Sunday, August 31, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Traveller, Firefly and other stuff...

Swag

I traded a bunch of old games in at the FLGS this Tuesday and exchanged them for the updated edition of Mongoose Publishing's Traveller. My intent had been to pick up either the Solomani Rim or Spinward Marches sourcebook for the game, but I wound up getting the revised corebook instead. If I do get round to running Traveller, I want to be running from the most recent iteration of the rules.

Having bought the updated version, I donated my old copy to GUGS for the RPG locker and hope that someone will make use of it. I'd love nothing more than to see a game or two of Traveller start up at the society, especially if I get to join in.

On a whim, I also ordered the Spinward Marches Map Pack. It'll be a handy reference when I inevitably run a campaign in the Spinward Marches, and I can always put it up on my wall in the meantime. Sadly, since buying the revised Traveller corebook and the map pack, I've been advised that it's better to run Firefly for the RP society, and I had to grudgingly agree with the advice given. More on that later.

An inevitable result of my nostalgic rediscovery of Traveller is that I looked up the game that got me interested in it all those years ago, Megatraveller 1: The Zhodani Conspiracy. I found a free download for it, and I've set it up in DOSBox. Having a bit of trouble working out the controls at the moment, but once I've got that figured out I can start playing it properly.

Having settled on running Firefly, I thought I'd better build up my dice collection since the game uses a lot of D4s to D12s. So I ordered two sets of Chessex Lotus Speckled D4s, D6s, D8s and D12s to accompany my D10 collection, and a spare red opaque dice to replace one that's missing from my dice collection. I have ten of the Chessex Lotus Speckled D10s, but I couldn't order enough of the other dice types to accompany all of them, because I didn't want to spend more than £10.

I really need to start saving some money.

Achievements Unlocked
Instead of facilitating Kingdom as planned, I wound up playing two games of Cards Against Humanity again on Tuesday. I think it's not quite as amusing if you play it too many times close together. It's more fun in small doses over extended periods of time. Say maybe once or twice a month, but definitely not a whole evening out of every week.

Having finished the first season of Leverage, I've moved on into the second season. Only watched the first two or three episodes but it doesn't look like it's jumped the shark yet,  so I'm still enjoying it. (Although, the car crash at the start of episode one was a bit ridiculously staged, with the car flying clear over Nate's head.)

After some encouragement from Heather, I've also started watching season nine of Supernatural again. Sadly, Cas has been evicted from the bunker for 'reasons' so he was not in the two episodes I watched, but there was a guest appearance by Felicia Day as Charlie, who is always a welcome visitor to the show. The second episode was a fairly light-hearted one, with Dean affected by a spell that allowed him to understand the language of animals (and also gave him some canine tendencies) and I got a good few laughs out of it.

I watched Doctor Who last night (of course) and, while the title seemed an odd one, it soon made sense once the episode began. As with last week, I'll post a more detailed review soon, but I did enjoy the episode for the most part. Got a bit more of a picture of what Capaldi's Doctor is like and, if I'm being entirely honest, he's a bit of a dick. But I think his hearts are in the right place, at least.

After that, I started another rewatch of Firefly with the pilot episode. My plan is to watch each episode as I read through the Firefly RPG rulebook, reading the 'episode guide' for each episode after I watch them. I really like the way they've written out the episode guide, statting out the characters and ships that appear in each episode and using moments from the show as examples of how the game is played. Mind you, it does seem like the sort of thing that should be at the back of the book rather than the front. I'll talk more on that when I get around to reviewing the book, but the first chapter is an odd place to put the episode guide in my opinion.

Works In Progress
As mentioned, I've been encouraged to run Firefly as my campaign for this semester. There's a bit of demand for it, and it's a bit more beginner-friendly than Traveller can be. So I'm going to plan for that. Don't have any ideas in terms of a story arc besides expanding upon Gem In The Rough as a mini-arc within the season, but I might just wait and see what characters I get in my party, then build an arc around them. That might be a better way than having an arc in mind first and then trying to tie the players' backstories to it.

All the same, I started putting together a couple of custom subsector maps for Traveller on Tuesday. I may not be running Traveller at GUGS, but I have a homebrew sci-fi setting I want to build up, either for RP or writing.

No progress on the edit of episode one of my Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic yet, but I've set myself some concrete goals and deadlines for getting it done, so that'll help me get on with it. Same for the outline of episode 2. I'll set to work on them tomorrow and aim to have the edit of episode one, part one done by 5pm on Friday. I'm giving myself until the end of September to finish the outline for episode two, but I'll be doing it in parallel to my edit of episode one and outlining shouldn't take too long, so I'll probably be done sooner.

Other than that, I hope to have the first half of the AP for our Tears Of A Machine: Tales of the Arx Jericho season finale ready to post on Friday. I'm going to start work on it now. See you later!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

[Doctor Who Review] 8.01: Deep Breath (Spoilers!)

What follows is a spoilery review of Doctor Who series 8, episode 1: 'Deep Breath'. If you haven't seen the episode yet, you probably want to avoid reading this until you have. So, if you haven't seen the episode yet, stop reading now:













Okay, first thing's first...Capaldi was brilliant. Still too early to get a proper read on his characterisation of the new Doctor, since he spent a lot of the time being bonkers from regeneration sickness. However, after the alley scene - which seemed to be the point where the Doctor 'figured out' his new persona - it looks like he's a bit more sombre, down-to-earth character than his last couple of incarnations. Not sure how happy I am about that prospect, to be honest. Hopefully he'll still retain some sense of fun but, like I said, it's too soon to judge.

The onscreen chemistry between Capaldi's Doctor and Jenna Coleman as Clara was good too. It looks like it's going to be an uneasy friendship between them, judging by the banter and bickering. But I'm glad the Doctor nipped any potential romance in the bud - much like Ten did with Donna - so it's definitely going to be a friendship rather than another budding romance/unrequited love/potential love triangle (once Danny shows up), like we've had with so many companions in the New Series. Seriously, just because they're a man and a woman doesn't mean they can't just be good friends (you hear me, Moffat?).

As for the story itself...well, it was okay. I wasn't too hot about how it opened. First we had the Statue of Liberty as a giant weeping Angel that moves across the city. Now we have a great big ruddy dinosaur stomping around the heart of London. Victorian London, no less. The Cyberking wasn't noted in history books because of the cracks in time, but how the frak does this dinosaur get omitted? Sigh. Probably something to do with Vastra and her lot, no doubt.

As for Vastra and the Paternoster Gang...don't get me wrong, I love 'em, I do...but they should not have been in this episode. This episode was supposed to be about introducing us (and Clara) to the new Doctor, but we see more of Vastra, Jenny and Strax in this episode than we do of Capaldi's Doctor. It can't even be justified by Moffat wanting someone familiar with regeneration around to explain things to Clara because she knows all about it from having been inside his timestream and met all of his previous incarnations already. Oh, and let's talk about Clara for a minute.

Clara was way too freaked out about the Doctor's transformation, given that she knows him and knows all about regeneration. Not to mention the fact that she comforted the dying Eleventh in the Christmas special by saying he could regenerate. The best explanation we get for Clara's reaction is Vastra's implication that she is upset over losing 'her' Doctor, and that he looks older now, which makes her seem shallow. I do like Clara's furious response to this accusation, but there are still moments in the episode where I can't help but feel there might be some truth to Vastra's words.

These issues aside, I did like the episode. Unlike others, I don't mind that it reused the clockwork robots from The Girl In The Fireplace. It's no bad thing to revisit old villains every now and then, as it adds a sense of continuity to the show. I thought they were creepier than the ones in the previous episode, as well. The scene in the restaurant when Clara and the Doctor try to leave, and they all get up and mirror their movement as they close around them? That gave me chills. Plus, the close ups on the half-face man's eyeball...well, anything to do with eyeballs tends to freak me out.
 
Plus, though it was somewhat unsubtle, I did like the symbolism of having a Doctor still recovering from regeneration face a villain who has been renewing their body for so long there's nothing left of the original. It silently raises a question: how much like the Doctors we know will this one be? And I Iove how we're not given a clear answer in the episode's climax, due to the ambiguity of how the half-face man met his demise: "Now, did he push you out of that thing or did you fall? Couldn't really tell."

Which brings us to the new series arc for series 8: Missy and her 'heaven'. I'm not really caring much about speculating on the series arc at this point, given Moffat's track record on that score (the 'Silence arc' was an incoherent mess by the time it was wrapped up, in my humble opinion). Whatever her identity and the nature of her 'heaven' turns out to be, I'm sure I'll be dissatisfied by the answer, so I'm not going to bother worrying about it. I'm just going to judge each episode on its individual merit.

So, how does this episode measure up as a standalone? I'd say for a regeneration episode it's not as strong as it ought to be, as it is it's barely above average. and doesn't focus on the Doctor himself nearly as much as it should under the circumstances. The story itself is fine, but it has a bit of a rocky start with a dinosaur stomping around Victorian London for no other reason than to be burned up as a hook to make the characters aware the story's true antagonist. Who they only find because they were led there - presumably by Missy, for reasons as yet unknown - which is not how we want to see our protagonists 'solve' a case. It's just a little on the lazy side, really.

Undecim Rating: +2

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

[#RPGaDay] Day 27: Game You’d like to see a new / improved edition of…

I'd like to see a new version of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer RPG. Of course, Eden Studios lost the licence, so it won't happen with Unisystem, but maybe if someone else got the rights to it they could make a new one.

