Monthly Archives: June 2011

Origins 2011: The Games I Played, Part 2

In the previous post, I began to share about the games that I played in at Origins. This is the second part detailing the rest of the games I played and how they went.

An Earthbender bending some earth

My character got to do cool stuff like this!

Friday began with another great game run by Matinee Adventures: “Avatar: Cliffs of the Western Sky” using the Ubiquity system (the core system of Hollow Earth Expedition). This was based on Avatar: The Last Airbender, not the James Cameron movie, and took place about 100 years before the show. Each of us played a bender (and we had all four types in our group with me playing an Earthbender). The scenario was that we were warning the Western Air Temple that the Fire Nation had declared war on them. Of course, they followed us at the speed of plot and began their siege soon after we arrived. The elders of the temple charged us with safeguarding one of the children (which I’m sure will turn out to be Aang) and we were able to escape to safety.

The GM did a great job with this game and was willing to play it fast and loose. Element Bending was divided into three general skills: Bending-Offensive, Bending-Defensive, and Bending-Manipulative. We declared what crazy stunts we wanted to do, the GM set a target number, and we rolled it. Personally, I really like this style over the myriad list of spells and special abilities many systems have and in the end I thought it worked really well. The GM plans to continue next year with more scenarios being built off the events of this year’s, but being standalone so new players can jump in. I had a good time with this and I may join in on one of them next year.

Scooby Doo

Ruh-roh! The players were good, but the gamemaster could have been much better...

In the evening I played in “Scooby Cthulhu” run by Amorphous Blob (who haven’t updated their website in ages) using the Savage Worlds system and the setting rules from Realms of Cthulhu. The game started out on a great note, with the GM passing out Scooby Snacks to everyone and all of us getting right into character (I got to play Scooby!). The gang was teamed up with Adam West and Burt Ward (one character) as Batman and Robin. We started at the First Annual Coolsdale Automotive Car Show (which also had the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile there) and eventually investigated a series of strange events.

The players were great (especially the one playing Adam West and Burt Reynolds) and the scenario was decent, but I have to say that the GM ruined the game for me because he didn’t have a clue how to run Savage Worlds. Sure, he got the basics down like rolling the dice, but he was having Fighting rolls directly dealing damage (rather than being to-hit), all the bad guys were mysteriously rolling “dodge checks” when we attacked them, and the GM was spending bennies to make players reroll. Definitely not Savage Worlds.

I know that Amorphous Blob prides themselves in “roles, not rules,” but this was ridiculous. The first few times he slipped up, I let it go and didn’t let it ruin my fun. About the time he declared “I really hate this system” I was frustrated and the game was ruined for me. If he didn’t like Savage Worlds, he shouldn’t have chosen it! My experience was further soured when we ran an hour over our alloted time and didn’t really have a satisfactory ending. It’s a pity too because Amorophous Blob has a reputation for running really good games (and for that reason I’m still willing to give them another chance). I’ve sent an e-mail to them explaining my dissatisfaction and I hope I’ll have a better time next year.

Saturday started with a GIANT Settlers of Catan game. It was the second win of Catan I have ever had in my life. I was thrilled!

Proof that I actually won in Giant Settlers (I'm the yellow player). Look at that longest road at 11 pieces!

In the evening I took part in “Savage Saturday Night,” an informal running of Savage Worlds games hosted by Pinnacle Entertainment. Being the Savage Worlds poster boy that I am, I was excited to go. And I was fortunate enough to play in a Deadlands game run by Shane Hensley himself! Shane is the man who created both Savage Worlds and Deadlands, so it was really a privilege to get to play in his game.

We were working with the Collegium to defend a portion of Slaughter Gulch from Hellstrome’s automatons.  I personally had a lot of fun with that playing a Shadowstepping Huckster. When Shane asked me to name him, the first name that popped into my head was “Biff,” so we had Biff the Huckster. Biff fought alongside another Huckster, a Texas Ranger, a Mad Scientist, a Buffalo Gal, an Agent, a Martial Artist, and a few others. Unfortunately my Huckster made the mistake of trying to shadowstep into the church (completely forgetting that dealing with the devil to get into holy ground was a really bad idea). With a nasty roll on the backlash table, he wound up getting really paranoid and Shane told me that Biff was convinced that the Texas Ranger in our group was leading the assault. A missed Soul Blast attack on him meant the Texas Ranger had a chance to put me down. But before he pulled the trigger to put Biff out of his misery, the Ranger quipped, “Typical of a Huckster to bring a card to a gunfight.”

