dennis had introduced us to- and the best part?  It embraced us back.  Our game events filled up despite our not being the authors or published contributors (ok, Dennis, you are the exception in the RDG) and we were complimented on our GM abilities.  I was blown away when I got a GREAT compliment on my Shadowrun GM skills from a player who turned out to have written some very good OSR material I've been quite appreciative of myself.  I had one artist tell me my Indiana Jones game was his favorite event of the con.  WOW.  Me.  The kid that heard uncles betting on when he'd come out of the closet because he preferred books to football, and here I am getting kudos on the very skills I used to get made fun of over.
  I think we may sponsor a room again next year.  Why drop the money on a sponsorship if we're not a game company and not selling product?  Well, that's a good question, and one we've talked about.  We're all paying our ticket to get into the con, so why "purchase" the room?  The answer to that is enough of our people in the Dragoons value the experience of being part of North Texas RPG Con that it's worth it to us to basically pay extra for our tickets to support the con.  BadMike and Doug don't make a ton of money on the con, small conventions are notoriously hard to keep out of the red.  The value is in the experience.  It's in knowing we're contributing as best we can to the fun and the ability of others to immerse themselves in the classic gaming goodness of NTRPGCON.  We are providing gaming, helping move things, set things up, and entertain folks.  Our Advance Party of six showed up by noon the day before the con started to help set up - I wish there had been even more for us to do, we would have done it gladly.  For the love of the game, the love of the tribe.
  This year we brought about a dozen of us to the con counting Friends of Dragoons.  Next year, I'm hoping to increase that by 50% or more.  The more people we can bring into the fold to experience the exceptional gaming that happens at NT the better.  I think all gamers of an old school bent should experience this.  It's almost indescribable, the ability to move among this group of people and game.  I can't put my finger on a favorite session, but so many things from individual sessions stick out at me.

Wednesday (Pre-Con Get-It-On)

Image may contain: 2 people, people standingThe Royal Dragoon Guards Advance Party arrived on Wednesday.  CPT Ed Covarrubias, my esteemed executive officer, 1LT Dennis Sustare of the Home Guard and SGM Eric Stolle got there before my vehicle, with 1SG Robby Houser, MSG Raul Trevino and myself making up the rest of the Advance Party.  We immediately set to work doing what needed doing, which was setting up tables with the laminated hex and square mats Doug Rhea had made for the con, along with tissues for cleaning the mats and dice towers.  This allowed us to get the lay of the new hotel, the Westin DFW Airport, and see where all the events would be.

We had dinner at Kula, a sushi restaurant that has those awesome Japanese conveyor belts to deliver the food to your table.  I love it.  It's amazing.  Then we headed back to the Westin to do some gaming.  We got the room set up and Robby and I played the first of many rounds of Ace of Aces, with Robby kicking my Sopwith Camel's butt again and again in his Fokker.


  I had one mission on Thursday, and that was to see Ol' Man Grognard himself, Glen Hallstrom, and play some Gangbusters.  I'd not gotten to play with Glen as GM before, only as a fellow player, so it was with sheer pleasure that I found Glen was ridiculously awesome in his element as a Gangbusters GM.  His voices and characterizations were exemplary, his story was worthy of the genre, and we all had an absolute blast figuring out the murder mystery and the location of the ill-gotten spoils.  How good was the game?  Raul made it a point to buy a Gangbusters boxed set, and we've got plans to play some Gangbusters back home in the coming year.  Oh, and as players we were so much fun for Glen he ran a special Gangbusters session later in the con...

I ran Swords & Wizardry for Raul, Crystal, Dennis and Robby.  I had a pretty great time improvising a story set in Karameikos that I think I will just have to use in a D&D campaign in the future.  My improv skills were for some reason hotter than they've been in years at this con.  Maybe it was the hundreds of person-years of gaming experience dripping from the place, but I was on.  And having fun immediately.  Raul's friend Crystal was out of gaming for about 20 years, and she had no trouble jumping back in and having a great time.


  I'm outta typing time.  Gotta head for home. This has just become Part 1 of 3.