I'm thinking either a Cortex or Fate-based version would work. One of my first thoughts after buying the Dresden Files RPG was that I could maybe adapt it to run a Buffy campaign. And Margaret Weiss have been doing some good licenced stuff lately, so they could probably pull something off.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

[#RPGaDay] Day 26 - Coolest Character Sheet: Night's Black Agents

The 'coolest' character sheets, to my mind, are ones which evoke the setting or genre of the game they're designed for. Which is why I love the updated character sheet for Night's Black Agents, which is designed to look like an agent's dossier, complete with a 'polaroid photo' for a character sketch to be drawn into or (if you're editing it on the computer) to insert a digital image into.

It's also self-calculating which is handy for making sure you've assigned all your points properly. Plus, it's a lot more functionally designed as a character sheet for the Gumshoe system than any of the sheets for other games in the line that had come before it. Instead of having a simple note of pool/rating, you have dots that can be marked off with pencil whenever you spend pool points, which makes it easier to track point spends.

[Actual Play] Timewatch: Team Indigo - Chariot of the Gods

It took me a while, but I finally got our second two-part episode of Timewatch: Team Indigo fixed up and uploaded it to the RPGMP3 website. It just went live on their Downloads page, so go check it out:

Session 02: Chariot of the Gods - Part 1 / Part 2

I'll be trying to get Session 03 done for this Sunday and I'll upload it to the site once it's done. Hopefully I'll be able to update regularly from now on (at least until I run out of new sessions to post).

Monday, August 25, 2014

[#RPGaDay] Catch Up: Days 23 to 25

I've been a bit preoccupied over the weekend, so I haven't had the chance to write these up until now, but better late than never...

23. Coolest Looking RPG Product/Book: All Rolled Up
I found out about these guys through the Nearly Enough Dice podcast, and after checking out the website I really want to pick up one of their creations at some point.

All Rolled Up is a husband and wife company which produces handcrafted game rolls. These All Rolled Ups (or ARUs for short) function not only as dice bags, but can be used to carry stationary, index cards, counters and any other gaming accessories you can fit into it along with your dice.

They come in a variety of different designs and there are different types of ARU - from the standard versions, to deluxe ones with chalk cloth panels you can use to sketch quick maps/diagrams/initiative orders on with chalk or dry erase markers, to the more compact Tiny ARUs (or TARUs).

At the moment, I've got my eye on the Orbital Trajectory premium ARU, which has a cool star chart style design to it. Might be quite fitting if I end up running either Firefly or Traveller as my campaign this year as well. Just need to wait until I can afford it. (Also, I promised myself I'd buy an ARU if I completed the 750 Words Monthly Challenge for August, but I missed a day yesterday, so I'll make it my reward for next month's challenge instead.

24. Most Complicated RPG Owned: Wild Talents (One Roll Engine)
I might be wrong about this, having not read the book in depth since I bought it and never played it yet, but at first glance the One Roll Engine is a bit of a head-scratcher. The system is designed with the intent of boiling down a bunch of different variables (initiative, hit location, damage, etc) to a single roll.

Sounds like it should be simpler, not complicated, but in reading the book there's talk about the 'width' and 'height' of a roll, wiggle dice, hard dice and it sounds like interpreting this one roll could be a bit more complex. Like I said though, I'll need to give the book a proper read and actually try out the system before I can properly judge how complicated it actually is in practice.

25. Favourite RPG No One Else Wants To Play
25. RPG I Want To Try But Can't Find A GM For: Dread
Ever since I heard about this game I've wanted to give it a go, but the only person who's shown any interest in running it couldn't run it because he had lost his Jenga tower. That's right, this game uses a Jenga tower for its resolution mechanic.

Dread is a horror RPG where characters are created by filling out questionnaires for the role that you are playing as. Whenever your character tries to do something challenging in the game, they have to pull one or more blocks from the Jenga tower. If you pull successfully, you succeed in your action. If you fail and knock over the tower, then your character dies (or is marked for death, if it doesn't make narrative sense for them to die yet, and can no longer pull blocks to attempt an action).

This mechanic sounds like a really good way of creating suspense at the table, emulating the tension the characters would be feeling as they face the horrific situation they are in. Maybe only suitable for one-shot play, but it sounds like a fun game to try out all the same.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Leverage, Doctor Who and other stuff...

Swag
No new purchases this week, since I'm out of cash after the spending spree last weekend. I did receive my copy of Apotheosis Drive X in the mail on Wednesday though, and I've skimmed through it. Looks decent, but there are a LOT of Page XX references in it, which is a bit irritating.

I also got my print copy of the Firefly RPG in the mail on Thursday! WHOOP!

Achievements Unlocked
Intended to try out Kingdom on Tuesday, but we ended up playing with Heather's new box of Cards Against Humanity instead. We pretty much played through the deck until about 9 o'clock, and then we stopped refreshing our hands and finished once everyone had run out of cards.

Starting Wednesday, I finally got around to watching Leverage. I've been hearing folks talk about the series for a while, most recently on the Margaret Weiss Productions forums (apparently somebody's running a Firefly/Leverage hack called Leveraging The Black), so I was always going to give it a look one of these days. The first eight episodes have been a lot of Oceans Eleven-style capering fun, the show doesn't take itself too seriously, it has Gina Bellman (Jane from Coupling) as a master grifter, Christian Kane (Lindsay McDonald from Angel) as a badass fighter type (and not a complete heel this time!), and three episodes in Mark A. Sheppard is introduced as a recurring rival for the team's ringleader. Mark me down as hooked, I'll definitely be watching more of this series. Now I just need to resist the temptation to make my pregens for the Firefly oneshots a Leverage-style crew instead. ('Cause that wouldn't really fit anyway, right?)

Then there was the new series première of Doctor Who last night. Bit of a slow burner, but that's no bad thing, and I think Peter Capaldi did a good job as the Doctor for his first episode. The real test though will be the next couple of episodes, since we don't really get enough time to judge the Doctor's new persona from a regeneration episode; they're never really done cooking until the end of the episode and we only get a short glimpse of the real Doctor in the episode's climax. (I'll post a more in-depth review later in the week.)

Works In Progress
Misha gave me some great feedback on the first episode of my Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic, so I need to sit down to Scrivener again and go over the fic again with his feedback in mind. After that, it'll finally be ready to go online. Only took me a couple of years. Now that I've got a process in mind though, I'm hoping the rest of the episodes will take less time to write up than this one has. I want to try and post an episode every month at a rate of one part per week (aiming to split my episodes into four parts, like they used to do with the old serials).

Anyway, first thing's first, get episode one edited, then I need to do the outline for episode two and work from that. With episode one, I wrote the whole thing in script form as a zero draft. Wonder if I should do that again, or just do a standard outline and write it from there in prose form? Anyway, I'll figure it out.

It won't be long before one-shot season at GUGS begins, and then it'll only be another couple of weeks before campaigns begin, so I don't have long to prepare. I'll need to read through my shiny new rulebook for the Firefly RPG and the Echoes Of War: Bucking The Tiger scenario before the 23rd of September.

As of now, my one-shot for the second week depends largely on what I settle on as a campaign for the coming semester. If I go with either Firefly or Traveller, I'm thinking I might keep Gem In The Rough aside as a potential starting scenario. If that's the case, I'll run something with Fate Core instead, most likely the Venture City Stories setting that I was planning on doing as this month's one-shot (but that's off the table now, since I'll be facilitating a game of Kingdom this Tuesday instead). So I need to figure out what I'm running as a campaign for next semester pretty soon as well.

I'm setting myself a deadline of end of the month (next Sunday) to make up my mind about the campaign. I should probably finish off reading through Apotheosis Drive X this week as well, so I can make a decision as to whether I want to run it for GUGS or not.

Other than that, my to-do list largely comprises of clearing out my room and packing boxes as the council will soon be carrying out rewiring work on our home. Joy.
I will try to keep up with the blogging in the meantime, but things are getting a bit hectic in real life right now, so if I might have to put writing for blog posts on the backburner.

At the very least though, I'll try to keep up with the Weekly Geeky Reports, to keep you up to date on what's been happening with me. For now though, see you later!

Friday, August 22, 2014

[#RPGaDay] Day 22: Oldest RPG Owned

Today's topic is supposed to be 'Best Secondhand RPG Purchase', but I can't honestly remember any of my books that I bought secondhand. That's not to say I've never bought anything secondhand (I almost certainly have), it's just that I can't recall which are which.

So, alternate topic, hmmm...how about the oldest RPG book owned? Remember that copy of Big Eyes Small Mouth 2nd Edition I bought as my first RPG?

It's still there on my shelf, plastic peeling on the cover a little bit, but otherwise in good nick. Haven't made use of it in a while, but I'll probably revisit it one of these days. Just haven't had the itch to run anything particularly anime-themed that would suit it of late, and any anime that I have felt like running have other systems that are better suited to them. But some day, some day...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

[#RPGaDay] Day 21 - Favourite Licensed RPG: Doctor Who (Cubicle 7)

The important thing about a licensed RPG is that it needs to emulate the feel of the property it is based on, not just in setting but in how the game is played.

Doctor Who is all about out-smarting opponents and finding a less-violent solution to whatever threat the heroes face from week to week. That's not to say that there isn't a little violence along the way, or that the end solution doesn't involve things exploding, but the Doctor never relies on weapons to solve his problems.

