Saturday, November 29, 2014

Zombie Zigzag Shambling Back

One of the weirder phenomena about doing my own rule systems, has been working with other people with different interest wanting to use those rules. When I devised Crawlspace back in 2009, I pretty much envisioned non-Call of Cthulhu horror sessions, at late night gatherings. Folks around me, though, namely Michael Larsen, Monk, and Darryl Nichols, wanted to see how zombie tales could be worked using the TAG system. Believe it or not, while I don't dislike zombie movies, heck some are damn good and fun to watch; they just aren't my favorite take at the tabletop. 

Zombie RPG sessions weren't my thing for various reasons. In the early Aughts, when I met he authors/GMs, they were guys who basically bragged that they were the only survivor of this or that battle in the Vietnam war and basically wanting to shoot any person slightly different from them in race, politics, or even sex. I found the regular players tended to be military wannabes, who wouldn't join for whatever reason, who thought the GM had some insight into life. The play tended to boil down to First Person Shooter games done with dice and miniatures. I stumped more a couple GMs by not opening this or that door to explore hidden areas on the map before me. One time I grabbed a "patient" and ran back to helicopter ending a planned mega scenario in 11 minutes, which was the team's mission. I had expected to at least meet my superior officer and see some of the inside of our safe house, err place. Alas, who wanted to think that much? Besides there are plenty of zombie role-playing RPG games, as when as even more zombie RPG supplements.

Later though, Monk, especially, dispelled my aversion because of his enthusiastic Gamer love of the branch of horror scenarios. He was the biggest push behind the Zigzag project, and I still find his scenario "6 Degrees of Zombi Annihilation" one of the best ever conceived. It keyed me into the science fiction of these sorts of things, which can be better than just a virus gone awry. Later JerryTel, would devise his T&T variant, Stay Alive, and help me appreciate a good table-top zombies session.

So now that Paul Cooper, Paul 2.0, is talking me into making a TACK-ruled Zigzag for the latest Crawlspace, I am not even blinking. The man is an absolute encyclopedia of everything reanimated and his passion is quite convincing. Also TACK Crawlspace (13, Deluxe, whatever) is about making little horror movies at the tabletop. I'd be damned remiss if we didn't get some zombie action for the connoisseur of the sub-genre going on.

Like before, diverse perspectives are the key. I've got Monk coming back. There's no holding Paul 2.0 back. A couple of scenario writers are expressing interests, we'll see who else jumps in. This new Zigzag is going to new works, done in the Crawlspace screenplay style of scenario, coupled with different authors' takes on how to use TACK mechanics to make zombism(?) work for the person wanting to write his own. My own contribution won't detract from the upcoming Stay Alive's Apocalypse in Your Hometown as we're slating it for release around GenCon. When else should one do a zombie movie release besides the dog-days of summer?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Apocalypse in Your Hometown: Running Malthouse

Apocalypse in Your Hometown is going to be a series of scenarios written by David Moskowitz, Mark Thornton, Scott Malthouse, and myself, utilizing modern rules variations of T&T to shoehorn into Jerry Teleha' Stay Alive! adaptation. I say "shoe-horned" because these scenarios were actually written before the rules were released about a year ago. The scenarios were meant to hurry up the author with the work, but will be released well afterwards thanks to me. While I apologize to the contributors for the delay in the project's release, I blame, these days, quality assurance reasons. Look at it like this, when AiYH happens it'll bring a rush of attention prompting Jerry to work on the follow-up projects to the rules variation. 

A couple of weekends ago, Jerry ran Scott Malthouse's Hometown scenario, "Catacombs of the Black Coven" in Fort Wayne, Indiana at a local gaming festival. I had planned on running an impromptu session of Mark Thornton's "Utu," but things didn't pan out. Sadly, a game festival in Parma, OH, is looking like it's going to a be a wash as well so I won't be running David Moskowitz's either before the planned release in Jan 2015.  A Good News/ Bad News situation to say the least, though I have to admit I am jonesing to run _something_ . 

