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April 29, 2006

Game Circle

With all of this RPG-related activity lately, it's about time I posted another PG-related Link of the Moment. Game Circle is a new web site dedicated to making connections between Australian players. The aim is to set up local "pools" of hobbyists who get together for short campaigns and are thus likely to stay in the pool, as opposed to Finding A Group and Never Coming Back.

The concept is based around substantial anecdotal evidence that the short, six-to-ten session campaign is much more common than the almost-mythical "One Campaign with One Group that Goes For Years" that Dungeons & Dragons and its ilk try to sell to adult hobbyists who have to juggle work and time commitments. I first came across the idea when RPGnet member Jim Bob presented it in this thread, and it seems like just the thing Simon and I have discussed in the past.

It's still aimed at the "alredy a gamer" crowd, and I'm seriously thinking about garnering interest among those who've never participated in a game before. Still, it'd be nice to establish a pool like that which gamecircle.org suggests. Fingers crossed we can get one going...

April 27, 2006

More RPG on Sunday

Well, well, well! Looks like I'm gonna have yet more game this coming Sunday!

I get a phone call from Vickie yesterday afternoon. She told me that we'd be having a couple of guests for dinner; Rhys, her first grandson, and his sales partner (Rhys is working for Austar as a salesperson), a gent from Canada by the name of Kevin. I say, okay, cool.

Then Vickie drops the bomb: Kev's a gamer, who's been out of the hobby so long that he's itching to game. Coming on the heels of a rather grinding day at work, this was bloody good news.

We have 'em over for dinner, and we get to know Kev some. He's a great guy, well-mannered and cheerful with a line in witty conversation. I also figure he makes no bones about his hobby, considering both that Rhys (who's not an RPGer, though he does play the World of Warcraft) told Vickie about his interest, and that he was relaxed about it in conversation with us (although, again, Rhys had already told him that we were gamers also).

So, of course, Kev asks the question, "So when're we gaming?" After some quick discussion, we decide that Sunday could be okay; Vickie and Deena (Vickie's daughter / Rhys' mum) are off to a baby shower for Vickie's daughter-in-law Jodie, which means that I'm otherwise at home doing bugger-all. But here's the kicker: Rhys says he'd be up for a game as well. (!) I have the feeling Kev makes a pretty good poster-boy for the hobby: he definitely walks tall. (Like I said, I'm still practising.)

The question is, what shall I run? Kev has asked to be surprised, and although I was thinking Starship Troopers (I have Ice Station Zebra 24 and all those pregens) or InSpectres (the very definition of pick-up-and-play), I've already mentioned those to him, so I might cast my eye across the gaming shelf and see whether there's something else I'd like to do. Primetime Adventures is tempting, especially as I've not mentioned it to either of them, but I'm not too sure about whether they'd be keen on a Pitch Session. Dogs in the Vineyard was also mentioned last night, but I'm still a little gun-shy after the last time I tried it. I'm really liking the non-complex, free-wheeling, pick-up-and-play InSpectres at the moment.

I might be getting greedy, but I wonder if I can rope anyone else in?

April 19, 2006

InSpectres = The Fun

Okay, so in my last post I wrote how, in my experience, a lot of character design processes in RPGs are about creating something that feels more like a custom-built toy and giving you rules so you and your friends can play toy wars, testing each other's toys to breaking. Thing is, RPGs seem to mix Trying To Do Other Stuff in with the Toy Wars, which means people looking for Toy Wars get bored with all the other stuff they have to trudge through, and people wanting to just explore or "play a character" get bored with all the stuff that gives the Toy Wars tactical depth and meaning.

So what's the opposite of that for me?

On Monday, I asked Vickie if she'd like to play some Primetime Adventures in the next couple of weeks. I'd been indulging in some more RPG porn, you see, reading the accounts of a group that had created a series called Dungeon Majesty and, as people who've played a Primetime Adventures game tend to, were waxing poetical about how god-damned cool the game is. (If you ever wonder why I proselytise about this game so much, it's simply because Primetime Adventures has the most consistently good Internet word-of-mouth, not to mention most consistently good accounts of actual play, that I've ever read for an RPG.)

However, although Vickie said okay, she didn't seem particularly keen on the idea. I asked her about it, and she said that her experiences with Primetime Adventures - namely, the pitch sessions Vickie, Gav, Salidar and I did for what became Stars on the Move - had been more complex than she prefers. Instead, she suggested InSpectres.

Now, I was a bit narked about that in the beginning, being on a big PtA kick at the time. But I swallowed it, figuring I was being a jerk, and sent an e-mail out to Simon, Cristel and one of the guys who was interested in the Starship Troopers session, asking whether they'd be interested. Since then I've started reading InSpectres again, going over rules and thinking about how to run a session.

