Friday, May 22, 2015

Sour Apples

In other news, my wife has asked me to please please stop buying giant chipa off the street...she is convinced this has been the cause behind a recent waistline expansion. I've managed to cut back, but I still ate a couple this week...yesterday, I needed the "comfort food."

And that's because it was a helluva day. I only got a couple hours of sleep Wednesday night AND my day care provider was out half the day, so I was doing the kids thang on next-to-no-sleep up till the afternoon. Then I accompanied the wife to a work function where I drank gin and tonics and consumed piles of grilled meat till midnight.

And did I mention I'm sick to boot?

ANYway...that was yesterday, and it was my own damn fault I was tired, as I stayed up trying to catch replays of TV shows that I'd wanted to watch earlier in the week but hadn't managed to do...shows like Veep and Vice and Game of Thrones. They don't have On Demand in Paraguay, so waiting till 2:30am (Thursday morning) is the only way you can see something you missed the first time around. Well, if you want to watch in English...the Spanish-dubbed version of GoT was a little earlier (like 1:45am).

[the baby and me being sick together is what contributed to the rest of the sleepless night]

I also managed to catch the film Appleseed Alpha (while I was waiting for other programs to come on). I'm a rather lightweight fan of the Appleseed (I've seen three or four films, but that's about the extent of my involvement), but Appleseed has been a major source of inspiration for a couple of my more recent projects (including World War Borg and the recent revamp of Cry Dark Future), and I was pleased as punch to see a new Appleseed, especially one set during the "war days" before the show's protagonists make it to Olympus (the futuristic megacity where most of the 'borged-out crime drama of the franchise takes place).

[y'all know how much I like my cyborg-soldiers-stalking-through-the-ruins-of-civilization settings]

So, yeah...the film animation was mind-blowingly fantastic, and the 'borg-on-'borg violence was great (as always), and I have no issue with the minor rewriting of the Appleseed canon-backstory, and the new characters that were introduced were quite entertaining and well voice-acted (I especially enjoyed Two Horns who would certainly fit in the updated setting of CDF). BUT...

What the Fuck, writers?

The rewrite of Deunan Knute's character was f'ing atrocious. She's wimpy and soft and takes a backseat to Briareos through pretty much the entire movie. Briareos is the focus of the new film (whereas before he's always been Deunan's sidekick) and she was left hanging around as 2nd fiddle till pretty much the end....before getting (literally) dropped on her ass and the focus shifting back to Briareos saving the day. And then the movie ends with him counseling her. What the hell?!

It's mainly irritating because, while I love cyborgs and stuff, what makes the Appleseed series so cool is Deunan as the Alpha-Dog protagonist. She's the Point-Man, the Hot-Head, the Kick-Ass-And-Take-Names-Later character throughout the franchise with giant, uber-competent cyborg Briareos backing her up. She's the one who makes the plans, she's the one who charges first with guns a-blazing...all in a tiny, agile package. It's a charming bit of role-switching that makes the show interesting. There's a lot of cyborg anime out there that I don't watch and that I don't find worth watching (geek dude or not, I'm actually fairly selective about what cartoons I see)...but Appleseed always had brave little Deunan, the badass human who wasn't afraid to stand up to an over-'roided cyborg.

She's like the post-apocalyptic Annie or something.

Now I have no clue why the writers decided to take the character in this direction, but it's totally lame. It feels like the writers are telling Deunen to more-or-less "shut up" through the whole film (via the mouths of Briareos and other characters)...and more-or-less that's what she does. And so despite all the coolness on display, the movie felt slow, stagnant, and definitely anticlimactic. And every time Deunan was on the screen I found myself totally annoyed.

Oh and then her outfit: in what post-apocalyptic world does a merc-soldier bare her midriff like she's on Spring Break?

Glad you brought your kneepads, soldier.
I've been reading a lot of wundergeek's blog, so I suppose I'm a lot more cognizant of the sexualizing of fantasy characters in artwork, but coupled with the watered-down, passive attitude displayed by the protagonist...a character that has been around and beloved since 1985 (I first encountered Appleseed in manga form when I was in Japan, circa 1991)...I found it, well, repulsive.

Even this was better...Twilight 2000 chic.
And that's pretty sad. 'Cause if a lightweight fan like me (who happens to be a straight dude) found it such, what do the long-haul fans think? For me, it ruined what was otherwise a visually stunning movie. Sorry to say.

Totally not cool.

In still other, better news, I should be posting the first installment of my X-Plorers supplement sometime this afternoon. Stay tuned!
: )

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sour Grapes

Everyone loves a little internet dustup.