Which meant that, when designing this game, the developers had to come up with some way to reflect that in the rules - given how often roleplaying sessions can devolve into murder-death-kill-kill sprees - and they managed that very well. The initiative system gives priority to non-violent actions, meaning that fighters go last in any extended conflict sequence. Weapons damage is so lethal that it both reflects the one-shot kills seen in episodes of the show, and makes sure player characters want to avoid getting in a shooting match. Plus, there's a massive story point penalty for anyone who purposefully kills in cold blood.

To top all that off, the game is simple enough for newcomers to roleplaying games to pick up, making it an ideal gateway into the hobby for young Whovians, and it's well-supported, with a couple of good supplements already out, not to mention the series of sourcebooks they're releasing for each of the Doctors' runs so far.

Now, if only I could find somebody to run it for me instead of being the one behind the screen all the time...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

[#RPGaDay] Day 20: Will still play in 20 years' time...

Crikey, a game I'll still be playing in twenty years time? That's a tough one.

Still, I'll take a crack at it and say...Fate Core? While I haven't run anything with it for a year or so now, I have played the occasional game in that time, and I do intend to run it again sometime.

The system has enough flexibility and can be applied to a wide enough variety of genres that I think it has a good chance of enduring for another twenty years. Even if it's in a newer incarnation like Fate Core Plus or whatever variation is making the rounds in 2034.

[RPG Review] Kingdom by Ben Robbins

Kingdom is a GM-less roleplaying/story game written by Ben Robbins, known for his previous award-winning game Microscope. Kingdom is the term used in the game to refer to a community or organisation that the players characters all belong to. At the start of play, the group gets together and builds the Kingdom together and then, through their characters, they explore what the Kingdom is about and what its future holds.

Game Mechanics
Like other GM-less games such as Fiasco and Our Last Best Hope, Kingdom starts with a bit of collaborative setting creation. Players start by deciding what kind of Kingdom they want to create - suggestions from the game's text include an Old West frontier town, a colony ship, or the teachers and students of an elementary school - and then move on to creating their characters, each of whom will have some role (Power, Perspective or Touchstone) within the community which gives the players different ways to influence the Kingdom and the path it takes. This process of setting and character creation is quick and straightforward, allowing players to get to the actual play portion of the game with a minimum of faffing around. While very little that is established during this phase has any mechanical part in play, it does help to build up a variety of character details which the players can use to inform play during the game, as well as provide locations for them to set scenes in.

The gameplay itself revolves around resolving Crossroads - important 'yes or no' decisions that the Kingdom faces which will shape its future - which are represented by index cards with tick boxes on them. There are two other index cards with boxes as well: Crisis and Time Passes. Each player takes turns framing scenes in which their characters discuss or act upon the Crossroad, using their roles to add predictions (in the case of Perspective) as to how one decision or the other will play out, make promises (Power) about what the Kingdom will do to a certain character if a certain outcome occurs, or push the Kingdom towards Crisis (Touchstone) to represent the peoples' dissatisfaction with the decisions being made.

The ultimate decision about what path the Kingdom chooses for the Crossroad is in Power's hands, but they don't get to decide how that decision will ultimately affect the Kingdom, or how the people will respond to it. This creates a very interesting dynamic between the players and Crossroads become like negotiations, with the non-Power characters trying to influence the final decision based on their hopes or fears, and the Power character trying to address (or stubbornly ignoring) the Perspective player's predictions or the people's views as represented by the Touchstone in order to reach a favourable outcome. (Or perhaps not, sometimes letting the bad stuff happen is more fun than trying to prevent it.) Overall, the game works well as a simplified emulation of how actual societies and organisations work, and it does it in a way that should be a lot of fun for all involved.

There's no dice rolling in Kingdom, instead conflicts are resolved by consensus. If a character doesn't like how another character is using their role, they can challenge the action, but the targeted player gets to decide if the challenge succeeds, fails, or if a little something extra is needed before it can succeed. To make sure that this doesn't devolve into a series of challenges and rejections, a challenger has the option of escalating their challenge to an Overthrow if their initial challenge is rejected. This means that they can take over the other player's role (forcing them to choose a different one), but they must accept a price to do so. This method of conflict resolution does rely on the players to know when to push to keep the story interesting, and when it's more interesting to back down. In short, you want a good group of players who have a decent sense of drama and respect each other's play style. (Really, you want that for most games, but here especially.)

Setting
As mentioned, setting is largely created collaboratively by the players, but the book does have twenty-two Kingdom 'seeds' for groups to use if they're feeling short on inspiration or just like the sound of them. These cover four different genres: Real World, Historical Period, Science Fiction and Fantasy. There's a nice selection of suggested Kingdoms here, including one or two that are none-too-subtle nods to popular films or TV shows (*cough*Battlestar Galactica*cough*). The seeds provide suggestions for building settings based on them, but groups can pretty much do what they like with them.

In the impromptu game we did a month or so back, we did the Lost In Luxury Space seed. It's sort of a dramedy about a interstellar cruise ship that's adrift in space, with a bunch of spoilt rich passengers who may or may not lift a finger to help the situation. Other ones I fancy trying out include Mech-Police (because MECHS!), Starfall (galactic arms dealers), and Winterhook's School For Wayward Wizards (Harry Potter with a slightly darker twist).

Design
The game has a very minimalist design style, with no real artwork to speak of - even the cover is a simple drawing of a pair of chess pieces - which may feel dry for some, but ultimately I like the straightforward, no-frills approach taken with this book. Every step of gameplay is laid out plainly, clearly and in order of relevance. One readthrough of the book should be enough to get you started playing, and the way it's written makes it easy enough to flick through to the page you need if any rules questions arise in play. There are also short portions of the book meant to be read out loud in turn by players to help them understand the game's themes and the roles they will play.

Additional Materials
After the rules section - which covers about half of the book - and before the Kingdom seeds at the back, there's a brief section offering discussion and advice about the game. This includes useful pointers on how to play the game and a more in depth look at each of the roles, instructions on how to facilitate the game for new players (which is always an extremely useful feature for games like this, in my opinion), and suggestions on different ways to play, including ways to combine it with Robbins' other game, Microscope.

Online Support
On his website for the game, the designer has posted a number of play aids such as rules corrections, character sheets, and role cards. He even posted a downloadable PDF of the quick reference sheet from the book only hours after I posted on the game's Google+ community asking for one, which was extremely awesome of him. Beyond these basic aids, there are also a couple of new Kingdom seeds available for download, and links to a variety of actual play posts and recordings. If you're still not sure you want to buy, I highly recommend checking some of those out, they'll give you a good idea what you'll be getting for your money.

Conclusion
I've only had one opportunity to play Kingdom so far - which was a bit rocky, since I'd barely had time to read the book first - but I enjoyed the one game I played, and now that I've read the book and know how everything's supposed to work, I think I'll enjoy it even more next time. If you love world building, and enjoy stories about communities facing dangers from outside and within, then I'd definitely recommend this game. That said, it's not going to be everybody's cup of tea, since not everybody excels at the kind of improvised play the game entails. Still, you should give it a try anyway, you might find you like it more than you'd expect.

Undecim Rating: +4 (Really good, representative of excellence in the medium.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

[#RPGaDay] Day 19: Published Adventure(s) I Would Like To Run: Bucking The Tiger/Secrets of the Ancients

Published adventures aren't normally my thing, so I actually don't actually have a 'favourite' one yet. However, there are a couple I found recently that I'm actually considering running, so I figured I'd mention them.
First off is the Firefly RPG Echoes of War scenario, Bucking the Tiger. It's looking like a pretty classic whodunit murder mystery, and I love how it parodies westerns in a game based on a show which is basically a space western. There's also the high stakes card game angle; I don't know why, but I always love it when part of the plot revolves around the protagonists getting involved in gambling card games. Maybe because of the head games that result. On a sidenote, I like the way the scenario is structured too. It uses a TV-style four act structure, and each Act has a suggested encounter and a number of different suggestions for how the PCs might deal with it.
The second one is actually a full-length campaign for Mongoose Traveller called Secrets of the Ancients. It too starts out as a traditional whodunit, but progresses over the course of ten adventures to an epic space adventure. I love stories involving ancient precursor civilisations and this campaign is all about the Ancients (precursor race of the Official Traveller Universe) and a galactic conspiracy surrounding their secret history. It looks like it could be a lot of fun, my only issue so far is that it is a bit on the railroady side, assuming the party are going to approach things a certain way and at certain points making it so that there is no other way for the plot to progress.
I don't have a favourite from those two yet (having not actually run them yet), but they're the first published adventures I've bothered to pick up with the intention to run at some point.

Monday, August 18, 2014

[#RPGaDay] Day 18 - Favourite Game System: Apocalypse World

I haven't run anything with this of late, but I do rather love the Apocalypse World system and all the variations I've read so far.

Players have a list of basic moves, plus some additional moves specific to their character type, that they can roll two six-sided dice on, adding one of their stats to the roll. 10+ is a great success, 7-9 is a partial success and below 6 is a failure. Depending on the move, there will be specific things that happen on successes, partials and failures. As the GM, you never have to roll but you have your own more varied list of moves to choose from, some of which are deemed 'hard moves' which you can choose to invoke if a player fails a roll. Whatever move you choose, that's what happens next and then the players react to that with their own moves and so on.