As such, I've also started thinking about the previous games of InSpectres I've run. Now I have, I will admit, only ran InSpectres twice and have never played. (The two sessions were the playtest of That Scottish Play for Con*Descending 03, and the single session I ran.) However, I will say this: those two sessions stand out as the most straight-up fun I've ever had as a participant in a roleplaying game. Even though I have a tendency to remember the bad parts of life better than the good, I can remember not only laughing with my players in both games, but also the parts of the game we were laughing at; moments that we'd come up with together. Yes, we weren't laughing at a geek culture reference made in break-from-game chat, the game itself was providing fuel for fun and we were gleefully lighting matches. I can see why Vickie would want another game, and why I want one, too!

Heck, how about the rest of you folks who sat around the gaming table either at Fraser Road for the playtest or at Con*Descending that day? What do you remember about it?

Also, on reflection, I can see Vickie's point about Primetime Adventures. The pitch session was shaky, in part because of some chat connectivity problems, but also I think that as Producer I should have been pushing a churn of ideas until we got something that produced the "Click" moment people who get good PtA pitches keep talking about. The pitch session is also fairtly un-structured, which works great for those who succumb to the world-building urge (like me, sometimes; see my various attempts to get Lexicon games off the ground), but indulging world-builders doesn't work so great for the Pitch, because a show concept usually doesn't need a great deal of complexity.

I'm starting to think InSpectres would be a great game to introduce new people to what gets me going about the hobby, moving on to Primetime Adventures if / when people want to do something other than busting ghosts.

Footnote: In addition to auctioning off CyberGeneration, I'm also tempted to get rid of Feng Shui - the main thing stopping me, aside from nostalgia, is that I find it easier to imagine a game group having fun with Feng Shui and more importantly, me having fun GMing it for them.

Neatest Toybox In The World?

I remember sometime, I had something that resembled an epiphany in relation to roleplaying games. Now, I'm not sure of exactly when that happened; I think I have a couple of memories all tangled up with a couple of others. but the content is the point, and I think it's worrthwhile.

I used to enjoy "equipment" books for roleplaying games, and still do to an extent. It's a combination of pretty pictures and impressive, meaningful-looking numbers. I'd lust after them, want the opportunity to use these big, small, sleek, blunt, cool-looking, cool-statted objects in a game.

The realisation I had was this: All those natty pieces of tech? They're just numbers. That Glitter Boy suit of powered armour? All those cool looking machines in Coalition War Camapign, or even the Gears & Striders books for Heavy Gear? Numbers, and lots of 'em. That's all you're geeking out about, son, is just the possibility of putting those numbers next to some numbers you'd already written down on a piece of paper. The actual gear doesn't exist, and while that may seem self-evident, it was nonetheless the idea of an RPG alter-ego of mine actually possessing and using these mythical objects that tended to whet my appetite for playing a roleplaying game. The thing is, all I'm really doing when I whip out my smartgun, link it to my cyber-interface and firing a three-round burst is juggling numbers.

Recently, I realised something else. I kept trying to figure out just what it is and / or was that got me hooked into the whole RPG business in the first place, you know, with games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness and Robotech and (for a while) RIFTS. I mean, sure, Robotech, RIFTS, cool looking gear aplenty, but TMNT? Not so much; although funky-looking mutant animals are cool, there weren't any really cool items that I could give them. I'm not really sure whether I was after - the superhero factor? Again, I dunno - I've always been more an Iron Man fan. Regardless of "RPG gear = numbers", what was so attractive about these "character" constructs, gear or not? I mean, what makes someone "roll a character up" as a recreational activity, when there's slim to zero chance that character will ever be part of a game?

I think that the relationship I've had with each character I've made under one of those systems is similar if not identical to that I have with a toy. It's this cool looking thing that I've attached some sort of value to that likely isn't really present. Also, there's the added attachment to something I've spent time building; monkeying around with those numbers was like a Lego set, but without all that tedious having to build joints and put air hoses in and actualyl design a moving structure. I think the HERO System slogan is a misnomer: It should be, "The Ultimate Gamer's Toybox." Or maybe even "The Ultimate Gamer's Lego Set." Or maybe that's unfair - The HERO System is a toolkit, it's just a toolkit for building your own personalised, fully-tricked-out toy. And I've spent more time building imaginary toys with HERO and Mekton Zeta than playing with them.

The groovy bit, in theory, about roleplaying games is that they're not just toy building kits, they're games for your toys; sure, you might have a cool collection of TransFormers, but you can't do anything meaningful with them aside from maybe transform them back and forth unless you make a game for them. RPGs are, by definition, a game for your own personal toys.

