Monday, July 09, 2012

Magic 2013 Pre-Release Report

I spent most of this weekend at or recovering from Magic 2013 pre-releases. I have a great game store (Comics & Gaming in Centreville) and the Friday night post-FNM midnight pre-release was a great time. (Had to spend all of Saturday in bed or on the couch, and I'm still not fully recovered mentally, but totally worth it.) Sunday wasn't quite as good since it was mostly a different crowd and people were kinda hung over, but it was still fun, especially since I won prizes for the first time ever-- 5 packs after going 3-1 with a black/white life-linking deck. I probably could have gone 4-0 if I'd played better, but I'm still happy about that.

Some cards I liked, and am looking forward to first-picking in draft:

Rancor: I got blown out by this, Odric's Crusader, and 2 Captain's Calls in my first game on Friday night. It won't be nearly as good in draft once people learn how to counter it, but it's still sick.

Ring of Xathrid: Get this on Nighthawk Shaman or Tormented Soul and bad things will happen. Won me almost all my games.

Nighthawk Shaman: See above. Lifelink is good and it seems like there's a lot of it in draft. Paired with evasion and removal and it wins games. Nighthawk gets you the whole package.

Murder: Have I mentioned that I really like black in this set?

And a very special honorable mention to Duress, which won me my first match on Sunday. It revealed to me my control deck-playing opponent's Planar Cleansing into Stormtide Leviathan game plan, and knocked out the Planar Cleansing. Stormtide is surprisingly easy to deal with if you have a few turns to plan for it and a deck that runs 2x Murder and 1x Public Execution. Hold back a game-winning creature the 2nd game and you're good.

I'm looking forward to drafting versions of two decks I saw this weekend: A better version of the BW lifelink deck I ran Sunday, and something like the GW aggro deck I saw a fair amount of running around on Friday. So far I'm not super-impressed with Exalted, but I love almost everything else the colors do, and green has some sweet tricks going for it as well.

In general I'm pretty psyched about M13 as a draft format-- I was definitely ready for something new after like 7 weeks of triple AVR. While I made a lot of play mistakes this weekend, and desperately need to improve my ability to keep track of the board state, I also feel like I've made some serious progress in the last couple of weeks. (Perhaps due to the Duels of the Planeswalkers I've been playing on my iPad? The puzzles in particular have really helped me expand my thinking about Magic.) I'm really starting to think in terms of a game plan, and beginning to learn how and when to hold back creatures and whatnot, instead of just dropping everything as soon as it I get the mana for it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Crazy Traveller Campaign Set Up

So say I wanted to run a Traveller campaign. And say I wanted to do it with an irregular player base-- potentially a large one, and potentially one divided between an online and an offline group, or even several offline groups.

One option would be to do like Jeff Rients and have everybody be the crew of one big ship (or other relatively stable focal point). Divisions in the player base (as opposed to simply irregularity of attendance) can represent either different shifts on one very large ship, or the different crews of one or two different ships.

This solution is a pretty good one, but the problem with it for me is, I haven't run a lot of Traveller, or played a lot of Traveller. If I'm going to run Traveller I want to do "normal" Traveller and explore that for a while, and "one massive ship with a giant crew" feels too high concept for me. I think of Traveller as a game about independent operators, probably with their own small ship, trading and fighting their way across the galaxy. "One big ship" would be a cool campaign, but it seems more like "Traveller-- the Trek way" or "Traveller-- the WH40k way" than straight up, old-fashioned, truck-drivers-in-space Traveller.

So what to do?

A potentially much crazier option would be to just have a big player/character pool of relatively "normal" Traveller characters. If they've rolled up ship shares or enough credits to buy into a ship, then they're attached to a ship (maybe the same one as a few other characters-- they can work that out themselves at character creation). If they haven't, then they're independent operators-- freelance mercenaries and the like. I keep track of what system each ship is in, and when, and which characters are or were on each ship.

