Sunday, June 28, 2015

[Weekly Geeky Report] Towers of Midnight, Camelot Trigger, and other stuff...

Since I get a discount for having the Kindle editions, I bought the Audible audiobook versions of On Basilisk Station and The Honor of the Queen, the first and second books of the Honor Harrington series by David Weber. Probably won't listen to them (or anything else) until I've finished the Wheel of Time series.

Achievements Unlocked
I listened to the first half of Towers of Midnight (Book 13 in the Wheel of Time series) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson last weekend, and I should be finishing off the second half of it today. As I expected, the book is dealing with what the third main protagonist was doing during the events of The Gathering Storm and as a result several parts of the book take place out of synch from the rest, which is a bit annoying. It's also more of a slow burn than the previous book, at least in terms of the main protagonists' activities during the first half. There are battles going on elsewhere with one of the supporting characters taking the spotlight there, but that's basically just set up for the big finale that's coming in book fourteen. I'm still impressed with Sanderson's work in continuing the series; a few characterisation quirks aside, I think I'd barely notice any substantial change in writing style if I didn't already know it was being written by a different author. I just hope the book picks up the pace at some point and that it doesn't end up just being a prelude to the last book.

I ran the second session of Camelot Trigger on Tuesday and I think the session was pretty meh, to be honest. The majority the session was a mass combat scene in which the players and the rest of the tourney competitors fought together in a simulated battle against the robotic hordes of the Emergent (the main antagonists of the setting). The thing that caused problems was tracking the friendly NPCs actions within the battle. An easy way to do it would have been to assign friendly NPCs to each of the players for them to control, but I didn't want to do that because I didn't want them to see the aspects and stat blocks of certain NPCs. But that meant dealing with each of the friendly NPCs by myself which was a lot to keep track of and also meant that I was narrating a bunch of actions that the PCs weren't directly involved with. Inevitably, I wound up skipping (or even forgetting) some NPCs' turns and cutting some corners mechanically speaking to speed up the action. In short, it wound up being a bit of a mess

Also, because I had focused too much energy on prep for the mass battle, I didn't have a lot of prep ready for stuff happening after the battle. As a result, I think the after-battle portion of the session fell kinda flat. I did plant some seeds for the next session or two in the second half, at least, so hopefully those will run a little more smoothly as a result. The problem is I'm still struggling to work out the main plot arc for the season. I've revealed one antagonist and alluded to a second, but I have only the vaguest idea as to what the second is up to and no idea about what the first is plotting. To be honest, I'm feeling really creatively drained at the moment and I'm struggling to come up with ideas for the campaign as a result. Hopefully I'll be able to work through it and get things on track before too long. If I'm still feeling stuck after the next session or two, though, I may need to consider taking a piece of advice I've been given and just take a break from GMing for a while. I hope it doesn't come to that, though.

I started watching Breaking Bad again on Wednesday, and I've got through the first five episodes so far. There was a scene in the first episode that almost turned me off completely, but that one moment aside I've been enjoying it as much as season one, if not more so. It's not just the darkly comic side of the show, but also the character drama as the protagonists' ambitions constantly lead them into taking bad decisions and also alienating those closest to them. It's kind of like watching a campaign-length game of Fiasco unfold on screen, only with a much better balance between comedy and serious drama than I've generally seen when I've played that particular game.

The Worlds in Peril game didn't happen on Thursday night since we were one player short. Hopefully we'll get started next week instead. In addition to Worlds In Peril, I've joined an Apocalypse World game which will be happening over Skype on Monday afternoons/evenings. I'll need to have a think about what character playbook I want to play before then.

Works In Progress
As mentioned, I've done some prep for the next session of Camelot Trigger; I've got a list of scenes to run in the session which follow on from aspects of the previous one. The NPCs I already have written up so far should be sufficient for the coming session and one of the advantages of running Fate Core is that any extra characters can be drafted up fairly quickly and easily on the fly as needed. The only things I need to tackle are sorting out the bigger picture for the campaign and figuring out how to handle the first series of one-on-one tournament bouts in one session (each of the players facing their own opponents in the arena) without making a complicated mess of it again.

I've also started work on a campaign journal for Camelot Trigger on Obsidian Portal, which is probably too much effort for what should only be a short summer campaign, but gathering all the information together in one place means that there's a record of things if we decide to pick up the setting and continue at a later date.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

[Weekly Geeky Report] The Gathering Storm, DWAiTAS Finale (finally!) and other stuff...

It's been a while since my last post, so rather than recap everything I've been doing in the interim, I'll keep this Weekly Geeky Report to just the past week.

This week I bought Soth, Steve Hickey's new game in which players play as small-town cultists trying to summon a dark god, and it's pitched as a mix between Breaking Bad and HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. I'm not usually keen on 'evil party' roleplaying, but this sounded like it might be worth a look, so I went ahead and got it.