But looking back at my history with roleplaying games, it's always been those sorts of games that have been the least satisfying to play or run. Not just HERO or Robotech or even Heavy Gear, but Star Wars (D6 and D20 both) the odd Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and GURPS, the assorted con games I've played - I can't remember reliably or consistently having fun.

April 17, 2006

eBay Auction: CyberGeneration Complete Collection

Well, as we're a little tight for money, running out of shelf space and realising that some of the games on the shelf we'll simply never play, I've decided to auction off some more of my RPG stuff on eBay. This time, it's my CyberGeneration books. Please take a look; if you're interested, have a bid, and if you're not but know someone who might be, can you forward the link onto them, please?

April 14, 2006

Shit. Yay! Shit.

An Easter Story: Folks, I have passed a milestone, I have endured a rite of passage, I have become, if you will, a man: I changed a tyre all on my own yesterday evening.

I went down into the casino parking lot last night after work to find the car listing over to one side. The back driver's side tyre was flat! (Shit #1.) Now, as I'd only brought the tyres back up to pressure a couple of weeks ago, I assume that there's some kind of puncture somewhere, although I've not checked yet. Anyway, as I was meant to pick Vickie up from the supermarket here in Gordonvale, I called her and let her know about the problem. Amongst other things, she told me to make sure that I tightened the nuts in an X pattern once I'd put the spare wheel on. So, I opened the boot, organised my tools and set to work.

I was getting worried when, after loosening two of four nuts, the third was absolutely refusing to budge; in fact, the handle of the ratchet wrench I was using was actually bending under the strain. Thankfully, Christine, a friend from work whom we will be visiting this Sunday for lunch, happened by, and she had one of those - you know, that tool that looks like an X, and at each point of the X there's a different socket? One of them - which made short work of that last argumentative nut.

After that, it was jack the car up (although I was worried that I didn't have any wheel chocks), remove the flat tyre (during which time Kristin from work, who's moving to Brisbane next week, drove by and asked what was up), put the spare wheel on (after unfastening the bolt that holds it down in the back of the car), tighten the nuts in an X pattern, secure the flat, put everything away again, went back up to the casino ground floor to wash my grimy hands, met Belinda from work who asked what I was still doing there, washed my hands, got into the lift, met Liz from work who asked what I was still doing there, got in my car and drove back to Gordonvale to pick Vickie up. (Yay!) Naturally, I had a nice shower after I got home; I must've left a gallon of sweat on the carpark concrete!

Unfortunately, I then discovered last night that my nice new sound card in my PC - that Audigy 2 ZS I bought five months ago - may be stuffed. The speakers had been playing up for a while, and a couple of nights ago I noticed that they got flaky whenever the desk moved. I checked the connections and noticed that the jacks had partway pulled out of the sound card sockets, but aftre reseating them my speakers make this horrid static hiss, and sound quality sucks. Last night I tried pulling the card, cleaning it, cleaning the jacks and sockets at both the card and subwoofer ends, then putting it back in; no joy. (Shit #2.) It seems to have something to do with the subwoofer/centre speaker channel; I can have the front and rear jacks in, and sound is fine, but the moment I put the sub/centre jack in, the hiss starts.

Looks like I might have to yank the card and put the old SB Live! I was going to get rid of back in - but you know what? The difference between the two was marginal anyway. Still, I might take the card back to where I bought it, see if they can figure out what the problem is.

April 12, 2006

My Ideal Intro for Ice Station Zebra 24

You know how I mentioned in the last post that I reckon it'd be a good idea, if / when I next GM "Ice Station Zebra 24", to start in media res? And how I wanted to do a Federal Network style opening tothe game for the session I did on Saturday?

Well, here's the sort of thing I had in mind. To have it work really well, I'd probably need a laptop with PowerPoint connected to a big screen, but I can see myself doing it with a stereo loaded with the Starship Troopers movie soundtrack, dextrous use of the volume control, and colour printouts as storyboard-style flash-cards.

Eh-em:

BLACKOUT. AUDIO FADE IN on the drum opening of the FedNet March.

HORN FANFARE! IMAGE: "FEDERAL NETWORK"

CUT TO:
EXT: PARADE GROUND. Regiment of power-suited MOBILE INFANTRY in parade formation.

ANNOUNCER (O.S.): (Cue GM's hammy voice over quieter march) All around the world, young people are joining up to fight for the future!

RAPID ZOOM on a TROOPER.

(GM makes picture-frame hands at each player in turn, hoping like heck they have seen the film and get the idea.)

TROOPER 1: (Player 1) I'm doing my part!

