Monday, August 23, 2010

(RPG) Narrating College and Sloth

As a father of a one-year old daughter, with another coming faster than I can even realize, actual gaming is high-end luxury. Perhaps eight sessions with the guys per year, when we once had eight off weeks total, one of the two Mepacons, and I'm quite certain I'll be sacrificing the "early guys' weekend" of Cold Wars because it's just not feasible with two tiny ones at home.

Despite that, there are certain traditions that have been established. My wife likes to travel along for Historicon, first for the Lancaster outlets, now the KoP mall, etc... We try to do some gaming at SATLOF, although "Drunken Diplomacy" gets harder and harder...

...and we have the Day of Sloth.

The Day of Sloth is the Sunday-Before-Labor-Day picnic my wife and I throw for our friends. Burgers, dogs, a little pot luck action going on, and few activities. We hold a wiffleball home run derby contest, this year we'll have a "Playland" out front for the kids and like-minded adults...

...and we have IOU.

IOU is Illuminati University, Steve Jackson Games quirky look at cross-dimesional, time travelling college life for their GURPS game. Lots of zany hijinks mixed with Phil and Kaja Foglio art makes a perfect feel. I've done massive prep work and ran some great, nay, epic games using the rules heavy GURPS back in the Nineties, but about four, five years back I discovered Risus and the games changed.

First off, characters go from a half-dozen stats and dozens of skills on a double-sided character sheet to a 3"x5" index card with as little as four cliches, each with a point value. Someone could conceivably join in the game five minutes before it starts, or even halfway through it. Second, the game became much more freeform with fewer dice rolls, but those rolls influencing the direction of the game far more than usual.

The particular freeform style the game exudes had always eluded definition up until this past week. I was beginning the rough prep work for my Mepacon Fall events in November and it hit me. Risus-IOU is Toon. Yes, Toon, running around as cartoon characters. In the rulebook, the Narrator (GM) can be presented with a scenario as short as two or three lines and let the players run with it, only reeling them in occasionaly to advance the story. In one of our old-time Christmas games, Santa was missing, and we were elves who had to find him. We literally spent half of our time trying to find Harry Potter for questioning, even though Hanuhkah Harry was the obvious culprit. Our narrator let us have carte blanche, until it was time to finish the story, and once that was finished we went crazy again.

When my group assembles around 6pm on the 5th, I'll have one index card with maybe four or five lines of not even sentences, but individual words. I'll narrate their story, acting as a shepherd, nudging them back into the story when appropriate, trying not to be heavy-handed about it. And most importantly, when everyone has finished, each will admit it was the most inapropriate fun they've had with their clothes on this year.

And just for the record, the games I've run at each Day of Sloth:

2006- First game. Incoming Freshthings visit the town's carnival. Carnies, Funnelcake powered Mecha, and Snake Gandhi vs. College Yoda (kegstands I do!) atop the Ferris Wheel.

2007- The Freshthings stop non-stop polka music in the dorms by entering the Dot Matrix, and fighting through numerous four and eight bit video games. Snake Gandhi appears in Kung Fu goodness

2008- The group tries to investigate the proliferation of goose-stepping, coffee drinking zombies on campus. They realize Nazis are to blame, so they do the one thing anyone would do to fight Nazis...

2009-... they dig up Jesse Owen's body to resurrect him (I shit you not, it was their idea). I had an entire year to prepare and it turned into a Blaxploitation theme complete with Samuel L Jackson and Snake Gandhi.... on a plane.

I won't spoil this year's game, but I did start my idea with two words which were the only words I used on a Facebook post months ago. I will say that 2011 will work off the words, "Radioactive Spittoon"

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Jaunt to Scranton

So, I was blessed with a half-day at work Friday. I decided to hunt down the new location of The Unknown Comics and Games, as well as finding the elusive Comics on the Green.

The original location of The Unknown was on N. Adams St. Downtown Scranton. It was small, compact, but managed to pull off a good selection and a fair-sized gaming area. They promoted GW, Magic, and a little D&D.

A new guy took over ownership a few months ago. I met the enthusiastic guy once (they all start out that way...) and then *poof* the storefront was empty with no followup info. A few months later and this little thing called the internet revealed to me that they had move a block down and over right on courthouse square, ironically three doors down from the courthouse.

After a search for a decent metered parking spot, I had to weave my way through reporters from WBRE, WNEP, and WILK camped out on the courthouse steps. Here I happened to show up during the sentencing of former Luzerne County Commissioner Greg Skrepanak for federal bribery charges. Despite multiple media outlets on every inch of the sidewalk, I was one of the first five people outside the courtroom who found out that he got two years.

Anyway, the new shop still doesn't a real sign, but the giant inflatible Hulk should be noticeable enought. I don't want to sound disapproving, but my first impression was dirty Encounter. While I didn't see any refuse, the far back area, with it's unclean Gauntlets: Legacy machine and a pile of boxes, it stuck out like a sore thumb.

The store had it's open gaming down the middle of the room; comics then GW on the left wall, RPGs, board games, and the counter full of CCGs comign back up to the front.

Comic selection was standard DC/Marvel/tiny independent of week. No trades at all. I haven't actively read comics in over three years, but I realized there was nothing catching my interested at all, except an old issue of Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam.