My recent "review" post of James Spahn's White Star (I hate to use that term, since I'm just listing my most critical thoughts, rather than a comprehensive evaluation) touched off some negative feelings over at Tenkar's blog. Specifically he feels that my "rant" (Tenkar's term...I don't really think my critique fits the bill of an "angry tirade") stems from bitterness that Mr. Spahn has released a successful publication of similar design to a project that I myself have sitting on the shelf. Bitter...or perhaps jealous...that he's making money that should rightfully be in my pocket. The inference being that I'm pissing all over the game because of said bitterness, envy, whatever.

Sour grapes, in other words. As defined by Merriam-Webster (online):

unfair criticism that comes from someone who is disappointed about not getting something

The "something" in this case being all the satisfied customers of Mr. Spahn.

SO...in the interest of clearing the air and moving on from the subject, let me just say that I am absolutely, totally jealous of Mr. Spahn and his success.

Still good for making whine...er, wine.
Yes, I have envy...one of those Seven Deadly Sins that we've been warned about since Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with that second tablet of Commandments. There's lots of stuff that I get jealous of: the readership other blogs command, the money that other publications make, the artwork that other authors can commission (or draw themselves), the sheer creativity of folks like Rose and Logan. I'm envious that WotC holds the IP for for D&D (and so many other games), I'm envious that FFG holds the license for Star Wars (and has production values that no one can compete with). I'm jealous that Monte Cook can just attach his name to a product (Numenera) and raise half a million dollars in short order via Kickstarter. I'm envious that Raggi lives in a country where the government will subsidize a start-up game company while I live in a country that doesn't even have a post office.

I'm your average, normal human when it comes to jealousy: I see things other folks have and I think, boy, I wish I had their success, or their talent, or their good fortune, or their work ethic and organizational skills that allows them to accomplish so much more than I can achieve. Hell, I get envious of the sheer amount of TIME folks have to work on their blogs or publishing projects...you kids in college, or young adults without children, probably don't realize how precious such a commodity is. I know that I didn't realize it when I was younger.

But, specifically regarding White Star: yes, I'm most definitely jealous of its success. And it's for an even baser reason than "that's money I could have been making." No: it's the prestige. To be perfectly vulgar (and to coin a phrase from my brother's banking industry days): I want to be the Big Swinging Dick when it comes to game design. I want to be the guy people say, "Ooo, look at what he's done." I want to be "The Expert" or (more accurately) "The Master." And I especially want to be a guy who originates ideas and concepts. This particular character flaw, an attachment to looking Large and In Charge, is NOT standard to all people (the way jealousy is). Astrologically, it comes from having Pluto in the 10th house and pretty damn close to the Midheaven...but it's emphasized by the fact that Pluto rules both my Sun and Ascendant sign.

[at least, that was the astrological interpretation a few years back...I haven't kept up with the recent changes in astrological thinking that have occurred since the demotion of Pluto from "planet" status...maybe we've gone back to the old ruler of Mars]

NOW: having admitted all that, please allow me to say that despite my jealousy, I've got no "bitterness" about White Star. Bitterness over this kind of thing is something I got over a loooong time ago. Folks probably remember I once put a book called the B/X Companion (published in 2010, though the writing was finished in 2009), an alternate to the Companion rules of the BECMI edition. What folks might NOT remember is that Barrataria Games put out their own "alternate Companion rules" months before mine was published. They took a different tact with their project, but the fact is THEY did it FIRST...and no, it's not like their book was terrible or something.

I blogged about this, and about the "low ebb" to which it brought me, a long while ago. I was very upset and, yes, bitter...extremely bitter...that I hadn't done more, worked faster, focused harder at being the guy to hit the market first (this was before I had two kids, mind you). I even considered chucking the whole project in the trash...really. But I didn't, and I published the thing anyway despite second-guessing myself, and I had some moderate success (the book is still selling electronic copy), and I used that money to do another book, and I carved myself a little hobby business.

And doing THAT dispelled all my bitterness and all my resentment, even as it gave me a heaping pile of confidence and satisfaction. Time...years spent doing this self-publishing thang...has given me some perspective on the hobby...perspective that has dulled the hyper-competitiveness I once had. Allow me to elaborate:

WE ARE BLESSED. I'm pretty sure I've said this before, but allow me to reiterate: we (and I'm talking about myself and anyone with a computer who can read this) are extremely fortunate to live in a time when publishing our ideas...sharing our creativity...is So Damn Easy. Look at this blog...I get to use blogger free of charge, and if I wanted to I could monetize the thing and get paid while using it free of charge! The fact that we have the time and energy to worry about squabbles on the internet instead of...oh, say, starving in poverty...should give everyone a big fat smile when they wake up in the morning. But for the wannabe publishers, these are truly blessed times.