FLASH-PAN to TROOPER 2.

TROOPER 2: (Player 2) I'm doing my part!

FLASH-PAN to TROOPER 3.

TROOPER 3: (Player 3) I'm doing my part!

FLASH-PAN to TROOPER 4.

TROOPER 4: (Player 4) I'm doing my part!

CUT TO:
IMAGE: SICON LOGO

ANNOUNCER (O.S.): Join SICON - the Strategically Integrated Coalition Of Nations - and save the galaxy. Would you like to know more?

CUT TO: SPLIT SCREEN: EXT: Action shots of MI TROOPERS. Superimposed: THE MOBILE INFANTRY: TOMORROW'S ARMY TODAY!

CUT TO:
EXT: EXERCISE YARD. MI SERGEANT in DRILL FATIGUES stands in foreground.

SERGEANT: (GM doing best R. Lee Ermey impersonation) When the vids tell you the Mobile Infantry is the best-trained, best-equipped fightin' force in the history of Mankind, they ain't kiddin'.

CUT TO:
EXT: MI TRAINEES in tees and shorts tackling an ASSAULT COURSE in a BLIZZARD, being "encouraged" by similarly-dressed DRILL INSTRUCTORS who look at home in the weather.

SERGEANT (O.S.): When you're assigned to Infantry Training, you're in for your own personal six-month slice o' hell. But if you stick through, you'll be ready for anything!

CUT TO:
INT: BARRACKS. Tight close up on Sergeant's face.

SERGEANT: And then...

CUT TO:
INT: QUICK DRAMATIC CUTS of a TROOPER donning a POWER SUIT.

CUT BACK to tight close up on Sergeant's face. ZOOM OUT to wide shot of Sergeant in POWER SUIT.

SERGEANT: You get to wear one of these! The M-1A4 Power Suit: every trooper's best friend! You'll be stronger...

CUT TO:
EXT: Trooper lifting a METAL STORAGE CRATE.

CUT TO:
EXT: Trooper being SHOT by ANOTHER TROOPER wielding a pistol, throwing sparks from the first trooper's armour.

SERGEANT (O.S.): Tougher...

CUT TO:
EXT: Trooper firing a burst with a MORITA RIFLE. SNAP ZOOM on a distant target silhouette with a very tight group of bullet holes in the centre of its head.

SERGEANT (O.S.): Able to shoot straighter...

CUT TO:
EXT: Trooper crouching, then JUMPING, flung up into the air by the power suit's JUMP JETS.

SERGEANT (O.S.): And jump higher!

CUT TO:
INT: BARRACKS.

SERGEANT: And you'd better be ready: SICON needs you!

SNAP ZOOM on Sergeant's face.

SERGEANT: On the bounce, soldier!

A MOUSE POINTER zips across the screen, selecting "FEDERAL SERVICE", then "OTHER OPTIONS" from a MENU BAR that APPEARS at the top.

CUT TO:
EXT: STARFIELD. Superimposed: THE EXPLORATORY SERVICE: CHARTING THE FEDERATION'S FRONTIER

ANNOUNCER (O.S.): No matter what branch of Federal Service our volunteers are assigned, they will always face challenge, danger, and opportunity.

CUT TO:
EXT: CRATER MOON, NIGHT. A large ALL-TERRAIN VEHICLE rumbles across a night sky dominated by a green PLANET.

ANNOUNCER (O.S.): The Exploratory Service is dedicated to explanding the wealth of knowledge and resources at the Federation's disposal.

CUT TO:
EXT: CRATER MOON, NIGHT. The ATV is stopped, and a rear-mounted CORE DRILL is drilling a sample as two spacesuited SCIENTISTS observe.

ANNOUNCER (O.S.): It's hard work.

CUT TO:
EXT: TROPICAL PLANET, DAY. A team of EXPLORERS hack their way through DENSE JUNGLE.

ANNOUNCER (O.S.): Tough work.

CUT TO:
EXT: DESERT PLANET, MIDDAY. Another team of EXPLORERS stand in the middle of a dune field and take instrument readings under the glare of three suns.

ANNOUNCER (O.S.): Dangerous work.

CUT TO:
EXT: ARCTIC PLANET K-1138, DAY. A rock-climbing ARCTIC SCIENTIST goes sliding out of control down the face of a CLIFF, to be grabbed by ANOTHER SCIENTIST who remains secured to the cliff face by pitons and rope.

ANNOUNCER (O.S.): But together with the best minds in the Federation...

CUT TO:
EXT: ARCTIC PLANET K-1138, DAY. An ARCTIC ATV drives through ROUGH WEATHER toward a squat, rugged OUTPOST. Stenciled on the side of the outpost is the SICON LOGO, and below it, "EXPLORATORY SERVICE - ZEBRA 24".

