Thursday, December 31, 2015

My New Year's Geekolutions for 2016

Well, 2015 is drawing to a close and 2016 is about to begin. I had been thinking about making a 'Looking Back at 2015' post yesterday to mark the occasion, but as with last year I decided it would be better not to look to the past, and focus on what lies ahead. As such, here's a list of 'geekolutions' I've made for myself to work on achieving in the new year...

1. Figure out what I want to do with this blog.
I haven't posted as regularly on here as I would have liked. Part of that is because I've been struggling with repetitive strain injury in my hands this year, since my job involves a lot of typing over prolonged periods of time with insufficient breaks. It's manageable, but I've allowed it to put me off doing further typing during my free time. But another big part is that I'm not really sure what - if anything - I have to blog about that would be of any interest to anyone. As such, I have trouble coming up with ideas for content to post. Sure, I can post the occasional reviews of whatever I've been reading or watching, actual play reports of roleplaying sessions I've participated in, or even hypothetical character write-ups for different systems. But it just doesn't feel like it's enough. I need to find more to say, whether it's as a roleplayer or a writer, which brings me to my next few geekolutions...

2. Write a novel.
I didn't make much progress on the writing front this year. I had a couple of abortive attempts at one of my current novel ideas, and my attempt at NaNoWriMo in November was abandoned after it had barely begun. The former was due to me not having a strong enough idea of a plot for the novel in question; I had a concept I was interested in exploring, but no direction to take with it. The problem with NaNoWriMo was much the same. Evidently, going forward, I'm going to have to try and invest a bit more time in fleshing out and outlining my story ideas before I start working on them. Another contributing factor to my poor level of writing output is the RSI issue that I mentioned earlier. Well, that's something I'll just need to get over. These ideas that I have aren't going to just materialise as fully formed novels by themselves. I need to put in the work, so that's my top priority for the year ahead.

3. Join a writing group.
Something that I am certain will help improve my productivity as a writer is joining a writing group of some kind, but I'm uncertain where I should go for that. I know of at least one local writing circle which I had previously believed only published authors could attend, but this seems not to be the case. Either that, or they've relaxed their membership requirements since I last checked. All the same, the shame of not having much work to bring along with me, keeps me hesitant to check it out. It doesn't help that their regular meeting time is the same day and time that I would normally be attending my weekly nWoD game at GUGS.

I've also considered trying to build a writing circle with my local writer friends, but never got around to properly discussing it with any of them.

One way or another, I'll need to overcome my timidity to either join a writing group or build my own.

4. Finish and post the first half (at least) of my Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfiction.
While this is a less serious writing project than my own original novel ideas, it is nonetheless one that I can't seem to let go of, no matter how much I tell myself 'it's just fanfiction'. Well, if I can't let it go, then I figure I might as well make use of it as a 'practice project' to improve my writing skills, so I'll be better equipped to tackle the bigger challenge of bringing my own story ideas to the page.

5. Run at least one roleplaying game session every month.
Speaking of practice, in order to keep my GMing skills fresh, I want to try and make sure that I run a game of some kind every month, even if it's just a oneshot. I'm planning to start a campaign of Urban Shadows in mid-January, so that should keep me active as a GM (or MC, in this case) for at least a month or two.

6. Make some custom playsets/playbooks/etc for stuff.
This is something I've meant to do in previous years, without much success. However, with a couple of new PbtA (Powered by the Apocalypse) games on the way next year, among other RPGs of interest to me, I'm going to give it another shot. At the very least, I want to put together a UK-based setting for the upcoming Headspace RPG. I'll see if any other ideas for RP content spring to mind as the year goes on, and work on developing some of them.

7. Continue playing Apocalypse World via Play-by-Post.
So far I'm really enjoying the Apocalypse World Play-by-Post campaign that Rich Rogers has been running for the Gauntlet Hangouts G+ community. The format of it seems to work better than other PbPs I've participated in, and Rich has a couple of great ideas about avoiding the issue of 'posting debt' that often proves fatal for other PbP campaigns.

One of those is just in the way he manages the campaign, treating it like a comic book with each PC being the star of their own comic series, with the occasional crossover between stories and sometimes a big event which brings all of them together in the same place. The other is hosting regular Hangouts on Air sessions, where the group recaps everything that has happened so far in each individual's storyline.

It remains to be seen whether the campaign will be able to avoid the fate of so many other PbPs and reach a satisfying conclusion, but so far it's still going strong and everyone remains enthusiastic about the game's progress.

8. Run a Play-by-Post campaign.
Encouraged by the progress of Rich's PbP campaign, I find myself keen to try running one of my own, using the same method of playing via Google Docs. I haven't decided yet what I'm going to run, though I have a few ideas about which games might be a good fit. Several PbtA games, including Star Wars World and Uncharted Worlds, spring to mind. I would also strongly consider Tenra Bansho Zero, or the recently backed Shinobigami once the beta ruleset is made available to backers. Something with a lighter ruleset would seem the best fit in any case.

9. Play or run/facilitate at least five of the following games: 44 - A Game of Automatic Fear, Apotheosis Drive X, Archipeligo 3, Ashen Stars, Blades in the Dark, Blowback, Bulldogs! (Fate Core Edition), Cheat Your Own Adventure, The Committee for the Exploration of Mysteries, Dogs In The Vineyard, Don't Rest Your Head, Dread, Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Durance, The End of the World, The Esoterrorists, Fantasy AGE, Feng Shui 2, The Final Girl, Flatpack: Fix the Future, Ghost Lines, Grey Ranks, Headspace, Hell 4 Leather, Heroine, Hillfolk, Inverse World, Kagematsu, Kingdom, Kuro, Lacuna Part 1, Lasers and Feelings, The Last Days of Anglekite, Laundry, Legacy: Life Among the Ruins, Little Fears: Nightmare Edition, Lord Scurlock, Lovecraftesque, Magister Lor, Mars Colony, Mars Colony: 39 Dark, Masks: A New Generation, Microscope, Misspent Youth, Monster of the Week, Monsterhearts, Mortal Coil, Murderland, Murderous Ghosts, Mutant City Blues, Mythic Mortals, Night's Black Agents, Night Witches, Numenara, One Last Job, Our Last Best Hope, OVA: The Anime Roleplaying Game, Primetime Adventures, Psi*Run, The Quiet Year, Remember Tomorrow, Rocket Age, Shinobigami, Shock: Social Science Fiction, The Society of Dreamers, Soth, Star Wars (FFG - Age of Rebellion, Edge of the Empire, Force and Destiny), Star Wars World (Apocalypse World hack), Technoir, Ten Candles, Tenra Bansho Zero, Time Cellist, Timewatch, Titan World (Apocalypse World hack), Trail of Cthulhu, Traveller (Mongoose), Tokyo Brain Pop, Uncharted Worlds, Urban Shadows, Viewscream 2.0, The Warren, Worlds in Peril, Zombie Cinema.

10. Play at least five of these board/card games: Castle Panic, Concept, Coup: Reformation, Dead of Winter, Don't Turn Your Back, Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre, Formula D, Geek Out, Greenlight, Last Night on Earth, Mad Scientist University, Mysterium, The Resistance: Avalon, Shadows Over Camelot, Sheriff of Nottingham, Smash Up, Space Alert, Star Wars: X-Wing, Sultans of de Karaya, Sushi Go!, Tokaido, Twilight Imperium, Unspeakable Words, Wits & Wagers.

11. Finish the Mass Effect Trilogy.
Nope, still haven't finished it yet. I'll fix that this year, for sure.

12. Read more
With the exception of RPG rulebooks and books about roleplaying or writing, I haven't really done much actual reading. Instead, most of my 'reading' has been in audiobook format. That's partly by necessity, since I need something to listen to while I work, but I still have free time outside of work when I could read stuff as well.

This year, I'll try and make more time for reading actual books, whether it's fiction or non-fiction. Just as long as I'm actually reading and it's something other than an RP rulebook or GM/writer's advice.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

[My Geeky Week] Roleplaying, Star Wars and other stuff...

As I tend to do when I've got some extra credit in my Pay As You Go mobile balance, I bought a music album from the  Google Play store. This time it was the soundtrack for Continuum season one. One of the things I loved about the series when I was watching it was the background music, so I decided to go ahead and buy it.

I actually ordered Tarot for Writers by Corrine Kenner a week or so ago and forgot to mention it in my previous Geeky Week report. It arrived this week, just in time for Christmas. I heard about it from Andrea G in a Google+ conversation a while back, and only recently decided to go ahead and buy it. I have dabbled with tarot cards in the past, and I have a couple of decks (the Universal Waite deck and the Manga Tarot) which I've barely used over the years. The most use they've seen is for the occasional game of Hell 4 Leather. Hopefully, this book will help me get some more use out of them, and maybe even help me find some more inspiration for my writing projects.

Hoping that it would fill in some of the plot gaps that bugged me about the film, I bought the novelization of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster. Also, having lost hope that Audible UK will  get around to releasing Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig any time soon, I just went ahead and bought the Kindle edition instead. Sorry Audible, but with the new movie release coming up and this book supposedly being part of the 'Journey to the Force Awakens' you really should have sorted that out sooner.