WE ARE BLESSED TO BE GAMERS. All you readers who are suffering post-traumatic stress from being labeled a "nerd" in high school need to wake up and realize how good you've got it. Not everyone realizes the amazing flights of fantasy that tabletop gaming facilitates in the imagination. Not everyone has had the pleasure of experiencing the joy of escapism and world-building and role-playing that we have. We can be anything we can imagine...and we get to play in our imaginations with others who share our joy! The whole world could benefit from such play...but for most people, even if they have the leisure to do so, they haven't figured out the potential fun they're missing. Even for those with no interest in being an "elven wizard," the sheer variety of games on the market means there's (more likely than not) something there for anyone's taste in fantasy.

And that just ADDS to the blessings of the self-publisher. The community of gamers and (more importantly) game buyers means there's a support system to facilitate the publishing hobby. It doesn't matter if someone else "beats me to the market" with their game. I could knock-out a PDF of "B/X Star Wars notes" and sell it tomorrow and someone would buy it, if only to see how it's different from White Star, or to see if my stuff could be adapted to their WS game. White Star only helps the self-publisher to make money...there's nothing there to be bitter about!

Look, people: my review was nearly 2000 words long (1928, not counting the smiley face at the end). If you cut out my normal, meandering preamble, it's still 1642 words. Cut out the last couple paragraphs (about "what I'm going to do") and the post is down to 1482. Of that 1482 count, I spend exactly 97 words (one paragraph) comparing ways in which White Star was "spookily similar" to a project I was working on years ago...that's under 7% of the total "review proper." The other 93% is me critiquing (and sometimes crediting) the book. I don't see where I say "I could have done it better." My criticisms were regarding things that I found annoying, lacking, and/or problematic...which is the usual thing I offer when "reviewing" games. In White Star's case, I find that I am less-than-impressed with Spahn's design...that's not bitterness, that's just what I think.

Funny enough, I almost wrote something to the effect of "it's going to be hard to write a review without this sounding like jealousy and sour grapes, but..." and then decided against it.

HAVING SAID ALL THAT:

I realize that some people may have misconstrued my offering (at the end of my post) to serialize a SW-esque work of mine as some effort to sabotage or "show up" White Star or something. No, no...the game of mine that shared similarities to White Star (with the working title "B/X Starkillers") is dead and (nearly) buried...portions of it were incorporated into other projects, but I gave up on it some time ago, for a number of reasons. The X-Plorers supplement I'm offering to serialize is "Star Wars-esque" but it ain't no White Star. For one thing, it's "Jedi-centric;" for another, it's no stand alone game...you need Bezio's X-Plorers to make it work. There are two major reasons I haven't already published this supplement (aside from the fact that it's not quite complete):

A) I have less enthusiasm (i.e. "juice") for it then for other projects I've been working on.

B) When I realized the extent to which my "supplement" was clarifying/modifying Bezio's game, I thought, 'Jeez, I should just rewrite (i.e. "clone") and incorporate X-Plorers into this document and publish it as its own, complete game!' Fortunately, I never did that because (upon reflection) I realize not only is this a totally selfish and solely-for-the-sake-of-ego-aggrandizement thing to do, BUT it's pretty stupid: it's a bunch of extra work simply for the sake of saying, 'Hey, look...a "complete" game (not a "supplement").'

Fact is, there's no need to fatten the page count...as I said, people will buy the thing (if I wanted to sell it), just to see how it works with X-Plorers. Keeping it a "supplement" makes me money AND makes Bezio money...that's a double-win for TWO publishers. And the gamer customers aren't getting screwed on the deal, because they can still pick up the free version of X-Plorers (to use with my supplement) or the free (serialized) version of my supplement (to use with X-Plorers)...only ponying up cash if they've got it to spend and if they think it's worth investing (for artwork and such).

And while I'm talking about X-Plorers now, this reasoning likewise applies to White Star. WS has got an OGL...folks can develop supplements for it and make money off Spahn's groundwork, should they so choose. Again, I can be jealous that James Spahn is getting the prestige and credit for making an "Old School Star Wars-esque" game, but there's nothing to be bitter about. Fact is, I could take my X-Plorers supplement, adjust it, and resell it AGAIN for use with White Star. With such profit-making potential why would I go and piss all over the thing...I should be talking it up! Telling everyone how great it is as a "tool box" for space opera play! Getting people fired up so they'll buy both WS and anything else people (i.e. "me") makes for the game!

But the truth is, even if my prior post appeared to be "sour grapes," it's not. There's some disappointment for me with White Star. It's not disappointment that Spahn did something that I didn't...it's that there were some design choices made that weren't especially good ones. As I said, it's a quality product for $10 and it's the closest thing to a B/X Star Wars game that I've seen...but it falls short (for me) in a few ways. Not that this matters: posting my thoughts on the game gave me blog fodder for, well, two days now. If folks are distressed my the negative tone...well, there's no such thing as "bad publicity," right? I could have kept my thoughts to myself, I suppose, but that's not really my thang.

