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Origins 2012 Recap

Several days ago, I posted about my first day at Origins. Things were going very well and I was enjoying both the roleplaying games I was playing and the board games I was running. Now that the convention is over, I’m pleased to say that the great experience I had that first day carried over through the rest of the convention as well. And contrary to the previous years at Origins, I didn’t have a single bad game!

I don’t know how interesting a full recap of my events is to others, but I’m going to go ahead and post one anyway! ūüėÄ

Thursday

Mutants & Masterminds 3rd EditionI got up bright and early once again for an 8 AM game of¬†The Avengers using¬†Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition. I’ve always liked the¬†Mutants & Masterminds system for doing a good job of emulating the superhero genre while still allowing it to be somewhat tactical and crunchy if desired. And after being blown away by this year’s summer film¬†The Avengers, I decided that it would be a lot of fun to play in it.

I grabbed Captain America (my favorite superhero) as soon as the sheets came out. It turns out that this group of Avengers was from the comics, rather than the summer film, so we had Iron Fist and Black Panther available rather than Hulk and Thor (the GM did note that Thor would likely be too powerful given that he tended to be the Avengers’ magic bullet rather than an equal member of the team). I had to get a recap on who Kang the Conqueror was, but ultimately, I was able to enjoy the session despite not being nearly as well-read in the comics as the other people at the table. And in the end, Cap was able to help his fellow Avengers save America from yet another supervillain threat. The GM could have been a bit more enthusiastic, but all in all, it was a great session.

The rest of the day consisted of me running not one but two roleplaying games. First up was¬†A Traveller’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was an intro to the¬†Traveller roleplaying game (Mongoose Publishing version) consisting of both character creation and a quick scenario (feel free to see part 1 and part 2 of my review of Traveller). I had a pretty eclectic mix of experience levels with two players who had never played¬†Traveller, one who just started GMing a campaign but had never played, one who played about ten years ago, one who played when the first version came out in 1977, and one who not only played since 1977, but works for¬†Terra/Sol Games¬†which sells nothing but Traveller supplements!

Players old and new enjoyed creating characters. To my surprise, every character had average or above average stats with multiple 12s being rolled at the table. Almost all of the chosen careers wound up being military occupations, so it was definitely a battle-hardened group. To my surprise, the players were deathly afraid of the Aging Table, so our characters mostly ranged from 34-46 years old with only one character adventuring at the ripe old age of 54. As a result, group character creation only took 1 1/2 hours, which was the shortest that I have ever had it take.

The scenario I ran was a pretty basic one where someone hires the crew to do a field survey on a recently colonized world, but it quickly becomes apparent that their patron is motivated by something else. This time, it was a search for psionic artifact that the government had placed there as an experiment to diminish aggression, but with prolonged exposure, it wound up making beings far more aggressive. The team recovered it and decided that the best way to deal with their treacherous patron was to space him. Not all that heroic, but it was an interesting turn of events.

In the evening was¬†Stargate Universe: Rescue using the¬†Savage Worlds system.¬†Stargate Universe was the third (and currently last) show in the Stargate series. Although admittedly the first episodes were very poor, the show got quite a bit better about halfway through the first season and had a (in my opinion) stellar second season. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to save it from a premature cancellation from Syfy Channel’s chopping block (or from Syfy’s vendetta against all sci-fi shows if you’re bitter about Sanctuary and Eureka¬†also getting prematurely cancelled and being replaced by yet another paranormal show). The final episode was left pretty open-ended with everyone in stasis pods and Eli alone on the ship, looking out at the stars.

So I created a scenario that provided at least some closure to that. One and a half years later, the Lucian Alliance had managed to recapture Destiny by leading a covert strike on Langara and using their Stargate to dial the ninth chevron and gate to Destiny (and I decided that a successful ninth chevron dial to Destiny immediately drops the ship out of FTL). So what does Stargate Command do? They send their A-Team to get it back! So we had Samantha Carter, Daniel Jackson, Rodney McKay, John Sheppard, Carson Beckett, and Col. Telford leading a rescue operation on Destiny.

The whole explanation of how that turned out is too long for this blog post, so I hope at some point to write up how that went and how our group decided to provide a partial conclusion to¬†Stargate Universe. Oh, and in case you’re wondering,¬†some time ago, I did write up a conversion for using the Stargate setting in Savage Worlds, but it’s undergoing a complete overhaul to bring it up to the same level of quality as my Elder Scrolls conversion. So if you’re a Stargate fan and you want this, stay tuned!