It sounds very limiting in theory, but in practice there's room for interpretation about a move's outcome. The system makes improvised play a lot easier, because it gives you guidance as to where to take your shared story next. The way character creation works in most of these games also ensures that all player characters have ties to one another, which is handy - especially for one-shots - to get things rolling quicker.

I have yet to play Apocalypse World itself - to be honest, I'm much more interested in playing a game of Apocalypse World than running one - but I've run a number of different sessions of Monster of the Week. I also have Dungeon World, which I mean to try one of these days, and - although I don't have them myself - I'd like to give Monsterhearts and the recently kickstarted Urban Shadows a try as a player as well.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

[#RPGaDay] Day 17 - Funniest Game You've Played: Glasgow Avengers/Pure Super Pals

A friend of mine at GUGS who goes by the nickname of Doc runs superhero one-shots every now and then using a simple homebrew percentile system (characters are assumed to be awesome 70% of the time, so if you roll above 30 you're generally okay, though you might get extra special outcomes for rolling specific numbers based on the years of publication for notable comic books). They're always a lot of fun. Most recently he has been running one-shots revolving around the Glasgow Avengers (now appearing as the Pure Super Pals over on Doc's website).

The characters alone are a recipe for hilarity. I played the Magenta Munitionist whose superpower is to be able to pull any weapon from anywhere in the multiverse out of her pocket, and her niece was Quantabella whose superpower is to shoot probability-altering beams through her Cyclops-style visor. When Quantabella used this power for mischief or with terrible consequences (either of which happened more frequently than not) it was usually followed by her aunt's anguished cries of "Quan-ta-BELL-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"

There's also Super-Rab (basically what would have happened if Superman had landed in Easterhouse rather than Smallville), the Duck (Batman except with a duck mask instead of a bat suit), and the Fractured Friar (who exists simultaneously across all possible universes, which gets a bit confusing) to name a few.

Most of the humour comes just from this horrid bunch being unleashed on the would-be supervillains of Glasgow, but also from Doc's characterisation of the various NPCs (such as the Pure Super Pals' landlady, whose name escapes me at the moment). I sadly won't be able to participate in his upcoming one-shots at GUGS during the Freshers intro weeks since I'll be running my own, but I'd love to play in another Glasgow Avengers/Pure Super Pals game sometime in the future. Or just ANY game Doc runs in the future, because he runs AWESOME games. (See the New Runaways/X-Men: Last Class campaign from 2012-2013 for an example.)

[Weekly Geeky Report] Ancients, Mass Effect and other stuff...

Swag
First of all, I downloaded the free PDF of Mongoose Publishing's release of the Secrets of the Ancients campaign for their edition of the Traveller RPG. I'm not sure if or when I will run it - I told myself I was taking a break from GMing campaigns this semester but, having revisited the Mongoose edition of Traveller while trying to randomly roll up Firefly characters, I'm more than a little tempted to give it a go - but it was a free download so I figured, what the hell?

That was as far as I was planning to go with RPG acquisitions this week but, after giving thought to what I might run for the coming semester I went ahead and ordered Apotheosis Drive X on Friday. There was no complimentary PDF available for this, so I'll just have to wait for the print edition to arrive in the mail to see what it's like. Then, yesterday, I went into Glasgow and picked up a copy of Fate Worlds Vol. 2: Worlds In Shadow, which I mostly bought for Camelot Trigger, but there's other settings in there that look like fun as well. But no, I'm not adding them to my potential campaigns list for the new term at GUGS. That list is long enough already.

Achievements Unlocked
I restarted my replay of the Mass Effect trilogy with my FemShep character and am just about to leave the Citadel after being inducted as a Spectre. Was tempted to do an 'actual play' in the form of mission logs by Shepherd, but I thought that might be pushing things in terms of copyright infringement if I posted stuff like that on my blog.

No Tuesday GUGS this week, on account of my being pretty ill on Tuesday.

Last night, I resumed my Eleventh Doctor recap with Series 6 of Doctor Who. Watched the first four episodes and I enjoyed all four of them as much as I remember enjoying them the first time around. It's just a pity that the ultimate answer at the end of all this mysterious build up about the Silence is not only dissatisfying but actually doesn't fit when you go back and look at these earlier episodes.

Works In Progress
After putting it off for a while, I finally got around to editing together the APs from our third and fourth sessions of Timewatch: Team Indigo. Those should be going up on RPGMP3.com soon, so I'll link them when they're available.

Still stymied on the pregens for Firefly, and I'm still working on converting Gem In The Rough to run as a Firefly scenario. It really shouldn't take much doing, just need to stat out the NPCs from the adventure, really. However, I wanted to write it up like a proper adventure, the way the adventure in the book and the Echoes of War scenarios are written, which means expanding somewhat upon the scenario as written for Traveller.

As previously mentioned, I've started considering options for a campaign when the new semester starts up, but I haven't settled on anything concrete yet.

No momentum on Doctor Who: The SOS Files, or on the next installment of my Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic. The latter is on hold right now, until I've edited the first episode and got a more clear idea of my 'season arc'. For The SOS Files, I've got a basic idea of the setting which can be built on in play, so all I really need is an idea for an introductory story. From there, I can build the main arc and the setting around the characters my players come up with.

My current to do list:
- Finish editing the next actual play recording of Timewatch: Team Indigo (Tonight)
- Edit Doctor Who/Evangelion episode one ready to post on FF.net (by Saturday)
- Write up the outline for DW/Eva episode two. (by next Monday)
- Read through Fate Core and Venture City Stories (by next Tuesday)
- Prep for Venture City Stories one-shot (by next Tuesday)
- Prep for my 'Doctor Who: The SOS Files' Storium game. (by end of August)
- Write up a pregen crew and ship for my Firefly one-shots. (by end of August)
- Make a final decision on what campaign to run for GUGS. (by end of August)
- Read through Firefly RPG rules (by mid-September)
- Read through Firefly - Echoes of War: Bucking the Tiger (by mid-September)
- Convert Gem In The Rough as Firefly RPG scenario (by end of September)

...and probably a few other things I've forgotten about. They'll come back to me eventually.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

[#RPGaDay] Day 16 - Game You Wish You Owned: Mistborn Adventure Game

Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series is one of my all-time favourite fantasy settings. The world is built around a deconstruction of the classic hero's journey; a thousand years have passed since the prophesied hero - the Hero of Ages - failed in his quest. In this world of red skies where ash periodically falls from the sky like rain and strange mists cloak the streets by night, the Lord Ruler reigns the Final Empire through the noble families with an iron fist. Beneath the nobles are a peasant class known as the Skaa who are treated as little more than slaves. This is the state of the world at the beginning of the series, though things change over the course of the original trilogy and there's a three hundred year timeskip in the fourth book to a steampunk tech level.

Aside from the dark, brooding setting the thing about Mistborn which makes me interested in playing it is the magic system. There are different types of magic in this world, all involving metal in some way or other, but the main one is Allomancy. Allomancers have the ability to ingest and 'burn' certain types of metal to produce a variety of different magical effects depending on the metals used; most Allomancers can only burn one specific type of metal and so have only one power, but a rare few known as 'Mistborn' are able to burn all Allomantic metals for a variety of powers. There's some more to the magic system than that, but those are the basics.

From what little I've heard, the Mistborn Adventure Game itself seems to assume that the players are part of a crew of Mistings (one metal Allomancers) pulling off capers, like Kelsier's band of rogues from the first book. It's been a while since I played a rogue in an ongoing campaign, but they used to be my favoured character type, so I'd love to 'get back to my roots' with this game. I only know of one person at GUGS who has the game, but he hasn't got round to running it yet. All the same, I'd love to have a copy of the book myself, if only to add to my Mistborn collection.

Decisions, Decisions: 1D6 Possibilities For My Next RP Campaign (Coming soon to GUGS...)

Remember when I said I was going to take a break from running campaigns for a while, and I was hoping to play in a campaign this semester? Well, I've been re-evaluating that decision over the past week.

Part of that is because I feel it's my responsibility as RP convenor to have a campaign ready to run in case there aren't enough campaigns running to support the number of players looking for games. That's not too likely, but it's still a possibility I need to be prepared for.

Another part is that - with reading the new Firefly RPG, revisiting Traveller, eyeing up another couple of setting for Fate Core - I'm starting to get the itch to run something again. I've got at least another month to recover from the leftover GM burnout from my Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space campaign, so I figure by the time the new term starts I'll be ready to dive back into running something.

The question is, if I do run something, what will I run?

1. Apotheosis Drive X
This is a Gundam-style mecha RPG which uses the Fate Core system, but the corebook stands on its own and does not require the Fate Core rulebook to play. I just ordered the book and there's no complimentary PDF, so I still need to read it, but it sounds like it might be fun. The setting is around 2400 AD, where technological progress has allowed humanity to colonise the moon, Mars and the asteroid belt. Unfortunately we still haven't learned to set aside our differences and continue to work out new ways to kill one another, mainly using mecha known as Titans. The default setting is the Fourth Generation (2433 AD) where the four main factions are at a stalemate which will only be altered by the next technological leap forward, and the game seemingly has the potential to be run over multiple generations, from Generation One all the way to Seven, which is the ultimate generation of Titan technology.