I mean, I'm a blogger, yeah?
; )

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

B/X Cosmonaut

Finally feeling almost normal again after accidentally (and stupidly) poisoning myself with an overdose of mineral iron yesterday. This is what happens when a person who doesn't normally eat more than his usual, regular allowance spends the day eating dried apricots and almonds by the handful and then mistakenly takes one of his wife's prenatal multivitamins: stomach cramps, the shakes, and loss of circulation/feeling in Ye Old Extremities. It doesn't help that my liver is already in fairly rough shape.

Ugh...that kept me from posting more (or doing much of anything) last night. But I'm better today, and I wanted to post about ANOTHER sci-fi game based on an old D&D chassis: Michael Gibbons's B/X Cosmonaut.

Weird enough for ya'?
Gibbons is an artist (you can check out his weird and wooly web-comic, Cosmic Tales, here) who also writes the blog Metal Earth. B/X Cosmonaut is a free, illustrated, 6-page PDF that introduces a character and campaign concept for use in the B/X game. No, it's not a complete game...it's a game kernel, and one that holds a lot of potential for a full-on campaign (either long-term or short-run). The idea of the Xlathar and their hive ships (quite possibly populated by all sorts of genetic monstrosities and artificial perils...i.e. "monsters" and "traps") provides a very workable way of doing "D&D in space." It just needs to be fleshed out a bit more.

The super-soldier "cosmonaut" idea isn't a bad one at all...I'd just like to see some ways to distinguish the characters other than equipment selection (which would appear to be the only method of differentiation). A selection of specializations or some type of talent/trait/feat development over time (like every couple levels) would go a long way towards adding variety to a party of cosmonauts.

Though I suppose a cosmonaut that crashes down on some sort of "primitive world of magic" could partner up with normal elves and clerics and whatnot. Such a game might be reminiscent of SnarfQuest.

Anyway, it's short and worth checking out. It's a nice, original piece of work with pretty drawings and the kind of thing that spurs the imagination. Well, my imagination anyway.
: )

Oh, yeah...the link for the download (on the blog) is here; the actual MediaFire file is here.

Monday, May 18, 2015

White Hot Star

I started writing yet another "poor me" post about my lack of time for writing and realized that such a post is itself a waste of my time (I keep forgetting that). So F that noise.

If I wanted to just do reviews of games and game products on this blog, I'd have material for at least six months (even assuming I stopped acquiring new stuff). It wasn't all that long ago that I wrote how I loathe buying PDFs and prefer actual printed books, and how I really hate buying both. But this before my local game store (Gary's Games) closed shop, and long before I moved to Paraguay for what appears will be an extended stay. These days, I'M one of those dudes emailing publishers and asking "when will this be available in electronic format?"

[yeah, I've turned into that guy. I still prefer hard copy, but since I can only get mail order every 3-6 months (when I get state-side), more often than not I'm purchasing BOTH hard and e-copy so that I can peruse the PDF while I'm down here. New Fire, for example...a beautiful book that I will probably never, ever use...is one which I bought both in print and PDF format. I should write about it...and about Bulldogs! and Capes, Cowls, and Villains Foul and Crimson Blades and Dust Devils and...well, you get the idea]

Read.
SO...White Star. Everyone's talking about it, so I bothered to pick it up a couple days ago (at the same time as I purchased Hill Cantons Compendium II, actually...perhaps something on that later, too). In PDF form, because it was relatively cheap (I found a coupon through Tenkar's blog). Here's what I think about it:

James M. Spahn's White Star is S&W Star Wars...no more, no less. Like my years long, on-and-off B/X Star Wars project...except using Swords & Wizardry as its base. The text, monsters, and campaign ideas imply that the system can be used for more concepts: Star Trek, Firefly, Aliens, etc. But it really can't...not as written. It says it's taken a cue from other space opera stories, like Flash Gordon (and presumably Buck Rogers)...but it's lacking in areas that would allow one to run those kind of games.

Without modification, that is. Folks have already started adding their own supplemental setting material for White Star. Tenkar's doing as series of WS "pocket settings," WrathofZombie knocked off more than a dozen alien races for the game, and Calum M created a hack-splice one might call White Star 40K (if you were so inclined) set in humanity's grim, dark future. Clearly, people love a game that can be house-ruled easy-shmeazy.

Have they never seen Dave Bezio's X-Plorers?

White Star is very spookily similar to my original "first pass" at B/X Star Wars...right down to a "Star Knight" (i.e. Jedi) character class with Wisdom as a prime requisite. An "aristocrat" class based on CHA? Check...though I call mine "high born." Spahn's three robot classes? Almost exactly the same. Star Wars monsters with the names rearranged? Check and double check (though I called my Sith "Shadow Lords," not "Void Knights"). The equipment list as well (though I had "shielded" weapons occupying the spot of him "monofilaments" and I had a catchier name for my lightsaber knock-offs).