I got to finish up the session bringing the padre into the fight who was surprisingly effective at whacking automatons with his smited hickory stick. In the end, we were all able to work together to save our portion of Slaughter Gulch. Everyone seemed to have a great time at the game and I’m already looking forward to next year’s Savage Saturday Night.

Zombie Survival Box Roll

A very innovative concept for Zombie Survival: roll some dice and see where they physically land. A total of 6 on the body or any number in the headshot ring kills the zombie.

Sunday was a brief day with demoing the boardgames Zombie Survival and Deadlands: The Battle for Slaughter Gulch, both of which were made by Twilight Creations (the Deadlands game was licensed). Zombie Survival was fun and innovative. I really liked some of the mechanics like how you kill zombies (as shown on the left). The Deadlands game was sort of fun but cumbersome (although fairly innovative). The weirdest thing was that you were one person, but you could be in up to 6 places at once. To gain more people, you recruited townsfolk, but then they suddenly gained all your stats once they joined you. I think I’ll pass on that board game because without the Deadlands name to it, I thought it was an okay game and “Okay doesn’t generate sales.”

So that concludes my long list of games I played at Origins 2011. All in all, I’m happy with it. Most were good, a few were okay, and I was disappointed with only one. As a quick review of my experiences:

  • Both games run by Matinee Adventures were awesome and I’ll be looking forward to gaming with them in the future.
  • “Okay doesn’t generate sales.”
  • It can be a big turn off to the players when you don’t understand the basic mechanics of the system you’re running. You don’t need to know every detail, but make sure you actually know the basic rules.
  • Despite my usual poor luck in Settlers of Catan, I actually won!
  • If you game with Shane, you’ll have lots of fun, but your character will most likely die a nasty death!
So those are my Origins adventures. I’d love to hear experiences from anybody else!

Origins 2011: The Games I Played, Part 1

Yesterday I blogged about the games I played at Origins. I enjoy GMing, but really enjoy playing too and it’s something I don’t get to do enough of. A lot of the games I played this time around were with systems I was unfamiliar with, but I’m always willing to try new stuff.

7th Sea GM's GuideWednesday of the convention started with a game I knew little about called “Scarlet Pimpernel: The Trap is Set” using the 7th Sea system. The scenario was based on The Scarlet Pimpernel (a novel I was previously unfamiliar with) involving a league of English aristocrats who secretly rescue French aristocrats from their appointments with the guillotine during the early stages of the French Revolution. The 7th Sea system caught my eye because it advertises itself as a “swashbuckling and sorcery” game and still has a pretty strong fan base despite the fact that it has been out of print for 6 years (it’s still available on DriveThruRPG in PDF format though).

The sorcery aspects were almost completely ignored for this scenario, but the GM did a fantastic job of highlighting the swashbuckling nature. We were slicing tapestries and throwing them over our enemies’ heads, shattering second story windows as we leapt to the attackers below, and doing spinning attacks while taunting three foes at once. There was also a great deal of social interaction as we bartered with individuals, found our ways to safe houses, and even attended a royal ball. All in all, the game was really enjoyable and was my first positive experience with the Matinee Adventures group of GMs.

Mutants & Masterminds 3rd EditionNext was “Paragons: Project Paragon” using the new Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition system. I’d played 2nd and 1st edition once each (and in that order) so I figured I’d give this one a go. The system was more streamlined and largely felt to me like D&D 4e for superheroes, but without the powercards (which is a tad ironic given that these guys actually did have “powers”). In all, I liked the simplicity of the system and would definitely be willing to try it again.