I'm in a bit of a mecha anime mood at the moment, following the conclusion of the first season of our Tears Of A Machine campaign and having watched Knights Of Sidonia twice now (and going for a third pass soon), so it might be just the thing I'm looking for. Plus, the multi-generation story arc sounds interesting. Depending on how long it takes to play through a generation's worth of game time (and whether I'm in the mood to continue after another year of running a campaign), I could see this working as a long-term campaign with a new term or academic year marking the start of a new generation; players might return for later generations as their own characters (or each others') descendents, or other players might take the stage and play in a future shaped by the previous generation's actions.

2. Camelot Trigger (Fate Core: Worlds In Shadow)
Another mecha RPG which I'm considering. This one is actually part of the second Fate World expansion book (Worlds In Shadow) for Fate Core, and I heard about it originally because one of the other GMs at GUGS had run a few sessions of it. The premise seems to be that Arthurian legend is replaying itself in humanity's future. There's a 'High Orbit King' named Arthur (maybe even the Arthur, having returned as promised in the legend) and his loyal knights battle enemies of the crown across the solar system in giant robotic suits of armour. It's just the kind of crazy awesome genre mashup you could imagine being made into an anime series, and I'd love to play it if not run it. Normally I'd be loathe to run this in fear of treading on the other GM's territory, but he's actually grown disillusioned with Fate Core since running it, so I wouldn't feel quite so bad about taking over as GUGS' resident Camelot Trigger GM.

3. Firefly
I'm already planning on running a couple of one-shots of the new Firefly RPG at the start of term, so it wouldn't be that big a stretch to go the extra mile and run an ongoing campaign. Of course, whether I even run those one-shots is dependant on whether the print edition is in my hands by then, because I absolutely loathe running games from PDF (unless I'm actually running over G+/Skype/etc).
I don't have a 'series arc' in mind for a potential campaign as yet; I think I'd wait to see what kind of characters I end up with first. Depending on the party makeup, the arc could be anything from a Cowboy Bebop-style feud with a major Triad leader, or it might continue to tackle the Alliance and its dirty secrets like the original series. I had an idea a while back (back when I had the original Serenity RPG) about doing a post-Serenity campaign, with the crew getting caught up in the fallout following on from the events in the movie. The Firefly RPG is supposed to be set during the series though, so I think I'd like to start from there and maybe work my way towards the events of Serenity taking place. We'll see, like I said, it depends on how soon I get my hands on the print edition.

4. Kuro
Another interesting genre mashup, this time mixing futuristic noir in the style of Blade Runner with J-Horror in the vein of Dark Water or Ring. I might actually wait for the Makkura campaign sourcebook to come out before tackling a campaign of this, but I do have an idea about how to kick off a campaign of my own. Thing is, while I've done horror-themed sessions within other campaigns from time to time or the occasional one-shot, horror isn't my speciality as a GM. It's something I've always wanted to try, but I don't know how well I'll do in maintaining that kind of tone. Still, if I never try, I'll never learn...

5. Night's Black Agents
I've mentioned a couple of campaign ideas I could run for this previously or, if I'm feeling lazy I could buy the Zalozhiniy Quartet campaign book and run that. I think it would be a fun game to run whatever campaign I go with, though it will be another challenge. Firstly, because it's another horror-themed game and - as mentioned previously - that's not my usual thing. Secondly, I still haven't got the hand of running Gumshoe as a GM. I've given it a couple of tries, but if I'm running it in future I'll need to keep better track of players' point spends in-game. Again, if I don't try...

6. Traveller (Mongoose Publishing)
Last but not least, having been playing around with character creation in Mongoose Publishing's edition of Traveller again recently (part of my ongoing effort to inspire ideas for a Firefly pregen crew), I'm getting an itch to try running it again.

I did run a short-lived campaign of Traveller using a homebrew setting back in 2010 and I enjoyed running it then. Having heard actual play recordings of another group playing through it, I downloaded the free PDF of the Secrets Of The Ancients campaign, and I'd quite like to run that.

The only problem with that is that it's a long-term campaign (lasting about a year) and I'd be running it for a university-based roleplaying society whose peak period of activity is primarily between October and May, with breaks and slumps along the way (due to essays, exams and holidays). As such, I'm not sure there'd be enough time to run through the campaign in its entirety. It's probably a campaign better suited to a separate group playing at somebody's flat or house. Still, if I can't run the Secrets Of The Ancients campaign, I can always run a sandbox campaign set in the Third Imperium. Either way, I'd like to pick up a copy of the Spinward Marches book as a setting reference if I'm going to run Traveller.

--

I don't know how I'm going to decide. Maybe I'll roll a d6 and pick randomly (i.e. whichever one I don't feel like re-rolling the result for) or maybe folks could offer their own thoughts about which might be the best choice in the comments? Just don't suggest more games I could run, six options is quite enough to choose from as it is, thanks. ;)

Friday, August 15, 2014

[#RPGaDay] Day 15 - Favourite Convention Game: Doctor Who (3d10 System)

The Cardiff Nationals of 2012 were - to my knowledge - the first to have Doctor Who as one of the categories for RPGs. Of course, when I found out about this, Doctor Who was my first choice as a category. Both games I played that weekend were great fun, but I especially liked the first one I was in, which utilised a 3d10 system which has been used in two or three different games published by Jackalpack Games. It wasn't so much the system itself that I loved (though the system was good as well) but the scenario, the pregens and the way that the Doctor was handled in play were really cool.  I don't want to go into too much detail about the scenario itself - I might adapt it for my own purposes the next time I run DWAiTAS - but I'll tell you a bit about the pregens and the 'Doctor mechanic'.

First off, the TARDIS crew consisted of a teenage hacker who had fallen in with the Doctor, said teen hacker's mother (a lawyer) who joins them to keep her son out of mischief, a friendly cyberman, an anthropomorphic rabbit princess and...I can't actually remember if there was a fifth or sixth character, those are the ones that stuck in my mind. My favourite out of the pregens was the mother and son duo; I might be a bit prejudiced since I was playing the mother, but I just loved the dynamic that added to the party. Also, as the mother I not only mothered my 'son' but the party as a whole...Doctor included. ("You may be a thousand-odd years old, but if you will behave like a child then by God that's how you'll be treated.")

Speaking of the Doctor...deciding who gets to play the Doctor/Time Lord character in a Doctor Who game is always one of the sticky points, since it's such a powerful role. I avoided it in my own campaign by having the whole campaign revolve around his disappearance, but this game took a novel approach to the issue. No one person played the Doctor. For the most part he was a passive NPC, mostly contributing exposition; but if we wanted him to actually do something more active, then we could temporarily take control of him as a player character.

To prevent people from hogging the spotlight as the Doctor, the GM gave everyone countdown clocks which we could use to clock in and out of 'Doctor time'. Everybody had five minutes of 'Doctor time' at the start of play, and could earn more as rewards for good roleplay as their own characters. Once their 'Doctor time' was finished, they couldn't play the Doctor anymore. As a result, when people clocked in as the Doctor, because of the time limit they played the role with the frantic energy that's typical of the character when he's in action. Also, if the other players were anything like me, they had thought through how they were going to use their 'Doctor time' beforehand and so they played with confidence reflecting the Doctor's certainty that he (mostly) knows what he's doing.

Okay, so it probably wouldn't work for longer-term play, but as a gimmick for a one-shot scenario it worked beautifully and I would use it myself if I had the cash to burn on buying a whole player group's worth of countdown timers. Sure, I could just use an app on my mobile to keep track of everybody's countdowns, but that takes away the tactile aspect of 'tapping in' to announce that you're taking over as the Doctor for a spell. In any case, it's probably the best game I've played at the Nationals to date.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

[#RPGaDay] Day 14 - Best Convention Purchase: Night's Black Agents

I haven't gone to a proper convention yet, but I have been to the Student Roleplaying and Wargaming Nationals several times, and they have stalls at those events. When I went this year, I picked up a copy of Night's Black Agents and it's easily the best RPG I've bought at a Nationals since I started going. I was a little dubious about the genre mix of spies and vampires at first, but having read the book I can't wait for an opportunity to play. And I do mean play. I'm happy enough to run it, but I really, really want to play as a character.

I'm a big fan of the Gumshoe system in general - even though I haven't quite got the hang of running it as a GM - and Night's Black Agents is second only to Ashen Stars on my want-to-play list from the Gumshoe family of games.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

[#RPGaDay] Day 13 - Most Memorable Character Death: Jenny Darkholme (Marvel Heroic Roleplay)

Oddly enough, I can't remember many of my characters who have properly died. Some of have 'died' in the Marvel sense of the word, while others have survived experiences that should have killed them but instead left them changed somehow, either physically or psychologically.

But the most memorable 'death' of a character I've played has to be the death of Jenny Darkholme in Doc's Marvel Heroic Roleplaying campaign. Her powers were energy absorption/manipulation and teleportation. She had recently discovered she was one of the many incarnations of multiversal guardian Jenny Everywhere and had been loaned the 'space sword' by Toph Beifong, which could be used to open portals between realities. Facing down an armada of Borg ship at the Savage Land seeking to 'archive' all life in the universe, Jenny slashed the air in front of them while yelling, 'Archive this!'