ANNOUNCER (O.S.): You'll earn your citizenship...

CUT TO:
INT: ZEBRA 24 MAIN LAB, DAY. A wide shot of the active lab as our two Arctic Scientists enter from a set of automatic sliding DOORS at the far end, which SLIDE CLOSED behind them. They're all smiles as the one who slid down the cliff puts a BATTERED ICE HANDAXE down on a table.

ANNOUNCER (O.S.): And make friendships that will last a lifetime!

ZOOM AND TIGHTEN on the handaxe. As the Scientists move out of frame, we fast-forward through several days' worth of time in a handful of seconds: the illumination from the internal lights FADES, replaced with dim red EMERGENCY LIGHTING, and the handaxe rapidly GROWS A LAYER OF FROST. Something has definitely gone wrong.

TRACK from the axe across to the DOORS the scientists entered through. They SHUDDER, then slowly SPLIT OPEN. We see in the corridor behind, silhouetted by the emergency lights, THREE YOUNG MI TROOPERS, WEAPONS AT READY.

Now, assuming you're about to play one of those troopers, do you reckon that'd get you up to speed (say, if you'd only seen the movie, or not even that)? How do you reckon you'd put it together for viewing?

April 11, 2006

Ice Station Zebra 24: Analysis and Recommendations

(Continued from Part 3.)

Okay. It's been another couple of days since the game. I wanted to do a little dissection on Sunday night, but the humidity really got to me, so I decided to rest my brain and head for bed instead. So, with some more sleep and thinking time, here are my ideas regarding the "Ice Station Zebra 24" text and any future games of Starship Troopers (Vickie, Simon and Cristel have said they wouldn't mind a campaign).

Firstly, I'm damned glad I had a group of players willing to put up with an off-key GM's shit for half the game. They deserve better, so next time, I aim to be on key right the way through, which means preparing mentally before the game, relaxing, getting psyched up - well maybe not so much psyched up, but in a flexible, creative, fun state of mind. If I've not written such thus far, my problems during that game were solely my own, so fixing them is my responsibility alone.

Secondly, a better grasp of the rules would be in order; the game probably would have played differently had I got the Fear rules and the three-round-burst business down.

Probably the main improvement I'd make would be starting the session with a bang. If I want to get a group of players keen (not just mildly interested, but actually keen) on finishing the session, I think I ought to get to the good stuf ASAP, and in Starship Troopers: The Roleplaying Game, the good stuff is Troopers Versus Bugs. I'd borrow a trick from the film and start in media res, setting a scene with the troopers within the outpost and siccing the Cliff Mites on them. Let the players make Will saves and shoot some Cliff Mites; sooner or later, one of the insects would likely get close enough to jump at one of the troopers, and at that point I'd flashback to the briefing room. The players would then get the explanation of where they just where and why they were there.

I'd then run the module as normal until the logical point for the Cliff Mites to make an appearance, then resume the combat from where we left off. The leapt-at trooper would rapidly realise that the Cliff Mites can't penetrate power suits, the critters would probably be pasted very quickly (6HP apiece, no problems) and the mission would continue from there.

Simon, I think, suggested that more than three players would work better, and while I don't think the number of players detracted from the quality of the game, I think four or five troopers would work just as well - "Ice Station Zebra 24" was written as a six-player module, although it's easy to customise it for less.

I've put some of this up as a thread over on the Mongoose Publishing forums, and there's some discussion of it going on; even the module's author has got involved.

April 09, 2006

Ice Station Zebra 24, Part 3

(Continued from Part 2.)

Through all this, I was still feeling a bit "whatever" about the proceedings. We took a break for dinner during the middle of the combat, which wasn't really a big deal. I asked Vickie, Simon and Cristel how they were feeling about it so far, and they reckoned the slow pace was good for the air of suspense. We got back to the game after pizza, and our three troopers polished off the rest of the Mites. They decided that, rather than wait for four hours until pickup, they'd decamp to the station's comms room to contact their orbiting troopship and get evac ASAP.

As the control console was frozen over, Simon's engineer character cobbled together a working uplink with their communications kit and the station's antenna. They were signalling the ship when Cristel had the idea of listening for any movement outside the comms room. She and Vickie rolled well, so I told them they could hear sounds of claws on metal. "As a matter of fact," I said, "WHAM!" And Cristel nearly jumped out of her seat. Yes, I shouted that last word at my players, and I was glad to see it had worked.