The Paragons setting was a bit like the TV series Heroes in that ordinary people wound up discovering that they had extraordinary abilities. I wound up playing Nathan Blackmoor who was the only one who didn’t look normal: in addition to his panther-like powers, he actually looked like a panther. Starting out at a safe house for supers, we wound up tracking down an organization trying to steal information on Project Paragon, a program to artificially create supers. A certain woman was our primary antagonist, but we soon found out that there were a number of clones of her, all hunting us down. The scenario was alright (didn’t have much of a resolution though) and the GM wasn’t very enthusiastic or engaging, but there wasn’t really anything that I feel hurt the game. Not the best game, but it could have been better.

Iron DynastyThursday was my Savage Worlds day starting with Iron Dynasty: Way of the Ronin, a Savage Worlds setting with the same name. Iron Dynasty is largely a mix of historical Japan with magic and ghost stories come to life. For instance, we fought a Ghost Lantern, which lured travelers to their deaths. This scenario was run by the creator of the setting and we ran an introductory adventure he wrote.

At the end though, I thought it was okay. I didn’t see anything particularly compelling about the setting and the GMing style was decent, but not inspiring. I was given a $5 off coupon to buy Iron Dynasty, but decided against it. As the Platinum Warlock put it, “Okay doesn’t generate sales.” To be honest, I’m not sure I’ll ever pick it up, what with so many other great Savage Worlds settings out there that I find much more interesting…

…Like Deadlands for instance. Later that day was “Clint’s Rock” using Deadlands Reloaded, which as I’ve previously mentioned is a Savage Worlds setting I greatly enjoy. I got to play a Mad Scientist who, along with the other characters, was hired by Hellstrome Industries to kick Clint off his property, forcefully if necessary, in order to make room for the new railroad. Little did we know that the ol’ coot had learned a bit of magic in his time away from society and we had giant spiked bears and walkin’ dead to contend with. Only after I torched his house with my flamethrower did we discover that the dynamite he was throwing at us was magically appearing in his hands! In the end, though, Clint met his fate and we were able to claim our bounty for completing our job.

Clint's Rock

The final state of things as we took out Clint. The Pinnacle demo team did a great job with minis.

I think that’s enough explanation of my games for one day, so I’ll leave you on that and say: “To be continued…”

Origins 2011: The Games I Ran

This year at Origins was a special one for me because it was the first time I ran a game at a large convention. I had previously GMed informally with the gamers at Wittenberg as well as at WittCon and FOPCon, two small conventions with less than 100 people. The main difference to me GMing at Origins was that I had no idea what type of people would show up for my games and it was highly unlikely that anybody I had gamed with would sign up for what I was running. Still, I was really pleased with how it all turned out and I’m glad that I got the opportunity to do it.

I decided to run four games each of which were four hours long for a total of 16 gaming hours, which is the minimum to get a free badge at Origins. I spaced it out so that Wednesday through Saturday I was playing in two games and running one, which I felt was a good balance for me.

Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and SpaceMy first session that I ran was a scenario I wrote with called Sovereigns of the Sea for the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space from Cubicle 7. I’m a fan of the hit British sci-fi show and it’s always amazed me how well this game system is able to capture the feel of the show. To my surprise, I was the only person at Origins running Doctor Who. One player told me that the demand was so high my first session was sold out 2 minutes after Origins’ event preregistration opened and the second 2 minutes later!

“Sovereigns of the Sea” lands the TARDIS on the Queen Anne’s Revenge, captained by Blackbeard himself. It seems he’s found a treasure map. But little does he know that the treasure he seeks actually belongs to aliens who don’t take kindly to pirates. One thing I love about running Doctor Who is that it never turns out the same way twice. Players come up with creative and ingenious ideas that really help the scenario. Armed with a basic outline of the scenario and filling in the details as we went along, my players and I were able to create a really interesting and enjoyable adventure for everyone.

The players were fantastic in this game. They were all older than me, mostly middle aged with two men who were getting on in years. But that didn’t seem to bother us: we were all Doctor Who fans and that was what mattered the most. The person who played The Tenth Doctor was able to imitate his personality incredibly. Joining him on this adventure were Captain Jack Harkness, Donna Noble, Rose Tyler, K-9 “the tin dog”, and Mickey Smith “the other tin dog.” Surprisingly in both my games, Rose wound up being the big hero of the day, although all the characters were able to have their shining moments. We all had a whole lot of fun with this and walked away from the table very happy.