Friday

Friday began with the new board game¬†Oh My God! There’s an Axe in My Head! by Game Company 3. After hearing about it from the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild Patriarch since I joined the Guild, I decided to try it out (apparently the company they originally hired to print it didn’t pull through, but they broke away from them and it’s finally coming out).

In this game, you are all delegates meeting in Switzerland to negotiate treaties following World War I. The Swiss have hired axe jugglers as entertainment, but they have suddenly gone crazy and are chucking axes into the crowd! So now you’re left to negotiate treaties while dodging axes flying past you. Oh, and you can pick them up and throw them at other delegates too! It was a fun game and I decided to splurge for it.

In the afternoon was our Battle of Endor LARP. This was intended to be the Wings of War LARP (without full cardboard planes) adapted to the Battle of Endor from Return of the Jedi. On paper it sounded great and we prepped it for 21-42 people (which happened to give us a whopping 21 credit hours for the purpose of getting free rooms).

Unfortunately, only one person (who was from the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild) showed up, so we obviously couldn’t run it. I think there were two main factors that kept people from signing up. First, it was classified as a LARP, but wasn’t a typical LARP and so it probably didn’t appeal to the right crowd. Had we advertised it as “GIANT Battle of Endor” much like the popular “GIANT Settlers of Catan,” and advertised it as a miniatures game (kind of a macro-miniature game I guess) we might have drawn the right audience. Second, they placed us in the farthest room of the farthest hotel adjoining the Convention Center, meaning there was no potential for walk-ups. It’s unlikely that we’ll try this again in the future, but it was a valiant attempt.

Then in the evening was The Price of Success, a Firefly game using the Savage Worlds system. In this game, we got to play the remaining crew members of the Serenity after the Miranda incident (minus Kaylee who was back on the ship). I got to play Malcolm Reynolds!

The game used the increasingly recycled scenario of the characters waking up without any memories of the last day and having to retrace their steps to figure out what happened. In the process, we found out that, among other things, Jayne got caught up in an underground fighting ring (and became the hero Clobberin’ Cobb!), River had helped Simon cheat at cards in a casino, and the rest of the crew crashed a party Mr. Niska hosted for his (very ugly) daughter. The author said that at some point he would post the characters and scenario online and I’ll be sure to link to them when he does.

EDIT: Less than twelve hours after I post, it’s up online! Check it out at Dragonlaird Gaming!

Saturday

Saturday I started off with the D&D Next playtest. Yes, I am allowed to talk about it, but I would like to save that for a later post about what I think about D&D Next as a whole.

Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and SpaceIn the afternoon, I ran¬†A Timelord in King Arthur’s Court, a¬†scenario for¬†Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. Although the tickets sold out in 20 minutes, I was surprised to find that only four people showed up. I felt bad for the people who told me during the convention that they wanted to get in the game, but couldn’t because it was sold out.

The players decided to try something I’ve never seen done before: they wound up choosing both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors for the same group. Fortunately, the players who played them were able to have a lot of great banter off of each other. Accompanying them were Donna Noble and Rory Williams (without Amy apparently).

In this adventure, the characters found themselves in the time of King Arthur. (When is that time exactly? Forget that you asked, it gets in the way of the story!). After being sent to look after the missing Knights of the Round Table, they ran into a suit of armor with a Vashta Nerada inside (who fortunately was prevented from leaving to wreck havoc among Earth), a downed spaceship, and a cage that housed a creature that looks remarkably like what Earth people would call a dragon. Oh and they discovered that Merlin was The Master!

There was a very epic ending to the scenario in which The Master was using Blood Control (from the Sycorax) to control the dragon to destroy Camelot. The companions decided that King Arthur needed Excalibur to slay the dragon. But where do they find Excalibur? They came up with a very creative solution: they remembered that Excalibur was sometimes called “The Singing Sword,” and so they decided to rig up a Sonic Screwdriver with a standard sword to create a Sonic Sword! Then they gave it to Donna, who was dressed in blue, to be the Lady of the Lake (she at least called herself Lady since she was a Noble) who badgered King Arthur until he took it. During this time, Rory taught Lancelot CPR, which likely evolved into the legends about him being able to lay on hands.