Though her intent had been to channel her power through the sword and teleport the armada somewhere else - and preferably less hospitable to them - what actually happened was that she opened a portal into a universe of pure energy (where Cyclops' eye beam blasts come from) and unleashed a huge burst of the energy on the armada. While the energy did decimate the fleet, it was running out of control. If the portal could not be closed, it would continue to expand until the energy consumed the world and maybe the entire universe.

Desperate to fix her mistake, Jenny reversed the space sword and tried to 'zip' the hole shut again. She kept pulling it shut against the force of that energy even as it heated the sword to the point that she smelled her own flesh burning. She got it closed to a fist sized hole before the tip of the sword melted completely, and the rest disintegrated in her hands. As she looked down at her hands, she found they were glowing, and tethered to the hole by a stream of energy. Her energy absorption powers had reacted to the universe on the other side, and she was becoming energy herself, being pulled into the energy universe. Urging her teammates to fight on, Jenny vanished into the hole as it sealed shut behind her.

Jenny's consciousness altered that reality, turning it into a sort of limbo place - called the White Room - where other Jennys who had died would arrive and wait until their essence (which contained the 'DNA' of their respective home universes) could be used to reboot the multiverse. Eventually, she returned to the physical plane, but the experience left her a little calmer and more serious than she had been before.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

[Eleventh Doctor Rewatch] Doctor Who: Series 5

Having finished rewatching the Eleventh Doctor's first season - both in preparation for Series 8 and to keep the Eleventh's voice fresh in my mind for the Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic I'm working on - I thought I'd write a brief post about my thoughts on Series 5 after revisiting it.

Looking back, I still feel that Series 5 was a strong introductory season for Matt Smith's 11th Doctor. In the first episode it felt like he was just a reskinned 10th, but the new Doctor solidified a distinct identity for himself over the course of the season. He was a lot more alien than the 10th, for starters, not always knowing how to relate to his human companions. He didn't dwell as much on his past as his most recent predecessors either, even being referred to in The Day Of The Doctor as 'the one who forgets'. He was showed more of a grumpy side, which was just one of the ways that the Eleventh's characterisation portrays the fact that - no matter how young he might appear - the Doctor really is an impossibly old man.

Not only did it introduce a new Doctor, but it introduced a new companion in Amy Pond. Frankly, I was more than a little disappointed when it turned out she wasn't really going to be a policewoman and was only in costume as a kissogram. In spite of that, Amy turned out to be a fairly strong and likeable character; perhaps a bit too strong in her first couple of adventures in the TARDIS, saving the day in both cases, but I suppose that was to establish her capability as a companion.

Rory, too, quickly grew on me. Despite being a bit wet in his first adventure (reminding me too much of Mickey in his earliest appearances), he soon stepped up and showed himself capable of taking responsibility and, albiet reluctantly, displayed bravery when things got hairy. Rory started off an underdog in this series, but that didn't stop him being awesome when it counted, and I love that in characters.

Then there was the series arc. Gone were the days of randomly dropped hints in the background; word or name drops like Bad Wolf, Torchwood, or Mr Saxon. Here, the arc plot elements were in the foreground, the Doctor was aware of them and trying to work them out throughout the season. Not to mention a craftily planted 'timey wimey' element in one of the earlier episodes which could easily be dismissed as a continuity blip until the finale. Sadly, not all threads were tied up by the end, and even back in 2010 I recall being concerned about the show trying to do a multi-season arc, and as it turns out my concerns were valid ones.

The individual episodes themselves weren't bad either, though several weren't without their faults. Victory Of The Daleks' romanticised portrayal of World War II was a bit discomforting, as was the titular choice of Amy's Choice. In The Beast Below, the Doctor and Amy tackle one issue but seemingly ignore another: remember what Starship UK does to protesters and 'citizens of limited value'? Why the hell did the Doctor let that slide? But in spite of these flaws, none of the episodes fails to entertain, and it's followed one of the best Christmas episodes the show has ever had.

Overall, the Eleventh Doctor's first season set a high standard and offered a lot of promise for future seasons...promises that, unfortunately, aren't fulfilled as satisfactorily as one might have hoped over the next couple of seasons.

Regardless, I'll try and rewatch Series 6 and 7 before the new series starts on the 23rd. I'm going to be cutting things pretty close, I think.

P.S. By the way, is it just me, or did anyone else think there were a lot of callouts to Star Wars in this season?

[#RPGaDay] Day 12 - Old RPG You Still Play/Read: Traveller (Mongoose Edition)

Like I said before, every now and then I like to pull this book off the shelf and just randomly roll up characters and/or worlds. The character creation is almost like a game itself although, unlike in the original Traveller, death during character creation is optional rather than built in to the core creation rules. Through a series of dice rolls, you not only build up your character's attributes and skills, but also their history by rolling Events (or Mishaps if you fail a survival roll) during each term of a career. If you fail a survival roll during a career term, you have to leave that career, but (unlike old Traveller, I believe) you can roll for a new one.

By the end of all that rolling, you have a timeline for your character which you can flesh out a bit further. How did your character pick up that skill during that career term? How did that mission go wrong? Why did they leave that career early? Or why did they choose this career after they dropped out of the previous one? I guess it's the storyteller in me, but I just love rolling up characters and building histories for them with this book.

You can also roll up random worlds (star systems, really), but I find that a bit less fun, quite frankly.

Monday, August 11, 2014

#RPGaDay - Catchup and #11: Weirdest RPG Owned

I'm showing up a bit late to this party, having only found out about it a day or two ago, but I figured it might be fun to post stuff for the #RPGaDay hashtag that's been going around lately.

As such, I wrote up the following post to catch up on the last ten days worth of topics, as well as cover today's topic. So, without further ado, here goes:

1. First RPG Played - Big Eyes Small Mouth
My first time playing an RPG was the Big Eyes Small Mouth anime roleplaying game. It was a short-lived campaign, based on the equally short-lived anime series Grenadier ~The Senshi of Smiles~. The setting was similar to feudal Japan, except there were special warriors called Enlightened, who are skilled in the use of firearms. So it was basically a mash-up between samurai and cowboys.

I vividly remember my first game of Big Eyes Small Mouth. I had created a very typical anime character, an orphaned boy who had studied in the ways of the Enlightened in order to hunt down and exact revenge upon the Enlightened bandits who had murdered his parents. While wandering, he came across a town being oppressed by its corrupt, Enlightened guards.

I can't remember the specifics now, but at one point - I think it was a rescue attempt - he raced blindly into the guard barracks...only to find himself faced with about a dozen guards in the main courtyard in the middle of firearms practice. Cue anime bug-eyes and comical running from gunfire. Despite my character's (admittedly self-inflicted) poor luck, I really enjoyed my first game, and I've been hooked to the hobby ever since.

2. First RPG Gamemastered - Cinematic Unisystem
Okay, that's a bit of a fib, the first RPG I ran was actually an urban fantasy themed game using a homebrew system that my roleplaying society at the time played with. However, the first commercial RPG I ran was a Stargate SG-1 campaign which was based on the Cinematic Unisystem ruleset from the Angel RPG (plus some adaptation rules written up by a guy who went by the handle Barachiel on the Eden Studios forums).

The players took on the role of the members of SG-10, and included ex-SAS veteran Colonel John Sharpe (who we decided was played in-series by Sean Bean), Captain John Engar (a secret drug-addict played by Timothy Oliphant, being blackmailed into co-operation by the NID), Prestor John (a civilian consultant who eventually wound up sharing his consciousness with the digitised persona of an ancient Chinese Goa'uld host) and Captain John Fitzwalter (who had to be reassigned for continued insubordination and nearly causing a diplomatic incident by inappropriately flirting with a Chinese liason). Yes, they're all named John in some way or other, and are jokingly referred to as 'SG-John' by the rest of the SGC.

Their nemesis was Nezha, an insane Goa'uld inventor long thought dead by the System Lords, but who had survived by digitizing his consciousness into his ship's computer. When SG-10 boarded Nezha's ship to salvage it, they inadvertantly released the Goa'uld into Earth's global communications network when they brought the ship into to Earth orbit. After that, they find themselves dealing with Nezha and the numerous cybernetic bodies (*cough*Cylon replicas*cough*) he has created for himself on Earth. To maintain a sense of connection with the main series, the campaign took place parallel to SG-1's adventures from around Season 6 to Season 8. To this day, I count it as the most successful campaign I have run.

3. First RPG Purchased - Rifts
Okay, yeah, in retrospect this wasn't one of my wisest purchases of all time. What can I say, I was new to the hobby, and I liked the sound of the setting because I'm a sucker for parallel universes and crossovers. Unfortunately, while I dug the setting, the rules were incomprehensible to me. Too much complexity, and they weren't very well explained in the book either. It didn't stop me buying a couple of extra sourcebooks, since I was sure I could run it using a different system and use the books as setting reference material. However, that never happened, and I eventually sold all of my Rifts books at an RPG jumble sale at GUGS's Big Geekend this year.

4. Most Recent RPG Purchase - Firefly RPG
I haven't read it cover to cover yet, but I'm looking forward to giving this game a try. From the moment I heard Margaret Weiss Productions were doing a new game based on the Firefly TV series, there was little question that I was going to buy it. I had their previous Serenity RPG - based on the film rather than the show - but never got around to running it. To be honest, the system didn't seem up to much back then, but they've improved on it a lot with Cortex Plus, so I'm sure this will be a worthy investment. My plan at the moment is to run a couple of one-shots in the first couple of weeks of GUGS in the new term, one an official pre-written scenario, the other an adaptation of a Traveller scenario from Steve Jackson Games' Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society. After that, who knows? I might try running an on-again, off-again campaign, having a new session every once or twice a month. Not sure I'm up for running it on a weekly basis. Not just yet.