Suddenly, at this point, I started feeling mor einterested and involved in what was going on than previous. I dunno exactly why I started to pick up then and not before. Maybe it's because a Warrior Bug is serious oppoisition for a team of troopers, maybe because including the - I dunno how I can put this without coming off like a hippie theorist, but here goes - the energy and aggressiveness of a Warrior Bug into the shared imaginary space couldn't help but increase the tempo of the game, or maybe I just got over some kind of hump right about then. Regardless, I was from that point on actually feeling positive about the game. I know it's a harsh thing to write, especially as there were three other people at the table who were having fun in spite of whatever the hell was up with me, but there it is.

Anyway, as a Warrior Bug crashed through one of the comms room doors, Will saves were rolled again, this time versus a more intimidating sixteen. From memory, Simon and Vickie were frozen, leaving Cristel to open fire with her Morita rifle at point blank range. She managed some impressive damage, with the Warrior Bug trapped just inches away from her by the human-size door. The next turn, Vickie recovered from her shaken state, but Simon failed his test again, turning terrified. As the only other exit to the comms room was locked (he had secured it himself earlier), Simon said his trooper was hiding under the comm console and yelling into the communications rig about "Thousands of Bugs!" Like I said, great sense of humour!

Anyway, Vickie and Cristel finished the Warrior Bug off with three-round bursts from their rifles. I've just had a re-read of the rulebook, because something about Simon's Burst Fire Feat confused me. It looks as though I was handling three-round bursts incorrectly; although the cap trooper rifle is capable of a three-round burst, players can only use it if they have the Burst Fire Feat, which only Simon's trooper had. I blame the book, which isn't exactly clear about this, or at least, not as clear as I think it ought to be.

Anyway, the troopship says evac is on the way, ETA ten minutes. The troopers (after slapping Simon's character about a bit) decide to recce as much of the rest of the base as they can for survivors. I'd already decided to stick with the adventure text's statement that everyone in the base was dead, and while I contemplated throwing in a survivor or two, we'd had several hours' gaming during a humid evening, so I decided to take it easy on my baking brainpan and not come up with one on the fly.

The players checked the basement and the underground corridor to the power generator. They tried to get out via the generator's door - the one Simon has broken his pick in earlier - and once again, Simon rolled a one. So, back down the steps, through the tunnel, up to the top of the steps - where they paused, and had a fairly lengthy tactical discussion about whether there might be any more survivors, where they hadn't checked yet and how the Bugs had got inside the base. I should have sicced another Warrior on them just to keep the pace, but again, the baked brainpan got the better of me; instead, I told them they had just seconds before the shuttle arrived. Eventually, the players went out the front door, where they came in.

This, of course, is where they met the Tanker Bug and a pair of Warriors near the garage entrance. About this time, though, the dropship came into the area, and Cristel immediately said, "It's armed, right? They shoudl take it out." I was a bit "O-kaaaaay..." about it at the time, but in retrospect, Cristel's suggestion was perfect. The Tanker Bug is basically a plot device to keep the players inside the outpost anyway, and it had done its job, so why not let the shuttle bomb it to hell? Which it did, but I also asked for some Reflex saves. Simon, amazingly considering his run of luck thus far, got his, but Vickie and Cristel weren't as lucky; they were blasted forward twenty feet or so and took some hit point damage. Then I hit them with a pair of Warrior Bugs that came charging out of the entrance. Will saves were made by Vickie and Cristel, but - you guessed it - Simon was once more reduced to a gibbering wreck.

The final fight was quick and brutal, with Vickie's and Cristel's characters taking serious hit point damage. I was gracious - which I really shouldn't have been, considering this was the last fight of a playtest with disposable characters - and forgot about the Bugs' Damage Reduction score, allowing the pair to take care of the monsters with some well-placed three-round bursts (which, also, they shouldn't have been able to do). They dragged Simon's character aboard the shuttle, which then hightailed it for orbit.

(Analysis and Recommendations)

Ice Station Zebra 24, Part 2

(Continued from Part 1.)

"The ride to K-1138’s surface takes 14 minutes," reads the text, "during which time the players can interact and try a little roleplay." The problem was that my players were working from pre-gens that are basically collections of stats, with no "character info". This was intentional; I wanted them to be something of a blank slate so the players could make of them what they wished. This backfired somewhat; the players were feeling a little, "Who the hell is this character anyway?" That might've been fixed iof I'd drummed up some "character notes" for each pre-gen, but I think the only real alternative is to have the players create characters so that they can build their personalities as they go. On the night, I just glossed it over and skipped ahead to the landing.