Whatever offline adventures I run are assembled in the normal fashion. Online, sometime before every session I randomly determine which character is the "expedition leader" for that session, in the manner that I think Zzarchov was using at one point and the way Jeff is running his magical Mormon campaign. If that player has a particular mission they want to execute we can do that; otherwise, I hand them a couple of patrons they've been in contact with recently and they choose one. Then they're in charge of getting together the rest of the group to take on the mission. They can add anyone from their character's ship, and anyone in the "shipless" part of the pool (we'll come up with some explanation for how they came to be working with that group that week). They can add characters attached to other ships (and potentially those second ships as well-- sometimes, you just want an armada) if they're close enough by that it makes sense.

With a small group this wouldn't really be necessary, of course. You'd just have the one ship. But the method of "select mission lead" and "mission lead selects mission" would still be useful, I think, for focusing the sessions themselves so you can get to the action quickly, and so that I have a day or two to prepare.

With a bigger group, you'd just have a handful of ships tooling around the subsector/sector. There'd be a bit of paperwork to keep all the ships and the characters roughly on the same timeline and to keep the world integrated, but I think that's a doable with a variation on the system Ben Robbins used to keep track of his incredibly complicated large player-base superhero game.

The really neat thing is that this opens up the possibility of having a bit of a trading sub-game for Captains of ships and other interested players-- between sessions, by e-mail, they can direct their ship's movement and buy and sell and whatnot. If they don't turn in their moves before I need to normalize everyone's locations for a session, then I can just say they were shipping standard freight along normal trade routes.

I'm not sure yet if I'm actually going to pull the trigger on this. I spent the weekend getting to step 11 on Rob Conley's Traveller sandbox guide, so there's definitely some enthusiasm for this potential campaign. At the very least, it's something I want to have in my back pocket for if I'm ever called upon to run a quick one-shot. Eventually, I want to have a binder containing a Traveller scenario with pre-rolled characters and a megadungeon suitable for brand new players, so I can take that baby with me and be ready to game with a couple of options wherever I go.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


I've been playing tons of Magic lately and I spent the weekend loading almost all of my collection into Deckbox. (There are a couple of strays that have yet to be categorized, and somewhere I have Thrun, the Last Troll, Mirran Crusader, and one of the swords. This vexes me.)

If you happen to be of the Magic persuasion yourself, everything that mtgtrader values over 25 cents is on my tradelist--and pretty much everything in my inventory is for trade as well, but I wanted the tradelist to match my trade box/binder for ease of reference. I have some fairly broad goals for my collection beyond just my wishlist-- I'm thinking about getting into Standard after the next rotation, but I haven't settled on a deck I want just yet. So I'm interested in really anything that I might be able to trade to someone else for cards I want in the future.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Recent Gaming

I've been doing surprisingly little gaming recently. There's the Buffy game and the GURPS game and little bits of craziness in between, but that's been about it. Which for me isn't that much-- remember that I went 3+ nights a week for a good chunk of college.

I've been doing a lot of board gaming. Well, a fair amount, anyway. My friend/co-worker/neighbor Andy has a bunch of board games and we've been slowly working through them. Lately, it's been:

