Friday, December 14, 2018

Making Christmas Special

Image may contain: 1 person, hat 

The older I get the more fun I have at Christmas time with ideas for role-playing. I was brave enough a couple of years ago to publish a RPG zine called The Santa Lands, and it worked out nicely. All the prints that were up for sale were sold. The PDF does a few sale sales throughout the year with a handful, it seems, around X-Mas if you include November and January. So making Christmas "specials" with as little investment as an author can afford is worth the investment. But I am thinking more about making the Christmas season a special time for my table-toppings.

Christmas is definitely a time of high fantasy. Before the Christ cycle, there are all the tales around the winter solstice. The Yule tradition as well as the marking of one year to the next even before most calendars. Saint Nicholas of Myra would appear in Medieval Christendom and compete with the Passion Plays as very popular entertainment, often appearing with the closest thing that people had to a CGI heavy Krampus. Even into industrial times, where religious ceremony started to give way to a single holiday (off-work) versus many holy days, it was the interjection of the fantastical old Saint Nick toned down and elves and flying reindeer to get the drunks off the streets and role-playing at home with  kids about being a prosperous citizen in a productive life.

So can the average RPGer make something special out of the high fantasy season of Christmas and the New Years? Maybe not the average ones, but the better ones can and do often. One of the better ones that I can think of is Charlie Fleming's Kringle Force, where elves from the North Pole save not only X-Mas but the world. The only thing missing in this one was Lee Majors and Big Foot.

I write this as consolation blog as a consolation for myself. Alas, unless I do something like an emergency Wobble session over the Christmas-New Year's weeks, I am not doing anything special myself. And the setting I have is more about Saints and their sins and Christendom in the multiverse, nothing really seasonal except for the inclusion of Nicholas of Myra. But starting next November first, I am going to sit down and get something brewing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Vikings Versus Venusians

At one time, like back in 'o4, I swore to Peryton that I was going to write the most rambling, rather pointless RPG setting that I could think of. The title from a weird CoC game that I ran back in the 80s became this project's name which is "Vikings Versus Venusians." It was my take on the Highlander movie the new White Wolf style introspective games coming out back then for that game system but with reincarnation and astrology worked in.

I've even made notes on this. Player-Characters roll to see how many pass lives that they have, and based on a rating, get random flashbacks during the course of any adventure. The Venusians are not actually from Venus, but a dimension where the gateway to that world opens only when the Earth and Venus are at a certain conjunction to on another, so it only appears that the invading aliens are coming from Venus, to the defending Vikings. The Vikings themselves are not often really Vikings, only having a one in ten chance of even being a reincarnated Dane, Swede, Nordansk, et al. on the reincarnation chart, but the defenders of Earth are a secret order that calls themselves the Norse. Neutral characters could berandom psychics that came into contact with the highly psionic Venusians as well as the Old Souls of the Earth's guardians. These neutral PCs could not have a reincarnation but might think that they do because a Venusian, or a demon, or an Atlantean, acting like a previous life of that character. Then there is some astrological charting guidelines that are meant to modify Character rolls during the course of play each season, but these can be randomly generated with a series of dice rolls or calculated by the GM as needed.

And then I stopped. I stopped not because things were getting too wild for a game system-- indeed the complete notes are barely a dozen pages-- but it could all be fit into one scenario. Try as I might, I could not stretch this RPG premise out to a whole game, even a pamphlet sized one. I blame mostly my better control of game session pacing now that "one off" scenarios are what I usually run 75% of any year.

Still I wonder, can I turn this into a game? More than likely it'll just be a Wobble scenario if I ever try to make this silliness presentable.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Games You Probably Haven't Heard Of

"Halflings and the Hive" is a work by Beckett Warren and Todd Jakubisin presented at the local convention GenghisCon. It is proclaimed to be a "system-agnostic RPG adventure" on the cover. Knowing Beckett's propensity for the DCC system, he runs one every week at his game and dorkdom shop of Weird Realms,  it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out which set of rules the abbreviations work best with.  Mister Jakubisin is no slacker himself, I know him for his Pests tabletop game but I am sure that he has other products out as well.

So picture a setting where halflings are the dominant PCs of interest and a hive of Buzzbees are looking to infect undead flesh as host material for their Queen's brood. In a pinch living flesh will do for the Buzzbee larvae. In the town itself, a place called Cerwin, there of course shadowy cults, The Blood Cult and Her Majesty's Holy Hive. Races covered in the text include Corrupt Halflings, koalas, pandas, and a few bears-- there are others but no one cares after reading "koala." Characters strive to cope with and possibly foil the ne'er-do-wells of the scenario.