This kind of thing is easy enough to do...if you take Saga edition Star Wars and examine the differences between it, simple D20, and early edition D&D it's not very hard to "reverse engineer" to something like B/X or OD&D (or LL or S&W). That was my initial impetus for tooling around with the idea after all. The stuff Spahn has done, concept-wise, is the easy stuff.

[writing, organizing, and commissioning great artwork isn't anything to sniff at, just BTW...in this review, I'm just talking about the design of the game]

Which is to say, I guess, that I'm a lot less impressed than some folks are. I know, I know: I'm a big turd. Thanks. Now let me talk about the stuff in White Star that I REALLY don't like...

[boy, I hate this part...the "honest opinion"]

One of the things preventing White Star from being something other than Star Wars, is its conspicuous lack of a scientist/engineer class. Without such an archetype you lose a large swath of protagonist characters from classic space opera: the Spocks and McCoys and Scottys (Star Trek); the Dr. Hans Zarkovs (Flash Gordon), Dr. Huer/Dr. Theopolis (Buck Rogers), Kaylee and Simon Tam (Firefly), The Robinsons (Lost in Space)...even Cale Tucker from Titan A.E. These are major protagonists, not hired henchmen, and they allow for different types of problem solving besides blowing holes in things with your blasters, or ships guns, or "star sword." Sure it's an easy fix (house rule your own)...but it's easy enough that it should have already been included in the game (with a prime req of INT, yeah?).

[and if you're going to bother to have hired assistants, it would sure be nice to have a description...or better yet, an NPC write-up in the monster...er, "alien creatures" section. After all, these aren't ALL "aliens" (see soldier, for example)]

But that's just an annoyance. What's far more problematic is the damn experience system. I've written before that about the hardest thing to design for a space opera RPG is a decent method of character development...even X-Plorers effectively "punts" on the subject. White Star simply defaults to standard OD&D (or, rather, S&W) save that it gives XP for "credits" as opposed to gold pieces.

How is this in any way informed by the space opera genre? Sure, it makes the game S&W compatible (which appears to be a clear design choice), but how does that facilitate anything other than a Firefly/Traveller-esque game? Hell, how does that allow one to play Star Wars, the thing for which WS seems expressly designed? In which Star Wars film are the protagonists looking for a big score of cash?! This is worse than a punt...it's a knucklehead move. And, yes, you can, of course, house rule something different...but when you start needing to change the basic building blocks of the game, then you might as well be designing your own game.

[or, to put it another way: file the fantasy tropes off S&W classes, monsters, and magic spells and don't even bother buying White Star]

At least Bezio's X-Plorers gave you an XP value for blowing up enemy starships. White Star has no XP award for space combat (unless you're supposed to add up an amount for the pilots and techs aboard an enemy starship...difficult considering there's no guideline for how XP is calculated (like for, say, NPC character classes) and there's no NPC listing for things like, say, enemy pilots and gunners). Sure, you can house rule your own stuff in this regard (in fact, you have to) or steal from something like Terminal Space...but then, why are you bothering to play this game again? Because it has nice artwork?

[it does have nice artwork for B&W interior pieces]

Magic...er, force powers...er, "Meditations and Gifts" are simply the Vancian magic system re-written for Star Knights and Alien Mystics. Nothing particularly special here, and again it's just taking the "easy road" design-wise, rather than attempting to model the genre in function as well as form. But, of course, you can house rule your own system...as with everything here....

Spahn takes an interesting tact with regard to non-human races ("aliens"), creating two specific race-as-classes in the forms of the archetypes Alien Brute and Alien Mystic. I'll be honest: much as I love me my race-as-class in fantasy adventure games, the one time I feel it's better to add a species tag is in the space opera genre, where other space-faring races have their own pilots and techs and nobles and soldiers, etc. So...ballsy as it is to take this route, it's probably another thing that I'd want to house rule...especially if you want to play something that looks like the Star Wars Expanded Universe with its non-human Jedi, er "Star Knights." Just another "possible campaign setting," right? So how do you model all those be-tentacled, saber-swinging Jedi monstrosities from the prequel trilogy using only the "Alien Mystic" class? Heck, they even have a different spell list from the Star Knights' "meditations" (and Why O Why do you need a purify food & drink spell?). What if I want my Alien Brute copilot to aid in repairing my starship (or putting my protocol 'bot back together?)?

Oh, right: just house rule it.