  • 7 Wonders -- My current favorite. Played that one for the first time this weekend. I like how different it is from most of the games we play, and how much the landscape upon which you pick your strategy changes based on what your opponents/neighbors are doing.
  • Stone Age -- Another favorite. Unfortunately, only played this one once. Reminds me a lot of Puerto Rico and Agricola except that when you get to the "good bit" where you can actually do things, you're only halfway through the game.
  • Smallworld -- The simplest game that we play, and really good for that. This one handles the mix of skill levels/interests we sometimes have at the table the best. This one was my "favorite" before we played Stone Age, and it's still up there.
  • Arkham Horror -- Fun, but very complicated, and some members of the group have played it much more than the others. Which causes problems, above and beyond the problems that co-operative games in general cause us.
  • Pandemic -- Fun, but waaaay too co-operative for this group.
  • Puerto Rico -- The game about slavery! See: Stone Age.
  • Agricola -- The game about subsistence farming! See: Stone Age. Also, when I first played this game I'd consumed 2 Michelob Ultra Dragonfruit (to my unending sorrow) so I'd probably like it and understand it much better if I was sober.
  • Illuminati -- Played this one for the first time in high school. (Game design class.) Still a classic.
  • Twilight Imperium -- Fascinating. Unfortunately, takes way too long for a weeknight, and tough to get enough people together who are into that kind of thing to make it worth it.
  • There are probably some others that I'm forgetting right now.
I keep meaning to start up the text game I was running for Trollsmyth again, but life keeps interfering. I've discovered over the past couple of weeks that I am terribly, terribly sensitive to disruptions in my routine.

I'm currently planning/pondering my summer game. My little brother will be back from college in a few weeks and I want to run something with and for him while he's down here. That's what that GrimDark Racing business was all about. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find my copy of the GURPS corebooks and there's a little bit of prep-work that I'd want to do before he gets back next weekend.

So, instead, I might just run Regular Fucking D&D. I've got that itch again-- the hexcrawl, wilderness exploration, race-and-class, dungeoncrawl itch. I flipped through a copy of the 3e Forgotten Realms guide and that got me thinking in terms of straight, "high fantasy" D&D for the first time in a while. It bugs me that this is something that I keep wanting to run even though I've never had any particular success with it.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


This was originally an e-mail to one of my players.

In the GrimDark Future, There Is Only Racing

You're a racing team in an over-the-top cyberpunk/post-apocalyptic future. Some of you are drivers, some are mechanics, one or more is possibly a financer (we'll have to talk about where exactly the team you put together gets its operating capital from), and others might have more exotic skills, depending. You might run more than one character so we can be sure to have at least 1-2 drivers and a mechanic in every session.

Each session is a single race. Activities include: Repairing/upgrading your vehicles. Repairing/upgrading yourselves. Haggling over parts & medical care. Arguing over who gets to drive in the race and who's fault it was the the XL-SR5 is banged up and won't be ready for the next one. Advancing personal subplots. Investigating the other teams. Sabotaging the other teams. Dealing with sabotage by other teams. Doing shady-ass things to get cash. And, of course, driving!

System: Probably GURPS. I'm familiar with it, most of the potential players are familiar with it, it would have sufficient crunchy detail to make the vehicles interesting, and if it doesn't already have a crunchy racing system it wouldn't be too hard to come up with one.

In the GrimDark Future, There Is Only Home Invasion
I forgot to mention-- I have Leverage, the RPG! It's about running cons & heists. So yeah. You're a crew of conmen and thieves in an over-the-top cyberpunk/post-apocalyptic future. Every session is organized (in a way partially controlled by the system) around a heist. Exactly how Robin Hood vs. grimdark mercenary you are is up to you.

System: Leverage, obviously. With a few hacks to make it Cyberpunk ready but that actually should be super-easy.
In the GrimDark Present, There Is Only This Shitty Bar Full of Vampires
You're all neonate vampires. You're connected because you all hang out in the same bar-- for various political reasons it's safe for neonates there. Probably vampire owned, possibly an official Elysium. You are kinda sorta friends, in a human/drinking buddy kind of way.  Vampire life is organized around feeding rights, parceled feudal-style by the Prince to the politically connected or personally useful. Your problem: You don't have any feeding rights, so you have to beg them from your sires/other older vampires in exchange for dubious favors.

Activities include: Feeding. (It won't be played out every time, but definitely the first few will be done in detail.) Bargaining for access to other vampire's demesnes. Holding up your end of those bargains. Sneaking into demesnes you're not allowed to feed in, and dealing with the consequences if you get caught. Tying up loose ends from your mortal lives. (Or ravelling them out, as the case may be.) Maneuvering to get granted your own demesne. Possibly, investigating suspicious-ass things and getting involved in vampire politics in other ways. Negotiating with each other about feeding rights/other issues.