5. Favourite RPG Never Get To Play - Dresden Files
It was a toss-up between this and Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space, but Dresden Files won out because I've recently been running a DWAiTAS campaign that's lasted a year, and GMing counts as playing (no matter how much I would rather just play as a PC) so Dresden Files it is.

I played in a campaign of Dresden Files a couple years back, Streets of Seattle, and I really enjoyed it. I like the Dresden Files setting, and I liked the collaborative city building stage before actual character creation. I also loved playing with the Fate system. Magic system looked a little bit on the tricky side, but I never really dealt with that as much, since my character only had a minor psychic talent.

Given the chance, I'd love to play in another campaign, preferably in RL rather than online, but I'd play over G+ Hangouts if need be. I'd consider running it at GUGS, but I'd have to be careful as not everybody has read the series - or at least read as far as I have - so I'd need to take care to avoid spoilers. I'll have to try and do something with it again sometime, at least, I paid good money to pre-order the two core books, and I haven't got a lot of use out of them.

6. Most Old School RPG Owned - Traveller (Mongoose Edition)
While the Mongoose edition of Traveller is much more recent, as far as I know it's more or less the same as the classic RPG, just with some extensive revision. Traveller was one of the first sci-fi themed RPGs to be released, and this edition maintains the 70s sci-fi feel of the original. I bought it because I remembered playing the Traveller computer game, Megatraveller: The Zhodani Conspiracy on the Amiga years ago, and decided to buy the revised version of the game out of nostalgia for that game.

I've killed time on several occasions by just rolling up new characters with the character generation system, and I ran a short-lived campaign with some friends at the Stirling roleplaying society, using a homebrew Cthulhu-meets-Space-Opera setting I had come up with. We could have run for longer, but I had trouble adapting things to compensate for the death of the party's captain. I might try running it again one of these days, but I have a lot of other games I want to try out at the moment.

7. Most "Intellectual" RPG Owned - Shock: Social Science Fiction
I've yet to get the opportunity to try out Shock: Social Science Fiction, but it's probably the most 'intellectual' game I have in my collection. Why? Because it's designed specifically to emulate the more thoughtful science fiction stories, the ones that use the genre as a lens through which to look at society and say something about it. I love those kinds of stories, and science fiction is often at its best when used this way. Unfortunately, I've put off playing it because the game itself looks more complicated than it actually is, which might be a turn off for potential players. Not to mention, I'd need the right kind of group to play the game as intended. I'll play it some day though, hopefully.

8. Favourite Character: Bayushi Kiyoshi (Legend of the Five Rings)
It has to be Bayushi Kiyoshi, my character from the Legend of the Five Rings campaign I played in between 2012 and 2013. Kiyoshi was a member of the Scorpion clan, who are traditionally the 'underhand' of the Empire. A low ranked magistrate, Kiyoshi was more idealistic and held more closely to the code of Bushido than his fellow Scorpions. This set him apart, and impeded his progress through the clan ranks. However, when he attends the funeral of a provincial governor - and a friend of his father's - his ideals and very identity are put to the test. He is contacted by the spirit of the dead governor, who urges him to protect his true heir - who has been raised in secret and has been working as a meiko - and help her succeed him as governor of the province, in place of his son (who would only be a puppet to his mother, a former Scorpion who had the governor killed).

Along the way, he discovers that the governor is his father by blood, and he clashes with Spider clan allies of the governor's wife, as well as a blood mage (who isn't really connected with the governor's death at all). The experiences he had, and the choices he had to make along the way, forced him to reevaluate his identity and his ideals. The full story of Bayushi Kiyoshi's journey can be found here; it's almost certainly one of the deepest - if not THE deepest - character arcs I've experienced in all my years as a roleplayer.

9. Favourite Die/Dice Set: L5R Scorpion Clan d10 Set
At the end of the aforementioned Legend of the Five Rings game, James - our GM - gave each of us a set of Legend of the Five Rings d10 dice from Q Workshop bearing the mon (crests) of our respective clans. So, for purely sentimental reasons, I'd have to say that the Scorpion Clan d10 set I received at the end of that campaign is my favourite dice set.

10. Favourite Tie-in Novel/Game Fiction
I haven't really read a lot of RPG-related tie-in fiction. In fact, I've only really read one novel and two short story anthologies. If I had to pick my favourite from those, it would be Dinocalypse Now by Chuck Wendig. The book really captured the pulp adventure feel of the Spirit of the Century setting, brought the example characters from the book to life, and was just a fun read overall. I still need to get around to reading the other Spirit Of The Century tie-ins (including the sequels to Dinocalypse Now itself), but I'd definitely recommend this for anyone who wants to get a feel for what Spirit of the Century's default setting might be like in play.

11. Weirdest RPG Owned: Don't Rest Your Head
I struggled with this one, but settled on Don't Rest Your Head by Fred Hicks, just on account of the setting. In the game you play as insomniacs who have been awake for so long that you have become Awake and gained superpowers as a result. You can see the Mad City that is hidden within your own city, a dark and twisted secret world populated by Nightmares who hunt down Awakened folks like you and...well, best not find out, eh? Now that you're Awake, you can't sleep, because if you do they'll get you. It's like a darker and edgier Alice in Wonderland for adults, filled with as much gonzo dream-like nightmarish imagery as your GM can muster. The system is pretty different too, a dice pool mechanic that uses three different colours of dice, and has consequences depending on which pool 'dominates' in dice rolls. I've only ever played it once, but I'd love an opportunity to play again, maybe even as a short campaign.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

[Weekly Geeky Report] Shiny PDF, Kingdoms, and other stuff...

Swag
I finally put in my pre-order for the Firefly RPG and, after following instructions from the store I order from to contact Margaret Weiss Productions for my free PDF code, I downloaded the PDF of the book. Looks shiny so far.

Acheivements Unlocked
I finished part one of the audiobook for The Martian by Andy Weir. So far, it's pretty good, though there are points where it feels like it'd be better to read in print than to listen to. Listening to the narrator recite computer readouts - code and all - was a little bit awkward, even though the perspective character did offer an explanation of what it all meant afterwards.

I attended Tuesday GUGS, but there weren't a lot of folks there, and I wasn't expecting my usual group to be there, so I just headed home once I was sure there was no RP stuff to take care of as the committee member responsible for such things.

I've read most of the way through Kingdom by Ben Robbins. I've read the game rules portion of the book, so all that remains is the advice section, plus the Kingdom seeds at the back. I'm hoping to give the game another try at Tuesday GUGS this week, assuming my regular player group is there to play it with. I already played using the 'Lost In Luxury Space' seed, so I'll probably try and convince the others to pick something else (assuming we don't make something up entirely from scratch).

In the latest post-Kickstarter update for Timewatch, Kevin Kulp posted links to James Semple's theme music for the game, as well as a couple of extra tracks, 'Requiem of Time' and 'Time for Action'. Having downloaded and listened to them, I think the theme tune is a good fit for the game. I might try and use it for the intro to the Timewatch: Team Indigo podcast episodes, once I get round to editing those.

I also finished off my second viewing of Knights of Sidonia with the English dub on. I'll try and post a review of the series sometime later in the week.

Works In Progress
Now that I've got the book - or at least, the PDF - of the Firefly RPG, I've started seriously thinking about the one-shots I want to run at the Freshers' intro weeks for GUGS. So far I've mostly been trying - and failing - to cobble together a pregen crew and ship for the games. I hate doing pregens. Coming up with a single character I can do, coming up with a whole group's worth of characters and making sure they all fit together? That's a bit trickier.  So far I've been toying with putting together 'expy crews' based on two or three anime series, such as Cowboy Bebop, Gunsmith Cats and Rurouni Kenshin. And then I stop because I realise how lame that is.

I've also had a few abortive attempts at writing the pitches for the two adventures. I want to give a snapshot of the scenarios, without completely giving away what the players will be dealing with. For those of you unlikely to be attending Freshers games at GUGS, I'll be running the Bucking The Tiger adventure from MWP's Echoes of War series for the game, as well as an adaptation of a Traveller adventure published in the premiere issue of Steve Jackson Games' Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society, called Gem In The Rough.

There is also an adventure provided in the Firefly corebook itself, but I haven't had a chance to look at it yet. I also discovered that the first four Firefly: Echoes of War scenarios have now been collected into a single PDF edition, titled Thrillin' Heroics. Luckily, this doesn't seem to include Bucking The Tiger; otherwise I'd be a little bit miffed, having already bought it. I might give that a look sometime.

Anyway, besides contemplating the Firefly one-shots, I haven't got much done in the way of writing this week, or prepping for my upcoming Doctor Who: The SOS Files game on Storium.  I have, however, decided to try running Primetime Adventures for the Tears of a Machine group (plus James from Timewatch: Team Indigo) now that we're on hiatus between 'seasons'. Not much done on that front yet, either; need to settle on a series pitch with the group first.

For tomorrow's post, my plan is to get caught up on this #RPGaDay thing that's going on this month, and I'll try to post a mini-post with my entries for each day after that.