In this fanzine style pamphlet, the maps, cards for random encounters, and forms designed to keep track of play make up about half of the work. The other half is some overarching narrative of the scenario and a lot of detail for the NPCs and factions. Complete with the decent artwork, maybe done by Jakobisin, the twenty pages, plus front and back covers gives a lot of bang for the buck to the reader. The only thing I have found to complain about here is a lack of a proper title page and Beckett's, just guessing, overuse of the word "fucking" as an adjective in the writing. I am a relic from another time when it comes to only using swearing in dialog though so what the hell do I know?

Beckett making a gameday happen at a local convention.
Overall, I'd rate this work a King Kong on a scale of Smurf to Godzilla.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

No Small Step

Image may contain: night and skySo if you, seated reader, have been reading my inane babbling here at this blog for a while, you know that I am planning on releasing a major Spacers(TM) work and I have been doing so for quite some time. The news on that is that I gone from being a serious amateur astronomer back to being an RPG writer again. That means that I feel that I have enough information on some of the more recent news about stars and planets from such sources as the Kepler telescope and the Wide-Angle Search for Planets (WASP), to start working on the role-playing stuff for my sci-fi setting to end all sci-fi settings.

And actually it is not a setting, it's settings. If you've played in more than one Spacers sessions, you noticed that I change up the tone and milieu each game. I suppose as a GM I am used to having to change gears to explore whatever is being talked about from one sci-fi movie to the next. Its like five settings. It may be more, because I am working them one at a time and not reading ahead. Just working with what I thought was cool four years ago because I was pretty clever back then, as well as now and even better read and viewed. So whatever deconstruction that I did I'll just play a technical writer to my ealerier inspired self. Hey it's working, don't judge.
Image may contain: 1 personSo remembering my overall story lines, the campaign material goes from a "close orbit saga" where the Earth and Moon are looking at Mars. I am hoping for a Space 1999 meets "Johnny Mnemonic" feel. There is always room for 2001: ASO and some Road Warrior worked in. Then there is the solar system-wide setting it gets more than a little retro because that was my first Spacers line of scenarios. Then there is the slower-than-light, maybe not, colonization period where creature feature Alien, Aliens, and merchandising as well as works about colonization of distant planets and remote biospheres like Solaris or a new film by DUST productions Prospect. For the Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, Starship Troopers set of mind that I get into I work in a FTL and phaser-shooting mega-vessels with national entities spanning lightyears, complete with naval-like dynamics and alien species used as metaphors for modes of behavior. Finally I get into "high sci-fi" or spherical fantasy, where Star Wars, Farscape, Larry Niven's "Known Space" works, and Flash Gordon serials occur.

Okay enough yapping. Back to the sub-light setting... .

Monday, November 26, 2018

Con Tales like Jet Trails

As the ever-festive wintry mix of November slogs in December, it's been quite a time. A lot of it has been "meh" to awful. This was because of too much of a good thing, partying, and some really poor health in general.

Carnage was an up and down thing. I reaffirmed some pretty long-term relationships through the room parties. We hung with CCrabb, Rags, Mister Dresser, and Matt at Scott and Petra's den of villainy and expensive drink and food. There we met many of the characters of Dark Phoenix fame, the Kruppa not being the least of them, and had a good time. The minute we got back to our room though some newcomer, if not two of them, would turn into a jerk.  And it involved the jerks plying Pery, who I still think claims me as her husband, with too much alcohol, declaring their dislike of me and making passes at her. After being invited to leave my own room, one telling me "I am Carnage. You have no say here." I had to strong-arm both of them out on Thursday night/Friday morning. A cop would appear on the scene after repeated hotel security visits, he took my side and that should have ended the story. Pery would miss her event on Friday because of a crippling case of mystery flu and I'd play Civilization III all day. Friends would swing by for a night cap and close out the day nicely. On Saturday night the second jerk from Thursday was invited back because he is a childhood friend of one of our long-term friends, and he went into asshole mode within minutes in front of other people this time. He would end up falling asleep in a chair after showing his nipple and blowing kisses at Pery whenever he could. Pery would insist on a last bit of partying at 6am on that now Sunday AM at another locale. I insisted we let Mr. Asshole sleep and if he woke up all by himself in a warm and cozy room he could call hotel security for a rescue since he'd been so comfortable in MY room all weekend already. We got to bed around 8:30am in a finally empty room. Check out was 11am, we were packed at 10:52. Boy the drive to Syracuse was hell, but the pizza in New York soothed both of our under-slept souls.