System: Vampire: the Requiem, naturally.

Regular Fucking D&D
This one's still kinda rattling around in the back of my head so I'm not sure if it's ready to run yet. But I was reading the Forgotten Realms book the other day and I was all like "you know, I've never run a 'normal' fantasy campaign, but I bet I could do that."

Broken magic castle would be a good basis for a dungeon, yah. And I guess if I'm going to do "normal" D&D that implies that there should just be like a little village nearby and a bigger city somewhere further away.

System: S&W/OD&D (or ACKS, now that I think of it)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Joceyln the cabbage-growing peasant has had a VISION. The slitherous ST. SERPENTOR has come to her IN A DREAM and told her to GO FORTH! and retake THE SNAKE MUSEUM from the fiendish WHITE APES that therein dwell, so that it may be consecrated as a monastery in HIS name. She seeks fearless companions to aid her in this worthy quest, and to share in the TREASURE!

The expedition will take place on Saturday Friday 7pm Eastern / 23:00 UTC (follow the link to the Event Time announcer for times around the world) on Google Plus. I'm playing, Trollsmyth is running. The game is run under the FLAILSNAILS conventions. Jocelyn is a 1st level Labyrinth Lord character built with Stuart Robertson's Paladin subclass. Trollsmyth will be running a bastard version of Moldvay/LL, with his usual house rules. Check out his blog for more details about the world.

EDIT: Trollsmyth informs me that characters above 3rd level will be subject to handicapping, per FLAILSNAILS conventions.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why Sexy Costumes For Female Superheroes Piss People Off

Just to be clear, I'm talking about an emotional response. I don't have a problem with Jim Lee drawing sexy women. He's good at it, and he should continue to do the world that service. I'm just trying to explain where the counterargument comes from.

And this really isn't in response to Zak's post, specifically, but to some of the comments on it, and on comments that I've seen pop up in this kind of discussion elsewhere.


Has everyone here seen Transformers? The first live action movie.

Don't go see Transformers. Let's all just pretend that we've seen Transformers.

There's this scene where Megan Fox's character is fixing Bumblebee, before we know that he's Bumblebee. She's leaning over the car. She's wearing this revealing outfit. Bare midriff. Etc. And the camera moves up and down her body in imitation of where Shia La-whatever's gaze is presumably travelling, and where (attracted-to-lady-bits) part of the audience is following.

I'm not going to rewatch the movie to be sure but I'm pretty sure there's not an equivalent scene where we see Sam from his girlfriend's perspective.

Okay. Does this make sense in the movie? Yeah. Sam is the main character: the camera represents Sam's perspective.

But it does imply that the audience is assumed to be male, too. Again: Okay. Sure. Giant trucks smashing into each other? Guy stuff. Guys and girls are different, like different movies, making some for one and some for the other, no big deal.

But like, just staying in the realm of action movies for a minute, you get to the point where you're like, Jesus--

Every time I go to see a movie with a male protagonist blowing stuff up, he's a sexual actor and we see the chicks around him from his perspective and sometimes he's hot so that's cool and sometimes he's just some average-ish dude who the ladies are all nuts about for no well-defined reason and that's annoying.

And every time I go to see a movie with a female protagonist blowing stuff up, she's either super-hot and we see her from her male companion's perspectives, or she's like a mom figure and she's all badass in defense of her family/husband/children and that's cool but not really all that sexy.

I say this as a woman who likes guys. I like to look at guys and have sex with guys and it gets frustrating sometimes that a lot of media doesn't do much for me or represent me or even really acknowledge that I exist. Especially when it's not just action movies but advertisements and media that's presumably "for" me. Or media that is absolutely for me, like RPGs.

It's not something I personally get pissed off about these days, and I understand why it happens and I don't think it's some vast conspiracy to keep women down. But it frustrates me.