Something that annoys me nowadays about a lot of RPG rules sets is the "yes/no" nature of resolution for anything non-combat related. If a player wants to try something, or if the GM requires a roll of a player, there's a single roll, maybe with modifiers, that tells the player whether the whole attempt is a success or failure, and if the player fails, that's it, no second chances, or they can wait for an horu or two, during which bugger-all else is likely to happen anyway, and try again. This means you have rolls for stuff that either really doesn't matter to the progress of the game, or that can bring the players to a frustrated halt, or wind up being meaningless anyway as, if no one else wants to do anything in the meantime, the GM can skip time and allow the player can keep trying until he or she succeeds.

There's a case of the former during landing, when the driver of the truck needs to make a roll to get the truck out of the shuttle's bay, while the shuttle is hovering over a fragile ice shelf. The adventure text reads, "failing this check may send a worrying screech of metal-on-metal, but otherwise causes no major damage to either the hauler or the dropship." Which makes sense, you don't want the adventure to be over before it starts be wrecking the truck, but I keep thinking, if the negative result barely affects the rest of the scenario, why roll for it?

The team drove on to the Ice Station. I described how the lights were out; Simon called for a Technical (Structural) roll, and his success let me tell him how the external structure was still intact. Cristel decided a quick once-round-the-building would be good, which confirmed Simon's skill roll. Cristel also checked the shuttered windows at the South end of the building (Perception), and aside from some overturned tables she couldn't see anything in the gloom inside.

Simon's run of bad luck started here. He had his trooper examine the locked door on the external power generator (linked to the main building by an underground tunnel) and tried using his Sabotage skill to pick the lock. He rolled an unmodified 1, so I ruled he'd managed to snap his pick in the mechanism. In the end, the team went in via the main airlock. A check of the building's main corridor revealed dried blood and a Cliff Mite, a small species of Bug (think a foot-and-a-half tick) that attacked the players (along with six friends).

My initial impression of the Cliff Mites in play was that they sucked. In theory, they're great little saboteurs, but I discovered that in direct combat against troopers, they're shithouse. The adventure text specified ten in the base, but as the players started polishing them off at no risk to themselves (the maximum damage a Cliff Mite can inflict is 2 points, soaked up by the Mobile Infantry power suit's Damage Reduction of 4) I left it at seven. Still, it allowed the players to get to grips with the combat rules. Also, it set the trend for Simon's Will saves for Fear for the rest of the adventure.

To explain: All Bugs have a Fear score. The first time a trooper claps eyes on a specific, individual Bug, the trooper must make a Will save against that score or freeze. The trooper can attempt a recovery on its next action, but if the save fails again, the trooper runs like crazy. Cliff Mites have a Fear value of 8, which gives you a three-out-of-five chance on an unmodified roll to not freak out. Simon's trooper, unfortunately, had its lowest Attribute score in Wisdom, imposing a negative modifier on all Will checks. Simon failed his, and although he recovered not long after, he kept failing them for the rest of the adventure. The great bit, though? Simon never lost his sense of humour about it.

Now, there's something a little confusing about the Fear rules. In the Combat section, where they first appear, it states that PCs must roll aganst the Fear value of any opponent that has one. However, further into the book in the Arachnids section, the text states thet the Fear score also represents the minimum Wisdom required to ignore the Fear effect entirely. As Cliff Mites have a Fear of 8, and the lowest Wisdom anyone had was 9, that woul have meant no-one would have needed to make a check.

On the other hand, though, the Fear rules also state that if there are more creatures present at once, the Fear check increases, so with ten Cliff Mites (had I thrown them all at the player characters, as I now think I should have), the PCs would have been rolling Will saves versus 11. Of course, poor Simon's trooper probably would have gone catatonic much earlier in the game, but still.

In the end, the Cliff Mite encounter is there to let the players experience both the Fear rules and the basic combat mechanic with minimal risk. I think that if I'd realised that in the first place, I might've treated the Cliff Mites a little differently.

(Continued in Part 3.)

Ice Station Zebra 24, Part 1

Well, the game went off at Simon and Cristel's yesterday evening. Overall, it went well. I'd like to try a post-mortem. Forgive me if this rambles a bit; I stated writing it at half past twelve in the morning, before I remembered we needed an early start today.

The Basics: The game was Starship Troopers. The adventure was "Ice Station Zebra 23", as seen in Signs & Portents issue 26. The GM was myself, the players were Vickie, Simon and Cristel. I'd contacted a few other local gamers, but two couldn't make it, and I'd not heard back from the third after I postponed the session last Saturday. I'd pre-generated six Level 1 Mobile Infantry Troopers a while ago (each one advancing toward a particular cross-training specialty), and also done up a rules summary for the players.

