Thursday, April 29, 2010

Building a strategy for converting board gamers into RPG newbies

I'm hoping to start an RPG campaign for the first time in years, here's the lowdown...

Currently, we're playing Settlers of Catan. I started them on Dungeon! which is great fun, but Catan offered more in the way of complexity and they ate it up. I was a Catan newb as well so it leveled the playing field. Since we started playing last November we've trained 10 newbs who all love the game, and at least three others bought their own copies. Table gaming is where it's at!

Three players (besides me) have expressed interest and availability. Basically my wife and a couple we know. One of them I've done some D&D Day gaming with at our FLGS. The other is a certified sci-fi fan (we have protracted discussions about "magical realism" in literature. My wife is the wild card: this is like an audition to see if something this freewheeling holds her interest. Catan did, Dungeon! less so.

I haven't GM'd since high school. Yeah, talk about stage fright.Written lots of supplementary material,which is really my strength (ideas), but I've never felt strong on mechanics. This is really the bulk of my preparation of late--know the rules and flow of the game really well so I have the flexibility to follow/forget them as needed. Basically get it down so I know what to do next.

Undecided. I have three players with different interests. I'm currently working on setting and randoms for X-plorers as well as a Masters of the Universe-like setting for Marvel Superheroes. I could also go straight sci-fi, supes, or fantasy to simplify. I'm still feeling them out.

While catching up on my blog reading and found the following four posts that I think each offer unique insight. I'm obviously not going to repost their entire (and very thoughtfully written) advice, but here are snippets that struck a chord with me.

The Excessive Gamer, who posted about being a "decent GM" and who offers great advice (pulled from his own experience as well as others) on being prepared. Not overly prepared mind you--but there's no harm in getting your act together. I think this is the thing I worry about the most, that I'll not have a way to answer questions quick enough before the yawning commences. Here are a few (poorly paraphrased by myself) points to consider:

  • Be prepared (2 GM styles: preparers and improvisers, guess which one takes natural talent?)
  • Timing is everyting (get pacing down--something I struggle with!)
  • Teen wolf syndrome (achieving balance between players at proper levels)
  • Don't fall in love with critical results (keep the big picture in mind--avoid off-balancing the entire game with one good or bad result)
  • Never split the party ('nuff said!)
  • No one likes the RPG railroad (ditto)
  • Tool time (rules lawyering)
  • Wrong guy running the game (man, I hope that's not me!)
It's a lengthy post, but I got quite a bit from it. I know I'll be re-reading a few more times.

When Doug Easterly posted about "Selling a different gaming experience," I don't think he had my exact situation in mind. He was thinking more "old (grog)dogs, new tricks"--that is, convincing veteran RPGers who prefer a particular type of gaming experience due to familiarity. I think there's a great lesson here about getting players on board:
"...character creation in the newer editions has a dual effect. On the one hand, it is an obstacle to just sitting down to play and thus is an obstacle to new players. On the other hand, it is a portion of the game a new player can engage in between games on his or her own, thus is appealing to new players.

Personally, I can do without all the excess work. After years of running Hero System after leaving AD&D, I have had my fill of customizing characters just so, and see the beauty of simpler systems, even class and level systems I once would have lambasted. But I am not so sure it will be easy to get my friends to walk away from newer bells and whistles."
Now this actually gives me hope that: 1.) Less prep/simplicity for players is better--esp. for newbies in my case and 2.)  Be wary of letting them spend too much time customizing. In one of our Dungeon! sessions I tried to work them up to an RPG-frame-of-mind by letting them come up with background and items for characters. This was a disaster because it was plainly obvious that this was a superfluous exercise for a game that didn't require either. They did enjoy selecting their own minis to represent their board tokens--so there's hope, after all. In the end, Doug says it best that "it is a leap of faith," so it seems I have some proselytizing to do!

Jeff Rients post, "brief thoughts on starting adventures" talked about including encounters that will be relevant to each player in the party. He used the example of the Keep on the Borderlands module not having enough for certain classes to do (especially as it's an introductory module). I'm embarrassed to say I never even considered that! So it's definitely pertinent with keeping the players engaged--esp. those who are known to drift off.

Al at Beyond the Black Gate had really great advice for mechanics in his post "Old school DM, new school players," which I'll just bullet and egregiously over-simplify (apologizes to Al!):
  • Attacks of Opportunity (lose 'em)
  • Level Cap (don't be afraid!) 
  • Critical Hit Confirmation Check (ditch it)
  • Class/Race  (okay to limit them) 
  • Skills (player Actions should trump Skill Checks)
  • Game Balance (adjust published adventures as needed--dovetails with Jeff's point)
  • Communicate (be up front with players)
  • Old School One Shots (have plan B!)
At least, I think that's what he meant. Anyway, I'm sure everyone has their own opinions on how to handle certain situations, but what I gleaned from this was to not be afraid of trimming what isn't working. Too often I've painted myself into a corner because we can't feel our way out of the rules. When we were learning Catan, we made judgement calls instead of abiding the rules--and then looked them up later--which was MUCH more successful and less intrusive to play.