The Stargate SG-1 TeamThe next day I ran Stargate SG-1: Shifting Loyalties using the Savage Worlds system. In the show, the Goa’uld Klorel was last seen being extracted from his host Skaara and was said to have been permitted to travel to another planet of his choosing. He never reappeared in the show. So I decided to fill in this gap. The premise of this scenario was that after Apophis died, Klorel contacted SG-1 claiming that he wanted to join the Tok’ra and was willing to turn over a partially completed mothership in good faith. Of course, who better to investigate this than SG-1! This scenario also had Bra’tac and Jacob Carter guest starring to help determine if they had found a potential ally, or if the whole thing was a trap.

I’d run this scenario twice before at Wittenberg and it too wound up being slightly different than the previous times I ran it, although not nearly as much as my Doctor Who scenarios. Whereas usually the enemy Jaffa can’t shoot to save their life, this time one of them was nearly able to kill Jacob Carter during their initial skirmish. Still, everything worked out in the end the players had a good time.

One thing that frustrated me was that one of the players in this game seemed to have the D&D mentality of kill everybody and take their stuff. For instance, they wanted their character to ditch their P-90 and loot the dead Jaffa’s staff weapons just because they could, which really didn’t fit with the mood of the show. One thing about running at a large convention like this is that you may get people who are poor gamers or who don’t want to match the intended style of the game. But all things considered, I had five great players and only one player that wasn’t so great. And we all walked out of there happy again.

Stargate Atlantis CastFriday I ran Stargate Atlantis: No Man Left Behind, also using the Savage Worlds system. This time, the gap I filled was with Lt. Aiden Ford, a military man who was part of Sheppard’s team in Season 1, became half Wraith in Season 2, then promptly disappeared from the show. This scenario took place in Season 5 beginning with Todd the Wraith scientist contacting Atlantis to say that he discovered that Michael, in his quest to create a better Human/Wraith hybrid soldier, had captured Ford and was hoping to experiment on him. Col. Sheppard and his team, with the help of Carson Beckett, of course needed to launch a full scale rescue to get him, but there was the nagging question: what was Todd hoping to gain out of all this?

I think that this was my best game all convention, although my first Doctor Who game was a close second. The show was less popular than SG-1, but I was sure that I would be able to find six players who were enthusiastic about Atlantis at a convention as large as Origins.

Todd the Wraith

The players were a bit on edge with the thought of having to trust Todd, just like in the show!

And find them I did! One player told me at the beginning that he had never played in any role-playing game before, but he did a fantastic job portraying the irritable yet lovable Dr. Rodney McKay. I was a bit worried when I planned to let Todd be a player character with a hidden agenda. But the player who played him nailed it on the head, talking like the character, creating a sense of paranoia and distrust with the other team members, and even managing to successfully capture Aiden Ford and gain him as an ally by the end without the Atlantis team suspecting him! All in all, it was a fantastic adventure and it was one of the high points of time at Origins.

My final game was a repeat of Sovereigns of the Sea. This time, I had among my players three young boys who were brothers, which was a bit different for me and required a bit more coaxing to get them to share the great ideas they had been thinking. The group as a whole lacked the energy and enthusiasm that the first group had, but in the end were still able to pull out a great scenario. Although the first time I ran this was better, I wouldn’t call this one a failure by any stretch. The players had fun and that means it was a success!

I found it interesting how much of an effect the players had on how well the session went. There’s lots of talk in the RPG community about how system matters and how the GM’s skill matters. But even when I had the same system and scenario (and obviously the same GM), the players had the biggest impact on whether the game was outstanding or merely good. After thinking about it, I think that what makes a good game is influenced the most by the GM. The players have the second biggest influence with system and scenario being the third. I think that sometimes GMs focus too much on the system and scenario and not enough on improving their own skills as a GM. It’s difficult to change the players themselves, so the surest way to have better sessions is to work on improving your skills as a GM.

Also I’ve realized that although at a convention you can get people in your games who are detrimental to everyone’s enjoyment, sometimes you get shining players who do an incredible job at helping to make things incredibly fun for everybody!