Achievements Unlocked
Last Sunday, I ran the finale of our Masks: A New Generation playtest mini-campaign. The Infinity Five used the disembodied head of the 'Ski Mask Scrooge' robot decoy to track the villain, known as Anarch, to his hideout. After an unfortunate incident involving the robot head's self destruct sequence, Gadget Kid's fridge, and G being soaked by a watery shield created by the Splash, the team headed to the location indicated by the control signal for the robot decoy. During the ensuing battle, G had to break off from the main fight to rescue Gadget Kid's mentor, who was being held as leverage against them. The fight nearly proved fatal for the team, but they prevailed, capturing Anarch and his assistant Killswitch, a hacker that Gadget Kid had encountered before. The team celebrated Christmas together and exchanged gifts, and we wrapped  things up there.

I'm still polling the group for feedback about the game, and then I'll get to work on writing up a response to the playtest survey for Brendan. I'll likely be reviving the campaign in the new year, as I have several ideas for threats tied to the PCs in one way or another that should be enough to keep them busy for a 'season' of RP.

On Monday evening, I got to play in Masks as a PC, thanks to Lloyd Gyan. There was only one other player, so we ended up being an unlikely hero duo of a Doomed and Outsider, with myself as the Outsider. I originally intended to make my character an alien bounty hunter of sorts, but I ended up going with a teenage 'time lord' expy, running from a multiversal war and hiding one of several Keys to Reality.

Unfortunately, events conspired to bring the Reality War to Earth. The Doomed became the focal point of a plot to create a Key on Earth and use it to reboot the universe in the villain's image, the villain being an alternate universe version of the Doomed's nemesis, Nekron. It was a really epic one-shot, with Halcyon City caught inside a time bubble by the Outsider's people, an army of Revolutionists led by Alter Nekron seeking to rewrite reality, and just two teenage supers and their speedster ally standing in the way. In the end, it looked like the Doomed would become the Reality Key and bring about the end of reality as we know it but, in his Moment of Truth, he was able to control the power running through him and resist the transformation. With the threat having passed, the Outsider's people lifted the time bubble and time reset as if nothing ever happened. Of course, despite their victory, the Doomed and the Outsider found themselves locked up by the adult supers and berated for the mess they'd caused, mirroring an earlier scene where they were similarly detained and dressed down for accidentally blowing up the remains of a fire-damaged (and, luckily, evacuated) building level, having set off a booby trap while trying to investigate the cause of the fire. Long story short, it was great fun and I'd definitely love to play in another game run by Lloyd sometime.

On Tuesday evening, I was in a Christmas-themed session of Monster of the Week, run by Eadwin, who runs the Dungeon World campaign I'm currently in. I played Harmony Grier (the Spell-Slinger), a third-generation mage treated with disdain by mage society for her low-born heritage and lack of experience. She was originally supposed to be more of a grown-up, world-weary version of Hermoine, but I ended up mixing in a bit of Waver Velvet from Fate/Zero too.

The session itself was based on the movie Gremlins, with an escape by teleport (courtesy of the party's Divine) bringing us to the hometown of the Chosen and the Crooked, which was being terrorised by gremlin-like creatures being sold as toys by the local toy factory, run by Billy Peltzner. Billy Peltzner, in this case, was being hypnotically controlled by the deceptively cute Gizmos, who had been given to Billy as a Christmas present by his father. In the end, the Chosen raced to the Peltzner mansion to recover a puzzle box that held the key to defeating Gizmos. They had found the box earlier, but had left in the care of the Divine, who had gone to the mansion to awaken Billy's father from a spell-induced coma during which he was being used somehow to create more of the gremlins. Jacky (the Divine) had awoken Randall Peltzner, but drained himself in the process and had to retreat to the celestial plane to recover, leaving the puzzle box behind.

While Silas (the Chosen) raced to recover the puzzle box, Harmony and Matilda (the Crooked) confronted Gizmos. Unfortunately, Matilda fell under Gizmos' spell, leaving Harmony to fend off the gun-toting fuzzball by herself until help could arrive. Eventually, Silas returned with Randall, having retrieved some special bullets from the puzzle box which could be fired from his own enchanted pistol, and would kill Gizmos. With Harmony providing cover fire and defence with her combat magic, Silas was able to shoot Gizmos once in the chest and a second time in the head, ending his reign of terror. Unfortunately, while Gizmos' spell was broken, Matilda will always have a Gizmos-shaped hole in her heart following this adventure.

Then, on Wednesday night I joined Joshua Fox (co-creator of Lovecraftesque), Jason Cordova of the Gauntlet podcast, and Joshua Faller for a game of Rise and Fall. Rise and Fall is one of seven games that are part of the upcoming Seven Wonders anthology by Pelgrane Press. It's a GMless game where players create a dystopia, exploring its rise to power, what life is like at the height of that society, and how it's inevitable fall comes about.

Our game started in a near-future London, where the current xenophobic regime was building a wall to keep out refugees and other undesirables, while elsewhere a new mind-control chip was in its early human testing phases. As the dystopia developed, the wall had become a literal class divide, with citizens of 'low value' kept outside the wall, while those of greater utility were awarded citizenship. In the face of this inequality, a resistance movement is slowly gaining followers. Meanwhile, inside London, the mind-control chip had been adopted as a means of turning convicted criminals into loyal soldiers, but a corrupt politician also sought to use it to keep tabs on high-level government officials. The fall came about when the resistance were able to compromise the mind-control chip by bribing a security operative, and gained the ability to hijack or turn off the chips. Unfortunately, in bringing down the current regime, they also plunged London into a feudal state, with rival warlords vying for control.

It took us a bit of time to get into the flow of things with this game, but overall I think everyone was satisfied with the results. It has elements of Kingdom and Microscope to it, but seems to do a lot better in 'scene-level' roleplay than Microscope tends to do. I did feel it ended up leading to a lot of 'talking heads' scenes, with only two players controlling characters interacting with one another in each scene but, since I haven't read the rules, I'm not sure if that's a problem with the game itself or if it was just us limiting ourselves.

Earlier that day, I'd watched the mid-season finale of Marvel's Agents of SHIELD. Things unfolded much as I'd expected they would but, in spite of that predictability, it never felt dull. In fact, the dramatic irony added even more tension to watching what was happening, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the consequences of this episode will be in the second half of the season.

As I mentioned earlier, I bought the Force Awakens novelization by Alan Dean Foster, hoping to fill in some of the gaps I felt were present in the movie's plot. It did so, for the most part, clarifying some points and confirming my own head canon about others. Also, while it didn't outright answer some of the questions left hanging at the end of the movie, it did provide a few more hints towards the possible answers. Finally, reading (or, rather, listening to) the book gives deeper insight into the characters, as we get to hear what thoughts are actually going through their heads as events unfold. All in all, I'm glad I picked up the novelization, because it's really enhanced my appreciation of the film.

Works In Progress
This being the Christmas week, I've just been taking things easy and not worrying too much about GM prep or writing projects. I have been working on a few New Year themed posts which will be going live mid-week, but that's about it.

I'll be getting back to work next week though, first by writing up my playtest survey for Masks, then writing down my 'fronts' for continuing the campaign in the new year.

For now, I hope you've all had a Merry Christmas. See you soon.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

[My Geeky Week] Leviathan Wakes, Star Wars, and other stuff...

Having finished Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson on Sunday, I decided to go ahead and spend an Audible credit on the sequel, Firefight, right after I was done. I also bought the Kindle edition of the novella Mitosis, which takes place between Steelheart and Firefight.

Later, I ordered a Navy SR2 Joker Cap from the Bioware store. My old Script Frenzy baseball cap is past its best, and I need a new cap to replace it with. I'd been considering getting Joker's cap since ME2 anyway, so I figured I might as well go for it now. I doubt it will arrive until after Christmas at this point, possibly not even until the new year, but it's been ordered anyway.

When I went to Tuesday GUGS this week, I got a surprise birthday/Christmas present from Peter: a copy of Coup: Rebellion G54, the sequel to the original Coup and I got to play a few games of it. More on that in a bit.

On Wednesday, I decided to spend some of my birthday gift money and ordered Star Wars: Force and Destiny online. Then, fresh off the adrenaline high of seeing The Force Awakens, I picked up the theatrical poster for the film from Forbidden Planet and also bought the soundtrack the following day.

Lastly, I got the Borderlands 1 & 2 double set for the Xbox 360 as a late birthday present from Angela. Haven't started playing yet since I still have prep to do for Masks tonight, but I'll get around to playing it later this week.

Achievements Unlocked
As mentioned, I finished off Steelheart on Sunday, and I was pretty satisfied with the conclusion. The twist I thought I saw coming wasn't exactly as I expected, but it was close, and the main character was transformed as a result of it in much the way I'd hoped. I followed up by reading Mitosis; it was a shorter story that showed a bit more of how things have changed with the setting and the characters after the ending of the first book. I doubt it's really necessary to read this before moving on to Firefight, but it is a decent interlude all the same.