Anyway, this post doesn't nearly do justice to the great advice they've provided, but it helps to collate this into once place where I can reference it and share their tips. Have one of your own to share? Please feel free to comment--and thanks!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Stat these beasts, stat!

The Shared Worlds writing camp faculty had an idea: get a cadre of contemporary sci-fi writers to imagine a collection completely new creatures and have the kids at the camp illustrate and elaborate on them! From the website:
Some of the beasts are strange, even creepy, like Cory Doctorow's Hyperman or Gail Carringer's Wax Automaton.  Others are terrifying like James O’Neal’s Crocostrictor. Some are small and furry, like Zoran Zivkovic's hamshees, Kathe Koja's Nyha, and Lev Grossman's Seeing Hare, while still others are lumbering behemoths or underwater wyrms.  And, of course, some are humorous, like Ekaterina Sedia's Mountain Reverse Hippo or Will Hindmarch's Cattywampus.

So have a look and see what inspires you. See the link below for the full story and a table-of-contents listing of the creatures. Stat-up a beastie or six--or illustrate one yourself--and then post it to your blog and spread the word! 

The full story:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Back From Toronto: Tales of the Silver Snail!

I'm glad to be home from Toronto--not that I didn't like the trip--but it did feel like a long week because of work. I had one morning to roam the city (on foot) before my flight out and stumbled upon the Silver Snail on Queen Street, which was a great treat to find. The outside is covered in huge super hero murals!

The inside is filled with all kinds of goodness: comics, action figures (LOTS of figures) and the upstairs is stocked with games/RPGs. It leans more towards the comic fanboy than the gamer fanboy, but I'm equal parts, so it was a welcome discovery. And then there was this little lady guarding the comics....

Great fun!

Regular posting to resume shortly. :)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Action scene inspiration!

I'm off to Toronto for the week, and I'll resume posting upon my return. Until then, enjoy a few choice action scene finds. I'm sure many of artists' works will look familiar--here's hoping there's a few new to you....

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cartography in Comics

I saw this initially over at Boing Boing but it's worthy of a repost. A site called Comic Book Cartography posts wonderful, brightly colored maps and diagrams of imaginary places (and more) found in comics. Here's a few samples (click to view larger):
 Have a look at some high-res versions for yourself...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Marvel Universal Table of Rainbow Goodness

Well, here it is, the basis of all that is good and wholesome in the Marvel Superheroes RPG....
Click to view bigger, uncropped
This particular version is courtesy of the FASERIP blog, which now seems defunct. Wherever the author may be, thank you! I'm working on stats for a few MotU characters (as NPCs). However, I'm probably less talented at creating specs for gaming than I am at drawing. Yikes.

I'm good at adapting other entries though, so I think I'll start with some existing templates and work from there. I'll post the results as soon as I've got the time to work them up.

UPDATE: I've found several Marvel RPG sites that have proved very useful. Have a look and show some love:

A Cosmic Kirby-esque Caesar

These are costume designs of Caesar, Flavius, and Calpurnia that Kirby did for a production of Julius Caesar using previously discarded designs for Fourth World.
I think it's a great example of the type of characters I'd have running around my version of Eternia.
Want more? The Kirby Museum has plenty more where that came from--be sure to check them out!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

RPG Mash Up: Masters of the Universe + Jack Kirby x Marvel Superheroes = WIN

A recent post by Jeff Rients got my cylinders re-firing on an old idea I've had to work up a Masters of the Universe campaign using the Marvel Superheroes RPG. I think there's great overlap here: the system is infinitely flexible and great at supporting both superhuman abilities, technology, and magic.

D&D and it's immediate derivatives (clones, etc.) would do okay, but the FASERIP system is an excellent complement to the kinds of characters, feats, and frivolity generated out of comics and the Marvel system "feels" right for He-man and co. I also think that the Universal Table--arguably the heart of the FASERIP system-- would make an great fit for MotU, especially when it comes to handling combat.

Now here's where it gets weird: Jeff's post was about Jack Kirby's (not worthy! not worthy!) Fourth World being run with 4E rules (Stay focused! We're not talkin' 4E here!).

It turns out that--apart from the obvious Conan/Sword & Planet references--Kirby's Fourth World was one of the inspirations behind MotU! At least--it was for the 1987 film. There's also a good case that several of the MotU characters are damn-near direct analogs from FW. Now it get's sticky when you assume that the entire MotU franchise was in fact a He-man muscle on a FW skeleton, as some have asserted and yet others have refuted. But the visuals--if not the characterizations--were greatly influenced and inspired by Kirby, and I think the assessment is still a fair one.