And then the epic showdown came when the Tenth Doctor confronted The Master and told him that what he was doing was wrong. Meanwhile, the Eleventh Doctor snuck behind the unsuspecting Master and knocked the Blood Control device out of his hands. Rory smashed it to bits and Donna yelled for King Arthur to attack as the dragon plunged toward him and his army. With everyone chipping in story points for extra dice, King Arthur rolled a whopping 73 to slay the dragon (mind you 30 is “Nearly Impossible”). And so we decided that the tale of King Arthur slaying the dragon would be a legend forever.

The group let the Master get away and we decided that the final scene of the episode was The Master getting into the downed ship and the Vashta Nerada’s ominous shadows closing in.

Finally, I ran Night Train for the Deadlands setting of Savage Worlds. Did they survive the scenario that is known for resulting in many TPKs? That’s a story that will have to be saved for another post!

Live from Origins 2012

Today was the first day of Origins Game Fair, the second largest gaming convention in the world (after GenCon). This is my third time going to Origins (you can read about my experiences last year with what I ran and what I played parts 1 and 2). I’ve been looking forward to this for quite a while.

Although the convention date has been moved earlier this year (and conflicted with many school schedules), it fortunately didn’t affect me and it seems like we’ve had a good turnout so far. We’ll see how it winds up affecting attendance for the con as a whole.

Play in a game from them and you won’t regret it. And you’ll get a free d6 with the logo on it!

Today was a bookended with two RPG games¬†run by the fantastic¬†Matinee Adventures. Bright and early was¬†Avatar Book 0: Rescue¬†(using the¬†Ubiquity¬†system). Set 100 years before¬†Avatar: The Last Airbender, it involves six teenagers who can bend the various elements that are caught in the middle of the Fire Nation’s invasion. Turns out that story was based off the events of the game I played in last year, so our primary objective was to rescue the Fire Nation girl who stayed behind to allow us the time to escape in that scenario.

Ending the day was Paranoia: You’re a Time What?. Paranoia¬†is¬†set in a dystopian future that’s a cross between 1984 and Monty Python and the typical characters are Troubleshooters who are tasked with killing Commies, Mutants, and members of secret societies. But it turns out that you all are commies, mutants, and/or members of secret societies. For this scenario, we were sent to investigate a¬†big blue box that showed up outside* of Alpha Complex. Yup, The Doctor came to Alpha Complex and his psychic paper revealed that he was Ultra-Ultra-Violet clearance!¬†I wound up using up all six of my clones by the end of the session, so it seems like I was playing the game just right! ūüôā

A sample (and very powerful!) Knightmare Chess card

In between, I tried something new: running board games. First I ran Knightmare Chess, which takes a standard game of chess and adds all kinds of interesting cards to replace your moves. I’ve always had difficulty finding players for it, so I was shocked to find three people preregistered for it and two more who showed up with generics! We had an odd number of players, so I got to play against a player who enjoyed the game as much as me, but had always been short on players. Everyone had an absolute blast playing it and several of them were hoping that Steve Jackson Games would have it available at their booth this year. I sure hope so!

The game actually comes with sunglasses for El Presidente!

I also ran Junta! Viva el Presidente, a tongue-in-cheek game from Z-Man Games where you are all vying for control of the¬†Rep√ļblica de las Bananas. Throughout the game, you’re funneling foreign aid money in order to backstab each other and vie for becoming El Presidente in order to eventually become the strongest power in the island. Three players came to that, so I joined in as well so that there would be some more interesting diplomacy (and I lost horribly both times). The players had the right mentality for the game and I think that this is probably the best session of the game I have ever had.

Overall, I found running board games to be very fun and not very stressful and I will definitely consider running more if I ever get a chance to run games at Origins again.

I’ll be doing a lot of role-playing games over the next few days. Tomorrow I’m playing in a game of¬†The Avengers (using Mutants & Masterminds 3e)¬†and running both¬†A Traveller’s Guide to the Galaxy (using Traveller)¬†and¬†Stargate Universe: Rescue (using¬†Savage Worlds). Should be fun!

*We did get to venture outside, which is usually forbidden. My first death happened because Friend Computer told us about outside, which I knew was (normally) treasonous knowledge, so I went ahead and shot Friend Computer. I was of course vaporized on the spot!