I'm not a GW person, I'm even less when a blister packs with 2 figures are selling for $13, but I did notice three interesting things (1) They had one lone pack of Pegasus Hobbies Museum Quality rail fences, which means the did try to work with non-GW accessories. Hopefully, they can try again. (2)The Warhamer Fantasy Battles templates for blast radius and flamethrower are gold ornate things, not the clear plastic ones I'm used to. I didn't even check a price, but it probably required selling a kidney on the black market. (3) Their WFB campaign. They had a very detailed map with 200 different territories, multiple armies, and an active use of pushpins. Any store campaign that looks like it's being well-run is a plus in my book.

The RPG and Board Game selection looked comprehensive but not overly extensive. The CCG selection at the counter was a bit suprising: Chinese 11th edition Magic, all the normal stuff, and then... a Time Twister, and most of the popular early edition cards. It was nice to see a place with inventory, rather than, " I know a friend of a friend of a friend who can get one for ya," that I'm normally used to.

The absolute high point was after I checked out, I peered into the little Coke fridge and there I spied it: an entire shelf of A-Treat soda! One Big Blue later, and I was back to dodging reporters, and getting to my car before the meter ran out.

Oh yeah, I still haven't found Comics on the Green. It must be across the bridge away from the downtown, but with my lack of comics excitement, I have plenty of time to re-examine my want list to fill out a few runs.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Beer and Pretzels Gaming at Steve's Man Cave

After a five month hiatus, I finally got some of the guys together for some at home gaming. We managed to get five to agree to meet at Steve's ManCave/Basement/Bar in Allentown.

We started with a slideshow of my Historicon pics. My picture taking skills are mediocre at best, but apparently a slideshow presented on a giant HD flatscreen TV makes everyone's pics look spectacular.

Next we moved down to the bar, cracked open some beer, and fiddled around with the Mouse Guard RPG. Playing a mouse might seem silly, but the second a milk snake appeared to interrupt their mission, the guys were all business. My guys were impressed and pleasantly surprised by the system. It's simple: (multiple d6 4+ is a success), it promotes player narrative actions (no just "I attack the snake", but "I jump on it's back and stab it!"), and it also actively encourages cooperation and teamwork. We will try it again.

Due to our late start, a long drive home, and the lack of true wargaming space in the Man Cave, I chose to run Burning Plastic to wrap up the evening. Burning Plastic is a simple game where green army men represent robots, and, as advertised it is "A Game Wholesale Destruction".

The Set-up

General Brian set up his tan army to the south of Rold Gold Mountain, General Adam set up his red army far down the Bar Plateau, and Steve (pictured above) set up the blue army right in the middle. Each had similar units 20 Aluminum Grenadiers (slow troops that can dish out and take a lot of punishment), 2 Scout Floaters (represented by the jets), and one Dreadnought (think mini-Ogre).

The first two turns had the blue and tan armies in vicious fighting, with the red army lumbering along. Most of the damage was done by morale checks. In Buring Plastic, each officer and vehicle can force a d6 Italicmorale check on any one figure or vehicle within in its range. Make the check, no effect. Fail it, the figure moves back half its move. Roll a 1 and the unit charges a full move and gets a free attack. Roll a 6... hehehe, the unit's cpu overloads and it retreats its full move and self destructs in a blazing atomic fireball. The blue and tan armies' dreadnoughts were not destroyed so much as they were the focus of multiple morale checks and if you roll enough dice, eventually a 6 will come up. The wreckage of the tan army's dreadnought can be seen in the picture above, it failed its check and took out three of its own guys before exploding.

It looked like a close battle until the GM-controlled air strikes were called in. To use the radio operator/walkie talkie figures, Burning Plastic has spotters, who can call in airstrikes. A regular airstrike is conducted as follows: (1) Any figure within twice the shooting range of the spotter can be targetted. (2) Grab a normal (ie boardgame) d6. (3) Take two steps back from the table. (4) Chuck the die at the troops. Any figure, vehicle hit by the die until it stops is considered destroyed, with the exception of the dreadnought which requires to hits to be destroyed, no matter what. To spice things up, I called in random airstrikes from my bar stool at the far end of the bar. The first couple missed, but around round five I hit the blues and tans hard , and got one good strike on the red army's dreadnought.


The Epic Battle of Steve's Man Cave (they advertised!)

The tans continued to press on, the blues troops had managed to destroyed the red army's damaged dreadnought with just overwhelming firepower and a little luck and fell back in between the two bags of chips. General Adam split his red army: half to fire at the blues and tans, the other half hiding behind a bottle of Leinenkugels to stop a flank attack if the blues decided to move between the bags.

End Game

Osama bin Plastic: The lone survivor of the Blue Army hides out in the caves of the Snack Mountains.

In my last act as GM, I attempted one final air strike, aiming for the blue army moving down the Snack Pass. I missed, but I hit the bag, causing the Pass to "collapse" and cutting off one blue army trooper who valiantly, but immediately was gunned down by the other armies.

The red army's stretched forces caused its downfall; its fascination with the blue troops hiding in a "cave" of popcorn. Caused numerous casualties. The tan army took its time whittling down the rest. Despite numerous disasters, General Steve's blue army took second place with one dude hiding in the mountains. Hopefully in twenty years, somebody will inform him that the war's been over for awhile...

For a hastily organized game day with one no-show and couple of us showing up late due to race day traffic (stupid NASCAR!), it went off pretty well. Can't wait till September when we should be able to start our Tanga campaign for Gnome Wars.... time to start painting!