On Monday, I got back to watching Hannibal season three with the sixth episode, Dolce. This one was really quite harrowing compared to the previous episode. I saw most of the events of that episode coming, having seen the movie Hannibal before, but this episode...damn. Sure, this episode also featured events that were familiar from the movie - the whole season is basically based on that book - but I was still on the edge of my seat when the moment came, especially given how it had been reimagined here, and it left things hanging in a way that almost made me break my 'one a week' rule when it comes to this show. I resisted though. As compelling as I find the show, I can only stomach so much of it in one sitting.

Once again, Tuesday night nWoD didn't happen and - since this Tuesday was the last GUGS of the year - it's unlikely to happen again until January. Instead of RP, I broke open the copy of Coup: Rebellion G54 that Peter had given me. I played three games, two with Peter and a few other friends, and one with James (the GM for the nWoD game) and the two other players from our campaign who showed up. Rebellion G54 expands upon the original Coup by adding a wider range of character cards and randomising which of those cards is available in each game session. It requires a bit more setup time as a result, but the random selection of available characters removes some of the sameness that resulted in repeated play of the original. Many of the new character abilities are quite entertaining too, although I still think having two players both play the Politician card against me in the first round and stealing all my money was just a little bit mean. James felt that the new character abilities formalised some of the stuff that occurs between players with mechanics a bit too much, but I'd need to play a bit more to see if I really agree or not.

Despite having bought Firefight right after finishing Steelheart, I decided not to move on to that right away. Instead, since I was in a sci-fi mood because of Star Wars this week and because I'd been seeing a few posts on Google+ about SyFy's new series The Expanse, I decided to listen to Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey.

Leviathan Wakes is the first book in the Expanse series of novels that the new TV show is based on. The story switches perspective between two different characters with every chapter, both on their own journeys which seem unconnected at first, but are soon set on a collision course with each other. I loved the way the story mixes old-school sci-fi and hardboiled noir, the sharp dialogue between characters, and also the juxtaposed world-views of the two main protagonists: the classic idealist space captain Holden who strongly believes in truth and justice, and the cynical burnt-out cop, Miller. When the two of them meet up, their ideologies inevitably clash and they fail to agree on what the 'right thing' is, and I always find those sorts of moral conflicts intriguing. Another interesting thing is the way the book's genre gradually evolves from one kind to another. This genre shift is foreshadowed early on in the prologue, so it doesn't come across as jarring or out of place. You know it's going to get there, and waiting to see how it did that was another thing that kept me hooked. Now that I've finished, I'm definitely going to check out the TV show and the next book, Caliban's War, as soon as I can.

Moving on from the Expanse to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...I had worried that going to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening day would lead to a viewing experience marred by screaming kids and the like, but my fellow cinema-goers weren't as disruptive as I'd feared. Well, not any more disruptive than the audience for most cinema viewings are, at least. As for the film itself, I don't want to risk unintentionally spoiling it for anyone who hasn't seen it yet, so I'll just say that it was every bit as much fun as I could have hoped for, but I do have a couple of fairly minor complaints. Bottom line: if you're a Star Wars fan, go see it. You will not be disappointed with what you get for your admission fee, I promise.

Works in Progress
I spent most of my evening on Friday replaying last weekend's session of Masks and writing down a few notes about points of interest to focus in on for potential scenes in the next session. Once again, I'm leaving the actual prep work a bit late. Tomorrow morning, before work, I'll be using those notes to come up with a few scenes for the PCs tomorrow, and I'll also be working out the villain's next move. I'm aiming to wrap up the Christmas mini-arc I've been running for this playtest tomorrow, after which we'll take a break to finish off Tears of a Machine. While we're doing that, I'll take what I've learned about the characters in this playtest to work out some fronts to use when we return to the campaign sometime early in the new year.

That's all for now, see you later!

Monday, December 14, 2015

[Actual Play] Infinity 5: Issue #2 (Masks: A New Generation)

We had our second playtest session of Masks last night, and the recording actually ran for the whole session, so I thought I'd link the video instead of typing up a full recap on here.

We discuss a bit of what happened in the previous session, but for more details you can check the previous actual play report here.

For the latest session, see the video below.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

[My Geeky Week] Star Wars Despecialised, Steelheart, and other stuff...

I got Ant-Man on DVD as an early birthday present on Monday from my friends David and Angela. It's the only one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Phase 2 movies that I missed in the cinema, so I was pretty pleased with it when I saw what it was. I'll talk a bit more about that shortly.

Achievements Unlocked
On Monday, I went to visit my friends David and Angela, as mentioned earlier. We'd talked about doing a marathon of the original Star Wars trilogy the week before my birthday, so we set Monday as the date for that and David got his hands on the Despecialised Edition for all three movies in preparation for the night. We had a lot of fun watching the trilogy together, while David explained about some of the more bizarre edits Lucas made in the special editions (such as placing another rock in front of R2-D2 when he's hiding from the Tusken Raiders in A New Hope, for reasons unknown). It also turned out that David had not been aware of the 'who shot first' controversy until it was pointed out to him recently. Well, it's pretty clear Han Solo shot first in the Despecialised Edition, thank the maker.

In addition to watching the trilogy, David also showed me Elite Dangerous on his PC. He had a really neat flight stick and throttle set-up to make the interface feel a bit more authentic, and demonstrated a take off, flight and landing tutorial before letting me have a go. I did okay up until I reached the destination space station. I spent ages trying to find the docking bay entrance, and then screwed up my landing in the hangar and got blown up for tresspassing after my time limit ran out. Oops.

We spent a bit of the next morning watching Youtube videos on the Chromecast before I had to head home. I was supposed to be playing another session of nWoD at Tuesday night GUGS, and I wanted to get some writing done at home before I headed out to that. Unfortunately, I found out after I got home that our session had been cancelled due to several other players being unable to attend, so I could probably have stayed to hang out a bit longer after all.

With my Tuesday evening unexpectedly free, I decided to sit down and watch the Ant-Man DVD that David and Angela got for me. I've heard some folks say Ant-Man was crap, but it seemed decent enough to me. It might be a case of this being a movie that (I suspect) works better on the small screen than it would in the cinema? I don't know. In any case, I enjoyed it. It was much more of a fun romp compared to The Avengers: Age of Ultron and is likely lighter in tone than Captain America: Civil War will be. It offers a nice breather between these two darker, more serious movies. Also, it didn't hurt that this particular Marvel movie was riffing off of was the heist movie genre, which is totally my cup of tea.

The Apocalypse World PbP is still running, and my character has checked on the generator at the nightclub and moved on to the Muzak. This means interacting with Merican Eagle, who lives in the office where the Muzak machine is housed. He's a real macho type that my character hasn't got time for, and he had a hand in the previous hardholder of the Maul being unseated, so Cohen has good reason to be wary of this one. So far he's letting Cohen get on with his job, though. So far...

We had a Hangouts On Air session for the PbP around mid-week, where we did a group catch-up on what all our characters have been up to since the game kicked off. These catchup sessions are something I don't think I've seen done for PbP sessions, but I think they're a good idea. Rich thinks they'll help cut down on 'posting debt' - people losing track of what's going on because so many other posts have been made that they don't have time to read them all - and I think they'll definitely be useful in that regard. It was also nice to just chat with the other players in real time and get a bit more insight into their characters from the discussion.

On Friday night, I watched episodes seven and eight of Young Justice: Invasion to procrastinate get in the mood for prepping the next Masks session. Honestly, I suspected the reveal at the end of episode seven ever since the battle on the Krolotean island a few episodes earlier, but it still felt good when it was confirmed. Also, Roy...oh, Roy. Beware Luthor bearing gifts. (Seriously, just ask Superboy.)

I was stuck at work most of the day for my birthday yesterday, but as always I came prepared with something I could listen to for ten hours while I worked. This time, listened to the first half of Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, sticking to the current superhero kick I'm on while running Masks. In Steelheart, part one of the Reckoners trilogy, not one of the people who have manifested superpowers is a hero. These people, known as Epics, are all completely corrupt, and normal people live in fear under their domination. One of the most powerful Epics in the US, Steelheart, has appointed himself emperor of the city once known as Chicago. The protagonist, David, is the only living witness of the day Steelheart bled, and holds the key to finding his weakness. The story follows David as he seeks out the Reckoners, a band of ordinary humans who make it their mission to find the weaknesses of powerful Epics, and then assassinate them.

I'll be honest, at first glance the story seems like a reskin of the first Mistborn novel. Unkillable emperor? Check. Ragtag band of outlaws trying to kill said unkillable emperor? Check. In fact, in terms of the story goal, I suppose it is pretty much the same. But there's enough difference in terms of genre and setting that I can look past the similarity. Besides, it hits all the right buttons for me in terms of what I like in fiction. Genre subversion, moral dilemmas, superpowers, underdog protagonists, not to mention the whole thing is basically a caper story. If I have one issue, it's that the main character is a tad one-dimensional due to how driven he is in his desire for revenge. I do like how he's basically a twisted version of a superhero fanboy though; he's spent his life researching these Epics, but with the intent of using it to destroy them, rather than as an act of hero worship. In any case, I suspect there's more going on with David than he himself realises, though I won't go into detail on that to avoid spoiling things for folks who might decide to read the book themselves.