Achievements Unlocked
I finished The Gathering Storm (Wheel of Time book #12) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Much as I like Brandon Sanderson as an author, I wasn't sure how well this book (and the two which follow it) would fit with the rest of the series, having been written by a different author (even though he was working from extensive notes left by Jordan). However, any difference in writing style is barely noticeable. The most I noticed were some slight quirks in the way the more prominent characters behave. It's not that they behave differently from usual, it's more that some of their personality traits seem amplified at times, though not by too much. These minor quirks aside the book was brilliant. Knife of Dreams started picking up the pace in the story again after it had been crawling along for a bit, but this one is where the crap really starts hitting the fan. One aspect that was a little frustrating was that the activities of one of the three main protagonists are only alluded to in this book through visions but never actually shown. Presumably parts of the next book will take place in parallel to The Gathering Storm and show us what the other character was up to during that time.

Real life interfered with my prep time for Camelot Trigger this week and, with my long-postponed finale for the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space campaign The Exiles of Time finally due to take place on Wednesday, I had to use what time I had left to finish preparations for that instead. This unfortunately meant taking a break from Camelot Trigger for this week, but I'll get back to running it with the second session this Tuesday.

The Exiles of Time finale still ended up feeling a bit rushed to me, but my players enjoyed how it played out and we finally brought the campaign to a satisfying conclusion, so all's well that ends well. I even managed to slip in a well-received sequel hook for a potential follow-up campaign using the Timewatch RPG I backed on Kickstarter last year, which I might run for the DWAiTAS group once the finished game is released.

After the game, I stayed over at Heather's and we watched The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome. The Road Warrior is still my favourite out of the original Mad Max trilogy, with Beyond Thunderdome a tentative second. I found it oddly lighthearted in comparison to the previous films, especially in the second half when the tribe of kids shows up. I'm also on the fence as to whether I love or hate the inclusion of the child tribe. Their presence in the movie is jarring, inserted halfway through with seemingly little reason except to give Max a more sympathetic group to help than Tina Turner's Aunty and her corrupt Bartertown. Not to mention the fact that they are, at the end of the day, a tribe of annoying kids. On the other hand, I liked the way the tribe shows us how events from the fall of civilisation and aspects of the old world became mythologised over time even if I have doubts as to whether enough time has passed in-universe for it to have happened to the degree shown in the film.

The following evening, I sat down and watched the latest live stream of Adam Koebel's 'Roll20 Presents Apocalypse World' campaign on Twitch. If you haven't been following it so far, I recommend you check out Roll20's Youtube channel and catch up with the recorded episodes. It's a really cool example of how Apocalypse World is run and played, and Adam follows up each session with an hour-long 'Post-Apocalypse World' show the following evening, in which he does his prep for the next session live so people can see how it's done. Once you're caught up, the live streams take place between 11am-3pm Pacific Time on Thursdays on the Roll20App Twitch channel, and the 'Post-Apocalypse World' sessions take place between 11am-12pm Pacific Time on Fridays.

I had to drop out halfway through the third hour of the stream this week, as I joined a new game of Worlds In Peril which is starting up on Roll20. I'm resurrecting my character of Mentalista/Psychick for the third time with this campaign, and I'll probably post a write-up of the character once I'm finished fleshing out her backstory in our campaign journal over at Obsidian Portal. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to a) give the character another shot, b) give Worlds In Peril another shot, and c) playing in a campaign again rather than just running one. I've probably said it before, but I find that all running and no playing generally makes for a rather disillusioned GM (at least, it does when I'm the GM in question).

I've also finished watching the first season of Hemlock Grove and I'm still somewhat on the fence about it, though I'm leaning towards the negative side of the fence. There were things about the show I liked: the slow-burning occult detective story with two teenage monsters as the detectives, one of the best werewolf transformation sequences ever filmed, the subtle allusions to supernatural elements between the more overt and usually gruesome reveals, and the way magic works in it. But there were also things I really did not like, mainly the way women are treated in the show. They're either regularly sexualised, victimised (none of the murder victims are ever male, and one of the male protagonists crosses the moral event horizon in a rape scene mid-season, yet the show continues to try and paint him as a sympathetic character after the fact) or the villains of the series. Even one of the most interesting and strong female characters in the show ends up dead by the time it's all over, leaving her brother to pick up where she left off, and I hate the show for wasting a good character so. I'm honestly not sure whether I want to continue with the series or not at this point. As I said, though, I'm leaning towards not.

Works In Progress
As mentioned, I spent much of my free time at the beginning of the week doing prep work for the Exiles of Time finale. With that out of the way, I'll be able have prep for Camelot Trigger done in time for this Tuesday.

I've reshuffled my schedule a bit, moving my volunteering to Thursdays instead of Wednesdays, which should hopefully help me focus better on prep. I can write up my notes on Tuesday night sessions when I get home without fear of oversleeping the next day, and work on prep for the next session once I've awoken the following day, instead of leaving it until I get home from volunteering. At least, that's how it should work out in theory. I'll see how well it works in practice this week.

That's all for now, see you later!