For now, see you later folks!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

[Guest Post] Viewscream: Black Widow, Brown Recluse AP by Misha Polonsky

I thought I'd cross-post an Actual Play from +Misha Polonsky's blog for the session of +Rafael Chandler's Viewscream we played in last week. While yesterday's review of the game wasn't entirely positive, the game is - and was - still a lot of fun in play.

Viewscream, as mentioned yesterday, is a VARP (Video Augmented Role Play) game in which players take on the roles of four officers (Bridge, Engineering, Medical and Weapon) aboard a crippled starship, cut off from one another but able to communicate via viewscreens throughout the ship. Each role has specific GM-like responsibilities, as well as details on personality, character relationships and backgrounds. They all have a list of problems, each of which can only be solved by another of the crewmembers, who have a limited number of successful and unsuccessful solutions to provide.

This is a sci-fi horror game, featuring betrayal, in-fighting, paranoia, and all that other ugliness that comes out humans are trapped together and have to struggle for survival.

Without further ado, here's Misha's AP (I'll add my own post-game reflection at the end):

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

[Character Report] Ishikawa Reiko AKA Artemis (Night's Black Agents)

I was initially at a loss as to what kind of character I might make for Night's Black Agents, if the opportunity ever arose. But then I saw the picture below in the Night's Black Agents corebook, and remembered that I'd always wanted to play a Hawkeye-style assassin. So I wrote up a character based on the image, mostly for kicks. However, if I ever get an opportunity to play in NBA, this would be one of my likely character options.

Ishikawa Reiko AKA Artemis

Image from NBA corebook; used without permission.
No ownership of this image is claimed by this blogger.

APPEARANCE

Of short stature, but with a solid and muscular build, Reiko looks at once severe and strikingly pretty. Her long dark hair is often tied back in a knot when she's in the field.

BACKGROUND

Professional Role: Freelance Assassin
Drive: Revenge
Symbol: Childhood Photo of Reiko and Ichiro
Solace: Kobayashi 'Tak' Takeshi, combat mentor
Safety: Kazehaya Kyudo Dojo (Her sensei's home)

A world-class archer, Reiko had been so focused on her sporting career that she had neglected her family. But when she got word from her mother that her brother Ichiro was in some kind of trouble, she took some time off to go home and check on things. It was too little, too late. Her mother was dead, her brother missing, taken by the Yakuza he had got himself mixed up with.

After that, Reiko withdrew from the public eye and went underground. She honed her skills with the bow, found a mentor to train her for combat, and became the masked assassin known as Artemis - the huntress. She took on contracts to pay for resources and to help her build contacts and track down the men who killed her mother and abducted her brother. She would make up for not being there when it mattered; she would rescue Ichiro...and if he was beyond rescue, she'd make sure someone answered for that.

PERSONALITY

Reiko holds her emotions in check with an air of serene calm, facing challenges that come her way with a cool smile and a sense of humour. When she does show anger, it's like a bolt of lightning: it comes on suddenly, is gone just as suddenly and, if you're very lucky, you're left alive to tell the tale.

ABILITIES

Stability 8
Health 8


General: Athletics 6, Conceal 6, Disguise 4, Driving 2, Hand-to-Hand 6, Infiltration 4, Sense Trouble 2, Shooting 10 (Special Weapon Training: Compound Bow), Surveillance 4, Weapons 4.

Academic: Languages 1, Military Science 1.

Interpersonal: Interrogation 1, Intimidation 2, Streetwise 2, Tradecraft 1.

Technical: Notice 2, Outdoor Survival 2, Photography 1, Urban Survival 2.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

[RPG Review] Viewscream by Rafael Chandler

Overview
Over the past year or so I've been playing more and more games over Google+ Hangouts or Skype, but I hadn't heard of an RPG specifically designed to be played over video chat until Mike from Nearly Enough Dice mentioned Viewscream to me.

Referring to itself as a VARP (Video Augmented Role Play) game, Viewscream puts four players in the role of crewmembers aboard a damaged spaceship, all struggling to find a way safely off the ship. All are trapped in seperate parts of the ship, unable to reach each other, but able to communicate and provide aid remotely to the others. The question is, will they be able to pull together and help each other survive, or will they succumb to in-fighting, madness or paranoia?

Game Mechanics
One of the most important rules of Viewscream is that players must *never* break character. The game has no GM; instead, responsibility for framing, momentum, narrative structure, and pacing are delegated among the four available player roles. This way, each of the players fulfils a different GM-like role.

Beyond this, and each role's character sheet having different 'special features', such as dark secrets or mid-game personality shifts which vary depending on the adventure being played, there's not a lot to the game in terms of mechanics.

The game system revolves around a limited problems/solutions economy: each character has three problems (one for each other player), each of which only be solved by one of the other characters, and they also have a list of four possible solutions to offer the others. The catch is that before the game begins, based on the directions given in their character sheet, they will have marked certain of these solutions as successes and the rest as failures. The rest is pure improv, with guidance given for players unaccustomed to improv play in the form of 'Commandments' to stick to. Players narrate their problems into the fiction and try to convince their fellow survivors to give them solutions which might (or might not) fix things. Characters who still have problems at the game's conclusion will die, while those whose problems are all resolved will find their way to the escape pods and survive.

This minimalist game system does work pretty well, but it requires all players to know the core rules and be completely familiar with their role, as well as any narrative cues (noted on their character sheet) they are to deliver or respond to. In the one game of this I have played so far, one of the players had been unable to properly read his character sheet prior to the game, and the ending dragged out a bit since the climactic revelation which would have triggered the final scene never really came. Also, the game is so neatly tailored to four players that it can't be played with more or fewer players as written. While the text does mention the possibility of three player games, it's only as a brief piece of advice for designing your own adventure or modifying existing ones for three players. Beyond this, the text offers no support for play with different sizes of group. That being said, three to four participants does tend to be the optimal number for video chat, so that is somewhat understandable.

Setting
The default setting for the game is a crippled spaceship out in deep space. Beyond that, things vary depending on which scenario the group is playing. There are three basic scenarios: 'Black Widow, Brown Recluse', 'The Call of Kullat Nanu' and 'The Culler Out of Space'. I'm not going to go into too much detail about these because a) I haven't read all of them to avoid spoiling the surprises for myself in future games and b) I don't want to spoil things for *you*, dear reader, should you eventually play them yourself. However, each scenario contains the same basic elements:
- An overview of the starting situation in the form of a distress call followed by brief summaries of each character's personality, role and relationship to the other three characters.
- Character sheets for each role (Bridge, Engineering, Medical and Weapons), giving expanded descriptions of their player role, character relationships, details on a secret or narrative twist to play out in-character, as well as a list of the character's problems, available solutions (with success/fail ratio) for other characters' problems, and locations that only that character can access.

Three scenarios isn't much, although the 'Adventures' chapter of the book does provide advice and ideas for writing up your own scenarios, not that it seems like it would be all that difficult to do. The only problem with coming up with your own scenarios is you'll know roughly what to expect when you play. The improv nature of gameplay does mean that the other players can still surprise you, as long as you leave them some narrative wiggle room to work with. Still, the game would benefit greatly from ongoing support in the form of new scenarios being made available online for download. As it stands, I'm not sure there's much replay value here for players who aren't willing to put in the work themselves to create new content.

Design
The game is as minimalist in terms of design as it is in terms of game mechanics. Artwork is limited to a handful of illustrations of starships, which don't really reflect the game's tone of 'doomed crew aboard a crippled starship'. The rest of the book is plain text - which is direct, occasionally explicit, and to the point - with the font size clearly chosen with e-readers in mind. Some parts of the writing feel like they should be given in a different order in the book - or at least reiterated in more detail elsewhere - but for the most part the book is clearly laid out, if a little bland.

Additional Materials
Viewscream includes a 'Replay' chapter, an annotated and cut-down transcript of an actual game session. A few other games (such as Fiasco) have used this concept, and it's a great way of demonstrating how gameplay is supposed to work which is both informative and more entertaining to read than just a brief example here and there.

There are also a few extra gameplay tips, such as how to use special effects to add to the game's atmosphere, how to handle (inevitable) connection issues without interrupting play, and the author makes some interesting speculation on the future use of mobile devices to add an extra dimension to gameplay.

Finally, although there are only three scenarios for the game's default setting, there are six additional scenarios allowing you to play in alternate settings: a council of wizards communicating via crystal balls to help save the kingdom, four officials coordinating remotely to thwart a zombie outbreak, a cadre of supervillains bent on world domination, political campaign staffers working to get their presidential candidate ahead in the polls, four people involved in the book launch of a best-selling author's latest horror novel, and four missile silo technicians trying to save the US from nuclear armageddon. I haven't read each in detail for the same reasons I haven't read the other two default scenarios yet, but they all seem like they'd be fun to try out, and some have their own special tweaks to the default game mechanics to fit their particular setting.

Conclusion
Overall, this is a great idea and it's a lot of fun to play. However, it has problems. The mechanics, while simple enough in theory, require full commitment and understanding on the part of all players to work as intended. The brevity of the rules section and the low number of scenarios provided for the book's primary setting also mean the book feels a bit anaemic, and it's lacking in online support which the game sorely needs. As it is, the book lacks the substance and external support to fully justify the price tag ($6.66 US/£3.96 UK). I'm not saying it's not worth getting, just that you'll probably find you're not getting as much for your money as you might expect.

Undecim Rating: +1 (I would recommend, but many people still may not like it.)