Playing a Game You’ve Always GMed

Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and SpaceI’m a big¬†Doctor Who fan and picked up¬†Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space¬†from Cubicle 7 about as soon as it came out. Since then, I’ve GMed the game many times, including at Origins 2011 and at GenCon 2011. But this is one system that I had never got a chance to play because I could never find a GM. Consequently, I think that I kind of got burned out with Doctor Who because I ran it too much (I also retired my scenario involving Blackbeard the Pirate after having run it 8 times).

Fortunately for me, The Wittenberg Role-playing Guild had their weekly “Friday Night One-shot” and this week’s game was¬†Doctor Who, run by Amber. Finally, a chance to play a game I’ve only ever GMed! Although she was borrowing my set of the books, Amber chose one of the sample adventures (Arrowdown) which I fortunately had not read. So I sat down and got a chance to play the Tenth Doctor alongside Martha Jones, Jack Harkness, and K-9.

And you know what? I absolutely loved every moment of it!

Even though I consider myself to be a fairly skilled GM, I think there’s something to be said for playing in the games that you love the most. I love¬†Doctor Who and have really enjoyed presenting some great stories to the players, but I think I found out last night that I kind of missed being one of the people on the other end not knowing the answers and trying to figure out the mystery. I think it also reignited my excitement in the game after having been burnt out by it. (And I’ll be running “A Timelord in King Arthur’s Court” at Origins this year).

It made me think again about if a requirement of being a good GM is to be a player every once in a while. Not only do you have someone to compare your own GMing style to, but I imagine it also helps a GM stay in touch with what a player is actually experiencing. It also seems to help you get passionate about your own setting. I suppose if you have a good experience playing in a game, it helps you want to give that same experience to other players.

So I’ll pose two questions to my readers: Are there any settings that you’ve always wanted to play in, but have only gotten the chance to GM (or vice versa?). And does a good GM need to be a player every once in a while to improve?

Random Story Generators

Random generators are incredible tools for GMs. No, I’m not talking about dice or other random¬†number generators. I’m talking about random story generators. Basically, they randomly give you a few pieces of a story and then you have to figure out how they link together. Usually this winds up generating exciting ideas that you might not have come up with on your own.

A really simple random story generator is the online Vortex Oracle: Stories in Time & Space, which creates a random Doctor Who episode. For instance, I just generated:

The Death Children

  • A beautiful structure reaching the heavens, impossibly made.
  • A disembodied brain crackling with psychokinetic force.
  • An archaeological dig.
  • Mourning a lost loved one.

Already ideas are flowing about what kind of story this might tell. I’m imagining a story somewhat like¬†The Time of Angels in which the TARDIS arrives at the ruins of some desolated planet. Perhaps the people made some sort of Tower of Babel structure that wound up being taken over by “a disembodied brain,” whatever that winds up being. And there’s a survivor of the incident who is mourning the lost of her brother after disaster befell him.

Next up are random tables for generating stories. Thrilling Tales of Adventure by Adamant Entertainment includes one such generator in which you roll on eleven tables to generate a full adventure. The benefit of a table like this is that it is specifically designed for creating an elaborate adventure for the setting of the book. I just rolled the following adventure:

Villain: Mastermind

The Fiendish Plot, Part 1: Infiltrate

The Fiendish Plot, Part 2: A Lost World

Main Location: City Skyscrapers

The Hook: Solicitation

Supporting Character: Clumsy, Skilled, Business Owner

Action Sequence Type: Chase, Vehicle

Action Sequence Participants: Lots (5+ per PC)

Action Sequence Location: Educational (museum, college, etc.)

Action Sequence Complications: Props

Plot Twist: Hidden Plot

Looks to me like there’s some key to a lost world (probably Hollow Earth or something) inside of a downtown multi-story museum. And we’ve got a massive vehicle chase through that museum, perhaps even driving the vehicles on display!

Although tables like these are incredible, they are really only designed for a certain setting. So ideally we would want something just as flexible, but generic. The coolest gaming accessory I’ve found lately are the¬†Story Forge Cards, which fit the bill perfectly. These are a set of 88 cards which each have two concepts on them. These cards are then randomly dealt out in a certain arrangement, leaving it up to the GM to interpret the meaning of it all.