Works In Progress
Once again, I suck at getting prep done in advance of running roleplaying game sessions. I had meant to sit down and prepare for the next session right after finishing my write-up of the first one. And...well, I kinda did? I did a bit of freewriting here and there, making up a scattershot list of scene ideas to use in the next session. I even came up with a threat - in the usual Apocalypse World style Fronts format - that ties in with one of the PCs' backstories, at least. But I don't have a villain for them to fight during the session yet, and I still don't have even one fully written up Front for the campaign.

Maybe it's a lack of experience with running things Apocalypse World-style (at least over the long-term). Or maybe it's because we're still sort of in 'first session' territory, and I still haven't explored the characters deeply enough to have all their dials and buttons worked out. Or maybe I should have spent less time worrying about the right way to prep for the session and more time just doing it. In any case, I'll be working on prep before my shift at work today, and for a couple of hours after I get home. It shouldn't take me too long to get something ready for this evening, now that I've got some ideas I'm already pondering.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

[Actual Play] Infinity 5: Issue #1 (Masks: A New Generation)

It's a little later than I originally planned, but here's the actual play report from the Arx Jericho group's first playtest session of Masks: A New Generation. Ideally, I'll be able to sit down and type out a draft of future actual plays after the session ends on Sunday nights, so the finished AP post should be out either the following day or on Tuesday.

Please note, the first half of this report is transcribed from the Hangout On Air recording, which cut out about halfway through the session. The latter half is filled out from what I could remember and - since I didn't get around to typing this up until a couple of days after the session - my memory was a little fuzzy on some of the details. As such, that part of the report is a little vague on the details I can't specifically recall.

Anyway, now that all that is out of the way, let's get to the report itself...

The Team: The Infinity 5
Gadget Kid AKA Todd Marshall, the Protege (David): Gadget Kid is the nephew and protege of Dr Sam Marshall, the lead research scientist for the A.E.G.I.S. Esotech Research Division. The ERD is responsible for studying and replicating any super/alien/magic technology recovered by field agents. After his parents died, Todd was sent to live with his uncle, who recognised his talent in designing technology and decided to train him.

The Splash AKA Antonio Bang, the Beacon (Lloyd): The Splash is the latest destined protector of Shivir, the Goddess of Water from an ancient tribe of a time before civilization (he learned about this on Google). Shivir came to him on his 16th birthday and told him he was destined for greatness; however, a god is only as powerful as its believers and, since Antonio is the only person who currently believes in her, she is reduced to little more than a tiny water sprite that resides in the canteen on his belt. As such, his powers are limited, but he does what he can with what he has to help people.

G AKA Gemma Diaz, the Nova (Misha): Gemma was just an ordinary girl living in a small town in New Jersey, until one night during a fierce lightning storm. She woke up from a nightmare of some invisible force pinning her down, choking her, entering her body. She fought to resist it and somehow stabilised it, and when she woke up she felt power surging through her. She also found herself in the devastated ruins of her hometown, with all of her family and friends dead. Her power is gravity manipulation, as she now has what seems to be a black hole in the pit of her chest which she is able to stabilise with her powers, keeping it from consuming her and everything around her. She tries to use this power for good to redeem herself for the destruction of her town and the deaths of her family.

Atomizer AKA Graham Foster, the Doomed (Russell): Graham was a lab assistant at the QuEL facility where they were experimenting with quantum energy. During an experiment with matter transmogrification, Graham and the scientist he was working with, Dr Sinclair, were disintegrated. Retaining their sentience, both were able to reconstitute themselves, although Dr Sinclair's mind was warped in the process and he became the supervillain known as Oblivion, whom Graham has sworn to stop. Unfortunately, the process which created them is irreversible and both of them will eventually completely dissolve someday.
Graham does still have a mentor at the QuEL facility - Dr Kumbani, the originator of the project - who has converted part of his advanced energy research lab into housing for Graham which includes a special containment chamber to help prolong his life, and other equipment that allows him to make greater use of his powers. 

Red AKA Jennifer Williams (Alex): Jennifer grew up having to take care of her sick younger sister, as their parents were too busy getting drunk and arguing with one another to do so. She recently discovered that she has powers of unknown origin, allowing her to fly and absorb different forms of energy. She took the opportunity offered by this power to go out and fight the good fight, in part to vent her built-up anger over her family situation. She works as a courier to help cover costs, and still has schoolwork to contend with. Sarah, her younger sister, is the only person outside of the team aware of Jennifer's superpowers.

Issue #0: Trial By Fire
Our heroes came together to fight against a supervillain known as Afterburner, a former small-time arsonist who got caught in a chemical fire which gave him with fire manipulation powers, as he was creating havoc in the financial district of Halcyon City. During the fight, a landmark - a giant globe with rings orbiting around it - was destroyed in the crossfire, but the team were able to save the life of Gadget Kid's mentor Dr Marshall, who was there at the time. There was a sixth superhero, known as Mr Infinity due to his power of bilocation - being able to manifest himself in multiple locations at once - who overtaxed his powers in order to evacuate people to safety. When Mr Infinity came back to join the fight against Afterburner, he got blasted, didn't have enough energy to escape and was destroyed. After the battle, the group decided to form a team having seen that any one of them would have been incinerated if they had tried to fight Afterburner alone. They exchanged cell phone numbers to stay in touch and named themselves the Infinity Five in memory of their fallen comrade. In the aftermath, Gadget Kid noted that Afterburner had never been as strong as this before. This inspired the Splash to check on Afterburner as he was being taken away by A.E.G.I.S., revealing needle marks on his arms which may point to some kind of drug use.

Issue #1: A Christmas Blackout
Spartan Square, Halcyon City
December 5th 2015

A newswoman reports in front of the camera, with a crowd gathered behind her in front of a stage which has a massive - as yet unlit - Christmas tree towering behind it. "We are coming to you live from the annual tree lighting ceremony in Spartan Square, where the mayor and his wife are getting ready to push the button and welcome the festive season in Halcyon City's usual spectacular fashion!"

In the markets a little further down from the stage, Antonio is carrying a bagful of Christmas shopping in one hand and a Christmas tree under the other arm, his cell phone awkwardly pressed against his ear as he tries to get directions from his mom to the shop she wants him to go to. Todd (aka Gadget Kid) has come along with Antonio to partake in the sugary goods on offer, despite his uncle frowning upon the consumption of such. Atomizer, G and Red are there in costume to make in an appearance for PR purposes on the advice of Atomizer's mentor at the QuEL facility, Dr Kumbani. None of them are really comfortable with this.

Antonio wraps up the call with his mom as the mayor announces from the stage that he's about to light up the Christmas tree. He kicks off the countdown and the crowd joins in: "10... 9... 8... 7... 6... 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... zero!"

The massive Christmas tree lights up...and then fizzles out. Along with the lights from several skyscrapers surrounding the square. As people start to murmur nervously, about a dozen dark figures in military gear and glowing red goggles glide down onto the stage with wingsuit-style gear. There is some kind of insignia on the uniforms, but not one immediately recognisable to anyone present. They take out the mayor's security detail in the confusion and grab the mayor and his wife.

Gadget Kid suggests to Antonio that they better help out, so Antonio dumps his shopping on a confused bystander before heading towards the stage, popping the lid off of his canteen and asking Shivir to transform him into his guise as The Splash. Shivir comes out and splashes onto him, creating a watery sheen all over his body as his costume forms around him.

Atomizer cries for the citizens to stand aside and let the Infinity 5 deal with this, and there's a bit of a crush in the crowd as they rush to get out of the way of the imminent danger of a superhero battle.

Gadget Kid takes the skateboard off his back and, with the press of a button, the wheels fold in and it becomes a hoverboard which he uses to fly over the crowd. However, some of the soldiers on stage - who are covering the others as they leave with their hostages - open fire on him with their energy rifles, and he takes some glancing hits that scorch his clothes and the skin beneath.

The Splash uses his powers to transform into water and 'phase' through the crowd to reach the stage. As he arrives in front of the stage with Atomizer and Gadget Kid he turns to them, clearly angry: "Guys, Christmas is cancelled, new plan: beat these guys up and bring Christmas back!"

Red hangs back, taking a deep breath as she senses all of the energies around her, thinking about how to best use them as people in the crowd jostle her and cuss at her for getting in the way as they try to flee, but she pays them no mind. G charges up her powers and levitates up as she uses her gravity powers to lift up three of the soldiers around the mayor and his wife and shoving them away from them.

Gadget Kid goes up to the soldiers covering the others' retreat and tries to knock them out with an aerosol can of a substance he calls Incapacitex, but one of the soldiers grabs his arm and relieves him of the spray can. He's about to use it on the heroes when the Splash flows in front of Gadget Kid, grabs the spray can back and smashes it repeatedly into the soldier's face. Meanwhile, Atomizer uses his telekinetic powers to disarm the other two and the heroes make short work of them after that.

It's at this point that a figure in the crowd, wearing a hoodie, reveals himself to be Blackout - an emo-haired teenager with energy draining powers - who uses the power he has drained from the local electric grid to try and unleash a lightning attack on G. However, G flies out of the way and reappears behind Blackout, who turns to grapple with her as he tries to fire his lightning into her. She absorbs the lightning and uses her gravity to press him downwards, which enrages him into creating a bubble of lightning around himself which threatens the bystanders who are still nearby.