Look, let's talk turkey for a moment. It probably sounds like I'm being awfully hard on White Star...and, yeah, I guess I am. Fortunately for Mr. Spahn, my opinion isn't valued all that much these days, even around my own corner of the blog-o-sphere. And anyway, he's making his money: White Star is #36 on the DriveThru RPG sales. I bought it myself...no one gifted me with a review copy.

Here's the thing about White Star: if you want to run something space opera-y ESPECIALLY in the Star Wars (original trilogy) variety, and want it in a familiar system (i.e. "old school D&D-esque"), then White Star is the closest thing you're going to find. It does more work than X-Plorers in a couple regards (monster lists and a Jedi/Force system), and is much more streamlined and (in my opinion) "user friendly" than Stars Without Number. But at 130+ pages, nicely laid out and well-illustrated...well, I guess I was expecting more for my money.

Actually, scratch that. For the $8 I paid, it's a quality product...I've certainly paid more money for less useful game material (consider the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide...). And I don't think the game has been "over-hyped" by the blog-o-sphere (not nearly the same way as "5E Basic" was, for example). Like I said, it's the closest thing to its target that you're really going to find. Hell, its got falcon-men and felinoids...it obviously wanted to be Flash Gordon compatible.

It's just that Flash never looted anyone to "level up."

But I AM disappointed that it didn't do more, or invest more, in the design process than what I was doing back in 2010...back when I was calling my project "B/X Starkillers." There's a reason I didn't publish something like this: it wasn't good enough. Even if I'd had the artwork and professional design layout, the content wouldn't have been good enough. And I suppose I'm disappointed that this is the best someone can come up with after all these years. Production-wise, it still doesn't hold a candle to FFG's Star Wars series of RPGs.

Tell you what I'll do: let me look over my very long-ass document that was going to be a SW-esque supplement for X-Plorers (no, it's not the same thing as my B/X Starkillers...White Star is close enough to BXSK that publishing it in any form would be fairly redundant). Give me a chance to clean it up a bit, and I'll post it to the blog as a series of posts to spice up your X-Plorers game. Free of charge. My original idea was (of course) to publish it and make some money for all my hard-earned words typed, but I am sooooo sick of looking for artists and artwork (God, I wish I could draw like some of these self-published dudes)...I'll give you the "sans art" version as a freebie.

Yes, I have no less than three other projects I'm working on at the moment, but you people deserve a bone, every now and then. Right? Sure you do.
: )

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

JB 3.5

A couple days ago I posted "my" D&D stats based on Easydamus's automated survey. The java program spit out my race, class, alignment, and stats based on the answers I gave to a 129 question quiz. The survey results are based on the 3.5 edition of D&D, but doesn't select feats or skills or equipment for your character...in other words, it ain't complete.

SO...as an exercise in mental masturbation, I went ahead and completed the guy ("me") using the 3.5 SRD and my memory of that particular edition. Here are the results:

JB (3.5)
Lawful Good Human Fighter, 6th Level

Hunting hawk not pictured.
STR 13 (+1)
DEX 16 (+3; advanced +1 at 4th level)
CON 13 (+1)
INT 14 (+2)
WIS 15 (+2)
CHA 14 (+2)

Feats (in order selected):
Combat Expertise, Dodge, Weapon Focus (Spear), Mobility, Combat Reflexes, Weapon Specialist (Spear), Spring Attack, Whirlwind Attack

Skills
Climb 9 (+10), Craft (weapon smith) 9 (+11), Handle Animal 9 (+11), Intimidate 9 (+11), Jump 9 (+10)

Equipment (13,000gp worth for a 6th level character)
Breastplate +2; Frost Spear +1, Masterwork Warhammer, Dagger, Traveller's Outfit, Hunting Hawk*, 9gp

Armor Class: 21 (10 +8 (armor) +2 (enchantment) +3 (DEX) +1 (dodge))
Hit Points: 44 (based on 5.5/level after 1st)
Saves: For +6, Ref, +5, Wil +4

Weapons (BAB +6/+1)

Frost Spear +1: Attack +9/+4 (thrown +11); Damage D8+4+D6 (cold)
Masterwork Warhammer: Attack +8/+3; Damage D8+1
Dagger: +7/+2 (thrown +9); Damage D4+1

*I couldn't find a cost for a hunting hawk, though there are stats for "hawks" in the normal animal section. With a Handle Animal skill of +11, it's an easy matter to train a hawk for the "Hunting" purpose (DC 20; automatic with a take ten over six weeks). So I used the cost for a "guard dog" and figured I'd train the thing myself.