Story Forge is mostly aimed at writers, but it does wonders for helping a GM come up with a plot or to determine a character’s backstory (there’s a great video showing the latter). It comes with several predefined card arrangements (called “spreads”), but I could easily see creating new spreads depending on your needs. Perhaps you could create a small spread for a Deadlands character’s worst nightmare. I can even see them being useful during gameplay. The players want to talk to an NPC you’re making up on the fly? Draw a single card and find out what their motivation is. That alone could create incredible plot hooks.

Right now,¬†Story Forge has a Kickstarter project associated with it, which is already more than funded, so it’s definitely going to be made. I definitely encourage you to pick a deck up. It may seem pricey at $25, but a tool for randomly generating stories for any system or setting seems well worth it.

Anybody else know of any good random story generators out there?

Picking a System to Evoke the Setting’s Feel

I’m a fan of different role-playing game systems. Each one offers a unique way of playing your game and each focuses on different aspects. One thing I’ve noticed is that some systems do a better job at evoking the “feel” of the setting as others. By evoking the feel I mean setting the general tone, encouraging the characters to do the things that are important, and allowing sessions to focus on the important themes of the setting. That’s not to say that a system that evokes a certain feel forbids characters from acting contrary to it, but it makes it easier to do the things that the setting are all about.

Saving the world since before you were born!

Consider¬†Doctor Who, the popular British sci-fi show about a time traveller and his companions who, unbeknownst to the world, saves Earth time and again from alien creatures. A big aspect of this setting’s feel is that it’s generally upbeat. Although there are certainly times when things get serious or when things turn out irrevocably for the worse, generally the Doctor saves the day and the wrongs are righted. This is almost always accomplished through ingenuity (and often a¬†deus ex machina). And combat is virtually non-existent, you either run or use your ingenuity to defeat the bad guys, rather than resorting to violence.

So a system for Doctor Who¬†would need to emphasize all that. My go-to system,¬†Savage Worlds, would be a terrible choice for it. Most of the rules in¬†Savage Worlds¬†are for combat. Consequently, characters that are created are generally going to be good at combat. The problem is that they’ll probably use that first. After all, why run when you can pull your sidearm out and shoot at the creature chasing you?

It could work with a skilled GM, but I think it would be more trouble than its worth to make a¬†Savage Doctor Who¬†feel like the TV show.¬†Fortunately, there’s Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space, which I’ve talked about several times on this blog (I’ll write a formal review some day). A lot of that comes from rules that are specifically designed to capture the feel of the TV show. For instance, there are lots of rules for solving problems (especially through talking, moving, and doing), but characters lose all their story points when they engage in an act of unprovoked violence.

My name is Michael Westen. I used to be a spy until...

Lately I’ve been catching up on Burn Notice, a TV show about a former CIA spy who has been blacklisted. Along with a few of his companions, he uses his training to do jobs of questionable legality, but he has a strong code of conduct; he will do all he can to right the greater wrongs in the world. For instance, he’ll sneak into a corporate facility and steal classified data if it will help root out a corrupt businessman who is harming someone who has come to him for help. Combat is not out of the realm of possibility, but it is usually a last resort.

One of the things that makes the show fun to watch is seeing some of the creative solutions that the characters have for their problems. For instance, one episode had them temporarily hiding a tracking bug by putting it under the hood of a car next to some metal, then grounding it to the car’s sound system in order to create an EM field strong enough to disrupt the transmission (unfortunately frying the sound system in the process). So to capture the feel of the show, you’d probably need a system that allows for that kind of granularity.¬†Savage Worlds¬†might be a poor fit because a single Repair roll to pull off the aforementioned trick just isn’t quite as satisfying as actually creating the plan and making it happen.

I don’t know of any systems that are a perfect match for this kind of behavior, but I think that Cortex¬†by Margaret Weis Productions¬†would be a closer fit. One of the things I like about it is that to do a task, you pair up an attribute and a skill. So to fast talk a guard into letting you inside, you would use Intelligence and Persuasion. But trying to lower the price of a car by giving the salesman a Bernie Mac handshake would be a roll of Strength and Persuasion. The combinations of the attributes and skills provide more varied actions and would encourage the more creative solutions¬†seen in Burn Notice.

At the end of day, I think that a skilled GM and a willing group of players can make any system work with a particular setting. It may not be an optimal fit, but I think they could make it work if they put the effort into it. But it’s still worth trying to find a system that supports the overall feel of the setting.

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