For my own campaign, I pictured Kirby-esque visuals blended with a few other ideas even before I knew this connection existed. I guess it's not that far a stretch given the melting-pot-like environment of 80s fantasy--but it was definitely a welcome surprise! To be honest, it's not like I'd want the Mattel characters as PCs, but I'd jump at the opportunity to develop the setting and ability to make up new characters that could go toe-to-toe with MotU contemporaries. And yet, I'm not looking to make it cartoony. Ya dig?

Okay, so now my brain is cooking and--oh, I've got zero time to run with this idea as I'm getting ready to fly to Toronto next week for work. Gah! Why do all the good ideas bubble up to the surface when you're busy?!

Comic maestro Bruce Timm did the He-man images for the MotU 80s mini-comic, Kirby is a hero of his..

Monday, April 5, 2010

My other fantasy muses

Yeah, Dungeon! my favorite boardgame cast a strong spell on the way I saw fantasy growing up in the 80s. And of course the box sets of D&D (and the accompanying illustrations) were also very influential. But there were a handful of other books, toys, movies, etc.--cheesy as they may have been. ;)

Man I played the hell out of Crypts of Chaos on my 2600. I never did have Adventure--and the official AD&D game was for the Intellivision (lame!). C of C not only sported awesome cartridge art featuring Luke and Leia stand-ins in a dream-like dungeon of weirdness--it was a FIRST PERSON GAME! The corridors of the dungeon would move toward you and wandering monsters would attack. You had mere seconds to get your wand or magic ring ready...which was usually out of charges. And I think the cart art still freaks me out....
Dragonslayer was one of the first full-length fantasy films I remember seeing and being impressed by. I saw it on VHS first and the scene with the baby dragons always made me quesy. Could have done without the page boy haircuts, but it still has one of the great wizard v. lizard battle scenes. Before this film, my idea of an amulet was a big, gaudy jewel--instead of the small, glowing crystal packed with white-hot magic featured in the film. Neat stuff!

Forest of Doom is a wonderful playset made by Dimensions for Children (a now defunct toy company) in a series of other great playmat-with-plastic-figures format sets. Reis O'Brien at Geek Orthodox has blogged extensively on the set which was part of the Dragon Riders of the Styx figure line. I can't say much more than Reis has on the subject, except that from my own experience I loved the iconic figures. They represented to me the basic monsters, wizards, and knights that make up the storybook "fantasy" template. I still have the set in it's original box and I've featured figures from it in the past on Spellcard.

Dungeon of Dread by Rose Estes was my first choose-your-own-adventure type book (TSR called their line "Endless Quest"), of which I later graduated on to the Zork books. The adventure itself is pretty basic, but the great Jeff Easley cover had me conjuring up adventures in my imagination for years to come.

Finally we come to the D&D cartoon, which I know a lot of OSR gamers detest--but I had great fun watching it when I was young. It also represented several AD&D classes as characters on-screen for the first time, so I had a good visual of what they were capable of (even though the cavalier didn't have a sword!). Anyway, I picked up the box set when it came out a few years ago and wasn't disappointed. It even came with a game scenario starring the main characters.

I also had many of the D&D toys, including this bad boy:

...The Fortress of Fangs! It was filled with crazy booby traps and was a great companion to Castle Greyskull.

Anyway, those are just a few of the fun relics. What's in your vault--games, books, movies, posters? Anything off the beaten path that inspired you back in the day? Feel free to list in the comments.

Update: Reis has taken down his blog, so here are some other Dragonriders of the Styx resources out there:

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Fight On! #8 arrived this morning!

I posted some pics on Exonauts, check it out!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A fever dream about Fight On!

So being that it's April Fools' Day today, my mind (of course) was playing tricks on me even before I woke up. I can safely say that I've never once dreamt about anything in the OSR--or even hobby related--until today.

I dreamt that Fight On! with infinite DM publishing powers at it's disposal, had a huge complex where they not only collated the material for the magazine--but actually fabricated huge miniature models of each submission to test before publishing. That's right--huge models--we're talking 3 or 4 ping pong tables in size. They tested everything from one-page dungeons on up to mega-sized labyrinths was ensured to provide "maximum play value".

Writers would give tips to "play testers" while research scientists would walk around in white lab coats taking notes on clipboards: TOO FEW HIT DICE, ADD TRAPS TO ENTRANCE

It was like Willy Wonka's factory, except no Oompa Loompas (thank God!).


I'm sure none of this has to do with the fact that I ordered issue #8 of Fight On! which LuLu says shipped a week-and-a-half ago and still hasn't arrived.

UPDATE: It looks like Fight On! issue #9 is out even before I've received issue #8. And it's FREE to boot! ;)