Back from Origins

Origins Game Fair Logo

I’ve spent the last five days at Origins Game Fair, the second largest gaming convention in the world, which is located in Columbus, Ohio. Several of us from the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild went up as a group to play and even GM a few games. I bought some cool stuff, got to talk with some industry professionals, and learned a lot from gaming and GMing. It was a really great experience and I’m glad that I got to do it.

Unfortunately, I’m very exhausted and sleep deprived by the whole experience so it’s going to take me a bit of time to recoup before I share everything about it. Don’t worry though, I have a lot of interesting topics I plan to talk about over the next few posts, especially some thoughts about my experiences GMing there. This is the first time I have ever GMed at a large convention and I found it to be somewhat different from doing it at the smaller conventions like WittCon. I’ll also be talking about my experiences from the other side of the table and what I think made certain GMs and sessions as a whole better than others. I also think I’m going to be going a bit off the rails and talking at some point about how companies can get gamers (well at least me, I can’t speak for everyone) to buy a company’s product at a convention like this. With so many products being sold, it takes something special to stand out.

I’ve got a few other ideas too, but I figure I’ll leave it at that so I can change as the need arises. Stay tuned!

When Companies Show Fans They Care

I’m continually impressed by how involved Pinnacle Entertainment, creators of Savage Worlds and Deadlands, gets with their fans. On their online forums, most of the staffers post regularly and there are even two dedicated forums where fans can ask specific rules questions and within a day will get an official answer from a Pinnacle staffer. When I went to GenCon last summer, I went to the Pinnacle Entertainment booth and got the privilege to have a twenty minute conversation with Clint Black, creator of Necessary Evil (a Savage Worlds supervillain campaign I’ve been wanting to run, and he gave me some great tips on running it and talked about his inspiration behind it). I’m continually impressed by their commitment to the fans and I think it goes a long way to not only build public relations with them, but also to get in touch with what the fans, which is an invaluable resource.

Tonight, I decided for the first time to join The Back Room Chat, a weekly chatroom for fans to talk about Savage Worlds and its licensees. There were about 15 users logged in, and surprisingly three of them were Pinnacle staffers: the aforementioned Clint Black, his wife and writer Jodi Black, and Pinnacle Vice-President Joel Kinstle. They were there directly talking with the fans and, in Joel’s case, making terrible puns. I even mentioned Bookery in Fairborn, Ohio at one point, the world’s largest gaming store with buildings on two sides of the street. The Pinnacle staffers they started coming up with all kinds of crazy ideas on how to get from one side to another (including zeppelin rides). Clint even said that the two sides reminded him of West Side Story and said that next time I go there I should sing:

When you’re a Geek,
You’re a Geek all the way.
From your first d8 roll
To your dice rolling tray!

Cover of All for One Régime Diabolique

Quite possibly on my shopping list at Origins this year

Tonight was a special night on the chat room in that Paul “Wiggy” Wade-Williams of Triple Ace Games (who used to work at Pinnacle himself) was on to talk about what his company was doing, such as the upcoming supplements with All for One: Régime Diabolique, a supernatural Three Musketeers-style setting. Just for logging on into the chat, I got a free 25 page PDF from Triple Ace Games about how to use resource management in fantasy campaigns. And later on, they did a drawing for a $60 gift card voucher for their online store and a second drawing for free shipping! I didn’t win either, but I was still incredibly impressed. All this, just to say thank you for being a fan! How awesome is that?

Now I’m not saying that all RPG companies need to start giving away generous gift cards to their fans (although that would be very nice), but I have to say that I feel much more positively about both companies because their employees spend time personally talking with the fans. There are other companies whose products I really like, but I feel they’re rather out of touch with their fans, largely because they do a poor job of communication about their products (does that One Ring a bell?)

As an interesting aside, I’ve heard of many old school gamers fondly remembering Gary Gygax as a person who was fun to be around. Many of their stories are not about the early days of TSR as a company, but of being a player in a game GMed by him or of getting to have a conversation with him personally. Maybe Gary and the Pinnacle staffers know something that other RPG companies have forgotten: there is a tremendous value in having a personal relationship with the fans of your game.

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