It's not a terrible build, though a fighter with STR 13 is pretty far from "optimal." Still, with the feats I've selected it's not a bad combat build on the old grid mat. Very high maneuverability (thanks to combat expertise and mobility) allows the character to get into optimal position to use his whirlwind attack against multiple opponents, and his high intimidate skill can give him an extra edge. I thought about adding improved initiative at 3rd level, but figured combat reflexes is a tighter fit, especially with the high DEX...the guy should really clean up against mobs of lesser opponents. And by "lesser" I'd probably include ogres in the mix; by fighting defensively, he should be able to hold his own against several of the big guys...especially with a couple party members to back him up.

See? I can do the 3.5 thing.

As you should be able to tell, the character is based largely on the image I pulled off the internet, especially the choice of equipment. However, I chose the image in part because I liked the gear the dude was sporting. That, and he looks badass. Just needs the bird...you have to imagine that part.

I don't have a name for the character. JB is good enough.

Closed System

I spent the entire morning doing research relating to child sex abuse (mainly comparing Paraguay to other countries in North and South America) which was...well, depressing, to say the least. But it was a favor to my wife and relates to her work here and gives me a chance to "contribute." Just so people don't think I'm blowing off the blog for watching Netflix shows or something (that was the other week).

ANYWAY...closed systems. Lately (the last 24 hours), I've been reflecting upon two television shows of the 1970s that I find quite interesting, especially with regard to the nature of their settings as "closed universes." One is, of course, the 1974 serial Land of the Lost (still have to finish that looooong post...this isn't it), the other is the short-lived 1972 cartoon Sealab 2020.

I never had the opportunity to view Sealab 2020 when it was on TV...I wasn't born till '73, after all. But I did regularly watch the parody show Sealab 2021 when it was first running a few years back (funny, funny weirdness), and last year I was able to pick up the original series on DVD from the Warner Archive. My son digs it (as do I), and it's quite interesting from the point of view as an action-adventure show that involves no combat with antagonists...simply the hazards inherent in conducting scientific research in a hostile (undersea) environment.

Need Dyson to map this thing.
Both Sealab (with its undersea complex located on "Sea Mount"...an underwater mountain, natch) and Land o the Lost (with its pocket universe) are closed environments...there's a limit to the amount of exploration that can be performed by the characters. In LOTL, individuals exiting one side of the map simply end up entering the map on the opposite side (this phenomenon is a key element of the first season). The folks of Sealab are restricted based on the hostility of their environment...while they might exit the 'Lab to explore the surrounding ocean, there's only so far they can go due to needing to replenish air supplies. All their adventures take place within Sealab itself, or within close proximity to its safe enclosures.

I'm just looking at the concept in RPG terms...most RPGs make their bread-and-butter by being open environments where exploration might take a character "anywhere." Even when there are some geographical limits -- like "Planet Earth" or "Medieval Europe" -- those "limits" are so vast as to be not terribly limited. I'm trying to think of an RPG that has a truly limited setting of exploration...Paranoia's Alpha Complex is vast (and adventures can take characters into the "outside world") and I don't think spaceship Warden was particularly limited in size for Metamorphosis Alpha (though MA isn't a game I've owned, or had the chance to really study).

No, RPGs don't shut their people into small box environs unless they're designed for short games with very specific objectives (usually examining tragic tales within the confines of a session or two sessions play)...here I'm thinking indie games like My Life With Master and Dust Devils. Even then, I don't suppose the environment has to be particularly confined...but the scale of the game is such that exploration of "the greater world" doesn't usually have the chance to occur.

Anyway, it's an interesting idea. The recent "thing" I was working on has a fairly small scale, but that was an accident of design (based on the game setting) rather a purposeful choice. The thing about the closed setting is it seems to really, truly limit "how far can this game go;" not just in terms of what can be explored, setting-wise, but what can be explored character-wise.

I mean, talk about a big fish in a small pond...if a character (or characters) have nothing to do but probe the confines of a single mega-dungeon (a possible D&D-ish example of a closed environment), how high in level do they really need to go? Without the possibility of building castles or exploring other planes, what's the maximum level you really need?

For some reason, my brain is drawing a correlation between such "closed systems" and board games like Dungeon!...there's no character development/advancement in the board game, there's simply roles that you play (elf, hero, wizard, etc.). Your role provides you with a certain degree of effectiveness, perhaps some different options, but the role is completely static...closed, just like the environment. Is there room for character development in such a setting? Should the elf, at some point, grow in experience to the point that she can take out one of the blue dragons or black puddings inhabiting the 6th level? Or should they always be out of her reach (sans the use of a magic sword).

Would a Land of the Lost RPG ever see the Marshalls developing the skills to take on Grumpy the tyrannosaurus? Or operate Enik's time portal?