Red uses her own energy absorption abilities to dampen the lightning bubble and keep it away from the crowd, while Gadget Boy hacks the power grid and shuts the block down to deprive Blackout of his power source. At the same time G unleashes an electro-magnetic burst which knocks Blackout's energy bubble out completely - along with all electrical and electronic devices within several city blocks of the square - and then punches his lights out as he stammers in panic: "Wait, wait, it wasn't my plan, it was -- OOF!"

Meanwhile, the would-be kidnappers of the mayor and his wife are unable to escape in the van they had waiting outside the square, since it has been shorted out along with everything else in the area. The Splash flows through the armed kidnappers to reach the mayor and his wife and get them to safety, while Atomizer and Gadget Kid finish off the soldiers.

As the Infinity 5 get the situation under control a couple of A.E.G.I.S. VTOLs arrive, shining spotlights down into the square as they come in to land and take charge of things.

Antonio transforms back to normal and returns to the place where he last saw his Christmas shopping, only to find it abandoned and crushed by the fleeing crowd. As he is heading home, it occurs to him that Blackout's powers usually allow him to drain power from the room he is in or maybe even the entire building at a push, but not a whole city block. The same way Afterburner was more powerful than he normally should have been during their first battle...

QuEL Facility

Upon their return to the facility, Atomizer retreats into his containment chamber to rest, while G, Gadget Kid and Red give Dr Kumbani a report on what happened at Spartan Square. While he commends them for resolving the situation, he also chides them for not maintaining better control of their powers. Atomizer and G both agree that they were reckless and promise to train harder to learn control. After this, Red leaves them to go catch up on her schoolwork at home.

Bang Residence

Antonio finds his mother waiting for him when he gets home, as the TV in the living room reports events from Spartan Square. Antonio tries to assure his mother that he was in no way involved in the battle there, but the lie doesn't hold up under pressure and his mother asks him why he can't do more normal things, like maybe finding a nice girl to go out with or something. This prompts Antonio to try and prove that he does do normal things like that, in fact, he has a girlfriend. When his mother asks when she's going to meet her, Antonio calls up G and asks her to come over for dinner with his mother. Gemma is less than pleased with him, but she agrees to go along with the ruse.

QuEL Facility

Later that night, Atomizer start work on a quantum computer experiment in his lab. By using his brain as the processor, he hopes to predict power spikes that would indicate coming super attacks...


GM's Notes
All things considered, this first session went pretty well. It got off to a bumpy start, as I wasn't sure what move was appropriate to Atomizer calling for the crowd to get out of his way. By design, the teen superheroes don't have a lot of move options for persuading people; presumably because they're teenagers and nobody listens to them like they would to adults.

I may also have leaned a bit too much on Directly Engage and Unleash Your Powers when calling for moves. I'm fairly certain at least one action taken by the team would have worked better as a Defend roll. Other than that, the only other basic moves that didn't get used were Assess the Situation and Pierce the Mask, simply because none of the heroes' actions seemed to qualify for activating those moves.

Those issues aside though, the players had a few complaints about the game itself, which will likely be including as roses and thorns in our final playtest report after December 20th, but despite these issues everybody had a good time and enjoyed the system.

I'm currently trying to organise everything that I learned about the characters and the world into some kind of Front or Fronts, to give the PCs some story arcs to interact with. There isn't any discussion of long-term play in the beta ruleset - I'm not even sure what, if any, material Brendan Conway will be including for organising long-term campaigns in the finished book - so I'm just working with the default Apocalypse World method of Fronts. At the moment, I'm trying to come up with Threats tied to each PC's backstory. I already have one for one of the PCs, but I'm thinking that having a threat for each PC might be a little much. Hopefully I'll at least have some different threads for them to explore by Sunday.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

[Kickstarter Alert] Shinobigami: 7 Days to Go!

If you're interested in Japanese Anime and Manga, and you haven't heard of Shinobigami yet, I strongly recommend you go check it out on Kickstarter. This is the latest Japanese RPG translation project from Kotodama Heavy Industries, who you may have heard of from their previous work on Tenra Bansho Zero and Ryuutama.

Shinobigami is an original Japanese story-focused tabletop RPG of drama, action, tactics and frenemies, set in a modern ninja cold war. To find out more, follow the link.

They've got seven days left to go, and unlike most Kickstarters they're not looking for extra funding to unlock stretch goals. All they need is for people to back the project and show their interest.

Monday, December 7, 2015

[Character Report] Avenging Eagle AKA Sayaka the Doomed (Masks: A New Generation)

I was going to post the actual play report from last night's game of Masks: A New Generation (the young superheroes RPG I recently backed on Kickstarter), but it turns out I'm too short on time today to get it finished before I head out. So, instead, here's another Masks related post I had prepared already. I'll work on getting the actual play report up on Wednesday instead.

A month or so back, I got the opportunity to play Masks myself. It was only a one-shot, but I loved the character I came up with so much I hope to have the opportunity to play her again someday.

The write-up below is a modified version of the original character I played, as there has been an update to the playbook I used since then. I also refined the backstory somewhat from what I originally wrote, making the experiments an attempt at control rather than enhancement, which fits better with the effects it had on her psyche. She also didn't have a hero name originally, so I just made one up.

Hero Name: Avenging Eagle
Real Name: Sayaka Yashima
Playbook: The Doomed

Look: Sayaka is a 17 year old girl of Japanese American descent, with long dark hair and bangs that can sometimes hide her eyes. While on missions she wears her inmate uniform from her time at Project Prometheus, a medical jumpsuit of sorts, but has made alterations to it to remove their insignia and replace it with her own: an embroidered circle with a depiction of the eagle tormenting Prometheus in Greek mythology. During downtime, she wears plain dark t-shirts and jeans. She often has a blank, hopeless look in her eyes.

Abilities: Telekinesis, psychic constructs and memory Manipulation.

Freak +2, Danger +1, Savior +1, Superior -1, Mundane 0

Doom: Sayaka one of the subjects of a highly experimental mind control program which has left her personality fragmented, creating an evil alter ego that vies for control over her mind. Sayaka does her best to contain her darker self, but it's only a matter of time before she loses herself completely. 

Her doom is brought closer whenever she frightens loved ones or injures innocents.

Nemesis: Dr Alicia Moran, head researcher for Project Prometheus and the one Sayaka holds ultimately responsible for her doom.

Sanctuary: Saint Dymphna's Hospital, an abandoned psychiatric hospital in Halcyon City where Sayaka was taken by Dr Eric Barber after he aided her in her escape. She has a selection of art, music and food brought to her by Barber to help keep her healthy, both physically and mentally. There is also some medical equipment which he has smuggled in to help him monitor her condition. Sayaka has taken one of the empty patient rooms as her own and regularly meditates there to help control her powers and maintain her sanity.

The hospital is the subject of urban legend and many believe it to be haunted. This reputation and its abandonment attracts some unwanted visitors such as amateur ghost hunters, daring teenagers, and urban explorers. Sayaka does her best to avoid these visitors when they call, but sometimes she's influenced by her darker self to mess with them. If discovered, she may be forced to alter the visitors' memories to make them forget about her.

Doomsigns: Dark Visions.

Sayaka started to realise she was different when she hit puberty; her mother, Michiko, had the 'gift' and saw the signs of it in her as well. Michiko didn't have much time to teach her about these powers before shadowy agents found them both and whisked them away to a secret research facility. Sayaka and her mother found themselves test subjects of Project Prometheus, whose goal appeared to be to study and control powered people. They still hadn't perfected the conditioning process and Sayaka bore witness as many of the subjects, including her mother, slowly went insane from the experiments.

They had only just begun working on Sayaka when one of the researchers, Dr Eric Barber, had a change of heart and helped her escape. He knew of an old abandoned mental hospital in the city, Saint Dymphna's, which was rumoured to be haunted and most sensible people stayed clear of, so he took Sayaka there to hide out.

Unfortunately, Sayaka already shows signs of instability as a result of the conditioning such as mood swings and an evil alternate personality. Sayaka doesn't know how long she can remain herself, but she is determined to track down Dr Alicia Moran - the head researcher for Project Prometheus - and stop her from doing this to anyone else. In the meantime, if she can do some good with her powers, maybe it'll balance out whatever bad results when she finally loses it. She has named herself Avenging Eagle, in reference to the eternal punishment exacted upon Prometheus by Zeus in Greek legend, to reflect her own desire to punish Project Prometheus for what they did to her and her mother.

While Sayaka has little hope for her future, Dr Barber still believes he can find a way to stabilise her mental condition. He has convinced Sayaka it would be wise to work with a team if she is intent upon playing hero and hunting down Moran. Not only will it be safer for her to have some backup while going up against a whole organisation, but she will also need people to watch out for her and keep her in touch with her humanity.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

[My Geeky Week] TV binges, the Murderists and other stuff...

I didn't really buy anything new this week (at least, not for myself), but I did download a few free RPGs I heard about on The Gauntlet podcast, including 44 - A Game of Automatic Fear, Archipelago III, Cheat Your Own Adventure, and Trial & Terror: Supernatural Victims Unit. The PDF for Time Cellist, which I backed on Kickstarter earlier this year, was also released to backers over the weekend, so I've got that as well. I seriously doubt I'm going to get to play any of these before December ends, but I've added them to my 'games to play' list for 2016.