Playing in "Catacombs" was awesome on a couple levels. I had made myself forget the adventure, which wasn't hard as I scan/read it over eighteen months ago. Just from a personal perspective, it's a beginning level adventure, and my Character had two lucky rolls, which had me closer to 3rd level according to 7plus rules. I also enjoyed watching, nay, listening to JerryTel, a rather map-oriented GM, incorporate Malthouse's prose, always a treat, into the work-- I literally got a chill. The rules wrapped seamlessly around the scenario, if the GM was working hard, I couldn't tell, which is how it should be with T&T

The author happens to be something of a budding superstar expert in fantasist circles when it comes to folklore, so the magicapocalypse that overcame the British Isles, wasn't surprising. On a scale of Smurf to Godzilla, bigger is better on this scale, "Catacombs" is definitely a Big Foot. The diminution is for the fact that the adventure starts long after any apocalypse ever happened. There was also no sense of discovery of the Hometown. According to the GM, the scenario could've been a campaign of more than six games, which is awesome. 

Pretty much how I remember Uxbridge, London
Still I got to play Denton Van Zan for an afternoon.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A World a Week: The Afterlife

As everyone knows that the sun and moon circles around the Earth, they are sure that the universe revolves around them. It was with sort of medieval reasoning that I designed the Underworld. When a Character died and the player wanted a chance to bring it back to regular play, I used this graphic to handle those situations.

 This would end up being used in various campaigns regardless of settings. It was originally designed a standard fantasy campaign, I just wasn't wild about "Beyond the Silver Pane." It helped a couple T&T players, get over their losses, gently. But the longest run there actually happened during my run of an aborted Top Secret spy campaign. 

Some gumshoeing went south quickly and all-but-one of them ended up not being so Quick at the first encounter. Well, the dudes did start a shoot out in the Amsterdam airport when they saw someone who might've been KGB. The players, being goobers, er real role-players, actually couldn't think of letting their beloved characters, made up in 30 whole minutes of rolling dice and scribbling, so they agreed to undertake the voyage in the Great Beyond. The player with the surviving Character, Michael once again, even agreed to continue his story at the same time. In the 80's, I ran Stalking the Night Fantastic for six years so mixing guns and ghosties was nothing new. It did kind of spoil my hankering for a wholly non-supernatural campaign. Still I was going through a divorce so I wanted to do something on Friday night before going to the bar. So while the living Character worked on getting the floppy discs with the super doomsday virus from the evil mastermind in the Central African Republic, the other three players journeyed into the Underworld.

Characters in the underworld start out with all their worldly knowledge from before, but they have the bodies and stats of toddlers. While their "bodies" are bound to the ground, gravity doesn't change for the rest of their spirit and the world around them isn't-- they're upside down most of the time. This was when I maturing "gravity salad" recipe (I was doing a lot of rappelling in those days). As wide as the world was above, so was the Underworld, so traveling had all the limitations as in life. The world was pretty surreal and not just because of the gravity. Charon would drop them off in the Mists, where'd they'd notice the gravity and hopefully realize that the shadows were "barghast spirits" or Slavers. If they tried to return to where they came from, gravity would pull on their bodies regularly, falling into the misty skies below them NPC spirits never returned.

Notice that little structure?That was a combination of the Tower of Babel and a really massive pyramid, ran by somebody called the Dark Pharaoh who was always looking for slaves. There was a little hole where the stones for the Zigguarmid where cleft from, bottomless and leading to the fiery core of the world. Things got a little better once the dead characters, now in their physical teens, reached the beaches of the Elysium Ocean with rumors of the Minotaur's Palace. And that is the farthest that anyone has ever made it in my Underworld.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A World a Week (or so): Rooqa in Retrospect

The setting was diminishing-magic-meets-the-bronze-age sort of thing. While iron was known about very few smiths knew how to make fire hot enough. The creatures that still had magics or knew of materials that could heat up hot enough to fashion iron (trolls, elves, and dwarves) were poisoned by its touch. The Player-Characters started out as hires on a barge that was pulled in from Ulthar, a port along the Oronxic coastal lands down the Rift River. 

It was along this river that Mundaners, or the Daner, were beginning to populate the lands where magic was diminishing rapidly and taking with them the fantasy species that lived there. The Daners in this case were humans, boons (a smart version of a baboon), otgan (otter-people), and tuskers (roughly neanderthals).  The two settlements of Tripod City and Gled Onlarth were less than forty years-old. The region of Forestia was one of the last pockets of magic still left.