I never played something like GURPS: The Prisoner (based on another show with a closed environment) so I don't know what one would do in such a campaign. It would seem there is room for  a series of "adventures" within such confines...a serial television show is able to come up with a number of different stories/"sessions" after all. But is it enough on which to base a game? With a limited environment, you really need some kind of win scenario or endgame, no? Otherwise, you reach the actual (if imaginary) limits of your environment and your stuck just ripping down the continuity of the thing...like the way the 3rd season of LOTL had people and monsters of all sorts just "wander in" to its closed confines.

That's what I'm thinking about today. Well, that and how Paraguay really isn't a great place to raise children. Oh, and bolt-action rifles...but that's for a completely different (and totally off-topic) reason.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Madhouse

This place...Paraguay...is a madhouse. In so many ways, but today especially, what with everyone in the city preparing for yet another four day weekend. It's like the locusts have descended and are devouring everything...except we're talking the supermarkets and marketplaces, rather than the fields. All I wanted was some yogurt for the kids. And some fruit. Oh...and beer. But...just madness. These folks are preparing for siege or something.

Anyway, Tuesday is "chore day" around this neck o the woods, and the traffic and general chaos rendered it an all too "get nothing done all day" day. Which sucks but whatever. I'm in the middle of writing a waaaaay too long post on The Land of the Lost (among other things) that I started yesterday, but I don't know if/when it will get finished/posted. It may need to be serialized...but, then again, it may not be interesting enough to be worth the bother.

[ooo...which reminds me that I need to do a post about "self-doubt" one of these days]

So rather than give folks nothing, here's a fun little survey that will answer that oft-posed question to yourself, "What D&D Character Am I?" Go check it out; it's a fun little java that will spit out your class-race-alignment combo, complete with ability scores. For those who care, here's mine:

I Am A: Lawful Good Human Fighter (6th Level)

Ability Scores:
Strength-13
Dexterity-15
Constitution-13
Intelligence-14
Wisdom-15
Charisma-14

Alignment:
Lawful Good A lawful good character acts as a good person is expected or required to act. He combines a commitment to oppose evil with the discipline to fight relentlessly. He tells the truth, keeps his word, helps those in need, and speaks out against injustice. A lawful good character hates to see the guilty go unpunished. Lawful good is the best alignment you can be because it combines honor and compassion. However, lawful good can be a dangerous alignment when it restricts freedom and criminalizes self-interest.

Race:
Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Class:
Fighters can be many things, from soldiers to criminal enforcers. Some see adventure as a way to get rich, while others use their skills to protect the innocent. Fighters have the best all-around fighting capabilities of the PC classes, and they are trained to use all standard weapons and armor. A fighter's rigorous martial training grants him many bonus feats as he progresses, and high-level fighters have access to special melee maneuvers and exotic weapons not available to any other character.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

The survey/game stats are D20-based and, yes, it's possible to return a multi-classed character or non-human. I should note that, according to the survey FAQ:
Adventurers tend to have higher [ability] scores than the rest of the population. This test takes that into account. The test doesn't give you your 3d6 self, but your 4d6 self. So most scores would be one or two points lower in "real" life.
Which suddenly means my ability scores make a lot more sense. I was wondering how I ended up with a 13 (above average) Strength score, for instance. Sure, I've done some yoga, but 11 seems a lot more accurate. Especially considering I was answering questions with "I'm sick most of the time," and "I have a hard time running" (in hindsight, neither of these are incredibly accurate, but they seemed better answers than my other choices. Per the FAQ, however, I was supposed to err "up" rather than down).

"Here I come to save the day..."
I was not terribly surprised by the results, however. Lawful Good is pretty close to my real life perspective (though I don't think I've ever played a D&D character that was LG), and human fighter, well...yeah. I'm kind of a neanderthal.

[I actually thought I might end up a druid with answers like "I hate the city" and "Nature is greater than Technology" and stuff. Nope. Per the detailed notes, my next highest class was a tie between Bard, Cleric, and Paladin. Yeah, I'm not really into camping]

The survey stats show that most people taking the quiz fall into the Wizard class, with the second highest being Sorcerer and Ranger. Almost no one shows up as a Barbarian (I'd think you'd have to really make a point of answering the quiz with an eye towards brutality and iconoclasm). I guess you'd expect that from an internet quiz.

All in all, it's not a terrible character...certainly playable. It's too bad it didn't pick my feats and skills for me (I guess it'd need a pretty sophisticated program to do that), but for a 6th level fighter, I suppose I could do the little work required to round it out (oh, wait...I'm human and have a +2 modifier for INT, so I've got to 5 skill points per level to figure? *sigh* maybe not). As B/X character, it would be quite good (and would work since the only fighters ARE humans). Do I really speak more than one language, though? My spanish is pretty terrible...

Like I said, I don't have much time today, so I leave you this to play with. Knock yourselves out!

[and please: if you're a regular reader here, I'd love you to post your results in the Comments section so I can better judge/pigeon-hole you in my mind's eye]
; )