While I have been ill for most of November, causing me to cut into my savings to pay bills and whatnot, Wobble is in the post production phase of things. This is the fun part of the hobby for me. I get to talk to other creative sorts, editors and illustrators, about the work. I get a bit of feedback from proof readers. I have even been sketching diagram thingies that I hope can be polished up before the final formatting.

Yesterday, I shopped small and local like a fiend. I also got to be a local "game designer" running a quick kill Crawlspace game at the same event. A little something called Genghis Con which is organized by Cleveland artists and publishers every year. This year Beckett, of Beckett fame, opened a side room for local game makers and musician techno sorts. I had expected a table next to the Weird Realms stand in a crowded dealer room, what was there was a mini-convention all on its own. There were at three tables with games going on, when I was able to corral three people that had expressed interest in Crawlspace plus one more experienced role-player whom I think was just passing by. George, Matt the Makker, along with Kelsey and Chris helped my work through my first running of Crawlpace's "Places in Space". The run time was 51 minutes, plus another 30 for Character creation and the Opening scene.
While I had the Act structure and differing random fates worked out for each of the Characters, it is a horror movie of a scenario, these Players helped me flesh out the module by assigning cop archetypes to their LEO Roles during the course of play. I think this was the best test play that I have had to date.  After the session, I had meant to get back to two vendors in main dealer's hall, but a H/A, part of my on-going health drama, was erupting. A good thing though because I had spent 200$ plus already. Still need to find those guys around town. I want those products.

The celebrity that I know is John G of Shiner Comics

"Places in Space" Beta Testing in progress
Pery arrived home from a trip to her family's home abode a couple of hours afterwards. We caught up a bit. I was able to present her with homecoming gifts (a mug, a bandana, and a comic book) from Genghis Con, before the headache would send me to bed early. Oh yeah, the space for the local convention had a Visitor sign in book in the bathroom. So all in all, still a good month with plenty of hilarity.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Parts of a Toolbox, w/o Being a Tool

As a GM, I learned a long time ago that writing twenty plus pages of notes for every type of game of that I run before I ever sat down to compose a scenario is not only helpful it’s kind of a thrill just for me alone. I have the vanity that someday each project will be published and readers around the globe will see how deep and clever a mythpoet I really am. Now when I sit down at the table, it took me a little longer to learn that using my voice to only fill in gaps around the players’ story is pretty essential. This is for anything from a party of tomb-robbing medieval “adventures” dealing with the swamps of doom or a task force of FBI agents dealing with a group of Chinese-funded hackers that happen to be vampires. Whatever the deal is, let the promo for the adventure set the premise and then let the Players set the tone and depths. I should just be ready for them.
Now I am not advocating that a GM always tend towards a sandbox approach to things. Pacing tends to be the most important tool in my toolbox when it comes times for the event. With a new group, or an impromptu one such as at a convention, the GM should be building the paradigm at the start and by the end of the session, they should mostly interpreting player-driven situations and explaining their rule usage. Established gaming gangs often spend the beginning of a session exploring their Characters and then around the ¾ mark of time, I have to provide a quick dilemma to be overcome or not to set the basis for the next sit down. Most GMs with established campaigns, time frames for adventures may not be specified so reading the Players and their own energy levels is gauge of when the ¾ mark is, so don’t be a clock watcher unless necessary.