As the Characters found reason to work their way into Forestia towards the lair of an evil sorcerer, a "Knad Ek" in the "The High Language," which only Wizards knew, the charms and trinkets on their persons reactivated once in touch with magic again. Things went into pretty typical high fantasy for these sessions. Bronze swords with inscriptions became intelligent. Necklaces taught the wearer various spells at certain levels. Except for the "races," or Kindred as I call them, the group could've been from any popular fantasy novel written after the LotR series.

I can't remember specifically, but I think the sorcerer's name was Nirtudu. He lived in the last Wizards' Guild Citadel in existence, now called Def Nell. He was trying to bring the celestial worlds back closer to earth, figuring that this would bring the magic back. What he didn't know was that the sun, moon, and stars had grown in size and needed to be moving away from the Earth. The earth itself had folded over on itself and become a sphere instead of flat plane to compensate for its own growth. His scheme was to harpoon the sun with the Giant's Spear and drag it closer. The Spear was something more akin to Cthulhu than an actual artifact. 

Before things could get really messy, the PCs, all except one, battled valiantly to stop Nirtudu. Helios, the sun god, appeared and sent Nirtudu to the surface of the sun, where its energies consumed him. The PC that had sided with the mad wizard was sent to Mars, where plenty of magic still existed, but the alien environment required all of that person's capabilities to stay alive. Then there was the question of the native martians...

From '93 until '96, things were fairly stationary enough to keep a pretty stable gaming group, especially towards the end of it. The single player that had made it all the way through the campaign was on his fourth PC. I had become comfortable with running changing players, as well as their Characters, through story lines that I was keeping going to see where the plots ended up. Michael, a real Prince fan, played one of the better Wizards that I've ever seen. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A World a Week: Rooqa

The map that was already posted was my campaign notes, this was the actual map that the players saw.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A World a Week: Ruin Quest.

The first ever Tripod City
Did I ever mention that I get a little tired of Tolkien-based, err influenced fantasy? Well from '93 on, I had been running T&T games heavily influenced by Runequest's Glorantha. I didn't have any of the books anymore, so when I drew up a campaign area in '95 or '96, it was a Thanksgiving afternoon, that much I remember, the setting didn't really have a lot in common with the fore-mentioned world.

Rooqa, as it was called after the first year of play, was very early bronze-age. It might or might not have been based on a certain region of the Danude. Larry Niven's The Magic Goes Away was a major influence. I remember doing theoretical things like solo-playing out fights between smaller dragons and saber-tooth tigers while making climax adventures for some of the players.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A World A Week: WS3K Species.

Human- You and me in Spaaaaaaaaace!

Primrosean- They like to call themselves "The Prime." This group of humans somehow teleported from Earth in 2257 to the planet known as Primrose. They are psychically-gifted and have 700 years plus of a history without being controlled by their home planet.

Qua-Qua-Kali- Despite their beaked heads, this amphibious humanoid species evolved from creatures that fed mainly off of clam and oyster-like creatures. The original inhabitants of what would become the Yankee Sector. They view the humans, the berger, and the kodoa as just another series of invaders for the last nine hundred years.

Imperfi- Pointy-eared and slight-framed humanoids with skins that change color to camouflage themselves. Very clan-oriented and rather feudal in their governmental system.

Kodoan- Amphibious reptile bad-asses. They tend to be quite warlike, well we've fought four wars against them. They blame us.

Berger- Very ugly, but very smart and technologically advanced humanoid species. They have multiple warships that are the size of the Starwars Death Star.

Oliph- Elephant snout-faced humanoids without mouths. Believed to be vegetable in biology. Very good interstellar explorers. They tend to get along with anybody.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A World a Week: Still Spending the 90s In Space

Still in the stars, those previously mentioned Star Trek-styled tabletop sessions led to War Star 3,ooo, or WS3K. Going from the tight group of gamers that I knew during my time on the Reaction Force to new folk, luckily Babylon Five and Star Trek Deep Space Nine were going strong. If not for those shows, I don't think I'd find anybody that would want to play anything but Vampire or Dark Sun otherwise. Most of these games were at my house after the deployments slowed down enough for me to have time so books crept in. Traveller: 2300 books, a couple FASA Star Trek scenarios, and many articles from Challenger magazine were placed on the table to add visual atmosphere, but rarely had anything to do with the game going on.