Friday, February 24, 2012


I don't usually post about my personal life or work here and I plan to keep it that way, but I thought I'd just post a few of these to let you know what's been keeping me busy and away from the blog for the last couple of weeks. Also, because it's fucking awesome.

The guy in the backwards baseball cap is my man Andy. He was in my old high school group and he got hired here shortly after I did.

What people have on their iPads is our software, live. It's sorta hard to tell but the same software is also running on the podiums. (Or rather, as it's a web-based app, on a server in the back room. The computers in the podiums themselves are mostly running Firefox, plus some stuff for the buzzers and whatnot.) It's a clinical documentation app with a ton of medical data in it. Contestants are using it to answer medical and medical coding questions.
"Inga" is an anonymous health IT industry news blogger. She's in disguise so that her secret identity isn't revealed. Her security detail is two of our programmers. Her martini glass is filled with green M&Ms because she's a diva. You'll notice we set up a whole extra big screen TV to her left so we could show a live video feed of her shoes.

I'm in this one. Set up the day before the convention opened.

Post-show inventory and office clean-up is probably going to eat up next week's computer and work time, and just recovering from Las Vegas (Medicomp parties even harder after the show than we do during it) is going to take most of this weekend, so don't expect me to be back to blogging and whatnot for a bit. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Why D&D Has Lots of Rules for Combat: A General Theory Encompassing All Editions

D&D, in all editions, has a lot of rules for combat. That's generally what the majority of the game's rules are for, even when it's got fairly detailed rules for non-combatty type things. That doesn't mean that D&D is "about" combat, though, at least in all editions. Sometimes, in fact, it means that it's very much not about combat.

Obviously, sometimes D&D is about combat. 4E is the big one here. If you're not spending a decent chunk of your sessions fighting monsters in 4E, you're playing waaaaay outside of what its designers intended for it. This is a function of the complexity of the rules 4E has related to combat: in 4E D&D, you have a lot of interesting decisions to make inside of combat, and you're not risking much by initiating it. Your guy has a lot of neat things he can do in combat, the rest of the party has a lot of neat things they can do in combat, and the monsters, terrain rules, encounter design guidelines, and other DM advice and features of the game make it fairly easy to set up a particular kind of "interesting encounter." And the DM has to step outside of what the game rather strongly recommends to even be able to kill the PCs. It's tough to do accidentally.

Depending on the quality of the GM, of course, you probably have some interesting decisions to make outside of combat as well, but it's harder to say exactly what you're risking in those situations than it is when you're working within the game's combat system. 4E D&D is a game where you're supposed to spend a lot of your time hitting things.

At the opposite extreme, you've got OD&D/Basic and their retroclones. Combat in OD&D isn't that interesting unless the DM knows what he's doing and the players are active and creative-- neither the games rules nor its advice really funnel play towards "fun" combat. To the degree that combat is interesting, it's interesting because you're allowed to bring in whatever non-combat systems you have for handling problems-- the nets, 10-foot-poles, and spells of physical problem solving-- into the combat. If that's fun in the rest of the game, you're probably going to have fun with OD&D combat, too.

The main function of the combat rules, instead, is to make combat deadly, in a way that's fairly adjudication agnostic. If the DM is doing her job right, she's going to kill your character sometimes, and you're going to know that you deserved it. It needs fairly detailed combat rules because it's relatively difficult to adjudicate combat compared to most of what you do in D&D, and relatively important compared to most of what you do in D&D that it be adjudicated "correctly," or at least in a fairly neutral way. (Among other reasons-- to a degree combat is always complex because combat is inherently interesting).

So here complex combat creates a situation that's the opposite of what it does in 4E: "If we get into combat we will probably die; as long as we stay out of combat we might die but we're not sure" vs. "If we get into combat we probably won't die; as long as we stay out of combat we might die but we're not sure." It doesn't change the fundamental D&D situation of "you don't really know what the DM is up to, and to play and have fun you have to be willing to trust her."