Achievements Unlocked
I've been slowly working my way through season three of Hannibal at a pace of one episode a week, because that's about as much dark serial killer fiction as I can take at the moment. I watched episode five this week and I'll admit I probably got a bit too much satisfaction out of watching the ending to that episode. If you've seen the series, you probably already know what I'm talking about, but let's just say a huge can of whoop-ass is opened on someone.

There was no World of Darkness game this Tuesday, as our GM wasn't feeling well, but I did get to play in a game of Fiasco with my Dungeon World GM, Eadwin Tomlinson. The game was plagued by technical issues and there was a bit of fiddling around involved to set the game up online which conspired to break up the flow of the game a bit, but we still had a good time. There were three players: me, Eadwin and Liam (another player from our regular Dungeon World campaign) and we played with the Murderists playset from Run, Fools, Run.

I was Gino 'Rough Rider' Mancini, a wheel-man/professional killer who had incurred a debt to a rather ill-tempered businessman called Frank. In exchange for not sawing off some vital parts of Gino's anatomy, Frank asked him to arrange the death of a senator called Bink Blowman in Iowa. Frank assigned Arnold 'Slapstick' McGrue, a 'security consultant' for the senator's rival, to help arrange for Blowman to be in the right place for Gino to get to him. Gino also enlists the aid of a former associate, 'Mad' Barry Hold, to assist in the hit.

Here's where it all gets messy. Gino and Barry were both involved in the death of Allan McGrue, Arnold's brother; Barry did the murdering, then the two of them watched him die and did nothing. Unbeknownst to Gino, Barry was in love with Allan, and blames Gino for having to kill him. So, right after they take out the senator, things go to hell. Barry coldclocks Arnold in the senator's hotel room before he can turn on him and then gets the senator to the limo where Gino is waiting. They zoom off to dispose of the body but, on the way there, Barry breaks down and confesses his love for Allan and blames Gino for his death before shoving his shocked partner in crime out of the speeding car. Meanwhile, Arnold has recovered and is in hot pursuit, being stopped at gunpoint in the road by Gino before the two of them agree to team up to catch Barry.

It all culminates in a showdown at the edge of a quarry lake, complicated by the senator not being quite dead and hopping away in his body bag. In the end, Barry ends up plummeting into the quarry with the limo, while Arnold and Gino end up going to prison. Arnold is released into Frank's custody, while Gino is approached by a burly inmate who tells him that 'Frank sends his regards' as he cracks his knuckles menacingly. So, yeah, it all went about as well as you might expect with Fiasco.

I've also been binge-watching Continuum on Netflix lately, and just finished off the third season this week. By season three, I think the main plot arc of the series had spiralled a bit out of control (even the characters acknowledge this in the last few episodes) but I still enjoyed it all the way to the third season finale. I guess I just like the 'fish out of water'/buddy cop concept that the series is built upon enough that the long term plot doesn't matter so much to me; I just dig the future cop using tech to solve modern day crimes and the relationships between the characters. It also probably doesn't hurt that I've developed a slight crush on Rachel Nichols. I have to say though, the cliffhanger of the season three finale was a potential shark-jumping point for me, but I'd need to see how it resolves in the season four premiere.

Unfortunately, season four of Continuum isn't available on Netflix UK yet, so I instead moved on to watching season five of Warehouse 13. There were only six episodes in that, so it didn't take me long to finish once I'd started. The story arcs of this season were pretty rushed due to the show only having six episodes to wrap things up neatly and, let's be honest, the result is a bit underwhelming. But at least the creators got to give the show a decent send-off and the final episode closes the series in a way that is heartwarming and tear-jerking, but still leaves things open-ended.

I was a little worried going in that the plot device for the final episode meant we'd be getting a clip show. Actually, that's sort of what the final episode was, really, but instead of just showing scenes from previous episodes it showed completely new scenes from previously unseen adventures which represent each character's defining moment in the Warehouse. The end result was a fond farewell from the main cast to the Warehouse, and also from the show to it's fans. If I have one serious complaint about the season, it's the sudden pairing of Myka and Pete. Maybe it's just me, but I never saw that as being an actual thing in the show. Why can't the male and female leads just have a nice sibling-like friendship? Why you gotta shoehorn in a romantic hookup, SyFy? Sigh.

I also watched the latest episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. which heated things up nicely for the mid-season finale. Don't want to say anything too spoilery, but it looks like the 'Secret Warriors' are starting to come together and I'm sensing that Ward is either going to get his comeuppance soon or that there's a further evolution of his character in the works. The showrunners and cast have been teasing a big twist on the level of the uprising in season one, and this episode definitely felt like it was setting up for some epic stuff in the finale.

Then there was the Doctor Who finale. I really don't know how I feel about the show anymore. There was stuff in this three-part finale that I liked but there were also things about it which I found...disappointing isn't even the word. Predictable is closer, but even that isn't right. I don't think I can really articulate it properly without spoiling folks. But the bottom line is I'm feeling really meh about Doctor Who at this point. I hate to say it, but that's just the way it is.

I've also been in a Play by Post game of Apocalypse World run by Rich Rogers and co-GM Paul Edson via Google Drive and Hangout Chat. The game is set in a snowy post-apocalypse, with the characters all based in a 'shopping maul' inspired by dead malls like the Rolling Acres Mall in Akron, Ohio. I'm playing Cohen the world-weary Keeper of the (Radio)Shack (Savvyhead) with a sour temper, who's currently doing his rounds checking on the various things which are breaking down around the Maul. This includes the generator at the local Maestro D's club, which she needs working for Wide Eyes night tonight. The Muzak (which seems to have a life of its own) has been repeating itself too, so he's going to need to check on that too. We'll see how he gets on with those problems as things progress. Meanwhile, the Angel almost got himself filled full of holes salvaging a new generator with the Chopper, the creepy Brainer just killed someone for 'making eyes' at his mannequin lover, the Driver had a 'ghost hitchhiker'-like encounter...and other stuff which I'm not fully up to date on. Apparently there's going to be a Hangout/podcast-type thing to get everybody up to speed this coming week, so hopefully the time zones align so I can participate in that.

Works In Progress
Not much to say on this front, except that I've been brainstorming and second-guessing villain ideas for tonight's first playtest session of Masks: A New Generation. Really though, I'm pretty sure I'm overthinking things. Either I'll have something prepared on an index card by the time we start the session, or I'll come up with something on the fly after everyone's made up their characters. So far, it looks like I'm going to have a Beacon (Lloyd), a Doomed (Russell), a Nova (Misha), and maybe a Janus (Wolfie) and a Protégé (David).

Once the session's done, I'll work on writing up an actual play and will aim to get that posted on the blog sometime tomorrow.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Return of the Blog!

Hello folks! It's been a while, but I'm back and I should have a few things to post about in future weeks, so I'll try not to let this blog slip away from me again. There's hopefully going to be regular RP on Sundays again starting from tomorrow evening and, seeing as how I'm hopefully going to be running some of it, I'll be writing up actual play reports on Mondays to keep events fresh in my mind.

I'm going to be running a mini-campaign of Masks: A New Generation for the Sunday night crew and we'll be aiming to get at least two sessions in between now and the 20th of December, in order to contribute some feedback to the beta playtest for the game. While that's ongoing, I'll be sharing some of my prep (so there'll be a spoiler warning for my players) and some other GM-related thoughts that arise in the course of play.

Roleplaying aside...I'm still trying to recharge my fiction writing batteries and I'll probably post some thoughts on what I'm doing to get myself psyched up and motivated or what's getting in my way. I may even try doing flash fic to get a bit of practice in, and I'll post some of that for folks to read. I'm hoping to use December to work on outlining a novel project for the New Year, so I might include updates on how that's going as I work on it.

And finally, I'll get back to posting my Weekly Geeky Reports, which I'm just going to rebrand as My Geeky Week, to keep you up to date on what I've been up to each week. Realistically, this is unlikely to amount to much more than NetFlix binges until Christmas and New Year is over, but we'll see how things go.

Speaking of which, I'll be back tomorrow with My Geeky Week. See ya later!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

[Weekly Geeky Report] Inside Out and games, games, games!

Rafael Chandler is running a Kickstarter campaign for the second edition of his play-by-videochat RPG, Viewscream. Having played Viewscream a few times before and participated in the second edition playtest, I decided to go ahead and back it (especially considering you get the whole thing for backing at just $10).

Achievements Unlocked
I'm continuing to binge watch Star Wars: The Clone Wars and am now up to halfway through season four. The Umbara arc has to be my favourite of the season so far, challenging Rex's belief in following the chain of command. One can only hope that some of Rex's men will remember the lesson they learned on Umbara when Order 66 happens, but it's probably something that'll never come up in the series itself.

On Tuesday, I got to play Tragedy Looper for the second time. Tragedy Looper is a time-travelling deduction game, sort of like Cluedo meets Steins;Gate. It's a mostly co-operative game where the objective for most of the players is to prevent a tragedy of some sort from taking place, while one player takes on the role of the 'mastermind' whose goal is to cause the tragedy in question. The players have several 'loops' to try and influence events so that the tragedy doesn't come to pass, and each loop consists of several days (assuming it isn't ended prematurely by the mastermind fulfilling their win condition). It's a game that takes a couple of tries to get used to, but once you get the hang of it, it's pretty cool.