Races and Racism
Get over it. When it comes to fantasy role-playing, as in dealing with the fantastical not just variants of Tolkien tropes but entering the unreal into any sort of setting, there is the expectation of the Players being able to come across the alien. By alien, I mean that which is foreign or different from their own point of view. Hopefully this brings goosebumps to the joy center of their imagination first. And then whether they fall into a discourse of anthropological style study of the world created by the GM or they decide to hit it with their war hammer is the point of the game. The point of the game not the problem with it.
If a GM cannot separate their elves from Appalachian hillbillies or Mongolian plateau residents in their head, they need to spend some researching those cultures. This sort of activity has always help me design human cultures, which is what they are, for whatever world I am playing with then get me onto designing something possibly creative about the species that I am calling elves. Even if these elves are 99% human-like, so are chimpanzees in our real world and they are very exotic to anybody encountering them. There should be something different about them, if the GM is doing this for fun.
Now the Player having expectations of what fantasy folk should be like should be expected. They aren’t sitting down at a table to be a part of band of dwarven warriors lead by a gnome magician to reclaim a lost wonder works forge from a tangle of trolls and a fire giant overlord because they haven’t read Terry Brooks books. Now if the players are all about, “my dwarf has a Scottish accent.” I as a GM like shake things ups. For fun I might give everything Korean names, and flat out use Confucianism and Buddhism as the dominant forms of spiritualism among the dwarves and gnome separate yet similar communities after the game starts. Since I do my own research, I just happen to have a pocket-sized notebook of notes from working with a K-Pop fan for years, I don’t need an “oriental adventures” source book and come up with pointlessly complicated Classes and some nonexistent standin culture instead focusing on the universal of dynamics of the quest. The archetypes of the Warrior, Wizard, or Rogue all work just fine regardless of rules system that one is playing with. If the player can’t get over it, oh well. I one time had a batch of dudes have a real problem with playing a campaign essentially set in northern Africa circa 570 AD. I heard their “Nordic-Celtic” campaign died on the vine after an introduction game when D&D 4th Edition came out-- they play collectible card games now at the coffee shop we used to hang out at. Good for them. Most of the players will become immersed or play the fish-out-of-water trope.

Getting the Chance to Talk
As role-playing is a social interaction, Gming can be a reclusive pursuit getting the party together. It does make things move along nicely without forcing the point though. The outsider role works for players great in role-playing, even when as a GM I am not mixing things up. It gives me a chance to do expository based off of my grocery bag full of details I have in my head without doing the railroad-y thing. Scenery not stealing the scene is a great tool towards helping a narrative come together. Heck, I am the scenario author. Even DM GMs should have some narrative as part of their game session, it helps put their personal mark to their scenario despite of how free-form or patterned it is. Once again being prepared is important.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Ain't that a Kick in the Head


Wow. At the website where I sell my PDFs I am now a double-barrel "Copper Best Seller." I am very proud of this not because of the sales but because of the products that have that badge attached to them. One is my New Khazan title which is my sphere fantasy for the Tunnels &Trolls rules system. Now that doesn't surprise me. T&T is a brand name which sells solid and only gathers more readers as people start looking for stuff to read as well as play. 9KW (my own abbreviation for New Khazan) was easy for me to write. I was adapting my passion for space opera with my love of the Flying Buffalo Incorporated-owned (FBI) rules system written by Ken St Andre. So when it sold well and quickly, I bought pizza and beer with the profits and kept on writing-- A behavior which continues to this day, just not as often with said item's moneys. 

The second is my TAG Spacers product. Lordheads know, I did not know any one besides old friends from space RPG chatroom days had ever heard of it let alone read this one. It was written before 9KW, actually being typed on an old fashioned typewriter that my Grampa had given me to be photocopied, folded in half, and mailed to people back in the 90s. I dressed it up a bit when Pery Publishing first started and we released the "new and improved" version. After a few sales over the opening month, nobody ever seemed to talk about it. Running it at conventions had enthusiastic players that'd buy a copy a few weeks later, then I'd never hear from them again. I felt I had produced a flop, but I knew the system worked just fine. So I concentrated on writing T&T stuff.

There have been signs though that people have been buying it. Besides the itemized sale reports, where it was always hidden beneath all the new and shinier pieces buying my rewards that week, folks would say things. Indeed the author of a bootleg version 9KW for a certain Outlaw Press, done without my permission of course but in the T&T crowd a bit of piracy is forgiven if the person doing it apologizes and is nice when foiled, told me, "The copy I had of your New Khazan notes was mostly your Spacers (the TAG ones) classes and the spells were from the equipment lists."

Okay what's the big deal? People get higher rankings by selling their untested brands at "Chose Your Price" rates and just giving it away for free all the time. You see, I don't do that. I sell. I don't plan on home improvements with the money, but I insist on some recompense for the artwork (which people need to start investing in again because the big companies are getting sucky with their choices) and formatting, as well as just the time spent. Still it is nice to go perusing a random review of a newer product and find out that your flop of a product from a decade ago has made into to medallion level sales of game sales at a preferred site.