The combat rules create a particular environment for decisions to be made, and they create context for decisions made outside of combat. In 4E, combat is inherently interesting, and the context it creates encourages players to engage in combat. In OD&D, combat isn't inherently interesting, since its intended to create a context that discourages players from engaging in combat without pissing them off if that's what they decide to do. In each case you get different behavior. (Depending on the assumptions that the players themselves bring to the table. I've had players fling themselves into OD&D combat because they didn't understand the rules and they assumed that it was like the video games they were used to, or other games that they'd played.)

For me this is a simple and clear case of some general principles in game design. Just because a game has a lot of rules for something, it doesn't mean the game wants you to spend a lot of time doing that something. Player's may assume that's the case, if they mistake "complex" for "interesting," but they'll eventually learn better if it's not. If a game has a lot of rules for something that's a good sign that it's important, but it may be inherently important or it may be important because it's a failure state or other consequence of normal game play. 3E has fairly complicated rules for death and dying. That doesn't mean that 3E is "about" death and dying to the degree that it has rules about them.

As an aside, I feel like this combat/rules dynamic puts 3E in sort of a weird place. The volume and kind of rules that it has for combat indicate that combat is inherently interesting. For the most part, that's true. But it lacks a lot of the safeguards that 4E has built-in to combat. It's not nearly as deadly as OD&D, but it can still be pretty deadly, especially when the players misjudge the situation somehow. It extends a lot of OD&D's assumptions to their logical conclusions-- OD&D combat can be interesting, if the DM presents it in a sufficiently textured way, and the players have some toys to play with, so D&D 3E provides the texture and the toys. 

Unfortunately, that makes it easy for things to guy awry if the players then take their inaccurate OD&D assumptions to their logical conclusions. Either they'll die a lot and get frustrated, or the DM will low-ball the challenge (and the 3E books don't give a whole lot of guidance away from this tendency) and the combats will get really easy. The underlying physics of D&D's combat can make for pretty boring combat if there aren't any interesting stakes involved; if you're not trying to achieve something in particular, or desperately avoid death. 3E makes it interesting to go "oh hey! this game is about combat!" then have that initial impression confirmed, and play that way until the game gets very boring and the DM gets annoyed.

Friday, January 20, 2012

What If Your PCs Were All on Drugs?

In the comments on Zak's latest post, bombasticus writes:

Now that you mention it, though I almost want to run a really decadent Third Imperium "drift" game, Victor's European Vacation in space where they confront the inherent anomie of existence. And do space drugs.

For some reason this really clicks with me. I immediately thought, "Well what if they were all addicts? That would be a pretty dang great reason for them to go adventuring. They'd need money, and that'd get them into the usual trouble, and then the drugs themselves would get them into even more trouble. It'd neatly explain the usual player character batshittery."

Especially if they weren't all the same drugs. Like if I was going to take this concept really seriously, I'd have a random table that told you what drugs you were hooked on at the start of play. Maybe more than one.

It even explains how the characters know each other: You met through your drug dealer. Or otherwise through that fraternity that always seems to exist amongst users and addicts. It'd be easy to integrate new characters into the game. Which would probably be necessary, for something like this.

Traveller is a pretty obvious system/genre for this kinda thing, but I think it'd work for any sufficiently urbanized setting. D&D and cyberpunk would both be pretty obvious options.

I might do it with Traveller, though, just because I've had trouble with that system in the past (for some reason) and that might help me get a handle on the shape of the campaign. Or not. I've been meaning to run a "wastrel noble scions" game of D&D for a while, and this might be just the thing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What have I done?

Foxboy is getting old World of Darkness books in the mail. He's got players lined up and he wants us all to be Tremere in a small town dealing with creepy happenings. It was not six months ago that I talked him into playing in an Eberron campaign I was running. Since then he's played some Dark Heresy but a recent move has put that game on ice, so I guess he decided that he needed to take things into his own hands.