After that we played a game of Forbidden Island, in which we managed to acquire all four treasures and escape with one whole turn to spare. I think we got off easier than we should have though, as I suspect I might have forgotten to abide by the hand limit of five at one point. I'm pretty sure I had two helicopter lifts and four matching treasure cards, so I really should have had to get rid of one of the helicopter lifts. Since we needed at least one helicopter lift to win the game, and I had to use another to get people to the landing site, I think things would have gone much worse had I remembered to discard when I was supposed to. Oh well, we had fun, which is the main thing.

After that we played the Resident Evil Deck Building game, which I would have won if not for my rocket launcher being defeated by a card which ignored damage the weapon with the lowest ammo cost (the rocket launcher costs no ammo), robbing me of the decorations I'd have gotten from defeating that monster. Instead, Peter won the game, having defeated Wesker a turn earlier.

On Wednesday, a group of us went to see Inside Out, the new Pixar film. I hadn't heard about the movie until I was invited to come along, but Pixar's films are generally of a high enough standard that I decided it was worth checking out. I'm glad I did, as the movie was a lot of fun. Maybe not Pixar's best, but still very good, striking a fine balance between hilarity and drama. I'd read a few reviews online about it being too dark for the target audience, but honestly I think that's just being ridiculous and over-protective.

After the movie, we went back to Nicky's house for an all-night gaming get-together. We played Sentinels of the Multiverse and defeated Grand Warlord Voss, with Doc's character - Fanatic - contributing the most towards our victory. He got in several high damage attacks, and towards the end he was dealing damage to the enemy at the start of every turn!

After another game of Tragedy Looper, we also played Chrononauts (I can't recall who won that game) and then I finally got another chance to try out my copy of Doctor Who: The Card Game. It took us a while to get the hang of how the game played, but eventually we got the hang of it. In the end, Heather triggered the game ending and finished with the most victory points.

There had been plans for some kind of roleplaying session later on, but our would-be GM had to leave earlier than planned. Instead, Peter and I settled down to play a one-on-one game of Firefly while the others headed to bed. We played until about three or four in the morning, and the game went poorly for me to say the least. I got hit by Reavers on three or four different occasions (two of which occurred within the same turn) and encountered the Alliance Cruiser two times (one of which left me stripped of the contraband I was in the middle of shipping). In the end, Peter had amassed enough crew and resources to sail through the objectives, whereas I don't think I managed to complete a single one. As good as the Firefly board game is, I can't shake the feeling that it has it in for me somehow with the number of times I get hit by the Reaver drop and Alliance Cruiser cards. Mind you, Peter wasn't wrong in saying I should have sought out a mechanic or ship upgrade to help avoid the former being as big a problem. Something to bear in mind for the next time I play, I suppose.

Yesterday I listened to the full audiobook of Star Wars: Razor's Edge, book one in the Empire and Rebellion duology. It was a decent enough story, and the audiobook had somewhat higher production values than most. It wasn't a full-cast audiodrama, but it did have background music and sound effects which enhanced the sense that I was actually listening to a Star Wars adventure.

Later on, I finally got around to watching the finale of Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana. The series ended on a massive cliffhanger (which, in retrospect, I should have seen coming) with the promise that 'we'll find out what season'. So on the one hand, I'm cursing Wil Wheaton's name for leaving things hanging like that, but on the other hand it seems like they're pretty sure they're doing a second season so...yay!

Works In Progress
I know I'm definitely going to be running the Last Stop adventure for Kuro as one of my one-shots in September, so I'll only need to read through the rules and the adventure a couple of times the week before then to prepare for that. In the meantime, I still need to decide what I want to run as my second one-shot (if I decide to bother running a second one, that is).

I had originally thought to run Feng Shui 2, but that's really going to depend on whether I can get hold of the print edition before the one-shot fortnight in late September. If I can't get hold of that, then I won't feel 100% comfortable running without a physical copy of the rules to refer to. I have a half-dozen options to turn to as alternatives, not least of which is the new Fantasy AGE RPG (which I should have the physical copy of before too long) and the Star Wars: Age of Rebellion RPG. Both of those will require a bit of extra effort to prepare for. I'd need some idea for a setting to run Fantasy AGE in, and the Star Wars RPG requires special dice to play (and it wouldn't hurt to get hold of a GM screen for it as well).

Anyway, I've got to get ready for work now, so that's all for today. I'll try to make more posts this week if I can. See you later!

Monday, August 10, 2015

[RPG Musings] Do You Really Want To Run A Game?

I made a mistake in running Camelot Trigger over the summer break. Not because I don't like the Fate Core system or because I didn't like the setting; I love the system and I see a lot of possibilities in the setting. The problem arose because my reasons for running a campaign over the summer were bad ones. I didn't have any particular urge to run something, in fact I was still winding down from wrapping up my Firefly campaign this semester. I was not ready to jump back behind the GM screen so soon. But I did it anyway. I put together a shortlist of games I was interested enough in to run (and which I figured my players would be interested in too) and I decided to run the one that got the highest score in interest level from the group. That ended up being Camelot Trigger.

It wasn't all bad. The players certainly seemed to enjoy themselves, but I felt like I was phoning it in as a GM. I failed to do my usual homework and quiz the PCs to get a better idea of how to tie things to them. I had only the vaguest idea of an antagonist going in and no idea what they were up to. It wasn't until I took a leaf out of Dungeon World's book and created fronts for the game that things started to come together, but that came too late. Long story short, I went into the game when I was feeling creatively exhausted and as such I struggled to build a compelling story around my players' characters.

Why did I do this to myself? Because I felt an obligation to run something. Part of that comes from being a GM at GUGS - a university roleplaying society - where there is (usually) a large number of people looking for games and a short supply of GMs to run games for them. Part of it was because I figured I should keep myself in practice as a GM and decided to do so by jumping right into running another campaign.

Here's the thing: the moment GMing games becomes something you feel you have to do, rather than something you actually want to do and are excited about, that's when you need to take a time out.

If you run a game because you feel you have to (but really, you're not in the right mood or state of mind, or whatever), you're just not going to be going into it with the energy and enthusiasm you need to make the game sing. I found that I failed to be descriptive too often and my NPC dialogues were flat. Maybe, over the course of running, you'll start to warm up to it, but it might come too late. Certainly, towards the end of Camelot Trigger I was starting to have some cool ideas for the campaign, but I'd already created a tangle of half-baked plots to resolve by that point. If you go in with the wrong attitude, this is not going to be fun for you and, as a result, the risk is that it won't be fun for your players either. But that's beside the point.

The gamemaster is a player too. They should be having fun.

If you think you're going to have fun running, by all means go ahead. But if you're just running because someone has to then, for you're own sake, don't. Take a time out, try playing as a player character for a bit (if you can find a game to join, that is). When you feel like you want to run a game again, take a moment and ask yourself if you really want to or you just feel like you should. If you really want to, maybe then it's time to go back.

Until then, give yourself a break. That's what I'm going to do.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

[Weekly Geeky Report] Fantasy AGE, Star Wars, and Titansgrave

Having found a discount deal for Star Wars: Age of Rebellion, I was able to both order that and pre-order the Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook for just a little more than Age of Rebellion would normally cost on its own.

Acheivements Unlocked
Taking a week's break after attending my nephew's wedding over the weekend (and to recover from a slight bug I seem to have picked up while there), I've spent much of my time this week catching up on the Campaign and One Shot podcasts, as well as binge watching the Star Wars: The Clone Wars CGI series. I avoided watching it for a long time, not expecting much from it because of its ties to the prequel trilogy, but it turns out it's actually not half bad.

It's got the action and adventure one expects of Star Wars, but it also portrays the Clone Wars themselves with surprising maturity for a series aimed primarily at children. Yes, there's a lot of set-piece action, but the series never shies away from showing the terrible cost of conflict on such a scale, though this is only felt on the Republic side since the Separatists' forces are mostly droids or evil Sith lords. They do make the effort in the third season to show that there are good people in the Separatist camp as well. The minimal amount of Jar Jar appearances also doesn't hurt my enjoyment of the show.

Then there was this week's episode of Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana. The latest session was largely Wil Wheaton narrating a bunch of cutscenes in which each of the player characters experience nightmarish visions prior to the climactic battle, with the players' only input being through sadistic choices presented to them as part of the visions. While it is more than a bit railroad-y, I think the emotional payoff makes it well worth it. Each vision sequence was nicely tailored to each of the players' characters, and the players themselves certainly seemed to be moved by Wheaton's narration. So, while I consider the extensive use of cutscenes a bold move - and one I'd be reluctant to use myself - I have to commend Wheaton for making it work in this instance.

Friday, August 7, 2015

RPGaDay 2015: Week 1

Returning to Google+ and other social media for a second year is the RPGaDay hashtag introduced by David F. Chapman, the designer of the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG which I absolutely love. #RPGaDay is Chapman's way of getting folks to talk about the roleplaying hobby online, by posting the image below with a list of topics to post about over the course of the month of August.