The rule system was loosely based on my beloved T&T, rewritten from memory of the Fifth edition into a waterproof pocket tablet of some 40 pages. It was getting worn out, but I couldn't find FBI products over in Europe, where I spent most of the time for the rest of the decade.

The Yankee Sector would evolve from the Starfaring play-test. One of the player's, Weinmann, found a heavily population world made up of various interstellar species along with humans. He named the planet Graceland, but the humans that were there already called the planet Primrose and themselves the Prime. The Elvis Confederation warred against the natives, of all species, and took over the sector. From there I started filling in the blanks. One of the players, Diamon, I met in a "task study group" training for hypothetical operations in places like Syria, Iran, and Iraq, so interstellar species became like the various tribal ethnics that we so often hear about today. The Concord human kingdoms were straight up American crusaders imposing their culture on the region, and various species just didn't have the numbers or tech to complain about it. The two major (and powerful) alien species, the Berger and Kodoan, were loosely based on Turkey and Iran. That is if the Turks were hominid creatures that specialized in burrowing and were masters at genetic engineering, and the Iranians were amphibious reptile humanoids that had space ships bought from the Romulans; still there were little allusions. 

The parallels of our world faded as the sessions went on over the years. The players changed, and sometimes I had to run them in chat rooms while on deployment in less homey parts of Europe and eastern Turkey.  You see it was Star Trek, but grittier. It wasn't Star Wars at all, the "war" came before the "star," totally different. Looking back, the WS3K campaigns were totally in line with the rather military-minded scif-fi TV shows that I ran across over the decade. Not surprising given my job at the time. But I still consider this some of finest sci-fi RPGing ever.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Nov-Dec: A World a Week

Now that Halloween has led to All Saint's Day, still heading into the Feast of the Assumption, the time for the macabre and ghastly has passed (at least a little even for adventure gamers). Along side doing my scenarios for gaming conventions and completing some for publication productions, I'll be throwing up old maps and notes from one of my "journals" over the next couple of months. I stumbled across the notebook the other day, a cat had peed on something near it, and was amazed to see that I hadn't filled every page as I have done with every other one before it, some 22, for the last thirty-four years of gaming.  The blank pages probably mean that this journal was started around 1994 and then tapered off as I discovered the internet while in Bosnia in '95. It has the details of active RPG campaigns, system play-tests, and go nowhere idle doodling, from '94 up until around 2006. I get the last date because the maps and notes start to line up with items published for sale around that time.

I tend not to be sentimental about my adventure gaming endeavors in the past. The other twenty-something journals are not kept as a library of any sort. I often trip over them after a cat has knocked over a stack of old paper products. More often than not their covers are peed, or worse, upon. With the advent of the inter-webs of the worldwide net tubes, long journals with maps, notes, and sketches of this or that became unnecessary as I was not only able to place things into an electronic format but get in touch with other fantasists and real artists-- frankly my head didn't have to be a boiler needing a hidden away draft pad for a vent. 

To get things started I thought I'd go with my "campaign summary" of a Starfaring play-test, with two then up to seven friends, done on the fly in 93-94. A fellowship of dudes I mind-gamed with at LP/OPs (Listening/Observation Posts) spread out on various training battlefields between Texas, Alaska, and South Korea over something called SINGARS (radios). We had to keep the mapping wholly mathematical, graph paper didn't come in water-poof notebooks. This helped us make the maps somewhat 3-D as we just read coordinates among ourselves.  We blocked the information into encrypted data chunks to avoid decryption by our superiors. They didn't care too much because OpFor (Opposing Forces) would be confused and bogged down trying to figure out what we were doing, that and the fact that most likely the bosses were asleep anyway. On a good run, we'd shoot totally encoded "turns" up to four times an hour, for three days straight in between doing our job. Using pre-set lists, I ran their starships across strange new worlds or not.

The three world's of Elvis, Solus, and Garm (mine) were the starting points for our respective ships. Star empires arose in our wake. Alien species were encountered. A few table-top Star Trek-styled role-playing sessions took place in hotel rooms during days off, as I was whetting my space opera campaign passions.