Cristel's first comment upon seeing the rules summary was, "Ah, so this is a hack-and-slash." Which is a fair assessment of Starship Troopers. Cristel's comment was value-neutral, but I started worrying (you know me, I'm The Road Worrier) that it was a sign that Cristel wasn't particularly in the mood for hack-and-slash. I made the suggestion that we could do something else (like, say, Primetime Adventures), but everyone was positive about continuing.

I'd been planning a Big Opening in movie style; I'd bought the soundtrack, which has the music from right at the beginning of the film, the one that runs behind the "I'm doing my part!" bit, and I'd had the idea of doing that very segment, getting the players to say "I'm doing my part!", and then telling them more afterward (assuming, of course, they wanted to know more), until we got to a point where I could move to the briefing. I'd even carted my stereo along in case we set up in their covered back patio. Unfortunately, we were playing inside, and Simon and Cristel were occupying their kids with cartoons, so use of the stereo was out.

I also knew that the next bits were briefing, Requisition rolls, shuttle to the surface of the adventure's planet and then driving to the Ice Station. All boring stuff, especially as all the palyers are looking at their collections of numbers on their character sheets and either trying to figure out some sort of character personality based on them or just getting confused by them. On top of those, I'd been feeling rather low earlier on and I think my enthusiasm was sapped as a result. That left me adrift, and after twenty seconds of sitting there, thinking "What the fuck am I gonna do?" I said, "This is boring, isn't it?"

Smooth move, Mr. GM, and right at the start of the adventure. Now, I'm very thankful to Vickie, Simon and Cristel for just rolling with it and prodding me forward. I went through my notes, described the opening scene aboard the TFHT City of Krakow, introduced the briefing officer and got stuck into telling the players what was going on. Which was of course, very little; at the outset, Ice Station Zebra 24 is a milk run; a group of rookie MI are tasked with delivering supplies to a remote research outpost. As said, the initial phases of the game are fairly slow; the player characters are briefed, they have the opportunity to make some requisition rolls to get some gear, they board a landing shuttle with a truckful of supplies and are delivered to the planet.

(Continued in Part 2.)

April 06, 2006

Look The World Right In The Eye

In my efforts to cut down, I've stopped hanging around the RPGnet Forums as much as I used to. I've since come tothe opinion that I'm not missing out on much.

Still, that "much" can, every now and again, be pretty damn quality. I'd like to quote a gent by the name of Levi Kornelsen, who's been making a name for himself on RPGnet as the Nice Guy Who Makes RPG Theory Digestible And Interesting. (Not surprisingly, the forum moderators have made him one of their own, probably because theory talk on RPGnet can lead to flame wars, and Levi's theory threads are usually flame-free, more so than most threads of any topic on RPGnet). It's an open letter to members of the roleplaying game hobby in general, and is titled, "Dear Gamer: Walk Tall."

In school, the kids that got picked on were the ones afraid of being picked on. Most of the way through school, I was one of those. The kids that weren't picked on, and often were popular, were the ones that didn't believe that they were going to be, the ones that were simply bigger than that - I started to get this way only a couple years before closing out high school.

Nothing has changed in that regard.

It is my belief that roleplayers get sneered at in many circles because they are shy or ashamed of what they do for fun; this makes us weak in those circles. There is, when you get right down to it, only one way to break this.

Don't admit that you're a gamer. Announce it. Get yourself showered, shaved (as required), and relax in the understanding that what you do is awesome. Learn how to talk about this thing we do, and about how very, very cool it is. It takes, on average, three people telling one guy that something is cool before that guy starts to believe it. This works; believe you me, this works.

Walk tall.

I think it's been working. I've got one person at work curious enough about the hobby that she's willing to ask how my game sessions went (when I mention I've got one on the weekend). Aside from that, a few people have asked what the textbook I'm reading in the lunchroom is, although I think I need to be a bit more confident when I explain.

So I'm not walkin' with a straight back just yet, but I'm definitely walkin' taller than I used to.

April 02, 2006

"Apparently, the human mind is not unlike cookie dough."

Remember a while back, I posted about the untimely and unfortunate death of Vincent Schiavelli? Well, thanks to Ben Stiller, he's left us a legacy easily worthy of his memory.

Or should that be the other way around?

Anyway, with thanks to SteveD for hipping his reading public to this, I highly recommend you watch Heat Vision and Jack, starring Jack Black, the Voice of Owen Wilson and Ron Silver as Himself.

You know, there must be some sort of secret vault of stuff that resulted after stars got their friends and industry contacts on a conference call and said, "Hey, guys, I'm feeling kinda loopy and have a spare coupla hundred grand burning a hole in my pocket. Wanna hook up and do stuff?" I mean, if Ben Stiller did, right?