I've already been posting my responses on Google+ for the past week, but since things have been quiet over here on the blog, and I want to get a start on fixing that, I thought I'd repost the last seven days' worth of posts on here. So, without further ado, here are my answers to the first week of prompts:

1. Forthcoming game you're most looking forward to
At the moment I'm looking forward to the Fantasy AGE Corebook. Besides Dungeon World, it looks like the most appealing Fantasy roleplaying alternative to D&D. The system (from what I've seen on Titansgrave and the Tabletop episode of Dragon Age) is light enough on crunch for my personal taste.

2. Kickstarted game most pleased you backed
Even though I haven't had a chance to play it yet, I'm very pleased with the final product of Primetime Adventures 3rd Edition. Not a lot has changed from 2nd edition, but the rules are much better presented and add a bit more structure to the running of the game.

I'm really looking forward to having the opportunity to run/play it.

3. Favourite new game of the last 12 months

Has to be Urban Shadows. Even though (same as PTA 3) I've yet to play it, just reading the PDF has me wishing for the opportunity to do so. It's got one of the most well-explained versions of the Powered by the Apocalypse system and play style that I've read. 

I love how the debt and corruption mechanics evoke the kind of urban fantasy stories it's built to emulate, and the game's start of session moves are designed to help players and the MC generate interesting conflicts and get the ball rolling right away. 

The player character archetypes are all pretty awesome too, I don't think there's a single one I wouldn't consider playing at some point. If I intended to run another campaign at GUGS this year (and, right now, I don't) I'd strongly consider running this.

4. Most surprising game
When I first got into the Powered by the Apocalypse system with Monster of the Week the game that started it all, Apocalypse World, was the one I was least interested in.

I wasn't very familiar with the post-apocalyptic genre, and the game's mature themes (particularly the presence of sex moves) were a little intimidating to me at the time.

Fast-forward to today: I've listened to various Apocalypse World APs, read and watched a few post-apocalyptic stories (not least of which being Mad Max: Fury Road) and grown more willing to push my comfort zones as a GM and player.

The end result of all that being that, rather than being the least interesting PbtA game to me, Apocalypse World is now the version I'm most interested in trying out (besides Urban Shadows, of course). Yet, sadly, it seems it's still the one I'm least likely to play or run anytime soon. Still, I'll keep my fingers crossed!

5. Most recent RPG purchase
My most recent RPG purchase is The Quiet Year by Avery McDaldno. It's really more of a world building game than a roleplaying game, but whatever.

I bought it because I wanted more GMless gaming options to fall back on during my break from running games, and it was also fairly cheap. 

I haven't played it yet, but I'll see if I can get a game in before the new semester starts.

6. Most recent RPG played
The most recent RPG I played as a player was an intro session of Lady Blackbird with the group I usually play Tears of a Machine with. I played Naomi and kicked off our escape from the Hand of Sorrow by literally breaking the cell I was sharing with Snargle.

Later, Snargle pulled off a Firefly-style bluff, threatening to eviscerate the hangar guards with a non-existent 'etheric accelerator cannon' unless they stood down. (Lady Blackbird backed his play with her blood magic by creating a lightning effect in front of the Owl.)

GMing also counts as playing though, so by that reasoning the most recent game I played was actually the season finale of my Camelot Trigger campaign at GUGS.

Having thwarted an attempted invasion of Avaluna Base by MerGN-A's forces, Lord Marr tracked down the T1000-like infiltrator droid and destroyed it with no small amount of difficulty.

Meanwhile, his ward M4-D06 and the edge knight L13T-KYN-35 exposed Marr's rival, Lord Vals as the orchestrator of the sabotage of M4-D06's armour among other things.

Vals was stripped of his lands and title, which were turned over to Marr as compensation. M4-D06 was appointed steward of Marr's new territory. In recognition of his services in the battle and his help in repairs to the city, L13T was officially knighted and given a place in the royal court's engineering corps. The end...for now.

7. Favourite free RPG
Fate Core is technically a free RPG, since the PDF is free to download from Evil Hat's website and the SRD is also freely available online. I admit I haven't done much with it beyond running my Camelot Trigger mini-campaign, but I do really like the system.

In it's basic form it's rules-light, it's extremely flexible and easy to hack - which makes it suitable for a variety of different genres - and the way the system works allows players and GMs to tie stories to the characters rather than the stories being something that just happens to take place around the characters. 

Due to my own inexperience with the system, I didn't make the best use of the PCs' aspects to build the story, but that's no fault of the game - purely my own - and it's not going to put me off running the system again and improving upon my mistakes next time.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

[Weekly Geeky Report] Camelot Trigger, Titansgrave and other stuff...

The print edition of Worlds In Peril became available this week and there was an 'upgrade' offer for those of us who bought the PDF, so I went ahead and ordered the print copy.

I also downloaded The Last Days of Anglekite setting supplement for Dungeon World from DriveThruRPG. It's set in a dying fantasy world facing numerous catastrophic forces. Since I'm reaching the end of the Wheel of Time series, and I'm enjoying the 'end of days' vibe of the latter books in that series, I thought I'd give this setting a look.

Acheivements Unlocked
Speaking of the Wheel of Time series I finished Towers of Midnight (Book 13 of the Wheel of Time) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson on Sunday and, while the first half of it was a slow burn affair, the latter half is full steam ahead for the most part. There's some great action and at least one long-term plot thread is tied up by the end of the book (and a bad thing happens to one of my favourite characters, which hurt to listen to). Of course, by the end of it, the stage is set for the grand finale and there's one major cliffhanger leading into the next book. I've only listened to the prologue and first couple of chapters of A Memory Of Light (Book 14) so far, so I can't comment on it much at this point.

On Tuesday, I ran the third session of my Camelot Trigger campaign and, I think, I'm starting to find my feet a bit more. There was very minimum movement on the main plot arc (because I'm still figuring stuff out for that), but there was some good character stuff in the session. M4-D06's (Martin's character) disastrous interaction with his potential love interest resulted in him receiving the sharp end of her tongue and she now sees him as more of a rival than as a potential partner. Meanwhile, the rivalry between L13T-KYN-35 (Craig's character) and one of Lord Marr's (Peter's character) knights ended in tragedy as the prideful Sir Roland pushed himself too hard to try and defeat L13T in the tournament, and the incompetence (or was it?) of the adjudicator and L13T's unwillingness to yield for Roland's own sake left the knight critically injured and unable to continue in the tournament. There'll likely be further consequences from this later in the campaign, once I've figured out what they should be.

I went into the session with two simple story questions: would M4-D06 take advantage of the invitation to help Dame Frazier improve her armour (he didn't, but his poor rolls made it look like he was trying to sabotage her), and would L13T-KYN-35 show mercy to his rival if it became clear he was pushing himself too hard? (No, it turns out.) Other questions arose from how the session played out that I can now build upon in preparing the next session, which is one really cool thing that comes out of the prep-light nature of Fate Core.

On Wednesday, I caught up with Geek and Sundry's new RPG show hosted by Wil Wheaton, called Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana. Each episode shows about one half of a session of play in the campaign, which takes place in a science fantasy setting and uses an updated version of the AGE system used in the Dragon Age RPG. So far, the series has been really entertaining; Wheaton and his players approach the game with a very tongue-in-cheek attitude, so the campaign so far has been pure gonzo fun. There is some sort of ancient evil on the rise though, so I wonder if there'll be some more serious toned scenes when that becomes more evident. (Edit: As of Friday's session...yes, there was some slightly more serious character drama towards the end.)

Anyhow, I'm loving everything about it so far: Wil as GM, the celeb players and their characters, the pro artwork that's used to illustrate characters and events in the game, even the setting itself. Not sure about the system, as I don't have a lot of experience with the Dragon Age RPG, but it seems light enough for my tastes from what I can tell. I'll seriously consider picking up the Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook and the Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana sourcebook when they're released (which should be next month), but to be honest if I'm going to run anything of a more fantasy bent (and I really do want to give it a go), I'll probably be running it with Dungeon World before I try with another system.

On Thursday night I finally played the first session of the new Worlds In Peril campaign over on Roll20. Things didn't go terribly well for my character Mentalista though. Despite her good intentions, her attempts to help foil a bank robbery turned pear-shaped when her psychic powers went haywire and she injured a few by-standers and caused some structural damage. She tried to make up for her blunder by holding up the collapsing ceiling with her powers, but that didn't improve her image in the eyes of the police. Mentally and physically exhausted by the ordeal, Mentalista is rescued from the bank by cybernetic secret agent and college student Ronin, who takes her back to his agency's secret headquarters to receive medical aid. She's freed to return home (where she can expect a lecture from her dad for running off in the middle of a crisis) with the understanding that the agency (known as Aegis) will likely call upon her for 'favors' in the future to help in their war against the cyborg criminal organisation Phalanx. In the meanwhile, she's now uncertain about continuing her efforts as a superheroine in light of her performance at the bank.

Works In Progress
As ever, I've got more prep to do for Camelot Trigger before Tuesday's session. While I was dubious about it in the beginning, I've come to realise the tournament is actually helpful because it provides a structured timeframe for the events of the campaign. I'm still puzzling out the main arc plot, but I'm getting closer to having a solid plan for it.